Judge Dredd: Sino Town – an analysis

So, here it is, almost 10 years after first publication, my first 2000AD commission. Some caveats: I’ve removed the lettering (which is a shame as it’s a particularly funny story) and the story is (c) Rebellion Developments.

Some back history:

Andy Diggle first told me at DreddCon (the first one – 11th November 2000) that he’d be happy to commission me. 2000 was the year I turned 30, and it was also the year I became determined to get work into 2000AD – by that stage I’d become known online and I’d become friends with Gordon Rennie who kept pushing the idea of me doing something in front of Andy – without Gordon I’d’ve been useless and who knows where I’d be now ? (Possibly working for the big two, but who’s to know?)

Anyhue, Gordon wrote a very funny story called Sino-Town – the main ingredient being that Dredd’s helmet computer was damaged causing all of the Sino-City language (ie Chinese) to be mistranslated into English, or, something approaching English – great lines like “”)

So, got the gig, did the work, redid the work, redid the work and redid it. Faffed around and noodled. I had no deadline, you see. Once I had a deadline it was all go. Sent the art to Andy who was a little … underwhelmed (as well he might be) and offered to redraw the entire strip. He was taken aback, I think.

Anyhue, what was published was the redraw, and here, to the best of my abilities is the sort of critique I’d give anyone who asks (which is why you’ll find some praise in there, even though it’s slightly weird me praising myself and I’m sure now, 10 years later, I could draw it better, but, you know, if it’s good it’s good…)

Page 1

Tall vertical panel – a trick I still use, helps (in my mind) to establish the entire scene, neatly leads the eye down to the young lady at the bottom who isn’t actually very important (first comments about this page in print? why are her boobs so small – cus she’s chinese, I responded). Johnny Woo, on the other hand, is behind her. In hindsight I might’ve made him the main figure on that panel – but that may have been a little too on the nose, the background figure tends to reward anyone who just spots it. Which is nice. (As an aside, hard to make out, but it’s there : “UNCLE WU’S CH[op and go]” and transgender back street ‘chop-shop’ this was a stupid joke that Gordon dared me to put in the art, which I did, later on it became the plot point of a Johnny Woo sequel written by Gordon and drawn by Patrick Goddard for the Megazine.

Let me get this out of the way early: there’s a LOT of bad drawing in this strip – I’ll refrain from commenting on it unless it really needs it, bad shadows, weird heads, Dredd looking like a gorilla, etc. Instead, I’m gonna concentrate on some story telling aspects.

Actually, page 1, looks fine for story telling – some panels could be a LOT clearer on what they’re displaying, but the reader moves about the page as you’d hope – the last panel really is hard to see what’s happening or where, but I remember the pain I went through drawing it, so I’m leaving it all unsaid…

Page 2

Panels 1, 2, 3 I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking there – story telling is all over the place – I think I was trying to avoid drawing Dredd’s bike, in the early days a lot of my story telling choices where dictated by what I could and couldn’t draw.

Panel 4 – neatly frames Dredd, shows a good bug shot of Woo – some of the figures are awful (and the ones that aren’t awful are just bad, but still). And as for that Balloon bubble BLAM! BLAM!… sigh. Tom Frame WAS a great letterer of S/FX before the advent of computers, his BDAM had a meaty chunkiness to it – I don’t think he ever really adapted to the computer age particularly well, which was a shame.

Panel 5 – again, skillfully avoided drawing much of a bike.

Page 3

Panel 1, 2 – fine, neat angle on panel 1 (where’s the backgrounds though? it’s as well Chris Blythe was soaking the art with colours!).

Panel 3 – why are Dredd and Woo shooting at each other in the same direction? That’s stupid. I assume he’s landed or something after a fall – could be we’re looking directly down on him? hard to tell the fabric should have a little more weight to it – although the fact that the bullets are bouncing off the bottom at least hints.

Panel 4 – a face that so resembles a John McCrea’s faces that when I first saw the preview image of Dredd they used in the inside front cover credits I’d assumed my strip wasn’t in it, and John had done a Dredd. Weird, as I’ve never knowingly been influenced by John.

Panel 5 – could’ve done with a little more perspective – closer to woo or dredd, just to make the panel interesting, but it gets the job done (though leaves a massive amount of dead space in the middle of the panel)

Panel 6 – much more interesting angle, good foreshortening. Not sure about the silhouettes behind Woo though, and I know that’s the inside of a building but it’s a little lacking in anything resembling a real building.

Page 4

Panels 1, 2, 3 – yeah fine, panel 4 – could’ve ramped up the jeapordy a fair bit more by coming in closer to woo and having something not so straight on (basically the “camera” would be beside woo, catching the side of his face a little but facing the oncoming bullet)

Panel 5, 6, 7 – I quiet like the little middle “beat” (which was scripted) but the body language and angle help sell it. I’ve maybe have changed the angle on the last panel to get it similar to the preceding panels (maybe the exact same angle but tighter in on his face and the bullet…)

Page 5

The whole thing has the feel of being in what someone imagines a building would look like – even though they’d never seen a building. Could be a warehouse, could be a hotel lobby, certainly bland. Luckily the story has a rapid momentum that means the reader isn’t hanging around oogling the scenery. Some terribly lazy background figures (a crime I’m still guilty of)

Last panel could have a good foreshortened shot looking own the barrels of his gun as it went klik klik klik, much more dramatic.

Page 6

Storytelling is, at least, fairly solid (even if the drawing is ropey and dredd looks like a gorilla). The reflection of Woo in Dredd’s visor (unscripted, iirc) doesn’t really work – reflection isn’t well enough drawn) and the last little smile with an open panel works fine, even if it is a little bland.

Just before sending the artwork off, I looked at the last panel and realised the story telling on the page would be massively improved if I simply flipped the face into the mirror image – which I did. Giving plenty of room for Dredd’s dialogue and making it look like he was sauntering off into the world.

There you go, hope you enjoyed it. Wasn’t as bad as I was expecting (well, the drawing was but the story telling seems to clip along and keep it readable). I’ll try and do more of these if I can get a chance, please let me know what you think either in the comments (better!) or on twitter.

Author: PJ

Belfast based Comic Artist who won’t shut up on twitter.