Script: Matt Sharp. Art: David Broughton. Lettering: Bolt 01.
Commissioned on: 24/02/15 Artwork Started: 19/11/15
Finished on: 22/12/15 Published on: July 2016.
Above: The Mek-Nificent Seven return to the 2000AD Fanzine 2016 Summer Special.
I've collaborated on various scripts for the 2000AD Fanzine Zarjaz with Matt Sharp. These include Comic Rock Silver Song, Strontium Dogs First Day and recently The V.C.'s Raid on Caliban. I had asked Matt if he would write me an ABC Warriors script and so when Dave Evans the editor of
'Zarjaz' sent me the commissioning email I didn't even bother to read the script before I accepted the work. I did however check the deadline for the story first as I knew I would'nt be able to start work on it for a fair few months.
DB: Here is a word from Matt Sharp about writing 'The Final Battle.'
THE FINAL BATTLE BACKGROUND
The inspiration to write The Final Battle came from David Broughton; shortly after he’d finished drawing Comic Rock: Silver Song (which appeared in Zarjaz 23 – buy it today!) he mentioned that he’d like to draw ‘a kick arse ABC Warriors battle story… one set early on in the first Volgan Wars with Happy Shrapnel, the Mess, etc, etc’. I took the hint and ran with it and set my mind to coming up with ideas.
I quickly decided not to set the story during the Volgan War – apart from anything else, the Mess in particular would have proved problematic to include, as he didn’t actually exist until after the War was over. I decided to set the story during the Mars mission instead, when the Warriors are already acting as a team. We see a Volgan army escaping from the Fall of Volgow in prog 120, and the text story The Retreat from Volgow in the 1981 2000 AD Annual goes into a bit more detail, and I liked the idea of seeing a tattered and scarred remnant of a once powerful old enemy turning to battle with the ABC Warriors once again. I was also inspired by a half remembered story from Battle based on the Action Force toy line when the more Americanised, GI Joe versions replaced the old Z-Forces and SAS and so on – despite being obliterated by the forces of Cobra, a remnant force of Red Shadows continued to exist as a threat to both sides, becoming increasingly tatty looking every time they made an appearance.
I just needed to find a way of getting them to Mars and quickly came up with the idea of a prototype carrier ship, the Imperator Volgod I, named after a character killed in prog 120. The name was partially inspired by the Imperial Russian dreadnought Imperator Nikolai I, which was supposed to prove the deciding factor against the rival fleet of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, and it might have been if it wasn’t for the fact that it took eleven years to build it, by which time the war was long over, the ship was hopelessly obsolete and both the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire had ceased to exist. Making the vessel a carrier ship also allowed me to include other Volgan vehicles from the strip – so there are Killcopters from Hammer-Stein’s War Memoirs and Men O’War, as used by Blackblood’s Straw Dogs, as well as a couple of other craft, floating landing craft-type vehicles and hover tanks for David to design. The hovertanks were originally going to be Daddy Long Legs, also used by the Straw Dogs, but as I’d set the action somewhere with no solid ground I felt I had to replace them, and it didn’t occur to me until it was far too late that I could have had them scuttling about on top of the Volgod I itself. Oh, well…
The Warriors themselves also arrive in a vehicle. I was sure that they used a drop ship in the original Mars tales, but couldn’t find any trace of it apart from what might be the craft’s interior on the front cover of Titan Books ABC Warriors Book II. False memory, perhaps; although interestingly a previous Zarjaz strip – the excellent Red Spice by Lee Robson and Alfie Gallagher in Zarjaz 25 (buy it today!) – also has the Warriors transported by a similar drop ship.
I kept the idea of a ‘kick arse battle scene’ as the key to the plot, and had the Warriors making an entirely unsubtle attack on the ship, each character making their unique way towards the final goal, with another character thrown in to spice things up a bit
and allowing me to use a gag I’ve been using for years. Seemed straightforward enough, all I had to do was write the script…
It didn’t actually take that long to write it down, but it got very complicated, very quickly. My initial plan of a maximum of eight pages ended up as a thirteen page long script, filled with crowd scenes and epic fight scenes. I spent a while worrying that it might be too much of a challenge to draw, but then I submitted it anyway. After a while, I got some feedback from Bolt and Richmond – they liked it a lot (even though they admitted it was extremely complicated), but it was too long, they wanted it to be split into two episodes and no more than ten pages long.
Splitting it into two episodes was easy, as it had a cliffhanger in the middle anyway (“Thanks, Happy – we know!”) and by cutting a scene with Blackblood verses the last of the Straw Dogs (he got put into the background of Hammer-Stein’s scenes instead, being sarcastic and exasperated) and attempting to move Deadlock’s battle in the air into the background (in the end, this wouldn’t fit onto the page so the whole thing happens when we’re not looking) it was down to eleven pages. Cutting one or other of Joe Pineapples and Happy Shrapnel’s pages would have got it down to the required length, but I managed to get away with leaving them both in.
The second version was accepted, and quickly got accepted in turn by David Broughton, and it was thrilling to discover that the story was going to be double the normal Zarjaz size in the first Zarjaz Summer Special! David also requested a VCs story (with zero gravity scenes and a space battle) and I was happy to oblige, but with the condition that I wasn’t to make it as complicated as The Final Battle!
Deleted Scene – Deadlock’s Battle in the Air
We’re behind Deadlock as he speeds towards a Man O’War on his bike; he has the Ace of Swords raised above his head as he charges forwards. An ARTILLERYMAN is visible standing in the back of the Man O’War, he has a shoulder mounted missile launcher that he is pointing in Deadlock’s direction.
Reverse angle of Page Four Frame Four, FIGHTING MACHINE, the robotic pilot of the Man O’War (maybe he’s one of Blackblood’s Straw Dogs), is in the f/g, concentrating on piloting the craft, we have a view of the back of the Artilleryman as he fires the missile launcher towards the distant figure of Deadlock charging forwards in the b/g.
FX (MISSILE LAUNCHER):
Medium view of the missile impacting with Deadlock and his cycle – there’s a massive fireball, completely obliterating any sign of Deadlock, although we can still see the bike.
Deadlock’s bike has flown on through the explosion, trailing smoke and flames in its wake - but there’s no sign of Deadlock!
A rear view of the Man O’War, the Artilleryman is lowering his missile launcher but he’s looking more surprised than anything. Fighting Machine is turning his head towards the Artilleryman. Far in the b/g, directly ahead of the Man O’War, a sparking sphere is beginning to form in the air.
Ich… ich morgen das robotskahexenmeister! Ich dronken…
Vasses lash ‘ich dronken’…?
The Man O’War has moved forwards again, towards the sparkling sphere. The sphere has expanded, it’s a mass of Kirby-dots and the figure of Deadlock is emerging from the centre of it. Fighting Machine has turned back to face forward, the Artilleryman is starting to turn around.
Deadlock swoops over the Man O’War, his tattered cape spread like great wings, the Ace of Swords in his hand is slicing through the air. Fighting Machine’s head has been severed and is falling away in its wake; the blade is just about to slice through the Artilleryman. He looks horrified.
Deadlock floats in mid air, his face hidden by the folds of his hood, all we can see are his glowing eyes. His bike is manoeuvring towards him in the b/g, as though summoned. The crewless Man O’War is falling out of the sky.
DB: Thanks for taking the time to share all the behind the scenes details Matt.
Rough Designs and Page Layouts.
As usual I read the script several times before I begin to start working on the rough page layouts...
Above: Some times when I'm reading the script I like to scribble a few thumbnails on the page next to the panel description so that I get the idea down while its fresh.
Above: This was my first rough page layout for page one. Note: I've included spaces for all the word balloons and boxes. I decide to have a go at designing a more dynamic page layout.
Above: I decide to go with this second page layout for page one. Using the visual information from the first rough page layout I am able to see which panels I can make smaller and which require more space to fit all the required information as detailed in Matt's script.
Above: Finshed page pencils for page one.
Above: Once again while I'm reading the script I make little rough thumbnail sketches on the pages. The Thumbnails are sometimes just panel layouts or even rough designs for objects or characters.
Above: Rough page two panel layout. Due to the complex nature of each panel I've added notes indicating which stick figure is which ABC Warrior.
Above: The finished pencils for page two.
Above: More thumbnail sketches for pages two and three while reading the script. The thumbnail sketches also really help me to visualize the script quickly. This then helps with sketching my first rough page layouts.
Above: Rough page layout for page 3. Note that I've settled on a style for the page layouts which I do my best to carry through all eleven pages.
Above: Finished pencils for page three. Please note due to script requirements that I have I done my research and drawn the ABC Warriors in the correct (or close) designs to the time period that this story is set.
Above: I try and draw attention to anything which is required in the script that should be in the panel.
Above: Once again its easy to miss, lose or forget details that drive the story from reading the script to producing the page layouts. So marking important panel requirements at the thumbnail sketch stage is a good way to help avoiding mistakes.
Above: Rough page layout for page four.
Above: Finished page pencils for page four.
Note: The Golem gun in panel four is based on the original design by artist Dave Gibbons which featured in the 2000AD story Robusters Hammer-Stein's war memoirs..."Just Routine!" published in PROG 91.
Above: More thumbnail sketches for page five while I was reading the script.
Above: Thumbnail sketches for page five and page six.
Above: Rough page layout for page five.
Aove: Finished page pencils for page five. Note: Panel layout is slightly different from the rough page layout. I reduced the size of panel five so that I had more room to make panel one bigger.
Above: A cropped section of panel 1 page five showing the finished artwork with grey tones.
Above: Thumbnail sketches for panels in page six.
Above: Rough page layout for page six. Page six originally had five panels. However I decided to contact Matt and the Editor Bolt 01 to inform them that I needed to double the amount of panels.
Above: Second rough page layout. I realised that I needed extra panels to do justice to Matt's script requirements.
Above: Finished page pencils for page six.
Above: Thumbnail sketches for each panel on page seven.
Above: The script asks me to draw Hammer-Stein and MC-Hammer shooting and bashing bits off each other. I do my best to work out the angles and poses for the robots to do what the script asks in six panels.
My first rough page layout for page seven which features only four panels. Partly due to the configuration and weapon layout of each Robot (I designed MC-Hammers arm/weapon configuration) I find it hard to get exactly what Matt is asking for in each panel. So as with page six I add an extra five panels to the page to help me do what is required by the script.
Above: My first rough layout detailing who is shooting who etc...
Above: My second go at laying out what is going on in the fight. This time I add speech balloons to make sure I have left enough space in each panel.
Above: Finished page pencils for page seven.
Above: Rough page layout for page eight.
Above: Finished page pencils for page eight.
Above: Finished inks for page eight. Note: After scanning the inks are cleaned up in photoshop. The panel boxes and SFX are also added digitally.
Above: The final print ready artwork for page eight with Grey tones which are added digitally.
Above: Rough page layout for page nine.
Above: Finished pencils for page nine.
Above: Preliminary sketch for panel three page ten.
Above: Finished pencils for page ten.
Above: Rough page layout for page eleven.
Above: Finished pencils for page eleven.
Drawing the ABC Warriors was fun. Matt's script was at times a challenge which pushed me to come up with (hopfully?) more dynamic page layouts that were packed with panels, word balloons, SFX and panel details galore.
Where to buy:
The ABC Warriors 'The last battle' appears in the Zarjaz 2016 Summer special (see the cover pic below) which can be bought online via the Futurequake online shop here: http://www.futurequake.co.uk/zarjaz/zarjaz-special-2016/
Below: Cover art by the Nigel Dobbyn.
If you have enjoyed reading this behind the scene break down here are a few more...
Judge Dredd 'Bad Crop'.
Judge Dredd 'Yet another rainy day.'
Strontium Dog 'Death by Dog.'
Comic Rock 'Silver Song'.
A look inside Shaman Kane Book 1.