Practitioners 9: Grant Morrison

As a catch up for all new visitors to Beyond the Bunker, we’ll be representing the original Practitioners series 1-55 (Simon BisleyChris Bachalo and featuring the most influential comic creatives in history). Thoroughly incomplete but featuring legends like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Frank Miller and Alan Moore already more will be hitting the site every two alternate weeks. For now though, sit back every Tuesday for a run-down of the men and women who created the comic industry we know today. (Or check the full list in the menus above). This week: Global comics megastar and frustrated visionary; Grant Morrison.

All Star Superman 6 (DC, 2006)

Grant Morrison is a scottish comic book writer and playwright born 31 January 1960 who harnesses and embraces the full power of literature, psychology, history, science and mixes it all with an acute awareness of readership and popular culture. Sending Frankenstein to a land at the end of human experience and standing Wolverine and Sabretooth at the urinals of the Hellfire Club in the pursuit of perfect storytelling in comic books, drawing on a bewildering array of sources to bring forth writing that elevates and encourages its readership with rich language and deep, irony laced ideas of impossible futures and near unrecognisable presents, outer dimensions and the end of many worlds. Due to leave comic books at the end of his run with Batman, Morrison’s legacy will be one that lasts.

All Star Superman

Never scared of the poignant or the difficult Morrison has the canny knack of shifting seamlessly from the scientific explanation of a Voyager Titan mentally preparing to be launched into deep space for centuries in All Star Superman to the very real failure of Scott Summers to retain his marriage in the wake of post traumatic stress he is unable to express in New X-Men. It his acknowledgment of the need to ground – at least to the degree required for a readers’ mind if not in real terms – absurd statements and events with less abstract and more concise human situations and scenarios, underpinning everything with realistic and recognisable reactions.

He achieves this while still understanding the bare bones of comic book storytelling – still revelling in the idea of superheroes and extreme science fiction and (occasionally) magic. Elevating the subject matters though he does, he knows at all time who he is speaking to – and speaks as one of them, only with greater authority and verve.

He recognises, as all great writers perhaps do – no matter how many stars and space cannons are exploding around the main characters – that it is the individual humanity carefully identified by the writer that each character demonstrates that pins the story to the ground and allows it to resonate with the reader. In the same way that horror relies on the reactions of the participants, Morrison crafts insane worlds that are either (mostly) wholly accepted by its participants or accepted begrudgingly by them. The level of disbelief is relieved most of all by Morrison’s dialogue in which central, authoritative figures matter of factly describe high end science fiction ideas in lyrical and poetic language that causes the reader to wish it were so and, more subtly, believe it is possible. Using real science, meticulously applied and expanded upon, Morrison creates ephemeral worlds on solid foundations, allowing a degree of believability. The idea that Lex Luthor keeps a trained Baboon dressed as Superman in his cell for instance relies on the idea that reinforces Luthor as a genius, capable of manipulating his environment and the malign patience required to train a baboon and the influence to get the materials required. This falls into Morrison’s third greatest trick; an astonishing array of subtext and context to all of his characters. This is demonstrated beautifully, with the realisation that Luthor has a cavernous escape route available at any time through a trap door in his cell. His character is yet further reinforced as Kent is met at the base of stone stairs by an ambiguously aged girl in mild S&M uniform, piloting a Gondola on an underground lake. The iconography involved draws in sexual ambiguity (what is Luthor’s relationship to the girl – later uncovered as his niece, possibly for matters of taste), themes of power and influence and the mythology of the river Styx, as the innocent Kent is slowly taken back out to the living world. This may seem overly detailed and analytical but Morrison is at least that referential. His notes to his artists perhaps second only to the great Alan Moore.

His pacing and use of character is impeccable as he inhabits the mindset and responses of all of his characters – no matter how peripheral. It is in these reactions as Lex Luthor remains steadfastly oblivious to the possibility that Clark Kent has saved him as a prison riot rages around them in All Star Superman – assuming, naturally, that he has the situation well under control when in fact Kent continues to use an array of powers beyond his notice to ease his passage and even save him from a blundering Parasite. Kent remaining true to the honest and unassuming character of Superman to great comic effect.

Arcadia Byron of the Invisibles (Vertigo)

Morrison’s first published works were Gideon Stargrave for the brilliantly titled Near Myths in 1978 at the age of 17. Soon followed Captain Clyde, an out of work superhero for the Govan Press, a local newspaper in Glasgow, plus various issues of DC Thomson’s Starblazer, the sister title to the companies Commando title and the New Adventures of Hitler. He spent much of the early 80s touring with his band The Mixers, putting out the odd Starblazer and Zoids strip for DC Thomson.

In 1982 he submitted a proposal for a storyline involving the Justice League of America and Jack Kirby’s New Gods entitled Second Coming to DC. It was dismissed but his fascination of the New Gods no doubt formed the skeleton of the enormous Final Crisis saga in which Darkseid launches armageddon on an unsuspecting world in a second age of the New Gods using Earth and its inhabitants as hosts and demonic incubators. His desire to write DC’s primary superhero group was no doubt sated with his long run on JLA in 1996 to revamp the team and bring it up to date which he pulled off with Rock of Ages, Earth 2 and World War 3 (in no particular order).

At every stage he proved time and time again that he expanded the material handed to him – writing for 2000AD with Big Dave, Future Shocks and the unusually superhuman for 2000AD – Zenith under his wing before his tenure at DC.

The Filth with Grant Morrison and Gary Erskine (2003)

Upon crossing the Atlantic he demonstrated immediately his capacity for reinventing fringe characters and enhancing them beyond the original idea – taking the near unknown fringe character Animal Man and not only imbuing his character with the real reactions of a man who could channel the powers and thoughts of animals nearby to him but forced him to look through the fourth wall at the reader – breaking the indefinable rules of the medium in the process to brilliant effect.

Morrison is known for treating mainstream established titles in the same way as fringe titles and this has earned him a status as the great re-inventor in Modern comics. He was the man to make Scott Summer’s cool again as he took hold of the X-men universe and rang the life out of it – a process he tried to make un-reconnable – Killing 16 Million Mutants and giving Professor Xavier an unborn, evil sister who returns as a mind slug and unleashes the Shi’ar navy all over the mansion. Introducing a cavalcade of new Mutants some as hilariously and poignantly useless as ‘Beaky’ the featherless, beaked bird boy who batters in the head of the newly uber-feline and faux gay Beast. Jean Grey dies but for once is given no reason to return – as psychic hyper-bitch and new headmistress of Xavier’s Emma Frost sways Scott Summer’s exhausted heart, filling the emotional vacancy usually left by Phoenix every time she summarily carks it. Magneto is beheaded after destroying half of Manhattan and Xavier’s approaches an actual curriculum and focusses on its students for the first time in its history.

Jean and the Beast (New X-Men, 2002)

Morrison often – whether intentionally or not – represents the discussion boards and blogs of the fans – testing theories that are discussed hypothetically on public pages that no one expected to see them on. Batman is killed and returned and given a son in Morrison’s watch. Jason Todd effectively returns breaking the almighty unwritten rule of comic books – partly you suspect out of sheer bloody mindedness. Morrison finally being characteristically brave to investigate the reality of Dick Grayson under the cowl.

Dick Grayson as Batman (Batman, 2009)

The content of his independent titles have become mainstream – for good or ill – leaving many readers of Final Crisis utterly confused as to what was taking place – an abstract Superman tale in which he passes through multiverses in order to combat an abstract thought form made real in storytelling in an ephemeral world populated by reality vampires via a limbo championed by an indifferent Woody Allen-alike in a jesters outfit in order to save Lois Lane in between her penultimate and final heartbeat borders on the lunatic – but is incredibly detailed and worth the three reads it takes to fully grasp the deliberately overlapping realities thrown at it.

Morrison clearly found a like mind in penciller Frank Quitely, bringing to life the inner workings of Professor X’s mind in New X-Men, the gnarled and diseased but lithely libidoed geriatric in Lust for Life from Jamie Delano’s 2020 Visions (Speakeasy comics, 2005), scraping by each other by two volumes of the Authority – Morrison on Volume 4 with Gene Ha and Quitely on Volume 2 with Mark Millar, empowered the new JLA with a little much-needed modern sheen in the book of the same name in the early naughties and reinvented the greatest super hero of them all in All-Star Superman.

But it was WE-3, the story of three prototype ‘animal weapons’ as they flee the project that ‘enhanced’ them encapsulates the creative partnership. Morrison was meticulous as ever with his descriptions and insisted on consistent and protracted revisions of minute details from Quitely in order to produce a work of rare and fine quality. This certainly was achieved as it was released via Vertigo imprint in 2004 to public and critical acclaim. Morrison’s subtlety and nuance of character supplied each of the fleeing and desperate central characters; a rabbit; a cat and a dog a bewilderingly believable character each recognisable as an individual and the drives and psychology of the animal in question. Morrison’s capacity for invention supplied the narrative with a relatively basic speech pattern simulator for each of the animals allowing them to emote through limited cognitive language in a way not human but beyond its species. The effect is a dizzying, gripping and poignant story of extreme science inflicting havoc and chaos on three innocents’ lives – each reacting in their own very specific way. In many ways WE3 is exceptional and as near perfect as a comic book can get because it uses – perhaps most transparently and as such to best effect – Morrison’s greatest creative methodology – to recognise inherent and recognisable characteristics in vulnerable and capable beings and then inflict seven hells of pseudo lunacy on them – in whatever form seems most fun!

We3 (2004, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

Most recently, Morrison has become devoutly lambasted for his incredible work in the Batman titles; killing Batman himself, replacing him with Dick Grayson, who struggles with the responsibility of the cowl. The hardened purists in the DC readership continued to make life harder and harder for Morrison to ply his trade. That, combined with his increasingly bizarre statements about his influence and involvement in the comics industry have begun to slow the genius down. His ideas were beginning to outgrow a perhaps more commercially minded DC as it tries to keep up with it’s Red banner rival, Marvel. Increasingly limited in the titles he has been permitted to write, Morrison announced recently that he will be leaving the comics industry behind, citing specifically the antagonising nature of the hardened fan – who actively denounce any major creative changes in the writing of any major character – irrespective of sales or popularity among the general public. This is an enormous loss to the industry and should not be underestimated. Wild card though he was, Morrison was a comic book loving wild card, determined to bring innovation and broad ideas to a fairly staid and unchanging medium. This is the man who finally killed Batman, deified Superman and killed 6 million mutants in 1 issue. Let his comics epitaph read; ‘went down fighting, but took a lot of characters with him.’

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Practitioners 8: Chris Weston

As a catch up for all new visitors to Beyond the Bunker, we’ll be representing the original Practitioners series 1-55 (Simon BisleyChris Bachalo and featuring the most influential comic creatives in history). Thoroughly incomplete but featuring legends like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Frank Miller and Alan Moore already more will be hitting the site every two alternate weeks. For now though, sit back every Tuesday for a run-down of the men and women who created the comic industry we know today. (Or check the full list in the menus above). This week: British Genius, Master Draftsman and flag bearer of old and more traditional comic book art, Chris Weston.

Chris Weston – one of the more understated and unreknowned master draftsmen of English comics – was born in January 1969 in Rintein, Germany and lived in various countries as a child. Things changed for him in 1987 when he came to be apprenticed for a year under Don Lawrence, one of the first generation of UK comic book artists and reknowned for meticulously detailed work that is said to have inspired Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons. Under Don Lawrence’s tutelage Weston gained an insight into the skills that would make him a quiet mainstay of the UK comics scene securing himself a position on the high beam of Judge Dredd under John Wagner in ‘ A Night at the Circus’ in 1988. His arrival in the British comic circuit was complete.

An assured, meticulous and precise artist he appears at first glance a draftsman before he can be considered an artist. The clarity and realism of his images denoting a controlled and technical skill in advance of most other people in his field. However, perhaps more so than his two counterparts – Bolland and Gibbons – Weston has a wry humour that spills out of his panels and a fierce and aggressive imagination that is enhanced by his realism and precision. As a result he has managed to keep up with some of the sharpest and most consistently abstract minds in the medium.

Predominantly working within DC, Wildstorm and DC Thompson titles he has crossed the atlantic several times to team up with Mark Millar on Swamp Thing, brought the hyper-abstract to life acceptable to the Human eye with on the critically acclaimed The Invisibles with Grant Morrison. His ability to imbed real human feeling to the exceptional has since seen him tackling the most popular fringe titles be published in Starman (DC), JSA (DC), Lucifer (DC) and The Authority (Wildstorm) – in which he had the chance to kill the Pope with a train carriage, consume Manhattan Island in a Super-Tsunami and send a gay pseudo Super-man to the centre of the Earth.

The Filth with Grant Morrison and Gary Erskine (2003)

Arguably, one of his greatest works was when reunited with Grant Morrison on The Filth, a 13 Issue Limited Series inked by his regular inker Gary Erskine. Within the run Weston brought to life Human Size Super-sperms rampaging on the streets of San Francisco, super intelligent scuba dolphins, landscapes made of porn and Human skin, a microcosm super Earth, pseudo maniacal Filth uniforms, vehicles and architecture including a precise and beautifully well realised Gilbert and George running things behind closed doors.

Panel after panel of awe inspiring back drops and mindblowing lunatic spectacle that few artists have managed to create. The intention of The Filth was its blending of both real world and super-states that most Super-hero or other comic books aim to create and illustrate the inner mind of Morrison something only the most adept of artists could begin to cope with. It attacks the idea and it is hard to imagine any other artist who could draw you in to the protagonist injecting his cat, pained at causing it discomfort in a non-descript and run down semi detached somewhere in South London and a Super Intelligent Chimp taking pot shots at the President of the United States – now with bitch tits – on the deck of an enormous city-ship the size of thirty city blocks (a scale he realises in one of the most impressive double page spreads in comic book history in which the aforementioned super-ship is docked in Venice – all decks accounted for and surrounded by the city itself, helicopters and boats and ships.

It is in this that Weston illustrates beautifully the disparity between the work of the artist and work of the writer. While Morrison is highly detailed in his descriptions with Weston if you say ‘a building in the background’ you will get a building correct for its geography and setting, period and price and you’ll get it with every brick visible. Weston rests his feet firmly in both fields of draftsmanship and illustration. Realising ideas most artists would struggle with for page after page within a single panel, succinctly, incredibly accurately and always entertainingly. Absurdity and reality as bedfellows in the mind of a true artist.

A scene from The Filth (2003)

Practitioners 22: Dave Gibbons Pt 2

Following on from part 1 from earlier in the week, we continue taking a look at the work of Dave Gibbons. In Part 1 we took a glance at the Gibbon’s beginnings with 2000AD and IPC and his rise (alongside Alan Moore) to create the Watchmen the only graphic novel to be included in Time’s ‘Top 100 Novel’s list’. This time, Tales of the Black Freighter, the Watchmen Movie and Green Lantern.

A shot from Tales of the Black Freighter (2009) originally by Moore and Gibbons


At the beginning of the 1990’s Gibbons began to focus as much on writing and inking as on drawing, contributing to a number of different titles and issues from a variety of different companies. Highlights from all of this include writing the three-issue World’s Finest miniseries for artist Steve Rude, while drawing Give Me Liberty (following a girl from the projects in a dystopian future through to her becoming an American hero) for writer Frank Miller and Dark Horse comics. Perhaps less known is that he penned the first Batman Vs Predator crossover for Andy and Adam Kubert and inked Rick Veitch and Stephen R Bissette for half of Alan Moore’s 1963 Image Comics series (1993).

Rejoining Frank Miller in mid-1994 on Martha Washington Goes to War, and the following year writing the Elseworlds title Kal for Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, melding Arthurian legends to the Superman ethos in an alternate DC Universe. Proving his capacity again as an auteur, in Marvel Edge’s Savage Hulk #1 (Jan 1996), Gibbons wrote, penciled, inked, colored and lettered “Old Friends,” a version of the events of Captain America #110 from the point of view of the Hulk. In 1996 and 1997, Gibbons collaborated with Mark Waid (and Jimmy Palmiotti) on two issues of the Amalgam Comics character “Super-Soldier,” a character born from the merging of the DC and Marvel Universes after the events of the 1996 intercompany crossover DC vs. Marvel/Marvel vs. DC. He continued on working on many other covers, one-shots and minor works for the rest of the ’90s including the Alan Moore Songbook and the first issue of Kitchen Sink Press’ The Spirit: the New Adventures. He pencilled and inked Darko Macan’s 4-issue Star Wars: Vader’s Quest miniseries for Dark Horse.

A reworking of Gibbon's original panel design (1988) from Watchmen (2009) on which Gibbons advised


In December 2001 Gibbons helped Stan Lee’ reimagine’ the Green Lantern in the pages of Just Imagine… Stan Lee creating Green Lantern. (Why exactly it was necessary to give the creator of Spider-man, Fantastic Four, X-Men and the like another imaginary credit is hard to glean but Gibbons was the choice to work with the great man himself). It was to be a fanfare for his later return to Green Lantern (Corps).

Throughout the naughties Gibbons continued to move from position to position from title to title, taking on more and more challenges. Unlike any other artist Gibbon’s pitched himself as the go-to all encompassing talent. This has stopped him perhaps becoming as publicly reknowned as he would’ve been had he simply remained an artist as he is less and less associated with anything specific since the 80s and Watchmen. But fame isn’t all and for those who are fa,miliar with his work and those who take the time to follow his pin ball trajectory around two of the biggest comics companies around, a picture of a very talented writer, artist professional everyman begins to form very quickly.

In 2002, Gibbons followed Chuck Austen on Captain America 17-20 (Nov 03-Jan 04). In 2005 he produced a handful of covers for Geoff John’s JSA, as well as producing a complete graphic novel himself called The Originals, a black and white graphic novel which he scripted and drew. Published by Vertigo, the work is set in the near future but draws heavily on the imagery of the Mods and Rockers of the 1960s.

As one of the four lead-ins to DC’s infinite Crisis storyline, Gibbons wrote the Rann/Thanagar War with legendary GL artist Ivan Reis. This put him within spitting distance of the Green Lantern Universe and he returned to the Green Lantern Corps with a five-issue ‘Recharge’ storyline – co-written with Geoff Johns, which in turn spun-off into an ongoing, Gibbons written series in August 2006.

Its difficult to pursue Gibbons through his career as he has more recently worked with Alan Moore’s daughter (providing cover artwork) on DC/Wildstorm’s IPC buyout title Albion and writing its spin-off Thunderbolt Jaxon, with Art by John Higgins. Due to scheduling difficulties the August 2005- launched Albion actually finished two months after Thinderbolt Jaxon (Nov 2006).

Continuing with DC, Gibbons provided covers for three issues of Action Comics (Home of Superman) and co-pencilled (with Evan Van Sciver) the Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps issue as part of the Sinestro Corps story arc (which culminated in the industry pausing Blackest Night saga). He contributed to the ongoing Green Lantern story on issues 18-20.

Returning to his routes (which frankly looking back he never left) Gibbons provided new, alternative covers for IDW publishing’s reprints of the original Marvel UK Doctor Who Comics. He also designed the logo for Oni Press, the publishers of Scott Pilgrim.

Gibbons was never limited to comic books, he has always been an artist foremost, working on as many and in as many ways as possible on any number of platforms. He provided background art for computer game Beneath a Steel Sky (1994) and the cover to K, the 1996 debut album by psychedelic rock band Kula Shaker. In 2007, he served as a consultant along with John Higgins for the film Watchmen adapted from the book, released in March 20098. However his name was only credited as co-creator as Alan Moore refused to have participation in the film.

For me however, the crowning glory of Gibbons career isn’t the broad strokes and infintisimal detail and characterisation of Watchmen, or his tireless capacity for providing any aspect of the creation of a comic book (having tackled pencilling, inking, lettering, writing throughout his career). Its a comic book within a comic book. Its the Tales of the Black Freighter read by a side character throughout Watchmen. It is the tale of a lost sailor, surviving an attack by the Freighter and his descent into madness. Gibbon’s represents the epitomy of classic comic art here, reminiscent of the boys-own books of the 80s Victory and Battle, he forms a completely engaging and encapsulating package for Moore’s words. Bloated bodies supporting a derelict raft in an inky sea and the perfectly depicted descent of a good man (or normal man) descending unstoppably into madness. At once timeless and of its time it represents great visual storytelling while still offering an alternative style to the book around it. Tales of the Black Freighter was converted into a short animation piece as an extra to the Watchmen DVD on its release and Gibbons had a hand in its creation. The rendering of the animation fails it but the inspiration is there for an entire battalion of animators. It represents the pinnacle of modern storytelling in comic book form and represents perfectly Gibbons himself. On its own it still stands up to scrutiny and is a work of art in itself but it also rests perfectly within others’.

Frame from Tales of the Black Freighter (2009) based on the comic book of the same name (1988) in a comic book of a different name.


Gibbons is a selfless and tireless artist. His work is draftsman-like and still retains the inherent emotion and power required to carry the words of writers like Alan Moore. One half of a duo that generated one of the great comic works of our time; Gibbons continues to being a working artist first and foremost, his professionalism and talent the most important thing to those around him – the reason he has enjoyed almost 40 years in the industry.

Practitioners 22: Dave Gibbons Pt 1

Born 14 April 1949, Dave Gibbons has already made his way into the hallowed halls of historical figures associated with comic books. It is no exaggeration to say that Gibbon’s name could appear alongside great artists and writers like Ditko, Miller, Eisner and Kubert. But while Gibbons is associated with one of the greatest (certainly the most critically and commercially successful) series of all time – his is not a career that is shrouded with his name. Whereas Quitely, Romita Jr and Kubert can occassionally dwarf a project and become the defining feature of it – Dave Gibbons has achieved something much more noteworthy – the project he works on and not his name remains the talking point of projects he is associated with. Dave Gibbons is a prolific Practitioner with a style that puts content and communication of the story first and foremost and has allowed (in a way that no other artist has been able to facilitate) a series to transcend the medium and be considered a work of awarded literature. No other artist in the medium has achieved this and that is why Gibbons is one of the most noteworthy practitioners in the list – effectively for not being as deliberately noteworthy as some of his peers. For those who know, Gibbons is a legend and one of the foremost practitioners working today.

Gibbons broke into British comics by working on horror and action titles for British 2000AD publisher DC Thomson and IPC. With the inception of the quintessential British weekly comic publication, launched in 1977, Gibbons was in a position to contribute artwork from the very start on Prog 01. As a founding member of the title Gibbons went on to draw 24 installments of Harlem Heroes (written by Pat Mills and making up the original 2000AD ‘Thrill 5’ Line-up. It was a cross between kung fu films and the Harlem Globetrotters with the crazily violent Aeroball set in a desensitised 2050). Gibbons almost wasn’t the artist on the project, originally intended to be drawn by Carlos Trigo but for reasons unknown Gibbons appeared in the starting line up. From Prog 25, Massimo Belardinelli drew the remaining episodes of the first run and remained its regular artist for the strip’s reinvention as Inferno.

Mid-way through the comic’s first year Gibbon’s began illustrating Dan Dare, a project close to his heart as he had always been a fan of the original series, his own work inspired by Frank Hampson who had provided the visuals for DD in its earlier years. Gibbons was also inspired by Frank Bellamy, (the noteworthy) Don Lawrence and Ron Turner. whose ‘style evolved out of (his ) love for the MAD Magazine artists like Wally Wood and Will Elder.

Also working on Ro-busters, Gibbons became one of the msot prolific of 2000AD’s earliest creators, featuring in 108 of the magazine’s first 131 Progs (issues). He returned to 2000AD in the early eighties to create Rogue Trooper with writer Gerry Finley-Day, about a cloned battle-hardened soldier and his cybernetically enhanced equipment imbued with the personalities of his fellow soldiers, providing the fans with an acclaimed early run that saw it roll well beyond his tenure under many more artists.

It was around this time he formed a working relationship with Alan Moore, working most regularly with him on his Tharg’s Future Shocks feature.

On the roll into the ’80’s, Gibbons took on the position of lead artist on Doctor Who Magazine, undoubtedly another character that’s stood the test of time more than a little well. The Doctor Who Storybook 2007 features the name ‘Gibbons’ in a list of the greatest artists of all time.

One of the British comic book talents identified by Len Wein in 1982, Gibbons was hired to draw Green Lantern Corps backup stories within the pages of Green Lantern for DC, starting with a Green Lantern story in Green Lantern 162 (March 1983) with writer Todd Klein, as well as the concurrently released ‘Creeper’ two-part back-up story in Flash 318-319. By Green Lantern 172 (January 1984) Gibbons was on the lead feature with Len Wein while still illustrating the back-up features through to issue 181. Finishing his run in issue 186 (March 1985) he briefly returned however to pencil a back up feature ‘Mogo doesn’t socialize’ with Alan Moore in Issue 188. Gibbons would later return as writer on Green Lantern Corps back up stories and his association and partnership with Moore was about to go from strength to strength, leaving him responsible for one of the foremost works of comic book fiction ever created, and by that I don’t mean ‘The Man Who has Everything,’ written in the 1985 Superman Annual by Moore and pencilled by Gibbons and collected in Moore’s greatest works for DC reprint a few years ago.

Gibbon’s clear, unrestricted and unfussy style saw him produce work for both DC’s Who Who in the DC Universe Guidebook and Marvel’s The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition. He contributed to Harrier Comic’s Brickman 1 with Kevin O’Neill, Lew Stringer and others. He provided covers for Peter David’s and Joe Orlando’s four-issue The Phantom mini-series and inked Kevin Macguire’s work on the landmark Action Comics 600 and created the cover for issue 601.

The Comedian, Silk Spectre and Nite Owl : Three characters designed by Dave Gibbons

But in September 1986-October 1987 Gibbon’s joined with Alan Moore and colourist John Higgins and rendered the blood-stained smiley badge firmly in the minds of every comic reader for 25 years. Now one of the best-selling graphic novel’s of all time and the only graphic novel to feature on Time’s ‘Top 100 Novel’s List’ Gibbon’s artwork is notable for its stark utilisation of the formulaic nine-panel grid layout, removing opportunities to embellish or emphasise through scaling or composition – forcing him to rely entirely on his capacity to communicate the effect of each panel within the fixed panel shape and size itself. To have pursued this course and succeeded in the way he did, puts Gibbons in the at the table with some of the top comic book artists of all time as he put away certain stylistic tricks and still rendered a piece of graphic literature that knocked popular novels from a highly sought after list. Its dense symbolism (some suggested by Moore, some by Gibbons) is carried throughout the piece as the conflicting and complex characteristics of the central heroes is cast against a kaleidoscope of recognisable, realistic and perfectly realised environments. Watchmen in the hands of Gibbon’s is a contained beast, twice as savage with its muzzle on. The psychotic Rorschach better realised with Gibbon’s sure, naturalistic style forming a Human around a monster wherein another artist may have depicted a much more emotional and overt depiction of the same character. Gibbons and Moore’s choice to draw Dr Manhattan full frontal nude is never gratuitous and is so innate a part of the character thanks to the clear, anatomically minded style of Gibbons that the feature film 2 years ago featured the same thing – so much an ingrained visualisation of a man’s isolation from his own society that it would have altered the character immeasurably to have simply given him pants.

In the Watchmen, alongside Moore, Gibbons created a timeless piece of literary history. He succeeded in depicting a disparate group of Supermen so flawlessly that Moore’s words can almost be redundant. The characters so well realised that you understand the innate characteristics they represent. Although originally intended to be the characters bought by DC from Charlton comics, the characters that were adapted from them (due to obvious concern that having bought them Moore would kill two and remove one from Human kind completely within 12 months) are familiar archetypes without ever being cliched. From the pug faced Comedian, scarred through years of hard living to Moloch, the curve eared ex-supervillain suffering from cancer, Gibbon’s gave them enough humanity to communicate all the frailties and complexities of Human beings without even once diminishing their inherent heroism.

The unmasked Rorschach – a pathetic, ungainly and slightly ugly figure when revealed from under his cowl is trapped in a cell being threatened by a criminal boss and his goons directly outside. By the end of the sequence all of the characters (save Rorschach) are dead in grotesque and memorable ways. All of this takes place in a space little larger than a toilet cubicle, in panels of 3x3x3 of equal size and largely using the same head on angle. It remains one of the most effecting and brutally challenging moments in modern comic books and its all thanks to Gibbon’s unswerving and meticulously precise style.

A giant space squid (or so it appears) destroys a city centre at the end of the Watchmen. Undoubtedly a moment that could have so easily been – and borders the absurd and tacky (and effectively the only detail of the film altered because of the difficulties in communicating it) and Gibbons communicates visually one of the most harrowing and frightening depictions of mass death to have appeared in any graphic novel with carefully rendered people piled high and strewn about the streets representing mega-death in its coldest aftermath.
Rorschach appears undisguised in early pages in crowd scenes and your eye never falls on him as he’s depicted as clearly and as obscurely as all others. But on a second glance, having been introduced to the character later on – all of what he is as Rorschach is present in the figure but entirely absent without the later revelation. Art on that level is masterful. Characterisation in remission, relying on something you will discover in order to validate it. That is Dave Gibbons the artist. Every panel retains as much information as the story needs you to know at that moment, and a thousand and one things you can acknowledge when your ready. Gibbon’s work doesn’t bait the eye – it waits for when the eye is ready for it. Few artists are more satisfying to revisit.

PART 2 ON THURSDAY. INCLUDING TALES OF THE BLACK FREIGHTER, HIS INFLUENCE ON THE WATCHMEN FILM AND GREEN LANTERN : BLACKEST NIGHT

Practitioners 18: Mike McMahon

Mick McMahon is a British artist who has ebbed and flowed in and out of the comics industry for 30 years. His work has braced the pages of 2000AD, Toxic!, Tank Girl, Rugrats and Sonic the Comic. But his work has moved well beyond his pages, inspiring some of the most prominent graphic artists in the industry today. Some of the most prominent and successful characters around today owe a debt to McMahon’s constantly evolving style – proving without a doubt his incredible talent. But, more than that, he’s just plain funky.

Judge Dredd was created in 1977 to appear in 2000AD by writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra, but problems with pre-publication ked to both of the previous creators walking off the project. Both Wagner and Ezquerra would return to the pages of 2000AD and the Dredd himself but in the intervening time the toughest lawman on the streets of Megacity 1 had to be given a face and a pair of boots to stride in. Pat Mills and Peter Harris took over and were responsible for the first published Dredd comic book, and was drawn by an inexperienced yung artist called Mike McMahon.

He was chosen primarily by Mills (who was editor at the time) because he could do a passable impression of Ezquerra’s work. However, it didn’t take long for McMahon’s style to take hold. It could’ve been said that he had inherited the greatest British Comic Book character to date by chance but to flip it, perhaps more logically it seems more likely that McMahon developed the lawman to become this. His style, more angular and abstract than Ezquerra’s more organic style; notable for its sharp lines and clear, crisp contours and clearly, nigh caricatured features on the characters he drew became the default with other artists such as Ian Gibson and Brian Bolland taking his lead and introducing their own spin on the way McMahon was developing the character.

In the early period of his career, McMahon’s style was characterised by a ‘quick, spontaneous approach that verged on the messy’. His figures were gaunt compare to Ezquerra and Bolland’s interpretations, with pen lines thrown down spontaneously and hatching completed with a fully-charged brush his work set the bleeding edge of visceral and unrestrained artwork for the environment and content expected in Judge Dredd and 2000AD itself. While John Wagner returned to his creation, McMahon continued on as the lead artist on Judge Dredd.

In 1979, taking a break from art droid duties on the Dredd, McMahon began on Pat Mill’s Ro-busters (following a freelance agent pursuing rogue or out of control robots in the future) and the more brutal and savage spin-off, ABC Warriors, alternating with Kevin O’ Neill. While working with O’ Neill, McMahon’s work became tighter and his characters began to become meatier and fuller in stature.

McMahon returned to Judge Dredd for ‘The Judge Child’ and introduced high contrast artwork for the following series ‘Block Mania’, separating more clearly black and white in his compositions. Due to complete 9 episodes, McMahon bowed out after only 2 due to the punishing nature of his newfound detailing and Mill’s introduction of extensive crowd scenes for the battle between the blocks depicted in the episodes. The work was completed by Ron Smith, Steve Dillon and Brian Bolland. Having handled 2000ADs primary character, McMahon needed a new character to draw.

As McMahon returned from a 2 year gap from 2000AD (in which he brought his distinctive style to Doctor Who Magazine), a character that had suffered initial difficulties reared its unwashed celtic head. McMahon met Slaine and applied a new style, unleashed from the sterile science fiction he introduced a more naturalistic, compositional and flared style to his work. The tones were deep and luxurious, the action visceral, uncontained and brutal where necessary and light and human when necessary. His character’s remained grotesques with elongated or extended features but upheld natural structure and anatomy at the same time. McMahon was applying abstraction and realism in equal measure to pages crowded with detail.

In 1984, McMahon disappeared from the scene only to return again after a long illness that prevented him from drawing in 1991, with the Last American, written by Wagner and Alan Grant, for Marvel’s Epic imprint. His style had evolved once again and met perfectly with the stark and deranged story of a US Soldier placed into suspended animation before a Nuclear War in order to restore order after it. Ulysses Pilgrim, the last American the title refers to spends three issues trying to find survivors, accompanied by three slightly malfunctioning robots, and struggling not to lose his grip on his own mind to despair. McMahon’s art is ‘blocky, all straight, edgy lines and enclosed areas of flat deep, vivid colour, stylised yet straight faced, perfectly straddling the low-key realism of the story and Pilgrim’s increasingly desperate mental state.’

From this McMahon has worked predominantly in games design and his distinctive comic works have become few and far between. He featured in Hellraiser, an Alien Legion One-shot, an unfinished comic strip, ‘Mutomaniac’ in the doomed 2000AD spin-off Toxic!, occasional returns to Judge Dredd and a futuristic take on Batman in Legends of the Dark Knight, all of which saw him with a more simple and flattened style. New depth returned to his work in Sonic the Comic, Tattered Banners for DC Comic’s Vertigo, a return to ABC Warriors and a short Batman Black and White back-up story.

He applied his distinctive style to the Marvel Uk/ Panini Rugrats series which was cancelled early on in its run. He returned to the Judge in Prog 1539 of 2000AD. McMahon also worked on Tank Girl (made famous by Jamie Hewlett) -Carioca, a six-part mini series with Tank Girl creator Alan Martin.

Mick McMahon’s style drags complacent onlookers out of the read-and-wander-off-the end-of-the-page mind set that is prevalent in modern comic books. His stylism and distinctly vehemently organic style, backed with a consistently evolving and altering pack of methods and techniques which he seems to apply to each and every new project that he comes across has kept his work engaging, relevant and challenging for 30 years and ticking.

He is referenced by many influential artists as an inspiration, including Mike Mignola, Jamie Hewlett and Dave Gibbons. His unremitting stylism expanding well beyond the small number of comic works he may have comparatively created. The mark of a true practitioner.

Practitioners 17: Brian Bolland (Part One)

Brian Bolland (born in 1951) is a british comic artist known for his meticulous, highly detailed line work and eye catching compositions. Reknowned as one of the ultimate Judge Dredd artists for British comic anthology 2000AD, he spearheaded the ‘British Invasion’ of the American Comics Industry with Camelot 3000 (with Mike W. Barr), the first ever 12 issue Maxi-series to be released by DC comics.

Most notable, however is his masterwork. Along with writer Alan Moore Bolland created one of, if not the definitive examples of Batman in the critically acclaimed Killing Joke.

Drawn into comics in 1960 – a couple of years after they began to arrive on the shores of England (in 1958) – by Dell Comics Dinosaurus! which appealled to his love of Dinosaurs at that age. Turok, Son of Stone and DC’s Tomahawk furthered his childhood fascination with the form and before long he was writing and drawing his own work from his home in Butterwick, Lincolnshire. A fascination with DCs heroes, in particular Batman and Robin was formed from seeking covers featuring ‘any big creature that looked vaguely dinosaur-like, trampling puny humans.’

It was in 1962, aged 11, most likely from comic books bought on a family holiday to Skegness that he came across Carmine Infantino’s Flash and Gil Kane’s Green Lantern and the Atom. His interest locked firmly on the artists of DC at the time, not favouring Marvel, feeling the covers were crude and the paper quality crude. Even at so young an age Bolland remembers taking direct reference from the early artists of the classic superhero series – including Joe Kubert (dad to Andy and Adam of X fame) and Mike Esposito. His appreciation of the work of Jack Kirby came through the eyes of a seasoned professional much later. His interest was in no way limited to US imports as he enjoyed the comparable UK strips of Syd Jordan’s Jeff Hawke and David Wright’s Carol Day as well as Valiant, a weekly comic book collection by Brit practitioners such as Eric Bradbury (Mytek the Mighty) and Jesus Blasco’s Steel Claw.

Coming from a quiet household Bolland embraced the cultural revolution taking place throughout his country while studying O Levels and A Levels in art, moving on to five years at art school in 1969 learning graphic design and Art History.In 1973 he wrote a 15,000 word dissertation on Neal Adams – an artist his teachers had never heard of. He is sited as saying that ‘During my five years in three art schools I never learnt a single thing about comics in any form from any of my tutors.’

His feverish need to understand the form led him to study off his own back the American legends of the burdgeoning art form from across the pond; Foster, Herriman, Alex Raymond and Winsor McCay, Noel Sickles, Mily Caniff and Roy Crane as well as the Europeans… Moebius, Manara, Breccia. Later the Filipinos – Alex Nino, Nestor Redondo. Discovering an untapped resource in these incredible figures of a seemingly undiscovered art form was like sailing the coast of a country no one around him knew existed. In a world in which comic creators are responsible for some of the most influential cultural icons and most reliable film franchises in popular culture its perhaps difficult to understand how exciting this glance at the edge of a culture formally unrecognised in the halls in which he was learning yet precise and clear in its form and intention might have been but I think its a position most of those who collect comic books would wish they could experience. And there he was at the edge of it – having familiarised himself completely with the form. All that was left was to try out for himself.

Bolland self-published fanzines which was published in underground magazines Friendz, International Times and OZ. Following a cover design for RDH Comix featuring Norwich Cathedral. But it was an underground magazine about to hit the big time as ‘the biggest weekly listings magazine’ named Time Out that gave Bolland his ‘first paid job’ producing a proper illustration of Jazz bassist Buddy Guy.

Meanwhile, he produced the first episodes of an adult Little Nemo in Slumberland parody entitled Little Nympho. This took off and he continued to design full page strips for a 50-copy fanzine entitled Suddenly at 2’0 Clock in the Morning as well as smaller strips entitled ‘ the Mixed up Kid’ to the Central School of Art’s college newspaper The Galloping Maggot.

But it was meeting and befriending Dave Gibbons (later of Watchmen / Green Lantern fame) at a comic convention at the Waverley Hotel in London, joining Art Agency Bardon Press Features. A couple of two-page strips featured with DC Thomson but Bolland would refer to this as his ‘lowest time’. However, it was a title through a client called Pikin that offered Bolland a chance to get his hands dirty. It was for a title to be sold in Nigeria (the first of its kind) and was a weekly comic book featuring an African Superhero named ‘Powerman’. He quickly realised that Gibbons could produce a page a day and struggled initially to keep up the pace. The pages had to simple and numbered because of the lack of familiarity in Nigeria to this form of work. Not only was this work “the best way to learn the simple rules of comic book storytelling,” but “better still, it was going someplace where nobody I knew could see it.” He “drew around 300 pages of that very straightforward, simple-to-follow work, and I guess the storytelling flowed naturally from that.” Even so friends from his school days had to help him occasionally to complete as he ‘was always struggling to get the last eight to ten pages finished’. A little help was also offered from Dave Gibbons and 2000AD and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen artist Kevin O’ Neill.

But it was here he struck a particularly lantern jawed law man associated with the success of so many of the greatest artists from the UK. As Gibbons joined Carlos Ezquerra at 2000AD for Prog 1, Bolland remained on Powerman but as it dropped monthly his agent at Bardon, Barry Coker offered him a cover on 2000AD. From his first he created more than a third of the first 30 covers. Moving inside 2000AD as well as taking on occasional inking duties on Gibbon’s Dan Dare was the dream and for prog 41, editor Nick Lauman called on Bolland to complete an unfinished Judge Dredd story from when on he became a regular artist on the title. He offered art to the most prominent Dredd storylines ‘Luna-period’, The Cursed Earth’, ‘ The Day the Law Died’, The Judge Child Quest’ and ‘Block Mania.’ He found it difficult to deal with the requirement to produce double page spreads (as Dredd started at the time) and Bolland struggled to complete the required work, eventually splitting it between himself and Mike McMahon.

Bolland was heavily influenced by McMahon’s ‘impressionistic’ style and described McMahon as ‘ the real idea man on Dredd,’ although acknowledging that ‘the average comics reader, certainly at the time, does tend to prefer realism.’ Aping the impressionism of McMahon and applying his own realism ‘finally cemented the iconic image’ according to Mark Salisbury. It was Bolland who created the look of iconic characters featured in Mega City One – namely Judge Death (and the other three Dark Judges) and Judge Anderson. Judge Death was drawn as ‘just another villain in just another excellent John Wagner script’ and was inspired by the look of Kevin O’ Neill’s Nemisis the Warlock. He also drew the great majority of Walter the Wobot: Fweind of Dwedd strips in 2000AD and the first three Dredd issues for the united states as well as a number of covers.

Mix that together with magazine covers for Time Out and every major comics publications (according to Wikipedia) and fanzines such as Nick Landau’s Comic Media News and Arkensword and the ‘hazard cards’ for a game called Maneater. And, as will be remembered around the age of 30 in the Uk completed two covers of the Fighting Fantasy Adventure Game Books and RPG scenario pamphlets for Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone.

He handled ad work through the agency – in particular Palitoy’s Star Wars toys 1n 1977 and on the associated material for the opening of the comic book shop Forbidden Planet. But his future lay across the sparkling Atlantic Ocean with a comic company that had spawned his interest to begin with…..

CONTD IN PART 2 (THURSDAY).

Practitioners 16: Brendan McCarthy

Brendan McCarthy is an artists artist. A hero of mine following the discovery of his Visual Autobiography, Swimini Porpoise, in which he details almost exclusively in numerous artistic projects his stellar career from his time with Brett Ewins at Chelsea College, through to 2000AD and Hollywood. Realising I was sitting in a room with a man due to go for a drink with this legendary Practitioner’s Practitioner I almost yelped (in fact I may have). Friends with Destroy All Robot’s Darrin Grimwood they share a wry sideways view of the world through a spackled and myriad lens. McCarthy perpetuates his inner thoughts into accessible and engaging picture fields for your eyes to dance about in – possibly naked but almost certainly wearing a silly hat.

A multifaceted pop artist from the very beginning of his career, Brendan McCarthy, unsurprisingly given his moniker, of Irish descent was born in London. Shortly afterwards (at an undisclosed age) he began to create his own home-made comics. Having left Chelsea Art College in London, where he found a penchant for sellotape murals incorporating various popular iconography and his own artwork and developed his distinctive and wild hearted style he moved on to creating Sometime Stories with his erstwhile partner in crime from college, Brett Ewins. His first paid work was Electric Hoax in the British Weekly music paper Sounds with Peter Milligan in 1978. He was snapped up, along with Ewins, to join the burgeoning 2000AD team at DC Thomson.

Unstoppably driven – McCarthy was simultaneously drawing Judge Dredd for 2000AD and concept designing a Dan Dare Live Action Television series for Lew Grade’s ATV in the 1970s.

In 1980, inspired by the book the Razor’s Edge, McCarthy decided to travel the globe ‘on a futile and non-sensical metaphysical pilgrimage, ending up, via Egypt, India and the Himalayas, in Sydney, Australia.’ While there he witnessed the surfing lifestyle and extrapolated from it hybrid Mad Max of the waves concept that birthed the Peter Milligan penned ‘Freak Wave’ – a post apocalyptic surfing story.

Having preempted Waterworld by more than a decade returned to the UK and to drawing comics – most specifically the aptly named Strange Days, an Anthology title printed by Eclipse Comics – alongside his old counterparts Peter Milligan and Brett Ewins. His media-brat superhero Paradax escaped the pages of Strange Days to find a home in a two issue limited series and one of his best loved characters – Mirkin the Mystic ‘a kind of laconic, psychedelic, Ditko-esque, Oscar Wildean, inter dimensional traveller was born.

Introducing the Judda, an army of cloned Judges sent by Morton Judd, lunatic Stryfe-a-like and Brit Cit in the pages of Judge Dredd and the critcally acclaimed Sooner or Later with Milligan, which split opinion with its psychedelic and surreal content in the mid eighties, McCarthy began to branch out beyond his comic ken.

Around this time, Brendan designed and storyboarded the Arabian Cel-Animated TV series, New Babylon and also the Storyteller for Jim Henson’s production company. He also designed the character’s in Grant Morrison’s Zenith strip in 1987 and on Morrison and Millar’s brilliant Marvel Edge series Skrull Kill Krew (in which Skrull’s killed while in disguise as cows are processed as meat and fed to the local population; giving them Skrull like powers) and offered cover artwork and character design for Pete Milligan’s revamp of Shade: The Changing Man, clocking up yet more lunatic fringe story lines and productions to great public appeal and commercial success.

But even all of this paled in comparison to his new creations with 2000AD spin-off publications Crisis and Revolver. For Revolver McCarthy drew Rogan Gosh (later compiled into a single edition by Vertigo) and for Crisis he drew Skin, the tale of a thalidomide skinhead in 1970s London. Crisis and its publishers refused to use the story based on it being ‘morbidly obscene’. It was printed, finally in 1992 through Kevin Eastman’s (of Eastman and Laird) Tundra Publishing.

His most prominent work were as designer for the films Highlander, the first live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Lost in Space and the Borrowers. He designed and contributed visual gags to the film, Coneheads, starring Dan Akroyd and David Spade.

The remainder of the 90s saw McCarthy working in television, most notably as designer of the break out CGI animated Science fiction TV series Reboot and character creator for War Planets. Reboot was a massive global success and the world’s first long-form computer animated piece, predating Pixar and Dreamwork’s later movies.

In 2003 he was asked to co-write and design Mad Max 4: Fury Road with director George Miller, also creating (with McCarthy listed as Co-writer and designer a surreal CGI animated feature).

In 2004, Brendan McCarthy took a years sabbatical and accidentally created the modern artist’s bible, Swimini Porpoise, an illustrated visual autobiography of his original art and design work, with the help of Steve Cook (artist, photographer, graphic designer). Released in 2005 in the UK as a limited artists edition it sold out within weeks. This very rare book is now considered a holy grail to collectors.

McCarthy featured in the final issue of DC Comics Solo, offering new takes on The Flash, Batman and Johnny Sorrow as well as creating a veritable menagerie of homeless, insane and transgendered social outcasts.

In April 2010, Spiderman: Fever was released through Marvel as a new take on Dr Strange.

It can be seen as bouncing professionally from one wild project to the next, McCarthy was easily recognised as the man to present lunacy in an easily digestible form (or take something digestable and make it lunatic). His career has never slowed but has ebbed in and out of public consciousness as his effect has been behind closed doors in many cases or never seen the light of day. His influences shining out of every panel and concept design combined with his innovative and practiced style gave depth and character to beings that otherwise deserve to sit on a psychological mind shelf kept for half formed thought forms – to witness a McCarthy image is to think you’ve had a fledgling memory about something you may have seen and thought was cool as a child though you cannot remember why or perhaps what it was made up of.

Whether a child-faced Death for Jim Henson, a Razor jawed villain in a CGI universe or an apocalyptic death race on the open seas McCarthy sees no limit and refuses to confine his ideas to previous practices and safe premises. As an artist I thank the stars he exists. A surreal and intelligently creative light. With a love of silly hats.

The Dangers of Deadlines : Brett Ewins

Born in 1955, Brett Ewins is a comic book artist best known for his work on Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper in the weekly Sci-fi comic book 2000AD. But he was more than that – responsible in part for continuing and popularising some of the most prominent comic book characters in British history.

Ewins studied at Goldsmith’s college and left in 1977 forming a long term collaborative partnership with fellow artist Brendan McCarthy, creating the comic Sometime Stories, which faltered after the first issue leaving the second complete and unpublished. However, from these meagre start Ewins had made an impact. A capable artist, with clear and concise line work and compositions more transatlantic than many of his peers in the UK comic industry his methodology allowing story telling to take most prominence on any page he drew – he proved popular with fans of 2000AD, whom he was signed to for Issue 33 of 2000AD in October of the same year.

Ewins provided a great many covers for 2000AD, catching eyes on newsstands around the country with his bright bold and clear style that must have buzzed the eyes through the dim days and rain hewn streets of England. His was a flash of colour from somewhere sunnier, sharper and more comically dangerous – his style belying and surpassing the aggression, violence and darkness that many of 2000AD’s strips began from. Much like McCarthy, his style was sparkling and built out of solid and recognisable comic book conventions, embraced and expanded upon.

Ewins and McCarthy continued to work together on strips such as Judge Dredd but soon after Ewins began to work solo on Rogue Trooper and later still Judge Anderson (both highly noteworthy recurring characters in 2000AD history). In 1985 Ewins started work on Bad Company, a concept by Alan Grant and John Wagner that hadn’t seen the light of day in 16 years, written finally by Peter Milligan with artwork by Ewins and Jim McCarthy, Bad Company saw the light of a UK day in Prog 500 of 2000AD. From this initial boost, Bad Company rolled forwards through to 2002 finished by Wagner, Grant and Judge Dredd visual grandpappy Carlos Ezquerra. But BAD Company left an indelible mark on 2000AD and the British comic industry, much as Ewins himself did.

It wasn’t 2000AD that Ewins should be recalled most for however but Deadline (founded in 1988), created by Ewins and Steve Dillon. Deadline featured a mixture of comic strips and written articles targetted at older readers. Similar to the titles Revolver, Crisis and Toxic which emerged during the title’s formative years and passed away, Deadline (Deadline publications) survived the early years and had a cultural influence beyond the comics world. Within its pages and nurtured by Ewins and Dillon appeared a comics artist superstar in the form of Jamie Hewlett. Issue 1 as far back as 1988 featured a cover with the counterculture post-punk icon Tank Girl.

Ewins at a Tank Girl Photoshoot, 1989 for Deadline magazine.

Ewins was incredibly representative of the 80s and personified the ideal of Deadline. The commercial failure of the Tank Girl movie saw the end of Deadline in the early 90s.

Ewins himself ‘suffered a serious breakdown from overwork’ in 1991 and was unable to take on work that had a deadline, losing him commissions from DC Comics and Penguin Books. A danger for any creative, Ewins was taken out of the industry he had worked in for more than a decade. In order to recover, his plan was to create an anthology based on work from friends in the industry including Peter Milligan, Alan Grant and Alan McKenzie as well as friends in the music industry such as Michael White. At the heart of it a story ,’Machine’, written by Brett based on his breakdown. The collection was eventually printed in 2004 by Cyberosia Publishing.


Godfathers of Punk (Brett Ewins)

A facilitator and cultural ambassador who founded a publication that supported the Brit musical era that ultimately killed it – Ewins is a subversive creator with a touch that has been popular. In the eighties he embodied the counter-culture post-punk era perfectly and this was reflected in the success of 2000AD buoyed by his covers and enhanced and enabled some of its most prominent characters.

Practitioners 14: Pat Mills

Pat Mills is the ‘Godfather of British Comics’ but also its conscience. In spite of being at the birth of some of the most debilitatingly imaginative and indelible characters to grace the pages of British comics, Mills is driven by his views and beliefs. An iconoclast and sensitive and emotive writer at times he also has a light hearted darkness in his writing. His writing carries a very ‘english’ sardonic and ironic stance to propel his writing with intelligence and brevity while still imparting perspective and opinion. He trusts his readership and as such has seen success after success throughout his career. His books are notable for their violence and anti-authoritarianism but they offer an alternative view to more media friendly fare.

Born in 1948, he became a Sub-editor for DC Thomson & Co Ltd (Publisher of 2000AD, Beano and Dandy among others) where he met his perrenial collusionist John Wagner. In 1971 both left to go freelance and bizarrely given their later careers found themselves writing scripts for IPC’s girls’ and humour comics. In an act of delightful subversion seemingly more typical of later projects, both used their positions in the girl’s department as a convenient front to secretly create Battle Picture Weekly, along with Gerry Finley-Day at the request of IPC to offer an alternative to DC Thomson’s Warlord title. More violent and working class, Battle met with great commercial success perhaps as it had more of a plausible and wide reaching perspective than its competitor at DC – but having made it ready for launch, Mills resigned as Editor.

Creating a yet more controversial and gritty title in the boy’s title, Action in 1976 the title floundered against media protests in response to its high violence and anti-authoritarinist viewpoint and the title folded within 2 years and merged into Battle.

His next creation was the most legendary of all British comic books. The most successful Science fiction weekly in British comic book history was born. 2000AD was launched in 1977. As was typical of Mill’s generous creative stance he developed most of the early series before handing it over to other creators. He took over the development of Judge Dredd – 2000ADs most enduring character when John Wagner left.

Through the pages of 2000AD, Mills created indelible characters that would pock mark the face of British comics with shell holes, blade wounds and gunfire damage. Developing from Ro-Busters (a series about a robot disaster squad – surely due for a revamp soon) a mini-universe of anti-establishment titles formed taking in the incredibly enjoyable ABC Warriors (Battle droids for hire in a authoritarian universe built to withstand Atomic, Bacterial and Chemical warfare) and culminating in the absurdist Nemisis the Warlock (and incredibly anti-establishment anarchist chaos junky alien warrior). With these, Mills investigated themes of subversion, violence, dictatorship, the destructive nature of unabated imperialism and capitalism but did so with shiny robots and lunatic alien species. This proved Mill’s great ability to imbed clear politics and philosophies into popular culture, aided by Kevin O’ Neill (present for the creation of all three) and greats such as Simon Bisley, Mike McMahon, Brett Ewins and Brendan McCarthy.

His chaotic, anarchist tendencies burst out in a warp spasm of celtic might in Slaine, a juicy barbarian fantasy based on Celtic mythology and neo-paganism, which he created with his then wife Angela Kincaid (with whom he also created a series of Children’s books; The Butterfly Children) who he continues to write today with some of the most innovative artists such as Clint Langley and continues to break the boundaries of wild art ever since Simon Bisley’s tenure on Slaine: The Horned God which cemented the title into an ageless classic for future comic book fans.

Globally, Mills has broken the US and more successfully (and rewardingly as it had been one of his life goals) the French markets. The first with Marshal Law, a savage superhero satire (common place now) published by Marvel Comics’ Elite imprint in the late 1980s, drawn by O’Neill. The second was cracked with Sha, created with French artist Olivier Ledroit.

Match that with a hand in IPC’s Horror comics aimed at girls, Chiller, Dice Man, featuring characters from 2000AD and more anarchic and deliberately subversive work such as Crisis (1988-1991) – a politically aware spin-off from 2000AD for older readers (including a Carlos Ezquerra drawn tale, The Third World War, a polemical critique of global capitalism and the way it exploits the developing world). Crisis launched the careers of Garth Ennis, John Smith and Sean Phillips. In 1991, almost in reaction to his own work in Crisis – less politically worthy and anarchic title, Toxic was founded – along with Tony Skinner, including Accident Man (a hired killer who makes every assassination look like an accident). The title lasted less than a year but launched the careers of Duke Mighten and Martin Emond.

Mills continues to write Slaine, Bill Savage, Black Siddha and ABC Warriors in 2000AD as well as the franco-belgian comic Requiem Vampire Knight, with art by Olivier Ledroit and its spin off Claudia Chevalier Vampire, with art by Franck Tacito.

But it is the First World War series Charley’s War, written by Mills and illustrated by Joe Colquhorn reprinted in hard back recently that might live beyond its associated characters. Depicting the days of the First World in brave and unflinching writing and appearing in the pages of Battle from January 1979 to October 1985, Mills made clear through the eyes of his central character, 16 year old Charley Bourne, the reality of that great conflict without diminishing the characters into victims or unrealistic heroes but normal men diligently vying to reach the far end of a savage and clandestine war. His depiction of Shell shock harrowing and poignant it is my firm hope that this piece is offered to future generations to enjoy and understand.

More projects continue to appear. Greysuit, a super-powered government agent and Defoe, a 17th century zombie hunter drawn by Leigh Gallagher began recently in 2000AD. Mills has formed Repeat Offenders with Artist Clint Langley and Jeremy Davis ‘to develop graphic novel concepts with big-screen potential’ – an eventual plug-in to the way the rest of the industry is heading, beginning with American Reaper (optioned by Trudie Styler’s Xingu films), Mills has written the Screenplay.

Whatever lies ahead for the Godfather of British comics I hope his future doesn’t lie too heavily in the US or France or Belgium. Because uniquely I think, Pat Mills belongs to us. A writer who personifies, perhaps better than any, what it is to be English. A realist, surrealist, idealist and pragmatist rolled together. With a head nod to the absurd and the edgy and a knowing and wise grip on otherwise difficult or divisive subject matters he sees the light in the dark. His clanking monstrosities battling zombie bikers on Mars carry the same determined fatalism and charm as a mud soaked soldier in the trenches of Charlie’s War. America go hang; we’ve got the Mills.

A typical look at the life (and deaths) of English servicemen on the frontline (Charley's War, Battle, 1979-1985)

Practitioners 10: Grant Morrison

With the upcoming Kablam! Comicon in London I discovered whilst rolling through the list of legends that no less than 15 people intended to appear in ‘The Practitioners’ are due to appear there. So over the next… um …. 15 weeks – one will be posted each Tuesday until the big weekend. Excelsior!!

All Star Superman 6 (DC, 2006)

Grant Morrison is a scottish comic book writer and playwright born 31 January 1960 who harnesses and embraces the full power of pseudo-science, age old magic and high end zen heavy weaponry in the pursuit of perfect storytelling in comic books, drawing on a bewildering array of sources to bring forth the borderline lunatic and the emotionally real through storytelling as broadly wild as Frankenstein tearing apart a future-human/insectoid master race three billion years in our future at the end days of Planet Earth or permitting James ‘Wolverine’ Logan a respite as he muses at a pin-up girl above the urinals in the Hellfire Club has ‘got the same eyes as that girl in Arnhem Land, 1943.’

All Star Superman

Never scared of the poignant or the difficult Morrison has the canny knack of shifting seamlessly from the scientific explanation of a Voyager Titan mentally preparing to be launched into deep space for centuries in All Star Superman to the very real failure of Scott Summers to retain his marriage in the wake of post traumatic stress he is unable to express in New X-Men. It his acknowledgment of the need to ground – at least to the degree required for a readers’ mind if not in real terms – absurd statements and events with less abstract and more concise human situations and scenarios, underpinning everything with realistic and recognisable reactions.

He recognises, as all great writers perhaps do – no matter how many stars and space cannons are exploding around the main characters – that it is the individual humanity carefully identified by the writer that each character demonstrates that pins the story to the ground and allows it to resonate with the reader. He understands, in the same way that every great writer in any medium did, that if a magical Tempest circles about a Human soul its abstract nature can only be effectively communicated through the soul through means it retains – not simply through the abstract idea of the wind itself. As such Morrison reminds himself to allow his characters to slap their heads in disbelief at his own words if it is in their nature but to allow them to take it in their stride if it is not. It is in these reactions as Lex Luthor remains steadfastly oblivious to the possibility that Clark Kent has saved him as a prison riot rages around them in All Star Superman – assuming, naturally, that he has the situation well under control when in fact Kent continues to use an array of powers beyond his notice to ease his passage and even save him from a blundering Parasite. Kent remaining true to the honest and unassuming character of Superman to great comic effect.

Arcadia Byron of the Invisibles (Vertigo)

Morrison’s first published works were Gideon Stargrave for the brilliantly titled Near Myths in 1978 at the age of 17. Soon followed Captain Clyde, an out of work superhero for the Govan Press, a local newspaper in Glasgow, plus various issues of DC Thomson’s Starblazer, the sister title to the companies Commando title and the New Adventures of Hitler. He spent much of the early 80s touring with his band The Mixers, putting out the odd Starblazer and Zoids strip for DC Thomson.

In 1982 he submitted a proposal for a storyline involving the Justice League of America and Jack Kirby’s New Gods entitled Second Coming to DC. It was dismissed but his fascination of the New Gods no doubt formed the skeleton of the enormous Final Crisis saga in which Darkseid launches armageddon on an unsuspecting world in a second age of the New Gods using Earth and its inhabitants as hosts and demonic incubators. His desire to write DC’s primary superhero group was no doubt sated with his long run on JLA in 1996 to revamp the team and bring it up to date which he pulled off with Rock of Ages, Earth 2 and World War 3 (in no particular order).

At every stage he proved time and time again that he expanded the material handed to him – writing for 2000AD with Big Dave, Future Shocks and the unusually superhuman for 2000AD – Zenith under his wing before his tenure at DC.

The Filth with Grant Morrison and Gary Erskine (2003)

Upon crossing the Atlantic he demonstrated immediately his capacity for reinventing fringe characters and enhancing them beyond the original idea – taking the near unknown fringe character Animal Man and not only imbuing his character with the real reactions of a man who could channel the powers and thoughts of animals nearby to him but forced him to look through the fourth wall at the reader – breaking the indefinable rules of the medium in the process to brilliant effect.

Morrison is known for treating mainstream established titles in the same way as fringe titles and this has earned him a status as the great re-inventor in Modern comics. He was the man to make Scott Summer’s cool again as he took hold of the X-men universe and rang the life out of it – a process he tried to make un-reconnable – Killing 16 Million Mutants and giving Professor Xavier an unborn, evil sister who returns as a mind slug and unleashes the Shi’ar navy all over the mansion. Introducing a cavalcade of new Mutants some as hilariously and poignantly useless as ‘Beaky’ the featherless, beaked bird boy who batters in the head of the newly uber-feline and faux gay Beast. Jean Grey dies but for once is given no reason to return – as psychic hyper-bitch and new headmistress of Xavier’s Emma Frost sways Scott Summer’s exhausted heart, filling the emotional vacancy usually left by Phoenix every time she summarily carks it. Magneto is beheaded after destroying half of Manhattan and Xavier’s approaches an actual curriculum and focusses on its students for the first time in its history.

Jean and the Beast (New X-Men, 2002)

Morrison often – whether intentionally or not – represents the discussion boards and blogs of the fans – testing theories that are discussed hypothetically on public pages that no one expected to see them on. Batman is killed and returned and given a son in Morrison’s watch. Jason Todd effectively returns breaking the almighty unwritten rule of comic books – partly you suspect out of sheer bloody mindedness. Morrison finally being characteristically brave to investigate the reality of Dick Grayson under the cowl.

Dick Grayson as Batman (Batman, 2009)

The content of his independent titles have become mainstream – for good or ill – leaving many readers of Final Crisis utterly confused as to what was taking place – an abstract Superman tale in which he passes through multiverses in order to combat an abstract thought form made real in storytelling in an ephemeral world populated by reality vampires via a limbo championed by an indifferent Woody Allen-alike in a jesters outfit in order to save Lois Lane in between her penultimate and final heartbeat borders on the lunatic – but is incredibly detailed and worth the three reads it takes to fully grasp the deliberately overlapping realities thrown at it.

Morrison clearly found a like mind in penciller Frank Quitely, bringing to life the inner workings of Professor X’s mind in New X-Men, the gnarled and diseased but lithely libidoed geriatric in Lust for Life from Jamie Delano’s 2020 Visions (Speakeasy comics, 2005), scraping by each other by two volumes of the Authority – Morrison on Volume 4 with Gene Ha and Quitely on Volume 2 with Mark Millar, empowered the new JLA with a little much-needed modern sheen in the book of the same name in the early naughties and reinvented the greatest super hero of them all in All-Star Superman.

But it was WE-3, the story of three prototype ‘animal weapons’ as they flee the project that ‘enhanced’ them encapsulates the creative partnership. Morrison was meticulous as ever with his descriptions and insisted on consistent and protracted revisions of minute details from Quitely in order to produce a work of rare and fine quality. This certainly was achieved as it was released via Vertigo imprint in 2004 to public and critical acclaim. Morrison’s subtlety and nuance of character supplied each of the fleeing and desperate central characters; a rabbit; a cat and a dog a bewilderingly believable character each recognisable as an individual and the drives and psychology of the animal in question. Morrison’s capacity for invention supplied the narrative with a relatively basic speech pattern simulator for each of the animals allowing them to emote through limited cognitive language in a way not human but beyond its species. The effect is a dizzying, gripping and poignant story of extreme science inflicting havoc and chaos on three innocents’ lives – each reacting in their own very specific way. In many ways WE3 is exceptional and as near perfect as a comic book can get because it uses – perhaps most transparently and as such to best effect – Morrison’s greatest creative methodology – to recognise inherent and recognisable characteristics in vulnerable and capable beings and then inflict seven hells of pseudo lunacy on them – in whatever form seems most fun!

We3 (2004, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

Merry Christmas!!