This July sees the hardback release of Judge Dredd: Dark Justice, one of the most hotly anticipated 2000 AD series ever. This compilation of the 11-part weekly series was two years in the making, and sees John Wagner back on writing duties, with illustrations by Greg Staples.
We caught up with the man himself, Mr Greg Staples to delve into the painstaking process of painting this game-changing graphic novel...
Why did it take two years to complete the artwork?
Initially, I went to John Wagner with the idea of the story and it seemed to take a long time to get off the ground. I think it was going to be four to five episodes, and then John said, "Let's make this into a proper book" – adding another year onto it!
I need to come up with something, come up with a new approach to comics – the whole idea behind it was to do something that I hadn't seen before – to make a comic that is more like a film, so you read it like a film. I had to come up with a whole new technique to do that.
It also had to be very consistent, you couldn't have a finished panel here and a scrappy panel there,it all had to read consistent and it had to all have an epic feel to it, like a big Hollywood film – so all of it was a big experiment, which is why it took so long.
What can you tell us about your secret technique?
I can't divulge too much into it – it took me two years to do it, and I thought, "there's no way I am giving this away!" What I can tell you is that it's all hand painted: there's no digital. Bottom line was drawing it and then painting it.
Each page was planned quite a lot, and there were colour preliminaries for each panel. I'd never used photo references before but I decided to do a photo shoot just for lighting references, so there was quite a lot of planning behind it.
Would you say the art is the best of your career?
I am proud of it yeah! I think its difficult for me to say really, every time I do something I move onto the next thing and think, "how can I do even better?" – that way I am constantly developing, instead of standing still.
I think up to now, it was quite an active task, it was certainly something I am proud of – I don't think I've done anything thats come close in that way.
Do you always use traditional methods for comic creation?
I do some digital paintings, usually for American clients, like Blizzard. For comic covers and things like that I've seen original artwork as a dying art, so I've tried to keep it up because thats where I feel my forte is. And it's nice, I have artwork to hold in my hands and I can always sell it at the end if I feel like it.
But, it's much much harder work. It took twice as long as it would have taken if it was digital. I'm not saying it was anymore difficult because of that, but certainly more time consuming.
And things can go wrong if your not careful, when if something goes wrong digitally it's quite easy to fix, if it goes wrong in a traditional piece it can take however long to fix it or you have to restart.
What response have you had from fans?
It's been overwhelmingly positive. I've had some amazing comments, comments I never had dreamed about just how great fans think the art is. People are kind of surprised when they look at it, they are trying to figure out how it's done, "how was that possible?"
That's why I think its quite nice to keep a little bit of the mystery behind it, because some of my favourite artists when I was younger did the same thing – and that just got my imagination firing. I've not heard anything negative about it which is, obviously, very good for me.
What new aesthetic elements have you brought the Judge Dredd universe with Dark Justice?
I've been drawing Judge Dredd for a long time now, but I think this is the first one where I have brought a certain amount of realism to it. It actually reads quite realistically, and the figures and lighting are very realistic.
I've worked on films as well so I've been on movie sets and studied lighting and things like that – I brought all that into it. So, I think the one thing I did bring to dreads universe with this particular series is that it could be the next dread film (but on a bigger scale).
Are you excited to see the entire series compiled in one edition?
I think for me and John – we intended it to be a book. When I was working on it, I referred to it as "my book" rather than a comic strip because it's very atmospheric and there's quite a lot of horror in it.
When people read it in the weekly, it's difficult to maintain that kind of level of suspense. When with a book, you're going to be able to just sit down and almost read it just like you would watch it a film, where it kind of holds you.
So, in that regard I think it will work much better collected, I am looking forward to it all come out the way its intended.
What do you love about Judge Dredd?
He's just a character I read as a kid and something just sort of clicked. Superheroes don't really do anything for me very much. I just find, with superheroes, they are enjoyable to draw but there's a certain ridiculousness that I can't quite forget – I'd think, "yeah Batman's lovely but why is he in the middle of the night with a big cape on?"
It's just weird. If he was on the roof across the street, you'd go, "theres a weirdo over there!" Whereas with Judge Dredd, he's just a future policeman but rock hard.
So there's a certain element that it could possibly happen. And it's very tongue and cheek and it's very fun – after doing the rounds in American comics, Judge Dredd just keeps me entertained!
Judge Dredd: Dark Justice is released this July, for more details visit www.2000adonline.com
Words: Greg Staples
Greg Staples is an English comic book artist who has produced numerous illustrations for the Judge Dredd universe. Greg has also worked as concept and production painter on a range of films, including Doomsday.
This is an extended version of an article that originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 121.
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