|Posted by David Pugh on June 22, 2014 at 1:05 PM|
Tell us about your early influences.
I was about 9 years old, in my doctor's waiting room, when I saw my first EAGLE comic. I was blown away by the realism of the DAN DARE strip and my first sight of the Mekon. I couldn't believe that anyone could draw that realistically. I didn't know at the time that there was a whole studio dedicated to creating the strip. My mother snatched it off me, saying I'd have nightmares. She was wrong my nightmares are scenes of banal reality. My dreams have always taken me to wild and colourful worlds. My mother never did let me buy the EAGLE. The first two comics I was allowed regularly were BOYS' WORLD and RANGER. Wrath of the Gods and the Trigan Empire blew me away. So that would have been John M. Burns and Don Lawrence. Then I discovered Frank Bellamy, through the pages of my sister's TV21 and LADY PENELOPE, I became a lifelong fan of that great man and he did have a direct influence on my early black and white work. Oh, well before that I saw my first American comics, an adaptation of the KONGA movie by Steve Ditko really impressed me. MARVEL COMICS never made it to Glynneath. My first exposure to Marvel would have been at Kingston Art College, I did my Foundation Course at Brighton, where I did my thesis as a comic book history of St.Nicholas' Church. St. Nicholas' Church is in Brighton, where I was in Art College. There are lot of really cool dead people buried there. A bunch of bikers show up for a party and a ghostly grave digger tells them to show some respect, by giving them a tour of the grave yard. I actually came top of my whole year with that. Kingston hated comics and did their best to train me as a graphic designer. Fortunately, a Canadian friend on the course introduced me to Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko and Neal Addams. I was amazed by Kirby's energy and mad machinery, I tried drawing like him but it was always too cartoony. Neal Addams was far more realistic, which suited my British background; his layouts were probably my greatest influence. Around this time I discovered the books of Michael Moorcock, who of course wrote Wrath of the Gods. His Celtic series, the Corum books would be a big influence on my Slaine work. Soon after this a friend gave me issue 8 of METAL HURLANT, I later tracked down issue 1 in Paris. Moebius and Phillip Druillet shocked me with their visions. I couldn't imagine where they got their architecture and characters from. I'm certain I know the source; it has to be Kathmandu that city has the weirdest architecture and the wildest mix of people. You can see doorways about three foot high. You say to yourself, "People must have been small, when these houses were built". then the door opens and out comes a Hobbit and his wife. Then a pixie girl will pass you on her scooter, complete with pointed ears and hooped tights. To my great regret I didn't make it to Kathmandu until 2011. If I'd had the money to get there in the early Seventies, it would have given me a whole new perception and made me a greater artist. So advice to budding comic artists, forget Art College, go to Kathmandu. Before I finish I must mention Paul Gulacy's Master of Kung Fu and Milo Manara for his beautiful women and his mastery of portraying exotic corners of the world so perfectly. Manara gets my number one for talent, unfortunately for me, I'm not worthy to tie his sandals but I kiss his feet. I liked putting a lot of detail and perspective into my work, I wanted to draw the reader into the page and make it as three dimensional as possible. Don Lawrence gave me this value for money adventure in the 1960s, with his Trigan Empire series. I have actually been perfectly happy working in black and white though, despite making a living and reputation as a colourist in the latter part of my career. I liked the challenge of creating colour in black and white. Most of my work was finished using a Kolinsky Sable no.5 brush with Higgins Black Magic ink, it gave my work a painterly feel.
How did you get your break into main stream comics?
I was kicked out of Kingston Art College for being too rebellious and I was told that I'd never make it as a graphic designer. What they didn't know was that I was already working as an illustrator/designer to Pier 1 Imports, who are still trading today. They were so impressed with my illustration for their Evening Standard weekly ads, they gave me the job of Creative Director. I'll always relish the look on my board of college tutors faces when I told them that. However, Pier 1 was an American company and expected you to work seven days a week if necessary. As being the company photographer was also my role, I had to do style shoots of Peacock Chairs on location, using my wife as a model, as well as doing intricate black and white illustrations of Buddha statues. After a year of this, combined with my stomach problems, I collapsed after a shoot on Worthing beach. I decided I needed a slower pace of life. My mother sent me a cutting for a vacancy for artist/visualiser for Thomson Regional Newspapers back in South Wales. I walked into the job, bought a cottage in Aberdare and three years later one of the editors asked me if I'd like to produce a comic strip for their children's page. This was 1976, LOOKING GLASS LIBRARY ran for about two years. It was inspired by ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS. Two kids were shown how they could enter the books written in mirror language. I used the Alice book as the first adventure, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Frankenstein and others, finishing about two years later with the Mabinogion, which I'd studied in depth. In 1979 the same company offered me a full tabloid page strip based on an American advertising concept, which I made my own. CAPTAIN CLASSIFIED, STAR RANGER ran for about three years. I wrote, lettered and even had editorial control of Looking Glass Library. The same was true of CAPTAIN CLASSIFIED. At the age of twenty-five I had a reassessment of my life and burnt all the LOOKING GLASS LIBRARY pages. I just didn't think they were good enough or important enough. Several short stories and a MABINOGION inspired book went with it. That's what happens when the creator gets editorial control. No regrets, they just weren't up to the standard I wanted to set for myself, just okay. The LOOKING GLASS LIBRARY concept was good though. I had also been working on a STRANGE BUT TRUE strip for a weekly comics supplement in a Portsmouth newspaper; Ron Smith was drawing the lead story. As I was then considered a comics professional, I was being paid for this work, I joined the Society of Strip Illustrators and met Alan Moore and David Lloyd, pre "V FOR VENDETTA" days. The SSI had a monthly magazine, showcasing what we were up to. I submitted a CAPTAIN CLASSIFIED strip, which caught Pat Mills eye and that was the start of the full time comics career.
Tell us more about Captain Classified.
CAPTAIN CLASSIFIED was a superhero character used in one of Thomson's Canadian papers, as a gimmick to sell classified advertising. I was asked to update the character to help launch the GLAMORGAN STAR, the concept of the free sheet was something new back then. The only stipulation I was given was that he had to have a glamorous assistant and the Classified Advertising Manager liked the name Princess Astra. I worked on a presentation over a long weekend and came up with a Dredd like character, a Star Ranger with a star shaped visor. He drove a 1940s Dick Tracy style car that was capable of jumping through hyperspace. It was very quickly drawn and written, very freehand in style. We actually had costumes made and the Captain made guest appearances, confusingly with two Princess Astras, all around the Vale of Glamorgan. One story I particularly enjoyed doing was MURDER ON THE BIG BANG EXPRESS, it had a Kwai Chang Kane character and a mad star truck driver. I do still have most the artwork but I'd rather be remembered for my later work. I bought Steve Dylan's first self published comic, when he was seventeen, I'm sure he wouldn't want that back on the streets.
Why did you leave Slaine?
Glenn Fabry was going to a comic 'A' lister, I knew it from his first sketch and it was going to be impossible for me to compete with this young Leonardo. I was from a more cartoony background; I was hired for my imagination, my action sequences and being Welsh, my Celtic insight. I also had to draw four pages of SLAINE, to every one of Glenn's, in order to meet the print deadline and for me to be able to feed my wife and child. We get paid by the page in the comic business, not by the amount of detail we put in. I knew the time would come when someone would hold one of my pages up against one of Glenn's and say, "It's obvious which is the best art". How this day came about was unexpected. I'd completed my second season, having to take on some of the grand finale pages, which were intended for Glenn, in order to get the pages into the comic. Having briefly discussed the direction of the next series with Pat Mills, I took a two week trip to Sri Lanka, it was just at the beginning of the civil war. I've always felt the need for real adventure, drawing comics for me was an escapist substitute for the real thing. On returning to the UK, there was no news from Pat. I had an invite to a big comic convention in Birmingham that week. On the Friday I was at the creators' dinner, sat on the same table as Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland and a very exhausted looking Mike McMahon. Proof pages of WATCHMEN and KILLING JOKE were being handed around but I was feeling guilty that I'd taken the SLAINE work from Mike McMahon, he wasn't talking to anyone. Blow me, at the bar after the dinner Mike Collins comes over to me and introduces himself as the new SLAINE artist. Pat has apologised to me on several occasions, about the way I heard the news. It was very unprofessional and very hurtful, this is one but not the main reason, I didn't want to return to that point in time for the SLAINE anniversary issue. To be fair they did give me the odd FUTURE SHOCK, one of which I wrote under a different name, as there was a lot of input from Steve MacMannus. The 2000AD Summer Special I did was crucial for me, as Barrie Tomlinson loved it and offered me the MASK work. So after doing those few shorts for 2000AD, I left to make a career, literally across the corridor in the Boys' Adventure department, where I had the pick of titles to work on. I'll always be grateful to Barrie Tomlinson, the then group editor, for giving me the freedom to develop as a much better comic artist.
Did leaving 2000AD effect on your career?
Of course leaving 2000AD had an adverse effect on my career. Using Brando's words from ON THE WATERFRONT, "I coulda been a contender". Working for Boys' Adventure lowered my profile, not many people saw my work and we had no royalty deal for foreign reprints and collections unlike 2000AD creators. It was my choice with a wife and five year old daughter to support, I needed regular work, I just couldn't afford to wait around for the next 2000AD commission to turn up. I can't blame the editorial staff there for possibly taking it as a snub but there were many great artists who had to keep working regularly. I spent three years working on the hugely successful MASK comic, we had some great artists working continually through the whole run. It included Judge Dredd supremo, Ron Smith and the wonderful Joe Colquhoun, Joe worked on Pat Mills' greatest series, CHARLEY'S WAR and never got the recognition he deserved during his life. I'm selling off my artwork to raise money for my BUS FARE charity and MASK art has sold as many pages as SLAINE. The only pity is I couldn't get all of it back; my wife and I spent a day at IPC's warehouse as they wanted it cleared. We left the MASK art until last, Pauline started at one end and I the other but we ran out of time before we met in the middle and some great pages were lost. Back to the main subject, I have no regrets about my career, I had a career, in so much as I was never out of work. I had my chance to break into the US market in 1988, when I was offered the chance to draw GRIMJACK. I'd only just started drawing LONER then, who was especially created for me and I was having a ball with the character and also filling in for Ron Smith on JOE ALIEN. For those who don't know LONER was a character developed for me, a black, space gunslinger in the short lived WILDCAT comic.. On top of that I now had a one year old son, so I was a very happy man. I didn't have the sourness that the GRIMJACK character needed. I loved Loner and felt very satisfied drawing his adventures. My son toddled into my studio everyday to see what I was up to. GRIMJACK'S violence had an acidic edge to it, which amuses me when it is well done but I'd have to hidden it from the kids. It also had some bizarre sexual fantasies in it, which didn't turn me on. I love sexy comics and did a one off BLACK VENUS story for Bill Black’s AC COMICS in Florida but I'm no Milo Manara. The GRIMJACK editor went to the next entry in their directory and Steve Pugh's career was launched. Steve used to think that he had been mistaken for me; maybe they thought we were brothers. I got my American series eventually and the opportunity to work with Bryan Talbot, on the NEIL GAIMAN'S PHAGE SHADOWDEATH miniseries. I did some extremely violent scenes for SHADOWDEATH but my son was a teenager then and loved Sam Rami movies.
How would you describe your contribution to Slaine?
I do feel my contribution to SLAINE was underestimated, most people just considered me the fill in artist for Glenn. I did help to create the SLAINE world with several designs, Elfric, Myrddyn, Murdoch, the Guledig were from my imagination. The laysers, the ship for travelling through time and the Cythron city of Gulag were my visualising too. However, SLAINE went through so many changes of direction that I have to say, that it must be Clint Langley's work that has finally defined the character and his world. I have one question for Clint myself, "How can you afford to pay all your actors?" I was looking at a 2000AD online forum, as to who was the defining SLAINE artist, well Clint has my vote. I was pleased to read that several people picked up on my humour and action; it was something I worked at. It was a pity that I had to tone down the violence, 2000AD was still a children's comic in those days. I wanted to portray hilarious, over the top murder, the SPARTACUS TV series has to be the finest example of that sort of black ballet. The scene where he slices off the German gladiator's face was a masterpiece, not only defining Spartacus' role as leader of the rebellion but the look of surprise left on a head without a face, sheer genius. Pat Mills has a very clear view of the way his characters should look at a certain time in the real world, so creators are told to do it this way, with several visual examples of how he sees it. If I dare to criticise Pat, it's to say that he follows fashion too readily rather than anticipating it but I have been guilty of that myself. My DAN DARE work drew a lot on sci-fi movies of the time and a lot from Spaghetti Westerns too. What I am truly grateful for is the freedom and respect Barrie Tomlinson gave me as a creator. He really helped me feel confident to push my art to much higher ground than I achieved at 2000AD, I shall always be thankful for his belief in me. I continued to work in Boys'Adventure, despite having some US offers, simply because of this freedom Barrie gave me. I worked with Pete Milligan on the MASK comic, terrific stories with no direction as to how to draw anything. Peter said I was too good for the comic and I should be back working for 2000AD, where I'd get the recognition I deserved, not to mention royalties. I had two children to support in those days; I couldn't risk throwing myself on the whims of 2000AD. I'll never forget the humiliation I felt during my DAN DARE years when I was barred entry to a 2000AD after convention party. I'd been for a drink with Colin MacNeil, when Colin suggested going to the 2000AD party. I said I didn't have an invite, Colin laughed saying I was a SLAINE artist, who a lot of people respected. Igor Goldkind was on the door, I was blocked with, "Current contributors only!" Igor, maybe after getting this off my chest I'll accept your Facebook friend request. Listen, I don't want to sound bitter, I've been able to make a continual living in comics for thirty years and that's more than some can say. I've never had to look hard for paid work in the business and managed to get an American miniseries but I could never have been an "A" lister, I didn't take the risks. It was my choice to put making a secure living over a chance for glory and I have no regrets. I'm very happy with where I am now, I'm having the adventure I've always wanted and I've been brave enough to walk away from the work ethic, to seek the adventure and to meet some wonderful people. Some of these people have nothing but a sense of happiness in their lives, despite having no money. We in the developed world wouldn't know how to achieve that sense of happiness without buying it and I include myself here. If I hadn't had a career which allowed me to save money, I shouldn't be here in India right now, contemplating my next video diary.
Which 2000AD character would you liked to have worked on?
This is an easy one. Although he originated in TORNADO, he did appear in 2000AD and because of his intergalactic adventures was well suited to the comic, this was BLACK HAWK THE GLADIATOR, written by Gerry Finlay-Day. Simon Davies and I submitted a proposal to 2000AD in the mid-ninties but didn't receive any response. There were so many similarities between him and my favourite character, Loner, both wandering strange worlds, with just their own wits and fighting skills to protect themselves. Kev Hopgood once paid me the compliment, that Loner was the coolest and most realistic black guy in comics. A reworking of BLACK HAWK might even tempt me back to comics for a while. The problem is that originally set in Britain, there would be clashes with SLAINE. I'd like to see BLACK HAWK given a WRATH OF THE GODS treatment but with the violent and brutal treatment of SPARTACUS, BLOOD AND SAND. I must tease Pat Mills at this point, he once told me that there could never be a powerful and sexy Roman hero, because of the skirt. How wrong he was, Spartacus' last battle and heroic death in VICTORY was powerful and noble and he was dressed in a Roman tunic. So, I'd like to see BLACK HAWK lose his status and return to being an escaped slave, losing his lover and making his way across the Roman Empire back to Africa. Along the way he'd seek out the gods of the lands he'd visit and destroy them, as punishment for changing his fortune. I also see him being pursued by an obsessive Roman General who is determined to destroy him. Black Hawk would have been responsible for instigating a Celtic uprising, a momentous rebellion that would spell the beginning of the end of Roman rule in Britain. In short the character should be reimagined, establishing the power of the African nation. From there we switch to a fantasy history of the world, for when BLACK HAWK returns to Africa, he unites the tribes and leads them north to destroy the Roman Empire and establish the African Empire, which would be ruling the world to this day! Pretty epic storyline me thinks. Now which of today's 2000AD writers want to take that on? Perhaps they'd let me write it and let someone else do the hard drawing work. While working on Bryan Talbot's script for SHADOWDEATH, he asked me to draw a gladiatorial arena scene, with at least a thousand in the crowd. Afterwards he told me, if he was writing for himself, I'd have just written a few dozen. So okay 2000AD, if you want to go ahead with this, I'll need a Frank Hampson size studio, with lots of CGI, thanks!
Do you have any anecdotes about your time at 2000AD?
How about them not even acknowledging submissions for possible storylines and when I rang just getting an answer machine, promising a call back that never came. On the one occasion I spoke to someone I knew, I was told that there were too many regular contributors waiting for work. This is a continual problem to this day, it's no one's fault, as there are not enough pages and too many contributors. I don't hold any grudges, my only bone of contention has been that 2000AD reprints pay royalties, any Boys' Adventure titles reprinted, the creators got nothing.
Do you have any regrets about your career?
Plainly I should have tackled the GRIMJACK job, I could have done it but I was having a great time with LONER. I'm probably more proud of my work on that character, than anything else I've drawn. Also, I should have taken full control of the LAST PLANET and self published, instead of leaving it in totally incompetent hands. That was probably my biggest regret but I don't want to go any further with that now. It's going to be well covered in an upcoming issue of The Tower King. I'm also doing an interview commemorating 25 years of Scorer and I'm trying not to cross over the questions.
Why did you turn down the opportunity to draw Slaine again?
I was very flattered when Pat ranked me as one of the top six SLAINE artists in the thirty years and I seriously thought about drawing the character again. Then I did think to myself, "Guys, if I was that good, why has it taken you twenty eight years to ask me back?" More importantly, I had set myself a challenge to get to Lithang, Tibet. Turning down the SLAINE anniversary issue was possibly the best decision I made, I swear it's raised more publicity and sold more pages for my BUS FARE project than if I had participated. Everyone wants to know why I turned down an opportunity many would love to have. I don't expect I'd be doing this interview with you now, if I'd drawn six pages in the same style as twenty-eight years ago. Also, as it's highly unlikely that I'll be drawing any more comic pages, the ones I still have are now rare commodities. Funny world! My apologies go out to the fans who would have loved to have seen some more Slaine from me but what new vision could I have offered to a retrospective project. The best work in the BOOK OF WOUNDS was Mike McMahon's, he really did his own thing and showed every one where he is today. If anyone wants to know where I am today, type Afrafilms into YouTube and watch my six part video diary LONG ROAD TO LITHANG. I got more kicks putting that together than anything I have ever drawn. Lithang is a town in the former province Kham, Tibet now part of the Western Tibetan Prefecture of Ghanzi, Sichuan, China. Four of the most beautiful and inspirational women I have ever known came from there and each of their stories would make a graphic novel. Another reason I didn't want to revisit SLAINE was because I no longer had that sense of aggression in my work. This aggression was fuelled by years of stomach problems, I was infected by heliocobacter pylori, when my invaders were destroyed in 1996, I had a sense of rebirth. The main change in my life was that I could go without eating for a day or two; I was no longer feeding bacteria. This meant that I could now start travelling in earnest and I began to take more and more time away from the drawing board and the computer. In 1996 I was so impressed by the amazing computer colour work Angus Mackie did on my SHADOWDEATH pencils, I decided to teach myself computer colouring. I plunged in at the deep end and coloured two STAR WARS Adventure Books I had drawn. Thus began a new period in my life as a computer colourist. In 2009 I answered an online advertisement for Graphic Designer at LHA Charitable Trust in Dharamsala, India, the home of the Dalai Lama. I was there for two months teaching Photoshop to Tibetan monks and I decided I needed a change of direction. On a day off from the class, I climbed to Triund, the base camp of the Dhauladar Himalaya. On my descent, I was walking along an ancient track in the midst of a timeless moment. I convinced myself that around the next bend, I was going to come face to face with Conan the Barbarian. As it happened, it was just a goatherd but the spell wasn't broken. His style of dress probably hadn't altered in centuries. I became Conan myself for a brief moment. The feeling was so intense – probably stoked by the thin air! – that I knew I would never be able to replicate it drawing comics. However, the spell was broken when, an hour later, I met an Australian tourist who said, "Jeez, you’re Terry Pratchett, aren't you?"’
Do you consider yourself a perfectionist?
I do consider myself a perfectionist but reaching perfection is impossible for most in this life. Most people who I admire greatly, have from time to time produced indifferent work. Everyone should try to do their best and keep trying to do their best but there comes a point where most people peak and no matter what they do, they'll never get beyond that point. Going beyond your best defines genius for me and there are very few geniuses born in the course of most people's lifetime. I saw Picasso's GUERNICA, in Madrid, for the first time last October. I'd grown up with reproductions but when you see the size and majesty of the real thing, you see perfection and genius at work. Striving for perfection can be counterproductive, when only adequate is necessary and if a few lines can convey the message then why labour the point. I spent several years producing the computer colour and 3D backgrounds for the Daily Mirror SCORER strip and put far too much work into it. That was such an ephemeral work that it didn't deserve the time I put into it but as I have always done, I gave it my best and yes, tried for perfection. Perfection usually comes at a cost and the cost is your time. This brings me back to SLAINE and Glenn striving for the perfect page. I never had the time to produce perfection. What the hell is perfection anyway? Surely it just the goals we set ourselves, I imagine Jack Kirby never worried about perfection and look at the brilliant legacy he left. Vision and imagination is more important, in a digital visual age who needs to be a Pre Raphaelite. In comics most good artists live by the slogan, "More is less". It comes down to your own personality and how you choose to present yourself.
What makes a good comic book writer?
A good comic book writer should have a good visual sense; I first met Alan Moore when he was still drawing. He had the good sense to realise early, that his average drawing skills couldn't match his very visual imagination. Most writers I know would love to be able to draw, guys you made the right choice, you've all made more money than us artists and you've been able to create some great characters, while we labour away at perfecting YOUR vision. Writing and drawing in comics are inseparable of course but in my opinion, good writing comes first. This goes for cinema and television too, the script is everything. Quentin Tarantino is not a good writer, he's an imagineer and showman and for most of the time it works very well. I'm not a great writer myself; I've been guilty of producing flashy art to the detriment of the story. Not many people know that my OBVIOUS TACTICS book for Games Workshop was written in stream of consciousness. It was commissioned in monthly instalments, on the strength of the first page. Andy Jones said he wanted to see more, I said I didn't know where to take it. He threw me the Blood Angels Codex and said, "Read that, it's the driving manual. Let's see where you can take the ship!" It was quite an adventure for me and I was grateful for the opportunity and trust he gave me. I was disappointed with the collected graphic novel, the art was condensed into American format. I was surprised it sold like that and even went to a second print run. I've worked with many really good writers not only Pat Mills and Peter Milligan but Alan Grant, Bryan Talbot, Steve Moore, Gordon Rennie, Dan Abnett, Tom Tully, Barrie and Jim Tomlinson. Please don't ask me to choose the best as I probably left out several in the above list. I wish I'd become a more disciplined writer myself. I began writing my LAST PLANET project, it was supposed to be in six initial parts but I went off on a tangent. I hired a new young writer, Simon Davies, to inject some humour and some discipline. He was recommended to me by Dave Stone, who I first approached, as I liked his wit. Guess what happened, Simon went off on several tangents, all very clever but no discipline. He had written script eleven with no end in sight, when I was in the middle of book four. It just went to hell at that point, the publisher sent issue 1 to the printer on a 1,500 print run! They sold immediately, Diamond picked it up in America, featured it on their spotlight page in Previews magazine. Everyone wanted it but the issues weren't there. A second print run was hurriedly organised and issue two followed quickly. I had allocated enough time in my schedule to do the six parts and agreed that the art should be completed before publishing. Everyone started blaming everyone else but the publisher needs to take the blame. Simon had a breakdown I got issue three art back from the printers and closed the draw on the project.
Would you like to write more comic scripts?
I don't seriously think that anyone would give me the chance to become a writer, I'll be forever grateful to Andy Jones at GAMES WORKSHOP for letting me write OBVIOUS TACTICS, though I regretted their decision to condense my pages into American format. I'd prefer anyone to read it in it's original, serialised form in the INFERNO anthologies. Listen, I still have lots of ideas for cracking stories but I can never find the time to draw them, writing would be fun. I'm currently working on a WEST AFRICAN JUNGLE SKILLS project based in Guinea Bissau, to bring money into a very poor village. I could write there but I can't carry around a drawing board!