notes on Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two #3

mc2 3 cover

Spoilers ahead! And now I can reveal why I didn’t post notes on the first issue here: they’re being reserved for the Director’s Cut of the first issue that’s coming out in June!

I probably tried to compress more stuff into this issue than any other, despite its relatively relaxed tone–my initial notes were all about California’s ecology, its cult of physical beauty, and its discourse around immigration, and then I tried to figure out where they could overlap.

Pg. 1: I like the idea that Dredd and Slater are just trying to keep their arrest numbers up while they’re hanging out at the shore. Dredd’s being significantly more polite than usual here (“ma’am”!); maybe he’s still being thrown off a little by the cameras.

Pp. 2-3: Ulises and Ryan killing it again. Ryan colored the woman in the foreground as the splendid Jen Vaughn, who helped us read the first issue at Comics Underground a few weeks ago.

Pg. 4: In the earliest iteration of the proposal, the giant shrimp was a shark, just because I thought it’d be fun to do some kind of Hook Jaw riff. Then I realized that anybody can fight a shark, but if I wanted something really gross, it should be another form of sea life. I believe it was partly the shrimp that sold Ulises on the Mega-City Two pitch, so that worked out nicely. Did you know that shrimp don’t have mouths as such but “mouthparts”? Eeeeee.


If you gotta have exposition, you might as well try to make it funny, I say. The Blue Pacific is identified as such in the map of Dredd’s world that ran in 2000 AD in 1993; as well as being a nice counterpart to John Wagner and Alan Grant’s brilliant idea of the Black Atlantic, the name made me think of the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, whose gorgeous waters are pretty much the color Ryan gives them here, because of the dead algae in them. (There’s even a line of Blue Lagoon beauty products; supposedly, that stuff is good for the skin.)

Pg. 5: Ulises, trollin’ (and the person he’s trolling isn’t Geof Darrow). The scrawler is starting to write “JUSTICE FOR CESAR”–of whom we’ll hear a bit more later (and who was mentioned for the first time on the cover to #1!).

The “fines” routine: In MC1, punishments seem to mostly involve incarceration, but that’s expensive (as Al Ewing’s “The Bean Counter” points out). MC2′s mutable laws jail its poorer citizens, but in relatively wealthy areas, where violent crime isn’t as much of an issue, they’re designed to keep money flowing back to city government, which is awfully expensive; the infrastructure of getting water everywhere inland it needs to go practically breaks the budget by itself (and it’s not exactly cheap in present-day California).

Pg. 6: I mean, MC2 can’t be all traffic, especially on its fringes. I love Ulises’ design for whichever MC1 building that is (probably the Grand Hall) in 2094: eagle-shaped, with lots of windows…

“Double Nickels,” besides being a movie title, is a riff on Minutemen’s album Double Nickels on the Dime–as great a record, and as great a title, as has ever come out of Southern California’s punk scene. The Minutemen were, specifically, from San Pedro, and that’s where I figure Double Nickels is (see last issue’s line about the “old anchorage” there).

Pg. 7: “I see you like to steer” was a late addition–we’d established in the first issue that using steering wheels was optional, but Ulises put the little dash-cam in, so I let Kennedy remind Dredd that he’s being surveilled, even while he’s having his conversations with Goodman.

When Ulises came up with the roadbots, he worked out a bunch of stuff about their habitats and tidepool ecology; the cloverleaves-to-nowhere, built out of reprocessed garbage and extending into the ocean, are his stroke of genius, and they might be my favorite thing about this issue.

Pg. 8: Sometimes, there’s no way to adequately explain stuff without bogging the story down, so you just have to sprinkle a few clues and let things roll. The idea behind Checkpoint Bardot (whose name echoes “bardo” as well as Brigitte) is that MC2′s economy depends heavily on the movie/vid industry, and the only way for most people to immigrate there is to land a role. So waves of asylum-seekers land at the checkpoints for open casting calls; you get one shot at “auditioning” for citizenship. Roles can be exceptionally dangerous, especially for extras–as we mentioned briefly in #1, the vogue is for “authentic cinema,” with real actors and no special effects, so even blockbusters are made Dogme 95-style (rules 6 and 8 notwithstanding). Most of the refugees who arrive at the checkpoints are hoping to trade up to possible doom from certain doom, basically.

Uranium City, by the way, is a real place, and also the setting for the Dredd spinoff series Harmony.


Pg. 9: I can’t get over how perfectly Ulises pulled off the Kahlista.

Pg. 12: There’s a great bit in (SoCal author and musician) Rob Roberge’s novel “More Than They Could Chew”: “You can get through life with just two lines: I don’t know and You’re talking to the wrong guy/gal.”

Pg. 13: Yep, (near-)certain doom. I’ve been known to grouse about stuffed animals as symbols of betrayed innocence in comics, but I cracked up at the Barry Badger plushie here.

Pg. 14: We’ve been seeing references to Santos since the beginning, but now we’re starting to flesh out who he is and what he represents. Foreshadowing! Excellent literary device! Will be used more later! “Oz” is the Australian Mega-City (as seen in the long Dredd storyline of the same name).

Pp. 15-16: I love how airy Ulises and Ryan made this scene. They can do crazy detail, obviously, but they also give our setting a real sense of openness.

Pg. 17: Five-panel page as originally written, ten-panel page as ingeniously restaged by Mr. Farinas. Saints after whom hospitals are named in John Wagner’s Dredd stories include Doris Day and Melvyn Bragg, among others.

Pg. 19: Robots have their own priorities. I tried to sneak references to every previous Dredd-universe story that showed bits of pre-”Judgment Day” Mega-City Two into this miniseries somewhere; StigCorp figured prominently in the Chopper storylines Song of the Surfer and Earth, Wind and Fire, and Mimsey comes from Dave Stone’s Dredd novel Wetworks. (Ursus is Ulises’ invention from #1.)

Yeah, Dredd’s come a long way from dressing down Cadena in #1 to concurring with her suggestion here…

Pg. 20: …which is not to say that he’s entirely into playing to the cameras now.

Pg. 21: Tight boots are one thing, but waterlogged tight boots are just a drag to wear. Great, great page, visually speaking, which has already been analyzed in some depth by Loser City. (And another instance of the artists drastically improving on what was in the script.)

Pg. 22: Another smart move from Ulises: the kid getting cuffed here is the one we saw earlier. He’s also pointed out that the cover of #4 acts as a bonus strip for #3… the gags in the final panel, from the Amazing Spider-Man #50 homage to the “Rodney’s Last Ride” with a 187 license plate to the Coney Island-style panopticon, are all his. You know, for all the artists he gets compared to, I don’t think many people mention Will Elder

See you in a few weeks for #4. And do you think we’d take you to a place called Melody Time without bursting into song a few times? If so, rethink that.

another work update post

Hey, a monthly schedule is sometthing.

A quick update on stuff I’ve been doing, for the record:

I interviewed the fascinating Linda Perhacs for the new eMusic-affiliated site Wondering Sound.

I also interviewed Barbara Manning for chickfactor. Under my own name, no less!

At TIME, I wrote about Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes. (Subscribers only, I’m afraid.)

At Pitchfork, I wrote about the reissue of Morrissey’s Your Arsenal and Laibach’s Spectre. (And, a little while ago, the Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat.)

I contributed a bunch of entries to Rolling Stone‘s survey of every Nirvana song, as well as a little piece about some of Kurt Cobain’s favorite records in the Nirvana special issue that’s on sale right now.

The Portland Mercury asked me to recommend a graphic novel; I went the “deep cut” route and suggested Peter Blegvad’s Leviathan.

I programmed playlists of James Brown and his associates for Songza: one of the soul era, one of the funk era.

This Wednesday, Ulises, Ryan, Jen Vaughn and I are going to be reading Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two #1–out loud!–as part of this month’s Comics Underground.

It is a little odd to be typing where I’m typing right now. More sometime when I’m in less cramped quarters.

notes on Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two #2

I’ve had a few requests for annotations on the mini-series (and I always love reading comics writers’ annotations of stories they’ve written), so here goes. ”Spoilers, obv.,” as Kieron Gillen says. (But what about notes on the first issue? They’re being reserved for a special thing. More on that when I can say more.)

The epigraph in the script for this issue:

“The Angels don’t like to be called losers, but they have learned to live with it. ‘Yeah, I guess I am,’ said one. ‘But you’re looking at one loser who’s going to make a hell of a scene on the way out.’” –Hunter S. Thompson, Hell’s Angels

Title: “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream” is also the title of the first essay in Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. (Thanks to Jessica Bruder for the suggestion.) This is our “cults and culture in Cali” issue, and the “golden dream” of California is the idea that you can move out there and everything will be utopian forever–for some values of utopia, which are not always the same.

Pg. 1: The three big groups of golden-dream-dreamers I was conflating in my head throughout this issue were the Hell’s Angels around the time Thompson wrote his book (it’s an amazing work of reportage, and one of the things that made his reputation long before Fear and Loathing…), the Children of God as they were in the early ’70s, and the cult of Californian art–specifically around the Ferus Gallery artists of the early ’60s and the related group of “finish fetish” artists who made their work out of the new Californian industrial materials.

Mother 13′s name is a riff on Father Yod (of Ya Ho Wha 13), various high-ranking biker-gang dudes known as “Mother,” etc.–and it’s also a reference to The Best Show on WFMU‘s Jon Wurster character Corey Harris, of the godawful alt-rock band Mother 13. (Benjamin Birdie, who was the first person to catch that particular joke, linked me to his drawing of Corey Harris from the “First Rock Band on Mount Everest” sketch.) No relation to the mutant Father from Michael Carroll’s Dredd story “California Babylon” a couple of years ago…

What Fiery Jacq–name courtesy of an early Fall single and the remarkable Jacq Cohen, among a few other sources–is doing here is a variation on what both the Children of God and the Hell’s Angels did. CoG members would seduce lonely people to get them into the group, a practice known as “flirty fishing” (cf. “friendly fixing” on the next page). There’s a kind-of-amazing, deeply NSFW comic book/tract called “The Little Flirty Fishy!” that explained how to do it. The Angels, who had serious PR problems, made a habit of helping motorists whose cars had broken down, and giving them a card that would let them know “you have been assisted by the Hell’s Angels”; here’s Thompson’s own. (Great text on the back of it, too.) Other branches of the Angels combined both approaches, apparently.

“The Burning Museum” is a nod to this Ed Ruscha painting. Plus I just thought it sounded good.

Pg. 2: Love the little Strontium Dog outfit Ulises snuck into Hurley’s wardrobe. The community Dredd and the Dahlia Studios crew are in this time is Scorpio Rising, named after Kenneth Anger’s biker film

Pg. 3: I think I’d suggested that Mother 13′s look could be inspired by latter-day La Monte Young, arguably the most visually badass fine artist of the past few decades, but I love the very different approach that Ulises came up with here. In the early drafts of the script, his henchmen all had names inspired by notable Californian artists, but those mostly ended up getting in the way.

Pg. 4: Of course Dredd is referred to “The Man,” because that’s what he is–in the sense of “we want to be free to ride our machines without being hassled by the Man.” He’s playing the laconic type because the operation depends on his keeping his mouth shut, basically. (Ulises’ stroke of genius was linking him to The Dude by way of the WITE RUSN logo on his jacket.)

Pg. 7: “Jean Paul, David and Sonny”: I was rereading The Ballad of Halo Jones last week and realized that this joke was completely lifted from “Matthew, Marx, Luke and Jung” in there.

It’s occasionally been suggested that one corollary to Dredd being a great street judge is that he’s hopeless at other disciplines. He’s nearly incapable of being anything other than blunt and straightforward–but, of course, telling the C.L.G.’s the truth about where he learned to fight is the fastest way to make them think he’s kidding and get on their good side.

Pp. 8-9: This project’s resident West Coast hip-hop enthusiast U. Farinas told me, at some point early on, “you know what’s awesome California sci-fi? Tupac’s ‘California Love’ video!” Which, as it turns out, is set in 2095: perfect! I had some exposition to get out of the way, so I figured why not just make it rhyme and scan like Dr. Dre’s verse? And then of course Ulises knocked it out of the park.

I was pretty pleased with the Leon Large routine this issue (which Ulises actually teased with a billboard in the big double-page spread in #1): his name is a riff on this bit from Airplane!, but also echoes other fashion-business people we’ve seen in Dredd stories (like the Yess family), as well as the name of a famous L.A. patron of the arts. I figured Large kneepads are as much a crucial accessory for the C.L.G.’s as Levi’s denims were for the Angels.

Pg. 10: The C.L.G.’s are not the only gang of high-aesthetic bikers around. “Cannibal dynamo” is a phrase from Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” that sounded like a gang could name itself after it.

Pg. 11: Ulises designed the Zzizzypop logo and can (which we first saw way back on the first page of #1); I suggested R. Crumb’s cover for Zap Comix #0 as a reference point. Oh my God do I love that can design. I would drink that stuff.

And of course The Man can’t stop talking like a Judge. Shush, The Man.

Pg. 12: Naturally, it makes sense to Jacq that the first thing The Man is going to want to do is get an endorsement deal and put some money in his wallet; setting this up is her way of currying favor with him. It doesn’t even occur to Dredd that he’s supposed to play along; the idea is impermissible to him. As so many ideas are. (See also the “What If Judges Did Ads?” bit from 2000 AD Prog 521…)

Pg. 13: Jacq is very earnestly explaining her Romantic ideal of the “golden dream”–this is her world-view, and it’s her way of trying to convert The Man. “Saloon Society” is another phrase from Thompson’s Hell’s Angels, a quotation from the California Attorney General’s report on the Angels, about how their victims and witnesses are “vulnerable to the mores of ‘saloon society.’”

Pg. 14: Ulises sent me a whole lot of notes on how the various traffic-related technology in Mega-City Two works; most of the captions describing the traffic knot were actually written by him. The “family man” bit is one of those things that reads differently depending on how much Dredd you’ve read. The super-nerdy reading is that “family man” is a MC1 Justice Dept. code word for undercover Judges to identify themselves–but maybe he’s just threatening the gate Judge by hinting at his gang/cult affiliation. Same result, either way.

Pg. 15: Another Leon Large billboard! Dredd’s trying to get some information out of Jacq, but he is also, naturally, thinking about Rico, which is what he does any time his id starts to even faintly assert itself or when he starts thinking about the possibility of doing something “wrong.” The two cultists going forehead-to-forehead at lower right are in a pose from the all-time champion in the “California comics with cops on the cover” category, Love & Rockets #33…

Pg. 16: As Jacq said, they go through ‘em. That is actually a hell of a lot of information that Ulises and Ryan get across visually in a six-panel page. (Love the lighting change as the bikes collide.) L.A. residents invariably refer to big highways with the definite article; there are just a lot more of them by the time of our story.

Pg. 17: You can tell he’s just itching to get his hands on a functional weapon again. (I had to look up the ACAB badge that Ulises gave The Man: “All Coppers Are Bastards.”)

Pg. 18: Some fantastic character acting going on here, especially considering how stoic everybody’s being.

Pg. 21: And we finally see Leon Large! Kennedy shows up to hog a certain amount of the glory, because that’s what he does. I really like the C.L.G. guy’s Dan Dare eyebrows in panel 5. A couple of reviews suggest that I may not have made it entirely clear that Dredd’s “clemency” is as ungenerous as it could possibly be: credit for time served isn’t much against consecutive life sentences.

Pg. 22: Yes, that is a giant shrimp. Just when you thought it was safe, etc.

the Future Site of Mega-City Two Tour

Hi! It’s been a while. But the first order of business is that the first issue of Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two (yes, its title changed slightly since my previous post)–the five-issue miniseries that I’m writing, Ulises Farinas is drawing, and Ryan Hill is coloring–comes out January 22, and I’m doing a little signing tour to promote it! And yes, the tour starts January 15, a week before the comic is officially released–but the four stores on the tour will all have special advance copies for sale…

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 15: Floating World Comics, 400 NW Couch St., Portland, OR, 6-8 PM, with Ulises and Ryan

FRIDAY, JANUARY 17: Bridge City Comics, 3725 N. Mississippi Ave., Portland, OR, 6-9 PM, with Ulises and Ryan

SATURDAY, JANUARY 18: Earth-2 Comics, 15017 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA, 6-8 PM–just me, but I’ll be giving a little talk about the history of Mega-City architecture, and I’m told there will be “themed refreshments”

MONDAY, JANUARY 20: Mission: Comics and Art, 3520 20th St. Suite B, San Francisco, CA, 7 PM–just me again, once again presenting the history of Mega-City architecture

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 22: Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two #1 available everywhere else!

There may be some more appearances coming up, too; stay tuned.

Ulises and Ryan's incredible Mega-City Two cityscape.

importation, importuning

Just in time for everybody to not give up on my ever updating before you start your post-Google Reader transfer process!

Before I get started in earnest, a bit of entertainment: here’s the lecture I gave at the EMP Pop Conference in Seattle on April 20 of this year–”Keep It Short, Stupid!” It’s a 5-minute talk about the art of incredibly short songs, in the course of which I play 20 songs in their entirety and discuss them at some length. Well, not a lot of length.

Okay, so here’s what I’ve published since, ulp, almost three months ago:

*MTV Hive columns! On Petula Clark’s career, Todd Rundgren’s productions, the odd history of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” the Diplo discography, the late George Jones, Margaret Thatcher and punk self-parody, the links between the soundtracks of The Great Gatsby and Less Than Zero, Mark E. Smith’s collaborations outside the Fall, songs that Daft Punk has sampled, John Zorn’s Masada projects, songs called “Do It Again” from Gershwin to Camera Obscura, Black Sabbath’s origins in the “Brum Beat” scene, and Primal Scream and the C86 generation.

*In the New York Times, reviews of graphic novels by Lucy Knisley, Ulli Lust, Jeremy A. Bastian, Michael DeForge and Lisa Hanawalt.

*Reviews in the Washington Post of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Sleeper Omnibus, Audrey Niffenegger’s Raven Girl, and Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon.

*A review, in The Forward, of Ben Katchor’s Hand-Drying in America and Other Stories.

*A little appreciation of “The Oxygen Board” at Dredd Alert.

*A piece for Red Bull Music Academy’s paper about the relationship between New York’s music and comics scenes in the 1990s.

*In Print magazine, a profile of comics colorist Dave Stewart. (Not online, unfortunately.)

*Conversations with Evan Narcisse and Graeme McMillan at Kotaku about X-Men and The Massive and The Private Eye.

I also got to give a couple more lectures, which aren’t YouTubed (although I might have to put together a video or two myself): one (by way of introducing Annalee Newitz’s talk about Scatter, Adapt and Remember talk at Powell’s) on images of the end of the world in comic books, another (for the International Comic Arts Forum) on romance comics’ great late-’60s/early-’70s moment.

But I am probably most excited of all about my forthcoming project with the remarkable Ulises Farinas, Judge Dredd: City of Courts, a miniseries coming from IDW sometime this winter. And here’s the cover of the first one:

pushing paper

And is there ever a lot of paper to be pushed. But first: more music limericks! The mighty Mairead Case requested a dirty set about Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy):

“It’s from one of my favorite boutiques,
though it looks rather tight on the cheeks.
+++Have you seen my shaved pen–” “Oh,
+++my God, Mr. Eno–”
“Shush, Chrissie! Check out my Obliques.”

Freddie Smith’s blowing more than the count-in.
Manzanera’s warm jet’s like a fountain.
+++The Portsmouth Sinfonia’s
+++Got 801 bonias,
And guess who’s the tiger they’re mountin’?

The central shaft’s widely endowed–
The last one turned into a crowd.
+++Peter-punishing Pauls
+++Plugged Regina’s red walls;
Judy’s jungle felt mildly Mao-Mao’ed.

Anyway. Things I’ve published lately:

At MTV Hive: pieces on the history of “Zombie Jamboree,” various David Bowie collaborations, and contractual-obligation records,

At Pitchfork: reviews of Wire’s Change Becomes Us, the reissues of the first two Dump albums, and Depeche Mode’s Delta Machine.

At Spin: a handful of entries for the Top 100 Alternative Albums of the ’60s feature.

At eMusic: a feature on Don Giovanni Records.

I also assembled a quick-and-dirty Tumblr of marriage-equality icons.

machines snapping into place

Wow: exactly a month since I updated! It’s been an uneventful month in terms of stuff I can talk about so far, though. So in lieu of anything particularly fresh, here’s what I’ve published:

*MTV Hive columns on Tracey Thorn’s career, on the songwriting of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, on all-women rock bands before 1970, and on the links between Coil and How to Destroy Angels.

*A review of Lynda Barry’s “The Freddie Stories” for the Washington Post.

*A review of Ben Katchor’s “Hand-Drying in America” for the Forward.

I haven’t gone away. I’m just working on some things. You’ll know.

the muttering whistle

You know: the one that says “if I could only tell you about the things I’m working on now.” But I can’t! So I mutter and whistle and whistle-mutter instead.

New bylines:

*at MTV Hive, a history of the various incarnations of Black Flag, and a roundup of bands inspired by My Bloody Valentine

*at eMusic, interviews with FIDLAR and Local Natives, plus a review of the Hot French Chicks in the Garage compilation

*in O magazine and, a little piece about Becky Cloonan

And I made a pretty good winter-melon soup with little pieces of tofu in it the other day; that counts for something, right? (I also tried to make a sauce for veggie “khao man gai” from this recipe–it took me a little while to find all the ingredients, but I did it–but what came out was way way too salty. Back to the drawing board.)

three limericks about Television

A while ago, I offered (as a premium for the Best Music Writing Kickstarter) to write three limericks apiece, clean or dirty, about the musical artist or recording of five backers’ choice. (All five picked “dirty.”) One of them–Bryan Waterman, the author of Television’s Marquee Moon (33 1/3)–asked specifically for limericks about the Richard Hell-era lineup of Television. Here’s what I came up with; I managed to sneak in a lot of in-jokes about the band, including a sideways reference to my favorite unreleased song of theirs…

Theresa’s mien on the marquee
Means there’s only one foxhole–oh me!
++A more aching-tushed fool
++Says Stern’s johnny’s a jewel–
She’s a TV Rrose Sélavy.

Richard Hell’s clothing lacks enough closure
For the Bowery coppers’ composure.
++The fuzz don’t mind the nip,
++But his jeans’ jimmy rip
Gets him busted for double exposure.

So they grill Richie down at the station:
“Are these duds how you get circulation
++To your glamorous willie?”
++He snaps “Just ask Hilly:
I’m part of the ______ deviation.”


Recent stuff I’ve published:

*The last three “Dredd Reckoning” reviews: on Insurrection, the third Judge Anderson: The Psi Files collection, and (with Carl Wilson) Tour of Duty: Mega-City Justice.

*MTV Hive pieces on Yo La Tengo’s “Ohm” and its relatives, and on New Order’s family tree.

*A Pitchfork review of New Order’s Lost Sirens.

the road with a yellow line through it

For the last year or so, I’ve been playing once a month (roughly) at “Cover Songs Super Spectacular” at the Jade Lounge, the bar down the street from my house: people sign up in advance to sing three covers of their choice. Sometimes there’s a theme, usually there isn’t. I bring my ukulele and sing things. The first time I did it, a woman came up to me afterwards and said “you have a beautiful voice, but I think you should really think about getting therapy.” That made me realize I had to keep doing it. (Admittedly, I’d just sung “Pirate Jenny.”)

For some reason, I always like to do at least one song whose narrator is a terrible, terrible person (actually, “Pirate Jenny” is arguably one of those too). This time, all three songs I sang more or less fell into that category: The Who’s “Odorono,” ABBA’s “One of Us” (whose speaker is not a bad person when a woman sings it but definitely is when a man sings it–I like songs whose meaning changes depending on who’s singing them, too), and Momus’s “Bishonen.”

Published this week:

*A Dredd Reckoning piece on Mega-City Undercover Vol. 2: Living the Low Life

*A review of Peter Bagge’s Reset at the Washington Post

*A piece for MTV Hive on Broadcast’s Berberian Sound Studio soundtrack and some of its evident inspirations

*An interview with Warren Ellis about his new novel Gun Machine, over at the L.A. Times