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Monday, 13 December 2010

Rogue Trooper: a round table with the new creative team

Art from the new Rogue Trooper story for Prog 2011 by Staz Johnson.
Story by Gerry Finley-Day. © 2010 Rebellion
Rogue Trooper is one of science fiction comic 2000AD's most iconic characters. A deserter in a future war, he roams the barren surface of Nu Earth, a chemical ruin of a planet, on a sworn mission to avenge his dead comrades from the Quartz Zone Massacre. He's accompanied on this mission by three fallen buddies, in the form of biochips imprinted with their personalities after their deaths.

Now Rogue is returning once more to 2000AD and, for the first time since 1985, original series co-creator Gerry Finley-Day is writing the strip.

In this round table*, conducted for the Forbidden Planet International blog and downthetubes by Matt Badham, Matt Smith (editor of 2000AD), Gerry Finley-Day, Staz Johnson (the artist on this new strip) and Pat Mills (veteran comics writer and friend of Finley-Day) all talk about the genesis of the new story, entitled Dead Ringer

Rogue Trooper's first appearance
back in 2000AD Issue 228
Matt Badham: Gerry, what have you been up to writing-wise since you stopped working for 2000AD?

Gerry Finley-Day: Once a writer, always a writer… I have written novels and some screen plays.

Matt Badham: And what brought you back to 2000AD and to Rogue?

Gerry Finley-Day: When my friend Pat Mills returned from a comics convention in the States he told me that many people were asking about me. He seemed to think there was a demand for some fresh material from me and I thought, why not?

Matt Smith: Pat got in touch and said that he'd like to work (in an editorial capacity) with Gerry on a Rogue story. I think he felt that Gerry got unfairly sidelined out of 2000AD, and wanted to help him try to write something for the comic today. The plan was to work on a standalone Rogue tale, something that could slot quite easily into the comic.

A page from Rogue Trooper's
first appearance back in 2000AD Prog 228.
Art by Dave Gibbons
Pat Mills: Gerry was the creator of Tammy, from which Battle, Action and 2000AD are descended, so he is the founder of modern British comics. This has been pretty much ignored by comic historians and Gerry also had some insider-encouraged negative press on the web in years gone by, which made me seethe with anger with its inaccuracy and self-serving motivation.

The reality is fans loved his work, but it didn't find favour with 2000AD editorial at one stage. Having been Gerry's editor, I know the relatively small problems they faced (pacing and some story logic issues) but it was my view that it was worth dealing with them 'in house' because his stories were so popular. We all of us have our scripting faults and eccentricities and it's just something I felt we had to accept. Editorial didn't agree and I can completely understand why. But fans didn't agree with them either and kept asking for Gerry back, so I recently seized the chance and facilitated it.

Matt Badham: Matt, where in Rogue continuity is the story set?

Matt Smith: During the original run. It starts with the commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the Quartz Zone Massacre.

Matt Badham: How did you go about finding an appropriate artist for this new episode and why did you choose Staz Johnson?

Matt Smith: It was always the intention to run it in black and white, so I was after a good b/w artist. Staz has experience drawing Rogue and was champing at the bit to do it.

Matt Badham: How excited were you to welcome Rogue and his creator back? Were you a fan of the strip way back in the day...?

Matt Smith: It's good to see the original Rogue back in the prog for a simple, action-packed story. I was a fan of the original run, but he's a character who's been diminished, unfortunately, by too many 're-imaginings' and new directions. Just seeing Rogue back on Nu Earth fighting Norts is quite reassuring.

Art from the new Rogue Trooper story by Staz Johnson.
Story by Gerry Finley-Day. © 2010 Rebellion
Matt Badham: Staz, are you also a fan of Rogue from way back?

Staz Johnson: Absolutely I am. I was at the key 2000AD readership age (17) when Rogue debuted in 2000AD and it didn't take long before he had usurped Dredd as my favourite character. Anyone who has followed my blog will have seen this post where I posted some of my attempts at Rogue from long before I became a professional cartoonist, and just drew him for the sheer love of the character.

Matt Badham: So, how did you actually get involved with the new strip?

Staz Johnson: There was no alchemy to it, as it was simply the case that I had spoken to Tharg saying I was available. (I assume) when the script came in a few days later, he in his mighty wisdom figured I'd be a good fit, so he called me up.

Matt Badham: Pat, what was the exact nature of your 'editorial' involvement with the new strip?

Pat Mills: I made a few minor changes to Gerry's new Rogue story strip, but frankly it was just like I remembered his scripts. Not a big deal to make a few alterations. He has a feeling for some stories - notably war - which the readers intuitively respond to because of his own military background in the Territorial Army.

Matt Badham: Matt, are we going to see more Rogue from Gerry?

Matt Smith: I think Gerry would be keen to write more, providing it goes down well. It would have to be an occasional thing, a retro blast now and then, as I feel, as a series, the story's been played out.

Matt Badham: Gerry, do you think you'll return to Rogue again after this outing or maybe even pen further instalments of some of your other strips, such as The V.C.s or Fiends on the Eastern Front?

Gerry Finley-Day: I hope so, [but] that will be up to Matt [Smith].

Matt Badham: How easy was it to slip back into writing for the character and his world?

Gerry Finley-Day: As I said, I haven't stopped writing and Rogue is a good character.

Matt Badham: Did you enjoy the experience?

Gerry Finley-Day: Yes, very much so.

Matt Badham: Why do you think that Rogue has remained a fan favourite among 2000AD readers? What is the character's core appeal?

Gerry Finley-Day: I suppose because war - like it or not - is the ultimate adventure and Rogue is still the recognisable soldier no matter how far into the future.

Matt Badham: Pat, you facilitated Gerry's return so presumably you want to see him write more for 2000AD?

Pat Mills: Reader reaction to Gerry's impending return has been extremely enthusiastic and I'm hoping I can persuade him to write more. We really don't want anyone else writing Fiends, V.C.s or Rogue, any more than fans would appreciate anyone other than Alan Moore writing D.R. and Quinch or Halo Jones. Gerry is entitled to the same respect.

Art from the new Rogue Trooper story by Staz Johnson.
Story by Gerry Finley-Day. © 2010 Rebellion
Matt Badham: Staz, Would you like to do more Rogue?

Staz Johnson: I'd love to. I'd certainly hope that should Tharg choose to run more Nu Earth stories, I'd then be given the opportunity to draw at least some of them.

I suppose the question is whether there is a thirst among the current 2000AD readership for a strip that is essentially 'retro'. There's no point making strips just because the creators think it's fun to work on them. I think there's still a way to make war stories relevant to a modern, more sophisticated audience, without having to resort to gimmicks or by making a war story that isn't really about war. Take a look at Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers. A Rogue with that level of visceral realism, gravity and pathos would be fantastic I think.

Matt Badham: What was it like working on a 'classic' strip with a 'classic' creator?

Staz Johnson: Well, that was the thing. As a fan of those original Nu Earth stories, it was a real thrill. Clearly, as the original writer, you can take as gospel that this IS Rogue… not just another writer's 'version' of the character.

Matt Badham: What approach have you taken to the visuals for this new episode of Rogue?

Staz Johnson: Well, one of the things that pulled me into Rogue way back in 1981 was Dave Gibbons' artwork. I had my old Titan Books reprint of the Gibbons strips on my desk the whole time I was working on the pages, so I took a lot of my design cues from him: things like the Southerner military police and the genetic camels, stammels. However, in addition to that, I looked at a lot of other old school 2000AD artwork because I definitely wanted it to have that 'feel'. In the end I think it wound up being close to someone like [Mean Arena artist] Mike White's work, with bits of Jesus Redondo thrown in. Hopefully with a healthy dose of Staz Johnson too, obviously.

Matt Badham: Who is your favourite Rogue Trooper artist?

Staz Johnson: Dave Gibbons, all the way. That's not to denigrate those who followed him, especially Cam Kennedy, but for me Dave is #1.

Matt Badham: Matt, Gerry isn't the only creator to have made his way back to 2000AD. You've also had Brendan McCarthy back in the mix. Why do you think these 'classic' creators are being tempted back to 2000AD?

Matt Smith: Partly because it's always there. If you've got a gap in your schedule, it's worth tapping up 2000AD for a short Dredd story or whatever. Also, because it's fun - no hoops to jump through, no marketing men to approve every process, just get back to having fun with comics. And 2000AD characters hold a special place in a lot of creators' hearts - they've been with them for the past three decades.

Matt Badham: Are there any other ex-2000AD creators you're particularly keen to welcome back into the fold?

Matt Smith: Plenty. Steve Dillon, Kevin O'Neill, Garth Ennis, Pete Milligan, Trevor Hairsine, Duncan Fegredo...

Matt Badham: What else is in Prog 2011 and why is it a good jumping on point for new readers?

Matt Smith: We've got a 12-page complete Dredd story by Al Ewing and Paul Marshall, called 'The Chief Judge's Speech'; the ten-page opening episodes of the post-apocalyptic Kingdom: 'His Master's Voice' by Dan Abnett and Richard Elson, pan-galactic weirdfest Shakara: 'Avenger' by Robbie Morrison and Henry Flint, supernatural thriller Ampney Crucis Investigates: 'The List of Ten' by Ian Edginton and Simon Davis, and Hell-set Necrophim: 'Civil Warlord' by Tony Lee and Lee Carter; 12 pages of Celtic barbarity in Slaine by Pat Mills and Clint Langley; and a one-off Psi-Judge Anderson story showing her as a cadet, by Alan Grant and Patrick Goddard.

If a new reader picks that little lot up, you'll get a good idea of what 2000AD is about - action, SF, horror, oddball characters and wild ideas, brilliantly written and wonderfully drawn. If you want a comic like nothing else out there, get into 2000AD!

• Thanks to Matt Badham for organising this round table. And thanks to Matt Smith, Gerry, Pat and Staz for participating.

• Prog 2011 of 2000AD will be available to buy from 15th December. More info at www.2000adonline.com



* Matt Badham originally conducted these interviews by email. They were then edited together to make a 'round table discussion'

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