Judge Dredd: The Art of Kenny Who? The Cam Kennedy Collection – John Wagner, Alan Grant

3 out of 5

At first, I thought it was a little weird that an artist-centric Dredd collection would be named after a singular strip – The Art of Kenny Who? appeared in the 80s progs, from 477 – 479 – but the titling is perfect, once you’ve read it: the tale of the titular artist, up from the Caledonian Hab Zone to the Mega City, hoping to pitch his art to “trashzine” Big 1. There’s the surface level to this, with some direct references to artist Cam Kennedy’s frustrating experiences (alongside writers John Wagner and Alan Grant) in trying to get their series Outcasts pitched to DC, but then there’s the general parodying of / snipes at that state of comicing / creative pursuits in general: artist Who? (that’s with the question mark, encouraging endless riffs on so-and-so’s-on-first gags whenever telling someone his name) wants nothing more than to be published in the generally unrespected trashzine format – if the name wasn’t a giveaway – and, despite his efforts, has his worked copied by a robot, going under the name Jimmy Who?, to be mass produced for profits. Kenny goes into a rage which just lands him in the cubes, which Dredd figured was going to happen anyway, ’cause who wants to read this kinda garbage?

This starts out a trilogy of Who? titles, which just get more cutting in terms of Wags’ / Grant’s / Kennedy’s feelings on the lack of creator’s rights but also even sharper in defining Kenny as a character and at carving out that perfect 2000 AD blend of narrative and commentary. It’s a great way to kick off this collection, and makes it a worthwhile read, especially with the extra odds and ends Kennedy stuff it collects – even if the quality of those stories can vary.

The Dredd Reckoning review of this highlights Cam’s unique coloring on the Kenny stories, and I wholly agree that it’s a pleasure to look at – both in the black and white and color, Cam balances the expressiveness of his characters to be both doofy goofballs and also rather relatably charming, or making the Judges / publisher-types menacing or slimy as appropriate – but I also found Chris Blythe’s colors on the remaining strips to be really noteworthy as well. Cam’s stuff is definitely atypical, using odd color highlights that help to give the Kenny stuff an offbeat tone, while Blythe’s work is much more “realistic,” but both are equally rich. (Maybe excepting the final “Blackout,” from the Meg, which is pretty murky looking in general.)

Some trends in Cam’s art become apparent over the course of the collection, with his bubbly architecture and outlandish character silhouettes a highlight, but his pacing works best when it’s more staccato, panel-by-panel stuff. When larger action requires choreography stretched across a page, his sense of geography and timing feels a bit off, making the tales that are more along these lines have less of an impact. On the flip-side of this, when the humor starts getting especially ridiculous – such as on the unnecessarily epic Bazooka – it doesn’t feel like the artist’s heart is in it.

So it’s inbetween, when we’re drawing a line between satire and story, that the works here come out best: Bodies of Evidence returns to Cal-Hab, where the residents are getting body-kidnapped by the rich; and though Finger of Suspicion’s premise is really silly – a poor MC1 resident has a condition which has stuck his hand in a permanent middle finger salute – the juggling of tone really landed here for me, which comes from Wags being at his best at pushing the ridiculous and then tempering it with the “reality” of the Dreddverse, and then brought to life by Kennedy.

Again, a lot of the other strips have their pluses and minuses, with the aforementioned Bazooka being a lowpoint, as it’s funny, but also an absolute slog at three loooong Meg entries. However, in general, having the Kenny stuff in one location, plus a one-stop shop for admiring Kennedy’s many variations on Dreddverse miscreants, makes the book solid entertainment.