Kev Hopgood's Greatest Hits!

Kev Hopgood's Greatest Hits!

I recently talked to the wonderful Kev Hopgood about his career in comics, but before we started I tried to get to know the gentleman a little. He told me. "My favourite food is probably a good burger, although I will eat just about anything" and his least favourite movie would have to be any of the Fantastic Four movies, "How could The Incredibles get it so right and the FF movies get it so wrong?" he asked.

I also asked him briefly if he was a football fan to which he replied "I don’t really follow football, but if I did because I’ve been living in South London long enough that it would have to be Crystal Palace." If I was a truly passionate Brighton fan our chat could have found a detour, but I'm not that passionate, so quite rightly we moved onto comics.

He also explained, "I live in Bromley which is a suburb of London and have a studio a couple of miles away in Beckenham. Famous sons and daughters of our area include David Bowie, Siouxsie Sioux , Bob Monkhouse and Enid Blyton!"

Paul: So starting at the beginning my first question is fairly simple. How did you first discover comics, how did that relationship begin? Can you recall the first comics you especially enjoyed? How old might you have been and perhaps where were they from?


Kev: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading comics! I started off with The Beano and Sparky, and had a huge stack of both of them. I then discovered “boys” comics like Hotspur, Lion and Smash. I also read a lot of The Commando war stories and was a big fan of Frank Belamy’s artwork on the Garth strip in the Daily Mirror. I first discovered Marvel comics via the black and white reprints in Pow! I was really impressed by the work of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko in particular. This whetted my appetite and I started tracking down the full colour American imports that appeared sporadically on the shelves of my local corner shop.
Paul: Did comics inspire you to become an artist? or were you artistic from a young age?
I was definitely inspired from an early age to draw comics. I’ve always found the combination of words and pictures to be magical. I used to write and draw newspaper strips on big rolls of paper my dad gave me from the butcher’s shop he ran.

Paul: As an artist would you say you are self taught or do you have, for lack of a better description, a formal education in art?

Kev: I studied illustration at Leeds Beckett University, although they were less than encouraging about a career in comics. One lecturer suggested that I try another field because drawing comics was “just too difficult.” Luckily I’m quite stubborn and I ignored his advice.

Paul: Before we discuss your published work, I'm curious if like many other creators you received a lot of rejection letters or had a lot of knock backs before seeing your art in print?

You have to have a thick skin in any kind of creative endeavour, you’re going to get rejections but you need to carry on regardless. The first knock back I can remember was a comic strip art competition run by the Daily Mirror and judged by Garth artist Frank Bellamy. I was convinced that at the age of twelve this was my big break. I was gutted when it wasn’t. In my second year at art school I found out that 2000 AD we’re looking for a new Slaine artist. I did some samples that wowed my lecturers and fellow students but I didn’t get the gig, it went to Glenn Fabry. Having left art school and moved to London (Brixton) I met the daughter of classic comic book artist Don Lawrence. He was looking for a studio assistant to learn the ropes while on the job. I went to see him at his studio in Eastbourne but didn’t get the gig. It went to Liam Sharpe and then later Chris Weston. Like I said, you need a thick skin. Mine’s as tough as rhino hide.

Paul: You mentioned 2000AD and I recall you did some Tharg's Future Shocks. Was that you first break into comics?

My first published work that I was actually paid for was a little strip in Knockabout Comics that was very much inspired by Hunt Emerson. Before that I had work published in various fanzines and self published a “punk rock Furry Freak Brothers” comic called Crisis. I also had a couple of readers drawings ( Strontium Dog and Ro-Jaws) published in 2000 AD. Before I did the Future Shocks I had my first real break with Marvel UK when I landed the Zoids gig.

Paul: I did not know about most of those examples. I did know about Zoids though, so I stand corrected. I had a letter published in the letters page of Spiderman and Zoids. 

What did your letter say?

Paul: I think I tried guessing who the Hobgolin was in the Spiderman strip because that was the long running storyline at the time, and I think I asked why the Zoids strip was shorter than the Spiderman strip. It was quite a few years ago. I know I said I likes the Zoids though.

Kev: Excellent! I was pencilling and inking four pages of Zoids a week when we first started out, which was about all I could comfortably manage. I’d leave my studio in Brixton on a Friday afternoon and hand deliver the artwork to Marvel UK’s offices in Bayswater, just in time for after work drinks!

Paul: Am I right in thinking you may have been working with a very young writer named Grant Morrison at the time, and the comic came to an end just as it was about to get genuinely interesting?

The Black Zoid arc was one of Grant’s first gigs. He went on from Zoids to do Zenith. It was a shame that the Zoids strip ended when it did, but we had a good run and Iearned a heck of a lot on the job.

Paul: Do you have any insight into what Grant's storyline might have been going forward on Zoids?

Kev: I’m afraid not, you’d have to ask Grant! Ian Rimmer, the editor and writer for most of the series, he might have some insights.

Paul: You've worked for pretty much every major UK title of that era, which for me is a huge kick of nostalgia, especially in regards to Action Force. In any way did that come about specifically because it was another Toy / Action figure related property?

Kev: All the Marvel UK books at the time were toy tie-ins, so the Action Force gig was a no-brainer. Although Action Force never achieved the sales of Transformers they’re still well remembered by the fans.

Paul: It was a weird title. It was GI Joe, but with no mention of GI Joe, instead it was Action Force. There much have been some creative retroactive lettering, did any of the American art have to be altered to fit that narrative or continuity do you know?

Kev: I’m not sure. The editor was Richard Starkings, who went on to found Comicraft. He’s the man to ask. He knows where all the bodies are buried.

Paul: You mentioned Transformers just now, beyond maybe a cover I don't recall you working on the title. Is that a regret based on its high profile at the time?

Kev: I always preferred the Zoids to the Transformers. Robot dinosaurs I could understand. Robots that turned into trucks? Why? I still don’t get it.

Paul: With that perfectly sound logic I'm guessing you like the Dinobots?

Kev: Cannot honestly say I’m familiar with the Dinobots…

Paul: That's fair enough...   Inevitably we must discuss 2000AD. Before talking about your published work with them, are you a fan of 2000AD? Were there stories or characters you especially fancied working on?

Kev: I first discovered 2000AD via Carlos Esquera’s work on Strontium Dog. There was one double page spread he drew which blew me away. Apart from Dredd, Johnny Alpha is the 2000AD character that I think I could have most fun with.

Paul: Apart from some Future Shocks you have of course had success in the pages of 2000AD with Night Zero and Beyond zero etc. What were they like to work upon?

Kev: I’d been working on toy tie-ins for Marvel UK for a couple of years when I got the call from Tharg. Night Zero was the first time I’d been offered the chance to design a project from the ground up. It was exciting but also a bit nerve wracking to create a cast of characters and the world they inhabit without reference to a toy manufacturers bible. Also the strip was drawn in black and white which I hadn’t worked in since my fanzine days. At Marvel UK I’d gotten used to leaving the artwork fairly open for the addition of colour. I had to get used to spotting more blacks and making the linework denser. The script from science fiction novelist John Brosnan had a hard boiled film noir flavour with some nice tongue in cheek humour thrown into the mix. It was about this time that I moved into a studio in Brixton with fellow artists Andy Lanning, Anthony Williams, Brian Williamson and writer/editor John Tomlinson. In a different studio in the same building were artists Ed Hillya, Woodrow Phoenix and the rest of their crew. Round the corner on Coldharbour Lane was the Acme comic shop, who regularly hosted pretty good parties. Dave Hine and Michael Bennett also lived locally. For a while there was quite a buzzy comics community centred on Brixton.

Paul: Like so many British creators your efforts drew the attention of an American publisher. Having worked for Marvel UK it was unsurprisingly Marvel US. How did that come about?

I met editor Nel Yomtov at one of the UKCAC conventions in London. Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and Brian Bolland had just got their breaks in US comics and Nel was over to see if their was any more UK talent waiting to be discovered. I showed him my portfolio and luckily he saw promise in what I had to show him. The first gig he offered me was a backup story in that years Darkhawk Annual. There followed a Deathlock one shot that was written by Len Kaminski. I’d always liked the Deathlock character and I really enjoyed Len’s take on him. I’d heard rumours that they were looking for a new regular artist on Iron Man, so I was elated but also extremely nervous when Nel called and offered me a one issue try-out on the book. No pressure!

Paul: Well that try-out opportunity (Issue 280, March 1992) was clearly well received because you got the job.

Paul: Can you say how different it is working on a monthly book for America rather than perhaps occasionally weekly strips in the UK? Were the deadlines tougher for example?

I was working on Iron Man in the early Nineties, way before the internet so everything was done via fax and Fed-Ex. I’d be faxed the script and get to work on the pencils. On Friday I’d package up the week’s work which was between five and eight pages, depending on a how well the week had gone. Then the pages went to Len who’d add the dialogue, then they had to go the letterer, the inker, the colourist and finally to Nel who’d get it all off to the printer. I really don’t know how we did it all month in and month out. The internet’s made the logistics of publishing a heck of a lot easier. Of course the internet also added a lot more distractions, but that’s another story.

Paul: Given the workload having an inker must have been essential. Generally this is in contrast to an artist's work in UK comics. Obviously there are exceptions. Did you enjoy being inked? Or is it strange losing an element of control over the finished art?

Kev: A lot depends on the inker you're paired with. My all time favourite inker has to be Tom Palmer. I loved the way he embellished Gene Colman’s pencils. I was happy with all the inkers I had on my time on Iron Man, although I must admit to being glad that I ink my own work these days.

Paul: Whilst James Rhodes existed as a character, you certainly created War Machine and the armor. Nobody can take that away from you. How long did it take to design? Were there many other versions before you landed on the one that finally saw print?

Kev: As I remember it there were a couple of weeks of to-ing and fro-ing before we settled on the final design. The brief from Len was “it’s Iron Man but cooler”. The black and silver colour scheme was inspired by the colour scheme of the LA Raiders football team. I had an idea that I wanted War Machine to be a walking tank, a more overtly military version of the classic IM armour. That led to all the guns and weaponry that we strapped onto him, this was the 90's after all. War Machine was only supposed to be around for a few issues and then disappear, but he proved to be quite popular with the fans so he hung around for a bit. 

Paul: You must have been asked this hundreds of times, but I am assuming you've been pretty chuffed with War Machine's various appearances in the MCU, do you have any particular favourite scenes?

Kev: I found the first appearance of War Machine to be hugely exciting. They absolutely nailed it, it was exactly how I imagined the character would appear on the big screen. The same goes for Hulkbuster. I loved the scene where Tony Stark was repeatedly smashing the Hulk in the face willing him to go to sleep!

Paul: You beat me to it. I was just about to mention the Hulkbuster from Age of Ultron. Which was pretty great. It was another suit of armour you designed. Do you collect any of the toys and merchandise of your creations?

Kev: I’ve got a few in the studio. I still get royalties on the toys so it would be churlish not to.

Paul: With your creations existing in the MCU did you get name checked in any of the movie credits or receive any invites to any premieres? I have read that for some writers and artists the absense of these has, quite reasonably, been a cause for annoyance.

I got name checked in the Avengers and Iron Man movies. Me and my wife were also invited to the Avengers 2 premiere in LA which was kind of cool. We were sat in front of Jack Kirby’s widow and his daughters. It was the first time that both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were given a joint credit in a Marvel movie and a huge cheer went up from the audience. A magical moment.

Paul: At the Avengers Age of Ultron Premiere did you manage to meet any of the cast? I'm just curious if the creators that write and draw the comic characters get introduced to the actors that portay them, and if so, were they nice?

No. We did see them from a distance but we weren’t introduced or anything. Bob Layton managed to get a selfie with Downey Jnr. at the Iron Man premier. There was a logjam where the “A” red carpet crossed over with the “B” red carpet. There were life sized mannequins of the cast at the intersection and everyone was hanging around taking selfies. Suddenly a woman shouted out. “Move along! MOVE ALONG! There’s some TALENT coming through!” It was some actress from Game of Thrones I didn’t even recognise.

Paul: After Iron Man for Marvel U.S. were you offered any other ongoing titles?

I left Iron Man after my two year run to work on a creator owned project written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning for Epic Comics, which was Marvel’s creator owned imprint. It was called Chrome Inc. and was one of the first projects I artworked using Photoshop. It was a four issue limited series, and I was just finishing the last issue when the whole Epic line was canned. The project still hasn’t seen the light of day. There was a big slump in comic sales in the late Nineties and I took the decision to move out of comics. I’d had a ten year run and to be honest I couldn’t see much future in comics. I moved into computer games.

Paul: Is there a chance one day Chrome Inc will ever be finished and published? What sort of genre was it?

Never say never… It was a cyberpunk story set in a dystopian future where gangs of cyberneticly enhanced criminals ran amok.

Paul: Can you mention any of the computer games you worked upon?

I worked on a Warhammer game for Mindscape and a space shoot-em-up from Psygnosis called Blast Radius. I worked on concept art for both games and became reasonably proficient at 3D modelling. Via the Warhammer game I got to know some of the guys at Games Workshop. They were planning on publishing a comic book line set in their fantasy and Sci-Fi worlds. I was offered a regular gig illustrating a strip written by Dan Abnett called Darkblade. I returned to the life of a freelancer and branched out into the wider field of children’s publishing.

Paul: There is another significant property that you've worked upon that has a huge fanbase, and that would be Doctor Who. Before talking about your work on the character, would you describe yourself a fan aswell? If so do you have a favourite Doctor?

Kev: Yup, big fan. All my kids grew up in the Eccleston, Tennent, Smith era. They fell to the wayside when Peter Capaldi took up the reins but I have high hopes for the new incumbent. As for a favourite Doctor, it’s a toss-up between Pertwee and Baker.

Paul: Illustrating something like Doctor Who must present some unique challenges I'd have thought. Unlike most comics it involves capturing the likeness and body language of an actual actor. How do you approach that?

Kev: Capturing a likeness and keeping it consistent was definitely the main challenge in drawing Doctor Who. Luckily I was drawing Sylvester McCoy who’s got quite a distinctive face. Having said that the first Who story I drew was pre-internet. I couldn’t just hit Google and get a ton of reference. We had a few dog-eared publicity photos and a ropey old VHS.

Paul: Over the last twenty or thirty years new technology has altered the way comics are produced and read, but also how comic art itself is made. Can you compare how much you use computers for your art now compared to when you were starting out on Zoids?

I left art school in 1984, just as the first Apple Mac was introduced. At first I ignored it, figuring it was something designers could use but as an illustrator I could do without it. Then I discovered Photoshop, and realised I could get an airbrush effect without using Frisk film, which I’d always hated. I launched myself at every Photoshop course and tutorial going to catch up. Then I discovered Painter and realised it could replace all my dip pens and brushes. If I were drawing Zoids today I’d be doing the linework in Clip Studio and doing the colour in a combination of Clip Studio and Photoshop. I’d also be lettering myself in Illustrator. I’d also be tempted to work up some 3D models of key Zoids in Cinema 4D to use as reference. Back in the day my studio was full of the actual toys and they really collect the dust!

Paul: Another part of a comic artisit's life would be attending comic conventions. Is that a part of your job you enjoy? Meeting fans etc? Also as a fan yourself have you ever felt starstruck at all meeting any writers or artists you admire?

I do enjoy conventions but there seem to be so many these days that I limit the number I attend. If you wanted to you could go to one every weekend over the summer. I tend to go to the ones that are in places that I’d want to go for a long weekend anyway. The Athens and Malta conventions that I’ve attended are both amongst my favourites. The UKCAC conventions used to be a great place to meet your heroes. You’d regularly see the likes of Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and Brian Bolland at the bar. I met Jim Baikie one time who’s work I really like but I can’t say I was starstruck. He was too nice a chap for that. I did meet Stan Lee at Marvel UK’s offices. He was over to meet the troops and we were all lined up to meet him and all grinning like loons. Stan shook all our hands and said “You guys all look really happy. We must be paying you too much!

Paul: Do you have any fun or funny convention stories you're allowed to share?

Bryan Talbot’s written a book full of convention anecdotes. I’m in the middle of writing a murder/mystery set in a comic convention that includes some thinly disguised stories that I’ve either seen first hand or heard about.

Paul: I'll have to keep an eye out for that. It sounds like a great idea. I'm guessing that means you're keeping all you're fun stories for your project, which is fair enough....   These days many creators create their own comics either via creator friendly publishers like Image Comics or a kickstarter campaign. Is this an option you've ever considered? Or even already done and I've missed it?

Yes! I recently did some work for an Action Force comic that was pretty well funded via Kickstarter. I did a graphic novel last year called Blowback for a couple of Hollywood writers. They paid me from their own funds, but it would be fun to do something similar funded by Kickstarter. I’ve actually self published my debut novel (Dead in the Water available from Amazon right now…) so self-publishing a graphic novel would be a logical step. The only thing holding me back is the annoying necessity of earning a living while I produce the work.

Paul: There's a silly question I try to ask in every interview. If you could have one superpower, or the powers of one character, what or who would it be, and why?

I used to be quite a good dancer. These days I dance like a 60 year old white guy, so I’d like to hot stuff down at the disco like Raven Davey from the pages of Viz. That or to be thirty years younger.

Paul: My final question is fairly simple. What does the future hold for Kev Hopgood? What might you be doing in perhaps five years time? ...and is there anything you would like to utterly and shamelessly promote?

I’m working on a fun project for Harper-Collins right now and I’m hoping there’ll be some more projects like that. I also worked recently on an NFT trading card game called Metropolis that Andy Lanning’s been involved with. I’m hoping there’ll be some more work there. I’d like to plug my debut novel “Dead in the Water” which is available on Amazon and my graphic novel “Blowback” also available on Amazon. Blowback was nominated for best indie graphic novel in this years Ringo awards and actually won in the “Best Villain” category. As for what the future holds, to be honest that’s uncertain. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s last year, which came as a bit of a shock. So far I haven’t got it so bad, my walk is a bit sluggish and I trip over words now and again. The drugs I’m on seem to be working, so fingers crossed I’ll be able to carry on working for a while yet. Hope this isn’t too much of a downer to end the interview on, but I’d like to raise awareness of the condition I’ve got. People can and do live fulfilling lives with it for years.

Paul: It's not quite the uplifting note I hoped to end on, but you're quite right to raise awareness. I wish you the very very best of health, and hope you receive the best of advice and care.... May I add one more question to raise our spirits to end on please?


Paul: If you could travel back in time, or post a letter to the past, given what you know now after many experiences in the comic industry, what advice would you give your younger self just looking to start out as a professional artist?

Make sure you save some money for your pension! And keep hold of your flat in Brixton.

Paul: Nothing about the comic industry?

I’d also tell my younger self to keep hold of some of the War Machine artwork!

Paul: That's all sound like solid advice. Kev, thank you for so much for your time.


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