Interview: Eoin Coveney Talks 2000AD

After listening to his great talk at Cork Library last month, I thought I’d ask Eoin Coveney about some of the topics he covered, his 2000AD experience and what’s next for him in the galaxy’s greatest comic.

With 2000AD, you started out with a “Future Shock”. They’re notoriously difficult for writers. I was wondering what sort of challenge they are to an artist.

My requirements as the artist are always the same: to tell the story as clearly as possible and to serve the script faithfully. Before rendering, character and general design, my primary aim was to make it as clear and readable as I could. This was a particularly challenging script, as the story is told over several different time periods. 14th, 17th century Britain and World War One needed to be shown in accurate detail, so that involved a lot of research- which I really enjoy as it always throws up some interesting visual material which informs the storytelling and gives the artwork an extra layer of authenticity. There was also the futuristic setting from which the protagonist originates. It was only 4 pages in length- part, I would imagine of what makes it such a tough nut to crack for any writer- so to convey those time periods and to keep the main character consistent was a big challenge.
Moving on to Dredd. Where you a fan before drawing him? Any favourite story lines?

I was always a big fan of Dredd, initially it was because of the incredible artists who drew him. Bolland, Dillon, Kennedy and so many more did such astounding work on his stories- those influences are still evident in my work. Later, I began to appreciate the genius of John Wagner and his incredible, hilarious imagination. I really believe his stories brought out the best in those artists. As far as favourite stories, I would say “Cry of the Werewolf” was a standout for me, as it was the story that led me back to the prog as a kid, having lapsed around prog 90 or so. That amazing cover by Steve Dillon, which has now become so iconic- with Dredd’s claw/hand bursting through his glove just jumped off the newsstand for me. I remember thinking, “Oh my God- Dredd’s a werewolf! I have to buy this!” I have always been a big horror fan and loved Dillon’s work on it– some of his best ever Dredd work, I reckon. Also, Judge Death/ Dark judges were a standout for me, too as well as Chopper, drawn by my idol, Cam Kennedy. His take on Dredd has become the most influential on how I see Dredd now.

What was it about their versions that appealed to you?

Apart from Kennedy’s stunning ability to do just about everything flawlessly as an artist, it was his take on Dredd that felt so real to me. There are many visual interpretations of Dredd, depending on who draws him and that’s one of the many reasons for his longevity and enduring appeal, I think. There is the massively- muscled Bisley version, the raw, chunky Jock version as well as the classic Bolland and Gibson versions- what appeals to me about Kennedy’s version is that his Dredd is physically quite lean and athletic. There would be no point in me trying to draw the huge, muscular Dredd- it just wouldn’t work for me. I have to draw the version I find most believable. With Dredd, you have only the bottom half of his face to show any emotion, and Kennedy is just so good at that Dredd snarl. Even with a few gritted teeth showing, Kennedy has this amazing ability to show what’s going on in Dredd’s mind with such economy of line. Also, I believe Kennedy’s ability to pose a character is second to none.
What has been your favourite thing to draw amongst your Dredd work?

I’ve drawn Dredd twice only- and the first time was way back in the ’90’s, when I foolishly blew a chance to do a better job on a great John Wagner script than I ultimately did. Youthful arrogance and a short- term focus on the money led me to piss that away, I’m rather ashamed to admit. So, the Dredd story I drew for last year’s sci- fi (i.e.: summer) special, is the one I am happiest with. I really took my time with that one, as I try to think more long- term, now. I’d like to be able to pick it up in a year and still be happy with what I see. Apart from enjoying the process of drawing Dredd himself (of course), I very much enjoyed drawing a demolition ‘droid which causes Dredd some minor bother on page 5 of a fantastic Emma Beeby script. It was quite a madcap story, with lots of chaotic and bizarre twists, which harked back to classic ’80’s Dredd scripts, I felt. I loved working on it and would love to do more. For the moment, though I am firmly focussed on my current, non- Dredd work for 2000AD.

You mentioned in your talk about the difference between drawing different genres. Comedy versus a noir detective for example. How does your style change?

I think my style is always going to be recognisable to those who know my work. What I think I was getting at was that the style is affected by the tone of the script, so it changes subtly and almost unconsciously, depending on the script. The future shock was very grim and dark, so it just felt appropriate to use lots of black (also as it was published in black and white) The protagonist was a very tortured person so I made him quite sharp- looking with lots of grim expressions. I think the artwork had to look quite gritty because it just felt right for the tone of that story. I later worked on a much lighter and more humorous story about Mega City fatties and it would not have worked if I had used such a gritty look. It just felt right to make everything rotund and soft- the character, (obviously as he was a fattie) but also the building he lived in, the furniture- everything, in fact. I also used substantially fewer areas of black. I am currently illustrating a script which takes place in Edwardian England and I am using lots of cross- hatching as it intuitively seems to fit the tone. Also, I looked at press illustrations from the time and a little bit of that sort of seeped in.

Anything from the world of Judge Dredd that you haven’t drawn that you would like to?

God, yes- so much! In no particular order: Mean Machine Angel, The Dark Judges, The Uglies, Chopper (the skysurfing one) and any of Wagner’s supernatural tales. One of the things I love about his stories is his ability to make the supernatural plots ultimately have a scientific explanation and therefore are more plausible, somehow. If I get to draw Dredd again, I’d be happy to do anything, but those would be my ideal characters.
You’re going to be doing your own series for 2000AD. Can you tell us something about it?

Thankfully, it has been recently announced so I am able to talk a little about it. “The Alienist” debuted in last year’s Winter Special, written by the incredible Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby. I had the great honour of illustrating it- this series will pick up their story again. The main character, Madelyn Vespertine is really an inter- dimensional being who has been stranded in Edwardian era- Britain. She has immense psychic powers and can project illusions into people’s minds. Her powers were severely depleted by an encounter with an alien life form in the Winter Special story so she is stuck until she can regain her full abilities. Given the era, and the inequalities of that time, she has to hire an actor and two- bit stage illusionist to be her front. I think it’s cool to see a female character who is pulling all the strings behind the scenes while this gin- soaked old fraud takes credit for all her achievements. I am currently in the midst of that and enjoying the hell out of it. It will appear in 2000AD later this year.