Ranson's art seems to really divide opinion and frankly,I don't understand why.I get that not everyone is a fan of photo-realism in comics but I can't really see the problem and/or rationale behind this reasoning.
Do comics fans really want to go down the route of the Rob Liefeld's of this world,where everyone has grossly exaggerated muscles,with tiny heads and feet? I don't want to start bashing artists,in Liefeld's case,it's just too easy,anyway(!)but Arthur Ranson isn’t one of those realistic types that draws flawless figures but forgets to put emotion onto the faces of his characters. In fact for someone that openly admits to using photo-referencing(another non-contentious issue,in my book)he manages to convey expression into his strips,remarkably well.
Ranson caught my eye with his first Judge Anderson storyline,Triad(Progs635-44,15Jul-16Sep’89,also his first 2000AD credit,not even a Future Shock first,so his talent had obviously been recognised!)helped probably by the fact that it featured one of Justice Dept.'s nemeses,Orlok the East-Meg assassin. But it wasn’t until his first full-colour storyline that his art really blew me away;the dazzling Anderson-Psi Division,”Shamballa”(Progs700-11,13Oct-29Dec’90).
Penned by Alan Grant,Ranson like the author,had made an indelible mark on Judge Cassandra Anderson,going on to make the character his own and is now widely held up to be the definitive Anderson artist(Ian Gibson and Brett Ewins also have a place in this relatively,small field);there’s just something in the juxtaposition of Ranson's realism within the somewhat unusual world of Mega-City One's Psi-Division but for the reasons cited above,Ranson takes the title,for me.
Often a point of derision,somewhat justified,there is a lack of credibility within the Hall of Justice,toward Psi-Division,mainly(with a few notable exceptions)because Anderson seems to be the only one in her Department who is actually capable of carrying out her job with any degree of efficiency!
I believe there are a couple of reasons why Ranson divides opinion,and personally I don’t think it’s his art that is the actual point of contention,here are my theories; Arthur Ranson has been given some,shall we say,controversial series:
The story of professional mercenaries pitted against each other in an ultra-violent contest named simply,”The Game",where two,or sometimes more,men(and occasionally women)play a deadly game of hide-and-seek,armed with lethal weaponry,(usually firearms but some of the players prefer a more hands-on approach!)until one man incapacitates the other/s.
When this is achieved the winner will take the loser/s finger,severing it just beneath the middle knuckle;once you lose three fingers or ‘Buttons',you're out of “The Game”..permanently! Whilst the “action” unfurled,rich men,known only as “Voices"(to protect themselves,from their dangerous "investments")each of whom had their own "Button Man",watched,from a safe distance of course,and placed huge sums of money on their individual participant.The last man standing,with all their digits still intact,was proclaimed the winner.
Introduced late to “The Game" by one of his ex-army buddies,the best "Button Man" of all,still with a full compliment of fingers,was Harry Exton.
The perceived problem on the strip,with which I wholeheartedly disagree BTW,is that Harry Exton and the world of the Button Man,doesn’t fit into the narrow confines of sci-fi /fantasy that apparently are all that 2000AD are about.
Button Man is one of the most popular strips that has ever ran in 2000AD(and the Judge Dredd Megazine,although in reprint form only),has consistently been top of Rebellion's best-selling trade paperbacks(TPB)lists and pretty much since the end of the first Book(it has now run to four Books,including one featuring Harry's daughter,although the last one,not drawn by Ranson and best glossed over,frankly!)has had a lot of interest involving movie rights.
In fact next to Judge Dredd himself,Button Man has been optioned for a film or television series(which I personally think would be the perfect vehicle)more times than any other 2000AD character.
So the fact that Button Man still has it’s naysayers despite all the interest,best-selling status,and above all being a cracking story,makes no sense to me.
There have been other stories rooted in the “real” world in the pages of the weekly before;Shako,the killer polar bear,although hard-to-kill and on the C.I.A death-list,was by no means supernatural;the Bendatti Vendetta,not one of the best series ever,was still set in the present;Snapshot,currently running in the Megazine,so far,has no fantasy or sci-fi elements and of course another strip originally featured in the ill-fated,Toxic!,Wagner/Grant's hilarious Bogie Man,eventually found a home in the Megazine;and it was just about a perfectly normal Glaswegian mental patient,who just happened to think he was Humphrey Bogart,in his rôles as a private investigator!
I admit 2000AD is primarily a sci-fi comic(with strong fantasy elements)but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for stories or even whole series that are just great entertainment.
My second theory of the polarisation of Arthur Ranson,again is not about his terrific art but his association with another series:Mazeworld,the plain baffling and long-winded series about..erm,I don’t actually know,other than a guy about to get executed(honestly don’t remember what for or why,I could probably look it up in my back Progs but I can’t really be arsed!)drops through the gallows trap door into a world designed like a huge labyrinth.Still sporting the hangman’s hood(hard to deliver emotion with a bag on your head!)and rope around his neck,was,instead of being shunned and reviled,hailed as some sort of returning,all-conquering hero,coming to save the people of this world from the evil,tyrannical regime,under which they were oppressed.
As you may have noticed I was not a fan.I am not alone.
Apparently though there is now some sort of campaign on the ‘net to get it reinstated in the weekly,and I have no idea why.
In a reverse of Harry Exton's so-called “real world” exploits,”John Pillow-Face" or whatever the Mazeworld dude’s name was,was very much rooted in the realms of fantasy.There is even a sort of suggestion,if I recall,that was hinting at him being in a coma/dream/dead.
Anyway it was pants and because,I think,it was creator-ownedRanson,of course,became inexorably linked with it.
These are unfair reasons to dislike an artist’s entire body of work,”Shamballa" alone,very early on in Ranson's 2000AD career,would be a legacy most artists would be proud of. I urge everyone to hunt down his Anderson stories especially,Shamballa or Button Man,Books I-III;
Book I “The Killing Game”;
Book II “The Confessions Of Harry Exton”;
Book III “Killer Killer";they’re all well worth the cover price.