Influences & Early Years1#

Early years and comics. I have been passionate about comics since before I could read, and about film since before I could afford an admission ticket. Comics dominated my young life and nurtured my imagination. From years of exposure to comics, poring over the pages and copying my favourite artists, I learned to appreciate not just beautifully drawn artwork but the skills of good storytelling. I was swept away by the great adventure stories of the 1950’s and early 1960’s Beano. I was introduced to the great classic works of literature printed on the back of the Topper, illustrated in colour by the incomparable artists Dudley D Watkins and Paddy Brennan. I also enjoyed early editions of the Beezer and graduated, as did many of my generation, to more grown up comics such as the Wizard, Lion, Sun, Comet, Eagle, TV21 and others.

A little more about the effects on my young life and mind of the astonishing work of artists Dudley D Watkins & Paddy Brennan: their illustrations of the literary classics were in colour on the back of the Topper and were landmarks of imaginative excellence. The comic was large format, about 15x inches by 9x, giving full scope to 8x glorious panels of the most exquisitely drawn action and adventure. To be introduced at a young impressionable age to such superb stories complemented by the highly skilled artwork was a gift beyond comparison and I never ever forgot the enthusiasm these pages instilled in me. They were all outstanding but the ones I recall with undiminished passion were King Solomon’s Mines, Allan Quartermain, Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island and Captain Blood. Glorious swashbuckling escapism of the highest order. The artwork was a wonder to behold and made the stories more real for me than even the few films I was taken to see. I lived for those magnificent pages dropping through my letterbox each week and I can never thank my parents enough for making sure I was provided with such imaginative inspiration and source material.

Film. I’ve always been hugely influenced by film, having been taken to the cinema from a very early age. Which may explain why many of my inspirations occur cinematically; I see entire scenes, action sequences, framing, dialogue, locations, camera moves, characters all unfolding inside my head, trying to find form. For the most part I haven’t always known where these ideas belong. There hasn’t always been a context for them, they just occur, and I dutifully jot them down. It happens all the time, wherever I happen to be, and working on The Shadow Histories has been, in part, an attempt to give some kind of cohesive expression to those constantly unfolding revelations.

In an effort to hone my drawing skills I constantly studied the artists whose work I most admired. There were many artists in comics, and later on in books, who influenced me as a youngster (as many still do today) and although I was told a number of times that it was somehow cheating to copy I never paid any attention to such misguided drivel.

Copying is one of the most focused, intense ways to study the work of the best artists out there. It provides you with the practice you need to assemble the necessary skills that will launch your own style. Copy the best, endlessly. Copy anyone. Copy anything. Accrue the skills. Study the masters. It is a great foundation for your own unique vision. It works.

And I still ‘borrow’ ideas and themes from the best I can find today, both artwork and writers I admire. As one of my great author heroes, Philip Pullman, says “Take your ideas from wherever they spring. Steal from the best. Use anything and everything to forge your own unique vision and world.”