Judge Dredd Snapshots: The Ugly Mug Ball (prog 447)

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Here at the Uglybug Ball I’m speaking to Glendon Grott. Glen – you’re the face that makes the pace. Like to say why?

Uh, sure – it’s cos all these other dirtbags got their ugly mugs artificial. Y’know – Sump or surgery. Not me. I was born like this. I’m naturally ugly.

Script: John Wagner & Alan Grant (as T.B. Grover); Artist: Cliff Robinson; Letters: Tony Jacob

Plot Summary

The judges have set up a cordon around the Folly Heights neighbourhood in an attempt to capture escaped con “Ransom” who is attempting to kill informant Howie Buck for giving the judges information which lead to his arrest and conviction. That evening, a mass gathering of “Uglies” – citizens who celebrate ugliness and deliberately uglify themselves to follow the latest fashion trends – is taking place: the Uglybug Ball.

Ransom manages to kill Buck by getting a child to give a judge a bomb just outside of the building he is hiding in, but Dredd gives chase and manages to shoot him. Ransom tries to make his escape in the Uglybug Ball and is confused and disgusted by the people there (having been locked up before the fashion became a thing). He attempts to take a hostage but Dredd overwhelms him, throwing him into a display of Otto Sump Ugly Products. The judges take Ransom away, with it revealed that the ugly products have hideously deformed Ransom’s face.

Commentary

This is a relatively by-the-numbers one shot which introduces very little to Dredd’s lore. It seems to mainly exist to showcase Cliff Robinson’s art, then a newcomer to 2000AD. In fact this is only the third Dredd story he had worked on, although he was also one of the artists who contributed to the first Anderson, Psi Division strip.

Robinson’s inking style and early work is very reminiscent of Brian Bolland, but he fairly quickly developed his own style – their renditions of Dredd himself are very easily distinguishable. Like Bolland, he very quickly became established as a cover artist. Unlike Bolland, he continues to draw the occasional strip. Indeed, nearly 35 years since this episode was published he is still a fairly regular presence in 2000AD.

Cliff Robinson’s presence here also suggests something of a passing of the torch. Just as Mike McMahon dominated the strip in its early years only to be replaced by Ron Smith, by the time we reach the prog 400s, a much wider roster of artists have started drawing the strip. People like Robinson and Cam Kennedy, who also started drawing Dredd at around this time, might not end up drawing as many episodes as Smith, but they would go on to create equally iconic visions of the character.

The Ugly craze has a history that goes back to “Otto Sump’s Ugly Clinic” (progs 186 to 188), in which the reality-TV-star-turned-billionaire-businessman Otto Sump (whose origin appears in “Sob Story” in progs 131 and 132) launches a range of “ugly” products which proves to be insanely popular. The judges ultimately conclude that this new craze is causing all kinds of criminal activity but choose to tax the products rather than ban them, thereby gaining the city much needed income, and making the ugly craze exclusive to the rich.

This story ended up becoming the template which all future “craze” stories followed (although the first “craze” story was “Brainblooms” in prog 18): new fashion proves insanely popular amongst the populace, it inevitably either causes harm or people start using it to help them commit crimes, the judges end up either banning it or find a more devious way to ruin people’s fun.

We should also briefly touch on Otto Sump, since this is the first time I’ve mentioned him despite his first appearance years before. As well as the ugly craze, Sump would crop up a few more times with new scams, most notably in “Gunge” (prog 280) and “Get Smart” (prog 436). Despite being a fan favourite, Sump was used fairly sparingly as a supporting character, which has helped make his few appearances all the more memorable.

These days, it is hard to miss the resemblance between Sump and then notorious property developer Donald Trump – although Sump’s career boosting decision to go on reality TV predated Trump’s by a quarter of a century. Of course, it could simply be a coincidence, alongside Trump’s resemblance to Dave the Orang-utan – an orange ape who got elected as mayor – and President Booth, the last president of the United States whose populist style results in the country being annihilated in a nuclear war.

Trivia

  • The Ugly Bug Ball is a song by the songwriting duo the Sherman Brothers, which originally appeared in the 1963 film Summer Magic.
  • Although this episode isn’t given a title in the strip, it is officially known as “The Ugly Mug Ball” even though the ball itself is referred to as the Uglybug Ball – presumably to avoid annoying Disney.

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