I grew up in Scarborough, on the North-east coast of England, in the 1960s and 70s, a glorious time of chopper bikes, Fab ice lollies, Top of the Pops, the very wonderful Doctor Who and bouncey orange spacehoppers. My first comics were sketched in thick blue rough books at school, little miniature comic strips featuring 'The Uggs and the Blots', strange round headed creatures who had weird adventures and held signs saying such enigmatic things as "UG!". I was clearly destined for greatness from an early age.
More than anything at school, I desperately wanted to be a comic artist, it was always right at the top of my list of potential future careers. I was brought up initially on a diet of classic British comics such as Whizzer & Chips, Topper and the Beano, wonderful weeklies on tatty old newsprint, that I'd read over and over again. In the late 60s I was seduced by American superhero comics, first of all through the Power Comics line (Fantastic, Wham, Pow, Smash and Terrific) and I was quickly hooked, hunting for whatever 'real' American comics I could find at market stalls: dog eared old copies that I treasured, and read time and time again. As Power Comics slowly became absorbed into IPC, I had to settle for Valiant and the like, reading the adventures of Janus Stark (whom I'd love to write some time) and the rest - until in 1973 I was able to return to my new love, when the British Marvel invasion began, and my lifelong love affair with comics really kicked in.
As the 70s wore on, more and more 'real' American comics began to become available, and like many young readers at the time, I became hooked on Claremont's X-Men comics, joining the X-Men fan club, and quickly meeting friends who would come to have a huge influence on my creative life. Leaping in with both feet, I took on the editorship of fan club offshoot X-AP (a loose collective of fellow fans writing and drawing their own material), and I began to draw my own comic strips (all terrible), becoming part of a larger group of active fans, creating our own fanzines and strips long beofre the internet (or even computers) were around. It was a terrific few years - I soon split from the club and formed my own APA, called Early Spring, and wrote and / or drew a number of comic strips for the quarterly collection, including some Doctor Who stories, a rather wobbly adaptation of Michael Moorcock's The Chinese Agent, and other solo stories and collaborations with other (generally much better) fan artists and writers.
Eventually I became active enough in 'fandom' that I was asked by Martin Skidmore, at that time the editor of comics magazine Fantasy Advertiser, to interview Richard Piers Rayner (left), who was then the artist on Hellblazer, and who also, like me, lived in York. It was to be a meeting that would have a huge effect on my life.
Through Rich I also met Vince, who was working as art assistant to Rich, posing as the photo-reference model of John Constantine, and also producing his own comic along with Rich, called The Solthenis. The three of us became firm friends, and Vince has since become my closest friend, the two of us sharing a house for the past fifteen years. I found myself also appearing in Rich's comics (anyone with the Swamp Thing Annual he drew will see me featuring as Brother Power, and I'm in other places too), and I began to experiment with the technique myself, trying to find ways to make my comic art look as it looked in my head - though it was always a battle.
As Vince began to experiment with his own strips, my own creativity was picqued again too, and as Early Spring wound down and Vince began to publish his Sapphie comics through his own imprint, Ariel Press, I began to work on two comic strips with the wonderful (and still pretty much undiscovered) cartoonist Mark Wayne Barrett, with whom I'd worked on various comic strips in Early Spring.
The first of these two projects to see the light of day outside the smaller world of fandom was Gravestown (the cover of issue one to the left), which was released through Vince's Ariel Press, with Mark and I working closely together on both art and plot. We made a good start on issue two, but sales of Sapphire slowed down, Vinnie wasn't able to break even, and Ariel Press Mark One slowly ended - but there was more to come, we don't give up that easily...
Vince and I had bigger ideas, and we talked a lot about producing a comic that was 'like a good Saturday night's telly' - the result of which was the Raven anthology (left), containing Vince's continuation of his Sapphire strip, my solo photo strip 'The Bishop', and the second of my projects with Mark, Dan Druff (and its later spin-off, Mad Girl, this time produced solo). It was a hugely productive time.
Clearly, however, the world still wasn't ready for us, and when Raven failed to sell in the numbers we'd hoped, I came to the conclusion that perhaps a comics career wasn't going to happen. I was confident about my writing abilities, but continued to have doubts about whether I really was cut out to draw my own strips.
Still, I continued to try, even though despite my best attempts, I felt that my artwork was never going to reach a standard with which I was happy, and drawing was sometimes like pulling teeth - my last solo strip in Raven was the detective comic Griffin (of which, more later), and with that I quietly withdrew from drawing comics, and concentrated on my strongest skill - writing.
Discovering Nanowrimo (National Novel Writers Month) I threw myself into novel writing, and at last I felt I'd found the medium with which I was happiest, producing an adaptation of the Gravestown comic, and also a science thriller called Loop - the novels went well, and I was sure that the comics career was over, putting all that nonsense behind me.
Until the Bristol Comic Convention this year (2008), and a discussion Vince and I had in the bar... of which more to come...