Thursday, May 26, 2011

31 Days of Comics #26

The Judge Dredd Collection #1
By John Wagner and Ron Smith

One of the most appealing things about reading Judge Dredd stories is their brevity. The vast number of Dredd stories have been little more than six pages long – they make their point quickly, and move on.

There is still scope for stretching out a story for a more satisfying result, but it is notable that even the biggest, most world-changing event-driven storylines in Judge Dredd’s history are still only about 150 pages long, or the same length as any average six issue run in an American superhero comic book.

It’s harder to do this than it looks, probably because Dredd co-creator John Wagner makes it look so easy. Wagner is so adept at crafting tiny bits of Dredd’s story with craft, wit and humour in six-page slots, but even more impressively, he can still do it in just one page.

There are 48 one-page stories in The Judge Dredd Collection, a compendium of Daily Star strips all written by Wagner and drawn by Ron Smith during the most classic era of 2000ad. They started doing this weekly strip in the Daily Star newspaper in 1981, and this collection followed four years later, with another three collections to follow.

The Daily Star strips are remarkable examples of precise and concise storytelling. They are usually between nine and eleven panels long, but still manage to have a set-up, pay-off and witty closing line from Joe Dredd in there, while also making some sort of satirical or ironic point.

There are stories of scientific experiments going horribly awry, future diseases getting out of control, 22nd century fads and crazes that are more trouble than they’re worth, and horribly ironic bureaucratic nightmares, all drawn with the absolutely palatable art of Ron Smith – one of half a dozen definitive Dredd artists who excels at crazy action, fluid figurework and sheer panic, but fluffs some important details.

Apart from the creators, the only two things every strip has in common is Dredd – often acting as some kind of straight man – and Mega-City One. The future New York and its future-shocked residents form much of the Dredd strip’s fun. They’re irrational, mental, obsessed and armed to the teeth.

But if there is one point to take from this collection of 30-year-old newspaper strips, it’s that these people might be irrational, mental, obsessed and armed to the teeth, but they’re still got to live together in a community. Anybody who is too selfish, too arrogant, too ignorant or too violent usually meets some sort of ironic fate, and if they’re lucky, it’ll be a quick and painless bullet from Dredd’s Lawgiver.

The Daily Star strips feel like a continuation of the classic Graveyard Shift story, from the same creators at the same time, which fleshed out Dredd’s world with remarkable ease by simply showing the average night in the life of a Mega-City judge.

Like the Graveyard Shift, the newspaper strips each highlight one little new aspect of Dredd’s world, building up a solid base of complexity that the strip would feed off for the next few decades. Wagner and Smith were creating a world in this comics, and it’s one that is still thriving.

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