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Wednesday, 3 November 2010

John Ross interview

John Ross was a fresh artist to Doctor Who magazine during the eighth Doctor’s comic strip era and blazed onto the scene with the gripping, almost monochrome historical interlude, Me and My Shadow. He has since taken us back to Ophidius and gave the Doctor an exotic location to capture Destrii and drag her after Izzy to swap their bodies back. He then took on the crazy outer space madness of Sins of the Fathers allowing the Doctor to mingle amongst a menagerie of alien creatures. Since then he has gone to become the main artist for the Doctor Who Adventures magazine.

John, thank you very much 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?

I was a big comics fan from about the age of 9 when I discovered the UK Spider-Man weekly. From there, I moved on to buying US comics and loved artists like John Romita, Jack Kirby, Ross Andru, John Byrne, George Perez, Gil Kane, John Romita, Jr., Alan Davis etc, etc. When I started drawing myself, I was influenced by all of these guys plus loads more.

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? Did you have some detailed background about the characters of Fey and Destrii?

Scott Gray was responsible for getting me onto DWM. I’d been doing a lot of work for Panini ( Spectacular Spider-Man Adventures, Action Man and bits and pieces in other titles), when Scott asked me to do covers for the Panini Marvel US reprints which he was editing. A bit later he asked if I wanted to do the “Me and my Shadow” strip. It’s a time period I’m particularly interested in and I loved Scott’s story so I jumped at the chance. I’d watched some Doctor Who when I was younger but I wasn’t what you’d call a major fan. That wasn’t really a problem though, Scott’s scripts were tight enough that there was no chance of mis-interpretation. And we’d have long phone conversations about the storyline and characters. If I remember correctly, Scott sent me his character sketches for Fey and Destrii which had a fair bit of info about them too. Plus, I was sent copies of all the DWM strips for about the previous 2 years.

Was it exciting to tackle a historical adventure? Did you have to research the weaponry, uniforms and landscapes of the War or did you go with your gut instinct? What did you think of the finished strip in those gorgeous pastel colours?

Yes, it’s always a challenge drawing anything historical. Fortunately I have an old school mate who is obsessed by military history and he did all the research for me. Unfortunately, because of time constraints, I didn’t have the luxury of going through all his paperwork and getting all the details spot on. Sometimes you just have to do the best you can under the circumstances. The circumstances at the time were that I was doing a heck of a lot of work and in comics, everything has to be done by yesterday! Roger’s colours were very atmospheric and really added to the whole effect. I’ve got fond memories of working on that one and seeing the finished product.

You really got to bring sexy back to the strip with Ouroborus, painting the Doctor in a romantic setting and dressing down Izzy’s body as a mock Amazonian babe. Was it a lot of fun to take the characters to a more exotic location and have some fun with the Doctor and Destrii playing in the mud? You draw a damn sexy eighth Doctor and Izzy – was that deliberate in such a cheeky story for them? You really capture the vengeful Doctor beautifully, piercing blue eyes and clenched teeth, what did you think of the way the script portrayed him so unforgivingly.

It was a relief to have an alien jungle setting after having reference papers all over my desk for “Me and my Shadow”! And alien jungles are always good fun, you can just go mad with it. The mud wrestling scene was one of my favourites ;-) Because of my background being mainly in superhero comics, I suppose I naturally draw characters in a slightly sexy way. I don’t remember Scott specifically asking for me to spice it up a notch… but he did stress the importance of how the Doc should look and act. He’s pretty fed up in this one and there should be no doubt about that. So I did my best to make him look fairly intense in the appropriate places. I like that the Doctor has this side to him which comes out occasionally and I think it works perfectly in this situation. It was also a nice change for me to do the quieter scenes – up to that point I’d been drawing all out action stuff for about 6 years in my other jobs with not much emphasis on the “human interaction” side of things. There were some particularly nice scenes in most of the DWM strips I did. In fact, the “Bus Stop” strip I did with Rob Davis was a great example of this.

You seem to be the artist that is picked on to draw the ‘interlude’ stories, the stories that get the characters from A to B – you got Fey and Destrii to Oblivion and took on the challenge of turning Destrii’s fortunes around in Sins of the Fathers. Would you have liked to have taken on one of the longer, cornerstone adventures?

It would have been great to do one of the longer story arcs, but it’s a lot of pressure committing to that amount of work over a long period of time. During that period I had a heavy workload, not only with Panini but other companies too. To be honest it was never an issue cos they never asked me ;-) Mind you, I did do 5 months straight on it, with “Shadow” and “Uroborus” back to back.

How much involvement do the various editors have in the artwork? How much of 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?

The DWM team are passionate about the strip and have definite ideas about how it should look. They go over everything meticulously at every stage. Firstly, I’d do very rough layouts which would have to be approved by Scott and Clay. Then, onto finished pencils which were also sent for approval. I think I got it right most of the time so there weren’t a great deal of changes. Scott would always call me up after I’d sent something in and chat about what worked and what didn’t. It’s always valuable getting feedback like this, it clarifies what it is that’s required and you’re better equipped as a result. I’d ink it after that and hand it over to the colourist without any advice, they’re much better at it than me.

Looking back over your work 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?

I’m just happy to have contributed to such a great long running mag. I’d like to do “Me and my Shadow” again, only make it about 4 times as long with more of a fleshed out storyline. And I’d like to have a year or so to do it so I can get everything as good as I can. In most of the work I’ve done there are bits I like and bits I don’t. Generally, I’d pretty much like to re-do everything!

Can you tell us about the gig on the DWA magazine? Do you find that because the mag is aimed at a younger audience that you have to censor your work or does it force you to be more imaginative? Do you have any particular favourites?

It’s a few years ago now, but I think the BBC asked the DWM team for a recommendation… and I ended up with the job. I’ve done 194 DWA issues up ‘til now, so I’ve got a slightly better idea of what the Doc is all about. Because I’ve a lot of experience in the “younger audience” market, I usually know what is and isn’t acceptable. It’s not that this forces you to be more imaginative, you just have to focus on different things, such as dynamics and scary rather than pushing a bit more of the violent, dark side to the forefront. And the storytelling always has to be crystal clear, which is something I’ve always aimed for anyway. Sometimes I do self-censor – with it being a weekly strip, everything has to be done at high speed and there’s not a great deal of time to go back and re-do things. So I’ll ask the Editors or if it’s a fairly minor thing, I’ll use my own initiative. There have been a lot of great stories in there, too many to name them all. Some things that spring to mind are the old lady taking her monster for a walk, a wise old daft centipede, an alien with a “kiss-me-quick” hat who doesn’t like tourists, the Doc and Amy in rubbish Halloween costumes, the 10th Doctor’s last farewell, an old lady trapped in a greenhouse surrounded by man-eating plants, the Doc in the Victorian era having a nice cuppa and a slice of cake, stories set in Edinburgh, Manchester, Central London, 1950s Chicago, 1960s Carnaby Street, a pregnant alien on a tank, Oscar Wilde and the Vampires, the Lava Men, Russell T Davies as President, good robots, bad robots, police robots, cleaning robots, ghost robots, ghosts, haunted houses, private detectives, one with a bomb attached to his mum etc etc etc etc. The list is almost endless.

Can you let us know what we can expect from you in the future?

More DWA strips, I’ll keep on doing them for as long as they want me to. I do various other things, for example, I recently teamed up with Scott Gray again for a 14 page Spider-Man strip which will be in the Christmas issue of Panini’s “Marvel Heroes”. It was cool working with Scott again, and I got to draw Spider-Man and a load of Marvel heroes up against a load of Marvel villains. I go to the occasional convention and I’ll be at the one in Cardiff in February 2011 signing for DWA. I might be doing some sketches too.

John thank you for your time.

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