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Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 10:15 GMT
'I invented Judge Dredd'
Judge Dredd drawn by Brian Bolland, photo courtesy of Rebellion
Joe Dredd: Judge, jury and executioner
To mark the 25th anniversary of 2000AD, writer John Wagner recalls in our weekly Real Time series how he came up with the comic's ruthless lawman, Judge Dredd.

I never thought I'd still be writing for 2000AD 25 years on - I think I would have jumped off a bridge.

John Wagner
John Wagner: Dredd a reaction to Thatcherite age
It's very unusual for a comic to last more than three or four years, so the fact that 2000AD has lasted so long must be a testament to the quality of the material and to the loyalty of the readership.

Pat Mills and I came up with the idea for Judge Dredd in 1977. The character stemmed from stories I'd done when I'd edited Valiant and introduced a new hard cop into what had become a pretty stagnant mix of stories. We used to get readers' votes in and this story - One Eyed Jack - topped the poll week after week.

This was back in the days of Dirty Harry, and with [Margaret] Thatcher on the rise there was a right-wing current in British politics which helped inspire Judge Dredd. He seemed to capture the mood of the age - he was a hero and a villain.

Photo courtesy of Rebellion
Games company Rebellion has bought the cult comic
That villainous aspect to Dredd's character - and the Draconian laws of Mega-City One [the post-apocalyptic metropolis Dredd polices] - really caught the readers' imagination.

Occasionally we'd get letters from children who seemed to be agreeing with his hard-right stance, so we made the strip more political to bring out the fact that we didn't agree with Dredd. We introduced a democratic movement in Mega-City One as a counterpoint. So in a way the readers helped the character develop.

Futuristic inquisitor

When I did the first story, the film Death Race 2000 had recently come out. I cut out a photo of David Carradine's character - a stark figure on a motor bike, his head covered with a helmet - and sent it to the artist Carlos Ezquerra with a note: 'Something like this, Carlos.'

Dredd, photo courtesy of Rebellion
Carlos Ezquerra's concept drawing of Judge Dredd
I thought what Carlos came up with was way over the top, but obviously I was wrong. And the fact that we never get to see his face stands for the impartiality of justice.

As well as Carlos, [artist] Brian Bolland always did great work. Brian said to me about a year ago that he'd like to draw Dredd again if I wrote a story featuring the Fatties.

Although I promised it within a month, the note is still on my notice board. Writing for Brian, I want to come up with the absolute right story because he's such a good artist I don't want to waste him. I haven't yet come up with it but hopefully he'll be back on the pages of 2000AD soon.

Post-apocalyptic world

I never thought of setting it anywhere but the US - Britain somehow seemed too small-scale for the things we wanted to happen. America with a vast nuclear desolation outside the city provided ample scope for everything we want to do.


We're going into a different future from the one I envisaged in 1977

The first Judge Dredd story I wrote I set in New York. But when a layout artist saw the way Carlos had drawn it, he said: 'That's not New York, that's a mega-city.'

Now 2000AD the year has past, we're going into a different future from the one I envisaged in 1977. Then I saw the future as a total apocalypse; I no longer think we'll see a nuclear hell although we're going in our merry way about destroying the world with pollution and global warming.

Perhaps it will end up the same; but I try not to be too gloomy these days.


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John Wagner
"The artist made him look like some sort of Spanish inquisitor"


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06 Dec 01 | England
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