Blackeyes

Mocked-up cover for Dennis Potter’s late 80’s novel Blackeyes. Adapted for TV around the same time, it caused a minor kerfuffle in the media for its handling of the sexual content. This was, lest we forget, the peak era of Political Correctness, and those most outraged completely missed the fact that Potter was actually critiquing society’s hypocrisy about such matters, but doing it in his own inimitable fashion. Still relevant today – his skewering of LunDun media dickheads hasn’t really aged – it’s overdue for a reprint and if Faber are in need of a cover, look no further.

The Sandman

Another one from thirty years ago. I have long since lost the original, but always kept this scan in my digital archives as a memento of how I was working at the time. I’d just started submitting work to various small press zines (remember them?) and was experimenting wildly with materials and subject matter, eager to find my own “voice.” At the time, The Sandman was difficult to avoid. Massively popular from day 1, it went on to become regarded as a new standard for other comics creators to aspire to. Allow me to dissent from that general consensus, by saying that I could never really get into it. I appreciated Dave McKean’s early covers – before he went full digital, that is – but I could never get past the tone of Gaiman’s scripts. Riding into the U.S. comics industry on the coat-tails of Alan Moore, Gaiman seemed to delight in magpie-ing ideas from other sources – as we all do – and blenderising them into a somewhat sickly-sweet and ultimately un-nourishing zeitgeist smoothie that I never acquired the taste for. Perhaps my head just wasn’t ready for it at the time and I ought to rediscover it? Anyway, like I said, this comic was everywhere and I liked some of the imagery, and this was me playing around with that, using whatever I had to hand. At the time, I was living in a shabby suburban house in south Bristol, using a gaudy pink back-bedroom as my “studio”. Armed with a couple of unreliable Isograph pens, and a hand-made wooden box full of pots of Humbrol Enamel paint, I had no clue how to use those materials but gave it my best shot. I think what I like about this is that for all its “faults”, it’s full of youthful vigour and passion, unencumbered by the limitations of competence. Sometimes it’s better when you don’t quite know what you’re doing.

Paperback Fanatic

This one goes back to 2007. Drawn on spec for Justin Marriott’s Paperback Fanatic venture, it was a chance to indugle two influences buried deep in my childhood. One was Robert Crumb (previously discussed here), and the other was Basil Wolverton. I first discovered both men’s work at around the same time, when I was 11 years old and venturing into Leeds on my own for the first time. On Vicar Lane I discovered this grotty shop, that probably once sold shoes or furniture, but had been crudely converted into a bookshop, with an emphasis on comics, science fiction, and general weird shit. I was their ideal customer, with money in my pocket (all 90p of it), and a mind primed and ready to be blown. As if I needed any further enticement, the window display was decorated with a poster for the Great Rock N Roll Swindle film, and having just discovered the Sex Pistols via the re-release of their singles via Virgin Records, it seemed like this particular trail of sleazy honey had been left for me and me alone. Inside the place stank of rot and old paper, and there were dead flies on the floor, but I did not care. It was an Aladdin’s Cave of stuff I’d never seen before, stuff I’d never known could be allowed to exist. The refried hippies barely pretending to act as ‘staff’ didn’t give me a second glance as I rooted through the shelves and the cardboard boxes heaped high with printed matter, and within a very short space of time I had been exposed to the likes of The Furry Freak Brothers, Richard Corben’s Den, Jack Kirby’s comics adaptations of 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Prisoner, Ghost Rider, Zap Comix, Will Eisner’s The Spirit, Mad magazine,  and much more besides. My mind was indeed blown. In amongst the rubble I found some dog-eared copies of a DC comic called Plop. The contents were, even by my own limited critical faculties, well below par, but the covers were something else. They were like Ken Reid’s mutations taken to another level, and were the work of Basil Wolverton, a genuine outsider within the comics field who was already dead by the time I discovered him, a man with a penchant for the absurdly grotesque and a style most politely described as “primitive.” The sheer force of his imagination was what won you over, and I had always wanted to draw a homage of sorts to the man’s work. With this drawing I finally got my chance, and by fusing it with some of Crumb’s mannerisms, I managed to exceed my own expectations and have long-suspected that this is one of the purest things I’ve ever done.

Superheroes Of BMX

This 2009 painting from the Project Mogwai series was a nostalgic indulgence for me. I may have been born too late for punk but I was absolutely the right age for when the BMX craze first swept across the UK in the early 1980’s. I was the first to convert a Raleigh Grifter into a wannabe-BMX, with blue tyres and chopped-down bars, and sold it to get a Huffy Pro Thunder 3 for Christmas 1981. Within a few months I’d flogged some once-cherished vinyl to raise the funds to upgrade to a Diamond Back Silver Streak, which was the best bike I ever had. I rode that thing into the ground, quite literally. By the autumn of 1983 I had replaced most of the parts on it, and snapped both the frame and the forks. They simply did not make the bikes strong enough back then. I had to give up riding just as people in our town were making quarter-pipe ramps in the back yards or on scraps of waste land, so I never got to pull some of the stunts I’d longed to try. I’d been so into BMX that for those two-three years I hardly drew and it was probably the longest sustained period in my life where I made no art whatsoever, and I didn’t miss it.

Mogwai – Superheroes of BMX

Bridge Over The River Styx

After finally finishing The Hangman’s Breakfast in November 2007, you’d have thought that after completing a manuscript of over half a million words that I would never want to write another word ever again. Surprisingly, I still had some gas in the tank, and burned through it writing this several thousand words article that was ostensibly the New York of the 1970’s that caught my imagination at a very young age when I saw it depicted again and again in Marvel Comics and films like The Warriors. This was the real New York of The Deuce, Times Square peepshows, Burroughs in the Bunker, Taxi Driver, Nighthawks, No Wave, Studio 54 and successive waves of unbelievable violence as exemplified by the crimes of David ‘Son of Sam’ Berkowitz and the lesser-known serial killer Richard Cottingham. I ripped through the whole thing in about two weeks, and then made this cover. Those who work smarter would have just knocked it together in Photoshop, but I, ever-obsessed with the fine detail and cogenitally unprepared to compromise, hand drew it all.

Download a free PDF copy of the article in illustrated booklet form HERE.

1990

I made this in 1990. Thirty years ago. I had recently got back into comics at the time, and while I’d yet to start making my own, I was doing experiments like this to, putting shapes and textures in a grid form just to see what happened. Most of it was drawn, but the playing card came from a lovingly well-thumbed deck my father gave me, and the photo was taken in the fields behind my childhood home. I’ve lost or thrown away so much of my art over the years, but for some reason I’ve always hung on to this one.

Baboom!

Another one from the archives, one I’d completely forgotten about. Left in an unfinished state, I recently completed the inks and mocked it up as it was originally intended, which was something along the lines of something like Atomtan, the 80’s comix zine that featured artists like Philip Bond and Jamie Hewlett, who would soon go on to Deadline and considerable success beyond that. This is the point where British comics, especially that generation who grew up with Action! and 2000 A.D., became self-aware and could see the effect those titles had in the wider counter-culture, with all the cool NME-approved bands talking about reading Judge Dredd and Halo Jones. The strips became less concerned with coherent narratives than leaving the reader – through the collision of images and words – with the same sensation as a good pop song. It led to some interesting experiments that seemed to be opening up the possibilities of the comics medium that I don’t think have been fully explored, and my “vision” for Baboom! was an anthology title where writers and artists could do whatever they wanted with what’s referred to these days as “no filter” and just have a blast while they were doing it. I might still get around to it one day.

Red Room

Further to last week’s post about Jim Rugg’s Street Angel, this is my homage his fellow Cartoonist Kayfaber Ed Piskor and his current comics project Red Room. Ed and Jim are vociferous advocates for ‘Outlaw Comics’, the kind of titles I used to work on and the kind I used to seek out in the dark corners of seedy comic shops. To be truly ‘outlaw’ usually means violence – the more extreme the better, a high nipple count, and a refreshing lack of political agendas and or any kind of polite morals. Red Room is an emphatic return to those principles, and in honour of that I made this drawing of Ed’s mysterious antagonist Poker Face. With Hollywood having “appropriated” the material from comics once considered “unfilmable”, it’s now the job of comics creators to do the things that Hollywood can’t, or won’t, touch.

Beer Monster

An old drawing, mocked-up as a label for a ‘craft beer’ that you’ll never see on sale anywhere. I drew it in 2003, after I’d moved south where the ale is, I’m sorry to say, nowhere near as good as it is up north. My favourite hostelry throughout the 90’s was the Duck & Drake in Leeds, which was – as of February this year – still going strong. I’d last been in there in the early 00’s, and nothing had changed. The same battered wooden furniture, the same fireplace, the same clientele. It was reassuring to see that in a world of relentless change and alleged “progress”, some things are resolute. I approached the bar like a road-weary Medieval supplicant, ready to kneel in awe before the majesty of the lord, and ordered a pint of Old Peculier. One sip and suddenly all was right with the world. I almost wept with relief. So pleasing and uplifting was the experience that I could have easily strapped in for a long liquid afternoon, but I restrained myself to one delicious pint, and left wanting more. Next time I’m back up north, I’ll be in there.

It Blew My Mind, Now It’s Your Turn

I made this illo around 2010, when I self-published the first of two 20-year retrospectives of “one man’s artistic life on the cultural margins.” This was a full wraparound cover, totally inspired by my childhood exposure to the underground comix artists Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton and Robert Williams. You read that right – “childhood exposure.” I was eleven years old. You don’t recover from something like that, and after all this time, I don’t want to.

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