A Lovely Talk With David Millgate.
Fairly recently (a few months ago) I spent some time talking to this 2000AD alumi, chatting with me about his time with 2000AD, his career and a few other things as well. His talent is clear to see as is his friendly character.
Paul: David, if I may I like to start these things off by discovering where an artist's relationship with comics began. In that spirit what was the first comic you recall buying or reading? Is it a childhood memory?
David: The very first comic book I ever got was Roy of the Rovers, which my Dad bought for me. Up until about the age of 7 the only thing I really liked was football and so a comic all about fictional football legend Roy Race of Melchester Rovers probably seemed like a good place to start… Then pretty soon after that my older brother Andy started getting this brand-new sci-fi comic thing called 2000AD and I do mean right back from issue number one. I still remember seeing the free spinner on that very first front cover! To be honest I was somewhat green with envy “He’s got a free TOY?!?? Are you freakin’ kiddin’ me??” HaHa!
Paul: There is more surely?
David: Then of course Judge Dredd followed not long after and that was pretty much it for me. I was hooked! And this all coincided with me really getting into punk music and seeing the first Star Wars film too. Looking back now 1977 really was an amazing year!!! All these things kind of coincided around the time I was 9-10 years old and at a very impressionable age. With 2000AD in particular. it was that dark, rebellious edge it had that I reacted to, but it was all done with a very comedic streak...... I didn’t really know anything about American comic books until many years later. Obviously, like most kids I’d heard of Batman, The Hulk and Spider Man, but that was more as a result of seeing the kids TV shows and cartoons than actually reading the comic books. I’m still much more into Dredd and 2000AD than Marvel or DC. I love its quintessential Englishness! Although having said that I do enjoy watching the Marvel and DC movies. There’re some really good ones. I loved The Avengers - Infinity War and the final Wolverine movie, that one was really badass. I found it quite moving, and Harlequin is a pretty good character too.
Paul: Can I ask how your relationship with Tharg began? Is there a story to be told? You must have been rather pleased to be published in a Prog the very first time.
David: Yeah! I’d started doing some ‘demo’ comic book pages here ‘n’ there. I remember the first things I did were all just black & white line art, as I was mostly influenced by Brian Bolland, Kev O’Neill, Mike McMahon and all the classic era 2000AD artists back then. I remember doing a four-page short thing with a blonde girl being attacked by a werewolf in an old, haunted house. I did a few Dredd pieces too, but I lacked confidence, and I don’t think I really believed I’d actually get my artwork in 2000AD. I didn’t know any other artists that had done that either, so it’s not like I had an artist/mentor or anyone who’d been published to guide me or offer any sound advice. I was clueless about it all to be honest. I was just fumbling along on my own.
David: I then got really inspired by all the painted stuff that was just starting to appear at that time. I had a full-time job working in an art studio by then and had been painting quite a while, but it was mostly more commercial kind of things like greetings cards, children’s books and poster art. I learnt a lot about working professionally as an artist, but I wasn’t really doing comic book type subject matter there. So, I started doing more painted demo pages in my own time and sending them into 2000AD. They weren’t the greatest pages ever seen, but I was very determined, and I just wouldn’t quit! I knew I still had a hell of a lot to learn, and it would’ve been easy to just throw in the towel, but I just kept working at it and hoping one day they’d respond, which eventually they did. They asked me to do three painted test pages, which I did and then after that I was finally offered a one-off Judge Dredd script. I couldn’t believe it to be honest.
Paul: What an opportunity!
David: The story was called ‘Ladonna Fever’ and it was a quite obviously based on real life pop star Madonna. It had all these tricky crowd scenes with adoring fans and elaborate stage sets and for a newbie without a clue like me it was very hard to know how to approach it and so it was a bit of a wake-up call. I felt like I was out of my depth to be completely honest. I don’t think I was ready for it, but I wasn’t going to admit that to anyone, least of all myself! I then spent the next 2-3 years working for them and trying to improve my art as I did more stories for them. As time goes by you improve and grow as an artist and so does your confidence. I find it hard to look at my early work without cringing, but it does prove how much you’ve improved, changed and developed as an artist, so it’s all good in the long run, I guess.
Paul: Although you may not have worked extensively on the characters you are one of co-creator of Sinister Dexter. Is there a story of how they came to be created? Did you ever imagine at the time they would be such a long running feature in 2000AD?
David: Well, Sin/Dex was Dan Abnett’s baby really. He’d written and created it and had been working on it a while before I came on board. I didn’t even get to meet Dan until we did a comic con together many years later and we got on really great, which was nice! Anyway, back at the beginning 2000AD just asked me if I would like to design the two main characters. This was sometime back in the 90’s and around the time that Quentin Tarantino and Pulp Fiction was making some serious waves in Hollywood. I think a bit of that influence maybe crept in there with all the pop culture references, the various nods to movies, TV shows, and those kinds of things.
David: I illustrated the first few comic strips. In one of the early ones that I fully painted I did Dexter wearing the Clockwork Orange boiler suit and bowler hat and I put a Malcolm McClaren ‘Cash from Chaos’ t-shirt on Finigan. In another I did a character with a Mohican who resembled DeNiro in Taxi Driver. I was still finding my feet on it really.
David: To be honest I had no idea that the story and characters would last as long as they have and prove to be so popular. It’s cool that they did, and many other artists have drawn it since, of course. One thing that I really enjoyed much later was when IDW did reprints of some of the stories and as I was co-creator, they asked me if I’d like to do the covers, which I really enjoyed.
Paul: What would you say are the strongest influences on your art? Having been a fan for of yours for many years I've always felt certain classic films have influenced your style? Would that be a fair comment?
David: Well, if we’re just talking about the art related influences then I would have to mention the following people and their incredible work. Brian Bolland, Kevin O’Neill, Derek Riggs, Joe Petagno, Mike Mignola, Mike McMahon, Simon Bisley, Glenn Fabry, Bernie Wrightson.
David: And you’re absolutely right to mention the classic movie folks too. Concept Designers such as HR Giger, Syd Mead, Ron Cobb, Ridley Scott, James Cameron and Stan Winston were a huge influence on me. I’d say equally as important as any of the comic book artists to be honest.
Paul: You’ve tried you hand and considerable talents at creator owned comics. Can you describe how you found that process from idea to publication?
David: Yes, you mean my 4-Part series for IDW ‘Jackboot & Ironheel’ which I sort of fell into more by accident than design (laughing out loud!)
Paul: I do indeed.
David: It all started when was in a 2nd hand bookshop one day while on holiday and I found this great book full of ancient Germanic legends. As was typical most of them had to do with dragons, mountains and a damsel in distress, but there was this one called ‘The Fireball of Cologne’ which was different. It had to do with an old Warrior Lord and a local bell-maker, who was employed by the Lord to cast the perfect bell for his castle. The bell-maker invoked God’s name as he poured the molten metal into the mould, but each time the iron cooled it would have a huge crack in it. So, the third time he pours the metal he invokes the Devils name, and the bell comes out of the mould and looks perfect! Unfortunately, when the bell is struck the sound, it makes drives anyone that hears it completely insane! This short tale was only about 13 pages long, but it really made an impression on me.
Paul: I can certainly see why.
David: Anyway, I had always wanted to do something that mashed the horror genre with World War Two and I had this idea about an ex-footballer whose career is cut short by the outbreak of the war. He becomes an RAF tail gunner, then gets shot down and he ends up as a POW in a Nazi castle/prison camp, similar to Colditz. I thought I could maybe weave that in and around the Bell-maker idea and from then on it didn’t matter how hard I tried to ignore it the story started to grow in my head. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. Eventually I drew 6 demo pages and a mock cover and then I tried to forget about it again. To be honest with you…I suppose I didn’t think I had a hope in hell of ever getting it published.
David: A few more years went by, and it was when I’d just finished doing the Sin/Dex reprint covers for IDW in the US that the editor on that (*Thank you David Hedgecock) said he’d really enjoyed working with me and did I have anything else? I sent him the 6 demo pages and the mock cover and he said “I like this! Is there anymore?” .......My reply was “I have a 22-page rough draft/script and a short two-page synopsis. Maybe we could find a real writer to work on it?” So, originally Joshua Ortega was asked if he’d like to write it. Me and Joshua started to discuss it and it became clear that I knew more about WWII than he did, and I had pretty much the whole story and the world very clear in my mind. In the end it was actually Joshua that suggested I should just do the entire thing on my own! I wasn’t sure IDW would be convinced. I thought they’d drop the project, but to my surprise they were ok with it. So, then I really had a mountain to climb. I wrote all 4-episode scripts back-to-back and then I had to pencil, ink and colour all 88 pages, plus 9 fully painted covers (with all the variants etc)
David: So, all in all from the time I first had the germ of the idea to the first issue being published took me seven years! To this day it’s still the single thing I’m most proud of, because I literally did the entire thing. It’s just a shame it didn’t sell better, as I had a great idea for the sequel, which was going to be set in Chernobyl in 1986! People still ask me when is the second book coming out? Sadly, without a publisher willing to pay me to work on it there’s no way I can do it. It’s so tough making a living doing comics anyway, I can’t justify another gamble like that with no money coming in. The only option for these days would be to do it as a Kickstarter type thing. Maybe that could be the answer? I’d love to finish the whole thing properly and do books two and three. have all the ideas so who knows, maybe one day.
Paul: One of the biggest developments in the comic industry in recent years has been the advent and success of digital comics. It interests me to discover how creators feel about their place in the comic industry. Do you have a point of view to share at all?
David: I don’t worry too much about the advent of digital comics, to be honest with you. At the end of the day, it’s the content that matters. What it always comes down to is this…it’s really about the story and the characters. Getting upset about some new technology is pointless really.
I liken it to when CDs came along, and vinyl purists felt threatened that their beloved 12inch records were going to be replaced by those evil little compact discs. After a while nobody cared and everyone just got on with the important thing, which was just listening and enjoying the music they liked.
Y’know, who really cares if they’re reading the latest Batman graphic novel off paper or via a screen? When all that matters is…is the latest Batman actually any good? I think people sometimes just enjoy having something to moan and get annoyed about. You can’t stop the digital revolution at this point anyway and whatever new tech comes along people will always have a choice.
Paul: The Covid pandemic wrecked a lot of comic conventions. Do you enjoy comic conventions? Do you like being a a bit famous? Are there any tales to tell good sir?
David: Yeah, I like doing Comic cons. They’re kind of like a working holiday in some respects, but it’s nice to meet like minded folks and other creatives. Being a comic artist/illustrator is for the most part a fairly solitary pursuit. Most of the time you’re in a room, on your own and conventions are a nice break from that to be honest. Covid obviously decimated that whole scene for 18 months and fir me at least it really made me appreciate those events more than ever. I missed that vibe.
You mentioned being ‘famous’ and I have to laugh. Do I get asked to sign things? Yes. Do people occasionally ask to have their photo taken with me? Yes, but do I think I’m famous? Err…definitely not. I get where your question is coming from, and I suppose there’s different levels to fame. I’d say a person is famous if they can’t walk down a street without being recognised or without being approached by hundreds of complete strangers. So, thankfully that counts me out as I can’t imagine anything worse! I can’t stand this modern obsession with hollow fame and celebrity and so-called ‘reality’ TV shows. I mean Love Island! Jesus! I’d rather gouge both my eyes out with a blunt spoon! I’m going back to my drawing board! Ha!Ha!
Paul: You're clearly a talented artist. You've had some experience with writing. Do you enjoy it? Are there any writers in the comic industry that have inspired or helped you at all?
David: I wouldn’t call myself a fully-fledged writer to be honest with you. I never had a writer friend or a mentor helping me as I didn’t know any writers on a personal level. Having said that I do have a younger brother (Simon) and he is actually very talented at writing. He especially helped me with the ending of the Jackboot story. So that was good. As I explained, on that project I kind of ended up doing it out of default really. Mainly because I’d had the idea knocking around for a number of years and that meant it made it much more difficult for another writer to jump on board the series. Having said all that I must say that I really did enjoy writing that story! Knowing it was definitely going to be published actually took the pressure off in a way, as I knew that IDW liked the story from the get-go!
More recently I’ve written a few ideas for a couple of other possible projects. They’re all kind of sci-fi and set within the same Post Apocalypse world, but each one is also like a standalone episode. One features a teenage girl who is an Engineering wunderkind and mechanical genius, another one features a reanimated show-biz droid that thinks he’s Elvis! They’re all pretty wild and out-there. HaHa!
Paul: They sound like great fun stories. Obviously being an artist is a bit of solitary job. Do you have a set routine or keep certain hours? I'm told some artist a night owl and almost work nights. Does it take a lot of self discipline?
David: I don’t think I fit most people’s idea of being an artist. You know that whole graveyard-shift, nocturnal inking at 4:00am and then sleeping in late is about as far removed from my lifestyle as you could get. I usually go to bed around 10:30pm and am up at 6:00am to go running around the countryside near where I live. I have a fairly regular working day really and usually work from 9:00 to 5:00ish with an hour or so for lunch. I’ll do weekends if it’s necessary and if I feel like it. Pretty boring, eh? It’s just what works for me. I have no problem with self-motivation and I’m a very punctual and disciplined kind of person, I suppose.
Paul: Finally, do you have any dream projects or characters you'd love to work on in the next few years. As a Giger fan perhaps some Aliens comics?
Answer: Yeah, I’d like to do an Alien story and that would be a challenge I’d welcome. I get asked to draw quite a lot of Alien stuff at conventions, but if I was to plunge into doing an entire graphic novel or a series it would have to be the right kind of story. The first two Alien movies have always been pretty high on my list of favourite movies. Failing that a Mad Max strip could be cool to do also, as long as it wasn’t just some run-of-the-mill comic book movie tie-in. Those kinds of books don’t interest me at all.
Paul: Do you have anything you would currently like to promote?
David: The project I’m currently working on and have been for the past three years is for a symphonic metal band in New York called Homeric. Their second LP is called The Circle of Dead Children and it’s a concept album based on the classic literature of Dante’s Inferno. So, it’s all pretty dark and very interesting stuff! I’ve done nine huge paintings for it that will be in the Art of Book that comes with the record. I also did the album cover and it’s an on-going project as there’ll also be sequel parts two and three are to follow it. So, there’ll be more huge paintings to do over the coming years. It’s a very ambitious project. The first album should be out in 2022…all being well.
Paul: I look forward to seeing all of those.
David: Finally, I’d just like to say a big THANKS to you Paul for doing this interview, it’s much appreciated! Cheers!
Paul: Thank you for your time, David.