Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Carlos Ezquerra

Some very sad news to wake to this morning: Carlos Ezquerra has died, after a ten year battle with cancer.

This is a huge blow for UK comics fans, and in particular fans of 2000AD and Judge Dredd. The affectionately-named 'King' CarlosEzquerra can be fairly described as one of the fathers of Dredd, providing the first designs of the future lawman, a mix of Death Race's Frankenstein and Conquistador - fitting for a Spaniard, perhaps. And to me, somehow, Carlos' work evoked a Mediterranean sensibility more than any other artist in Tharg's stable.

Carlos draws himself as one of Tharg's art droids

Ezquerra's work is there from Prog 1, and continued through to 2018, with very few breaks. He was a warhorse, from the likes of Battle (Easy Company) and Starlord (gifting the world of comics the brilliant space western Strontium Dog and its mutant bounty hunter Johnny Alpha), and even ventured to other IPC/Fleetway titles - a brief stint for Eagle, plus Crisis and inevitably the Judge Dredd Megazine. As the ubiquitous Dredd and Strontium Dog artist Ezquerra surely occupies the highest triumvirate alongside Bolland and McMahon. Speedy, prolific, and still eminently collectible, we'll see his work for some time to come.

The phrase 'making it your own' is a cliche, but so applicable to Ezquerra's adaptations. Dredd is such a robust character that he's endured countless interpretations, but despite occasional flirtations with other considerable talents, there's really only been one Strontium Dog artist, and even in prose I can't picture anybody in the role of Harry Harrison's 'Slippery' Jim DiGriz than Carlos' James Coburn lookalike in the Stainless Steel Rat series.

For me, though Ezquerra's  style barely changed, that was its greatest strength. Instantly recognisable, effortlessly consistent, but with a worldly, carnal appeal. His dredd and Alpha are virtually the same cloth - burly and tall, but not ridculously muscly, while his women (vampire bounty hunter Durham Red, femme fatale Angelina DiGriz) are pultritudinous, leggy and unapologetically curvy. Like many of the Dredd artists he delights in grotesques - besides Strontium Dog's colourful cast of mutants, Carlos drew a mean brace of Fatties for Mega City One. Even the robotic Blackblood on a rare outing in ABC Warriors is given an idle killer's pot belly. All with a knowing wink, each consistent and so meaty you could slice them like salami.

I still can't quite get my head around the Dredd mega epics entirely to his name: Apocalypse War, Necropolis, Inferno, Wilderlands - not to mention all those epic Johnny Alpha tales - Portrait of a Mutant, Wanted, The Killing. Phew.

My early collecting of 2000AD can be summed in Ezquerra covers: my earliest 2000AD cover by Carlos: Prog 181 (Johnny Alpha "It's taken my best shot - and it still won't die!), my earliest Dredd cover by Carlos: Prog 245 ("Let the Apocalypse Begin!"), and many more followed, of course. There'll likely be a huge tribute in the pages of 2000AD to come, and in the mean-time heartfelt tributes from the likes of Pat Mills, Karl Urban, and a good number of Thargs and Megazine editors past and present.

The King is dead, but his legacy will live forever.

Monday, October 1, 2018


Yes... Back!

Thankyou, Mister Grimsdyke, that'll do nicely.

My October challenge for 2018 is to backfill this blog by Halloween; sods of mouldering posts tipped into a yawning black hole like some purveyor of the grave-digger's guilty art. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Been Caught Reading

This week I got kicked out of a shop. Well, not quite kicked out,. Escorted as I left in mortification, really.

Waiting for a few minutes after a wee walk while I was having some family prescriptions filled (not a euphemism), I stopped in at one of Wellington's few remaining shops with a healthy number and array of magazines in. I do this from time to time, not regularly, and try not to overstay my welcome. Ocasionally - but really not often, to be honest - I might buy one.

This week I picked the wrong time to flick through a magazine and two comics (fan-style - never cover-to-cover) in under five minutes. From behind me came an approaching voice and a familiar complaint:

"Hey, mate - you can't do that here. This isn't a library"

I was so surprised and taken aback I nrealy blurted out "but I'm a librarian!', which would have been a very daft thing to say. Instead, I mumbled an awkward assent, carefully replaced the magazine back in its shelf (no chance of buying that now), and walked out with the owner behind me. I guess I was the only customer in the shop, but I don't remember checking either in or out.

This picture: United States National Archives

I won't return. I think the message was clear enough, and I'll check my behaviour next time I'm in a newsagent's. I've lived in this city for twenty years now and, as said, have been an occasional customer to this particular shop, buying papers, gum, chocolate bars, stamps and, yes, magazines. But if I could be called a 'regular', then probably not the best kind - certainly in the eyes of the owner.

 Walking back to the chemist shamefaced and a little rattled, two thoughts came quickly - some sympathy for the owner, and an acknowledgement that I am part of the problem. I didn't go into the shop to buy a magazine (but I might have - occasional impulse purchases are not outside my habits)
 and who knows if I was the first, the fifth, or the tenth visitor to abuse his floorspace there that day, that week, that month. Maybe I am that kind of 'regular.'

It must be a hard time for a newsagent in this age of dwindling print sales, electronic subscriptions and the added impact of high turnaround titles like the weekly Prog. Nobody walked out of that shop happy this time, but next time I'm in a magazine shop will be different.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

December to May

Well, why not. Rumours of my death et cetera.

Oh, there's a bit to add in the past four months. Stick around! I might add them!

In the mean-time, crikey, the spam-wolves have been busy...

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Jim Baikie

As mentioned elsewhere, my entry point into 2000AD prog-wise was the early 300s, and in those initial issues a short-lived strip was begining to wind down.

Skizz, by Alan Moore, was the story of an alien interpreter from Tau Ceti crashing to Earth and evading the Authorities with the help of a local kid. It was E.T, I knew, but I also recognised that Moore had other things to throw into the mix: this wasn't the autumnal suburban hills of California that Interpreter Zhcchz was dragged into, but central Birmingham amid the bleak early 80s winter of Thatcherism, record unemployment and bleak opportunity Its human protagonist is Roxy, a girl - still a newish thing for 2000AD and in retrospect predicting Moore's realisation of the same in Halo Jones.  In short, it's E.T meets Boys from the Blackstuff by way of a little bit of contemporary TV (Philip Sandifer nods towards the likes of Minder and Grange Hill, but therese are minor influences at best), and while the clash of realism and fantasy would recur in the years that followed in the comic, this was the first roll off the slipway, and one of the best-remembered.

Key to me is Moore's script alongside the art of Jim Baikie, whose time at 2000AD was just beginning, Baikie had come from a variety of UK illustration jobs, often working on various licensed products and titles (Monkees, Star Trek, Hammer House of Horror, Look In and Countdown, for which he provided some Doctor Who art) plus forays into TV spin-offs such as Charlie's Angels, The Fall Guy, and more recently, Terrahawks. Like Moore he had a previous association with Warrior magazine, and was imported into Tharg's team from there. Baikie has a pen-based apporach, with  nice heavy brush on shading anfd a flowing approach to his linework. I can see a lot of contemporaries in his work - Jim Burns and Steve Parkhouse in particular. He likely co-created the look of the kangaroo-like Skizz with Moore, but he could do fantasy well enough - although it's the realism in his work which sells Skizz and becomes a recognisable trait in his work. Baikie's humans arent the elongated strips of sinew that Mick McMahon rendered the likes of Dredd and Slaine, nor the beefcake slabs of muscle under Bisley's tenure, but realistic, unexaggerated forms. His Dredd looks harder for this, and importantly for Skizz, his Lol,Roxy, and tragic no-hoper Clarence Cardew look as though they've come off a Birmingham high street - their fates accrus a pathos because of their recognisability.

Outside of Skizz Baikie also turned his hand to Dredd, helping out with the mega epic Oz, and providing some memorable shot stories and one-shots - in particular the three-part Hitman with its loathsome, toad-like human assassin, and the classic In the Bath which features early 90s cranky Joe Dredd doing what he does best... well,that would be telling.

Baikie went beyond the parent comic to work on spin-off Crisis, where he collaborated with John Smith on the action-oriented New Statesman, as well as turning up Stateside for a brief run on Star Wars. The relaunched Eagle magazine saw him team up with fellow Scot John Wagner for their dinosaur romp Bloodfang, which I look forward to covering in a future instalment of Where Eagles Dare.

In the early Nineties he returned to Skizz for the second series as an artist-writer, giving the story a more satirical edge, but the first story remains the superior, and I'd say so because of its more worldly elements. 'Reliable' is an epithet I apply to a lot of artists who turn in just that sort of work - consistent, faithful, relatable, and it's no dismissal agaist the likes of innovative artists like those above. Blaikie's work remained no less recognisable and was always faithful to its subject. Those first few encounters with his work in Skizz made a big impression on me, and no doubt will remain for some time.

Rest in peace, sir.

Jim Baikie 28 February 1940 – 29 December 2017

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas 1987. Respect!

2017 is guttering its last light, and to many I'd imagine it's goodbye and good riddance. But before we leave it all behind and ride the shopping trolley into oblivion, let's enjoy this moment in which, at the Monkeyhouse at least, a real sense of Christmas cheer has genuinely descended.

Your writer, once a few days of non-work had passed, finaly shucked off a year's work worries and just learned to enjoy the brief time off. His wife of now sixteen years (for whom he is eternally grateful) found her groove in seasonal craft and no wooden clothespeg is safe. Meanwhile, Jet Jr has 'clicked' with Christmas, his days filled with revised wish lists and enquiries about the physics of Santa's chimney-related speliology.

It would be ill-fitting, therefore, to select a Christmas song which is anything but traditional, and so in 2017 I'm going back to the classics. Thirty years ago to 1987, in fact, where an SAW-revived Kim Wilde and a peak-powered, late lamented Mel Smith have joined forces to squeeze out a cheesy hit for Comic Relief. Here's the other Mel & Kim with a distinctly Eighties' take on the Brenda Lee yuletide belter:

Look at that. Look at it! So Eighties with the big hair, the obligatory Ray Bans, Curiosity Killed the Cat, random video effects and the quaint 50s nostaliga of it all - including the Mekon! I've just watched it with the sound down and it's still watchable for one key ingredient: Melvin Kenneth Smith, one of my favourite UK comedians and his marvellous ability to mug his way out of any situation, however ridiculous.

Sure, his erstwhile comedy partner Griff Rhys Jones is in the mix, but for me Mel was the greater talent, his presence a mark of quality on many projects outside their combined efforts Not the Nine O'Clock News and Alas Smith and Jones. One of the things I want to do in 2018 is reacquaint myself with his short-lived sitcom Colin's Sandwich, featuring Smith as the titular sandwich would-be horror writer and his take on British comedy's most enduring couple: the middle-aged man and his neuroses.

But I'm drifting. Outside it's a balmy 25 degrees, the hills are scorched and water restrictions loom for Wellington, but inside this house there's a little piece of northern hemisphere tat to mark the occasion and see us through. So Season's Greetings from Jetsam and the Simian family, and here's to a wonderful 2018.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

I, Monster Maker!

As mentioned earlier, I've been listening to and enjoying James Hollway's podcast Monster Man, a simple idea of one roleplaying fan's reading of the 1977 Monster Manual beastie by beastie. Recetly James set his listeners a challenge I simply couldn't overlook: create an old school D&D monster.

Specifically, create a monster based on a bargain-shop miniature or knick-knack; the way the very first proprietary creatures were made by the likes of Gary Gygax and Tim Kaske from the dime store bags of 'dinosaurs' (loosely referred to as Chinasaurs, although they really originated in Hong Kong), repurposed to become the Carrion Crawler, Rust Monster, Owl Bear and Bullette. James' challenge was as much to do this as make the monster, then to draw up the relevant entry for the Manual.

So I took up the challenge - initially looking around the local Two Dollar shops for inspiration, but I found little outside of some insects and marine animals, made from pretty cheap and nasty-smelling rubbery plastic. Out of desperation I went underground - specifically, under the house to my Bitz Box, and found some loose plastic toys collected from recent school fairs. From that I found this guy:

I've no idea who or what he is. Looks modern, lacked a tail, so I carved up an old Allosaurus and courtesy of the donor dino, the result was near indistinguishable:

 The question then became what to convert my new beastie into? The current paintjob is okay - certainly fine for tabletop play, if a little airbrushed and quite 90s in colour scheme. Was it from a video game or something? Anyway, when I got it I thought it could be an evil tree spirit or something. Cut to the Monster Man contest and I wasn't as drawn to that interpretation. Still stumped, I undercoated it old school style with white acrylic...

...and inspiration struck! One turquoise wash later, with some blenched bone highlights and he's a mountain menace, a white wailer, an Eisengeist... ehh, I'll come up with something.

The next candidate was even simpler and more organic in his creation. take a grasshopper head and a triceratops body (it helps if they're not to scale, obviously) and you get this guy:

Sorta resembles a Rust Monster! But my version, the Flambeau or spit lizard, is a more natural creature in intent. The Flambeau lives deep in damp places where it eats subterranean fungi and rotten or petrified vegetation. Due to intestinal fermentation it has a unique defensive manoeuvre: it spits a noxious substance to deter its attackers. Now, in the natural world this means a tarry, foul-smelling substance to gum up would-be aggressors and maybe provide some random protein for our chimaeric critter here. However, as a trap for the unfortunately adventuring party, the Flambeau's spit also turns out to be highly flammable.

Yeah, he's a natural, walking napalm cannon to anyone sporting a flaming torch, opened lantern, or foolish enough to go in fists blazing with a fireball. Heh heh heh.

Stats to come, though  I missed the Monster Man deadline due to other engagements :/ Oh well.