2000AD's "Judge Dredd" has featured plenty of strong, interesting female characters over its 36-year history, so it comes as something of a surprise to realize that Emma Beeby, who co-wrote the "Suicide Watch" story that began in Prog 1826, is the first woman creator to contribute to the title's rich history. Collaborating with veteran Dredd writer Gordon Rennie and artist Paul Davidson on the current arc, she and Rennie also co-wrote the three-part story "Survival Geeks," which ran through Progs 1824-26.
"Suicide Watch" is set shortly after the Days of Chaos, an event which killed over 80% of the population of Mega-City One. A handful of the survivors take refuge in a suicide cult that reveres amnesia, while Judge Hamida, a psi and the first Muslim character to appear in the comic, wrestles with memories of her own. We spoke with Beeby about her inspiration and what she learned when she went from reader to writer of the long-running series.
CBR News: How long have you been reading 2000AD, and what was your introduction to Judge Dredd?
Emma Beeby: Dredd and I came into being around the same time, so I didn't read it from the beginning! And, being a girl, I had a later introduction to comics than most. I tended to rely on other people to buy comics and borrow them rather than brave the "Are you lost?" looks I got in comic shops. Thankfully, that's much better now. I had read a few "2000ADs," but I only really got into it after I played the "Dredd vs Death" PS2 game -- and I might be the only person who really enjoyed it. I got a big pile of Dredd graphic novels after that, and got into other 2000AD things.
When did you start writing for 2000AD, and had you done any comics writing before that?
The first comic I started writing was a manga comic, which may yet see the light of day. That was also the story Gordon and I first worked on together. It was the artist's suggestion that we both work on it. We went along with this, a little skeptically, and discovered we worked well together. So despite that not having happened (yet!), lots of other things have as a result.
How did you get the Judge Dredd gig?
I never really thought I'd write Dredd. Gordon wanted to do another story with [Judge] Hamida, and we were talking about the world of Mega City One, how it would change with more than 80% of the citizens dead, and we ended up coming up with the story in that discussion. We'd already written "Survival Geeks" by that point, so we thought we'd pitch this and see what happened.
We plotted out the story in each episode, not in a detailed way, but with key things that had to happen in each part, and split it into scenes that we each would write, and then swap and edit each other's pages. We both got to write everyone in about equal amounts by the end.
Did you realize at the time that you would be the first woman writer on the story?
It didn't really occur to either of us until after it was commissioned. I was just excited to be writing Dredd because it was Dredd!
Do you think it makes any difference?
I think it makes a difference in hopefully helping to show that it doesn't make a difference. The gender of the writer isn't important; the story is important. I'll aim to write a good story that is true to the characters and their world, and to me as the writer, as I think any writer would. Having a diversity of voices brings a richer world of stories, so it would be nice to see more women writing Dredd, and other traditionally male dominated stories and genres.
Of course, portrayal of women is important to attract women readers and writers. 2000AD, and Dredd stories, have lots of great female characters, who look like women, often fully clothed and everything!
Tell me about Judge Hamida -- I understand she's the first Muslim character in "Judge Dredd." Where did she come from, and what makes her interesting to you?
She's Gordon's character -- he did a story with her a couple of years ago called "Scream, "so this is her second outing.
My mother is a Muslim, so I think that helped me understand that aspect of her. But Hamida being Muslim is just part of who she is, like it is for most people who have faith. The crisis of faith she is experiencing comes from the sense of loss she feels at losing those close to her, and from being able to sense the loss felt across the city. With over 80% of the population gone, that loss is everywhere. She has no escape. It was interesting to write that -- she's the only person who can track down the suicide cult Dredd is looking for, but she can sympathize with them for wanting to escape. She's conflicted, and it takes its toll on her. And on Dredd.
Did writing a Judge Dredd story change your impressions of the characters and MegaCity One? Were there any surprises?
Dredd doesn't give a lot away on the surface. Writing him means you have to know what he's not giving away, to understand how he'd react. It was a real challenge, but I felt I got to know him much better.
I'm enjoying "Survival Geeks," which started in Prog 1824. It is certainly different from Judge Dredd! What sorts of stories do you like to write?
I really enjoyed writing "Survival Geeks," and we've had such a great response to it, which has been brilliant for me as my first 2000AD strip. And I love Neil Googe's art on it -- it's perfect for it. I'm really hoping we can do more.
I like writing misfit characters, or putting a group of characters together who would usually never want to talk to each other. I always want my characters or stories to go against expectations. I'm also pretty ruthless with my characters. I give them as hard a time as possible and am quite happy to kill them off. Gordon, I think, gets more attached to the characters than I do.
I see you've also written Doctor Who audio dramas. What are the challenges of writing for a medium that is primarily visual as opposed to one that is audio-based? What do they have in common?
Comics and audio scripts have a lot in common. Budget isn't an issue, for a start. Want a planet to explode? No problem. Armies of zombies? Fine (though the artist may object). You can create and explore a world with much more freedom than in film or games.
Do you hope to make a career of writing comics? What do you see as the challenges and rewards of that?
I love writing comics. They require real discipline to write, which I didn't realize until I started writing them. You only have so many pages, so many panels and so many possible lines of dialogue to tell your story. You have to think about things happening by the end of each page. You have to give the artist plenty of room in describing the panels. It's a near-brutal exercise to balance all those things and make something coherent, let alone good.
I think I'd always want to do a variety of types of script. I've written comics, film, audio and games scripts, and they all have their own conventions and formats. Sometimes you have to write your dialogue into a spreadsheet, which couldn't be less inspiring, but you learn from each, and learning to work with the limitations of each makes you a better writer in all of them.
What will you be working on next?
We're finishing another "Big Finish Doctor Who" just now, and working on a strip for VS Comics called "The Alienist," as well as "Robert Burns: Witch Hunter," a graphic novel which will hopefully be out later this year from Renegade Arts Entertainment. I'm working on a couple of solo comics and film stories, but can't say much about those yet, and more 2000AD will hopefully feature in there for me as well.