Since 2004, Arthur Wyatt has written fast-paced comic strips for 2000AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine. In this interview, conducted by email, he chats with Matt Badham about his latest strip, “Orlok: Agent of East-Meg-One – Eurozoned”, drawn by Jake Lynch and currently running in 2000AD.
East-Meg One, 2100AD. Four years before he will set in motion the events of “Block Mania”, and become a notorious enemy of Mega-City One’s Justice Department, Orlok is a ruthless agent and assassin of the East-Meg Diktatorat. Skilled in stealth, sabotage and subterfuge, he’s a lethal weapon sent on the most dangerous missions – but can he be truly trusted? Now, he’s gone AWOL, after murdering his partner…
Matt: Can you please give me the elevator pitch for “Orlok: Agent of East-Meg One”?
Arthur: Future Soviet secret agent Orlok hates everyone, goes on spy missions in the future-shocked world of 1980s Judge Dredd, and leaves a trail of intrigue and dead bodies behind.
Matt: What’s the appeal of writing stories about Orlok and what sort of tone are you going for with this new strip?
Arthur: Like last year’s 2000AD Sci-Fi Summer Special story that re-introduced Orlok, it’s very much based on Cold War espionage stories. It’s happening alongside Judge Dredd stories written in the late 1970s and I wanted to make it a kind of period piece that reflects those times as well as the fictional year 2100.
There’s a big James Bond element, of course, with a lot of international travel and gadgets. The bulk of the current story is set in Euro-Cit, which is a little flashier than the grim Len Deighton-style Brit Cit story from the Summer Special, but I still wanted to keep this a world of pyrrhic victories and grim betrayals in the LeCarre/Sandbaggers mould.
Orlok himself is a fascinating character to write. He’s amoral and ruthless, and very, very capable – after all, he later faces off against Dredd and Judge Anderson more than the one time most Dredd villains do. He should always be one step ahead of the reader and guessing what’s going on in his head should be part of the story.
Matt: What does artist Jake Lyn.ch bring to the strip?
Arthur: He’s the heart of it, really. When I saw his art for the Summer Special story, I knew we had to do more of these. His style is classic 2000AD, evoking the Dredd stories of the era Orlok first appeared in while at the same time being very modern, so the strip doesn’t get trapped into being a nostalgia piece. Also, he’s very open to new ideas and new modes of storytelling and so finally I have someone I can fool into doing ridiculous 16 panel-pages and the like.
Matt: Playing Devil’s advocate here – are you writing for the trade or writing for 2000AD as a weekly comic?
Arthur: I’m a big believer in telling the story episode by episode, with each episode building on the last but being a unit that works within itself.
Matt: How liberating is it to write a strip that features ‘The Man in the Black Hat’ as your main character? As you’ve pointed out, Orlok started as a Dredd villain. Do you like writing bad guys?
Arthur: He’s certainly a lot of fun. He doesn’t come with the worry that Dredd comes with that you might be crossing the line into glorifying something terrible – he absolutely does terrible things and it’s as plain as day.
I don’t think Orlok would see himself as a bad guy though. I think he would see himself as taking the actions that need to be taken with clinical detachment and professional objectivity. He’s a bit keener on murder than he’d really admit to himself though.
Matt: There’s are incidents of torture in the strip. Now, I’ve noticed that you’ve been very careful not to show torture in progress and stick with before and after images…
Arthur: I hadn’t really noticed that, but I think there’s a lot to be said for showing the reaction to horrible things or the anticipation of horrible things being more powerful than the horrible thing itself.
Matt: Is it difficult/problematic depicting torture? Have you thought about that? What are your thoughts? What about in comics generally?
Arthur: Well, it’s a bad and horrible thing. I’d be a hypocrite if I said other people shouldn’t be writing about bad and horrible things given some of the stuff I’ve written about, but it does irk me a little when they do the 24 thing and it’s depicted as justified or effective. Also, given its inefficiency, why does it still go on? What is the psychology behind that? What is the real goal? Those are questions worth asking.
Matt: I’m going to have think more on that subject (of the depiction of torture and violence generally). I’m a child of the ‘video nasties’ generation who lapped up 2000AD growing up and other equally violent entertainments (Dawn of the Dead, Dirty Harry etc). I suppose the thing is that the older I get, the more I wonder about the prevalence and depiction of violence in our entertainment. One to ponder, I suppose…
Anyway, back to Orlok… You mentioned that there’s a bit more formal experimentation in you work nowadays? Was that something that just evolved or was it a conscious decision to push yourself and your artists to experiment a bit more?
Arthur: It’s a reflection of what I’m reading and what I’m seeing other people trying at the moment. I’m enjoying all this ‘comics as comics’ as opposed to the ‘widescreen’ comics that pretended they were movies that we had a while back.
I think superhero movies being so big right now might be a factor there. If that kind of gigantic splashy action can be done bigger and better onscreen, then comics need to do other things to keep themselves unique and special.
Matt: And Jake Lynch is up for that…
Arthur: Certainly knowing who the artist is going to be on something helps. I tend to be more restrained if I don’t know who will be drawing something. A lot of the best stuff along those lines comes out from writer/artists or from writers and artists who work really tightly together, like Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen.
Matt: Will there be more Orlok?
Arthur: I think people would like more. We’ll have to see what kind of shape he’s in after his current adventure.
Matt: To finish, what else is on the cards as regards the Wyatt-verse?
Arthur: I have a few other Dreddworld ideas that may come to something, but I’d also like to do something that’s more my own. Possibly 2015 will be the year I make a creator-owned thing work.
Matt: Arthur Wyatt, thanks for your time.
Arthur: Thank you, Matt.
• Check out the latest “Orlok” in 2000AD, on sale in all good newsagents, comic shops and digitally now. Web: www.2000Adonline.com
All art © 2000AD. Our thanks to Michael Molcher for his help with this feature
Matt Badham is a freelance writer. His work has appeared in the Judge Dredd Megazine, 2000AD and Big Issue in the North.