An Interview with Michael Carroll – Writer of Judge Dredd (and other things…)

This might look like another interview connected with the Judge Minty fan film, well OK it is… but as with the interview with Daniel Carey-George this interview goes beyond Judge Minty. This one goes quite a bit further.

title-badger

Today I bring you an interview with Michael Carroll, co-writer of Judge Minty and one of the current writers on Judge Dredd in 2000AD.

avatar_77923I’ve previously reviewed Judge Dredd: Wolves and the Badger! tool that I used t create the title graphic for this blog both created by Mike. My avatar on the 2000AD Forum was also created using Badger!

Semple: How did you get involved with the Judge Minty film?

MintyMike: I met Steven Sterlacchini at Hi-Ex in 2009. By that stage he’d already written a screenplay and done a lot of preproduction work. He asked me to take a look at the screenplay and maybe make a few suggestions. My approach was to expand the scope of the story while sticking to the same basic plot. I know that Steven worked on his draft with the budget in mind, but I didn’t worry about the cost – I figured it was better to assume that anything I added was feasible!

Much later, I was asked to provide background dialogue, for the muties, the Justice Department announcements, and the Mega-City One radio adverts. I think I wrote about nine or ten pages of stuff: most of it ended up in the finished movie.

Semple: Were there any parts you brought to the story that didn’t make it to screen?

Mike: Nothing major comes to mind. I do recall that I decided that the Gila-Munja-infested town should be Repentance, the town from the Cursed Earth story where Dredd first encounters Satanus the tyrannosaur. There was a scene when Minty is approaching the town where he passes the picked-clean skeleton of a dinosaur – that would have been cool!

judge Minty DreddSemple: Was Greg the best pick for Dredd out of all the current 2000AD talent?

Mike: You’ve got me there… I don’t know what a lot of the artists and writers look like! But I will say that I think Greg is great in the part. He has the stance, the confidence that Dredd exudes.

3dlandraider

Semple: The land raider that appears in the film is a rather wrecked version of your own model, when did you make this? Is it a fully rendered 3d model?

Mike: I started making the LandRaider in April 2005 (according to the datestamp on my files). I tinkered with it on and off for a couple of years after that: I’m not the world’s best 3D modeller! I never had a LandRaider as a kid, but I’d always wanted one! Initially I worked from photos of the toy that I’d gleaned from the internet, but I eventually managed to track one down on eBay. It was pretty battered and warped, had no treads and no missile, but it was good enough to enable me finish the model.

landraiderI sent the model to Steve Green very early in the pre-production stage of Judge Minty: he imported it into his 3D software and almost immediately sent me a rendered image – that one image proved how much I had to learn about 3D… It looked a hundred times better than any of the renderings I’d made.

Steve distressed and textured the model for its appearance in Judge Minty, and I still can’t get over how good it looks!

3dbuckle Semple: I thought it was common knowledge that you do a graphic design or two, for example I used your Badger program to make my title picture for this Blog. Is this just a hobby?

buckle-photo

Mike: Absolutely! I have been paid a few times for my design work (such as the Dredd badge, Judge’s belt-buckle and Blake’s 7 Federation badge, all created by Termight Replicas) but I mostly do it as a diversion from writing. Sometimes it really helps to let the stories slip into the background and focus on a different type of creative work.

cov-jdprog1
Creating logos is a lot of fun, too: I’m not a great artist by any measure, but I reckon I’m pretty good at cobbling together images that are based one someone else’s work. I’m still very fond of the fake Judge Dredd comic cover I made a few years back, with the logo in the same style as the original 2000AD logo and I’m pretty pleased with the Slaine-style logo I created for Zarjaz.zarjazlogo1

Semple: I know you helped run the website for your friend Harry Harrison who sadly died in August last year, a fabulous author who inspired my teen self to write. How did you come to know Harry?

SSRMike: I was a fan from the moment The Stainless Steel Rat first appeared in 2000AD… The story hooked me immediately and I had to rush out and buy the book. After that, there was no stopping me. I was already a huge SF buff by that stage, but Harry was a new writer to me, and I couldn’t get over how much fun the books were compared to the often rather dry works of other big SF writers (who shall remain nameless!). I first met Harry in September 1987 when he was doing a signing in Dublin… I arrived early and was first in line, and, like a true fan, I hung around for the rest of the session. Harry didn’t seem to mind: more than once, when another fan asked him a question, he deferred to me. Man, that was a good day!

A couple of years after that I saw a flyer in Forbidden Planet in Dublin advertising an evening with Harry held by the Irish Science Fiction Association. Naturally, I went along. That was probably the single most pivotal evening of my life… Because of that meeting, I joined the ISFA, and within months I somehow became editor of their fiction magazine and then chairman of the association. But more important than that, I really started to focus on my writing. Up until then, I was a wanna-be writer, and never made the connection that to BE a writer, one has to WRITE! Even more important: because of the ISFA I made some life-long friends and met Leonia, my wonderful, amazing, and far-too-good-for-me wife… So that’s all thanks to Harry and 2000AD!

About a year later, I moved out of the family home, and ended up living quite close to Harry. I bumped into him one day and he remembered me and insisted that we go to the nearest pub, where he would allow me to buy him drinks. I remember we talked a LOT about writing, and Harry kindly agreed to take a look at my first real attempt at a novel… He had a lot of things to say about it, and very, very few of those things were positive. That was exactly what I needed – what ALL writers need: someone who will be brutally honest about the work.

From then on, we met up every few months: Leonia and I would go to dinner with Harry and his wife Joan (Joan was tremendous fun: she had a great sense of humour and was extremely generous, plus she was an amazing cook who had an incredible memory for salacious stories about other science fiction writers. I could tell you stuff that would put you off certain big-name writers for the rest of your life…).

billSemple: ‘Bill The Galactic Hero’ has garnered support on Kickstarter for a movie. I personally always thought Stainless Steel Rat would make a great movie, I understand Harry did sell the option on that but nothing came of it. Do you know if his estate will renew any such option?

stainless steel rat

Mike: As far as I know, the adaptation rights are still optioned, and have been every year for the past four decades. About ten years back there was some movement with the project. Jan de Bont, the director of Speed, was announced to direct it (there was a great article in Variety about it, in which Harry was described as a “reclusive SF author” – everyone who knew him went, “What? Harry? RECLUSIVE!?”), and I believe there were at least six different screenplays written, by different writers. I’ve read three of them – they’re not good. Not one of them seemed to grasp the basic principle of the character. But there was another screenplay, written on spec by Harry’s bibliographer Paul Tomlinson… Now, that one is pure fried gold. It totally nails the character and tone of the books, and if they make the movie based on that, I’ve no doubt that it would be a hit. Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to happen as the Hollywood system is pretty strict and complex when it comes to spec scripts.

Semple: How did you break in to 2000AD?

Mike: Back in 2002 (I think) I sent a Future Shock to the man who was at the time Tharg’s representative on Earth, Andy Diggle. It wasn’t a great script… A neat basic idea, but not well executed. Andy was kind enough to send me back a lengthy criticism of the script, pointing out a lot of things that could have been done better. He suggested that I rework it and resubmit it, which I did, but as far as I recall that was around the time he regenerated into Matt Smith, so my script got lost in the shuffle. A few years later, I decided to try again and, after a few attempts, Matt accepted my Future Shock “Back to the Führer.” That was a good day! It was published in December 2007, and my next one appeared about eighteen months later. So it was a slow start…

bmAround the end of 2009 Matt asked me if I’d like to pitch a few idea for Tales of the Black Museum, so naturally I jumped on that chance to play in Dredd’s sandbox! I had three of those scripts accepted, and they were pretty successful, then around September 2010 he asked if I’d like to pitch some Dredd ideas…

So I guess from some aspects it was a pretty short and fast leap from nothing to writing Dredd: two Future Shocks, three Black Museums, and then the comic’s flagship character… I can’t deny that I’ve been very lucky! On the other hand, by the time my first Dredd story appeared in print I’d already had about eighteen novels and dozens of short stories  published, so I wasn’t a complete newbie when it came to story-telling.

Semple: Since we have got back to Dredd. You’ve written a few stories using Mega City Two. Will we see more of the West Coast?

Mike: Yep, but I won’t say any more than that right now.

Semple: Your current Dredd Story in 2000AD, Forsaken, is following a group of Cadets lost during Chaos Day. Falcon is from a famous bloodline. Did you decide to do this or did Tharg tell you to do this?

Forsaken

Mike: I’d rather not answer this question because the story is still on-going!

Semple: Obviously I don’t want any big spoilers… I enjoy reading the story too much for that… but are there any interesting teasers for this or future stories you will be scripting?

Mike: Hmm… All I can tell you is that I’ve seen a few negative comments about the way I’ve presented Dolman, and I’d like to promise the readers that there IS a long-term plan for him, but I’m not saying what it is! (For what it’s worth, I don’t mind the negative comments at all: I believe that all people should be free to express their wrong opinion!)

One of the challenges of writing the ongoing Dredd stories is that I’m not the only one doing it… I can’t easily make big changes to Dredd’s world without stepping on the other writers’ toes. This is John Wagner’s playground: he’s the captain and I’m grateful to be in the same platoon (even if I am somewhere at the back, racing to catch up with the others!). With Day of Chaos, for example, the story was about half-way done when John sent an e-mail to all the writers detailing what Mega-City One and the Justice Department would be like at the end. It was great to read that so far in advance, but it was a real shocker, too: I already had half a dozen scripts lined up (and I know I wasn’t the only one), so that meant some hasty rewriting to ensure that the stories would fit in with the new world.

jen blood

Pax

With the Jennifer Blood ongoing series there’s no one steering the boat or plotting the course except me: that’s a great freedom that I don’t really have with Dredd. However, the freedom to take the story wherever you want isn’t always an advantage. Because of Day of Chaos, I came up with ideas that never would have occurred to me otherwise, such as bringing Dolman back, examining the plight of the former Sov citizens, and introducing Sov Judge Pax.

That’s one of the most important things I’ve learned as a writer: the only way we can rise is by scaling the obstacles in our path!

Semple: What 2000AD character that you have never written (counting any you wrote in Zarjaz or other publications) would you like to have a go at?

Mike: Dan Dare! I know it’ll never happen because the rights are maddeningly complicated (or something like that – maybe it’s just that no one but me ever liked the character) but I’ve been waiting since prog 127 for the 2000AD incarnation of Dan Dare to return. That’s a long, long time to wait. Longer, for example, than the gap between Dare’s first appearance in Eagle comic in 1950 and his last appearance in 2000AD in 1979.

I’d like to take a stab at Strontium Dog, too. Again, probably not going to happen!

For a long time I had a strong hankering to reboot M.A.C.H. 1, with a different character because John Probe (spoiler alert!) is dead, but then along came Greysuit and that covers the same territory, so I don’t think that’d work.

And going back to an earlier question… I’d love to bring back The Stainless Steel Rat. Only three of Harry’s novels were adapted for the comic, so there’s plenty more from which to choose!

Action1

Semple: What comics did you read in your formative years?

 2000ad_no1_with_spinnerMike: From the age of about seven or eight I was a huge fan of the Marvel UK comics, especially The Avengers, so they were massively influential. I didn’t get a lot of pocket money so I could usually only afford one comic per week, but every now and then I managed to get hold of British comics like Warlord, The Victor, The Hotspur, Lion, Valiant, and so on. Then along came Bullet and I absolutely loved that one, so it became my regular title for ages. Battle (or Battle Picture Weekly, to give it its original title) was out around the same time, I think, and while I liked a lot of it – especially anything drawn by John Cooper or Carlos Ezquerra – I wasn’t hugely keen on war stories. I liked them, but didn’t love them. And then Action was published, and that changed everything! Man, that was a seriously violent and nasty comic – I adored it! But, as is well recorded, Action didn’t last long before it drew the wrong sort of attention. It was pulled, castrated, and returned in a limper and far less interesting format. But Action gave rise to 2000AD… I’m proud to say that I was the very first person in my town to read the prog: I was in the newsagents’ when the comic were delivered, and I got the first one out of the bundle!

qpb1-cov

Semple: You’ve written quite a few novels, Young Adult and Adult. I must confess I haven’t yet read any. I have a broad taste in reading and that includes Young Adult fiction as well as Adult so; which of your novels would you suggest I start with?

qpb4-covMike: The Quantum Prophecy / New Heroes series has conveniently got TWO jumping-on points: you could start with the original series (the first one is called “Quantum Prophecy: The Awakening” in the USA and “The New Heroes: The Quantum Prophecy” everywhere else), or with the first of the prequels (“Super Human”). The best approach is probably to buy multiple copies of all of the books…

Semple: Do you prefer writing for comics or novels?

Mike: Tough question. They both have very different disciplines. Comics are easier to write because they’re shorter, but they’re also harder to write for the same reason. Novels allow a great freedom in one sense. The book can be as long as I like, and the chapters don’t have to all be the same length. With comics, that aspect is very different. The length of the story might be flexible, but the length of each issue is not! It’s twenty-two pages for an issue of Jennifer Blood, and that’s it. No more, no fewer. Sometimes it’d be nice to have some flexibility there! So the structure of a comic script was something I struggled with for a long time, but I think I’m getting used to it now.

There’s also the length of development time to take into account. With novels, I’ll deliver the first draft at least eighteen months before the publication date. With comics, it’s a lot shorter. For example, “Downtime” – my sole contribution to Day of Chaos (and which was tragically omitted from the graphic novel collection!) – went from nothing to publication in about four weeks. Though I should point out that was exceptionally quick: Matt asked me for a six-page script to fill in the gap (I’m not certain as to WHY there was a gap: I didn’t like to ask!) and I delivered the script the next day. Four weeks later, there it was in the prog… before the contract had even come in!

So the answer is… Probably comics, at the moment. The lengthy pre-production time for novels is understandable, but it’s painful to have to wait so long.

***

Many thanks Mike for agreeing to be interviewed and thanks for giving so much detail.

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