Despite his enormous talent and huge success, the artist known as Jock is one of the most unaffected, humble and genuinely nice guys you’ll meet in comics. His work on modern classics like Judge Dredd, The Losers, Green Arrow: Year One and a variety of different Batman titles is already the stuff of legend; and this is not yet mentioning his creative design input on movies like Batman Begins, Dredd and the forthcoming X-Men film, just to name a few. With the successful new Image series, Snapshot, which again partners him with regular collaborator, writer Andy Diggle, he continues to employ an instantly recognizable style that regularly wows both new and old fans, alike.
Comic Bastards’ Steve Paugh met up with Jock at the second annual Middle East Film and Comic Con recently held in Dubai to discuss a bevy of topics, including his style in Snapshot, a host of new projects and even what might have been in the ill-fated sequel to Dredd. Get ready to scratch that Jock itch, ya Bastards!
Steve: Firstly, welcome to Dubai! Have you ever been to the Middle East before?
Jock: Never, no. That’s one of the main reasons I wanted to come to the Middle East Film and Comic Con. It’s an amazing, crazy place. Seems like it’s built on extremes; everything’s big and shining, really interesting.
Steve: What about the con itself? Can you tell a difference between it and the ones you’ve been to elsewhere, or do these things tend to meld together?
Jock: Oh no, I find that the cons are different depending on the country. I’ve been to a lot of cons in Europe and other places, and each one has its own atmosphere. This one is a lot closer to the American ones, but it’s great to see all of the families and children running around. I mean, I remember when I started in the UK, the cons were almost all male, you know? So it’s great to see a broad range of people here. You can see some of the women walking around wearing an abaya with, like, a Darth Vader mask. It’s a good look!
Steve: Speaking of masks, you got your start with Judge Dredd/2000 AD - what was it like to get into such an iconic magazine, and to maintain that relationship into its modern portrayal of Dredd on the big screen?
Jock: Yeah, coming from the UK, I grew up reading 2000 AD and Judge Dredd - I read some DC and Marvel, too, but before that, it was all 2000 AD. When I first started out, I attended conventions, showing my portfolio and getting knocked back, but I eventually did get some work. That’s back when Andy Diggle was the Assistant Editor there, which is how I met him, and we worked on a story together called Lenny Zero. Vertigo saw that and liked it, and even though it’s cliche ... the rest is history.
With Dredd, honestly, he’s my favorite character. I’m still a massive fan of Dredd, and I still read 2000 AD every week. People seem to like my Dredd, and I think that’s because I like him so much. I sometimes find it a struggle to draw characters I don’t know so well, and it shows that I don’t enjoy it as much. That’s why Dredd is so easy for me.
It’s great being handed the reins to such an iconic character, but you just have to do your best job, and that was the same with the film, you know? It was an amazing opportunity, because it was Dredd and because it was a film - it was challenging, but amazing, and we worked hard to do it justice.
Steve: Well, I have to say, the Comic Bastards were pretty bummed about it not getting a sequel.
Jock: Yeah, unfortunately, it just didn’t do very well at the American box office. In the UK, it was the number one film, which surprised everyone. We were thrilled, but it just didn’t take at all in the US. It got great reviews and amazing buzz on the internet (and maybe that’s saying something about the internet and that it just doesn’t count a lot), but I mean, Alex Garland, the writer, had two more scripts in mind, and I think possibly even drafted already. It would’ve been really good to have built on it - I think the second one would have been even better.
Steve: Yeah, it would have been nice to see it expand outside the building and into Dredd’s world itself.
Jock: Yeah, that was one of the elements of it - the second one would have gone out into the city. The first story was very contained and that was very deliberate, because Dredd’s world is so huge, you have to choose a very specific, very small story to tell to understand it.
The first scene of the second movie would have been Chopper on his powerboard, leaving his tower block window and just swooping down through the city. I would have loved to have seen that.
Steve: That would have been amazing - surely they would have brought you back for it.
Jock: Yeah, you know, funnily enough, we had talked about using Chopper in the second one anyway, coming from his story, “The Midnight Surfer,” and the whole first scene of that is getting his powerboard ready and jumping out of the window, so I drew it. I told that to Alex and he said that was so bizarre, because that was the first scene in the script. Completely coincidental.
It would have been really good, but unfortunately, with movies being what they are, no matter how well reviewed they are, if they don’t make money, that’s it. The DVDs and BLU RAYs are selling really well; not anything to warrant a sequel, but who knows?
Steve: Speaking of Hollywood films, you’ve worked on movies like The Losers, Batman Begins and of course Dredd - how difficult is it to jump between one medium and the other? Is it the same, since it’s still a sort of sequential art framework, or is the process completely different?
Jock: You definitely have to flex a different muscle, for sure. I really enjoy the movie stuff. The stuff I’ve done is pretty much concept art, and it’s gone really well, and people seem to have responded to it. I do wonder if that’s because, coming from comics, if you draw an image, you have to have context; it’s part of the story. Something has come before it, and something will come after.
I think sometimes concept art can look a little dead, sort of like an architectural drawing sort of thing, but when I work on films, I try to tell a story with an image. If I am showing a costume or vehicles, I try and give it some context, a time and a place, and again, I’ve been very lucky about the response.
I also try to give it some style, as well - it’s all painted, for example, which is how I started out before doing black and white comics. It’s what I used to do before I had a computer, you know? So it’s really nice to get back to doing fully painted books.
Steve: Do you prefer one over the other? Comics or concept art?
Jock: Do you know what, I’ve thought about that a lot, actually, and the thing is, if I did too much of one, I’d miss the other. It’s great working on big movies, it’s really exciting, but with comics, people get to see your artwork. When you’re part of a movie, you’re only one part of the machine, which is rewarding as well, but there is something special about comics and that type of storytelling that I would miss, that direct connection we have to the readers. But I couldn’t leave either.
Steve: Moving onto comics, actually, in Snapshot, you’ve employed a minimalist style making significant use of negative space - what made you choose this direction for this story in particular? Was it a team decision or your call completely?
Jock: In the past, I’ve been really conscious of trying to do a certain style for each story ... but it’s never really worked out.
Steve: Haha! I beg to differ!
Jock: Well, after drawing 20 pages, I find that I just start drawing it the way I draw anyway, you know? In Snapshot, it wasn’t really deliberate at all. I was going for stark, bold storytelling because that’s the style that best suits Andy’s writing. But when we started out, I drew it assuming we’d be coloring it. Then, while I was drawing it for its release in the UK, I started realizing that I was drawing it to be black and white, so it just made more sense to keep it that way, especially because it suits the way I composed the page. When we brought it to the States, to Image, they preferred it in black and white, so it became a stylistic choice. But sometimes you find that the best things happen slightly by accident.
I worry that it’s too empty sometimes, but at the same time, I don’t try and leave stuff out just because I don’t want to draw it. Like I said, I’m trying to compose the page for the maximum dynamism and drama out of whatever I’m drawing.
Steve: Speaking of that particular style, and I’ve written this before in my reviews, but the expressiveness you have always been able to emote through the detail in your eyes is astounding. What’s your secret?
Jock: Well, I take lots of photos of myself grimacing. [laughs]
Jock: Oh yeah, of course! But actually, when I was getting into comics, the people that I liked were very expressive and I realized very early on that not very many people are able to be expressive with their artwork. I know that’s a sweeping generalization, but when you’re younger, you focus on details like ... muscles and “awesomeness,” but when I started really getting into it, I wanted to focus on expression, because I think people really get into that sort of untouchable element.
Steve: What is it like working again with Andy Diggle? When you are paired with an artist you are so familiar with, is it like a sort of creative muscle memory?
Jock: With Andy it’s very easy. I’ve been very lucky, working with only amazing writers, but Andy particularly, I find his scripts very easy - as soon as I read them, I can see them. He is also very good working on the comic page in terms of pacing. He doesn’t specify layout or anything like that, but he has a very good awareness of how much action to put on a page and how many pages it should cover; he has a very good instinct for that. People say that we bring the best out of each other, and I think that’s right.
Steve: Aside from Andy, who would be a dream writer to work with for you?
Jock: Well again, I mean, I’ve worked with Jason Aaron, Scot Snyder, Mike Carey, Greg Rucka, John Wagner ... but I guess the cliched answer is, I’d like to see what I could do with Alan Moore, though I can’t really see that happening. Actually, Jeff Lamire is someone I’d really like to work with on something. And also I’ve just been offered to write something myself recently, so I’m doing that at the moment.
Steve: Oh wow, can you say any more about that?
Jock: Well, I don’t know ... it’s for one of the big two. It’s definitely something I’ve been interested in following, because I feel like if you’re the writer and artist, the storytelling is purer - I mean, guys like Paul Pope, Frank Miller, their stories are amazing, so it’s definitely something I’ve thought about doing and this opportunity came up, so I’m just seeing if it works out.
Steve: Is this a preexisting title?
Jock: Yeah, it is, but it’s totally out of continuity, which is nice. They sort of said you can just come in and tell the story you want, drop the mic and get out. [laughs] So I was like, wow, that’s a pretty ideal offer. It’s tough to think about writing, though. I don’t want to be one of those artists who just writes for the art - I want to get the script locked first.
Steve: Other than that, can you tell us what’s next for Jock?
Jock: Well, I’m doing a lot of poster work for Mondo right now, who I love working for - they’re fantastic, and when you see their screen prints in the flesh, they’re just beautiful. I’ve got a few miniseries coming up, as well as a few more movies, like the new X-Men movie, doing costume design.
Steve: Well, we’re looking forward to seeing everything you’re working on, and thanks again for talking with me today. We’ll see you on Comic Bastards!
Jock: Yeah man, absolutely! Cheers!