Thursday 20 September 2012

Mick McMahon - Demon Artist

Tim Pilcher just asked me if was ever influenced by Mick McMahon, it shocked me so much I thought he might have been taking the piss. I think this is probably a good excuse to make Mick blush once more and print the article I wrote for Vworp! Vworp! magazine a couple of years back where some of my good friends from Doctor Who comics explain why Mick's one and only Doctor Who strip is the best thing since sliced bread.

(Excuse the cod McMahon illo, I did this before I got to know Mick and the caricature isn't the best. Oh, and DWM means Doctor Who Magazine).

The Demon Artist

By Rob Davis

If you ask the DWM artists for their favourite DWM comic strip chances are they will pick Junkyard Demon. (For the record I did ask a collection of my fellow artists including Dan McDaid, Martin Geraghty, Ade Salmon, Sean Longcroft, Roger Langridge and Paul Grist.) So why would we pick a two part oddity like this over the many wonderful epics on offer? It’s a great little idea by Steve Parkhouse. Prefiguring Rob Shearman’s 2005 classic, Dalek, it’s about a battered, inert monster of supreme powers collected amongst the universe’s flotsam that comes to life with the arrival of the Doctor. 

“Parkhouse on top form,” says Sean Longcroft, “an amiable and redoubtable pair of space barrow boys and their windmill-powered robot share our sense of awe as a Cyberman awakes from its lengthy sleep. ‘One Cyberman could stop an army!’ The Doctor informs us, but the immediate threat he poses is to a perfectly charming afternoon of hot chocolate, small sherries and er… hand bellows. The conflict between the fantastically monstrous and the cosily common is one of the hallmark strengths of Doctor Who, a genre Parkhouse nailed right from the off.”
“A story that strong could have been daubed in crayon and it would still be effective,” observes DWM’s own Muppeteer, Roger Langridge. 
He’s right, whoever had drawn it, this would have been a great strip, but due to some bizarre happenstance it fell into the lap of the UK’s most innovative comic artist approaching the peak of his powers. And we were blessed with something unique in Doctor Who.

“Demon really opens up the Universe of comics Who,” says Dan McDaid, “Gibbons, Wagner and Mills pushed Tom Baker's Doctor to the edge of madness, but McMahon takes him right over that edge, into the an inky, super-charged space full of bristling moustaches, ramshackle battleships and junkheaps which walk like men. I love Gibbons to bits, but it's hard to beat the sudden shock of McMahon's potent linework: erratic, spontaneous, instinctive - instantly gripping.”

Ade Salmon adds, “I love how McMahon brings his 2000AD Dreddview to the Dr Who mythos!  Buyulla's inks also play a large part here , delicately spinning web lines between chunking great granite blocks of black. Mick would have inked the heavy blacks before connecting with the linework and Adolfo does a decent imitation here. I also like McMahon's storytelling, plenty of panels ( up to 12!) pushing the story forwards yet taking moments to concentrate on some nice design work.”

In case you haven’t got the message Mick is what they call ‘an artist’s artist’. Explaining why is not easy - talking about art is like dancing about architecture, to paraphrase Declan McManus. Shall we dance?

Some artists see their role as representing reality – a kind of consensus reality that says we can all agree the world looks like this so therefore the story is believable, nothing wrong with that. There’s been some great comic art done by people trying to achieve that kind of ‘consensus reality’, but I’ve always been enticed by comics that let me see the world through another set of eyes. And first glimpse of Mick’s world tells you this is something shockingly different. The world seen through his eyes is no less believable, but reintroduces you to reality as something shockingly new and awe inspiring. That’s not to say it’s fantasy, it is grittily real. In fact there are very few artists who give us a reality as solid as Mick McMahon, despite its amplified and abstracted forms.
The Jigsaw puzzle of blacks in his work are so well placed that, as Roger points out, “you could take away the thin lines, just leaving the solid blacks and it would still be coherent!”

These aren’t just wonderfully rendered objects though - what of the familiar characters now filtered through the McMahon mangler? 

“Likeness is important in a licensed comic,” Dan explains, “but in Junkyard Demon McMahon offers us something more - a bristling, lively caricature of the Fourth Doctor, a gangling mass of a man with iron-wool hair, who meditates among plush cushions and throws spanners around like there's no tomorrow. 
The Doctor, the Tardis, the Cyberman are all familiar and recognisable and yet utterly unique and completely McMahon's own.”

“Awkward, caricatured, outlandish, yet totally believable,” is how Martin Geraghty describes him. But is it Tom Baker? I don’t think it is. I was glad my first Doctor Who strips featured David Tennant because I felt he’d made himself into something of a cartoon (he had a silhouette, a quirky hairdo and converse pumps) and that made my job so much easier. The Tennant I drew was for the most part a cartoon. Mick’s Doctor is like that, he’s the Doctor that Tom Baker created not a drawing of Tom Baker in a costume. 

So what about the villain? “Mick's cyberman is bloody brilliant!” That’s what Ade thinks and anyone who wants to argue with that is liable to get a spanner lobbed at them.

Ade goes on, “His Cyber-Controller is dense with floral decoration, his intrusive Cyber-intruder grows and warps as his menace increases. Where Gibbons had brought solidity, integrity and grace to the world of Who, McMahon brings anarchy, energy, movement. And it's this spirit, this restless creativity, which I hope has found its way into my own work.”

Ah, yes the influence thing. As Roger observes, “McMahon’s influence in the UK is as great as that of Jack Kirby in the US.”  And his influence on Roger? “From him I get idea that your job as a cartoonist is to take this job and put your own stamp on it, make it as much your own as you can without actually breaking it.” For Paul Grist McMahon’s influence is in his relentless invention,
“one of the most impressive things is he doesn't stand still.  McMahon always seems to be trying something new something different, and then once he's got that, incorporates it into his style and moves on to try something else.” And like the rest of us Paul is “still looking at McMahon’s old Judge Dredds and trying to figure out how to get that kind of energy into my work.”

Sean and I have been best mates since childhood, we grew up slavishly copying Mick’s work. And even as grown up professional comic artists the problem for those of us heavily influenced by Mick’s work (and this includes some of the biggest names in British comics) is trying not to end up just aping his style(s). 
I asked Sean how Mick’s work had influenced him, “Looking at my drawing of a cloth faced Cyberman in the Fangs Of Time, I'd have to say almost completely! Oops!” Truth is, Sean, Ade and I have all fallen victim to the temptation to just ape McMahon’s style in the past, as Sean adds though, “the aspects of his work it'd be wiser to try and emulate would be his love of form and line, his prioritisation of clear storytelling over showing off, and of course his tireless creativity.” 
Mick brought all that to bear on Junkyard Demon and with Adolfo Buyulla’s faithful inks and Steve Parkhouse’s mad script we have a comic strip to just gawp at in wonder.

Link to typically modest Mick's blog featuring Junkyard Demon here.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

What to expect...

 This is the first of a couple of blogs I'll do about what you can expect from the second Volume of Don Quixote. First of all there's the cover (above) which is dark. Doug from SelfmadeHero hates this cover because he says it's hard to sell black or white covers. In future I'll try to make his job easier (see the cover to the US Complete Quixote at the bottom of this post)

Why did I do that cover? Well, I'm a storyteller not a designer or marketing man and so I can't help but think about covers as symbolising  something about the book itself. In this case the relationship between  Quixote and the world is summed up pretty well: he is connected to the real world, tenuously, by the rope and he is making a leap of faith into the unknown that is idiotic and courageous in equal measure. When I drew it it reminded me of those images of spacemen in orbit that always look like embryonic babies, all very 2001 (The Kubrick version not the 9/11 Kylie Minogue version). That babies/death/infinity thing is the way to sell a funny book I decided.

In Volume Two Quixote looks much the same. He had to. In comics we rely on a recognisable silhouette (or distinctive features or colouring) because like letter recognition to a child it is essential for reading. Comics are there to be read, comics where you spend ages working out what's going on in the lovely intricate pictures and wondering who is who are never a smooth read.

Here are those silhouettes at work, a couple of scribbles setting off on another adventure. Yes, once again this book is about those two idiots riding their useless mounts along dusty roads in the baking sun.

The difference here is that things are a bit darker. The book ends in death. He pops up throughout the book like signposts, or omens or whatever.

Darker book. Darker cover. And as with any book about death... hilarity ensues.

There are campfires in Volume Two. They were very popular in Volume One and setting aside their primal significance in the art of storytelling  they allow me to draw some shadows.
I like drawing shadows. But when I started drawing Quixote I knew I'd be colouring it as well, so made a decision to draw the lines and use two or three tone flat colour for the shadows. It's better for me to be able to draw for the colour rather than use the colour as some kind of fanciness that I frilly the picture up with after it's done.

Couple of splashes of sunlight on a swarthy face tells us so much. Alas there are moments in Volume Two where the colour goes a bit hallucinatory. The symbolism of having Quixote fight this chap (pictured below) is as mind-boggling as his suit of armour suggests.

But generally I still try to keep the colour simple, picking out the shapes the reader needs to identify at speed and bringing a temperature and hue that reflects the time of day or mood or whatever.

 So, plenty of fun and japes (and death) to come in Volume Two, plus Lions and Weddings and puppet shows, spanked arses, cat scratches and caves. Deep dark caves.

More on what to expect from Volume Two in the next blog post, but for now here's that dark cover to The Complete Don Quixote which will be released in the US next may through Abrams. Link to the SMH catalogue here:

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