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J.U.D.G.E. - Comic book creator Greg Horn
By Edward Gross
March 10, 2000
Life as an artist or writer on a black-and-white comic title is, at best, a short-lived gig. Just ask Greg Horn, who recently burst onto the page with his new color title from Image, J.U.D.G.E. 'At the tender age of 17 I wrote and drew a title for AC comics called FEMME FORCE 19,' says Horn, 'and then I worked on black-and-white titles like HARD CASE and ESPers, which is where my woes began. Basically with black-and-white titles, you start the book; it's doing fine; then the sales start to dwindle, and pretty soon they're so low that you can't afford to do the book anymore. What I tried to do was come up with a good cover for the Previews catalog that would hopefully draw people in. I guess that's your most important image. But besides that, I don't know what you do to sell a black-and-white book...unless you're Frank Miller.'
Well, if you're Greg Horn, you decide to go the color route; and, to make sure that you draw extra attention to yourself, you try to offer something innovative, from both a visual and a story point of view. J.U.D.G.E. seems to achieve this objective.
The scenario deals with a government unit (J.U.D.G.E.) that specializes in metaphysics and the supernatural. This group has discovered the life force of our planet, known as the Life Nexus, and they are attempting to harness its power to create super human assassins. Needless to say, something goes wrong, resulting in the creation of monstrous beings governed by an ancient evil who have managed to escape their purgatory via the Nexus field. J.U.D.G.E. determines that the only way to close this unique Pandora's box is to create super assassins who are designed to capture the creatures. Things go wrong yet again, resulting in ordinary citizens being drawn into this epic battle between good and evil.
The lead character is Victoria Grace. 'She's very complex,' says Horn, 'and she's going to be a character unlike any you've ever seen before. The 'heroes' in J.U.D.G.E. break down into two categories: There are the original three members (Victoria, Nick and Hu), who are old pros and are well acclimated to fighting and blowing things up. Then there are the new agents (Ed, Ashley, Tommy, Glenn, Sheldon, Deborah and Stephan), who don't want anything to do with the organization. Our press release for issue #1 said, 'When Victoria Grace was called on to head the secret organization called J.U.D.G.E., she found herself leading a group of inexperienced civilians who had gained unusual abilities as a result of science and magic. They acquired these abilities by accident and are now unwilling participants in J.U.D.G.E.'s ongoing mission: to search out an destroy rogue agents...Are they ready? Will these 'reluctant heroes' triumph or die?' Basically, the civilian agents have the Nexus powers needed to kill the enemy and are trapped in the organization because of it. But they really just want to go home.'
In detailing the project's genesis, Horn explains, 'J.U.D.G.E. is an epic sociopolitical tale that I had been thinking about for five years. When I first set out to create J.U.D.G.E., I took the logical approach of asking myself what makes a good comic book experience. To me, the elements that make up a great story are a sense of direction at all times, good dialogue between characters with empathic personalities, a fair amount of action, beautiful art and uniqueness.
'I took the first element of direction by plotting out all twelve chapters of the J.U.D.G.E. story,' he adds. 'This epic has a definitive ending and all twelve chapters will always be aiming towards the ending. Some of the 'heroes' in J.U.D.G.E. are not very heroic. In fact, most of them are just scared to death at the prospect of battle. I think this is a realistic way to start this story. One of my favorite subplots in this book revolves around the metamorphosis of the characters. I think the readers will appreciate that. J.U.D.G.E. begins with a group of people that have many flaws. And I'm hoping at least one of the characters will make a reader say, 'God, I hate this guy!'not realizing that a metamorphosis is going to take place. J.U.D.G.E. is an epic talea journey which will change all these people into totally different personas. One of the major elements behind the story is the idea that a true hero rises above adversity and becomes a better person. A villain becomes the sum total of all his bad experiences. I feel that the personalities of each character is so distinct to me, that writing their dialogue becomes much more natural. I rarely have to edit the script once I've written it the first time.'
Of the 'action' aspect of the equation, Horn explains, 'I make a conscious effort to keep the reader guessing when I'm writing J.U.D.G.E. I try not to do anything that is the norm. When designing scenes, I will actually place the moments of doubt or tension so that they are resolved on the page flips (even numbered pages). This keeps the tension sharp right up to the moment when you flip the page over. I started doing this after I noticed that I 'cheat' sometimes when I'm reading by looking a few panels ahead. Some of the action sequences are pretty strange, and you will see things happen in J.U.D.G.E. that you've never seen before.'
Moving on to 'beautiful' art, he points out that he has always wanted to do a comic that was nothing short of stunning. 'I've always been a pretty good airbrush artist,' he says, 'but I knew the process was way too time consuming and I would never get anything done. A few years ago, Jim Hudnall helped me buy my first computer, and I knew that this was the vehicle for me to accomplish my project. The art in J.U.D.G.E. is a combination of traditional art scanned into the computer and digital art which is painted on screen. The look is extremely unique. The computer doesn't make airbrushing easier or cover up any inadequacies skill-wise, but it does increase your speed and gives you unlimited options in the areas of color correction, composition and comparison. I really do believe that the art and characters are unique. And the story as a whole is very unique. It is structured in a singular way and will end in a manner that no one cold have predicted. It's going to be a shocker.'
The real shocker is that Image went for a title that, given the style of its art, almost guaranteed that it would never ship on time. 'I had done three pages and shown them to the guys at Image at a convention,' he notes. 'I said, 'This is what I'm going to do.' They said, 'Go ahead,' but you could tell they kind of had the attitude that I was never going to finish it. Then I came back to the next convention and brought the book with me. The head guy at Image at the time said, 'Holy cow, you actually did it! You came through. This looks great.'
'Basically,' he adds, 'J.U.D.G.E. is going to be 12 chapters, and I want to divide each chapter into a three or four issue arc. My plan is to finish each chapter BEFORE I solicit it. The number one complaint I hear when I go into comic shops is lateness. That always seems to be the topic of conversation. These guys know they're going to sell a lot of books, so why don't they just take the time and finish it and THEN solicit the title? Are they really living check to check like that? I decided to take a risk. I don't even know how the book is going to sell, so doing three of them is risky. But I decided to take the extra risk and put the retailers and readers at ease. After all, it is a painted book. The stigma is going to be that it's probably going to be late, so I made sure that they were all done.'
If Horn has any particular challenge in 'selling' J.U.D.G.E. to readers, it's the fact that the comic actually had much more depth than some of its cover images might portray. 'Let's face it,' he laughs, 'I like to draw beautiful women. But I've been told that I'm giving the misconception that this book is another hot chick book. I was told that it's much more than that, and that I'm giving the completely wrong idea.' He shrugs his shoulders. 'But that's what I like to do: I like to draw pretty women and write fairly engaging