Comic Book Yeti contributor Alex Breen recently corresponded with PJ Holden, artist of Judge Dredd: Poison, to discuss his art inspirations, favorite Judge Dredd stories, and the differences between working with 2000 AD and the standard American comics format. 2000 AD Prog 2357 is available on 2000 AD's website HERE.
COMIC BOOK YETI: PJ, thank you for joining me today. First, can you tell us some of the comics that first inspired you to become a comic book artist?
PJ HOLDEN: Well, I’ve always drawn and it was always comics that inspired that drawing, but in my teen years I was sort of browbeaten into thinking comics were too juvenile for me (then 13!) and I let go of both reading them and the idea of drawing them. It wasn’t until I was around 18 that John McCrea (yes - that one - and his pal, Fred Collier) opened a comic shop in Belfast.
When I saw the sign for it I decided it was time to explore comics again and John’s art really fired me up to want to draw too. So I started popping in to the shop and started drawing again.
I was working in IT at the time and I didn’t see any real prospect of working as a comic artist, but at least I was drawing. I didn’t really start seriously think about making the leap until I was 30, had pared my working hours down to half a week and had time to draw, that I really thought I could make the push - though it took another eight years of working in comics before I finally gave up my day job! Which, I want to point out, I did love, so it’s not a story of, “I hated my day job and couldn’t wait to leave it” - more, “I loved my day job and it took me a long time to give it up.”
CBY: How would you describe 2000 AD's format for readers who are unfamiliar with it?
PH: It’s a weekly sci-fi anthology, the spine of which is Judge Dredd, a futuristic lawman in a crazy mirror of our own contemporary world.
"...getting to draw Dredd is a real pleasure. I’ve been drawing him since I was I first saw him in 1977 or so, and he’s a magnetic character to draw."
CBY: Most readers may be familiar with Judge Dredd as a character, given the film adaptations, but few may realize the extent of the narrative world built in the comics. What is the premise of Judge Dredd: Poison?
PH: Well, Dredd’s on the hunt for the person who he believes killed Judge Hershey - a former chief Judge who was also, I think, one of Dredd’s oldest friends (even as they banged heads a lot)
CBY: What would you say is your favorite part about working on a Judge Dredd story? And is there any aspect you find challenging as an artist?
PH: Well, with any Judge Dredd story, getting to draw Dredd is a real pleasure - I’ve been drawing him since I was I first saw him in 1977 or so, and he’s a magnetic character to draw. But Dredd’s world is so much fun to draw too, especially when you get the wilder more over-the-top visuals.
I think the biggest challenge for me, especially on Poison, is to tell the narrative and not go off on flights of fancy with the art - which some Dredd strips really open up when you do that, and other Dredd strips are less appropriate. Poison is a sombre Dredd world tale that needs a little more subtlety and control.
CBY: When did you first become a fan of Judge Dredd comics? Can you share with us some of your favorite stories?
PH: My very first fandom moment is when I was around 10 and I built the Judge Dredd spaceship, “Justice-1” with my uncle, out of computer punch card. That was the vehicle Dredd uses in the Judge Child Quest, so it’s up there. There’s a long running episodic Dredd where he’s hunting down the mythical “Judge Child” predicted to be the saviour of Mega City 1, and Dredd encounters all sorts of weird planets and aliens along the way.
Cry of the Werewolf is another Dredd that I very distinctly remember, seeing Dredd face off against a pack of Werewolves - with phenomenal art by Steve Dillon.
Just as I was convinced that comics were for kids, 2000AD was starting City of the Damned, which took me another 30 years to finally read. It has easily some of my favourite bits of Dredd of all time: there’s Dredd, blind and facing off against a pack of Judges-turned-Vampires and telling them they’ll come off worse than he would even those he’s blind… and they back down! I mean! Come on!
And the double page spread where Dredd, still blind, is crawling his way through “hell” - to bring justice to The Mutant - astonishing, great moments.
CBY: Can you describe for us what your collaborative process has been like with writer Rob Williams?
PH: I chat to Rob pretty often, he’s a mate, and we’d talked about doing something Dredd related together for a while, and this was the first chance for us to work together! As a rule I like to send writers the thumbnails and then pencils and inks, 2000AD are happy to just receive inks (The Mighty Tharg - Alien editor of 2000AD - is too busy and just assumes we know the penalty of getting things wrong).
Rob has a superb eye - not true of all writers - and will often pick me up on a weak panel and suggest there might be a better panel there. He’s usually right, as much as it boils my blood to admit.
CBY: Given the lower page count between Progs/Chapters, can you
describe what the production schedule is like as an artist? Do you enjoy
working in this format more than the American format?
PH: It’s a different beast. I’ll usually get a fortnight to draw six pages, but the
editor (as mentioned) is content that the work arrives in one go when it’s done
and those six pages are dense with storytelling.
With US comics there’s usually a month for 20 page comic, and I’ll throw
everything back and forth with editorial - though my view is usually the writer
has final say so I try and loop them in. While the storytelling per page isn’t
dense you will occasionally more moments to shine, and there’s more chances
for full page splashes or just lower numbers of panels per page.
I enjoy drawing, so either is good for me!
CBY: If there's one piece of advice you could give to aspiring comic artists,
what would you say to them?
PH: Yeah, before you give up your day job make sure you’ve figured out your
expense per month and make sure you’ve at least three months (ideally six) of
them in your bank. Otherwise, KEEP THE DAY JOB.
As far as drawing advice? Draw as many complete comics as you can do - try to
finish things: six pages finished is far more impressive than any number of
unfinished pages, and you’ll learn more from them too.
CBY: Is there anything you can tease for us with future progs of this story?
PH: You’re getting NOTHING out of me! NOTHING! Dredd lifts a gun.
CBY: If readers dig this story, what other comics of yours would you
recommend they check out next?
PH: I’ve a fairly sizeable back catalogue of Dredd works, Every Empire Falls (a
Dredd collection, written by Michael Carroll) is a good one.
Outside of 2000ad, I’ve done a lot of war stuff with Garth Ennis including The
Lion and the Eagle and I’m currently doing two projects on my website: a
webcomic called Null-Space, where I draw one page strips written by a
smorgasbord of writerly talent (including Hugo winner Adrian Tchaikovsky).
Every strip is self-contained, written by a different writer.
If you’re interested in my work as a writer, I’ve been doing an ongoing monthly
NanoFiction ’Zine called “A4”. This is a single A4 sheet of paper that can be
printed and folded to produce a nice little stand up zine. You can find out more
about it here.
CBY: For those who aren't familiar with 2000 AD, what are some other stories
you'd recommend readers check out, either ongoing or from previously
PH: So many great things! If you’re into Dredd, I’d try and pick up The Judge
Dredd case files volume 07 which contains Cry of the Werewolf as well as a
bunch of great shorts from around the same period.
For fantasy, Hawk the Slayer written by Garth Ennis with amazing art by Henry
Flint. Romance/Sci-fi? The Ballad of Halo Jones by Alan Moore and Ian
Gibson. Hard Sci-fi? Brink by Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard. Goofy fun Sci-fi
adventures? Department K by Rory McConville, me and Dan Cornwell.
And if you want to get into 2000AD and see a good cross section of it, the Best
of 2000AD volumes are a good pick.
Outside of 2000AD - but in the same vein - I have to mention Rob Williams and
Pye Parr’s Petrol Head: Mad Max on 2,000 litres of fizzy pop. It’s beautiful and
CBY: Where can people find you on Social Media?
Twitter (maybe) usually as pauljholden and occasionally as pauljasonholden.
BUT you’ll always find me at https://www.pauljholden.com/
CBY: PJ, thank you so much for your time!
PH: My pleasure!