Sunday, December 17, 2006

Making your flesh crawl

2000 AD is not for children. Except, of course it is. Not only are many of the older plotlines inherently childish, but perhaps only children can really appreciate how scary the comic can be. Adults are far too busy spotting political contexts and derivative art to appreciate the simplicity of mind-blowing weirdness - and the horror that this often entails. Like Nemesis the Warlock - one of the most alien aliens in Sci-Fi (if not SF)*

I've incessantly documented 2000 AD's ability to be nasty and violent whilst being funny. Death and laughter are two things you can expect (nay, should demand!) from every Prog you read. But today I'm going to highlight some scans that show 2000 AD at its creepy best - again, very often coupled with humour. Admittedly, laughter is a common reaction to hearing a horrible idea, or seeing a horrible image. As I'm sure anyone who's seen the Exorcist can sympathise with.

Chris Weston is perhaps the artist I most associate with this duality - he really does get away with some of the nastiest pictures you'll see in any context - and yet the very outrageousness of his best efforts always provokes a grin in me. And I'm sure Weston knows this. I wonder if he could draw such nasty things if he didn't have the safety-valve of humour to keep him (and his editors) happy.

Of course, sometimes the humour is intended to be separate from the creep factor. It's perhaps not surprising that the champions of this dichotomy are John Wagner and Alan Grant (and in my head, it's Grant who masterminds these moments). They are the same people who can get a genuine laugh out of violence, without descedning into the cartoonery of Mills (which is no less worhtwhile, mind, but less interesting to me). However I believe that in the funny/creepy context, the artist is the true essential here. Take this aside from 'RoboHunter: the Beast of Blackheart Manor', as plain a comedy serial as 2000 AD has ever featured.

Just to remind people of the context, a bunch of hotel guests have been killed. The deaths of two more has just been announced. These people are not main players in the story - merely foils with which Wagner and Grant highlight what a crazy world Sam Slade finds himself in. Gibson beautifully ups the creep factor with his use of shadow, and we the reader get to laugh at the cheapening of life conveyed in the dialogue, but also are reminded that this is a repellant thought.

And in the hands of Ezquerra:

this piece of pantomime villainry becomes all the more heinous and poignant at the same time because of the contrast between Nelson Bunker Kreelman's smiling face, and his wife's anguished grimace.

Of course, a great artist can also render a scene that is intended to be nothing but creepy...

This poor fellow has just been badly burnt. That's not funny. It's horrible, you freak. Stop laughing!

Creepiness can often be in the atmosphere of a panel as much as any overt grotesquery. Here's McMahon setting the scene for one of Dredd's more gothic adventures in space when he was looking for the Judge Child:

And the right choice of artist can ensure that something that might feel a little silly can in fact make your flesh come alive and start to eat your own bones. That Ridgway Droid. I swear it sometimes looks like he can't draw very well, but he always comes out on top with his atmospherics and exaggerated facial expressions...

*Yes, this is apparently an important disctinction. Basically 'Sci-Fi' uses 'science' to mean a vaguely science-related concept; SF uses 'science' as actual science. Oh, go and look it up on Wikipedia already. 2000 AD is Sci-Fi with occasional SF pretensions. Very occasional.


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