Kid Yam Lo talks shop with the art team (penciller Laurence Campbell, inker Lee Townsend, and colourist Gary Caldwell) behind 2000AD’s Synnamon. Additionally – as an exclusive treat for Pixelsurgeon visitors – we have a few pages of Campbell’s original pencil work to accompany this interview; scroll down and feast your eyes…
PIXELSURGEON: Thanks for talking to us, guys. To begin, let’s have a bit of history – how did you all get involved with comics; what did you work on prior to Synnamon, etc…
LAURENCE: I’ve always had an interest in comics. I can remember buying old UK reprints of Marvel comics and Starlord. When Starlord joined with 2000AD it just blew me away. To me, as an nine year old child, Judge Dredd in The Day the Law Died, driving around on his Lawmaster (a Judge’s motorcycle – Pixelsurgeon) with a bandage covering his face after being shot in the head was very cool. This is the 2000AD I would come to love. It was around this time I remember taking note of the artists, I remember Gary Leach and Brian Bolland drawing Dredd and thought it was amazing. Other artists I learned to appreciate as I got older.
At 16 I was working as a junior in a London design group. At an early age I knew I wanted to work in art in someway and I was far more interested in the graphics side than fine art. I like the challenge of having boundaries on a project and trying to push those boundaries as far as you can whilst keeping to the original idea. I spent around six-and-a-half years at this design group. This was pre Macs, so I was a ‘visualiser’ working with magic markers and tracing off type. I learnt a lot of my design sense there. It was while I was working at the design company that I was reading Zenith in 2000AD. The art by Steve Yeowell and story by Grant Morrsion just blew me away. I think this is when my passion for drawing comics really grew. I found I wanted to draw and tell stories more than I wanted to design corporate brochures and draw coke cans. I started going to life drawing classes and joined London Cartoon Centre, which was headed by David Lloyd with tutors like Dougie Braithwaithe and Kev Hopgood. I went there one evening a week for around two and a half years. Lee also went there, although we didn’t really see much of each other.
At this point Internet groups and magazines like Comicbook Artist were not around and I found it difficult to find samples of pencils or to look at sample scripts as a guide. So I was learning pretty much by trail and error. I met Paul Carstairs who’d done a couple of Future Shocks (short six-page strips in 2000AD, generally used as filler material but also to to ‘break in’ new artists – Pixelsurgeon) for 2000AD and at this point we were both into DC Vertigo type stories. I found these stories refreshing and felt they were pushing new ground for comics. Paul and I collaborated on a forty page comic called Something Inside. Looking back, this was so naive of me. I should have concentrated on doing samples for Dredd, but no, I ended up drawing a strip in which most the action took place in the kitchen. Having said that, I did enjoy the story, learned a lot and have very fond memories of it. I pencilled, inked and lettered Something Inside in my spare time. By this point, ‘mature’ comics like Crisis and Deadline had folded so we looked to self-publish. Personal computers and printers were very expensive so we were hoping to do a short print run with a colour cover. The whole package was going to cost a fair sum if we were to go the self-publish route. As a last resort we posted the comic to publishers in America and were lucky to get it picked up by Caliber Comics.
I left the design studio to go to art collage, as I had a burning in my belly to explore other avenues. This would give me a chance to learn photography, spend time to develop my drawing skills and computer skills. As well as give time to give comics a fair shot. I started a Central Saint Martins foundation course and moved on to the degree course, studying graphic design and focusing on illustration and photography. This to me was a complete eye opener, from working very tight, slick and fast to having complete freedom. My college work was very different to my comic work and I never did any comic work at college. I tackled college briefs in a variety of ways, and kept the two very separate. This worked for me, as college helped me appreciate other forms of art and influenced me in different ways. I could then take these influences back into comics if need be. I think it’s a shame to go to art collage if you want to draw everything in a comic form. The comics industry is such a small community, it’s worth developing other skills and broadening your horizons.
Caliber liked my work and I was offered two further strips in Negative Burn, an anthology title. Looking back, these were dreadful. My art was growing up in public. Caliber later offered me a twenty-four page comic during my third year at collage, so I was a busy as hell. I did pencils only on this comic. In America it’s common practice to have a penciller, inker and colourist. This was the first time my pencils were inked by someone else. It was a total shock for me. Tim Perkins did a great job looking back, as my pencils were not tight at all. An inker can interpret a line in a very different way from how you intend. This experience had a major effect on me. I worked on my pencils, so they became tighter.
The next comic was The Disciples which was going to be a new launch for Caliber. I had drawn two issues which they were, frustratingly, holding on to for at least a year. By this point, my influences had also grown. I was looking at the work of Alex Toth, Mike Mignola, David Mazzucchelli; and from 2000AD, Gary Leach and obviously Steve Yeowell. It was my pencil work on The Disciples which got me my first job at 2000AD. I’d been sending submission after submission to David Bishop before this and receiving back rejection letter after rejection letter. Thinking back though, the work I was sending was completely the wrong subject matter for 2000AD. The Disciples was far more action-based and showed I could do talking scenes as well. I can totally see where David was coming from. Although I was expecting a Future Shock for my first job, they gave me Dredd, and when I saw the strip in print it was coloured from my pencils; a disappointment as I had pencilled the story to be inked. I also did some work for the The Megazine (2000AD sister mag – Pixelsurgeon). The Disciples was finally printed by Image Comics. I really enjoyed working on this and it was very well received by a number of review sites. It was inked by Larry Shuput who did a great job. This was when I teamed up with Colin Clayton and Chris Dows for the first time.
Colin and Chris submitted Bison to 2000AD. I had done some character sketches for the proposal and got the gig. Lee Townsend was brought in to ink it and Gary Caldwell was colouring it. So from an artistic point of view this was the first time we had worked together. Throughout this I was teaching at Central Saint Martins part-time, while drawing Bison the rest of the week. Col, Chris and myself were talking about doing a Sci-fi/spy comic, influenced by The Avengers television series, 60’s Marvel S.H.I.E.L.D. and a touch of Alias. Synnamon was then written with 2000AD in mind.
LEE: I first got involved in comics about 10 years ago! It took me quite a long time to get my first job but you have to be patient and just keep sending in your work as you improve and get to the level they are after. My first professional comic strip was for a company called London Editions which was to eventually became Fleetway. Prior to Synnamon I inked Bison with Laurence and Gary and prior to that a couple of Sinister Dexter strips. Actually, my first inking job for 2000AD was also Patrick Goddard’s first pencilling job, on a Sinister Dexter story called lucky. I have also inked a Dredd story and a Mean Machine story for The Megazine; for DC Comics on a couple of issues of Hellblazer (Haunted) with John Higgins; and with Kin and Gary Frank for Top Cow.
GARY: I went along to a Glasgow comics convention about 12 years ago and landed a James Bond series for Acme/Dark Horse as a result of the samples I’d shown there. The project, for which I was supplying fully-painted art took me an age to do and by the end up I’d come to the conclusion that painting comics (I was only keen on doing painted stuff) was way too difficult and time consuming for me to want to continue. A few years later, an artist called Alex Ronald (who I knew from the Glaswegian comics scene) who was working regularly for 2000AD asked me if I would colour a Future Shock story he was doing. Once the sample page I’d done was approved by then editor David Bishop, I coloured up the rest of the strip, discovering in the process that painting over someone else’s art was far easier than doing my own. I’ve been colouring stuff for 2000AD ever since. Strips I’ve worked on to date include Dredd, Missionary Man, Nikolai Dante, Bison, Synnamon, and at the moment, Sinister Dexter.
Tell us about the design process – who was involved with what, and at what stage? What were your references and inspirations when creating the Synnamon characters and environments?
LAURENCE: When we were asked to develop Synnamon, I went to see Colin (writer) to discuss ideas. They had the synopsis planned and I put forward a few suggestions, which generally got filed in their bin. No, but seriously, I sometimes come up with ideas I think will work visually and they do sometimes consider these. Colin and Chris’ scripts are very cinematic and they actually think about page layouts, which is something I really enjoy drawing. I also quite like a little subtlety, a quality I feel is often overlooked in comics. I like to credit the reader with some intelligence.
At the beginning when Synnamon was being planned, I watched 2001 and really liked the idea of the future being based on the 60’s. I thought the futuristic retro feel could work. The writers wanted her in a cat suit, like Emma peel. I kinda like this as it gives her a classic feel, something that won’t date easily. I was also influenced by the Britney Spears video for Oops I Did it Again, where she wears a red cat-suit.
I also based Synnamon’s hairstyle on Britney’s from the same video. Originally, I wanted to give Synnamon white hair, to fit with the whole black and white thing, but with the name Synnamon it had to be reddish. Originally Synnamon was going to be Cinnamon but we found out that this was the name of an old DC character who was about to be revived. To me this is better, I normally don’t like deliberate misspelling, but there is something very feminine and futuristic with the letter S…
Synnamon’s gun was based on a design Chris had drawn when he was at college a long time ago. I love small guns with big barrels, although I am getting the urge to draw a slim gun with a silencer at some point! One of the ideas we have with Synnamon, is to give her new equipment for each story-line, a bit like Bond. Although I want to be careful here, because if you copy too much Bond it ends up looking like Austin Powers, something I want to stay well clear of.
When drawing the pages I use a little bit of Photoshop for textures and effects. I print them out and stick them to the paper. I still like working on paper at the moment, as I like looking at original pages of art. I like to see were the artist has used Tippex, changed the panel etc. Once I had finished drawing an issue, I would go through the pages with Lee, discussing textures, or the feel of the page. I found out that Lee is very good at fine lines, which is one of the reasons why my work got more detailed in the later issues. I would also send suggestions about what I was thinking, colour-wise, to Gary, just as a rough guide. I was very pleased with Gary’s colouring and I think it’s fair to say we seem to be thinking in the same way.
LEE: The look and design for Synnamon started with Laurence working with Colin and Chris – the writers – so they really set the style and look of the characters and the environments. As for my involvement, Laurence would bring over the pages for inking and we would go through several ideas on how to achieve certain inking effects and what would work best in certain panels. When I finished inking the pages I would send them to 2000AD who would then send them to Gary for colouring.
GARY: For my part, Laurence was quite specific in his ideas for the colouring of the strip. For the first couple of episodes I followed his guidelines pretty stringently, however, after that, I kind of took them under advisement (Laurence had always stressed in the colouring notes he sent me, that they were ideas only and that I should use or discard them as I saw fit ). To be honest, I don’t really plan on what I’m going to do on a strip, I pretty much just wade in, based on what makes sense and what I think will look good!
Did/do you, like many creators, see publication in 2000AD almost as a flag on the hill; something that you’ve “always wanted to do” before moving on to deeper waters? In any case, what are your plans for the near future?
LAURENCE: For me, the first time I got printed in 2000AD was pretty much a childhood dream come true. But I soon found I wanted more. I don’t see 2000AD as a step to America. I think American comics and 2000AD, although similar, do have major differences. With 2000AD you have 5 pages to tell the story, so a lot needs to told in each panel. You don’t really have the luxury of slow tension building or thoughtful moments. Full or double page spreads are very rare. Look at the pacing of Marvel’s Ultimates and compare that to a five page Dredd episode. Both in my opinion great, but they have very different types of story telling. I’ve learnt an awful lot about compact story telling whilst working for 2000AD. If I could have my cake and eat it, I would love to carry on working for 2000AD and maybe balance this with an American comic every now and then, just to tell a different type of story. For the near future I’ve pencilled a Pitchfest winning Future Shock written by Arthur Wyatt, and inked by Kris Justice which I’m very happy with and I’m about to start some more Synnamon.
LEE: Yes it was always something I wanted to do! luckily I was in the right place at the right time just when they started to use more inkers for 2000AD. I never really thought my first job for them would be inking, but I was trying for quite a while to break in as a penciller and I thought this would be a great start. I actually inked for DC and Top Cow before inking for 2000AD. As for my plans for the near future… well, I’m going to be doing some more inking work for Games Workshop and what ever else comes along really. I’m still trying to get more regular inking work from DC and Marvel, and I will be working on some new samples to show them soon. That aside, I still have my illustration work to keep me busy.
GARY: I grew up reading 2000AD and as that was the publication that got me into comics, it was always the one I wanted to work for. As I’m still into the kind of subject matter that 2000AD specialises in, I’m happy to hang around. As for the future, I tend to take each week as it comes, so, who knows? I’m quite pragmatic when it comes to work; if and when it dries up, I’ll just have to go look for something else.
Maybe it’s just us – and we’re not overly politically correct prudes by any stretch of the imagination – but 2000AD seems to have recently gone through yet another “any excuse to draw tits and ass” phase. Synnamon, by contrast, is sexy by virtue of sheer style…
LAURENCE: The ‘Autumn Offensive’ seemed to garner a fair bit of attention. I’m not really interested in women as they are portrayed in some American comic books – ultra thin waists, gravity defying boobs, super long legs etc. I’m more interested in drawing something which is more sexy then sexist. I was well aware I would be in for some flak because Synnamon is a good looking woman in a cat suit. Colin and Chris do like a little cheese cake in their script. I try to tone that down a little and that’s where I tried to give her some style. I think Emma Peel from the Avengers is a good example, she’s sexy without showing any flesh, witty, and can hold her own in a fight or conversation. I see Ascheta, Synnamon’s personal side kick, as her Mr Steed. Synnamon is no Halo Jones either. She was never planned to be anything like that. She’s an agent who kicks arse and looks good doing it. But at the same time, I really do try to stay clear of too many cheesy shots, I’m not interested in drawing stuff like that. Now we have the go ahead to develop her background a little more. She has some possible troubles ahead.
LEE: Yes, I know what you mean, but I think 2000AD are trying new ideas which is always good, but I can understand it does not always appeal to everyone. I like the variation you get in 2000AD; most issues you look through have many different styles of artwork.
GARY: That’s really down to Colin, Chris and Lawrence. I think that by placing their character in less exploitative situations than is sometimes the norm for genre fiction featuring an attractive female lead, they’ve allowed Synnamon to emerge with her dignity relatively intact. Then again, she does wear an extremely tight suit!