“Of all the comic heroes I have drawn, Judge Dredd is definitely my favourite. Who wouldn’t like being paid to disappear into the future where a 7ft character goes around thumping people in post-apocalyptic America. I had a ball sitting in my room in Orkney sketching away while the rain poured down outside.” – Cam Kennedy, 2012.
An excellent book has just been released by IDW Publishing – it seems this is another example of the Americans showing us Brits how it should be done, with one of our own greatest properties to boot. It’s a large-format, finely produced hardback collection of classic Judge Dredd stories illustrated by the great Cam Kennedy. Kennedy is my very favourite Dredd artist, and that’s no small praise considering the competition by such greats as Brian Bolland and Mike McMahon or indeed the legendary Carlos Ezquerra (and if those three names mean nothing to you, well, I pity you, really I do). When I talk about such artists I have to admit I’m pretty much ignorant of anybody doing the Dredd strip these days- I used to read 2000AD back in 1978 through to the mid-nineties (and naturally the Dredd Megazine during that period too), so I guess I could be referred to as a fan of Classic Dredd or Golden-Age Dredd or whatever they call it these days. There are likely great ‘new’ artists illustrating Dredd stories these days but I’m totally ignorant of them. The Dredd of ‘my’ era was back in the days of the Dark Judges, Block Mania, tales like The Cursed Earth, The Judge Child Quest, The Apocalypse War… oh boy, those epics were something special.
Kennedy’s tenure actually dated a bit later, from 1983 when Dredd had fully matured. With a clean, bold b&w ink style all his own, Kennedy brought a gritty, realistic edge to the strip… as fine as the other Dredd artists were, it was Kennedy’s Mega-City One that seemed the most real to me, the closest to how I thought a movie Dredd might really look. Indeed, most of his strips were like storyboards for a Dredd movie. Dredd looked real, the streets and the hardware looked real, solid. It lived, it breathed. Whenever I picked up the latest issue of 2000AD and found that Cam Kennedy had drawn the issues Dredd strip I knew I was in for something really special. The writers seemed to respond to Kennedy’s artwork with some really special stories though (and creator John Wagner admits as much in his introduction to this book), to the extent that its really not just the astounding artwork that lingers in the memory but the great story-lines and memorable characters too. The Midnight Surfer, Kenny Who?, The Taxidermist.. there are great characters here, great drama, great laughs, and a towering depiction of a huge, no-nonsense Dredd.
So this book is a treasure-trove of memories for me. A fantastic read and a book to return to for many years to come, with some fantastic strips lovingly re-printed here on fine paper at a size somewhat larger than the original 2000AD comic itself. Why on Earth the UK publisher Rebellion couldn’t have done something like this itself is beyond me, as this is a well overdue treatment of the iconic classic strips. This book has the sub-heading ‘Vol.1’ so I hope a collection of later Kennedy work on Dredd will be forthc0ming (I dare say much of that will be new to me). Similar collections of Brian Bolland and Carlos Ezquerra have already been printed but I believe proved problematic. Bolland drew individual episodes during big epic storylines and understandably only those episodes featuring his art were printed in the first collection, proving a frustrating reading experience apparently, and the Ezquerra collection seemed a bit of a hit-and-miss editorial affair, but I think I will get the Ezquerra Vol.2 collection as that reprints the remarkable Apocalypse War in its entirety (Ezquerra was amazingly fast at drawing Dredd, able to complete entire epic storylines on his own). To be honest though, I’m so impressed by the quality of the Kennedy collection I think I may well go for the earlier Bolland and Ezquerra books myself anyway. This is a great quality way or collecting/preserving classic Dredd.
For newcomers though this Cam Kennedy collection is superior to the others as the stories are all complete and indeed are some of the finest Dredd stories that have been written. Roll on the second volume of Kennedy Dredd art, I can hardly wait.