Comics 1 October 2018 | 15:33

Carlos Ezquerra RIP: A creator of brilliant madness

01 October 2018 15:33

This has been a cruel Monday. First, news that the great French chanteur Charles Aznavour has passed away. And then another nail to the heart: Carlos Ezquerra, the Spanish artist who co-created Judge Dredd, has gone too, aged 70.

Although Ezquerra’s talent extends far beyond Judge Dredd, that is how he gained many of his fans, including me. Few characters have ever roared onto the page as loudly. The first panel of the first Dredd story, in the second issue of 2000 AD from 1977, shows the future-cop on his immense black-and-chrome Lawmaster motorcycle. He’s about to mow down some criminals, but, under Ezquerra’s pen, it looks as though he might mow down the reader too.

In truth, Ezquerra’s style takes some getting used to. It developed from those early stories – his Dredd becomes stonier in image and in spirit – but it always retained the thick, fuzzy outlines that were strange to those who were more familiar with American comics than European ones.

But when you do get used to Ezquerra’s style, it is – as 2000 AD’s alien editor, Tharg the Mighty, would say – entirely ghafflebette. Those fuzzy outlines only add to the madness of Mega-City One, home to Dredd and millions of other poor souls. And what’s contained within them is madder still. His cityscapes are dense and loopy. His characters compete for attention against their own badges and buckles and headgear. Without Ezquerra’s direction, 2000 AD would have struggled to have become what it is today: a weekly form of visual overload.

If this sounds like an insult, it isn’t meant to be. Ezquerra was the perfect artist for a fictional universe that’s defined by its too-much-ness. Too much craziness, too much violence, and way too much death. His pages for my favourite Dredd storyline, Necropolis – in which 60 million inhabitants of Mega-City One are killed off – encapsulate all three. The image of someone decaying under the touch of one of the terrible Dark Judges has never left my subconscious since I first saw it.

One consolation is that much of Ezquerra’s work, particularly his work for 2000 AD, is freely available. The first Dredd story is in The Complete Case Files 01, while Necropolis is collected in The Complete Case Files 14. And the other co-creator of Dredd, the writer John Wagner, is still at large in Mega-City One. Only this morning, over on The Prescription, I recommended a story he wrote for the 400th issue of the Judge Dredd Megazine.

And so the greatest ongoing story in comics keeps on going – but it would never have started without Ezquerra, and now, sadly, it must continue without him.