Come and explore the worlds of Doctor Who comics with me...

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Martin Geraghty interview

Hi folks, lets kick of this blog with something a bit special. An interview with Doctor Who graphic artist supremo, Martin Geraghty!

Martin Geraghty has been thrilling us with his artwork in Doctor Who magazine for the last 15 years. He was the main contributor to the range during the ground breaking eighth Doctor strips and saw us through the introduction and departure of Izzy, her transformation into Destrii, the death of Ace and has brought such vivid characters as Majenta, Kroton, Fey and Shayde to life with consummate skill. He has taken his pencil to short character tales, horrors, comedies, SF epics, historicals and even heartbreaking trips back to the time of John and Gillian. To say he is a giant in the world of Doctor Who comics is a huge understatement and his work continues to be enjoyed to this day.

Martin, thank you for your time.

What first prompted to you to move into the worlds of graphic artistry? Were you a fan of comics yourself when you grew up? Did you have any particular favourites? Did you base your style on a mixture of others artists work that you admire?

My older brother is a professional artist and as a callow youth I was always to be found with a pencil in hand, drawing on any scrap of paper available, so an artistic vein seems to run through my family at some level. I'd always read comics as a kid- Monster Fun and Shiver and Shake were childhood staples before the arrival of ACTION-Which was basically every X-rated film of the time adapted into comic strip anthology form- and then, of course, 2000AD which is probably my principle influence. McMahon, Bolland, Gibson, Gibbons-these guys were the giants of my youth, and if I could be said to have any style at all it'd be down to this solid, 70's-era storytelling. But it wasn't until well into my Advertising career as a storyboard artist that I seriously started pursuing drawing comics as a sideline. I'd made a lot of like-minded friends at Art School and gradually we started putting together a portfolio of comic strip work and going to the annual UK Comic Art Convention in London to try and flog our wares. It was always held over the road from where the TARDIS arrives in The War Machines, I seem to recall.

Do you remember your first Doctor Who strip? Tell us something about how you got the gig at DWM? Were you a regular artist at the time or did you work on various magazines/comics at the time? Were you a fan of Doctor Who or did you come to the show fresh when you started working on it?

John Freeman gave me my first break into comics in the early 90's having seen my portfolio, sending me a Paul Cornell script for a short-lived Marvel UK comic called Overkill- Unfortunately it never saw the light of day as the title folded shortly after I'd sent the work in! I went down to their offices in London for John's leaving do and head honcho Paul Neary introduced me to Gary Russell who very kindly offered me a Troughton/Dalek story for that years summer special .
This was Bringer of Darkness, and was the start of a long working relationship I have to this day with it's writer Scott Gray-I recently dug out the original pages and was gob-smacked at the amount of work in it-all that Letratone!, plus at the start of my comics career I did all the inking too so I've no idea how long it took to do-I'm amazed I had the patience!
It was the best possible start to my life as a comic artist though- I get Doctor Who, I know what it's point is. So a short, self-contained Dalek story by a writer who has subsequently proved time and again that he knows his way round a Who script was just a joy to be involved in.
It's almost a cliche to say it now, but my earliest TV memory is of Doctor Who and I fell in love with the show from that first moment-It was an omnibus screening of The Sea Devils and I vividly remember the Sea Devil appearing in the naval base and pointing it's gun at Jon Pertwee. I'd have to say the Letts/Dicks era has probably informed my taste in TV and literature more than any other factor I can think of. I'll take the season 11 opening titles to the grave with me, along with more iconic images than you can shake a stick at: The POV of a Giant Maggot as it crawls towards an unsuspecting Jo Grant, the first reveal of a Sontaran Officer, (a scene which genuinely did send me scurrying under my dads armchair) A bestial, bellowing stone statue materialising in a fury of fiery smoke, a chained Tyrannosaur being woken by the flash of a journalist's camera. F*** The Wire, this is what TV was invented for, surely? I also count myself lucky for being born at precisely the right time to fully appreciate the genius of the Holmes/Hincliffe era, which I genuinely think is the show at it's absolute peak. Would you like some Hammer Horror with those fish-finger butties, Martin?

Was it exciting to be working on the eighth Doctor strips from the beginning? You drew a number of the greats Doctor Who monsters in your time (the Daleks, Cybermen, the Celestial Toymaker, the Master). Which gave you the most scope and did you find most enjoyable to bring to life on the page?

Well, I have to admit I'm no fan of drawing Daleks, tbh- I find vehicles of any description immensely boring to draw and I put the Daleks into that bracket-I'm in no rush to draw them again although I'd imagine the new design being easier to draw than previous versions. Lee Sullivan is the definitive Dalek artist for me, and has shown time and again how to make them look good on the printed page. No, give me tentacles, suppurating flesh and goo any day of the week. There's a reason The Seeds of Doom is my all-time favourite story.
Obviously,The Flood was a fantastic piece of work to be involved in- It ticked every box as far as I was concerned but it was a hell of a lot of hard work at the time. I'm chuffed it rates so highly with fans, and it has become almost the template of invasion Earth stories-The Graeme Harper, Cast-of-Thousands stories that the DWM team like to save me for! They keep promising me a story set in a white void but it's yet to appear in my in-box. I think they're having me on.

Alan Barnes and Scott Gray wrote the scripts for the majority of the eighth Doctor stories. Can you tell me something about how far in advance you have to draw the strips and if you find yourself excited as you read the scripts at the thought of bringing these mad and wonderful stories to life? Or do you sink under the duvet thinking ‘How on Earth am I going to do that?’ Can you give me an example of both these that made it to print? How much involvement do the various editors have in the artwork? How much of a collaboration is the artwork? Do you simply hand over the images and they are inked and coloured or is there much more of a marriage of talent all pitching in with ideas?

I'm always excited to see what each new strip entails, the start of that journey. I love Alans unique take on Who, my favourite strip of his being Tooth and Claw-I think I got what he was after with that comic straight away. I love period setting and I love horror- like Alan, I'm a huge fan of Hammer so T&C is a real high-point of that era for me. I tend to think I let him down a bit with The Final Chapter-When you look at something like The Crimson Hand, for example, I think I could nail the scale and scope of that story now, but I think it was a bit too ambitious for the fledgling Geraghty of the mid-90's. Although to be brutally honest, every 8th Doctor strip would be massively improved if they were all re-done now! I'd love to re-do Beautiful Freak, for instance, now I've got a better (meaning simpler) understanding of black and white. There are occasional pages where I'm happy with what I produced but with the exception of Bad Blood and Eights swan-song I find myself increasingly self-critical of the work I did on that run. I'm trying to pare down my work now- Concentrating on economy of line, intelligent use of solid black, cutting the clutter. For too long I hid bad drawing behind a flurry of cross-hatching. The calling card of the lazy artist.
I'd definitely say the first instance of a sleepless night was with the latter stages of The Flood where crowds of people were being herded around London by invading Cybermen. Yeah, that was scary. The deadlines are always pretty terrifying but I'm a wholly freelance artist now since 2006 which means I can invest more time in the strip than when I started. Back in the 90's I was doing the whole 9-5 thing then doing the strip from 7pm to 1or 2am every night. I'm not keen to go back to that in a hurry.

As for collaboration, yeah, it's a two-way street for sure. My pencils are emailed to the DWM team for their comments and then Scott gets back to me with any amends that are needed. Then I post them off to David to ink (who lives within shouting distance of Donna Nobles house, fact-fans) who then scans and mails those to James to colour. Unless I'm after something specific that's integral to my vision for the page I leave the colouring to the experts. It's always a thrill getting emailed the coloured pages sans word balloons.

Looking back at your work over the past decade do you have any strips that you are especially proud of and any that you wish you could go back and have another stab at?

Ah, I pre-empted this question in my last response!- I'd love a stab at Final Chapter again- I feel I could make it much bigger and-more importantly, I think- much weirder than I managed first time round- Plus I'm not happy with any of the design work I did in that story. I tried to achieve the Gallifrey that Dave Gibbons gave us in Tides but failed badly because he's Dave Gibbons and I'm not.
Road to Hell would definitely get a make-over likewise. Scott and I were going for a scratchy, Kojima pencil style originally (Kojima being the artist of The Lone Wolf and Cub Manga series) but I don't think we let Robin Smith in on the joke so it came out looking rushed not stylised. Seriously, you've just prompted me to look at the strip again and it's utterly hideous. Hands-down the worst strip I've ever done- I'd throw it through that damn crack in time if I could. What also goes against it was the lack of decent visual reference to use - nowadays, I'd dig out my Kurasowa DVD's and type 'Samurai' into Google Images- Back then Ade Salmon came to the rescue with some photocopied pages from a book on feudal Japan he had lying around and that was your lot.

You pencilled both The Glorious Dead and The Flood, the two longest and most visually stunning comic strips yet to appear in DWM. The two story’s stretch to 18 parts in total – how did you survive such a challenge? The two are quite interesting to compare because one is a black and white outer space adventure and the other an all colour Earth invasion story. Do you think colour added or detracted to the strip? And what is your favourite kind of genre to draw for?

Glorious Dead justifies it's length by having a weaving and ducking plotine that takes you everywhere-I mean look at the cliffhanger to Part 3 and then see where Part 4 takes up the story- It's akin to the story jump that Steven Moffatt gave us after the Silence in the Library cliffhanger.And then you've got the out-and-out madness that is Part 5. With TGD it sometimes felt like we were doing a new story every month. I thought it was tremendously experimental really. He's clever, is Scott.

The Flood is probably the strip I'm most proud of- It has the DNA of TV Doctor Who running right through it but with a Hollywood budget. And it got the Cybermen dead right, which the TV show hasn't since The Tenth Planet.
It just worked, that story, on every level.
My favourite genre would be Period Horror without a doubt- Scripts like T&C, Bad Blood and The First tend to see me raise my game and I think it shows (Road to Hell notwithstanding) -I love researching history and trying to get the details right and they educate me at the same time-I knew the year of The Battle of The Little Bighorn in the pub quiz thanks to Scott.
I would love, more than anything in the strip, to do a pure historical- no monsters, no robots. Located in rural England, maybe a Civil War setting? Political machinations, skulduggery but no panto villains, evil being done because people think they're Doing The Right Thing, which is the scariest evil going. Meticulously researched, a grown-up comic strip in the vein of The Massacre could be a very special thing indeed. Start a petition.
And I like colour- it's to the strip what music is to the series.

Moving onto the new series, do you feel the re-appearance of Doctor Who on the telly has helped or hindered the strip? How did you find bringing the real life actresses who played Rose, Martha and Donna to life after being given a free reign with Izzy, Fey, etc? You had quite a break after writing The Flood, was there a reason for that?

I think with a new series it was just felt that the strip should get a new lick of paint too so I was more than happy to see Mike take up the reins. After The Flood finished I felt like I'd been airlifted out of 'Nam. Well, not really, but I did need to lie down in a darkened room for a while and it was nice to read the strip as a consumer once more and not a contributor! It's no great revelation to say that I think the 9th Docs run in comics is patchy- the strip was treading new, corporate ground and I'd imagine there were no-go areas so the freedom previously granted was compromised to a degree. Have you seen how many people smoke in the 8th Doctors run? Have you seen the gallons of blood spattered around proceedings in Tooth and Claw? Those days were over, that's for sure. Nines comic era looks fantastic and The Cruel Sea and Groatsworth are both exceptional but it's not firing on all cylinders yet, that came gradually with Ten's arrival, I think.
I only had one stab at Rose, but I think I got away with it- Martha was far easier to do because she's generically good-looking which is the default setting for comic artists when drawing women. It's a real shame Donna only had a couple of stories to her name in DWM, she was such a fantastic character on TV. She was difficult to capture tbh. Catherine, in her day job, is a master of character acting and can look different in every photo. She's attractive but not conventionally good-looking and it's difficult to capture that. Well, it was to me, Rob Davis made it look ridiculously easy the following month.

Can you give us the rundown on the latest Eleventh Doctor strips? Is working in collaboration with Jonathan Morris as fun as I imagine it would be?

Well, I've just finished the last part of the Axon story The Golden Ones- which I loved doing, what did I tell you about tentacles and goo?- then I'm taking a break for a while, I think the plan is to be back for the culmination of the story arc that Johnny's set in motion but I'll find out for sure nearer the time. I think this is the first multi-part story I've drawn for JM and he certainly wrote around some iconic cliffhangers. Here's another writer who get's Who-I'm incredibly lucky that every author I've worked for has an intrinsic understanding of the shows' form - Comedy, Horror, quintessentially British Sci-fi- it's not something easily achieved. There's no 'Die, hideous creature, die!' dialogue to be found in todays strips!
So, I'm back to the advertising day job for the time being so do forgive me for losing the will to live. You'll be surprised to learn I never get asked to draw aliens masquerading as Japanese tower blocks in that sector of my profession. Their loss.

What do you think stands up as the best overall comic strip in the last decade?

It's been the small one-parters that have impressed me the most, funnily enough- something like Beautiful Freak is an immensely adult story to have inbetween all the SF and technobabble that is usually found in your average Doctor Who story.
I think The Land of Happy Endings is a masterpiece in conception and a love-letter to the Who comic and it was lovely to contribute to it-The Time of My Life is just sublime too. All three heart-tugging, breath-taking stuff. And I have to mention The Flood too, really, which sounds big-headed except that it would've been the definitive Cyberstory whoever drew it.

And what is on the horizon?

Well, I was quite happily drawing up an unpublished Abslom Daak story that Steve Moore wrote for Doctor Who Monthly back in the day-It's to be included in the 2nd volume of the rather wonderful and utterly professional fanzine Vwoorp-Vwoorp, (which no self-respecting Who comics fan should be without) and my old stable-mate Ade Salmon is on colouring duties-Unfortunately I'd done 3 of the 5 pages when The Golden Ones script pinged up in my in-box, onerous deadline an' all, and I had to shelve it so it's back to that. Luckily the chaps at VV have indulged my shocking tardiness for which they have my sincere thanks.

I'm doing it, guys-I'm doing it now!

Martin, thank you so much for taking part.

My pleasure- Happy reading!

1 comment:

  1. Great to read an interview with an artist who's often overlooked.