The ICN Hall Of Fame Ceremony: PJ Holden

For PJ Holden’s induction, I turned to his frequent 2000AD collaborator Michael Carroll. Mike in turn, turned to host of other writers who have worked with PJ. A really big thanks to Mike and all the guys. They really came through.

Michael Carroll:
Belfast-based Paul Jason Holden (AKA PJ, or Peej) is a tremendously gifted comic-book artist. Naturally, he will dismiss that statement as hyperbole, because he genuinely doesn’t understand how good he is or how highly he’s regarded. He will also, when he reads this, be scouring the rest of the text for the punchline to that first sentence. There isn’t one – because it’s not a joke.

His career began, as so many do, in the small-press scene. With writer Malachy Coney he created the acclaimed graphic novels The Moon Looked Down and Laughed, Holy Cross, The Dandylion and The Simply Incredible Hunk. He soon branched out into other small-press titles like Violent, Black Seal and Solar Wind, for which he drew a variety of strips in different styles.

And then – after gracing titles such as Warhammer Monthly and Toxic – he reached the pages of 2000 AD. Now, most newcomers to that august publication are expected to start with a Future Shock story. These are standalone tales, four pages long (used to be five pages back in my day!) that test the creator’s artistic and story-telling skills. It’s the standard proving-ground. Most creators will do a good handful of Future Shocks before they’re allowed to move on to a multi-part story, or work on one of the regular strips. After several years, a particularly talented creator might be offered a chance to tackle the comic’s flagship strip, Judge Dredd.

So it’s notable, I think, that PJ Holden’s first ever strip in 2000 AD was Judge Dredd. He came in at the top, guys! That was in March 2001, a one-shot tale called “Sino-Town” written by Gordon Rennie. It was the start of something special, because a strip like Judge Dredd needs artists who are a cut above the ordinary.

Judge Dredd stories can be bleak, intense, horrifying, dark, insane… and – just as often – hilarious, camp, bombastic, touching and sometimes heart-rendingly tragic. There are very few artists in this world who possess the skills to depict all of that with absolute conviction and without compromise. PJ Holden is one of them.

In person, PJ is a non-stop powerhouse of energy, ideas, jokes, reflections, insights and endless crazy ideas that are either utterly brilliant or utterly stupid (yet utterly brilliant in their utter stupidity, and always hilarious). His generosity is matched only by his wit, which is considerable, and he is a wellspring of wisdom and good advice: any artist (of any level of experience or skill) would be well-served to sit down with him for a few minutes and pick his brains.

I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with PJ a few times (to date: six different stories, totalling 139 pages), and he is a pleasure to work with. He has an instinct for comic-book art that is so ingrained I suspect it’s now part of his DNA. I know that if I give him far-too- complex (or far-too-vague) panel descriptions he will always draw exactly what needs to be there: he understands the flow of the story, and knows that it’s the reader’s experience of a comic that is paramount, not the whims or foibles of its creators.

I’m honoured to have been asked to induct Paul Jason Holden into the Irish Comic News Hall of Fame. I’m sure you’ll agree that he’s more than earned the right to be here! But don’t just take my word for it: I contacted some of his other collaborators and asked them to contribute a few words…

Arthur Wyatt:
Rock solid art, a great sense of storytelling, incentive design and one of the friendliest and most professional artists I’ve worked with… all of these make PJ a great collaborator on any project. I’m proud to have worked with him from the time of some of his earliest 2000 AD work and I hope I’ll get to work on many future projects with him… assuming he can be prised away from Gordon and Garth.

Al Ewing:
I’ve collaborated with PJ Holden on a few things, including a Judge Dredd story that brought a tear to many an eye. But the thing I’ll always remember best is our iPhone comic being perhaps the first to be banned by Apple – an achievement I consider to be worth several hundred Eisners. If not for PJ, I doubt I’d have even considered the idea of writing comics for the phone, but that’s who he is – someone always thinking forward to the future of the medium, considering the mechanics of art and storytelling, and using any tool available to make the work better. I’m looking forward to the day when we can once again work together on something a major corporation will consider utterly unsuitable for man or beast.

Rob Williams:
PJ Holden’s one of my shortest collaborators. That said, he’s also one of my favourite people in the comics industry. His work’s always dynamic, his storytelling’s always very solid – and while that may sound like light praise it’s really not. Storytelling’s key in what we do, and PJ’s got an excellent grasp of that subtle art in a way that sometimes evades flashier artists. I also genuinely think Peej is one of the finest Dredd artists of our generation. And that means a lot in this house. He’s a good friend and it’s nice to see him appreciated this way.

Simon Spurrier:
The original square-headed pencil-monkey, PJ’s been the life and soul of the Britside comics scene for as long as I’ve been aware of it.

One of the best visual storytellers out, any other artist would kill to’ve mastered any one of the several styles in which he’s accomplished. From razor-sharp war stories to uber-approachable ‘all ages’ fare, his obsessive perfectionism always shines through.

He’s also, infuriatingly, a bloody nice bloke.

Gordon Rennie:

I first met PJ in 1999, at the Bristol Comic Con. He was kinda desperate and pathetic – exactly the qualities I look for in a creative collaborator if you want to dominate them and bend them to your implacable will – and followed me around the con like a sad little puppy that hadn’t been kicked quite hard enough yet. I knew then that, no matter how many times I would later secretly try changing my email address, he and I were destined to keep on working together.

We made a bargain, he and I. I got him work for 2000AD, and he would endure the subsequent long years of ridicule, torment, rudeness, disparagement, belittlement and cruel mockery that I’ve heaped upon him ever since.

And, I must say, it’s worked out rather well for both of us. I’ve no complaints, certainly, but I’ve never really thought to ask PJ what he thinks on the matter.

The thing I most admire about PJ – other than his complete inability to draw attractive women, which makes him somewhat unique among comic artists – is how he just keeps on hanging in there, no matter what you throw at him. He breezed through countless comedy Dredd stories, some of which, in rare moments of weakness, I allowed him to think he had a hand in with coming up with some of the funnies for.

He gritted his teeth on Rogue Trooper, and just slogged on through all the Nu Earth mayhem I demanded fill every panel of every page. There was one glorious time on Department of Monsterology when I thought I might have finally broken him – a splash page was sent back, with a completely reasonable authorial demand that all the hundreds of subterranean goblin creatures be redrawn to have eyes like multi-faceted jewels.

I went to bed happy that night, secure in the knowledge that I’d finally achieved my life’s work. But there, in the next morning’s email, was the page, re-drawn exactly as requested.

So I give up, and release him into the wild, for other, better writers than I to try and break the force that finally defeated me. I’ll move on to an easier, more vulnerable target.

Hmmm… what’s Eoin Coveney up to these days, I wonder?