Monday, 8 November 2010
This Month In Judge Dredd: Megazine # 304
1. "Lily Mackenzie & The Mines Of Charybis" - writer/artist, Simon Fraser
It took me a while to realise that "Lily Mackenzie" is far more than a rather touching love letter to its eponymous heroine. Mea culpa. For as the months have passed, it's become more and more obvious that Mr Fraser is as much set upon the business of conveying something of what it might be like to experience life in the various science-fiction environments he portrays, as he is engaged in the process of showing how Lily's adventures play out within them.
In doing so, he appears to be quietly determined to help his readers think and feel more about the futuristic worlds that they're being presented with than might always be the case elesewhere. It's a process of encouraging and enabling his audience not to take the fantastic things they're seeing for granted which can be noted, for example, in the page scanned directly below, where Mr Fraser shows Lily, Cosmo and Christopher travelling down into the rock of the planet Charybdis towards the Massax Chamber (*1).
I suspect that most creators wouldn't even consider the physical details of Lily's journey interesting enough to present to their audience, and most of them would be right to do so. For it requires an artist of some considerable imagination and craft to create a scene that's so quietly and yet so effectively compelling out of the apparently banal details of a straight-forward progress along a few corridors and down some stairs in a mine.
But then, Mr Fraser doesn't seem particularly interested in the short-cuts offered by cliche. Indeed, "Lily Mackenzie" often seems written by Mr Fraser the writer with the intention of forcing Mr Fraser the artist to extend the boundaries of his capabilities. (Or perhaps it's the other way around?) Whatever, here the two Mr Frasers present the reader with a full page cut-away showing the cast's descent into Charybdis. It's a remarkably easy piece to read despite the lack of traditional panel borders and the presence on the page of multiple takes of the same characters. The eye is carried without effort or confusion from left to right and back again by the character's placement at one side or the other of the page, by the careful sequencing of word balloons, and by the use of a network of triangular structures in the page's design placed to add direction and momentum to what otherwise might be a comparatively static layout. In essence, the horizontal lines serve to anchor the reader's gaze just as the bases of standard-issue panels would, while those hypotenuses accentuate the depth of the shaft while dragging the eye continually down to the chamber at the bottom right-hand corner. It's a clever conceit to say the least; the horizontal lines create a sense that time is passing and effort being made, while the hypotenuses create a sense of vertigo and movement.
It's certainly a visually refreshing way of presenting a relatively quiet moment of exposition, and the design helps to keep the reader involved while a fair degree of Lily's backstory is being delivered to the audience. And yet, keeping us entertained and engaged with the info-dumping while the cast wander without incident from a to b to c is surely just a part of what the design's being used to achieve here. There's also, of course, a rich mass of information being transmitted to us which it'd be hard to imagine being delivered in any other way in the space of a single page. Captured here is something of the claustrophobia of the mine's tunnels, the tedium of the enclosed journey downwards, and the awareness of those hundreds and hundreds of tons of rock pressing down upon our tiny and yet quite individual characters. And there's a sense of how incredibly hard life on Charybdis, of how the technology is far from sophisticated, and of how human sweat plays so much more of a role in this science-fiction future than is normally expected. And, of course, this slow journey downwards into the earth accentuates our awareness that escape from the planet is probably impossible, and that any attempt to do so can only come at some impossible cost.
"Lily Mackenzie" is full of such imaginative and yet highly-functional designs, of considered and engaging attempts to tell an engrossing story without constantly showing figures engaged in a blur of action before thin-as-cardboard backgrounds. Indeed, as "Lily Mackenzie" progresses, Mr Fraser seems to be becoming more and more ambitious with his storytelling. And given that he's still showing every sign of being committed to making sure that the clarity of his work is as transparent as ever, "Lily Mackenzie" stands as that rarest of things, the experimental comic strip that also tells a thoroughly comprehensible story.
*1:- I looked it up. I found nothing. Never mind, it sounds good.
2. "Interrogation: Simon Fraser", by Michael Molcher
The Megazine's interviews with 2000 ad's creative alumni are surprisingly enjoyable. They're long, detailed and entertaining affairs, well worth taking a cup of tea and an afternoon break for, and in many ways, they're the equal of any other feature in the comic. They certainly show the poverty of much of the interviews of comics creators on the net, a medium which you might think was made for great epic chats with writers and artists, and yet which too often produces little more than brief and shallow Q & A sessions with no authorial imput at all beyond the removal of redundancies, a snappy title and a career-furthering by-line.
Credit is due, therefore, to Michael Molcher for his work in turning what sounds like a fascinating conversation with Simon Fraser into a compelling piece that works on the printed page. With a journalistic style that's efficient almost to the point of invisibility, and the more-uncommon-than-its-often-believed ability to weave his subject's words into a satisfying narrative, Mr Molcher's work is as rewarding to read as it is modest in its obvious intent to highlight the interviewee without drawing attention to the interviewer.
Perhaps these interviews were introduced as a way of filling pages without incurring the cost of paying for another six or seven pages of art and story. That's usually the way with the editorial material in comic books. Regardless, one of the first things I turn to in the Megazine is the interview. I never thought to mention it before, but I should have.
3. "Judge Dredd: Bald Ambition" - writer; Rob Williams, artist; Peter Doherty
"Bald Ambition" may be a thoroughly well-written comedy. It may be thoughtfully illustrated. It may even include the following it'll-never-get-old exchange;
Barry: "Judge Dredd .. is a baldie! And we will finally out him!
Gang Member 1: "No way!"
Gang Member 2: "But he doesn't have any facial hair ..."
But it has to be said, indeed it needs to be said, that male pattern baldness is simply no laughing matter. The wearing of "attractive, artisan, carefully cultivated facial hair" is for some of us all we have left. At this very moment, there are on the lonesome surface of the Earth some millions upon millions of men who've been reduced by the cruelly passing years and the betrayal of their dysfunctional DNA to styling ear-wisps and close-combing shoulder-blade matting.
So, some tolerance, Mr Williams, some sympathy, Mr Doherty. Prejudice is a terrible thing, and no-one was ever helped to regenerate a single, strong, muscular hair follicle as a consequence of being mocked by men who undoubtedly have a satanically full head of hair themselves.
Are you part of the solution, gentlemen, or are you on the side of the emasculating process of hairlossiness?