My chat with with Simon Jacob was enormous fun. His love of 2000AD is clear.....but his love of decent guitars may possibly eclipse such things.
Paul: Simon I like to begin by simply asking what was the first comic you remember enjoying especially? Was it a comic you bought for yourself or was it a childhood memory?
Simon: The first comics I remember were the Hotspur and Hornet in the 60s, published by DC Thomson – as the youngest of three brothers we shared them between us. I don’t think I found them particularly inspiring but at the time we lived in a fairly small village, so I basically I had what my parents chose for me. The first comic I remember having a real impact on me was an issue of The Hulk. At that time the only place I saw American comics was at motorway service stations when we went on family holidays. Although I don’t think my parents approved, I was allowed one as a holiday treat – probably late 60s early 70s. I couldn’t tell you what issue it was, but the story just pulled me in completely in a way nothing else had before – it was the gateway drug and from then on, I began the search for more.
Paul: From those early day of hunting down comics for a "fix" (to use your analogy) can you say now which artists inspired you artistically? Also are there any contemporary artists that stand out you these days and impress you?
Simon: It was probably late 70s when I first got a job and had my own money that the collecting started to kick in. I had a friend who introduced me to Neal Adams and John Byrne’s X-men (I started at around X-men 108 as I recall) and I was off. I collected pretty much anything that took my fancy but stand out runs for me were the aforementioned Byrne X-Mens, Marshall Rogers Batman run in Detective and Frank Miller on Daredevil along with many others too numerous to mention. I carried on picking up stuff all through the 80s and into the 90s, mainstream and indie; for me 2000AD came into the mix in the early 80s and like everyone I was blown away by the superstars of that era. Due to space restrictions, I sold pretty much the whole collection in the mid-90s which I kind of regret now. There was some amazing stuff in there and I sold it cheap! I still have a few key issues of my favourite stuff though!
Simon: I’m a bit out of touch with what’s going on now so I don’t follow any artist in particular – if I see something that appeals to me artistically or story-wise I’ll buy it but I’m keeping that particular habit under control these days…
Paul: How did you come into Tharg's Radar? Who was you Tharg and how did it come about?
Simon: I started submitting samples to editors sometime in the mid-80s. I had some pages published in the Mighty World of Marvel reprints and this inspired me to cast the net wider. Steve McManus was in the chair when I first submitted and tried out some stuff for Pat Mills which was ultimately unsuccessful. Not to be deterred I went away and did some more practice before submitting to Tharg again, who by this time had morphed into Richard Burton. Like pretty much all newbies I tried out on a Future Shock (‘Fat Chance’ as I recall) written by a Tharg in waiting John Tomlinson. That seemed to go OK and lead to more Future Shocks, Tales from the Doghouse (set in the Strontium Dog universe) and eventually to Armoured Gideon, again scripted by John. This was probably around 1989-90-ish – the details are a bit foggy!
Paul: Well, you read my mind. Armoured Gideon will likely be what you are best remembered for amongst 200AD fandom. Can you explain anything about the origins of the series, and how you developed it at all?
Simon: At the time I think Richard was looking for a series for me to draw and I think he asked John to come up with something, so the concept of Gideon was entirely John’s. Once the overall story idea was established, we exchanged some ideas and inspirations for the look which I wanted to be quite distinctive and original (hopefully!). The initial concept was that he was a walking arsenal of weapons for dealing with the unholy and demonic fighting their way through from a parallel plane of existence. These would be deployed from behind the various panels covering his body – the concept kind of went away a bit as the series progressed. I did a couple of passes at the design, but it didn’t change much really from the initial drawing. His head was altered a bit – bizarrely in Gideon’s recent reincarnation in 2000ad the changes to his look actually moved him more towards that original design (which I still have somewhere.)
Paul: It would be lovely to see those original designs. Since 2000AD you have moved onto greener pastures it seems. Can you discuss your time post 2000AD?
Simon: Apart from comics the other big passion in my life was music and guitars. During the 90s while drawing pretty much full time I was also working in a guitar shop in Birmingham (mainly to get me away from the drawing board and actually talking to real people!). It just kind of took over. Eventually I got the opportunity to work for Fender Guitars which I took, and I never looked back really. I continued freelancing with art, doing some comics and children’s books throughout that time but it gradually fizzled out and I’ve been involved with guitars ever since.
Paul: It is amazing you follow your passion.
Simon: Having said that, I’ve never really stopped producing art for my own entertainment, much aided by improved computer technology, and over the last few years I’ve have come back to writing and drawing comic strips. Next year will hopefully see the appearance of a project I’ve been working on for some time now. I still draw every day.
Paul: In which case you may be able to provide some insight. How do you feel technology has changed the way art is created? And from the other point of view the way comics are often read and enjoyed digitally rather than on paper? Do you think it is all a positive development for the comic industry?
Simon: This is entirely a personal perspective, but I rarely read comics digitally. It’s the same with books – I love the physical artefact. Occasionally I will get the digital version of The Prog if I’m curious about something, but I always prefer the collected printed editions – though I’m much more particular about what I go for these days.
Simon: Considering the use of computers in producing artwork, I think of it as liberating and ‘as well as’, not ‘instead of’. I’m from the ‘draw and scan’ school or artists – I like the spontaneity of pen and paper (I’m a scribbler, not a draughtsman – I know, I know, you can tell…) and I’ve struggled to reproduce that spontaneity while using various forms of tech. Colouring is a different ball game. If you ever get to look at the colour artwork for Armoured Gideon much of that was airbrushed – it creates a great finish which reproduces well but boy, is it labour intensive on a weekly strip! With computers it’s the touch of a button. This has its own drawbacks – because the possibilities are infinitely varied. I’ve spent way too long digitally colouring my current project (for the sake of my sanity the next will be black and white!). I does, however, produce the results I like to see.
Simon: As far as the future of the industry goes, I don’t think I’m enough of a consumer to make a judgement. The things I like best currently are almost all small press, Kickstarters or creator owned. Whether these models are enough to sustain an industry or, indeed a career, is probably up for debate but I think there will always be creators and consumers like me who are driven to make something because they love it. The process and the product. Consider this along with modern printing technology and the reach of the web and it’s never been easier to put amazing stuff out into the world.
Paul: I suppose the same could be said of the music industry to an extent?
Simon: You're correct - the parallels are very close.
Paul: How involved did you get with going to comic conventions, signing comics and doing sketches for fans? Was that a part of being a 2000AD artist you enjoyed?
Simon: I really enjoyed conventions (and still do). I did quite a few as a guest during the early 90s, sketching and selling artwork, and did several signing sessions at various branches of Forbidden Planet as part of a 2000AD panel. At that time, pre internet and mobile phones, working as a freelancer was quite a lonely business so the opportunity to meet up with other artist and to interact with fans of 2000AD was something I jumped at and loved doing. You never knew who you would meet or what questions would come at you – it was most excellent fun.
Simon: I’m hoping to dip my toe back into the con scene next year along with a friend of mine who is an indie comic kinda guy – should be interesting!
Paul: Well certainly COVID certainly put a stop to the convention for far too long. Everyone I've spoken to is keen to get back into it.... Given your love or guitars have ever tried painting an Armoured Gideon Fender? That would be rather cool.
Simon: Ha Ha! No Gideon I’m afraid. I have done custom artwork on Fender Custom Shop guitars in the past and tried to get a project off the ground for some 2000AD artists to paint Custom Jackson guitars but that got stuck on legal issues over licensing. It was a pity – the plan was to do 5 guitars, one Dredd and then the four Dark Judges on a guitar each. Could have been very cool but red tape got in the way.
Paul: I can't play guitar at all beyond the first few chords of Smoke on the Water, but I'd have bought one of them. Likely a Judge Death one. It is a shame that the deal fell through. Are there any 2000AD characters you would have liked to have tried working on? Or are there any writers you have enjoyed collaborating with?
Simon: I’d have love to have had a go at Slaine back in the day – I love all the Celtic and Irish mythos – it would have been so in my wheelhouse! Whether I had the artistic chops at the time is up for debate, but it would have been interesting – quite a ‘what if’ for me. I really enjoyed working on John T’s stuff – we got on well and shared a similarly skewed sense of humour, I guess. How he squeezed four series of robot mashing out of the Gideon concept is a wonder in itself – necessity is the mother of invention!
Paul: It is a bit is shame Armoured Gideon is currently not all collected in a lovely hardback book. Do you think there was more story to be explored?
Simon: It would be nice to see a collection of the stories - especially the colour stuff which has never been re-printed. I think John had taken it as far as he wanted to. I could easily spin out more stories - there's scope for Gideon's Adventures Through the Centuries. In fact, I've just had a great idea which I'm gonna keep to myself in case I want to use it - or maybe even pitch it to Tharg!
Paul: I wish you best of luck with your new idea. I'm sure a great deal of fans would love to see some more Armoured Gideon stories. Would you like to write them yourself. I hope the current Tharg would look upon them fondly. Is there anything you would like to promote that you are working upon?
Simon: I plan to do a lot more comic book stuff in the future - writing and illustrating. Nothing to promote right now. Like most people I have a project I can't really talk about in detail until the publishing deal is done (or not!) so I don't want to jinx that - but watch out! - here will definitely be new stuff from next year - one way or another!!
Paul: I thank you for your time answering all my questions. It has been a pleasure. I look forward to seeing what you create in the future.