Insights From David Roach
Recently it has been my great honour to speak with the incredible David Roach. Not only is he a truly fine artist, in every sense of the word, but has also become a historian for the comics and things we all love.
As an interviewer's observation David is not only wonderful to talk to but he creates a small headache for me. I am compelled to share as much of his INCREDIBE art as possible, so please dear reader understand not every image matches the appropriate question, but please enjoy David's truly remarkable artwork.
Paul: I like to start with the most basic question possible. What was the very first comic you recall buying or especially enjoying?
David: I had several comics bought for me, like Pippin and the Beano but the first one I bought for myself was TV Action, back in 1973 and I absolutely loved it. It featured TV show adaptations which I vaguely recognised, even if I didn't watch them all, but I just adored the art. With people like John M Burns, Gerry Haylock and Jose Ortiz providing the art it captivated me. I still love looking at copies today
Paul: So I ask please? Which came first? Your love of comics? Or your love of art?
David: Possibly a love of art, I'm sure I was drawing before I really noticed comics, but they absolutely fuelled my imagination once I did start buying them.
Paul: What was your very first published artwork?
David: My first professional published art anywhere was actually an illustration for White Dwarf Magazine circa issue 40 ( I think?). which must have been around 1983 or 84 I think. I was quite active in fanzines before that though
Paul: White Dwarf magazine was very popular. How did you meet Tharg and 2000AD ?
David: All through art school I put out a fanzine with my brother called Hellfire, which included some of my not very good strips. As I recall I shoed some pages to Can Kennedy at UKCAK in 1985, who mentioned them to Steve McManus, AKA Tharg.
David: Somehow word got around that Steve wanted to see me and on the Sunday we met up. He suggested that after I graduated I should draw up some samples and send them in which I did. He offered me a job and I sat around waiting for some future Shock scripts that never appeared ( From a Mr. G Morrison I believe. Whatever happened to him I wonder?) In the meantime I helped out my chum Mike Collins inking one of his Future Shocks and 2 episodes of Jude Dredd ( Anonymously).
David: But- at the same time Pat Mills was looking for an artist for Nemesis book 8, someone who could draw girls, and Steve reccomended me. So my first official 2000AD work turned out to be Nemesis, while the missing Futire Shock never appeared.
David: From there I think I drew for the Galaxy's Greatest Comic solidly for the next 5 or 6 years.
Paul: At what stage of your life did you decide instead of producing pages it was right to become a historian or our beloved industry?
David: I guess it's not well known now but back in the 80s I was quite a regular writer for fanzines like Fantast Advertiser, Cerebro, Jack Kirby Quarterly and my own zine Hellfire. So in fact I've always done both- drawn comics and written about them. My earliest professional writing appeared in The Slings and Arrows Comic Guide published by Aurum press in 1997, and then I wrote in numerous issues of Comic Book Artist magazine.
David: This led to The Warren Companion which I co-wrote and edited with my good friend Jon B Cooke. That was 2001 and it's now quite collectible. I've written or contributed to at least one book a year ever since, give or take a few fallow years and I'm not up to 30, believe it or not, though I suspect nobody has them all. Including me. I'd not necessarily planned this as a sort of parallel career, these projects have often just come my way, though a few were initiated by me. Often I just want these books to exist, and seemingly if I don't do them nobody else will.
Paul: I gather from you social media posts you might have a more than modest collection of original comic pages. Would that be fair to say? And if so what was the first original you bought for yourself?
David: It is pretty big yes, I was interested years ago and often picked up pages for £5! Those days are long gone though. I have traded for art a lot too so I've been able to pick up some great art without actually paying for it. My tastes are very eclectic too, so a lot that interests me- old British pages, often drawn by Spanish or Italian artists for girls comics isn't to everyone's tastes. The first piece of original artwork I bought was a cover prelim by Dave Cockrum for a Peter Parker cover.
David: It was £1 which was all I could afford at the time, I would have been 14 I think, picked up at the first convention I went to, and this would have been the 1979 Birmingham comic Con and I think there was a box of these prelims there.
Paul: I get the impression from what I've read that in recent years the market for original art has gone a bit crazy? In your experience have the prices really gone as potty as I've read about in recent months?
David: Prices have certainly gone beyond what most collectors can pay- that's certainly the case with me! I can remember going into comic showcase and picking up gorgeous John Buscema originals for £5 a page. Those days do seem a verylong time ago. But with the prices for the comics themselves reaching extraordinary figures who's to say what a unique page of artwork is genuinely worth? There will still be thousands of copies of Spiderman #1 in circulation among dealers and collectors, but only one copy of each original page, so who is to say what each one is really worth? There are still relative bargains if one is looking for great art, rather than vintage superhero pages though, particularly in British comics.
Paul: Can you offer some examples?
David: Artists like Ron Embleton, John M Burns and countless 2000AD artists are absolutely the equal of the best American artists and typically sell for far less. At least for now!
Paul: This conversation brings us onto your incredible book Masters of British Comic Art. Can I simply begin by asking how did it begin?
David: The Masters book came about after I'd written Masters of Spanish Comic Art for Dynamite in America. I'd already written several books for them but that one was completely my idea; I pitched it, they loved the idea and I then I compiled the whole thing myself. It seemed to be well received and has led to a Spanish translation
Paul: You're too modest. For example, how did that wonderful cover occur?
David: I was out walking, and it suddenly struck me that having covered Spanish comic artists it seemed only right that I should throw the spotlight on British artists as well. I began to put the book together over the rest of my walk (Walking can be very productive) and made some more notes over the next few days. I then put together a proposal and sent it off to Rebellion who I felt might just be interested, though at that point they hadn't published anything purely historical like this book. I had no idea when I pitched the book that Rebellion were in negotiations to buy IPCs comic division, but it turned out to be a perfect piece of timing- purely by chance. A little while later I came up to Oxford and had a long meeting with Ben Smith of Rebellion and we firmed up plans to publish the book- A deluxe hardback edition. I was absolutely thrilled, and it came out looking far better than I could have imagined.
Paul: There was a little luck involved then?
David: Well, I think they'd have published it anyway because they loved the idea, but it had more than a little synergy with where they were heading. I had initially thought it might be around 260-300 pages in length, but a little later Rebellion's publisher Ben Smith suggested that there shouldn't necessarily be a set length which opened the doors to include a lot more artists from a wider range of styles and backgrounds than I'd initially considered. I'd say it took a few months of going back and forth between all the editorial staff there and myself before we settled on a final line up. The text itself ended up running to almost 100,000 words, I think because I was determined to tell the story of British comics in a comprehensive detail as I could, right up to the current day. I was also determined to encompass the full breadth of genres as well so that included Girls comics, Nursery titles, Romances, small press and Undergrounds etc. Definitely not just the usual line up. There were, of course some great names we didn't have room for, which I do regret. I guess we just had to draw a line at some point.
Paul: Is there ever a chance of a sequel, or is the book a complete volume in your mind?
David: Lots of people have asked about a sequel. The book has gone down far better than I ever imagined, despite it coming out at the start of the pandemic, surely the worst time to release a book since the plague! As much as I'd like to do more I'm not sure what a follow up might look like? There are a lot of great talents I didn't include but I wouldn't want the book to come off as second best in some way. I do regret not including a few people but there we go, I guess it's too late to change anything now.
Paul: That is understandable.
David: However, I do have a Romance book out soon- also from Rebellion- which will be published in the same format as the “Masters” book, so that's going to include lots more great talents who deserve to be better known. It includes some massive names, like Ezquerra, Burns, Gibson, Redondo, Ortiz, Romero, Maroto, Blasco and Bellwood. So, my idea is that I'm putting together a collection that will knock everyone's socks off, even if they think they don't want it! Which I guess, in a way, describes so much of what I've written about.
Paul: How do you feel technology has altered the comic industry?
David: I'm not sure if you've seen my book properly but it does include a big section covering 21st century artists including several that do a lot of work digitally, such as Jimmy Broxton, Steve Pugh, I N J Culbard, D'Israeli, Frazer Irving, Hen Oliver, Dylan Teague, Tula Lotay (I think!) and Anna Mill. So many artists these days use Digital elements in their art to varying degrees that it's not an unusual aspect of anybody's art anymore. Of, course the likes of Brian Bolland and Dave McKean have been Digital for years. In general, though my big interest in any of my books is to unearth material and artists that aren't well known, rather than surveying the current scene.
Paul: Is that perhaps because in the UK our focus has traditionally been more on American artists?
David: Oh absolutely. Most comic shops carry little or no British material and back issue shops, and dealers almost never do. Just think back to old cons and Marts- most had no British back issues of any kind. I think few countries have had such little regard for their own comic industry.
Paul: I'd argue in the UK that could have a better appreciation of the history of European comics too.
David: Oh absolutely. Hence why I wrote Masters of Spanish Comic Art. If it's great art I love it, irrespective of genre or country.
Paul: Do you have a perspective on how technology has altered the comic industry in recent years? Not just in how art is produced but also how it is read and enjoyed. I guess what I am asking is what do you see as the potential advantages or downsides as computers etc help the industry evolve?
David: You seem very keen on Computer oriented questions!
Paul: More intrigued how artists approach it. From a writing point of view the adjustment is fairly fluid but surely it must be a much greater shift for an artist. It does interest me.... Plus, with more technology there is less original art, so it seemed relevant to ask you.
David: I'm the last person to ask- I'm completely analogue. I use them to scan in artwork and send the images off, but beyond that my working practices haven't changed since the '80s. I use a pencil, a brush, various markers and an old-fashioned dip pen! As a non-digital practitioner, I'm not sure how much I can add. Publishers don't seem to care how you create artwork; I don't think I've ever been asked actually.
Paul: Could I ask if you enjoy conventions and meeting your fans? Have you ever had any "celebrity" experiences meeting any artists you have been in awe of, or hugely respected during a convention?
David: I've been going to conventions since 1979- though of course that was as a fan. The UKCAK days as a pro were very different to today because we didn't have tables, and the show was much more centred around talks than signings. When my daughters were born I stepped back from shows but when I came back in the new Millennium I found myself enjoying them more and more. I think these days having some sort of public profile is quite useful for our careers and going to shows and being online is a big part of that. Far more importantly, I just love chatting to fans, it's usually pretty good for the ego too. Though of course at bigger shows like LFCC Most people there have no idea who any of us comic people are. I don't know if it's my imagination, but it feels like the reception us 2000AD artists gets seems to get more enthusiastic each year and it means an enormous amount to me to know that my work is appreciated. We typically work alone at home so to actually meet people that like what we do can be enormously life affirming.
Paul: That sounds incredibly satisfying.
David: I'm a fan of so many artists that I'm starstruck at pretty much every show I go to! I know I've been drawing for 35 years but I'm still very much a fanboy at heart. I think being a 2000AD artist is a little bit like joining an exclusive club, so I can chat to people like Brian Bolland, Chris Weston, Glenn Fabry Simon Davis, Charlie Adlard, Will Simpson, Dave Gibbons et al very much as an equal, which is really quite something. At the latest Bristol show I found myself on stage with Mike Dorey and we had a really nice chat afterwards- moments like that are such a treat. Nothing quite compares to getting a like on Facebook from Jose Luis Garcia Lopez though!
Paul: What does the future hold for David Roach? What are you working on currently that we can look forward towards?
David: Art-wise, I'm inking Mike Collins on La CroiX Noire, starting with issue 3, as written by the legendary Mike Batt. Hopefully after that I'll be either doing something for DC, or maybe more adventures of Saphir (I’d dearly love to) or commissions. Or all of the above.
David: As far as books go we have the first Mick McMahon Apex edition to look forward to later this year, and I've almost finished compiling volume two as well (Though I'm always looking for more Slaine artwork!). There will be more Apex editions after these, depending on sales, though I'm not sure I can say more right now.
David: There will definitely be my Romance book- A Very British Affair coming out in January which I'm very excited about- that's almost finished. Then There may well be a giant John Buscema book in America and another big project from Rebellion though it's very early days with that. Expect announcements at some point this decade!
David: My own art book is out though we're only getting copies in drips and drabs right now, though hopefully we can go public with mail order copies soon. The Art of Luis Garcia has just come out from Dynamite after almost a 3-year delay, so I'm thrilled that's finally appeared. as the fates have conspired, I'll end up having 5 books published in less than 18 months which is pretty crazy... and potentially bankrupting for any completists out there. I know it seems a lot... perhaps I get bored if I'm not doing anything? Who can say...?
Paul: Thank you for all your Answers David and thank you for your valuable time.