INTERVIEW: PJ HOLDEN ON DRAWING JUDGE DREDD

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I’ve already asked PJ Holden about his creator owned endeavours (see the interview here) but I just had to ask him about working on Judge Dredd. Thanks to PJ for asking all my questions and providing some great art for the interview.

Are there any Dredd stories you revisit as a fan?

Oh bimey, yeah, less of the big name classics, more of the little classics like City of the Damned and the Cry of the Werewolf are a couple of my all time favs (if you catch me at a con, I’ll rave like a lunatic about the much-unappreciated City of the Damned).

Dredd has had artists with a variety of styles from the likes of Brian Bolland to Simon Bisley. Does that make it easier or harder when it comes to doing your interpretation? Who would be your influences Dredd-wise?

I think I came to Drawing Dredd far enough away from my influences that they don’t show through too much, in some ways the fact there are so many “definitive” versions of Dredd make it easier that you know you don’t have to slavishly follow one artists style for Dredd to work, but then it’s more difficult because you spend so long finding your own version of Dredd, that, unless you come out of the gate fully formed (like, say Jock) your Dredd can be a little vague until it coalesces into something and I think I’ve been lucky enough to have enough stabs at Dredd to finally have my own distinct version of him (at least until I get another go and can refine and change it).

Influence wise, I think you can still sometimes see some Steve Dillon in there – at the golden age of about 11 or so, Steve Dillon WAS the Dredd artist for me – Bolland seemed too line-perfect, McMahon too line-weird, but Dillon was just right. Of course, as you get older you begin to appreciate those different artists for what they bring to Dredd, and I’m constantly feeling the shame of not fully appreciating McMahon incredible talent. You’ll also, occasionally, see a John McCrea face peeking out of my characters – not a deliberate influence, but John reintroduced me to comics and drawing when I was 18, and clearly his art has seeped in. I wanted to be John McCrea when I grew up, and in many ways I still do – no man works harder or more consistently.

You’ve gotten to work with Judge Dredd co-creator John Wagner. That must be intimidating / exciting.

Yeah, it was pretty exciting. John’s scripts are hard though. That terse “really exciting telegram” style is a great read but really challenging as an artist. “Dredd looks Grim”, for example – how do you sell that particular moment, when Dredd pretty much always looks grim? It’s hard, but when you figure it out, it’s like you’ve unlocked an achievement as an artist and levelled up.
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2000AD often features a rotation of creative teams on Dredd. I asked Michael Carroll about how difficult it is for a writer to stay on top of other peoples’ stories but it must be trickier for an artist as other peoples’ pages or designs may not be locked down when you start working on your story.

Oh for the most part I’m rarely following other artists – or, if I am, in the context of Dredd, aside from the uniform, it’s mostly open to whatever artistic interpretation you want to go with (McMahon’s buildings don’t look much like Ron Smith’s buildings!) sometimes I’ll be calling a character we’ve seen before, then it’s about getting reference, but even then, you still get to play with body language, lighting, costume design and more, so it’s still your baby. I did, once do a fill in strip for Chris Robinson – the second and third part of a four part series that Chris had started and was unable to finish, that was easily tough – Chris’s art is beautiful and subtle and mine is ugly and tactless, and his designwork reflects that, and trying to keep that design work while fighting my own instincts to simplify everything was really hard, but worth it, I think I turned in some great pages (on part 3, by part 4 my baser instincts had prevailed and the art was again ugly and tactless – like a boxer getting punched in the face).

The latest collection, Day of Chaos: Fallout, features some of your recent work. It comes after a big change in the Judge Dredd status quo. Did that storyline change your approach to the book?

My approach is always derived from the script and, to be totally honest, I hadn’t had a chance to read the Day of Chaos storyline so I was going in sight unseen, though I had seen the memo talking about the Day of Chaos and what it would do to Mega City 1.
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You’ve drawn quite a few Dredd stories. What is it about the character that appeals to you?

Every time I get a chance to draw a Dredd I treat it like my last chance to draw Dredd (because someday it will be) and since I’ve always wanted to draw Dredd (from his first appearance when I was 7) he’s just always going to push my particular fan boy buttons. Aside from that though, I love the fact that a Dredd story can be a horror, a comedy, an action-adventure piece or a farce. It’s the wide variety of stuff he can do that really appeals. It’s been awhile since I’ve drawn a funny Dredd, and I’d love another go around…
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How do you keep yourself interested? Are there particular types of stories that you like to draw?

Change! Making sure the next thing is different from the previous thing – that’s what keeps me going. Sometimes that change is in the story (going from pathos to fiasco for example) and sometimes it’s in how I approach the art – 2000AD’s giving me the luxury of more-or-less doing as I please on short stories, so, sometimes I’ll do them as monochrome nightmares with a single putrid green colour and sometimes I’ll draw them as cartoony, comedy pratfulls with goofy idiots doing things.
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Do you have a favourite among the stories you’ve done?

There’s a few I loved from my early Dredds that I’d kill to go back and redraw – the first Dredd story I did with Gordon Rennie, Sino-City, still remains one of my favourite funny Dredds, but my art just wasn’t up to it. Actually, I’d love to go back and redrew the lot, I’ve been very lucky with 2000AD – they’ve pretty much all been great stories.

Is there anything you haven’t gotten to draw with Dredd that you’d like to have a go at?

Fatties, werewolves, SJSs, spacemonsters, robots, the angel gang, Judge Death .. and loads more. But any story with Dredd is going to be fun.

Any Dredd stories in the pipeline that you could hint at?

I wish I could David, but my as of right now, my work on Dredd is at the mercy of the all knowing, all seeing Tharg (may his bag of polystyrene cups never empty)

(Which is to say: I have nothing in the pipeline right now 🙂