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Sunday, February 26, 2017

40 years of Judge Dredd!

You wouldn't know it from the cover but this was the issue of 2000AD which featured the very first Judge Dredd strip, on sale exactly 40 years ago today. It was issue 2, which appeared in newsagents on Saturday February 26th 1977.

Four decades later, Dredd is as popular as ever, with its black humour being a great part of that success. The appeal of the strip may fly over the heads of some, (usually people who have hardly ever read it) but the character's longevity proves that many people appreciate the balance of gritty science fiction and socio-political satire and insight.

Clearly no one back in 1977 knew that Dredd would swiftly become the comic's biggest hit. Indeed they were still promoting Dan Dare as the main attraction with the cover illustration showing the monster from the Dare strip, but Dredd's debut had something that set it head and shoulders above other UK adventure strips at the time. I for one had been a little bit indifferent about issue 1, but this issue hooked me for life, mostly due to Judge Dredd I think.

Created by writer John Wagner, Dredd was designed by Carlos Ezquerra, (who drew the first strip that was shelved for later use). The first published Judge Dredd story was drawn by Mike McMahon. It's a powerful opening chapter.

Back then, Dredd's adventures were self contained. Not only did this help make the strip more accessible to new readers it also gave the writers the opportunity to explore different aspects of Mega City One every week, building up the foundation of Dredd's world. The initial story concluded on the back page, giving us our first glimpse of Dredd's uniform in colour, using the basic primary colours available for newsprint at the time.
The rest of the issue featured more of the strips we'd seen in issue one, including another dynamic centre spread by Massimo Belardinelli. A far cry from previous IPC adventure comics which had featured tame strips such as Billy's Boots (Scorcher) or Phil the Fluter (Thunder) in the centre pages.
This issue also included another debut, - the first published page Kevin O'Neill drew for 2000AD. This was a feature on Harlem Heroes Power Gear, situated opposite the latest Harlem Heroes by Dave Gibbons.
If you're wondering what the free gift looked like, here it is. Biotronic Stickers! Back in the days when free gifts were simply placed inside the comic, not Sellotaped to the cover or sealed with the comic inside a plastic bag.
I remember when Judge Dredd's popularity prompted readers to ask if he'd ever get his own comic. Such requests were politely dismissed. Back then the reasoning was that removing Dredd to his own title would severely weaken 2000AD. It was felt that the alternative of using Dredd in both comics and finding new writers to do the additional Dredd stories wouldn't match the standard of John Wagner's scripts. But eventually they found a way and launched Judge Dredd Megazine whilst keeping Dredd in 2000AD as well, and having John Wagner write the stories for both comics in most issues.
Judge Dredd is one of the few comics characters who has aged in real time and is 40 years older than he was in his debut strip. 22nd Century science has aided him in that respect to keep him active, but readers have long wondered if Dredd's clone may replace him on the beat. Time will tell! 


This is an updated version of a blog post from five years ago. Images are scanned and photographed from the issue I had then, but I've since sold it to a collector for over £600. Someone must have really liked Judge Dredd! 


mj said...

I remember that blog. Enjoyed it then, enjoyed it now!

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks, mj. I was hesitant to re-use an old post as it's hardly like it's out of print, but as I sold Prog 2 I couldn't do new scans so I thought I might as well repeat it. Hopefully the newer readers I've acquired over the last five years will enjoy it too.

Robert Carnegie said...

Judges "elected by the people". Hmm.

James Spiring said...

Apparently someone just got over £700 for a copy of 2000AD #2.

The Captain said...

I have a copy of that first Dredd strip when it was reprinted in the Judge Dredd annual 1981 (someone gave it me years ago when they were having a clear out).

Anonymous said...

The second page of that story is admirably cheeky, considering the public outcry over a certain Action cover only a few months earlier. Ol' Dredd certainly hit the ground running in terms of topical satire.

Adam Pk

Anonymous said...

Actually TODAY March 5th is the proper anniversary. See the tiny date on the cover?

Other than that mistake, good blogging. Carry on!

Lew Stringer said...

Anon, back then, comics carried the cover date of the week ending, not the day of publication. I can state with absolute certainty that issue 2, where Judge Dredd made his debut, came out on Feb 26th as I said. Issue 3 came out in 5th March, dated 12th March.

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