Thursday, April 19, 2018

No. 109 Glenn Fabry

First Prog: 411 (cover and interior)
Latest Prog: 2000 (cover) 1847 (interior strip) – last interiors before that Prog 858

First Meg: 1 (on the cover)
Latest Meg: 360 (also on the cover – in fact, he’s not done any interiors for the Megazine)

Total appearances: 83
-including all his covers, even the ones he did for Preacher that were re-used on the Megazine


Art credits:
Judge Dredd
Batman/Judge Dredd
One Future Shock and a one-off story for Crisis

Notable character creations:

Fabry is to scowls as mustard is to hotdogs. Necessary and perfect.
Words by Pat Mills
Notable characteristics:
Ultra-meticulous and realistically rendered people, whether in pencils or paints. Grimaces and gurns. Leather. Never letting any detail, foreground or background, go unrendered. Drawing in a way that looks like it’s really difficult to do and impossible to copy…

Words by Pat Mills.
On Glenn:
Fittingly for an artist who has gone on to international renown as a covers legend, Fabry’s first work for Tharg – that we got to see, anyway! – was on the cover of Prog 411.

Colour reproduction was not great on the original Prog or on various reprints, sadly...
Better than that, he also drew the episode of Slaine actually inside that Prog.* And it was good. So good, in fact, that he arguably ended up producing what feels – to me, at any rate – like the definitive version of the character Slaine himself. Kincaid, Belardinelli and McMahon had worked wonders with the setting and the atmosphere of muck, but apart from the spiky hair, their actual Slaines were not so distinctive to me. Fabry’s Slaine design, on the other hand, leaves a lasting impression of a tough, smug, and not all that nice brawler.

Slaine in his element

How does he do that hair??
Words by Pat Mills
 Fabry's version of Ukko, too, added a new level of both scummery and realism.

Ukko scores a kiss off Nest, and doesn't he look smug about it.
Words by Pat Mills

Time Killer, the Slaine epic that launched Fabry into the Prog, is a very particular beast. It continues Slaine’s saga of slowly going home to his tribe in Ireland after wondering around in France - while also being a massive sidetrack into a sort-of sci-fi adventure that is very clearly inspired by Dungeons & Dragons (the role-playing game, not the cartoon that I was into in a big way before discovering 2000AD).

Fabry delivers some truly excellent work exploring Slaine’s character arc through this adventure. He really nails the facial expressions. He also engages in some immaculate world-building, setting the scene for Cythrawl. In theory he has a part to play in deepening Slaine’s mythology, as Time Killer introduces a whole host of new characters and concepts that would last for years, not least among them big bad villains Elfric and the Guledig.

Elfric the glam-rock elf with 3 eyes
Words by Pat Mills
But it’s worth pointing out that Fabry’s co-artist David Pugh actually ended up doing a lot more of the episodes with these characters in, including their first appearances – which I assume means he designed those characters, too.**

Fabry did his fair share of new designs, of course! Not least the Cythrons, a whole team of sci-fi inspired villains who have troubled Slaine ever since

Attention to costume detail is the way to impress readers
Word by Pat Mills

and their reptilian minions, the Diluvials.

I like the leyser guns, alright? Especailly when they tear through bony diluvials.
Words by Pat Mills

And in fact Fabry would go on to more or less re-design a bunch of key characters, including Nest, Niamh and Medb (and Slaine's whole tribe, really).

Tomb of Terror, the follow-up saga, was basically more of the same but with even more D&D about it. 
See also Dice Man, for which Fabry provided the opening cover art:

I love how this cover is basically telling all readers that they are ugly ogres.
Also, want that dice!

Back to the world of Slaine, mucking about in dungeons...


Someone's been reading some issues of Metal Hurlant featuring the art of Phillippe Druillet.
(seriously, look him up, he's totally awesome at drawing).
But that doesn't take away from just how badass this design and execution is.

It also ended with a suitably epic warp-off between Slaine and multi-dimensional monster Grimnismal, rendered in a way that nowadays would seem like a photoshop effect, but must have actually just been amazing art skillz in 1985.

If you stare at this picture too long, you may actually start to go mad.
Threats by Pat Mills
 Fabry is quite simply a perfect fit for the character. Slaine is all about connections to the Earth; he’s gritty and mucky and doesn’t care, except in those moments when he really cares. He lives in a world full of impossible monsters and beasts, but they feel real. Fabry can do real, but crucially he can do the unreal and make it seem plausible. He also does people especially well - and ultimately, Slaine is a story about people, how they interact, and how they change.

I’m sad that David Pugh didn’t get more work after his two Slaine stories (and one Future Shock), but frankly although he was a perfect fit for that material, he wouldn’t have been right for Slaine the King. This time, Fabry was given a chunk of time to do it all himself.

When the story came out, I admired the art but found the story itself a little boring. It’s soap-opera territory, which was not my thing age 9. Looking back on it, the grins, the scowls, the double crossing, the straight-up anger, it’s stunningly gorgeous.

Kissing - not the sort of thing I wanted to read about aged 9!
Context by Pat Mills
Scheming Medb (rhymes with Niamh)
Words by Pat Mills

More scowls, more hair. It's Dynasty, Slaine style!
Words by Pat Mills

2000AD is the all-time best comic for delivering on the promise of showing horrible things;
Glenn Fabry one of that tradition's finest exponents.
Words by Pat Mills)

Too gorgeous?

Some expert painterly composition going in there, with the patent Fabry tongue firmly in the cheek.
Plus, it's a bold amount of flowers to have on the cover of a so-called boys' action comic.
Looking back on it now, it's all very Game of Thrones. If you like that show and want a comics version of it, go with Glenn Fabry's Slaine! Sadly, after chaining himself to his desk to deliver all 12 sumptuous episodes of that saga, he was somewhat broken. Fabry ended up taking the next three years to deliver a handful of pages of the ongoing Slaine storyline (and a little-seen newspaper strip spin-off, Scatha) – stunning quality, and indeed fantastic comics, but Slaine: the mini-series doesn’t half live up to its title. One suspects perfectionism was partly to blame, and it must be something of a burden for an artist to be celebrated for his realism and attention to detail. But boy, are those worth celebrating!

There's a whole mound of bodies, every single one rendered in minute detail. Mental!
Context by Pat Mills

This is ART
Words by Pat Mills

And let's not forget that he was also released from Slaine duties to tackle some other art. For example, he was hard at work painting a bunch of politically-charged covers for Crisis:

 And some rather bizarre pin-ups for the back pages of 2000AD:


Luckily for Fabry strip art fans, he had a go at a Future Shock, to try something completely different,

Excellent horror.
Words by C. Smith (not a typo for J. Smith)
and then a handful of Dredd episodes, which played up his comedy. It’s very much focussed on gurning and grimacing, often by idiots. 

Words by Alan Grant

Dredd doesn't get made to look foolish often; Fabry makes it believable.
Words by Wagner & Grant

It's irritating pest...

...vs Romanesque Dredd.
Words by Garth Ennis

Fabry really works wonders with a Dredd forced to adopt a smiling visage.

Also, more idiot citizens.
Words by Alan Grant

...which provides a neat counterpoint to the full-on snarl Fabry gives Dredd to sell the character on the cover of issue 1 of his solo comic:

"Make him scowl MORE, Fabry. More!"
By the time Fabry was ready for another series, painted comics were the thing, and naturally he had a go, and naturally he excelled. It’s back on Slaine again, only this time in Roman Britain. Good news if you like the story of Boudicca; perhaps bad news if you’re an artist who is a stickler for detail, when painting a story from an era that is brimming with historical artefacts and other reference material that you really want to get right!

More madness-inducing art.
Words by Pat Mills

Personally, I’m a fan of paintings of people getting spears and swords pushed through their bodies, so I was all happy to see Fabry maiming his way through ‘Demon Killer’, before handing the baton over to Dermot Power & Greg Staples, the painter-droids waiting hungrily in the wings. 

Of course, painting even book 1 of this latest Slaine took its time – too much to continue with. This left leaving one last big prestige job for Tharg, the Batman/Judge Dredd sequel Die Laughing. It was supposed to be a follow-up to Simon Bisley’s Judgement on Gotham, (a nice touch of baton handing and rehanding), but Fabry’s work ended up being episode 1 of part 4 in a trilogy. But I can tell you, I was pretty jazzed for a few years there in the mid 90s about seeing Glenn Fabry painting the Joker being possessed by Judge Death***.

He's got that ectoplasmy-texture of ghost-Death working really neatly.
Words by Wagner and Grant

Having fun with facial expressions
Words by Wagner and Grant
The actual story of this final team-up comic is fine, with good jokes in places, but it simply couldn't live up to the long wait, no matter how sumptuous the art. 

Since then it’s been covers all the way, with one exception in the form of a Slaine episode. Fabry’s 2000AD cover rate has been getting more frequent of late. He’s had a go at a couple of them for one of the more Slaine-like new series of recent years, Black Shuck.



Yes, it’s more real-world but unearthly stuff, with an old-world setting, so it’s not a million miles from Slaine. Kind of a shame Fabry couldn’t do the strip itself!

And speaking of old-world stuff, he produced a cracker for Western epic The Grievous Journey of Ichabod Azrael (and the Dead left in his wake).


For now, his most recent work was the outstandingly massive wraparound cover for Prog 2000 (the two thousandth prog, not the end-of-year special from 1999…). Which looks fantastic in black and white as well as in full colour – the only sad thing is that he’d clearly added all sorts of details around the edge of the image that didn’t quite fit onto the finished magazine!

Fabry’s connection to the world of Tharg, and especially Slaine and Judge Dredd, its two most successful creations**** means he’s bound to be a part of Progs to come, although one imagines it’ll be covers for the most part. The price of success!

More on Glenn Fabry:
Start at his own website
Or read an online interview from 2008 on Jazma
Or listen to an interview from 2013 (I think?) on the Panel Borders podcast

Personal favourites:
Slaine: Time Killer, Tomb of Terror, Slaine the King, Slaine the Miniseries
Judge Dredd: The Immortals, Talkback

and a selection of epic covers:



And, of course...


*It makes total sense to get amazing artists to draw covers for comics so readers are attracted to buy them, but I still find it to be a bit of a con when that same artist doesn’t then feature on the inside at all. Not such a sin with 2000AD, which is an anthology and hence has a mixture of art, but it bugs me on American comics no end.

**I stand to be corrected on this. I’ve a suspicion that in those days it was standard to simply pass each episode on to the designated artist and let them get on with it; nowadays a lead artist may be asked to do a whole bunch of character designs up front, which would then be circulated to all other series artists.

***This is what I assumed was going to happen; in fact, the spirit of the Joker sort of becomes a fifth Dark Judge. With spiky shoulder pads.

****I don’t have any hard facts on this, but I’m pretty sure Slaine is the strip most reprinted in collections across the world, after Judge Dredd. It might even be second on the list of ‘strips with most epsiodes’, but that’s a project for another blog.


Friday, April 13, 2018

No. 108 INJ Culbard

First Prog: 1800
Latest Prog: 2062

First/Last Meg: 250

Total appearances: 96
-including a one-off strip in the ‘small press’ slot of the Megazine, and an extra writer credit on his own Future Shock.

Creator credits:
Brass Sun

Other art credits:
A Christmas episode of Stickleback
A 3riller and a Future Shock
No Dredds as yet. Go on Tharg, see what happens!

Notable character creations:
Bridget Curtis
I’m tempted to describe both ‘the wheel of worlds’ and ‘the Habitat’ as characters, too, although that’s dead pretentious.

This scene-setter beautifully captures the vastness of space and the tiny, closed-in nature of life on a space station.
Words by Dan Abnett

Notable characteristics:
Shiny. Clean. Simple. Elegant. Just alarming prolific and speedy. Amazing sense of space, both wide (like Brass Sun) and incredibly claustrophobic (like Brink). Unafraid to use the ‘unreal’ / shiny colours such as cyan and magenta and greens and yellows and all that jazz.

Oh, and being one of Tharg’s best ever storytellers, up there with Ezquerra and Dillon, in my view.

On INJ (aka Ian N J):
To my eyes, Culbard sprung from nowhere. There was just suddenly a new Ian Edginton epic, with an artist I’d never heard of – Brass Sun. And it was GOOD.

That shaft sinking into the snow promises so much story yet to come!
Words by Ian Edginton

Of course I immediately had to explore the world of INJ Culbard and soon discovered that he’s been in comics for ages (although not as long as his extensive CV might have you believe, he’s just unfairly fast). A lot of his early work has been in the world of retelling classic stories from the 19th and early 20th centuries – Sherlock Holmes, HP Lovecraft and such.

Clearly a natural fit for working with Ian Edginton, then!

A Stickleback Xmas tale in the vein of British comics past.
Words by Ian Edginton

But Brass Sun isn’t like any of those things. I suppose it has a steampunk aesthetic which has an overlap with Victorian/Edwardian styles, but really it’s all new.

So important to get all those balls and poles in the right places.
And, again, the promise of so many stories to explore on each one.
Words by Ian Edginton

The grandeur, the shininess!
Words by Ian Edginton

One of the things about Brass Sun is that it has lots of episodes and is already on book 5 of goodness knows how many. Seemed like the sort of thrill that could keep a single artist busy forever. But Culbard clearly didn’t think it too many, churning out episode after episode after episode (well, until Edginton took a break to write a million other long-form serials)

I will say that his art does sort of look like it was done quickly, but this is not at all to say it looks rushed. In fact, it adds a sense of urgency to the strip, which helps propel Wren’s ongoing quest to find the keys and generally to keep the wheel of worlds turning. 

Definite shades of T2: Judgment Day in this sequence. Explosive and dynamic.
Words by Ian Edginton

There’s a reason it’s Edginton’s best series in ages, which is partly that it has a protagonist with a specific goal in mind, and Culbard enhances that. It helps that Culbard knows how to use just a few lines on a character's face to really nail down subtleties of emotion, whether its anger, sadness or just plain sarcasm.

Just enough lines, and just enough colour shading, to really show you what each character is feeling.
It's not showy, not remotely 'realistic', but it damn well works.

Playing with camera angles to sell the emotion.
Words by Ian Edginton

For all Culbard's cartooniness and clarity of story, he doesn't skimp on that crucial 2000AD staple, hyperviolence.

And it’s partly that each new series brings with it one or sometimes two all new worlds to explore. If the airship-based gas giant world was less exciting that what had gone before, no matter, because we’ll be in all all-new environment very soon!

Can't wait til it all comes back in the 2017 Xmas Prog!*

Of course, Culbard didn't quite come out of the gate with Brass Sun levels of awesomeness. I'd forgotten it, but he had a slot in the Megazine some years earlier, with a reprint of one of his self-published comics, a Future-Shock-esque tale called Monster, that he wrote and drew.

Menacing, bile-spewing old ladies, a reliable frightener.
Words and pictures by Culbard

It has the basic elements of his style, but also feels less polished, and perhaps more openly influenced by other artists (Mike Avon Oeming?). Which, frankly, is as it should be for an artist's early work! I mean, it's still bloody good.

Back in 2000AD, many years later, Culbard found himself with the time and space to launch into a second series, of even greater epic length than Brass Sun: Brink. And, for me, his art has bumped up a level. I think this might be the result of the setting. The Habitat, a giant collection of space stations, has to look futuristic and metallic and all that, but also run down, with weird unearthly lighting, and above all, deeply claustrophobic.

Brass Sun was mostly about wide open spaces (except for the bits between worlds, which are amongst my favourite sequences); Brink is all about being trapped.

Amazing colours in this series, really sets the mood.
Words by Dan Abnett

Perfect setting for some tense chases.
Words by Dan Abnett

I love this kind of cartooning - such elegant economy of line, yet also stuffed with detail.
Plus, Bridget Curtis doesn't give any hoots and is awesome.
Words by Dan Abnett

How do we know they're falling down a long way?
Perspective, context, and damn fine drawing.
Words by Dan Abnett

And there's plenty of slice-of-life in there, too. In fact, these are some of the best bits.
Less showy for a post celebrating an artist, mind.
Words by Dan Abnett

Never underestimate the power of a well-timed close-up.
Words by Dan Abnett

Brink will return, and with Brass Sun shaping up to have at least 3 more books (well, at current rate of in-story development), Culbard will be kept plenty busy in the pages of 2000AD.

But before we leave, let's not forget that the man can write as well. While Monsters was fairly straightforward, his Future Shock proper, in the pages of 2000AD, is one of the really good ones, kinda reminds me of Alan Hebden's work. It's based around a classic self-serving sad-sack named Bob...

..who stumbles upon an improbable but delightful bit of sci-fi kit...

Retro-continuity Engine, eh? Someones been reading some American superhero comics.
But put to splendid use within the context of this Future Shock.
It doesn't end so well for Bob, but it leaves the reader with that sideways smile that denotes the better end of the Future Shock 'surprise!' spectrum. More please - but not if it's going to get in the way of further Brink and Brass Sun goodness. (Looks like we're getting at least one series of each in 2018, joy!)

More on INJ Culbard:
A neat little summary of his backstory on Illustrator's Lounge
An interview that ran when Brink was first out, on Broken Frontier
Of course, 2000AD Covers uncovered

Outside of 2000AD, Culbard may be best known for his adaptations of HP Lovecraft and AC Doyle.
Here's a Lovecraft appreciation bit. I read one and it was absolutely triumphant.

Personal favourites:
Brass Sun (I'll be honest, Book 4 was a bit of a let-down compared to the stunning opening trilogy, but it'll get back on its feet I have no doubt)
Future Shocks: the World According to Bob
Is that a Cthulu I see before me..?

*Yes, I composed this blogpost some months before actually posting it...