Filed under: Film and Sequential Art, Guests 2009, Minterviews | Tags: Charlie Adlard, Comics, Leeds comic con, Leeds comic festival, Leeds comic workshops, Leeds International Film Festival, Leeds Thought Bubble comic festival, Sequential Art
What up gang? It’s now two weeks to the festival, and as promised earlier in the week we’ve got some fresh minterviews for you with some of our amazing big name guests at this year’s Thought Bubble. These can currently be found in the TB section of this year’s Leeds International Film Festival Catalogue (which you should really check out for details of over 200 amazing films currently showing across the city), but we’re happy to bring them to you, live and direct, here on the TB Blog. We really do spoil you guys, but hey – you deserve it.
First up we had a chat with Charlie Adlard, currently astounding and terrifying readers in equal measure with his illustrative work on the break-away comics hit of the last few years – The Walking Dead. So get your best zombie shuffle on and read away. All together now… Braaaaains…
Hi Charlie, thanks for taking the time to talk to us; to start, could you give a brief idea of how you first got started in the comics industry?
Well, I got in just as so many other pros have – through the London and Glasgow conventions in the late ’80’s. I just basically took my portfolio around each con until someone was foolish enough to give me work. At those two major cons back then, it was a lot easier getting work off the major companies because they were all represented there, as opposed to now when you’re lucky to get an editor from DC comics and perhaps 2000AD, so I stood a much better chance back then. My first work was through the Judge Dredd Megazine (I got my first commission at a Glasgow con after about two years of trying) and thankfully it’s never really slowed down since then.
Your illustrative style has changed markedly over the years, was that adaptation due to the demands of the titles you’ve worked on, or was it more of a natural evolution of your own talents?
Bit of both, really. When I first started to get a portfolio together for these conventions, the work in it mainly consisted of B&W illustrations – that’s where I was at style-wise back then – but I was also looking for work at a time where it was fashionable to do fully painted artwork. Consequentially, I thought I’d better try my hand at that to improve my chances of cracking the industry, and it was that work that got me my first commission with the JDM.
Personally, I don’t think I was that good at it, and I spent roughly my first professional year doing fully painted comic strips, then I was asked to do few strips in B&W for the JDM and I haven’t really looked back since.
I’ve always felt more comfortable in monochrome – I think it’s where my strengths lie – I probably reached a “competent” level with full colour but never surpassed that, and now I rarely paint. It’s a shame really because I would have loved to have gotten better at it, but alas I never found the time – I was too busy doing B&W! Occasionally I do get the chance to paint or colour on the computer, and I really enjoy it because I do it so little – it’s a break from the norm – but it’s never enough to really improve my technique. It’s in my B&W work where I can see constant improvement, and I should be happy with that, but, y’know, I want to be a master of all trades.
You’re currently best known for your artwork on zombie-apocalypse epic The Walking Dead – is it liberating working on such a title where you get to portray characters involved in moments of quiet introspection as well as horrific acts of violence?
Yes, definitely! If this was just a plain “horror” book not only would I have got bored with it but the readers would have as well. The beauty of TWD is the fact that it’s a character book first and foremost and that’s what keeps me interested. If Robert [Kirkman, series’ creator] had written just issue after issue of people in peril and zombie mayhem then I don’t think I’d be still talking about it today, six years down the line.
Of course, the other great thing about working on a title like this and what makes it so liberating is the fact that I don’t have to draw Superheroes to make a career for myself. It’s totally amazing to see TWD buck all trends, to go up against all the mainstream superhero stuff and stand alongside quite respectably. There’s not many non-superhero books can claim that – it’s a very privileged place to be in.
Comics in general seem to be shifting more and more into the mainstream, what do you feel has caused this change in public perception to sequential art?
Do you think comics are more in the mainstream? People might be more aware of them than, I suppose, 15 years ago, but it hasn’t really translated into huge sales.
I think the industry has resigned itself to being a niche, to be honest, a healthy niche, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think we’ll ever see sales in the millions again. Mind you, I think that’s the case with the whole print industry, not just comics.
Comic books are doing OK though – I think we’re in a good space at the moment. The graphic novel side has certainly taken off for the industry, particularly for certain books, TWD included. We actually sell as many trades as single issues. If most publishers could get those figures then I think the death of the single monthly issue would be inevitable and we might become more like the European template.
Having said all that, the movie and TV industry has done a lot to raise the profile of this industry and it’s only been possible in recent times to make good looking superhero movies that people won’t laugh at (there’s always been exceptions to the rule of course, Superman The Movie, The Rocketeer, and I’m certainly not saying that all the recent comic movies have been critical successes), because of the advancement in effects, and the influx of self-confessed “geeks” to direct and write the things. Thanks to them we have a healthy profile, and, in slight contrast to what I said before, it does make people more aware of the lesser known comics out there that have become films, and that does translate to better sales. However, the big mainstream ones – not a jot of difference anymore.
The increased interest in comic properties by Hollywood is certainly undeniable at this point – TWD the latest series to be commissioned for television – has this led to any noticeable operational changes within the comics industry?
I think comic companies are increasingly aware of their properties becoming movies and the rewards that that can reap. Consequentially, they may publish things that might not necessarily make them immediate money back on publication – especially if there’s movie interest beforehand, which can quite often happen.
Publishers now are able to think beyond just publishing a book, and to the possible greater awards that movies, TV, and merchandising can give them. Before publishers were just that – publishers – the concept of anything else was rare, if at all. Personally, for me and many other creators – we have also started to think “out of the box” – the advantage to doing something which you own is much more appealing when it can generate the rewards that other media can offer. So, quite often, even before pen has hit the paper, thoughts of where this particular project can go outside of comics is all too relevant!
You’ve worked on a number of different titles, from Judge Dredd to Green Lantern, do you have any particular favourite characters, either to illustrate or as a comics fan?
Yeah, you could say that, up until TWD, I was a bit of a journeyman artist – taking work from wherever I could get it – not a particularly fulfilling first 10-plus years, but I did get to tackle many different styles and characters because of that.
In all honesty, I would say that I don’t have a burning desire to do any one character and the reason for that is TWD has put me in really good place creatively and professionally. It has enabled me to do whatever I want, so doing work for the money alone isn’t a factor any more – and one could argue that doing projects for the “big 2” would be purely for “the money”. Let’s face it; there really is no other reason. Why would I want to work on someone else’s characters when I can have total control and own my own creations? That’s so much more fulfilling than anything Marvel or DC could offer at the moment.
Having said all that, there’s no reason why I might not return to other people’s characters one day, it would be just for a bit of fun and probably not a lengthy project though (Dr Doom or Conan might be fun to do at some point) and it won’t be in the near future. I’m with TWD for the long run and I have plenty of creator owned books on the side in the pipeline as well – enough to see me well into the next couple of years.
Finally, regarding comic conventions – are they something that you enjoy attending, either as an artist or as a spectator?
It’s been years since I attended a con as a fan. I used to attend Angouleme in France on that basis, but even going there now I attend as a professional. I kind of miss it – to just go to a convention for the “fun” of it and without all the baggage that being within the industry entails. Though that really is a minor gripe – on the whole I really enjoy going to conventions, and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t go. Drawing comics is a fairly isolated business, so it is good to get out there and meet the fans. It’s great to meet up with the other pros and socialise as well. It’s not often we all get the opportunity to gather together in one area and we’re all too lazy to organise get togethers ourselves!
Many thanks to Charlie for taking the time to talk to us, we’ll have another big-name minterview up next week. If you blog it, they will come.
Two weeks to go ’til TB ’09! Shazam!