The Mega-City Mega-Expert: An Interview With Douglas WolkA comics interview article by: Derek McCaw
A couple of weeks ago Nate Costa and I were fortunate enough to be in town on the same night to attend an event at Earth-2 Comics. To celebrate the launch of IDW's mini-series "Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two," store owners Carr D'Angelo and his wife Susan Avallone had arranged for a signing with writer Douglas Wolk.
In addition to being the mind behind this take on Mega-City Two, Wolk is also a long-established and revered expert in all things Dredd. And so it wasn't just a signing, but almost a miniature convention panel. After autographing copies of the first issue (and dubbing Nate "Judge Dizzle" and myself "Judge McCaw") and his book Reading Comics, Wolk presented a slide show which he called "The Architecture of Mega-City One," but was really an informative lecture on the history of a character with incredible longevity -- and I learned that all the British Dredd stories are not just continuity, but in real time.
Mega-City Two hearkens back to Dredd's younger days, but that's partially because it's been destroyed in current continuity. And yet there we all were, enjoying sugar cookies in a comics shop in Los Angeles, blissfully unaware that we would all be gone by the time of Dredd's ascendancy.
Though the signing was busy, Wolk found a few minutes to talk about his work with me.
Derek McCaw: How did you get to be the guy to write Judge Dredd in Los Angeles?
Douglas Wolk: A few years ago I was doing a weekly blog about Judge Dredd called "Dredd REckoning." I was going through all the collections that were published of the old Dredd stories, one a week, sometimes writing about them myself, sometimes discussing them with others people.
Like a lot of us, in the environment he loves best!
When IDW started publishing their American Dredd series, they asked me to write an historical essay in the back of the first issue. That turned into me writing an historical essay in the back of every issue. And THAT turned into "would you like to pitch us some sort of a mini-series?" And then I came up with the idea of sending him out to the West Coast.
Now, Mega-City Two, which is basically California, or at least the very worst cloverleaf in L.A. metastisized to take over the whole state -- Mega-City Two had been established as existing in Dredd's world pretty early on. We'd seen it on page for about a page and a half ever, and in 1992 or so it got nuked to a cinder, thanks to a Garth Ennis story.
I thought, this was a missed opportunity. This was a very potentially interesting kind of place. Of course, the IDW series is set at the beginning of the timeline, so there it was, sitting there like a plump little sparrow.
Derek McCaw: I can see by your smile that you're really enjoying the opportunity.
Douglas Wolk: I am having so. much. fun. A lot of the fun is that I get to work with Ulises Farinas and Ryan Hill, who are amazing amazing artists and exploding with ideas and just make everything look fantastic.
Derek McCaw: I'd never seen Ulises' art before, but I was looking at the book before the signing, and just the spread of Judge Dredd in the street, with all the different ads and details -- how much is you and how much is him putting into that spread -- the satire?
Douglas Wolk: That's both of us. That double-page spread, that's 95% Ulises. That was maybe 140 words in the script, for one image. And he and I went back and forth over instant message for maybe four hours. "Can we put this in there?" "What would be the name of a food?" "Is there some business you'll be making reference to later on in this?"
And then he spent like a week of his life drawing that thing.
Still available at finer comics shops everywhere!
Derek McCaw: Aside from the obvious chance to satirize L.A. lifestyle, which a lot of people have done, what is the draw for someone who may not be that much of a Judge Dredd fan -- which, honestly, I like the character but I don't know that much about.
Douglas Wolk: The hook about this is that it's a fish out of water story. It is the ultimate East Coast guy on the West Coast, trying to learn how to get by in a world that works very very differently in some ways, and very similarly in other ways. We're basically taking this character and making life as hard as possible for him.
Derek McCaw: You are not a Los Angeleno; you are out of Portland.
Douglas Wolk: I am out of Portland. Now, I'm an outsider. But on the other hand the regular British series, which maybe 60 or 70 percent of it has been written by one guy, John Wagner -- the British Judge Dredd series is a brutal brutal satire of American and specifically East Coast culture by and for British people.
But John Wagner, he was born in Pennsylvania. But he grew up in Scotland.
I like the idea of the insider/outsider. I'm a West Coaster. I've spent a bunch of time in L.A. But I'm not an L.A. native.
Derek McCaw: L.A. satire by and for Portlanders. How do you feel about Portlandia?
Douglas Wolk: Portlandia is a documentary.
Derek McCaw: You're very clearly a comics scholar first...
Douglas Wolk: The word you're looking for is nerd...
Derek McCaw: I'm right there with you. What drew you into comics? Why didn't you let go?
Douglas Wolk: Why didn't I let go? Because I'm emotionally damaged and have difficulty letting go of things.
Derek McCaw: You just spoke for a generation.
Nate sneaks a sugar cookie.
Douglas Wolk: I don't know. I just started. I fell in love with the medium pretty early. I never fell out of love. I kept finding things to fall in love with. It still keeps happening, over and over and over, every couple of weeks. "This is fantastic! Why has nobody ever shown me this before?"
Derek McCaw: Why Judge Dredd in particular?
Douglas Wolk: Dredd's interesting, because I kind of glommed onto him when I was about 12. I followed him for twenty years or so, and then kind of drifted away. And then the Case Files volumes started coming out, collecting all the early stories.
I thought, "huh, I'll pick this up to see if it's as good as I remember." And it was much better than I originally remembered. The early stuff paid off in ways for me as an adult that it had not paid off when I was a kid.
This is one continuous thirty-seven year old, so far, story. The characters age in real time. Dredd, in the British comics, is now in his seventies. And the culture has changed around him, the world has changed around him. It's also incredibly funny and more or less directly aimed at me.
Now I should say that Dredd historically, and in 2000 A.D., had been very much aimed at me and my peer group. It was launched for 7 and 8 year olds at a point when I was 7 or 8 years old. In fact, I believe that two of the not many other writers who have written Dredd stories, Garth Ennis and Mark Millar, were born within twelve days of me.
We are a very specific demographic.
Derek McCaw: So it's sort of like a comet passed over the Earth...
Douglas Wolk: Yeaaaaaaah, possibly.
Derek McCaw: Thank you so much. I'll have a cookie now, because sugar is legal in Mega-City Two. For now.
Once again, the event occurred at Earth-2 Comics in Sherman Oaks. Both that store and their sister shop in Northridge, California, have a variety of fun events. You should like THEIR Facebook page as well to be kept in the loop, especially if you live in the L.A. area.
Thanks again to Carr and Susan for hosting such a great evening.