Razor Sharp Writing: An Interview With Michael Carroll

This week’s Judge Dredd Megazine sees Judge Dredd taking on Razorjack. I ask writer Michael Carroll about the Razorjack character and pick his brain about all things Dredd.

Before we get to the crossover, you of course worked on a Razorjack graphic novel with John Higgins and later a Razorjack prose novel. Can you tell us a little about that experience and, for those unfamiliar with the character, a little about Razorjack?

Razorjack was created by John Higgins and first appeared in print almost twenty years ago in his self-published comic of the same name. In 2001 that initial story was completed in a two-issue series published by Com.X, who in 2009 published a graphic novel compilation of the entire story.

It was around that time that I got involved: John was looking to expand the concept of Razorjack into other media, and I—being primarily a novelist at the time—suggested a series of novels that would act as a companion to the graphic novel.

It was initially daunting working on that first one, but John was extremely generous: he gave me permission to do pretty much anything I liked with his creation. My novel—Double-crossing—expands on some of the ideas in the graphic novel but was designed to be a second “jumping-on” point for new readers: it’s not necessary to be familiar with one to read the other.

Double-Crossing was to be followed by a novel by Al Ewing, and then a third by John himself. Unfortunately, the publishers didn’t have the experience (or the will) to properly market Double-Crossing. The reviews and feedback were extremely positive, but they didn’t capitalise on that in any way. They really didn’t know what to do with it. I guess you could say that they just sort of wished the book away, and their wish came true. John and Al’s books, which were both well past the first-draft stage, were effectively abandoned. Shame, because they were both excellent!

In 2013, Titan Books acquired the rights to produce a new edition of the graphic novel, and John asked me to take a look at the material. He wanted me to tweak the dialogue and spice it up a little (I’d acted as John’s unofficial dialogue advisor when he took over the script duties on Before Watchmen: The Curse of the Crimson Corsair), as well as iron out the few anomalies that crept in between the first self-published episode and the Com.X episodes. That was a huge amount of fun, but very intense work: the schedule was tight, so I had to make the story work without asking John to redraw entire pages. I think I succeeded: a reader coming fresh to that edition would have a hard time pin-pointing the joins! I also got the chance to contribute a brand-new short strip, “A Glimpse of Summer.” John and Sally’s work on that is stunning!

A couple of years after that, I decided self-publish an e-book edition of Double-Crossing, which is still available on Kindle, and for only 99 cents! That’s way, way too cheap for a full-length novel—I must be mad!

As for Razorjack herself… The basic idea is very clear and simple: she is a massively powerful alien demi-god who rules her own dimension—The Twist Loop—and whose goal is the destruction of all life. Her technomages have determined that our dimension—known as the Core Loop—holds the multiverse together. Razorjack is too powerful to cross over into other dimensions but she can send her armies of minions, and she can at times exert a telepathic influence.

How did the cross-over come about?

John and I both love Judge Dredd, and in 2011 we collaborated on a two-part Dredd tale called “Unchained” – but even before that, we were talking about a Dredd/Razorjack crossover. So it’s been at the back of our minds for a long time!

Plus, John’s been itching to get back to Razorjack ever since the Titan edition of the graphic novel! She’s such a nasty, dangerous and compelling character… It’s a joy to write about her exploits!

Judge Dredd has had a number of crossovers over the years from Batman to Alien to Predators. They always seem to work so well in Dredd’s universe. Why do you think that is?

Very early on, Dredd’s stories established that there are parallel and alternate dimensions—Judge Death’s dimension being the most obvious—so the Batman crossovers fit very neatly into that category. The Alien and Predator crossovers, however, are a little more complex because they’re firmly fixed in Dredd’s universe: they’re not one-off stories such as, say, Archie Meets The Punisher, where the crossing over has no impact on any of the properties, nor are they “imaginary” tales like Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man (which, incidentally, sparked my love of crossovers). In Judge Dredd, just about everything that happens is part of the canon. There are Predators and Aliens in Dredd’s universe!

But I guess the main reason they work so well is that the writers and artists love and respect both properties—they’re going to bring their A-game!

Do you think Razorjack fits?

Definitely. Razorjack’s entire premise is that there are alternate dimensions to conquer, and in the first few tales Razorjack’s time-line is more or less aligned with ours, but we established in “A Glimpse of Summer” that the links between the Twist Loop and the Core Loop are somewhat shaky, and the laws of physics aren’t the same in each dimension. The dimensional bridges aren’t always fixed in time: they could open a portal now in the Twist Loop and the other end might emerge in the Core Loop a thousand years ago, or in ten months’ time.

But then Razorjack is immortal and unkillable, so she doesn’t care about sometime as mundane as linear time!

What did you think of the recent all ages FCBD 2000AD? Would you like to see an ongoing version?

I loved the idea of the 2000AD Regened issue—and some of the stories really hit the mark. There’s no reason that an ongoing series wouldn’t work… except, of course, for the rather enormous reason that it probably wouldn’t sell because these days kids of that age don’t really buy comics, certainly not in the numbers that sold when I was that age. And the “comics” for younger kids are little more than bagged toys with a flimsy magazine attached. There’s no longer a culture of kids reading comics as they grow up. I realise I’m deep into Old Man mode now, but I find that rather sad.

Personally, I blame J.K. Rowling. If she’d permitted the publication of a Harry Potter comic, that would have given the industry a massive boost and created a whole new market! (No, I don’t really blame her, but still… you have to wonder why you can get Official Harry Potter Everything Else, but there’s never been a Harry Potter Comic.)

What characters do you think would work best for all ages or young adults?

Almost all of the classic 2000AD characters would work. Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, Ro-Busters, Ace Trucking Co., Rogue Trooper… they were created with young adults in mind, after all.

The FCBD book had a lot of humour. I was talking to John Wagner at a convention about enjoying the humour in Judge Dredd: Boyhood of Super-fiend and he surprised me by saying that he didn’t think it worked. What do you think about using humour with Dredd?

I use a lot of humour in my own Dredd strips: it seems to me that the trick is to either keep it subtle, or go hell-for-leather. My favourite Dredd strip is “Finger of Suspicion” (2000AD #1387 28 April 2004) and it’s hilarious, pure comedy gold! And always punch up, not down. You don’t make jokes about the Fatties because they’re overweight, but you can make jokes about ridiculous ways in which they allow themselves to be exploited. Back in the Dark Ages of 2000AD there were attempts at broader humour with stories like Big Dave. That one really didn’t work! The irony was buried too deeply, if it was there at all.

You worked on a Dredd-centric issue of Journey Planet as an editor recently. What was that process like?

Journey Planet’s perennial editors James Bacon and Chris Garcia are very, very flexible with the zine! As a guest editor, my job was to come up with ideas pertinent to the topic and suggest potential contributors. We bounce ideas back and forth and very quickly a picture of how the zine will turn out begins to emerge. Usually, the incoming articles are sent to Chris and he composes them into the right format, but for the Dredd issue he was very busy with the real world, so I formatted my own articles to save him some time… And then, as time grew tighter and Chris’s schedule wasn’t relenting, I ended up laying out the entire issue. That was a very intense couple of days!

One of the parts of the magazine was people reviewing your Dredd story “The Third Person.” It is one of my favourites of your stories. How did the concept come about? I was wondering if it sprung from the mutants in Mega-City continuity or somewhere else.

I had the idea behind “The Third Person” a long time ago, but I could never find the right story for it. It’s down in my notes under the title “The Narrator” and it was only when I was idly trying to come up with a better title that everything fell into place. “The Third Person” felt like a better title because that’s the manner in which the protagonist refers to herself, and I thought it might be fun to tie it in with the Orson Welles movie The Third Man. If you’re a fan of that movie, you’ll see a dozen nods to it in “The Third Person” aside from the title. The film’s hero Holly Martins becomes the strip’s heroine Laurel Docks. They arrive in town to find that the person they’re supposed to met—Harry Lime in the movie, Hank Lemon in the strip—are dead. I’m not going to list them all!

Will we be seeing a sequel? Maybe “The Fourth Wall”?

A lot of people have been asking me about a sequel, but I’ve no specific plans yet. At least, nothing I’m ready to talk about! “The Third Person” works as a one-off, but there’s a possibility that a sequel would dilute it. That said, “The Fourth Wall” would make a great title… except that John Wagner already had a Mega-City One character addressing the readers in “It Pays to be Mental” (2000AD #468, 3 May 1986). Another comedy classic!

Any other upcoming Dredd stories on the horizon?

Yep! Next week in 2000AD we’ll see the start of a five-part tale called “The Paradigm Shift.” It’s not exactly a cross-over, but it’s close. It’s a tie-in with the Judges series of novellas that explore the early days of the Justice Department. Jake Lynch is on art duties for that one, so I’m sure it’s going to look great!

Beyond that, I can’t reveal too much, except that I’m chuffed to be working with Mark Sexton again, only his second Dredd since our six-parter “Ghosts” in 2006!

Judge Dredd Megazine issue 396 hit stores this week. You read Journey Planet 39 – Judge Dredd online for free here.