The legendary comic book writer talks Dredd, A History Of Violence, and the silliness of Doctor Who.
What did you think of the recent Dredd movie?
Considering the budget they had to work with, they did a magnificent job. It was an accurate depiction of Dredd, unlike the Stallone film which, apart from the uniforms and city background, had little to do with the Judge Dredd 2000AD readers know and love. Its problem was that it tried to show too many facets of Dredd’s world and in the end, because the script wasn’t working, fell back on a plot so hackneyed and untypical of Dredd it made me despair. Dredd 3D is a different fish entirely. Screenwriter Alex Garland realized it was fatal to try to do too much - instead he focused on particular aspects of Dredd’s world to the exclusion of the rest and the film worked very well because of that.
In an ideal world, is there a story you'd like to see adapted for a sequel? The Cursed Earth, say, or The Midnight Surfer?
Quite a few, but you’ve put your finger on one of the best, The Midnight Surfer. That would be something else.
In terms of costumes and set design, it seemed like Stallone's Judge Dredd really nailed it, but then fell apart story-wise. Looking back, is there anything you think worked in that film?
Once again you’ve put your finger on it, the set designs. Some of the CGI was great too, and the depiction of the Mean Machine and the ABC robot (though the latter doesn’t belong in a Dredd film).
Dredd was originally conceived more as a caricature of heartless government rule than a straightforward hero. Do you think that's made him harder to get into, as a character, than more traditional comic book protagonists?
Not in the UK, but maybe in America.
Do you think he's still relevant as a character?
Probably more relevant today than he was when he was created.
You've been writing Dredd since the late '70s – of that incredibly long and popular run of stories, which ones still stand out to you, and why?
You’d be better asking someone else that.
Is it true you weren't originally keen on Carlos Ezquerra's design for Dredd?
Hated it. My take on the character was much more slimmed down, leaner and meaner, not nearly so ornate. I believe my initial reaction was, “He looks like a fucking Spanish pirate”. Just shows how wrong you can be. I should always trust Carlos Ezquerra, he’s the best character creator I’ve ever worked with.
Judge Dredd has teamed (or fought) with Batman several times – are there any other prominent comics characters you'd like to see him do a crossover with?
I couldn’t see him working with a superhero, it would have to be someone like The Punisher, a good nuts and bolts character.
Your non-Dredd work has spanned an incredibly diverse range of genres, encompassing licensed properties (Star Wars, Aliens), superheroes (Batman), and mature graphic novels (the excellent A History Of Violence). Do you have a preferred genre to work in, or are you happier changing it up?
A History of Violence and Button Man suited me very well. There’s no element of fantasy to them, the parameters are ones we all know and understand. In sci-fi and fantasy it’s too easy to make the rules up as you go along.
Back in the '70s you wrote a few scripts for Doctor Who, which were eventually adapted into comic book stories. What do you think of the revamped show?
If I’m honest, I’ve never been a big fan of Doctor Who, I always preferred Star Trek – it possessed much better production values and there was a ‘silly’ element to Doctor Who stories that I could never get into. Pat Mills and I worked on an idea or two for the TV show, but it was a fruitless exercise that left me with nothing but contempt for the editorial team at the time, who hadn’t a clue about what made a good story. The stories we developed for the comic were totally new.
In your opinion, who are the best writers working in comics today?
I don’t read enough comics to give you a worthwhile opinion on that.