RIP Carlos Ezquerra

Carlos Ezquerra passed away today. This is a loss not just personally to his family and friends as Carlos was a profoundly decent man, but to comics where in terms of influence, ability and creativity Carlos ranks up with the best so there’s a place next to Steve Ditko, Moebius and Jack Kirby as this was someone who co-created not just one classic character in Judge Dredd, but two in Strontium Dog.

Carlos was one of those Spanish artists in the 1970’s that IPC would use because he was quick and cheap, but he had a style unlike many of the older artists who were sometimes elegant, and smooth. Carlos’s art was heavy blacks and sketchy lines which made his work, well, edgy to pre-teen boys like myself who found his Major Easy character the entrance to his work.

And of course, his Action cover which wasn’t just as Punk as fuck in 1976, but it also helped the comic get banned.

However the minute you saw his splash page for the then new Judge Dredd strip in the new 2000AD in 1977, you knew you were seeing a talent erupt.

That one page still sums up what Judge Dredd is. Dredd is a fascist keeping law in a spectacular future city which doesn’t look like a dystopia, but is very much one because there’s cameras watching your every move when the Judges aren’t. Even in the design Carlos makes clear what Dredd is by slipping in symbols of fascism he lived with in the Spain of the fascist Franco.

Thanks to scripts from co-creator John Wagner, not to mention Pat Mills and Alan Grant, Dredd’s fascism wasn’t just a thing of black and white as weekly the Dredd strip ensured kids around the UK were exposed to intellectually and moral grey areas which for me hit a height with the superb Apocalypse War.  Dredd’s Mega City One and the remnants of the Soviets battle it out with the spectre of nuclear destruction being there on the page at all times as the reader battled with the prospect of real life nuclear destruction.

Carlos didn’t just work on Dredd; as said, he co-created Strontium Dog, but he also drew covers and strips at an enormous rate  never dipping in quality and we as readers probably took his work for granted as he was consistent.

By the 90’s Carlos saw Dredd on film, which we’ll draw a line under however he was now working in American comics mainly working with Garth Ennis and getting the sort of credit and recognition outwith of the UK and Europe he deserved while still working and producing lush work. In more recent years his son was helping him as he struggled with poor health thanks to cancer, and only a week or so ago was posting on his Facebook that he’d come out of a major operation and was in recovery. Sadly he lost this last fight and passed away at 70.

He is irreplaceable. There is nobody out there able to do what he did.I met him a few times at various comic conventions over the decades and he was always charming, if somewhat overawed that his work is so appreciated and loved but this is a man who saw his work shape lives, and culture, so he’ll be missed for the artist, and human being, he was.

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The ‘Treasury of British Comics’ panel from SDCC 18

I know there’s a few folk who read this blog who are big fans of British comics, so this panel from this year’s San Diego Comic Con which discusses the history of British comics. There is an over-long explanation of the concept of girls and boys comics not to mention other diversions, but for fans and historians it’ll be an interesting 45 minutes of your time.

What I thought of Glasgow Comic Con 2017

I’ve attended more comic conventions and marts as an ordinary punter rather than a dealer or publisher in the last three months than I have for the last 35 years.The latest is the Glasgow Comic Con (GCC) which is a well established con having started in 2011 and seemingly growing every year.

I’ve discussed often on this blog the state of British conventions and how they split into two; the San Diego multimedia type and the one where comics are still the primary focus. GCC falls firmly in the latter type which is good as the former comes with issues which I’m not going to spend too much time on but the main one is that there doesn’t seem to be much love for the comics medium itself at these shows. This cannot be said of GCC where creators ranging from small press to established creators rub shoulders, and they do rub shoulders as the venue (Royal Concert Hall) is simply impractical as the convention has simply outgrown it.

Take the dealers room. Not a huge selection of dealers but getting through the aisles was a chore, especially if you’re disabled as I am or if you’re in a wheelchair. Now this wasn’t anything as bad as the Bristol Comics Expo in 2014 which was frankly, fucking recklessly planned on part of the organisers but put it like this; I had more people bump into me nearly knocking me over in a day than I did during the week I was at Glastonbury. Now I don’t know if they can find a hotel, and I don’t know what the place is like since the refurbishment, but the Central Hotel did us right when we organised Glasgow’s first comic convention 32 years ago. Whether it can be got for the right price is another matter but I can’t see the current venue being practical in the long term.

This aside, the convention is astonishingly professionally run. Far too many cons have staff who seem to have no skills in actually dealing with people, but this wasn’t the case here as a one-day con fairly rattled through a programme of talks featuring 2000AD creators such as Pat Mills and Fraser Irving, not to mention signings from John Wagner, Jamie McKelvie and Keiron Gillen.

The small press row/room endured the usual sub-superhero nonsense or elves (bloody elves!) I’ve been seeing in small press rooms going back decades but there was enough originality not to mention talent on display to suggest some of the folk there have a career in an industry which is utterly unforgiving and brutal. Look though to Gillen and McKelvie. I remember the Bristol con in the early 2000’s where they launched Phonogram as a sharp injection of thrilling originality from two talents who were ahead of the game. it was a breath of fresh air to see creators try hard to make something new and that for me is your gold standard if you’re an aspiring creator in the 21st century. Superheroes and fantasy are genres where you wade through them but if you do use those genres make it personal and most of all, good!

Highlight of the day was former UKCAC organiser Frank Plowright interviewing Pat Mills about all the things Pat likes talking about, though I must say Pat was very chilled when mid-90’s 2000AD was brought up.

Overall this is a nice medium sized one-day event that’s grown out of the venue and the one day and we need comics conventions that are still about comics, rather than media or cosplay. Let the megacons soak up that market and it’s nice to know all these years after a load of us kicked off Glasgow’s comic marts/cons in the 80’s that they’re still going strong today.

40 years of 2000AD

2000AD is 40 this year. Recently there was a convention celebrating the comic and those who created it and still produce work for it. Thankfully for those unable to attend the convention panels were put online and one (The Originals) stood out for me as it featured not just Mick McMahon and Dave Gibbons who were there at the very start, but Alan Grant and Cam Kennedy who came along not long after.

It’s a cracking bit of viewing and a bit of comics history. Enjoy.

 

 

Happy birthday 2000AD

40 years ago this week I had in my hands the first issue of a new weekly boy’s adventure comic called 2000AD. It had a shite free gift as was the way with comics back then.

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The first issue featured Flesh!, a story about time-travellers coming from the future to harvest dinosaurs to help feed the future population’s desire for meat which was eagerly lapped up by me who’d lapped up the gore-soaked pages of Action. Excitement had been built up for some time as after all, Action had been neutered, and thanks to some gloriously cheesy adverts I was dying to get my hands on 2000AD.

It may look cheesy to jaded 21st century eyes but this was brilliant and along with thousands of other kids we enjoyed the first issue, and looked forward to the second which promised a new strip called Judge Dredd which surely couldn’t be as fun as Flesh! or as bizarre as the revamped Dan Dare which was no longer tired and old, but a bit disco.Whatever it was, it looked like no other comic out there in 1977.

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Of course Judge Dredd was an instant favourite as what boy wouldn’t love an ultra-violent fascist as a role model?

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1977 was a transformational year for the UK as the Queen’s silver jubilee rubbed against the growth of the Punk movement, while in the background Thatcherism bubbled away Sauron-like waiting for its moment to strike. Thanks to Pat Mills (who acted as father and midwife to 2000AD) Punk was very much written into the DNA of 2000AD and new, younger artists like Mick McMahon epitomised that new ethic.

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The Golden Age of 2000AD lasted years. For me the first 500 issues are brimming with creativity and I can’t think of a comic ever published that was so consistent in what was still basically children’s comics.

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Yet as I got older I drifted from 2000AD, especially in the 1990’s when the comic published some utter shite like Mark Millar’s Robo-Hunter. Possibly some of the worst comics I’ve ever read. In the 90’s the comics seemed burdened with bad editorial decisions or more realistically, the editors in the latter part of the 1990’s didn’t have a clue how to do their jobs hence why the comic came close to extinction.

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Yet it was saved thanks to Rebellion who cleared out the baggage, stripped the comic back to something it was previously and was left facing the 21st century looking positive. 2000ad2000 So happy birthday 2000AD. You’ve seen me through most of my life and in your own way have helped shape it and all the bad days are hopefully behind you now, and here’s hoping for another 40 years of thrills.

The closest thing we have to a documentary about Action

Action is the legendary British comic that was essentially the precursor of 2000AD thus cementing its history as one of the most influential comics ever published in the UK. With 2000AD being 40 this year, and Action celebrating its 40th anniversary last year we’re getting further and further away from an important piece of comics history.

Imagine then my joy at stumbling across a number of videos on You Tube with interviews from Jack Adrian, Ramon Sola and Pat Mills. It looks as if an Action documentary was being made but these tantalising wee snippets are all we have of it which is a shame as it really is a piece of comics history which needed documenting like this.With Titan Comics publishing new Hook Jaw comics it seems relevant to document this now for the next generations. I’ve included in this blog all the clips I could find but if anyone finds or knows more feel free to point it out on the comments.