Friday, June 01, 2007

The Return Of The Master

No, not a reference to upcoming events on Doctor Who, but to the great rejoicing here in the Cupboard of Doom to see Mick McMahon back working for Rebellion. First sighting was last month, with his Angel Gang cover for the Judge Dredd Megazine #258. I have to confess that for a moment I thought they'd found a new school-of-McMahon artist who was doing a pastiche of his later work, before twigging that it was the man himself and that his style and technique has evolved yet again. Yet more delightful, he's done a Dredd for this week's 2000AD (Prog 1539).

Cover for the Judge Dredd Megazine #258, May 2007. Art by Mick McMahon, © 2007 Rebellion.

For those of you too young to remember the early 80's, Mike McMahon (as he was then) was the defining stylist for 2000AD in general and Judge Dredd in particular, taking Carlos Ezquerra's original lithe, skull-helmetted character and transforming him into the wok-helmetted, big-chinned, big-booted galoot we all know and love today. From 1977 to 1983, McMahon's drawing style evolved radically; starting as an Ezquerra clone, he found a scratchy, organic style that was all his own (Cursed Earth, Judge Cal), before moving into a more rectilinear phase (Judge Child, Block Mania), and then a looser, hatched approach with Slaine.
Since leaving 2000AD he's manifested at least four more distinct phases: a more rectilinear colour marker style (The Last American, Muto-Maniac), a minimalist geometric style (Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight), a more organic minimal style (Tattered Banners) and a highly-rendered black & white style (Batman, A.B.C. Warriors). This broad banding doesn't begin to do justice to the level of invention McMahon showed in developing his drawing style over the years; each band would show an evolutionary development from strip to strip, and he was willing to dig deep; his fundamental approach to drawing could change from style to style.

Unlike most artists, who figure our a way of doing things early on and then refine that for the rest of their careers, Mick McMahon has constantly striven to do something new; in that way he's similar another great favourite of mine, Alberto Breccia. Both their work is constantly fresh and exciting.

Judge Dredd: Shaggy's Big Shoot by Robbie Morrisson & Mick McMahon
Judge Dredd created by John Wagner & Carlos Ezquerra, © 2007 Rebellion/2000AD

That can work against him; while McMahon helped to define the whole gritty 2000AD style, he refuses to allow himself to be limited by his early work. In the past ten years, he's cut out the gritty rendering and solid blacks that still characterise the work of those he's influenced (most notably Cam Kennedy and Henry Flint). When he does return to Dredd, it's with a sort of cheerful disrespect for reader expectation; the Dredd you get is the one he wants to draw, like it or lump it, and they're the wildest versions of the character yet seen. But the result is that he's only worked for 2000AD a handful of times since the early 1980's.

Personally, I love his approach, and I hope we see more of it in the future; I imagine Tharg may well get a few complaints from the more conservative Dredd fans, though.

McMahon's new technique seems to be based around scanning pencil drawings and upping the contrast to create black outlines; he then computer-colours it himslef, probably in Photoshop. This approach seems to come from work he's done for the games industry; check out his new website to see examples (thanks to G.N. Reid for this parish for supplying the URL).

1 comment:

D.TAYLOR said...

I for one hope he`s going to do much more for Tharg. It`s such a treat to see him in the Galaxies greatest once again.

Your Bristol con poster is stunning btw! It has totaly altered my attention span for the better!