A Little Time With Simon Fraser.
Over the course of a couple of days a little while ago I was able to quiz the 2000AD alumni Simon Fraser on his relationship with Tharg, 2000AD and a few other topics.
Paul: Simon, thank you for sparing some of your valuable time for me. I like to start by simply asking what was the first comic you bought or read? Most comic fans have a first comic story?
Simon: I'm not 100% sure on this, there may be ones I don't remember, but the first one that really sticks with me is Iron Man 125, Mission in Monaco. Which is funny because I was just in Monaco last week. My grandmother bought it for me in Glasgow in 1978. There are still whole chunks of that I can probably draw from memory. I must have been reading 2000AD, Warlord and Bullet for a couple of years by that point. I remember the early Progs pretty well. Prog 2 was the first I actually saw though.
Paul: From an artistic point of view what would you say inspired your art? Looking at your art I've often thought that there may have been some classical art or architecture that influenced your style.. and perhaps a few movies? Would that be a fair comment?
Simon: I was and am a big Dr Who fan. So, the biggest influences on me early on were Dave Gibbons and Steve Dillon who were mainstays of Dr Who Weekly. The early John Romita Jnr inked by Bob Layton also really got to me as a kid. Though I can see its limitations now, they don't matter. George Perez was a big influence too, because his stuff was just so much fun to look at, he loved doing it and that joy came through in the art.
Paul: You mentioned George Perez. Is Crisis of Infinite Earths a reference point artistically for you at all?
Simon: Crisis was earth shaking, but I was a Perez fan from his Teen Titans work. He was doing such fun stuff with the new printing technology. That work was iconic. I still use a lot of long narrow panels, I got that from Perez. Otherwise my storytelling was really influenced by David Mazzucchelli’s run on Daredevil.
Paul: I have the artist edition of his run on Daredevil. It is astonishingly good.
Simon: Yes, I was reading my copy of that, and I kept seeing story beats that I do myself and I realised that I was lifting from him. He has a beautifully understated way of telling a story. It doesn't look flashy, but he has total control. A bunch of my studio interns had Mazzucchelli as a teacher at SVA and I was always a bit envious of that. That’s The School of Visual Arts in NYC. Where Eisner taught too.
Paul: Your art is known for being quite detailed. At times it reminds me a little of Geof Darrow.
Simon: I don't really think they are that detailed. Darrow boggles my mind. I feel that I use detail fairly sparingly, for maximum effect. They don't take as much time as you might think. I get into a kind of fugue state when doing a cityscape. It is like knitting. I can do it all day long. There are artists like Paul Schuiten who inspire me, but I know the level that he works at is impossibly high. I lack his vast intellect and discipline…. I'll credit my school professors for making me go out into the streets of Edinburgh and draw what I see, when all I wanted to do was draw naked ladies. People get very wrapped up in perspective, when that's not really as important as observation and understanding the rhythms and shapes of cities and seeing how people effect their environment
Paul: How did you first develop a relationship with Tharg and 2000AD?
Simon: I pitched my portfolio at several Thargs. I started with Steve McManus. It was David Bishop on the Megazine who was desperate enough to hire me. David was very short of talent and wasn't too proud to dig through the unsolicited submissions pile. Something I'll always be grateful to him for. The stuff I sent him wasn't great, but he gave me work and that pushed me to get better. That's a big deal. He also let me screw up occasionally, which is an even bigger deal. I had it more or less together by the time I did Dante. There was some early colouring I did on Shimura that went straight in the bin. Rightly so. I had no idea what I was doing.
Paul: Certainly, with Nikolai Dante you managed to get your wish to draw some less than fully clothed ladies.
Simon: If I'd had my way Dante would have had a lot more sex and a good deal less war.
Paul: Were you happy to share the Dante storyline with other artists or do you secretly wish you could have illustrated all the character’s adventures yourself?
Simon: I wish I could have drawn it all frankly. I could do maybe 100 pages a year flat out. They needed 200 plus.
Paul: How would you describe your process with Robbie Morrison? Did you have any story input? You worked together for quite a few years. What were his scripts like?
Simon: Robbie and I spent a lot of time talking about stuff in pubs. I made a lot of suggestions, some of them were picked up, some of them reappeared later in different forms. A lot of the dialogue between writers and artists in comics happens on the page. I would never tell Robbie how to write anything, he’s an excellent storyteller and to a certain extent a black box. Stuff goes in, stuff comes out. It can be hard to relate the two most of the time, but it's always very compelling. Rob Williams is a bit like that too, which is one of the reasons I’ve worked with him so much.
Simon: Robbie’s scripts are almost the platonic ideal of a comic script. Rock solid storytelling, very easy to follow, space allowed to play around, not too much, just enough detail. John Wagner is the model they all follow, but Robbie is as good.
Paul: It is hard to consider your career without mentioning you had a significant role to play in the history of Roy of The Rovers which is a British comics icon. Can you shed any light on that experience? or am I mistaken?
Simon: I was young and was desperate to work. I was trying my hardest to be Rob Davis, who was in turn riffing on McMahon. I knew next to nothing about football, but I studied it hard. I think I learned a lot about movement and action doing that strip. It also let me experiment with colour, which has served me well. I wouldn't call what I did on Roy significant as such, I enjoyed it though. Stewart Green and Rob Davis are who you should talk to about Roy.
Paul: You've moved on from 2000AD a little in recent years toward American publishers. Did you find it a very different experience?
Simon: I'd knocked on doors at American publishers since the early 90s. Nothing much came of it and I kind of lost interest along the way. You really need to believe in superheroes to draw them well and I really don't. Stuff that has happened in the last 20 years has been mostly accidental, or because I live in the US and just happened to be around. I know a lot of people, so I'm rarely unemployed.
Paul: Have you had any bad experiences with any American publishers?
Simon: Not awful. I've tended to avoid situations where I know I'm going to be frustrated. I've heard a lot of horror stories of over controlling editorial and that's a nightmare for me. I've had a few illustration jobs fall apart due to poor communication. Some storyboarding jobs can be ridiculously demanding of your time, so I don't do those as much as I used to. I like to do my thing and I like working for people who will let me. The thing about most of the decent paying American comics jobs is that you're contributing a small part of a large entertainment factory. There isn't much room there for individuality.
Paul: From a more general point about the comic industry as a whole do you have an opinion about digital comics? I dare say a lot of your art is enjoyed on tablets and computers. Do you have a point of view to share as an artist?
Simon: I'm happy with both. No need to choose. I like very much that I can just buy a random comic digitally if I am curious to see it. Also, I've got stacks of big, collected editions I bought on sale that I'm carrying around in my tablet for a rainy day. My bookshelves are creaking under the weight of my comics buying, so I'm glad to have a way of buying stuff that I won't fill up my house with. Digital is great for periodicals. I like books too though. What can I say? Both are good.
Paul: The Covid nightmare affected everyone and was hard on comic conventions. How did you adapt to being famous? Do you enjoy conventions?
Simon: Famous! Hardly! Only in a very limited way. I like Cons, but I was doing a lot of them latterly, so taking a year or two off has been good. Mostly I like just sitting drawing for people. That's kind of busking for me. Very immediate. I want to try and do more UK cons. I really enjoyed Thought Bubble a few years back. So I'll likely try and do that again next year. The big US cons are just exhausting though. I'll probably do Baltimore or Charlotte Heroes Con. Smaller, more people focused Cons.
Paul: It must be rewarding though for people to ask you to sign your hard work and appreciate all the hours you put into your art?
Simon: It's fun and I never take that for granted. Sometimes something you did really strikes a chord with someone and that is very rewarding.
Paul: What are you working on currently?
Simon: Hershey book 2 The Cold in the Bones, with Rob Williams. I'm also helping a couple of Kickstarters, Octobriana and The First Men on Mars. Rob William is certainly an excellent writer to work with. He's great. We really clicked as a team I feel. Rob and I have a very similar cultural point of view. Also, his name is Rob, which is a good indicator for me.
Paul: Can you give any indication what you have planned for the next few years of your career?
Simon: Hershey is the next year or two. I'm also planning to start writing my much procrastinated Lilly Mackenzie book 2 this week actually.
Paul: Would you say 2000AD might be your spiritual home as an artist?
Simon: Oh, for sure. There is nowhere else like it. Supportive, but not suffocating. I like the feeling of being trusted and that's not always the case with publishers. Especially when you're dealing with their IP.
Paul: Have you ever been tempted away from the comic industry? Several 2000AD legends have been lured toward the games industry or storyboarding for movies.
Simon: Naah, not seriously. The games industry has its own problems. I do know some guys who have gone into movie storyboarding very successfully. I may be a bit long in the tooth to change my ways now. I like comics. They suit my brain.
Paul: You mentioned being a Doctor Who fan earlier. With both of us being fans I have to ask if you have any thoughts on your favourite Doctor.
Simon: Tom Baker is my Doctor. I've watched the first few seasons of his many times. Hinchcliff really pushed the scary factor of the show and made it very memorable and compelling to my developing brain.
Paul: Of the New Doctors, do you have a favourite?
Simon: Capaldi is my favourite modern Doctor hands down. It's like they reached into my brain and cast a version of myself. If that makes any sense.
Paul: Finally, is there anything you would like to add or promote?
Simon: Well, the 'First Men on Mars' kickstarter kicked off. It's a great project, well worth your time and money. I've been doing a Podcast with my wife Edie called "The Great Dante Readthrough"(we’re dealing with the War storyline.) Hershey: Disease is now available in the shops and by ordering. I'm very proud of this book, we're working on the second one and Its EPIC stuff! It's been my first fully digital project, and this is the way that I wanted my artwork to look, but never quite managed it before.
Paul: Wonderful final answer Simon, thank you so much for sparing some of your valuable time.