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

Friday 19 November 2010

Dave Gibbons Q&A

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 really just always wanted to draw comics from the first time that I saw a comic, I just thought they were so good. Such a great way to get an idea over more interestingly than a single picture. You could actually take up somebody’s time with a comic strip. You can get them to look at one picture, and then another picture and another picture and have a narrative effect. I don’t know that I would have put it into so many words but I just thought the fact that you could tell a sequence of events with pictures was great and obviously very economic. You only needed a pen and some paper which fortunately in my house growing up there were lots of pens and paper so that was pretty simple. I had my first Superman comic when I was about seven and probably I’d seen the Eagle even before that and certainly the Beano and the Dandy and kind of nursery comics. I loved the Eagle, I liked the Lion, they were the weekly comics, I liked the wall picture library comics. Once I started to see American comics I loved Mad magazine which was reprinted as comics when I was an impressionable young age and then the imported American comic books, all the Julie Schwartz edited ones…Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League, Mystery in Space, Strange Adventures, Fantastic Four and those kind of stories. And I suppose inevitably you base your style on artists you admire. I loved Frank Hampson’s precise way of drawing, there’s another guy call Ron Turner who used to draw a thing called Rick Random, a space detective, whose designs and brushwork had a huge effect on me. And also from America people like Wally Wood and Will Elder who did work in Mad comic. Generally I think when you’re at an impressionable age you soak everything up like a sponge.

Your first big break was in the first issue of 2000AD, can you tell us something about how that came about? Was your work on Harlem Heroes good practice for what came next?

2000AD had been working for three years or so professionally and it came along at a really good time when a whole load of us who had grown up as comic fans were ready to get going. We were young enough to be enthusiastic and old enough to have the experience necessary. People like myself and Brian Bolland, Mick McMahon, Kevin O’Neill and various others…we were in the right place at the right time. Basically I worked through an agent and one day my agent took me over to IPC and introduced me to Pat Mills who was the editor and everything kind of went from there. The first I knew about it was when I bumped into Mick McMairn, he lived in the same town as me at the railway station and he had a bunch of pencils and paper under his arm. He got to know because they had done an article about me in the local paper and the paper under his arm was the very first Judge Dredd episodes so I knew there was something going on and I’m not sure if I said to my agent that I wanted to be involved in this. It wasn’t very long before being aware of 2000AD than I was actually being signed up for it. They had difficulty finding somebody to try and draw Harlem Heroes the way they wanted, they wanted a clean line superhero look which I was able to contribute. A lot of the other artists they had got had done it in a slightly more clunky kind of way. I guess my love of superhero comics and the fact that I had been drawing a character called Powerman who was like Superman for Nigeria obviously meant that I had the necessary skills set.

Tell us your thoughts on Dan Dare, your artwork for the comic and your love of the original series. You were the most prolific artist for 2000AD contributing artwork for 108 of 131 issues. Do you have any particular examples you are especially proud of?

It was a great thrill to get Dan Dare. It was somewhat of a disappointment that I didn’t have much input into it, it was pretty much a fait accompli by the time it was handed to me. I would have incorporated a lot more of the elements that I loved as a kid. Nevertheless it was a good experience to be associated with that character. I was pretty prolific back in those days, I had just got married and I really needed the money to pay the mortgage! There was a great excitement about 2000AD and I loved to be in it every week. Its weird I’ve been getting these phone book sized reprints and some of the bits I saw I had forgotten about. There was some good stuff but there was some other stuff I had to rush a bit to get it out of the door but I think it was very much a learning experience for me.

Do you remember your first Doctor Who strip? Tell us something about how you got the gig at Doctor Who weekly? 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?

I got a call from the editor up at Marvel UK and they wanted to start Doctor Who and the original idea that it would be pencilled in-house by Paul Leary who was the staff artist and that I would ink it in. I wasn’t very keen on doing that because it was only four pages a week and that wasn’t a complete weeks work, it would have given me some problems so I said I would like to draw the whole thing. Des said that would probably be okay. The other thing I suggested was that Pat Mills and John Wagner write because I knew as a writing team they had submitted stuff to the BBC which hadn’t been successful but they certainly did have quite a few Doctor Who ideas worked out and ready to go. So I got them on board and I think Des really like the coup of having got me and two of 2000AD’s top writers working on Doctor Who. When it went down to being a monthly I had to scrabble about and get some other work and I was able to do that quite easily, they were quite happy to give me work up at 2000AD. Was I fan of Doctor Who? Kind of in the way that most kids were, really to me William Hartnell was the Doctor and I vividly remember watching that in black and white when I was a kid an finding it really creepy. I wasn’t a huge fan of Doctor Who and I must say I’ve got the latest series stacked up on disc on my video recorder but I haven’t really watched any of them yet.

Who was easier to capture in print, the fourth or fifth Doctor? You helped to create the first Doctor Who companion, were you aware of the importance of Sharon at the time? If you could select two examples from the fourth Doctor and one from the fifth Doctor, which strips are you especially proud of and why? You Stockbridge stories have gone on to become some of the most popular Doctor Who strips, what do you think is their enduring appeal? Have you taken a look at subsequent visits to Stockbridge in the eighth and tenth Doctor strips?

Without a doubt the fourth Doctor if that was Tom Baker who was very distinctive; curly hair, big nose whereas Peter Davison was quite bland looking, fair hair, fair eyebrows…kind of a blamange! No disrespect to him but quite a difficult guy to get although after a bit of a disastrous experience without much reference they were kind enough to let us go and take pictures of him at BBC Centre and after that it was a lot, lot easier to draw him. I had a really good library of pictures. Sharon was a good character, Pat Mills suggested her and really interesting late down the line that one of TV Doctor’s gets a black female companion, I don’t know if that was inspired by what we did. I know the people working on the show were big fans of the comic books so…maybe. I really like The Iron Legion, that was a big favourite of mine and The Star Beast…both of the Pat Mills ones I really synched with Pat. I think those were two really strong stories. For the fifth Doctor I think the Tides of Time saga certainly gave us a lot of scope and I was able to try a few interesting graphic effects on that one. (The Stockbridge stories appeal): I think its their Britishness and I think there was a really interesting character we had, the kind of eccentric, dowsing Ufologist on his moped. It had a great sense of humour; Steve Parkhouse is one of the unsung talents of British comics. I haven’t really looked at the subsequent visits, I’ve probably glanced at them in the collections.

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

Back at the beginning Des tried to give me some direction and let me know if he was going to accept it but as an artist you are employed for your vision and unless you’ve done something really wrong, say missed a character out or drawn something absolutely wrong. I like when I’m left alone to get on with the artwork, I think you get the best work like that rather than be micro managed. I always like to talk things over with the writer before I start drawing I think that leads to the best product. The writer has to do the writing and artists have lots of ideas but they don’t always fit with the story that the writer wants to tell and I’ve certainly discovered that since I’ve done some writing myself. I used to get a bit upset that I’d make suggestions to Pat or John and I’d get ‘Good idea Dave, but…’ but now that I write stuff myself I realise that even the very best idea in the world isn’t a good idea unless it fits the story you’re working on. The collaboration is usually that, you chat things over with the writer and you leave them to write and they leave you to draw it.

Since leaving the Doctor Who strip your career has rocketed. Can you tell us something of what you have been up to since then? Superman, Captain America, Watchmen, Star Wars, do you have a favourite comic that you have worked on. Can you tell us something about working with such iconic characters?

I was recruited from Doctor Who to go an work for DC and I started doing back ups for them and then I worked on the Green Lantern league strip and then I did a Superman story with Alan Moore and then I did Watchmen. Then I did various bits and pieces; some short stories for Vertigo, an original graphic novel called The Originals for Vertigo, I’ve written and drawn some Green Lantern stories, I did Marta Washington for Dark Horse with Frank Miller which is just finished and has just come out in a big fat collection which is rather nice to see it all in one place. I did a Star Wars set for them, Captain America…haven’t done much for Marvel, I drew a Dr Strange story which Walt Simonson wrote and I wrote a Captain America story which was beautifully drawn by Lee Weeks, it was kind of a ‘what if the Nazi’s had won the war story.’ Watchmen has been the Everest of my career I suppose and I got a lot of pleasure from doing that. It’s treated me very well since. That Superman annual that I did with Alan Moore Call for the Man who has Everything was a great chance to do the best character with arguably the best writer with arguably the best comic book editor. Certainly my favourite comic book editor, Julie Schwartz. That really was a dream come true. It’s very nice working with iconic characters but it’s a bit like playing with somebody else’s toy box. I think after a while you want to play with your own which is why I was really pleased to do The Originals and certainly anything I will be involved with in the future will be creator owned.

What do you think stands up as the best comic?

I really don’t know. When you’ve been involved with the creation of something quite often the thing you like the best is the thing you’ve had the best experience on and it came out the way you really wanted it. It’s very hard to say what absolutely is the best.
With the reaction that Watchmen has had you would have to go a long way to top that. I’ll sometimes do an odd cover and I’ll think that’s really good, that’s exactly how I wanted it to be, I’m really very proud of that.

And what is on the horizon?

I’m working on a little creator own thing for Dark Horse a short episode of a fragment of an idea that I’ve got. I’m working on a computer game for Revolution Software which I’m really looking forward to, we’ve re-released some of there stuff on the I phone which has done very well and this is again for Casual Games. I’ve also got some ideas in development with some other writer friends of mine. I’ve had a kind of a fallow year since Watchmen but I’ve got a lot of things bubbling under. I met up with Mark Miller the other day just to confirm we are on course to do a creator own series between us. Hopefully all this stuff will be out in 2011.

Dave, thank you very much for your time.

Thursday 11 November 2010

Mike Collins Interview

Mike Collins brings a lot of kudos to the DWM strip thanks to his extensive and fascinating career in comic artistry. He has tackled everything from modern day adventures, historicals, stories set on far flung worlds and even Roy of the Rovers spoofs! His artwork is detailed, sweeping and his reaction shots are second to none.

Mike, 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?
As a kid I loved comics, and still do even though I work in the medium every day. It’s a brilliant, accessible, unlimited style of storytelling. You don’t have to worry about CGI or extras or location shooting- you can tell that sprawling epic story with a pencil on a piece of paper.
I grew up on the UK weeklies of the early 70s- TV21, Countdown, and Look-In, with artists like Frank Bellamy and John M.Burns who would do these amazing double page spreads every week, usually on strips based around my favourite TV shows—the Gerry Anderson puppet shows, or The Tomorrow People. I was always amazed how –in the comics- they just made everything seem bigger and more dramatic. Gerry Haylock I remember drawing Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who in Countdown, and again, separate from the budgetary restraints of the TV show, creating some amazing visuals.

Did you have any particular favourites? Did you base your style on a mixture of others artists work that you admire?
In the mid-late 70s, I got into the US comics particularly Marvel, and got to love the whole drama/soap opera/epic tragedy set up that Stan Lee created. DC never really engaged me as much, they always seemed ‘safe’- Marvel characters had real problems (well, when you’re 13 you respond as though they are) and the stakes were always high—personal lives at the brink because of galaxy shaping events. That mix of the grand and the intimate suckered me in. The art was pretty jaw-dropping too. John Buscema, Gil Kane John Byrne and Jim Starlin were my big heroes, but biggest of all was Neal Adams- he just made the characters seem real, three dimensional. My art was inspired by all those guys. Later on I got into European artists, Bilal and Moebius who had this ragged, hypnotically detailed work which opened my eyes past the very slick American work I’d admired.
I’d say my style is a mix of Adams, Kane, Starlin and Bilal, with the storytelling of John Buscema underpinning it all.

Can you tell us a little about your career before you worked on Doctor Who magazine?
I always drew comics—whether it was strips featuring school teachers as super villains, or my own versions of Marvel’s cosmic heroes like Captain Marvel and Warlock. I always thought I’d draw comics at some point but it always seemed to be a pipe dream. I grew up in West Bromwich and the only thing famous that came from that town were the football team, the Albion, and Wyatt Earp’s parents. It wasn’t ‘til I discovered that John Byrne –a favourite Marvel artist of mine at the time- was actually born in the same town that I thought –hang on, maybe it is possible! I went to University to study Law – my folks wisely reckoning that I stood a better chance of a career in a ‘real’ job, but while at Uni I decided that I didn’t want to be a Barrister who drew Spider-Man on his off days, I just wanted to draw Spider-Man full time.
I used to visit Marvel UK and 2000AD who were both still based in London in the mid-80s, gradually wearing them down and finally got work in the business, writing and/or drawing Spider-Man and Transformers for Marvel, and Slaine and Judge Dredd for 2000AD.

Tell us something about how you got the gig at DWM?
Nightmare Game was my third Who strip as artist. I’d drawn the 7th Doctor and Ace Cyberman story ‘A Good Soldier’ and the long reviled ‘Doctor Conkerer’ for Marvel UK’s younger-readers Hulk comic. I’d also written Profits of Doom featuring Colin Baker, with a fabulous John Ridgway art job.
After Good Soldier I was supposed to do more Who comics but was lured away by DC Comics to write and draw a revival of a old Charlton Comics character ‘Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt’ (In Watchmen his equivalent character is Ozymandias).
I stayed working for the US at Marvel and DC for more than a decade. In 2002-3, my mate David Roach contacted me, wondering if I wanted to take over illustrating the spot illos in DWM which he’d been doing up to that point. I loved the idea, and jumped in- so every four weeks, I do a pic featuring an old Doctor. Good fun. Then, out of the blue, I had a call from Scott Gray asking if I was interested in football. I said ‘not really’ then Scott countered with- ‘how about a Doctor Who story, set in the 70s, where he meets Roy of the Rovers?’. The script was witty, smart and gave me an opportunity to indulge my love of research—sweet-wrappers, billboards, clothing- I spent far too long in books and on the net getting images together. I think it went down well- Clay and Scott wanted me to do more, so that’s a positive.

Were you a fan of Doctor Who or did you come to the show fresh when you started working on it?
I adore Doctor Who, always have. Getting to draw the strip (and write it) is a dream come true. My very first memory of TV is Doctor Who- I can clearly remember seeing a giant William Hartnell head with tiny figures standing in front of him. I was maybe two or three!

How did you find bringing the tricky ninth Doctor to life? There seemed to be a couple of stories where the strip wobbled when the new series kicked in, would you agree with that description or did you taking over as the chief artist on the strip a doddle?
I knew Martin Geragthy wanted a break after his amazing run on the 8th Doctor stories, especially The Flood which stands as one of the best Who stories in any medium, so shameless petitioned Clay and Scott to let me have a crack at the new guy. It was completely bizarre finding out that New Who was going to be based in Cardiff, as I’ve lived here for over two decades! It seemed a natural then that the strip should originate in the same city as the show. I wore Clay and Scott down, and they gave me the opportunity of a lifetime- to draw the adventures of a re-born British institution. I was ridiculously excited at the prospect.
Things were tricky though, because we had the spotlight of the BBC on us- the straightforward we’ll-just-get-on-with-it attitude that had prevailed on the magazine through the wilderness years had gone. Doctor Who coming back was a BIG deal. Previously the magazine just assigned the artists, now –quite rightly- the BBC wanted to make sure the strip reflected well on the new approach the show was taking. Also, actors now had approval on likenesses, so I had to ‘audition’ for Chris and Billie. (As I’ve done for the subsequent Doctors and assistants). Billie was happy right off, but Chris had a problem—I’d drawn him too handsome! All those years drawing for Marvel and DC, I suppose I defaulted to ‘heroic’. With that in mind, I went for a rangier, skinnier look which –yes, I accept- took a couple of issues to settle down-. I think that the final 9th Doctor story, by Gareth Roberts, A Groatsworth of Wit, I had him pretty nailed.

Having drawn and scripted Art Attack do you have to put on two different heads to look at the story from a writer and an artists point of view?
On Art Attack, I’d only seen Rose and End Of The World, so wanted to emulate that ‘breathless’ story in the style of Russell’s scripts—a story that’s immediate, that actually takes place over those 40 minutes you’re watching.
I wanted something that looked big and strange, so not just an art gallery, but an art gallery in a tesseract. I had to submit full script, so yes, Worzel put on his writin’ head, and when I came to draw it I muttered dark thoughts towards the writer, giving me all that complicated stuff to pencil.
A side note there, I introduced the idea of Rose having snuck off a school trip to the Louvre to go visit Parc Asterix. In his Rose timeline in one of the annuals, Russell included this as a detail, so I contributed to the canon, even in a small way.

You tackled five strips in a row for over twelve months. Did you enjoy being the sole artist on the Doctor Who strips or did you sigh with relief when Roger Langridge showed up to pencil The Green-Eyed Monster? I personally found the consistently good artwork and storytelling a real highlight of tenth Doctor’s initial strips. Because of the nature of the television series leading where these characters were going did you find there was a lot of freedom in drawing ‘extra’ adventures or constrained by what you couldn’t do?
I loved the idea of having a run on the strip- it was made new each time by having a fresh writer come on board. I don’t think there’s a bad story in there—each one gave me new tests, new challenges to draw. Having Roger do a fill-in was fine, the story was great, and something I couldn’t have drawn a tenth as well as he did, but I didn’t actually take a break, just shot straight on to the next strip!

You were the first person to give us a peek at what a Sontarans looks like underneath their armour. Was it a thrill to bring such a vivid Doctor Who monster to life in such an epic adventure? You also capture the Tenth Doctor and Rose beautifully, are there plenty of stills to base your drawings on or do you work with what you see on the TV?

I was so happy to draw the Sontarans- they were one of the aliens I used to doodle as a kid! We were able to expand on what we know (very little) of the Sontarans, (the world wasn’t even called Sontar until we mentioned it in the story) and John and Nick’s brilliant idea that if you have a clone society then it makes sense that you’d get defective clones and take it on from there. Thanks for the complements about the likenesses- I only really had the Children in Need skit as reference. I had several episodes of Billie Piper I could get screen grabs of, but for David Tennant it was just that five minute section. I’d bought the Casanova and Blackpool DVDs thinking that’d be good ref but he’s a wholly different person as The Doctor, a total transformation. Quite amazing.

Taking my personal favourite strip that you have pencilled and written, The Futurists can you take us through the typical execution of a Doctor Who comic strip? Are the new series scripts okayed by the production team?
Thanks for that- The Futurists was a story idea I’d been percolating for ages, well several ideas really—I felt that –as I’m based in Wales, just like the production- it’d be great to do a proper Welsh Who story; and I’d also gotten fascinated by the Futurist Movement in Italy. Tying these together, I’d long had this idea that there were ‘regulators’ in the Who universe who set things pretty much back on track after the Doctor had screwed up the timeline- (and I’d submitted this plot before Paul Cornell’s Fathers Day story with the Reavers had aired) so what became of them when the Time Lords went away? The Futurists were from Italy, so linking them with the Roman Occupation of Wales was a straight line, if not a chronological one. I pitched it to Scott and Clay who liked the idea- I did a couple of revisions to the outline, and resubmitted. The key to me for the story was Valente, the African Roman Auxiliary who had come to believe wholly in the noble ideal or Rome. It’s his humanity that drives the story and the way Althea struggles with her love for the morally compromised Giovanni, himself as much of a true believer as Valente. I wanted to get some of that cosmic/interpersonal conflict I’d loved in my 70s Marvel comics across here. I’d also mapped out whole sequences with the Silures that wouldn’t fit for time and space considerations- where you’d have found that the tribe was actually led by Mererid who –with Rose- leads the fightback against the Romans in the third episode.
DHM then sent the revised outline on to Russell who gave us the thumbs up, and then I got on with scripting the first episode. When that was approved by all, I started drawing it –at the same time, getting on with the script to part two. So for a couple of months I bounced between writer and artist, sometimes on the same day.

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 team is hands on—I submit thumbnails of each page and Scott will get back with tweaks and changes he feels will punch up the art, give it more impact; I then do full pencils, and submit them for approval. Occasionally there are changes at this stage too but usually it’s just making sure the likenesses are consistent and the story reads well. The inks on Doctor Who are done by David Roach who I’ve worked with for over twenty years, so we’ve developed a shorthand for working. The colours are by James Offredi who is hands-down one of the best I’ve ever worked with. When David and I got offered A Christmas Carol I ‘took’ James with me, I rate him so highly.

Your artwork on The Woman Who Sold the World was astonishingly detailed and vivid. How long do you get to work on a script that is so packed with vibrant ideas?
Not long enough? Rob Davis had written with such an √©lan and a visual clarity (he’s also an artist) that I took the ball and ran with it. Really, I should have thought through how I designed the buildings in that city, realizing I’d have to keep re-drawing them. I have shelves of reference, books on Greek and Roman architecture, and I’d recently visited Paris and was awed by the scale and scope of the buildings there. I wanted to get across that alien-baroque feel that Rob’s script called for.

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?
The Cruel Sea remains my favourite New Who story. I adored Rob’s script, and the way –particularly in the last chapter- he played with levels of reality using comic conventions –going from realistic, to animated style, to out and out cartoony, was just genius. It was the first time working with James and he did a dazzling job. David’s inks are also top-of-his-game. Scriptwise I think A Groatsworth of Wit is the best written, and gave me opportunities to draw some brilliant sequences, but Cruel Sea is my favourite. Dunno if there’s one I’d go back and re-do, I think they all have strengths. My one regret is we never got to ‘break’ my Thomas More in Space story. It went through several revisions, initially a Martha story, then a Donna one, but me, Clay and Scott just couldn’t get it to work. A pity, as there are some great set pieces in there, and some funny lines... but if the story doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.

You dip into the comic strips now maybe once a year. Was that a conscious decision?
I think I was giving Clay and Scott heart palpitations every month as I used up all the deadline time to get the best work out there. At the same time, I’d had offers to do other projects which I couldn’t take in all conscience without screwing up Who schedules. This happily coincided with Scott and Clay and Tom deciding that, after having many writers and one art team, they wanted to mix up the art styles, and go with one writer and many artists. And hopefully easy the deadline rush each issue!
Since coming off Doctor Who regularly, I’ve worked on A Christmas Carol, TV storyboarding, a series of Norwegian graphic novels, Judge Dredd for 2000AD and other side projects. I still get a kick out of drawing Who, and am more than happy to pencil strips that they think I’ll suit. I was thrilled be asked to draw Matt Smith’s first adventure for the magazine. At the same time, I was drawing Only Good Dalek for BBC Books, so I was working full time on Doctor Who for two publishers at once earlier this year!

Of all the various Doctors and companions you have gorgeously brought to life which would be your favourite in each camp?
I think Matt Smith looks brilliant- as a comic artist, his face is a gift. I enjoyed drawing David Tennant though the problem I had with him is, he’s too pretty! You can’t put too many lines on his face, as you age him too much. Eccleston was great when I got him sorted. A couple of times Clay would ring up and point out when my likenesses were off – I remember one shot of the 9th that looked like Bruce Forsythe, and one of Tennant early on that looked more like Willie Carson!
For the assistants- well, they’re all great (although I missed the chance of drawing Donna) but my favourite is Rose. Billie Piper has a gorgeous face to draw. Easiest to draw is Amy, as she looks a hell of a lot like my youngest daughter.

Mike, thank you ever so much for your time.
My pleasure! x

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Fire and Brimstone written by Alan Barnes with Pencils by Martin Geraghty

Fire and Brimstone did have a lot of good stuff in there but it was let down by quite a disapointing ending - or the last part to be exact. Putting The Keep in context with F & B makes the former story more interesting in retrospect and does give the location some nice backstory. Not only that but Alan Barnes once again flirts with some very interesting ideas, specifically the outrageous plan of the Daleks to tear through into alternative universes and terrorise. With a plan like that their ethnic cleansing of the universe need never end. I also loved the idea of those horrid Dalek bugs that came flying through and that the Daleks could justifiably be scared by their counterparts in another dimension.

Also it is a great showing for Izzy who gets to enjoy her first multi part epic and being taken away from the Doctor by the Threshold gets to comment on the action with some acidic quips. Its nice to see her and the Doctor thinking about their adventure on the very last page, for once you get a real sense of a relationship building and some interesting reflection. Plus the eighth Doctor continues to thrill in ink, stepping up to the Daleks without fear and being exterminated for his troubles!

However there were some gaping flaws in this story as well...for something that was supposed to be so epic it feels remarkably contained to a few rooms and we see very little Dalek force. We learn nothing at all about the bug Daleks from the other dimension and the revelation that the Time Lords were behind all this comes out of no where and is unexplained. Although it is another taster for the oncoming Time War. I know very little about the Threshold as well which left me behind when they showed up...there were plenty of reminders about The Keep and the backstory built there but nothing about the Threshold.

Although the artwork is typically good the story does not leave the same sort of opportunities as the first few stories.
There is so much going on that the sense of movement was jarring - the story switch from location to location with dizzying speed. Perhaps The Keep was twice the length it should have been but there was a definate sense of narrative - here its like reading a script its so choppy. I didn't think the Daleks looked that great either and there was a long shot of the hub on page 71 where they look like fake dapol model Daleks! Plus the eyestalks looked wierd with veins running through them. However the opening shot of part three, that impressive full page shot of the Doctor surrounded by Daleks, is beautifully futurisitic and captures the location very well and the various bug attacks are apropriately nasty.

A mixed bag then but it certainly has its moments, all of the cliffhangers left me wanting to read the next part so they were definately doing their job well. But I think with a little less action and a little more explanation this could have been much better: 6/10

Friday 5 November 2010

A Matter of Life and Death written by Alan Barnes with Pencils by Sean Longcroft

I found A Matter of Life or Death to be a fun and quirky piece of nonsense. Initially I was put off by the very different artwork of Sean Longcroft (working with Martin Geraghty) because it looked far more childish, less filmic than the two strips I have already read. The shading seems a lot less impressive and hence the whole thing has a slightly 2D feel to it, whereas Endgame and The Keep almost look like stylishly depicted live action. However as I continued it seems to suit the style of the story quite well and when I came across that truly barmy (and utterly delicious) shot of the space octopus wrapping its tentacles around the TARDIS in space I was sold. The Doctor walking down the platform to confront the horrible great squid with its protubences worming their way into the ship was extremely powerful and the shot of the good guys and the bad guys squaring off against each other was brilliantly chaotic.

Barnes' premise is fantastic, a faux Doctor and Izzy taking on a evil squid, both sides using characters from the Doctor's past. I only wish I could have spotted more characters that I knew! The only two that jumped out at me were the fabulous Beep the Meep (I know him from a Big Finish freebie) and the first black companion Sharon. Dare anybody have a look and tell me who else was there and what strips they hail from or is that a task too monumental? Perhaps once I have read a lot more of the comics I can revisit and bask in the nostalgia of the story.

Absolute madness but great fun: 8/10

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.

Tuesday 2 November 2010

The Keep written by Alan Barnes with pencils by Martin Geraghty

What to make of The Keep. I'm certainly glad they didn't start the eighth Doctor's era with this story simply because it feels more like a prologue to a larger, more involving story...and then after taking a quick glance at Alan Barnes' notes I discovered that it was! It's a odd little segment which has a number of lovely ideas - an artificial sun, humanity's last breath - but fails to go anywhere remotely interesting with them. The ending is so abrupt I thought I had skipped a few pages - the Doctor and Izzy head off and so does the human race and none of the characters are given any real depth or consideration. The most interesting moment comes as Izzy cries for the Doctor at the begining of the second part, trapped away from home and having lost the only man who could take her back.

However the artwork is as good as Endgame, even if it is no where near as imaginative (due to the darker nature of the story). There is another terrific high angle shot looking over the shoulders of the mercinaries as they stare down at the chained Doctor and Izzy. The Doctor ecstatic in the void of an artificial sun is really vivid too. Look at how angry those shadows make the Doctor on page 48. And the last five frames are astonishingly graphic for a comic strip.

Its not so much a narrative as a quick glance at period in Earth's history before we return to it in a later story. You couls snip one part and have this as a one part tasty teaser: 5/10

Monday 1 November 2010

Endgame written by Alan Barnes and Pencils by Martin Geraghty

Well that was...good! Endgame seemed to come alive with real pizzaz unlike other comics I have tried to read in the past. I have always skipped over the comic strip in Doctor Who magazine - the only one I can ever remember reading involved Liz Shaw and as she drove up to a house there was an almighty explosion in the window - that's all I can remember! Oh and something about cows in spacesuits on the moon! There is something about having this in a graphic novel format, rather than sandwiched between the pages of Doctor Who magazine where I am far more interested in the reviews (obviously) and the news about the new series.

And can I say what a genuine thrill it was to see the 8th Doctor in action! He springs of the page as a force of nature, an action hero and looks fantastic! And what about those gorgeous depictions of the TV Movie TARDIS console room? There was one absolutely stunning frame drawn from above looking down on the Doctor and Izzy entering the TARDIS that was practically photographic. How nice to see this blind alley of the TV series given some life visually.

The story itself was great fun and its always nice to see the Celestial Toymaker back. Not being a comic strip veteran myself I can't imagine they are always as whacky as this but the surreal machinations of the Toymaker give the artist a real chance to go to town with some truly wierd and freaky imagery. That page filled underlit shot of the Toymaker holding the snowglobe was terrifying and even worse those horrible cracked faced dolls approaching the Doctor and Izzy are enough to give you nightmares! I loved how on page 25 there was a frame that stretched the entire length of the page to suggest the never ending staircase they are climbing. My favourite two panels would have to be the Toymaker opening his arms and screaming 'Welcome to my Domain!' - how vivid is that location in black and white, especially with the chess board motif and also the creepy shot of the evil Doctor with rosy cheeks and blank eyes advancing on our Doctor. Brrrr.

I'm not too sure about Izzy yet as the story concentrates on its whacked out concepts rather than focusing on characterisation but that was a nice touch with her adoptive parents and she certainly seems capable enough. I thought she found the interior dimensions of the TARDIS a little too easy to grasp, though! Nobody seems terribly impressed these days.

Overall something or a minor triumph...a comic strip that has whetted my apetite for more! And with Simon's grudging assent (dont'cha just love him...he can see huge loss of earnings now I have found another Doctor Who media to explore) I have ordered the 2nd, 3rd and 4th volumes. Correct me if im worng but that makes nearly 1000 pages of new adventures to read! Happy days: 8/10