Best known for its lead strip Judge Dredd, 2000 AD is a weekly science fiction and fantasy anthology comic book that, like many good things, has been around since 1977. We caught up with Arthur Wyatt, one of 2000 AD’s hot new talents to find out more about his latest story, Orlok the Assassin…
STARBURST: The Judge Dredd Comic strip is 38 years old. Does this present a challenge for when writing for new readers?
Arthur Wyatt: I think the beauty of Judge Dredd and his world is that he’s such an iconic character, and the stories revolve around such simple core principles - he’s judge jury and executioner in a world gone crazy; the Mega-Cities are hyper-dense urban environments where anything can happen, crime and violence and shockingly black humour are omnipresent, I think it’s very easy for the reader to get into the flow of things even if they haven’t read 24 volumes of Case Files and Judge Dredd: The Mega-History.
Really if they've watched the 2012 movie they've pretty much got it down, so really the trick as a writer is to find new spins on those themes, new takes on those core principles, and do it in such a way that a new reader can pick it up and go with it.
Of course, I’m saying that as someone who has a story that contains all kinds of references to continuity, and pretty old continuity at that - those are mostly Easter eggs for fans of the classic stories, and if they go over your head you shouldn’t notice them too much, though they also serve as nods to a larger world, and as landmarks to anchor the story to its particular pre-Apocalypse War spot in Dredd’s history.
And if someone who is new to 2000 AD reads my story, absorbs some offhand reference to The Cursed Earth without realising, then later reads that story and gets a thrill out of putting the connections together, then I’ll be overjoyed - that’s always something I’ve enjoyed in comics myself!
Orlok is a bit of an odd choice for his own series, why Orlok?
Orlok first made an appearance in Block Mania, the lead-up story to The Apocalypse War, as this enormously capable secret agent and saboteur, who despite being captured in the end succeeds in his mission and survives a facedown with Dredd - not something many Dredd antagonists can claim.
So he’s a spy, and he’s obviously a veteran of many missions, there’s a fair bit to work with there.
Espionage stories are a great genre, and doing them in the crazy mixed up world of Judge Dredd is enormous fun. I've been able to riff on a great variety of spy stories, from Le Carré and Deighton to the more James Bond-ish feel of the current one, though given the nature of the character I keep on coming back to the cold war. I like to think the stories are, to an extent, period pieces - not just the period in the Dredd universe they are set but also reflecting the era in which those stories were written.
What’s the enduring appeal of the Dredd Universe?
The character and themes can be summed up pretty simply, and yet because of that simplicity it can be spun off in many different directions and there’s a there’s no limit to the kinds of stories that can be told. As a science fiction setting it’s got every possible thing you could imagine and yet you can also tell horror stories, down to earth police procedural stories, head out into the cursed earth to explore Westerns, and of course with Orlok, I’m doing spy fiction.
What Dredd story do you still want to write?
I think I’d like to do another story with Zheng, the PSI Judge character I've brought into Judge Dredd stories a couple of times. She has a really interesting interaction with him and is very different from Anderson - she’s harsh and practical, while at the same time caring deeply about the people of the city, almost like a PSI Judge counterpart to Dredd.
What else do you have planned?
I have lots of plans in various stages of formation! Hopefully more movie Dredd, and more Orlok - maybe a slightly bigger story this time. I have some non-Dredd series ideas I may be doing at 2000 AD sometime and some I want to be creator-owned - so that will probably see me branching out into new formats and maybe trying some different kinds of storytelling. The next few years should be fun!
What’s the perfect Future Shock?
Well, as a four page story with a sci-fi twist, I guess it should always be surprising!
I actually am quite a fan of the ones that aren't just about the twist, that manage to evoke a whole new world within their short span, and imply all kinds of strangeness could be going on off panel.
The submissions window for 2000 AD opens again in September, what advice do you have for those planning on submitting?
See if you can go further. Take a look at the story that you've got and try and think about the implications of its twist, then take things to the next level by making that original twist your premise
And always remember a story is a thing that happens to some characters, is driven by them and changes them - make sure you don’t just have a plot.
Are you still writing for FutureQuake? What is the story behind that?
FutureQuake is the small press fanzine I started back when I was submitting a lot of Future Shocks, which would get rejected but which I still wanted to do something with, and hanging out online with a lot of people doing the same. So I created a showcase for Future Shock-style stories, and then when I moved from the UK to the US and couldn’t do it any more I handed over editorial control and it gained a life of its own.
I’ve been pretty busy so I haven’t gotten to do anything for it for a while, but maybe I should!
2000 AD can be found on the shelves of all sensible newsagents. Issue 1924, out now, is a perfect place to jump aboard.