Across The Pond

Writer: Will Cooling
Teaser: Top 10 Brits Ready To Break America

2000AD (and British comics in general) has inspired a thriving internet community with sites such as www.2000adreview.co.uk and www.2000adonline.com being home to passionate debate and analysis about the galaxy’s greatest comic. Every month the 2000AD Brain Trust harnesses that power to answer, debate and critque various questions and issues to do with 2000AD. This month Across The Pond Editor and The Nexus British Comics reviewer Will Cooling draws your attention to the 10 writers/artists that are destined to break it big in the land of the free”¦

It’s one of the truisms of modern comics that Brits simply do it best. I mean when yanks were doing stories about the Joker becoming Iranian Ambassador the Brits were breaking boundaries with stories such as Watchmen and later epics such as The Invisibles and Preacher. For the past 20years there’s be a steady trickle of American comic execs beating a trail to the mother country and banging on many a door to find real artists and writers, many of which work or worked for the legendary comic 2000AD and its spin-off title Judge Dredd Megazine. But who’s next? Who’s going to follow the likes of Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Garth Ennis, Dave Gibbons, Alan Davis, Brian Bolland and Frank Quitely and cross the pond joining the likes of Andy Diggle, Jock and Mike Carey as recent crossovers. Hi my name’s Will Cooling and tonight I’m going to run down the 10 names of the 10 British creators that are in line to break America.

(I’m going to drop the cheesy writing style for the actual “reviews” as that pastiche was never going to work over two full columns)

Number 10: Simon Frasier (Artist)

I very nearly didn’t put Simon Frasier down on this list due to his own statements last year that his style was “too French” for the Americans. However, according to the man himself the recent success of Manga has made everyone re-evaluate what works so I can stick him after all. Frasier has a style that in tone is similar to Mark Buckingham in that it has a very engaging cartooney element without sacrificing seriousness or realism to said element. That said he’s a far superior artist to Buckingham having not only a more daring and inventive design sense when it comes to character design and layouts but a more rewarding drawing style. His linework is whilst clear and bold extremely detailed and able of the most intricate characterisation. His art also has a sense of energy and verve that many artists lack; his art really does jump off the page. His characterisation is excellent and he has a really ability to make the lead character extremely vibrant and interesting and therefore the focus of the page. He has also begun to use computer colouring and the results are spectacular. If he can colour his own work and still produce 22-pages and isn’t snapped up by the French then he should surely be gracing the pages of Vertigo or Wildstorm very soon.

Number 9: Andy Clarke (Artist)

Comics’ own Quentin Tarantino Andy Clarke, this man is the coolest and most naturalistic of the artists on this list. Clarke has made him name on Sinister Dexter and Andy Diggle’s espionage series Snow/Tiger both of which stuck a Tarantino mix of inventive, slightly outlandish action and brisk, breezy characterisation. In other words these were cool, fun and loud action comics that there would be more of if comics looked at what types of things its primary demographic watches in other media. Clarke’s art is extremely cinematic with a style that is very naturalistic in a Hollywood idealised manner although his recent work the see some Quitely-esque flourishes around the edges of his linework. His action scenes are his strong point with an excellent eye for the correct pose and great knack for panel layouts. If one thing was to let him down its that sometimes his character designs can be a bit generic for example he seems to have one Asian 20something man and woman which he sticks in. It’s a flaw that will have to be addressed if he’ll achieve his full potential in America.

Number 8: Simon Spurrier (Writer)

Simon Spurrier is the new kid on the block over in Britain having had a terrific 18 months or so as he’s produced series after series where the only constant is there shared quality. He’s touched all bases with out-an-out comedy in the fantasy/horror comedy Bec and Kewl, a Vertigo style supernatural horror in the wonderfully oblique From Grace, riotous and OTT action in the breakout story of last year Lobster Random and now has set his sights on detective stories with his new series The Simping Detective. In the short space of time he’s earmarked himself out as a special talent with a grasp on characterisation, willingness to experiment and a versatility that would make him fit the usual mould for The Brit in Vertigo. In addition the panache and wit has in regards to dialogue, layouts and scenarios would mark him out as a perfect fit for Wildstorm or MAX Comics. What lets him down is his inexperience especially as all his work has been with his own characters (aside from two recent comedy one-offs) so we have no knowledge of how he’d managed handling an established, franchise character. However, with the progress he’s made recently there’s little doubt that he’ll excel at tackling such a character as well. Definitely a name to watch especially as according to Andy Diggle he has the “hunger” for success in America.

Number 7: Rob Williams (Writer)

Rob Williams is a strange writer for me to review as for me he’s quite a new talent what with my reliance on 2000AD/Judge Dredd Megazine and my lack of knowledge of American Indies. Yet he’s actually done quite a bit of work most notably the well received ClassWar for Com.X, which seems to show an ability and an inclination to write superheroes something that I don’t need to tell you is a plus when it comes to working for the American Big Two. In addition, from the reviews I’ve read its sounds like a very Authority inspired book so when in a yea’s time their looking for a new writer he could very well be at the front of the queue.

What you can take from his work in 2000AD is that he’s excellent detective comic writer with both Family and even more so Lowlife being excellent detective stories and mysteries. This bodes very well for his success in the American market when you consider that so many of America’s top characters such as Batman are essentially detectives in pervert suits. What’s more it seems that detective writers are currently in vogue with the likes of Brian Michael Bendis and Greg Rucka (okay technically he’s more espionage but the writing technique is very similar) being among the most popular writers in America. However, what’s propelled him into this list is his work on Lowlife that has shown a real maturing of his writing. Firstly, it’s the first piece of his I’ve read that has a lead character and he’s managed to flesh her out in way that he had previously failed to do so well in Family or Asylum. Secondly it showed that he could apply the essentials of his writing-good characterisation coupled with a tight and coherent mystery to a character and place that’s set in an established characte’s universe (Lowlife is a Dredd-world story) something that makes him much more likely to break the American Big Two with all the X-Titles Marvels putting out and an increasing number of DCU Vertigo/Vertigo Influenced books. It also sounds like he’s on good terms with DC at the moment so it looks like he’s almost got his foot in the door.

Number 6: Patrick Goodard/Dylan Teague (Penciller/Inker team)

These two are one choice because they work so well and so often together; although with my ignorance of the work an inker does I’ll be concentrating on Goodard’s linework. These two are simply begging to be snapped up by one of the American Big Two and put on one of their iconic characters like Superman or Captain America. Goodard unlike most British creators is primarily an American superhero fan and it shows in his work with his style being almost all-American. His linework is clear and bold and has a sense of bigness to it reminiscent of Bryan Hitch circa The Authority/JLA. With Teague he has become an incredibly consistent artist with an effective if unflashy storytelling method although I believe he could easily pull off Hitch-esque double spreads. His action sequences are excellent with their recent Chopper series featuring some excellent sky-board (flying surfboard) sequences in what was otherwise a slightly disappointing series for him and Teague. Their Dredd stories are probably the best case for their quick move to America with Goodard’s drawing of him being very iconic and the way that they draw attention to him and place him at the centre of the story is very, very similar to how your average superhero artist works. These two are extremely un-British, which are one hand is a good thing and on the other a bad. Obviously, having such an American style is a great boon to get into superheroes, however its far more difficult for a British artist to get into such titles than say a Vertigo title, and because of the all-American nature of their work they just wouldn’t fit an non-superhero title in the way that every other artist on this list would. Therefore a good tip for the future but they’ll need a lucky break to gain a foothold in America.

Number 5: Frazer Irving

Frazier Irving is the number one horror artist of today. Forget your Mignola’s or your Corben’s this man can put the chills run down your spine. His work on horror classics such as Necronauts, A Love Like Blood and My Name Is Death has confirmed as one of the hottest names in British comics. His inventive and original style that mixes angular character design with an almost polygon use of lines and swirls as each builds up the character. He is capable of some extremely visceral and nasty work with his revival of Judge Death in My Name Is Death after the character had been discredited due to a move into comedy showing an ability to tackle and reinvent franchise characters. In addition to his ability with horror he is also a gifted drawer of black comedy with his satiric Drugs, Sex and Rock & Roll trilogy with Gordon Rennie and Judge Death: The Wilderness Years showing off an ability of his to get laughs whilst still a vague sense of menace. Finally he has on occasion with his less regular colour shown himself to be the best headf*ck and cosmic artist in the business today with Storming Heaven in particular showing how when allowed to run riot he can produce the type of mind-blowing visuals that are just begging Grant Morrison to script them. With DC already a fan of his work as shown by them offering him the Stormwatch job after his Authority one-off and the likes of Andy Diggle pushing his work (Irving along with Flint were his original choices for Swamp Thing) he should have a promising future in American comics.

Number 4: Robbie Morrison (Writer)

Now really Morrison shouldn’t be on this list as he’s pretty much broken America in a very really sense already but what the hell I had to make one last plea as to how great a writer he is aside from his horrible Authority run. Morrison is one of the most thoughtful and mature writers in 2000AD history often writing stories that treat its sci-fi and violence leanings as only a contract obligation and instead writing wonderfully deep characters with gorgeous overlapping plot lines that allows the characte’s and stories’ to breathe over a long period of time. If you look at he’s famous work on Nikolai Dante you see a writer who can actually develop a character over years and make it interesting. What’s more he has an ability to inject humour and lightness into what often can be quite heavy stories; for example there are wonder little interludes in the Tsar Wars epic that depict life on the trenches as we see some wonderful humour. In addition he’s an excellent using of the page managing to fit into each page a tremendous amount of action with the excellent Shakara showing an ability to wide-screen action. What may hold him back is a lack of affinity with the superhero genre (he had never even read The Authority before being asked to pitch for it), which may leave consigned to the margins of the Big Two such as Vertigo. That said his ability to work in what by all accounts were difficult circumstances during his Authority run (overly tight editorial guidelines, an unpopular and “undisciplined” artist) and the fact that he does seem to have impressed those he worked for suggests he will be given another chance in America. His next title is going to be so crucial though to his long-term chances of success.

Number 3: Henry Flint (Artist)

Not to blow my own country’s trumpet but when the best up and coming artist of the moment is only number three on the list of possible exports it tells you the level of quality that’s being produced. Flint is simply a visual genius who too often leaves me absolutely speechless for this paragraph to his art justice. His art has a level of design, energy and sheer visual verve that few artists can match. His style is very cinematic with a cool eye for fantastic layouts whilst his linework just begs to be described with the word Cyber-Punk with his jagged lines and not quite naturalistic style just oozing attitude. What’s more impressive is his versatility whilst staying within a very recognisable style. For example his coloured work as seen on The V.C.s Book 1 and Judge Dredd vs. Aliens is excellent, modern action-comics stuff that would look right at home in the pages of The Authority. On the other hand his black and white work often has a harsher, more cyber-punk edge with his most recent work on Lowlife being a hybrid between Miller circa The Dark Knight Returns and Eddie Campbell. A fantastic artist who also seems to have fairly fast drawing speed as well, plus as an added bonus to his chances in America the likes of Andy Diggle and Rob Williams are on record as having plugged his work to DC whilst Williams says that Trevor Hairsine plugged him to Marvel. The fact that influential creators are pushing his work to a generally positive response bodes well for him making the jump very soon.

Number 2: Chris Blythe (Colourist)

When I first got into 2000AD we were in the middle of the “all-colour rule” where artists whose work had previously only ever gone in black and white were being coloured. Worst things had gotten so bad financially for the comic that it could no longer make it worthwhile for artists to colour let alone paint their own work. The end result was that work by artists such as Colin MacNeil and Steve Yeowell was often ruined by awful and bland colouring with computer colouring becoming virtually the 2000AD equivalent of Chuck Austen as a hate figure for the faithful. All that change with the arrival onto the comic of one Chris Blythe who is the best computer colourist of other creato’s work I’ve ever seen with artists such as Jock, Henry Flint and Cam Kennedy all benefiting from his work.

His colouring is so good for three reasons. Firstly his palette is bold and vibrant without being gaudy, it may not sound much but if you compare his work to the likes of Alan Craddock you see how horrid some colourists’ palettes were (to be fair he was working in the mid nineties). Secondly, his colouring does more than just “colour in” the artwork it adds depth and shape to it. Take for example Cam Kennedy, his arc on the Punisher looked total rubbish if we’re honest with his characters looking flat and small with his backgrounds not much better. With Blythe Kennedy’s artwork is given more oomph and verve as Blythe just gives a better texture and feel to Kennedy’s work. Thirdly and finally Blythe never tries to impose himself onto an artist instead he takes the time to develop a partnership with the artist and bring out the nuances in the artwork. Take for example Henry Flint, when Flint did a few Judge Dredd fill-ins Blythe coloured to howls of disappointment that Flint wasn’t in his trademark black and white yet by the time that the two collaborated on the next summe’s VCs there were no complaints about Blythe’s colouring and now I think they’d be a sizeable number who prefer Flint/Blythe to Flint’s monochrome work. He had quickly adapted to the artist and was now bringing the best out of him.

So that’s three reasons why he’s the best colourist and what makes it more startling is that he’s reasonably prolific with even judged on his 2000AD/Judge Dredd stuff doing enough work to comfortably be able to do 44pages a month. Would be a huge coup for an American publisher to land Blythe especially if they want to bring the best out of any of the artists on this list (with the possible exception of Simon Frasier).

Number 1: Gordon Rennie (Writer)

Yes, here is our first choice. It’d be fair to say that Gordon Rennie is only behind John Wagner as 2000AD’s MVP and for good reason as he has an engaging style being able to throwaway comedy and yet develop complex and three dimensional characters and plot-lines over a series of stories. He also has experience with working on his creation and also with established, franchise characters.

Let’s take his original work first. His original creations fall into two categories both perfectly suited for the American market. First he has created characters that are on the margins of an established universe i.e. his breakthrough series Missionary Man (with Frank Quitely no less) and the current Cursed Earth Koburn both are based in the world of Judge Dredd. With these series he has shown an ability to get a balance between allowing the character to breathe and using the universe/continuity of the established character to act as a hook for the reader. This makes him out as perfect to tackle one of the legions of X-books that Marvel is pumping. Secondly he’s proven himself to excel at a Vertigo/Hellboy style horror with two series standing out are Necronauts and Caballistics. Inc. Both are similar despite the former being a stand-alone series whilst the other is an on-going semi-regular feature of 2000AD. Both feature great horror concepts and adversaries, a mixture between series action and humour and an ability to create/write in-depth and engaging characters. The tone of both of these titles is perfect for Vertigo despite the writers concerns (at least with Necronauts) that Vertigo would limit the opportunities for comedy. However perhaps the most promising thing about these two series when judging his chances in the American market is that both show he has a great grasp of team dynamics, something that is naturally essential for the vast majority of American titles.

Then there’s his work with established, franchise characters, which again can be divided into two groups. First is his complete revamps and renewals of lapsed characters a skill he recently showed with his Rogue Trooper run. Whilst the run was mixed the final story showed a skill to thoroughly modernise an old concept without the freedom to give it a thorough reinvention. He did this by hanging onto what is in essence kinda an old-fashioned character plenty of high-concept and cutting edge action scenes. There are plenty of American characters that would benefit from such an approach and the fact he can do it within what were by all accounts very tight editorial guidelines bodes well for him avoiding any Daniel Way misshapes.

However perhaps the most exciting thing is his work on Judge Dredd. Before we get onto why his work is so good we must recap what a graveyard for write’s reputation Dredd is. Okay you know how Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and Garth Ennis are the three most popular British writers of the 1990s? Well all of them to a lesser or greater extent failed to have their versions of Dredd be accepted by the readership (Ennis whose work is probably the best of the three says only a dozen of his Dredd strips from the nineties are good). Hell Warren Ellis refuses even to have a go at writing Judge Dredd. It would be fair to say that there are only four writers who can considered themselves established, successful Dredd writers-John Wagner, Pat Mills, Alan Grant and Gordon Rennie.

What Rennie has done is to capture the spirit of Wagne’s Dredd but not fall into the trap of being derivative of him. He has managed to characterised Dredd expertly and also excel at the satiric elements of Dredd that made the character so popular. The fact that Rennie can take an established character and successfully deliver stories in the series’ traditional manner is what above all marks him out as the hottest tip for the next Brit to have success in America. The only thing that can stop him having such success is whether he actually wants to make the move.

Okay that’s our number one. Let me finishing by thanking you for letting me into your home/work/library/school. I’ve hoped you’ve enjoyed our rundown of the 10 British talent that our judge feels are going be big in America next but above all I hoped you learnt something. Now when those fan-editing threads pop up on the Internet message boards you no longer have to put Bryan Hitch on four books or talk about Alan Moore on Superman. No you can wow people we’ve obscure choices and then sit back and watch the kudos follow.

NEXT WEEK: Floyd Kermode’s bi-weekly column

If you would like to contribute to the 2000AD Brain Trust as either a guest columnist or pundit then send an email to W_Cooling@yahoo.co.uk with a synopsis of your column idea.

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