Tuesday, 22 April 2008

A chat with...PJ Holden and Al Ewing (part three)



(Above: Dead Signal cover for 2000 AD by Nick Percival)

This is the third part of an online chat that I had with artist PJ Holden and writer Al Ewing earlier this month. Here are parts one and two.

MB: Are you both proud of how far you've come?

AE: Guardedly, yes. What really helps is my brother being proud of me. That was a good moment when I heard that. Mum and Dad are very proud as well, but Tom's the person who got me into 2000 AD and he really understands the significance of me managing to actually achieve what I've wanted to do all my life, whereas my parents are just glad I've made good with my foolish hobby.

PJ :I'm amused at how about 80% of the reviews of my work say 'this is his best work yet' or 'seems to have really improved since the last time'. Which means I'm either fucking great now, or I was really, really shit to begin with! I'm proud of my reputation within 2000 AD of the go-to guy for deadline crunches. And, despite that, the work isn't shite.

AE: PJ's more than just the go-to guy for deadlines - he's the go-to guy when you need something done exactly the way you wanted it. I firmly believe he's our generation's Dave Gibbons.

PJ: Cheers, though I seem to be drawing comparisons to Brett Ewins a lot. Brett Ewins on Rogue was one of my favourite things. The episode with Venus Bluegenes where she's looking down (I have no idea which issue) is just a gorgeous drawing.

Al: Brett on Rogue was absolutely gorgeous...

MB: Is comics a foolish hobby?

AE: I've been advised that what I should really do is become a factory inspector. My Dad came at me with that once. Apparently it's a job with a future.

MB: PJ, Is it tiring being the go-to guy? Presumably, there's no room for error if your guy who pulls everyone's fat out of the fire.

PJ: Not tiring at all, I worry that maybe being a speed freak my art would suffer, but since I'm actually fast (and if I have a six week deadline or a one week deadline the work doesn't look any different) and not just crunching for deadlines I don't think that's the case (in other words: if it's rubbish - it's no reflection on the time it took).

All I really want to do - and the point of my drawing - is to make me at 11 happy. That's it. I figure if I can make me happy at 11 then I'll be doing something similar for others. It's just a shame that the average age of a reader is 30. Not much my artwork can do to help you out of a mid-life crisis. Also, when you have deadline crunches you can do more work and if you do more work, you get paid more and there’s more chance of comics becoming a proper job.

MB: What do you guys think you need to do next to develop as creators?

Al: I need to be doing what I do now in half the time.

PJ: I dunno, I keep hoping something I do will suddenly propel me into the stratosphere (or at least let me leave my day job) but I'm not sure that overnight success really happens to many people. But I've just gotta keep drawing and making sure the next drawing is better than the last.

AE: I'm just slow. I spend hours working out how to do things, and then more hours getting the dialogue into the perfect shape, although it's nowhere near perfect enough for my liking. I'm fine with that very methodical, perfectionist way of working, but I need to organise it more and just improve my working practices and make myself more efficient. Cut down on wanking, for example. Twice a week is enough for any man.

MB: Which is your wanking hand and which is your writing hand? Maybe you can wank and write. Or wank straight onto the page.

AE: That's a set-up I'm not going to dignify with a punchline.

MB: PJ, would you like to carry on doing completely original strips or do you see the benefit of doing Dredd et al?

PJ: I think doing both is best. Warren Ellis has talked before about how he went off to do creator-owned work only, got called in to do some Marvel work and found that the Marvel work was creating a completely new audience for his creator-owned work. The George Clooney idea (I think it's him) of one worthy film to one blockbuster. Besides, who in their right mind would turn down the chance to draw Dredd!?!

MB: Ok, pimp some creators worth watching. Up-and-coming and established. Who should people read/observe artwise if they want to learn their comic craft?

PJ: I have no idea, I rarely get to comic shops, so ... you know, I know no-one.




(Above: Iron Fist 'brings the awesome' courtesy of Brubaker, Fraction and Aja)

AE: I'm loving Matt Fraction right now. I think his Iron Fist is a perfect comic.

MB: What makes it perfect?

AE: It's taking a character and using him or her to the fullest, boiling it down to the basics and then... I mean, you've seen the martial arts sequences.

MB: No.

AE: You have to read it. It was a huge influence on Tempest, in that I decided 'I will make this series as awesome as humanly possible’. In fact, I was going to call the first series 'Bring The Awesome' but Matt Smith wouldn't let me.

PJ: Heh.

MB: Is that an Iron Fist quote?

AE: No, but The Awesome should be brought and Iron Fist does bring it.

PJ: I think that's a quintessentially Al Ewing thing. He ramps everything up to 11.

MB: Will Tempest return?

AE: Yes. Matt is open to more, although not this year. If I can get permission, the next arc will be Tempest vs. The All-New Deathfist.

MB: What would you guys like to do if you broke the States?

PJ: Not sure, I don't have any dream project and I can't think, for the life of me, what my artwork would suit. I figure an obscure ‘70s DC title, resurrected. That's what most 2000 AD droids end up doing, right?

AE: REVERSE AQUAMAN.

MB: Turn him round or The Reverse Aquaman?

PJ: He he.

AE: Like the Reverse Flash - Reverse Aquaman can control everything that's not in the sea. I want to work on the kids’ titles - Marvel Adventures, the Animated books.

MB: Reverse Aquaman controls everything?

AE: Yes, even Superman. And Aquaman has to fight him with his finny friends.

MB: Why do you want to do the kids’ books?

AE: Because they're unsullied by continuity. They have their own, simpler continuity, which makes them a giant playground for fun ideas. Look at what Jeff Parker's been doing! If I worked on the Hulk, I'd need to get involved with Skrulls and Red Hulk and so on... but if I could work on Adventures Hulk, it'd just be a 24-page one-off full of Hulky fun.

Go to part four or five of this interview.

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