“I Want to Do Stupid Things”: Interview with Emma Beeby

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In case you missed our earlier EXCLUSIVE (then-) BREAKING NEWS ITEM, Emma Beeby — the first woman to write for Judge Dredd — will also be the first woman to write a Judge Anderson story. The two-part story will be published in the Judge Dredd Megazine, and will feature a new take on Anderson and a new cadet to the ranks of the Psi-Judges.

I sat down with Ms. Beeby to talk about the awesomeness of Judge Anderson, the ludicrous nature of Dredd’s world, and pushing the limits of stupidity:

So this Judge Anderson story — that’s exciting!

It’s very exciting! I was quite cheeky and just decided to ask if I could write Anderson, because she’s a bit of an exclusive property — Alan Grant’s really the only one who writes her — so I just asked if it was possible, and Matt Smith said he might be interested in seeing a story. I put in a story idea and it was quite ambitious, so he said, “Okay, maybe something smaller to start with.” So this story that I’m doing is a two-parter. It feels — I don’t know if “liberating” is the right word, but writing a character like that who’s a woman and middle-aged, who isn’t a love interest or somebody’s sidekick, who has her own comic — she’s a bit different from Dredd, obviously, so she has a conscience; she has a sense of humor; she’s quite fun to write.

Is she somebody you’ve wanted to write for a long time?

Yeah, actually. For quite a long time I’ve been interested. I mean, Judge Dredd kind of happened by accident; [Judge Dredd co-writer] Gordon Rennie and I talked about it, and it was like, “Nooo! We’re going to have to pitch this now!” Whereas I really wanted to write Anderson, so that was more of an ambition, I think. Someone like her in the world that it’s set in — it’s just a really attractive thing to be able to write.

Are you writing this with Gordon Rennie (as on previous projects), or are you flying solo?

This is just me! He’s not interested in Anderson; it was my thing. Actually, I think that was the first time I’ve written something with a female lead in it — [pauses]no, I don’t think there’s anything else. I rarely get to write female leads, but I definitely really wanted to write Anderson.

You’ve covered some of this earlier, but there are many prominent, interesting women in the Judge Dredd universe, so what is it about Anderson specifically that makes her stand out to you?

I think Anderson has this long, really interesting history. She’s grown as a character; she’s evolved in exactly the way that Dredd hasn’t. Dredd’s pretty much Dredd all the time; he doesn’t change enormously, whereas Anderson’s developed. And I find it  more interesting to write her as an older woman. I wouldn’t be interested in writing Cadet Anderson or young Anderson. I’d be okay with it, but I would rather write her as someone who’s established, who’s a leader and a senior figure, rather than the traditional 20-something female lead in a comic. There aren’t many other female Judge Dredd characters I can think of in those roles, apart from maybe Chief Judge Hershey, but of course Hershey hasn’t got her own title.

Anderson does have an unfortunate legacy of being objectified a lot in terms of how she’s drawn. As a Woman Who Writes Comics, do you feel that your role as a creator of Anderson distances her from that legacy more than the arrival of a new male creator would, or do you feel that the distancing that’s already taken place is sufficient?

I think there’s enough distance from it now, because now that she’s older, the artists that draw her really well, like Mike Dowling, show her as a mature woman rather than with her zipper pulled down and her boobs popping out. I think there’s always a danger with female characters of objectifying them, which is really quite unfortunate for someone like Anderson who’s in this very senior position, but the advantage of someone like her is that she can’t have romantic relationships and she’s not in a traditional superhero universe, and that gives her more distance from that kind of danger — which, again, makes her more interesting to write.

How much, if anything, can you tell us about what’s going to happen in your Judge Anderson story, and what hints can you give us?

What can I tell you…? It takes off after the fantastic storyline where she’s suicidal, and at the end of that she wants to take a break from the city, so the story I’ve written is her out in one of the mutie townships [in the Cursed Earth], where there’s trouble. And she’s there with a cadet that I’m introducing as a new character: a Psi-Cadet called Flowers. He’s a very butch young man who unfortunately wanted to be a street Judge, but it was discovered he actually has psi-powers and so he got transferred, and he’s a bit unhappy about it. He’s a fun character; he’s kind of incompetent, but he’s coming into his own. So Anderson is being a mentor to him in a difficult situation — and a bit hard on him; I think you’ll see a slightly tougher Anderson in my story — and it can only be the two of them who deal with it before it spirals dangerously out of control.

It was nice to write something outside of Mega-City One as well. This wasn’t an area I knew as much, so it was quite fun to research and write about the muties.

The introduction of Flowers is very interesting, because the Psis are always so — not physically weak, but you never see any Dredd types in their ranks.

I think psi-powers are seen as quite feminine and gentle, and I don’t think that’s very fair. There’s a wider spectrum of powers that would be possible among the Psis, so I wanted to put someone really uncomfortable with psi-powers with Anderson, who’s obviously really comfortable with psi-powers. Flowers gets picked on quite a lot in the story!

For having psi-powers?

Yeah, there’s a sort of legacy of him having been picked on for moving to Psi-Division, and then he kind of gets picked on when he gets to the mutie community, so he’s having a bit of a tough time.

On a more general note, how’d you get into writing Judge Dredd in the first place — especially given its reputation for dudeliness?

If you’d asked me before it happened, I would have said I wasn’t really that interested. I didn’t think it was for me, so actually getting to write it really changed my mind on that front — and also some other fronts, mind. The first thing I got commissioned to write for 2000AD was Survival Geeks [with Gordon Rennie]. That was just us trying to find a home for it, and 2000AD turned out to be a really good home for it. And so then we discussed what was going on at the time with all the huge changes in Mega-City One, such as everyone dying, which led to us pitching our first Judge Dredd story [“Suicide Watch”]. It wasn’t really intentional at all to enter that universe, so it was as much a surprise to me as it was to everyone else. It’s been really challenging, but nice to do.

What was the creative process behind that Judge Dredd story?

Gordon and I were talking about how everyone in Judge Dredd was dying or dead, and how much the stories and the world need to change, and what the reactions of the people and the Judges would be. How do you adapt to a world where only 1/8 of the population has survived? And it’s hard to keep doing the same kinds of stories. Surely if you were a sensitive Psi-Judge, that would have more of an impact, if you could feel that loss — not just your own loss, but everyone’s loss everywhere you went, and that living evidence of death. We thought there would probably be suicide cults, and maybe you wouldn’t want to live in that society. It was a morbid conversation, but it led to a story that I’m really proud of.

It’s weird, because in Women Write About Comics’ feature on New Year’s Eve in Mega-City One, I posited that there’d be suicide cults cropping up in the city every year. I don’t know if that’s a female thing, to be more inclined toward the large-scale emotional pressures of living in that kind of society, but it doesn’t seem like it’s a total coincidence.

Yeah, it’s a pretty horrible place when you think about it for a while. So it was good to get to explore that side of what was happening. I think it was quite difficult for everyone involved in that when the brief was sent out: “By the way, your universe is about to change, but you have to make stories that still fit into it.” Because it’s hard to do. Your usual sort of chasey-criminal-mysteries — when things are so different, they’re unrecognizable. So I think it’s important that when something of that magnitude happens, all of the stories after that event reflect that. It was actually an exciting time to get into Judge Dredd, and it gave me a lot of opportunities to think about it, so it worked out well.

If you’re allowed to tell us about this, are you going to be a solo writer on any Judge Dredd stories in the near future?

I don’t know why, when I get Judge Dredd slots, I want to do stupid things. I just want to kind of take the piss a little. I guess it’s my reaction to writing “Suicide Watch” — I just want to write stupid things. And this is really stupid. I think people will be like, “Oh my God, what’s she done?!”, but I’m really excited about it.

Some of the major elements in this upcoming Dredd story might be considered to be more stereotypically feminine. Is that conscious on your part, or is that more of an unconscious response to the manliness of Dredd and his world?

It was me kind of poking fun at that aspect of the world, which I would hope anyone would do. I think it’s such an obvious thing to challenge, to put someone really macho into that sort of alien situation.

You say that, but the publication history of Judge Dredd does not bear that out…

Maybe it is just me! But when I do Dredd stories these days, I’m drawn to things that are more comedic, slightly taking the piss. As much as I love Dredd, he’s such an easy target in that way that I can’t help myself.

Is it that machismo that you find most ridiculous about Dredd, or the world he lives in, or the combination thereof?

Oh, there’s so many ridiculous things. There’s a lot that’s ridiculous about his character — he’s funny, but he’s not aware that he’s funny. He’s not self-aware in that way as to how he affects other people; he’s just doing his thing. And I find it really interesting to explore something that’s unusual, a little less run-of-the-mill, for him and the world he lives in, and the Judges’ regime. I tend to start with, “What can I absolutely not do?” and then see how I can do it.

There are certain aspects of Dredd that previous creators have already made fun of, but in a less fundamental way. For example, there’s an older strip showing Dredd taking a shower while still wearing his helmet and reading his law book, “Special Waterproof Edition.” But who Dredd is as a pop culture icon and the assumptions underlying the perceptions of his audience — his politics and psychology do get interrogated, but the gender aspect of it and that machismo hasn’t really been questioned before, as far as I know.

Maybe not — but another part of the comedy is the question of how far Dredd will go in his devotion to justice. Does it extend to when he’s taking a shower? Is his house full of justice paraphernalia? How stupid can it be? And I get that. That’s an easy target. He’s quite ridiculous in that way; he doesn’t show anything else. So that’s where you immediately go. But for me, the world and Dredd in it, there’s so much there that you can play with and have fun with. There’s always something different going on; it’s an incredible universe. And Dredd himself — you can write stories where Dredd’s the hero, you can write stories where Dredd’s the villain, but he’s still Dredd, and it still works. And that’s incredible. I don’t think there are many other characters who are unique in that way, who tread that line, and that’s why I like him.

 

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About Author

Staff Writer Kelly was born and raised in Honolulu but now lives in Scotland. She has has an MA with Distinction in Creative Writing, and is currently pursuing a PhD (look! There it goes!) on transatlantic narratives in contemporary comics. As a half-Japanese, half-Filipina woman, she believes that white vinegar is the answer to most of life's problems.

2 Comments

  1. A fantastic interview-many thanks!

    I look forward to reading Anderson and more Dredd tales from MIss Beeby!

  2. I’m aware it’s not the main point of the interview but I’m not sure if I agree with Dredd not having changed enormously. I’d agree that he changes slowly, but the character now and the character at the start are so different, he actually seems human now. Bleh, sleep will help me think about this.