Kev Crossley Chats to Me

Kev Crossley Chats to Me

It has been a recent thrill to chat to the extremely talented artist Kev Crossley. As I often do during an interview I like to ask three question that are entirely non art or comic related. This is done simply to get to know the man or woman behind the great art or writing involved. So here goes...

1. Do you like sports and do you have a favourite team?.

Kev: I can tell you off the bat I am NOT a sports fan! lol!...BUT...That said, when I was a kid I quite liked watching cricket and snooker on TV.

2. What is your least favourite movie? 

Kev: Wow, that's an odd question! There are millions of movies I hate, it's why I never watch them! If I were to re-phrase the question to; "What POPULAR movies do you dislike the most?", then it would be the Nolan Batman films. So many people seem to love those films, but I found them highly over-rated. The third one with Bane had so much nonsense in it that it just did not make any sense at all.

3. What would be your Favourite meal or take away?

Kev: I love SO many kinds of food and dishes! If I had to narrow it down, I would say Italian pasta dishes are a particular favourite, but I do love a good Thai green curry. Good old roast chicken with roasted spuds (made with my own secret spice recipe) is also a popular dish in our house. Oh, If you want to get a feel for who Kev Crossley truly is, then you need to know I'm a pudding fan. British puddings! That is: steamed sponge puddings and crumbles and pies served with custard. (Or cream or ice-cream.. if that's your preference!) For me though, it's custard all the way!

INTERVIEW NOTE: Very soon into our interview I discovered Kev's answers were wonderfully thorough, which is absolutely marvellous from my point of view.  For this reason I asked Kev to provide me with as many examples of his art he was allowed to share simply to break up the text and make this interview an enjoyable reading experience. 

Paul: I like to start at the very beginning. What were the first comics you remember reading or buying and why did they perhaps make an impact on you?

Kev: We’re going back quite a way with this question! In 1976 I was 4 years old, I’d just started school and I remember reading things like ‘Mr Men’ in class, which technically is a picture book I guess, but it inspired me to go home and see what things my dad had lying around that might be similar. This resulted in me finding what I think must have been horror comics and other things decidedly NOT for little kids, but the black and white art made such an impression on me, and of course being so young the monsters and characters looked SO realistic. I can’t say I was scared by them, being so young I probably didn’t really know what was going on in those stories, but I found it all absolutely captivating. Then, during the rest of the 1970’s The Beano and Dandy comics (published by DC Thompson) became a regular read for me, alongside many of the numerous Fleetway comics, such as Whoopie, Whizzer & Chips and the like. I preferred The Beano, and would continue reading that until I left home in the early 90’s, but the Fleetway titles had some terrific artists in the 1970’s who made an ENORMOUS impression on me.

Kev: Ken Reid was one of them. He did a comic strip called Faceache, about a boy who could twist and contort his face into an endless variety of hideous, hilarious forms. I loved it. Ken also illustrated a series of full page pin-ups that were filled with inventive, supremely detailed monstrous things. (His’ World-Wide Weirdies’ and ‘Creepy Creations’.) I should say, I never knew the name of the artist who drew these things at the time, I only found out in later years, and was over the moon when much of this stuff was collected into hard-back volumes. Another Fleetway artist of the 70’s whose work I adored as a kid was Tom Patterson. He took over as artist on a strip called ‘Sweeny Toddler’ from Leo Baxendale. Tom seemed to perfectly capture Leo’s anarchic, grotesque cartoon sensibilities, but quickly made the strip and character his own, while evolving into an artist of untouchable idiosyncrasy. The comedy he got into his pages far exceeded whatever scripts he was working to, and I think his art was among the first stuff I tried to copy.

Kev: My dad would buy assorted UK Marvel reprint comics too, so I became familiar with the Hulk, Spiderman and various other Marvel characters. (I remember drawing the Hulk on my bedroom wall with green and purple crayons. I distinctly remember being very pleased with the fact I made sure he had the correct number of fingers on each hand. I think I was 4…) There was a War Of The Worlds b&w strip in one of these titles I think, with a really cool Martian Fighting machine design that I copied and copied and copied. I used to mix parts of this design with bits from the 1950’s flying movie version as well as the design featured on Jeff Wayne’s musical LP. I just loved it!

Kev: I should give a special mention to the absolutely wonderful Asterix The Gaul. This French comic character became popular in the UK during the 1970’s, and I would return my attention to this series later in the 1980’s. The artist Uderzo was another who had a huge influence on my work. So, to sum up, the first comics and artists I was inspired by were mostly from the cartoonish side of things. There’s a frenetic energy to this sort of stuff that I see almost every time I put pen to paper right up to this day, and I know I wouldn’t be the kind of artist I am now had it not been for those comics!

Paul: As an artist do you have what could be described as any formal art training or are you self taught?

Kev: The quick answer is yes, to both things! But I think everyone will enjoy hearing a bit more detail wouldn’t they… So, I did have some formal training while studying at school, college and university. That said, at art college I was encouraged to completely de-construct everything I’d learned while at school, then at university I studied graphics, typography and product design, none of which set you up particularly well for a career in comics or fantasy art. I did enjoy my experience at university, as far as it went, but I wasn’t a natural at the sort of hard, corporate design and illustration they were teaching. This meant that during the two years I was unemployed after my course ended, I had to first re-learn everything from my school years that college and Uni had bashed out of me.

Kev: It might seem curious to some reading this, but rather than comics and fantasy, I chose instead to spend my time doing watercolour paintings of botanical and natural history subjects! I made a few quid painting people’s pets and landscapes and I filled a folder with paintings of plants, fungi and assorted animals. I gradually worked a bit of fantasy/ comic stuff back into what I was doing, and this varied body of work was what impressed a video game studio enough to give me a job, despite me having zero experience working with a computer! It took me a full WEEK to learn how to produce computer artwork, and within a month I was designing racing tracks, then building them and applying my digital artwork using the game editor I’d also learned how to use! A steep learning curve!

Kev: While at the game studio I met a lot of other artists and designers and I learned as much as I could from them. However, long hours and working during weekends didn’t leave much time for art practice outside of office hours. (My new social life might have gotten in the way a bit too!) Eight years into my video game career I realised it was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, nor did it seem I could rely on it as a stable option, with studios closing, opening, closing again and staff regularly migrating around the country (and world!) looking for new jobs. I became resolved to making time to get back into my love of fantasy art and comics, so I re-RE-learned everything I’d forgotten about drawing, and studied anatomy, lighting and composition to a degree I never had before.

Kev: The trouble, really, was that I had to do all of this myself. There was no one else I could go to for help or advice, so for years it was just me, doing whatever I felt like I needed to do. In 2002 I somehow got my first freelance work doing monsters for D&D style gaming books. More illustration jobs for magazines and assorted art books followed, including the occasional gig as a writer! In the 20 years following I’ve done everything from copy writing to illustration, comics, clip art, concept work for games, TV and film ideas… you name it.. if there was a budget and someone needed art (or writing!) I’d do it. And throughout that entire time I was learning… always learning: Skills, tricks, techniques, knowledge and whatever new things I needed to know if a job came up requiring an approach I wasn’t familiar with. ‘Laying the tracks in front of the train’ is definitely the best way of describing my process at times! I’m happy to report however, that all of this practice and ‘on-the-job’ learning eventually resulted in me pretty much being able to do whatever a job required straight away!

Kev: It’s been non-stop. And obviously, there are always plenty of new things to learn, and new ways of working to discover. Always. It never ends!

Paul: After all of those experiences what occupies most of your time these days. Would it be fun private commissions and cover recreations or is it published work? Which do you prefer? Can you say what may have been your most challenging commission? Has there been one above all the others that really tested you skills?

I’ll take commission to mean a privately commissioned piece of art rather than something for a publisher… Most of the commissions I do are challenging in some way or other, which is good! It means you’re keeping yourself sharp, plus it keeps your attention and makes sure it stays interesting. If it was too easy there’s a danger it might get boring, and no artist produces quality work if they’re bored! But there are always a few that are REALLY challenging and they do stick in the mind!

Paul: That is interesting.

 One sort of commission that I always dread a bit are those that require likenesses of famous people or portraits of the client or their family members. I have done a few of these but it’s not something I particularly enjoy because there’s no room for error! They HAVE to look like who they’re meant to look like! Also, due to the meticulous way I apply my inking using tiny strokes with pens or brushes, I tend to work no larger than A3.

Paul: Please tell me more.

 If I worked on larger pieces it would simply take me far too long! But occasionally a client will persuade me to work at, say, A2 (twice as large as A3 )and those are always a bit more challenging. In 2011 or so I was asked to do a painting. 

Paul: Very cool. No?

Kev: It was a Four Horsemen at A2 size. As well as the four horsemen (which I designed as a set of monstrous zombie-type creatures riding on a variety of hideous ‘horses’,) The piece also featured a sort of fleshy ‘tunnel’ opening in the sky above the riders, and that opening was filled with hundreds of demons and assorted other monsters. It took months to first draw and even longer to paint. In the end it looked great and the client was very happy, but I found it a bruising, crushing experience so now I try to avoid working that large!

Paul: After all of those experiences what occupies most of your time these days. Would it be fun private commissions and cover recreations or is it published work? Which do you prefer?

I like everything I get asked to do to be honest! The recreations of art or comic covers by other artists are fantastic fun, although I am aware that doing such items is at the expense of developing pieces that are wholly my own designs. Trouble is, I’ve generated quite a positive reputation for doing these so I always have a few on my ‘to-do’ list these days!

Paul: That sounds like a challenge.

I do enjoy getting to work on my own compositions though and I absolutely love doing 2000AD characters. I do enjoy working on book projects or doing concept work for all manner of different projects too, but I never really know what I might get asked to do next. So, it might be nice to get the opportunity to focus solely on just one ‘big job’ for a while, such as a major comic story. Before such a thing can happen though, I have several pages of commissions to work through first!

Paul: What are your plans for the future?

Kev: First, I’d like to finish every last commission on my list! Since 2019 I’ve been working as hard as my schedule has allowed to try and clear it, but I keep adding to it as more and more clients request something from me! It’s partly my own fault. I could turn people away or close my lists, but if someone contacts me with an idea I just love, HOW can I turn them away? So, clearing that list is my first plan.

Paul: I may not have helped with that list.

Kev: I also have some long gestating comic projects I’d like to finally finish. It would be nice to do some follow-ups to the various books I’ve had (or are due to be) published too, but that’s something out of my control. (It depends on people buying enough of them to encourage the publisher to take me on again!) I also have a writing hat I wear if I have the time, and I have several partially written stories I’d like to finish. I suppose… I’d simply like to keep working, keep drawing, painting and writing for as long as I’m able, and for as long as people want me to do it. Simple as that!

Paul: That is an excellent way to end an interview. Thank you Kev.


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