This time around, I thought I would share my memories of a very important time for me in my comic book career. I have often been asked about this since it occurred and thought it was about time I came clean and told of all the things that happened to me, whilst I was out there in New York back in the mid-nineties. I still feel that some of my best work was produced out there at the time.
So much happened to me whilst I was out there that I feel the only way of doing the company that was Defiant and all its owners, editors, and creative folks justice is to write my thoughts of back then over several Blogs and I mean several rather lengthy Blogs too.
Back in March of 1993 I was busy working for Warner Bros on their Tiny Toons comic in the US, Paul Neary at Marvel UK, on a number of his titles there and producing what was to be my last work for 2000AD on a future shock entitled “The way we Whirr”. It was at this time I found myself at GLASCAC the Scottish version of UKCAC, which was, at the time, the yearly British Comics Convention.
I had not been in the convention hall for more than five minutes on the Saturday morning before I received a script off Andrew Helfer one of DC comics’ editors for his Big Book of Death book, or at least I was told I would be receiving it on the Sunday – which I did.
On the Sunday I met with the Tiny Toons, Katie Main, editor and received more scripts from which to draw the strips, but it was later on the same Sunday afternoon that I was to be given the chance of a lifetime.
I was almost ready for setting off back home and was awaiting my friend’s friend who had come along to Glasgow with us to visit a girlfriend. We were having a brew in the Convention Restaurant area with a cup of tea in one hand and my portfolio in the other, feeling good that I was going home with more comic book work to add to my list of stuff already on the go.
The weather was muggy, although it had kept fine throughout the convention weekend to be honest and as the weather turned for the worst a face I recognised sat on the table across from me with a young woman and a guy with a portfolio. The guy was Jim Shooter and the woman was Janet Jackson – no not that JJ, which is why Janet chose to be called JayJay by her friends, but the Janet Jackson of Marvel and Valiant fame.
Well I suddenly changed my mind about leaving and decided to stay a little longer to speak to Jim, who I had met and worked for early on in my career at Marvel UK, back in the eighties.
It was to prove a very wise move on my behalf. Occasionally something of a very serendipitous event will occur in ones life and this was one of those very special moments.
When the guys had left Jim and Janet, I waited a moment and then walked across and introduced myself. Jim recognised me and introduced me as one of his Marvel UK artists. He asked how I was and what I was doing and in the course of something like a twenty-minute conversation we discussed all that happened between our meeting on London in 1987 and this Scottish Comics Convention in 1993.
I was about to leave when Jim said if I ever wanted to show him my portfolio send some stuff over the offices in New York, where he and Janet would look them over. Well never one to look a gift-horse in the mouth, I told him that I had my portfolio on the table across and could show them my work now, if they liked.
They were looking for artists and especially colourists/painters, and looked at my Chopper pages, and my Shadows pages, amongst others and my pencilled and inked pages, but it was not the 2000 AD pages, which finally got me the work, it was “The Little House in the Woods” watercolour painting, which clinched things for me that Sunday afternoon. Not a comic book page or character, in fact nothing to do with a comic and in fact is a children’s book illustration produced way back in 1981.
That piece is probably the most commercially successful illustration I have produced to date, as far as obtaining further work from it for me, from new clients. It is the oldest piece still shown in my portfolio as I tend to drop pages quite soon after they are produced in lieu of newer and hopefully much better pieces.
It is also a firm favourite, along with “Christmas in the Woods”, amongst those collecting my limited edition Giclée prints, so it still continues to enchant folks in the same way it did Janet back then. I would love to know exactly what it is about that illustration, because I would love to be able to repeat its success.
Jim turned to Janet and asked what she thought, as he looked at the pages of Shadows drawn by my good buddy Richard Elson’s over which I painted the acrylic colours and pointed to a particularly moody purple and green set of panels. She turned the sleeves in the portfolio back to “The Little House in the Woods” watercolour painting and said “This is the one that does it for me,” adding, “I like this one best.”
Jim looked at her again and said the immortal words, “I think we can harness this guy’s powers for good!” This was something I heard him say only a small number of times to other folks when he saw what it was he was after, but when he said it there was a sense of excitement about the air following it.
He smiled and told me I would receive the first package off them, which would be for a limited edition card set for a new book they were working on called Dark Dominion. The book was being pencilled and inked by the legendary Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko.
Jim then asked me what my rate was for colouring and I told him and he said fine. I later found out I was the most expensive colourist/painters on their books and was earning nearly as much as the guys pencilling.
Anyway we said our goodbyes and the journey home seemed to last only minutes as I pondered this new phase of my comics career, whilst I drove home with my friend and his friend too. True to his word only a matter of two or three weeks later the first cards arrived, some drawn by Steve Ditko and some by newcomer Joe James. Steve Ditko, most folks in the comics business would kill to work with such a fantastic legend and here I was in my UK studio, doing just that.
Below one of the original cards scanned from the original artwork and then four of the cards as they appeared in the set:
The artwork was being printed via Xerox machine onto Saunders, Waterford, Hot Press 90lb watercolour paper, which coincidentally was exactly the same process I had been using here in the UK on the work for London Editions, 2000AD and the other publishers.
I had decided to try this technique following some work I had done for Marvel, 2000AD and the Scoop children’s Newspaper on Twins of Elvedon. My first work on the Twins story was done on Kentmere paper, but this was a very expensive process and so looking for a cheaper alternative for my other colour work I experimented with watercolour paper and it worked, on certain Xerox machines and at 90lb paper weight. So when I saw that Defiant was using exactly the same process I knew how to approach the work.
I sent the first batch of cards over to the New York offices via Fed-Ex, which received a great response and these were followed a few days later by a second batch. I repeated this process a number of times and then received a phone call from the then editorial director Deborah Purcell.
She asked if I would like to go out to the New York offices on an all-expenses paid trip for a week. I was over the moon. Deborah asked if I wanted to discuss this with my wife Margaret, who had come into the studio and overheard the conversation, giving me the thumbs up. I told Deborah it would be a pleasure and she said to expect the tickets via Fed-Ex in a couple of days.
Well the thought of going out to New York and working in the Defiant Bullpen was a dream come true for me and I couldn’t believe my luck. I had worked so hard to get into US comics and here I was about to walk the same streets as all the great American comics artists.
A couple of days later the tickets arrived and I was only days away from making a dream come true. My bags packed for a week and my wife and small children in tow, we set off for Manchester airport. It was quite an emotional scene as we parted ways and I went through customs, leaving the family to wave from the balcony as my plane set off.
I could have burst as I sat down in my seat and prepared for take-off. A movie played and meals were served and I can neither remember what the film was nor what we ate, I was so excited, but I knew that in eight hours I would be walking in the capital city of comics and then it hit home, would I be good enough to rub shoulders with these guys? It was daunting, I tell you, I would have to watch my self and ensure I did a bang up job to impress them, but again could I do so…?
But I’ll share that in my next Blog.
Until next time have fun!
May 10th 2009