Thee Comic Column #137: Judgement from a Friend!

JDRecently I was at a pretty low point. Things that were once constants in my life suddenly slipped away and I found myself in a rather shaky psychological place. My day-to-day life stopped, and that included all the things that make me happy. My interests, at one point, became solely based on survival.

It was pretty terrifying.

In the end everything worked out and order was restored; I won’t go into detail but let’s just say that as we get older and we realize that life is far stranger and infinitely harder than we’d ever been led to believe, sometimes people freak out. And that’s fine. It’s coming back from those dark places that is the important part, and what we learn along the way. I’m much better now, as is the other person involved. But there was a two-week period where I really needed help. I’m lucky enough to have people to talk to and friends and family that look out for me. One of those friends, Joup’s own Chester Whelks, caught wind of my pain from across the pond and reached out with not only a series of emails expressing the most heartfelt support, but also a care package. In the care package? Well, if you know me you know there are two quick ways to my heart – Beer and Comics! Along with a stock of awesome antique British Beer coasters Chester sent Marvel’s 1602 – something I owned and read and lost at some point. Also in the package? Wait for it…. THIS:

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In one of his communiques Chester mentioned that he remembered Mike and I had discussed our love for the Alex Garland-penned Dredd in a previous episode of Drinking with Comics. Chester had also made note that during that discussion I had mentioned that I’d never actually read a Judge Dredd comic. Thus this care package was Chester’s way of cheering me up and furthering my comics education in one big, beautiful act of kindness.

Other than the Batman/Judge Dredd: Judgement on Gotham (which I will get to discussing in these pages eventually) Judge Dredd remained largely a mystery to me in my early teens. The character was created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra and first appeared in the British comics anthology 2000 AD back in the late 70s. I’m foggy as to what degree Dredd was published over on our side of the pond, as 2000 AD was not the kind of thing I knew to look for on the shelves of my then-comic shop Heroland Comics. My first awareness of the character came, as I suspect many young American males’ did at that time, via Anthrax’s 1987 song “I Am The Law” from their Among the Living album (a record that also turned me onto – in a round about way – Stephen King’s Dark Tower series back when the second volume had just come out). Smitten with the song I remember talking about it and finding that a friend’s older brother – who was kind of a dick – talked about reading Judge Dredd in something called Quality Comics. For the life of me I don’t remember ever seeing him with those comics, but what I did see shortly thereafter was the character get a big Hollywood attempt at installation in American hearts and minds with the 1995 Sylvester Stallone vehicle Judge Dredd. At that point  Dredd seemed something to walk away from and any significance the character had for me was lost. The fact that Judge Dredd had at one point been written by Garth Ennis, whose Preacher was around that time rapidly becoming my favorite comic book ever went right over my uninformed little head. Also lost on me was the significance of all the other British New Wave writers and artists that I was getting into who had worked on Dredd, from the aforementioned Carlos Ezquerra – whose future creator-owned collaborations with Ennis would begin around this time – and Alan Grant – whose work on Detective Comics I’d loved a few years before. But there were so many more: Ennis’s Preacher co-creator Steve Dillon, Mark Millar, Grant Morrison… you get the picture.

It wasn’t really until Alex Garland and Pete Travis’s 2012 film Dredd that my historical interest was rekindled and I began to think about the character again, albeit in a very casual way. So casual that it took another three years and the kindness of a friend to finally find the proper place to start with the now legendary Judge, Jury and Executioner.

Judge Dredd Collection 2 is a great read and a historical document of sorts. It’s not a trade or graphic novel. Instead, it is kind of an off-shoot from the 2000 AD series. Published in 1986, what we have here is in essence a series of one page one-shots, a collection of the serial strip that ran in the British newspaper The Daily Mail as a ‘comic strip’ – think the long-running Spiderman strips that were in American newspapers forever – and essentially an add for the serialized stories that ran in the actual 2000 AD publication. It is, I think, the perfect place to start with the character, not only for one as uninitiated in the ways of Dredd as I am, but also as a window into the late 70s/early80s British comics scene. They did things differently there and it is of intense interest to me to see and experience that cultural difference, especially since it so very much informed and strengthened the comics scene over here. Which, let’s face it, without the influence of the writers and artists of characters like Judge Dredd, might have lost a lot of us a loooooong time ago.

So in closing, a heartfelt Thank You to goes out to Chester. You made my month my friend. Now, if you’ll join me in raising a glass, sing it with me:

Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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