BLOG Judge Dredd Writer Al Ewing on 2000AD’s Surprising Crossover

A page from Prog 1809

There seemed to be a bit of a lag between the end of the “Day Of Chaos” and the stories following. It felt a little like other Dredd writers didn’t know just how far John Wagner was going to go. Is there anything to this? Were you all up to date or was there a little bit of running to catch up and some quick rewrites to add continuity when you realised the state Wagner had left Mega-City One in?

“A bit of both. We were sent a memo that told us exactly how bad it was going to get, but I personally still got caught on the hop slightly when I rewrote the stories I had waiting to run. I didn’t realise it’d be that bad, is all I can say. I’ll be saying the same thing when the superhurricanes come and civilisation collapses – ‘I got the memo, but I didn’t think it’d be that bad’.

“Anyway, ‘Day of Chaos’ turned out to be the best thing that could’ve happened to ‘Trifecta’. For instance, we’d been scrabbling about trying to think of ways to have all the double-dealing happen under PSU’s nose – suddenly they were all but destroyed, problem solved. Suddenly Bachmann had a proper reason to do her evil plan – it was a reaction to Chaos Day and the power vacuum that created. Those Dredd/Hershey scenes wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting with Dredd/Francisco. And so on. Once we’d digested the memo, we realised just how many opportunities there were in the new set-up to make our crossover really work. It added so much to it – I think we all owe John a vote of thanks for destroying the Meg as thoroughly as he did!”

Damnation Station

You’ve done quite a lot of varied work for 2000AD; from Tharg’s Future Shocks and Terror Tales through to Damnation Station and Judge Dredd. Are you a big fan of the single episode short story or do you prefer more meaty longer arcs when you write?

“I’m a huge fan of the done-in-one, and Wagner’s right up there as one of the masters of the form as far as I’m concerned – up there with Eisner and Kurtzman. I’d like to get a few of them in myself, in amongst the long-form pieces I need to get done. I still have a lot of fondness for some of my early Future Shocks, and I don’t want that skill to atrophy, assuming it hasn’t already.”

You and Henry Flint seem to work together quite a lot, with Zombo and Dredd. How would you describe that partnership?

“Fruitful. We work well together – we tend to add to each other’s ideas, so that’s good. And Henry always surprises me with his layouts, in a good way. He lets me have my head, but he doesn’t just sit back; he’s always full of amazing ideas to throw into anything I’m working on with him. He really blows me away with his Dredd stuff – it’s absolutely fantastic, really grim, crunchy, hard-boiled stuff. It astounds me that he’s not in more demand in the States, but their loss is our gain.”

Who do you think draws the definitive Dredd?

“I’d say Henry. Other than that – Carlos Ezquerra is pretty hard to beat, particularly around ‘Brothers Of The Blood’. Ditto Cam Kennedy, Colin McNeil, obviously Mike McMahon… but my personal choice, excluding Henry, is Ron Smith, who defined the character for me as a kid. His Dredd had a lot of humour to it, a kind of arch quality – he was full of very subtle wisecracks. There was some beautiful caricaturing work in everyone’s faces. I particularly remember his newspaper strips with Wagner – these tiny little half or quarter-page bursts, just one joke, perfectly told. I doubt anyone else could have done those.”

You’ve also written several books in the Pax Britannia series for Abaddon, as well as others. Could you tell us the differences, if any, in your approach to writing novels when compared to comic stories?

“Writing novels is a thousand times harder. It’s just brutal, like pulling out your own teeth and burying them. You’ve caught me at a bad time for this question because I’m just in the closing stages of another one, for Solaris, which is about some fairly high concepts. Once I’ve written them, I usually leave them on a shelf for six months before I’m moved to pick them up again, at which point I’m pleasantly surprised by myself. I suspect that’s true of all writers – you never like your stuff immediately, it has to grow on you.”

You and Henry Flint have worked together on the bat’s-arse crazy zombie secret agent series Zombo. He’s had four outings – if you include the 2010 Christmas Prog appearance – so far. Will there be more from the character in the future?

“Yes, yes. At least another trade, which will bring us up to six series. When it comes time to plot Series Six, we’ll have to ask ourselves if we want to do more or if it’s time for a breather – if we feel there’s more in it, we can go to eight or ten or twelve or what-have-you until we’ve had enough, but it’s not a series that’s plotted out to the end, like Nikolai Dante. I have a rough idea of one of the end conditions, but you’ll have to wait and see what that is.”

Regarding the second series of Zombo, what made you decide to try to write a musical zombie comic book story?

“Well, the zombie bit was in place, and the music bit just sort of happened when we brought in the Rat Pack, which we had to do because it was a casino heist story originally. Except it went off the rails a bit. That tends to be how Zombo comes together – we’ll have an idea, it’ll get slightly skewed between plot and script and then it’s out there.”

You’ve also recently had success with Zaucer Of Zilk. Will we be seeing more of Zaucer and his madcap world?

“It’s possible. I think both me and Brendan have some ideas for a sequel, but on the other hand it’s nice to just have something sitting there in and of itself. We’ll see how we feel.”

Is there anything else you have on the horizon? Any upcoming work you’d like to tell people about?

“Bits and pieces – that new novel, The Fictional Man, which is exploring some fun territory, in a world where cloned fictions are alive and walking the streets of Hollywood. Damnation Station is coming around for a second (and final) series. Jennifer Blood remains ongoing, with the fourth arc just getting started. And of course, next spring brings fresh Zombo.

“Plus all the projects I can’t tell you about…”

Can’t really end this without mentioning the DJing? How’s that going?

“I had a great time at Thought Bubble, but unfortunately it might be the last time I do anything on a CD deck, as they’re getting too unreliable. I’m re-learning my craft with my phone, which I’m told is the way of the future. We’ll see.”

It’s all about the phones these days isn’t it? Well, thanks for answering our questions today Al. Here’s hoping Prog 1812 is a successful as the rest of this endeavour has been. Splundig Vur Thrigg as Tharg would say.