Can we just stop whatever we’re doing for a moment and talk about Chris Weston? This guy knows how to draw some comics.
This solid fact congealed when the present volume arrived on my lap - Control, a Judge Dredd collection featuring Weston’s work with the character. Weston is remarkably consistent. Rarely an off line. He’s good at drawing architecture and machines - one might be tempted to say he likes it, considering how much time he’s spent drawing Mega City One. If not he’s certainly a diligent masochist. Along with Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons before him Weston shares a predilection for precise fine detail and occasionally fusty staging. Common enough leanings for many 2000 AD laureates. It’s a good house style.
Weston distinguishes himself here with a depth of field and eye for material texture that speaks as much to the continent as to his native tradition. Straight up I tell you true, it looks like he has spent a lot of time studying Moebius. That’s not a name I’d drop under most circumstances as that’s not really a comparison most people could weather. Weston, like Ladronn before him, proves that even just being able to draw a tiny bit like Moebius takes twice the talent as most artists in the history of the medium have ever possessed.
Since the book contains material produced over a significant span of time Weston uses a number of different techniques, and a few different colorists. Every single colorist in this volume turns in a performance of note, including Weston himself. Michael Dowling’s subtle and warm colors for “The Heart is a Lonely Klegg Hunter” play against type for the strip, but are so inviting that I was briefly truly vexed regarding whether or not the colors were digital. (I am almost certain they are by dint of when the comic was produced, but maybe I’m showing my age in terms of being surprised by that.) Dylan Teague comes in for special commendation. He colors the volume’s largest section, the sequence featuring Judge Pin. Weston’s meticulous art is flattered by meticulous coloring. The approach approaches at times something resembling - of all things - Little Annie Fanny. That example shows us how overlaying cartooning with lush, painterly color is often a high risk / low reward enterprise. The problem with Kurtzman & Elder’s strip wasn’t the level of craft involved but the fact that putting that kind of color on cartooning often saps vitality. Little Annie Fanny was gorgeous to look at but kind of a damp squib in terms of readability, certainly considering the talent involved.
(I mean, putting aside the fact that the writing was bad, but who reads Playboy for the writing? If I wanted to read The New Yorker’s rejection pile I’d simply move to Manhattan and get paid approximately zero dollars to be an intern at Condé Nast.)
Every story in the volume was written by Rob Williams, another 2000 AD mainstay who has also done extensive work in American comics. The book offers a pretty good representation of every extant Dredd story type - as an introduction to the character’s recent history you could do worse. There’s a longer serial that plays it straight and adds another brick to Dredd’s long-running macro-narrative - the aforementioned Judge Pin sequence. Pin is a leader of the Special Judicial Squad, Mega City One’s version of Internal Affairs. They’re the pigs the pigs are afraid of, which is why their uniforms look even more like actual SS officers uniforms than the standard Judge onesie. Dredd is a paranoid strip at the best of times, but the strips that deal explicitly with Dredd’s office politics are especially claustrophobic. Pin isn’t just authoritarian, she’s overtly homicidal, a mid-period Ditko reactionary gone ‘round the bend. The storyline is still only half as paranoid as Shade the Changing Man, but less hung up on sex.
(Is Judge Pin’s planting a field of heads in the ground a macabre allusion to 1980’s Motel Hell? Is that more of a Jog question?)
There are a couple shorter one-shots, cynical satirical fables of the kind that remain the strip’s bread and butter, as well as a quieter, humorous character piece starring one of Dredd’s many ill-fated sidekicks, the aforementioned “The Heart is a Lonely Klegg Hunter.” “Elevator Pitch” is an ultra-broad social spoof, featuring monkeys in spacesuits crashing the launch of the world’s tallest elevator, carrying the world’s richest people into the stratosphere in a pleasure bubble called Mar-O-Larger-Than-Yours. As the leader of the aforementioned monkeys says, “ain’t no statement on the nature of capitalism or nothin’ like that.” Not our Dredd, nope.
Those monkeys, incidentally, are the All-New Ape Gang - instead of gangsters these simians are communists, or, at least, robbers who style themselves such. It struck me while reading this that one of my very first assignments for the Journal was a review of The Filth, also drawn by Weston and also featuring an appearance by a communist ape in a spacesuit. A motif in Weston’s career! Also a strangely precise cosmic coincidence, especially so considering I didn’t pick this selection to review. It’s just the kind of coincidence to make me question, if but for a moment some sixteen or seventeen years after writing that first review, whether I’m the one really in a comic book. It frustrates me to know just how much Morrison would be pleased by that reaction.