The Law Comes To Bristol
Tripwire’s contributing writer TIM HAYES reviews Lawgiver Con which took place in Bristol last month…
Lawgiver, the Judge Dredd-focused event staged by fans of 2000AD independently of any large-scale commercial convention organisers, returned to Bristol at the start of the Spring Bank Holiday weekend, and proved again that letting fans stage events themselves can be one reliable way to give Judge Dredd readers what they want.
Deliberately modest in scale, and with the blessing but not actual participation of publishers Rebellion, the one-day show was firmly centred around its guests, and almost two dozen 2000AD creators from all eras of the comic were there. In the absence of Alan Grant, who had to withdraw, the roster focused on artists or artist/writers without any script droids, but the guests were readily accessible to fans and several took part in panel discussions over the course of the day. Memorabilia vendors and Lawgiver’s traditionally strong contingent of cosplayers all added to the feeling of a con that wants to focus on fans’ perspectives rather than publishers’ properties.
Lawgiver’s first two panels featured four legendary artists: Simon Bisley and Glenn Fabry, whose conversation must stay off the record, followed by Ian Gibson and Mick McMahon. Gibson didn’t comment on the newly colourised version of Halo Jones now being published by Rebellion, but did have plenty of anecdotes about the strip’s creation and the alterations to writer Alan Moore’s original plan that came from the artist’s suggestions. As two of 2000AD’s most storied early creators with unbreakable ties to Judge Dredd, the pair were unanimous in praise of John Wagner’s original conception of the Dredd strip and its satirical intentions—a success worryingly demonstrated by the way that real life has moved closer to some of Mega-City One’s more paranoid predictions. “It was supposed to be warning,” said Gibson. “Not a template.”
Other changes since 1977 were the topic of a panel on the use of digital technology in 2000AD art. Lee Carter, Ryan Brown and Clint Langley, who all use digital techniques in the creation of striking and stylised art for the comic, talked about the authenticity of digital art and the (sometimes begrudging) respect for it in the traditional art world, but agreed that no digital software is going to supply the eye for composition, pose and contrast that a successful comic needs.
After starting with senior creators, the panels ended with a group of the latest artists to join Tharg’s roster: Tom Foster, Steven Austin, and Paul Williams, along with Dan Cornwell, who only recently quit a day-job as a bus driver and has already worked with John Wagner on Judge Dredd. All mentioned the value of the 2000AD script and art competitions now well established at the Leeds Thought Bubble convention—”There’s no better route in than that,” commented Tom Foster—but also the role of the 2000AD fanzines, Zarjaz and Sector 13, as venues where creators could build up practice and exposure.
It was an appropriate sentiment to hear at this Lawgiver, since the kind of strong fan culture that launches fanzines in the first place is behind the event itself. And also since this will the last event in its current form. With a Mega-City One TV series in prospect, Rebellion has moved to bring all Dredd-related activities under its own licensing umbrella, making events such as Lawgiver impossible. But the event will adapt, already announcing a change of name and a wider focus. Lawless: A Celebration Of British Comics is due to be held at the same venue in 2019, potentially bringing a broad-based comics event back to the Bristol scene and continuing to tap into the enthusiasm that lay behind this year’s con, as well as behind the many judges patrolling the streets outside.