A Natter With Steve Yeowell.
A Natter with Steve Yeowell.
Some time ago I was fortunate enough to discuss Steve Yeowell’s career with the man himself. Our chat was done entirely online. Steve is a polite and wonderful gentleman. He comes across as a complete professional who is dedicated to his craft. During his busy schedule he offered a fascinating insight into working within the comics industry.
Paul: Steve if you don't mind, my favourite first question is to find out why people enjoy comics in the first place. I ask you good sir, what was the first comic you read or bought for yourself that sticks in your memory?
Steve: The first comic I remember clearly would be one of the nursery titles: - “Playhour” I think. I can’t remember the first comic I bought for myself. It might have been one of DC Thompson’s broadsheet format titles - either Topper or Beezer.
Paul: What would you say are your main influences as an artist?
Steve: Everybody who was anybody in the sixties and seventies from that school of “realistic” cartooning. If I had to pick out two artists on particular though, I always automatically picked up anything by Ian Kennedy if I came across it, and anything by Jack Kirby (especially if inked by Joe Sinnott). Also, I’d have to acknowledge Hannah Barbara and classic Disney animation as having something of an influence.
Paul: How did you long relationship with Tharg and 2000AD first begin?
Steve: Grant Morison and I had been working together on Zoids for Marvel UK. At the same time, Grant had been developing Zenith - 2000AD's foray into super heroics - with Brendan McCarthy. Brendan was unable to commit to the regular strip, so Grant and Mighty Tharg approached me. Zoids was winding down as an ongoing weekly series at that point, so I was in a position to accept.
Paul: Over the course of Zenith you developed a very distinctive Black and white style that was very popular. Do you have a preference to your art being published in B&W or colour?
Steve: That distinctive style you're referring to (Zenith Phase III), was very influenced by the Lovecraftian nature of that phase of the story. The fact that Zenith was a black and white strip at that point allowed me use techniques that I couldn't have were the strip coloured (as phase IV later was, requiring a change in approach). These days I try to draw in a way that works whether the story is going to be coloured or printed in black and white.
Paul: In addition to 2000AD you've obviously worked a great deal for American publishers. Can you compare the two experiences at all? As an artist do you find there are any significant differences in approach?
Steve: Well, there's the obvious difference in the length of the story episodes and, before everything was lettered on the computer, pencils for American publishers had to be sent in to be lettered and those lettered pages returned to me for inking. Editorially though, the experience has been pretty much the same.
Paul: As you just mentioned certainly computers have altered the comic industry. Many artists produce their pages digitally now and reading comics on a device is a popular option. Do you have an opinion or perspective on how technology has affected things?
Steve Technology has changed things for me in so far as I never send artwork through the post to a publisher anymore! Also, I've taken to printing blue line versions of pencilled pages (having altered/edited those pencilled pages digitally if necessary) and inking those pages traditionally before scanning them and then tidying up digitally. Sort of a "digilogue" process rather than strictly analogue or digital.
Paul: You have worked with some wonderful writers. You'll be perhaps known for being part of one significant creative partnership. Can you describe at all how your various collaborations with Grant Morrison worked?
Steve: Collaborations with all the writers I've partnered with have worked in pretty much the same way. There's a period of discussion at the beginning of a project between myself, the writer and the editor when character designs are worked out, with some writers providing a sketch idea (written or drawn) of the kind of direction they want to go in. Once the character designs are agreed on then it's pretty much a case of the writer writing the script and my drawing it! There are, of course, changes or revisions that ha be made at points in the story at the request of either the writer or editor, but all the writers I've worked with have been generous in the amount of freedom or interpretation they've allowed me in drawing their scripts (and come to that, designing their characters).
Paul:. Could you discuss The New Adventures of Hitler that you illustrated for Crisis magazine. It was a 2000AD related publication, and a wonderful story but, as yet, it has not been reprinted which I feel is a shame. Was it controversial at the time?
Steve: The New Adventures of Hitler was originally serialised in a Glasgow based magazine - the name of which escapes me; some of the staff took exception to it, and were critical of the project. The magazine itself folded after the first few (black and white) episodes had seen print. Crisis reprinted the project in its entirety with the pages having been coloured by Nick Abadzis and Steve Whittaker. The colour pages - which contributed hugely to the character of the Crisis version - have gone astray and so it's never been reprinted.
Paul: Do you enjoy conventions? Do you like the element of fame you have now? Obviously COVID derailed that side of the comic industry for creators and fans alike, but it is slowly recovering.
Steve: Yes, I do enjoy conventions - it's always nice to meet and speak to the people who have bought your work. Also, given the solitary nature of the job, it's a great opportunity to catch up with your colleagues. It remains to be seen, I suppose, how COVID is going to affect the convention scene but it seems to be recovering slowly...
Paul: You mentioned the solitary nature of being an artist. Do you keep set hours as an artist? Does it require a massive amount of self control? Do you keep a set routine?
Steve: I work conventional office hours and "overtime" - evenings and weekends - if I have to. I also keep set break times during the working day. I like to work in 5 - 10-page episodes/batches and I complete each episode in stages - so I thumbnail all the pages, then do all the breakdowns, pencils, and finally inks. I know pretty much how long each stage should take me which helps with scheduling.
Paul: Can you recall how the 2000AD movie adaptation of A Life Less Ordinary came about? Amongst fans it doesn't seem to be terribly fondly remembered. Not because of your art at all but because it seemed out of place in the prog. Do you have any thoughts about it at all?
Steve: The production company for "A Life..." originally contacted the 2000AD office looking for contact details for someone to produce a comic strip version of the film; Mighty Tharg offered to put the strip together himself and asked David Bishop to write it and myself to draw it. We made a couple of trips to the production company office to watch a pre-release cut of the film and choose some stills for reference. For copyright reasons, we weren't able to use the likeness of any of the cast, so I had to design characters that resembled Ewan McGregor, Cameron Diaz etc without actually looking like them... Style wise I thought a Love & Rockets look would work nicely. I enjoyed drawing it.
Paul: Sebastian 0 was a great 3 issue series with Grant Morrison. Was that an enjoyable mini-series to create?
Steve: Sebastian O was very enjoyable to work on. It was intended originally to be part of Disney's proposed adult comic line - "Touchmark" - but when that fell through it moved across, together with the other titles Art Young was editing, to the fledgling Vertigo. I modelled Sebastian himself on Aubrey Beardsley and tried to suggest a "Beardsley-esque" look to Sebastian's world in the artwork. Steampunk London was a lot of work, but fun. There may have been vague talk at the time of a follow up series, but it never happened.
Paul: That is a shame I would have enjoyed reading a sequel. Steve, do you have a dream project? Is there a writer you'd especially like to work with?
Steve: There are a few genres that I’ve never drawn a story for (never drawn a western for instance) and I’d like to address that sometime. I’ve also a few ideas for personal projects kicking around in the back of my mind. Maybe one day...
Paul: So, there’s potentially a creator owned project you'd like to pursue in the future?
Steve: Only some very vague ideas at this stage.
Paul: Steve, I thank you for the interview and your time, and I wish you the very best for any future projects you work upon.