Dredger was a “rip-off” of Dirty Harry with a touch of The Ipcress File and a dozen other spy/counter-spy film, of the 1970s – but always with a difference. Part of the difference is that Dredger himself is partly modelled on Clint Eastwood: strong silent and tough. But even that is not all. I don’t think the writers (and there were several) themselves knew fully what they were creating. All any could say to me was that Dredger was dirty, a clever vicious animal; and that the stories were ultra-ingenious.
Geoff Campion recalled for me the kind of briefing he got for this character:
“This guy is mean, scruffy and tough – he shoots real holes in people with a dirty great Magnum – and so, in a less uncouth way, does his side-kick Breed. This is a new no-holds-barred approach – well, almost n-h-b, know what l mean? Give it the works Geoff!”
Geoff’s reaction to this was typical. Like most of the artists and writers I’ve talked to, they found the brakes-off policy a welcome change from the previous clean-cut, almost fuddy-duddy style:
My initial reaction was: “Oh good show, an end at last to all that phoney business of chopping up or shooting people without a trace of blood or damage, which had irked me for years. Of course it was never truly realistic because unadulterated ghastliness would have been a turn-off for the great majority of potential readers – but at least it was a healthy advance on the previous policy of sizzling virtue for all heroes and mayhem without marks,”
But there was still something else – Dredger’s silence and inexplicability. He’s introduced to us as an enigma. “Date of birth – unknown. Education – unknown”, whereas Breed comes via “Eton, and the Guards”. At first he had a wonderful hang-dog look, though later artists upgraded him a bit. But his only real loyalty is to others of his own kind (see October 9 issue). This is very important.
In some ways, the other character most like Dredger is… Hook Jaw. And I don’t mean this lightly. Dredger can’t speak for himself. He has to have an interpreter, to explain his behaviour, or to express marvel and astonishment and horror simultaneously. Dredger behaves almost on instinct, certainly not out of any set of convictions or standard motivations. He owes loyalty to no one and no creed. Yet in an odd way, he has a strong code of ethics. His violent hatred for sadists, for example, bespeaks some code inside him.
I’ve chosen four episodes, [14th February, 9th, 23rd and 30th October] three of which are representative of “Dredger” strips. “Dredger” was written by several scriptwriters – Kelvin Gosnell, Jack Adrian, Steve MacManus, Geoff Kemp, Gerry Finley-Day and Pat Mills all did some, and it was drawn by various artists, including a couple of Argentineans.
The important thing in (at least the early) Dredger episodes was the clever, Mission:Impossible-style story-lines. Here, the point is the way Dredger regularly gets the better of his partner Breed. Just when Breed thinks he understands what is going on, Dredger pulls the rug from under him. Just when Breed thinks the job has fouled up, Dredger shows he has planned it this way all along. The dirty animal outfaces the suave upper-class smoothie every time. These are what made Dredger the second most popular strip in Action.
The fourth episode I have included is there as a minor puzzle. In the archive there were bromides for an episode for what would have been the October 30 issue. It eventually emerged on January 25 – but with some small changes in dialogue and artwork which seem to me wholly irrelevant. For fun, have a go at it yourself – what would you have changed? What would be significant, as opposed to insignificant, alterations?
Read More in this Section of “Sevenpenny Nightmare”
Action: The Story of a Violent Comic (about the book by Martin Barker) | Action: The Story of a Violent Comic – Introduction | Developing the Formula | The Critics Bite Back – TO BE ADDED | Moving in for the Kill – TO BE ADDED | So, Should Action Have Been Censored? – TO BE ADDED | Hook Jaw: The Shark Bites Back – TO BE ADDED | The Lost Pages of Hook Jaw – TO BE ADDED | How Lefty Lost His Bottle – TO BE ADDED | The Lost Pages of Lefty – TO BE ADDED | Death Game 1999: Steel Balls to the Finish | The Lost Pages of Death Game 1999 – TO BE ADDED | When The Crumblies Flipped It: Kids Rule OK…? | The Lost Pages of Kids Rule O.K. | Dredger… No Comment | The Final Reckoning | Estimating Action
This is an excerpt from Action: The History of a Violent Comic by Martin Barker, featured here as part of the Sevenpenny Nightmare project edited by Moose Harris. Text © Martin Barker.
ACTION™ REBELLION PUBLISHING LTD, COPYRIGHT © REBELLION PUBLISHING LTD, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
See this section’s Acknowledgments section for more information