Happy 30th Birthday, Judge Dredd Megazine!

(Bear with me, folks… this one is going to ramble a bit. For a change.)

Long before Judge Dredd The Megazine was launched in 1990, the words “Judge Dredd comic for older readers” were being whispered in the hallowed halls of comicdom. Although only around since 2000AD‘s second issue in 1977, Dredd had proved to be massively popular. A phenomenon, really: by far the most successful a British comic character in decades. He was possibly even more popular than Dan Dare had been back in the 50s… and there were people who naturally wanted to take Dredd even further.

The most obvious first step would be to give Dredd his own spin-off comic, much in the manner of Cheeky Weekly being freed from the confines of Krazy Comic

Cover art by Carlos Ezquerra

Unfortunately, this particular Judge Dredd comic exists only in the imagination of yer Uncle Rusty, who created the fake cover fifteen years ago for an article on the much-missed 2000AD Review website.

The original B.A.D. Company. Art by Carlos Ezquerra.

But in the early 1980s there really were serious plans to give Dredd his own comic. This would be a fortnightly publication, and some of 2000AD‘s best writers and artists were enlisted to provide its contents, not least among whom were Dredd’s co-creators Carlos Ezquerra and John Wagner, who pitched a future war story called B.A.D. Company. Fan-favourite Judge Anderson was to have received her first solo ongoing strip, and other proposed strips included Blockers and Hell-Trekkers. A dummy issue was created, apparently, but the whole project died before it could get off the ground.

(B.A.D. Company, Judge Anderson and Hell-Trekkers eventually appeared in 2000AD, the former significantly reworked by the new creative team of Pete Milligan, Jim McCarthy and Brett Ewins, and Blockers showed up as a one-off, as far as I recall. The original B.A.D. Company strip was eventually printed in the Megazine in 2002.)

Even though that fortnightly comic was abandoned, 1983 did actually see the publication of the first Judge Dredd comic, published by the newly-formed Eagle Comics in the USA.

Issues of 2000AD were being imported into the States, but only sporadically and with limited success. Perhaps that was because it was just too different to the standard US comic: printed on cheap newsprint paper with untrimmed edges and a non-glossy cover, black-and-white interiors, with oversize pages and six five-page stories per issue, it just didn’t feel like a proper comic to the American readers. Even beyond that, the oversized pages meant it most likely wouldn’t even fit on the comic-store shelves.

Something closer to the standard US format was the way to go… But this would be a reprint title: the only original material was the covers specially commissioned from Brian Bolland.

In the early days the colours of a Mega-City One Judge’s knee-pads and elbow-pads were sometimes green, sometimes yellow. As yet, no official explanation has been released by the Department of Justice.

This first issue reprinted three Dredd tales from 2000AD:

  • Judge Death (from progs 149 to 151, 15 pages)
  • The Forever Crimes (from prog 120, 6 pages)
  • Punks Rule (from prog 110, 6 pages)

All three were written by John Wagner and drawn by Bolland, and appeared here in full colour for the first time.

The series lasted for thirty-three monthly issues under the Eagle Comics banner, then Quality Comics took over for two further issues before calling it a day on this volume and restarting from #1. (I’m planning a much more detailed look at the Eagle and Quality reprint comics so I’ll put a pin in that for now.)

As mentioned above, American comics are smaller than British comics, but it wasn’t just a matter of shrinking the pages: the proportions are different, too. At the time, 2000AD was around 230mm by 280mm (a ratio of 1:1.127), while the US comics were 168mm by 260mm (1:1.547). I’ve written before about different comic sizes, but here’s a quick comparison of the two comics relevant to this case:

In order to get the 2000AD-sized pages to fit the US comic page-size, a bit of tweaking was necessary…

Judge Death Lives, from 2000AD #224

For this page (from the first episode of the “Judge Death Lives” story, originally published in 2000AD #224 and reprinted in the third issue of the Eagle Comics edition), not only was there space added above and below the middle panel, there’s also been some trimming of the panels on the right-hand side:

The Eagle Comics version overlaid on the original: it’s pretty clear that a slice has been removed from the right.
The speech balloons have been tweaked a bit, too, possibly because they’d have been a tad TOO small in the shrunken US version.

Later US reprints — by Quality Comics — took the much lazier approach of just squashing the artwork to fit the pages.

“The Starborn Thing,” episode 5, page 3, script by TB Grover (Alan Grant and John Wagner), art by Carlos Ezquerra, lettering by Tom Frame. Originally published in 2000AD #313 (23 Apr 1983), reprinted in Quality Comics’ Judge Dredd #13 (Oct 1987)

If at first glance this doesn’t look too bad then I urge you to take a second glance and compare two versions of the same panel side-by-side…

But I digress, as I often do because I’m quite good at it (the correct term is “easily distracted,” according to my friend who is knowledgeable about such things, plus he has a nice car that’s bigger than mine but that just makes it harder to find parking in the city, amiright?)

So thanks to these comics Judge Dredd was available to the US market on a more regular basis and in a more acceptable format, but reprinting the strips from 2000AD didn’t address the idea of a presenting the character to an older audience, a desire that was growing rather urgent in the latter half of the 80s when more and more “adult” comics were appearing on the UK shelves.

In September 1988 2000AD‘s publisher Fleetway dipped their toes in the water with Crisis, a fortnightly title aimed at older readers, and a month later the independent title Deadline — created by 2000AD stalwarts Brett Ewins and Steve Dillon — landed on the scene. Marvel UK gave us Strip in February 1990 (also featuring work by some 2000AD creators), and Fleetway had another go with Revolver in July of that same year.

Just some of the “grown-up” British comics that appeared in the UK in the late 1980s. Of these, Revolver was the most revolutionary but sadly it was also the least successful, lasting only seven issues.

With the water now safely tested and found to be of an agreeable temperature and PH balance, and seemingly free of piranhas, Fleetway finally dove in (or dived in, whichever you prefer), with their monthly Judge Dredd The Megazine.

Despite the very basic and quite dominating logo (which I’ve never liked: thankfully it was reduced to a more manageable size from issue #8), that first issue is an absolute knock-out.

  • America (script by John Wagner, art by Colin MacNeil)
  • Chopper: Earth, Wind and Fire (script by Garth Ennis, art by John McCrea)
  • Judge Death: Young Death (script by John Wagner, art by Peter Doherty)
  • Judge Dredd: Beyond Our Kenny (script by John Wagner, art by Cam Kennedy)
  • Midnite’s Children (script by Alan Grant, art by Jim Baikie)

All five strips are very solid and entertaining, but the lead strip, America, is one of the most important tales Dredd’s history. It might well be one of the finest comics ever published anywhere.

Judge Dredd The Megazine was printed on much nicer paper than had been available to its parent publication back when it started, with lots of colour throughout, and — best of all — with the proportions of its pages more closely matching the US format, which greatly simplifies the reprinting process.

Thirty years on, Judge Dredd Megazine (the “The” in the middle was dropped in 1994) is still going strong, although it did take a bit of time to settle down. And by “a bit of time” I mean several years. See, the initial monthly format was revised after twenty issues, when the comic switched to a fortnightly schedule and dropped its page-count, then… No, you know what? It’s easier to do this with a list:

Vol. 1: 20 issues. Monthly, from Oct 1990 to May 1992.

Vol. 2: 83 issues. Fortnightly from 2 May 1992 to 7 Jul 1995.

Vol. 3: 79 issues. Fortnightly from 21 Jul 1995 to 5 Jan 1996 (#1 – #13), monthly from Feb 1996 to Jul 2001 (#14 – # 79).

Vol. 4: 18 issues. Monthly from Aug 2001 to Mar 2002 (#1 – #8), every four weeks from 2 Apr 2002 to 17 Dec 2002 (#9 – #18).

Vol. 5: 424+ issues. Numbering reset to #201 (200 issues had been published prior to this). Every four weeks from 14 Jan 2003 to 11 Sep 2012 (#201 – #327), then monthly from 18 Oct 2012 (#328) to present.

The Megazine being split into five volumes means that there are four different issues that claim to be #1 (the fifth volume clearly has “201” on the cover). More than once I’ve seen people on-line attempting to sell “The first ever Judge Dredd comic!” for a much higher price than they should.

This leads us to the present day, with the current issue of Judge Dredd Megazine, #424, celebrating the comic’s thirtieth birthday (although the first issue was cover-dated October 1990, it would have been on the shelves the previous month). Three decades, it has to be said, is no small feat, as Dredd’s mentor Judge Morphy might attest.

Here’s the line-up of the strips behind Greg Staples‘ incredible cover on this anniversary issue…

Judge Dredd: The Victims of Bennett Beeny – part 1
Script: John Wagner
Art: Colin MacNeil & Dan Cornwell
Colours: Chris Blythe
Letters: Annie Parkhouse
Megatropolis – part 1
Script: Kenneth Niemand
Art: Dave Taylor
Letters: Jim Campbell
Lawless: Badrock Melody
Script: Dan Abnett
Art: Phil Winslade
Letters: Jim Campbell
Dreadnoughts: Breaking Ground – part 1
Script: Mike Carroll
Art: John Higgins
Colours: Sally Hurst
Letters: Simon Bowland
Anderson, PSI Division: No Country for Old PSIs
Script: Maura McHugh
Art: Steven Austin
Colours: Barbara Nosenzo
Letters: Simon Bowland
The Returners: Heartswood – part 1
Script: Si Spencer
Art: Nicolo Assirelli
Colours: Eva de la Cruz
Letters: Simon Bowland
Dark Judges: Deliverance – part 1
Script: David Hine
Art: Nick Percival
Letters: Annie Parkhouse

The issue also comes bagged with a free art print and the first issue of the brand-new 2000AD Encyclopaedia. It’s well worth a look — check it out on the 2000AD website.

Sorry, this wasn’t meant to turn into an ad for Judge Dredd Megazine but we seem to have ended up there anyway. (And in the interests of disclosure I feel it’s only fair to mention that I have been known to write for the comic so, yes, I am biased. However, it’s entirely possible to be biased and right at the same time.)

There aren’t many British comics still around from the last century — off-hand, I can only think of five others: The Beano, Commando, 2000AD, Doctor Who Weekly (which hasn’t really been a comic for many years) and Viz — so this is indeed a milestone to be acknowledged and celebrated.

Bonus: The Eagle Comics Judge Dredd was also published in other countries, with Brian Bolland’s covers reused, particularly the iconic cover of issue #1…

… but it wasn’t until the image was reprinted as a pin-up in 2000AD #447 (7 Dec 1985) that Dredd’s knee-pads and elbow-pads were given the correct colour:

3 thoughts on “Happy 30th Birthday, Judge Dredd Megazine!

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