During his busy deadlines Gregg Staples shared some of his thoughts about his time in the comic industry and beyond. He is a staple (pun intended) of 2000AD and at the age of 50 now his perspective and insights are invaluable. If pushed to pick a favourite football team Greg admits he might be a Sheffield United fan… “Go Blades” I quote.
Paul: Greg, thank you for your time. Can I ask what was the very first comic you recall reading? Was it a childhood memory? Is there a story to tell?
Greg: The very first, I can remember reading was Spider-Man I don’t remember exactly which one, but I do remember being particularly taken with Spider-Man back in the early to mid-1970s. A lot of my early drawings were of that nature of when I discovered Marvel comics. Just the ones from the local newsagents, particular Spider-Man, I just became obsessed. However, the comic that really took me was 2000 A.D. back in 1977. The first issue I am still remember getting it and just that was it amazing,
Paul: Can you say what you would consider your most significant artistic influences? Are there any artists who inspire you currently?
Greg: When I started out in 1990 the big three influences were Glenn Fabry, Simon Bisley and Brian Bolland. These days I tend not to look at too many other artists as an influence simply because I prefer doing my own style, however I would say I do have a love of early illustrators such as Howard Pyle and NC Wyeth…. And of course, the great Frank Frazetta!
Paul: How did you first meet Tharg and come to be published in 2000AD?
Greg: I first got into 2000 A.D. professionally at one of the early you UKCAC conventions I’d been wanting to get to work with 2000 A.D. so showed my portfolio around, but no editors would look. I managed to show Simon Bisley who was riding high on Slaine at the time, he liked my work but said I needed to work on a few things and then come back next year as I may be ready then. so, I did just that. I worked on a portfolio for about a year, took half of the art pages to the next year’s convention and after a whole weekend of basically not getting very far as nobody would actually look at my portfolio, I saw Bisley again and persuaded him to take a look. He immediately took me to the front of the queue to meet the 2000AD editors. they liked what they saw and gave me a card and told me to call the following week. I’m eternally grateful to Simon for that introduction.
Paul: Your first published work for 2000AD was a Judge Dredd story with Garth Ennis I believe. I'm sure it must have been very satisfying to be published after all the effort you made to get your foot in the door. Did you celebrate in any way?
Greg: My first published story was The Ruffside the rough guide to suicide written by Garth Ennis and I was unbelievably over the moon to be drawing Judge Dredd as my first published strip. Before that I was given a try-out strip called the Tooth Fairy (later published in Thargs Terror Tales) and that was written by Mark Miller so two great writers start with was just awe-inspiring, so I tried to do a fairly good job on that first Dredd and thankfully it lead onto to other things which I was over the moon about.
Paul: It must have been satisfying to add your name alongside so many great artists to have worked with Pat Mills on Slaine. Was that a character you always fancied illustrating? What was Pat Mills like to work with? I'm told his scripts are fairly detailed, is that true?
Greg: It was a dream, I mean Glenn Fabry, Simon Bisley and Mick McMahon had proceeded my run, so it was very intimidating and knowing what I know now I wasn’t ready as it literally broke me. I was very young and you need some life and work experience to be able to pull it off which I feel I didn’t except for the odd panel which isn’t enough. Really helped me understand just how talented they must have been to pull off such amazing work week in work out. The Horned God is still remarkable to me. Pat was a joy to work with and incredibly supportive, I just wish I’d had a bit more experience to do his writing the justice it deserved. Still, a real honour indeed.
Paul: Dark Justice was a huge accomplishment which I am sure must have been incredibly time consuming. Is it hard to commit yourself to such a long term project?
Greg: These days yes, I don’t think I’d do the same thing again unless I felt it was financially viable, but it was a passion project and one I’m proud of.
Paul: You've also worked on Sinister Dexter. Are they characters you enjoy? Their stories tend to be slightly more light hearted than some of your previous work, does that alter your approach at all?
Greg: Funnily enough it was my breath of fresh air as I loved being a bit looser and letting the characters do the work. Great fun and I did them super quick.
Paul: You've done some landmark covers for 2000AD over the years. I'm curious if you have a favourite? Are there any 2000AD characters you'd like to have a go at for a cover?
Greg: I have the odd favourite, but I tend not to like looking back at my work as I feel there’s always better work just around the corner. I do like the Dredd in the rain and my Dredd vs Death which was a nod to the Brian Bolland Titan cover I had since I was a kid.
Paul: For many artists technology has altered the way they produce their art. Over the course of your career how has it impacted your process?
Greg: Technology has been a bit of a wonder for me in many ways, but I think the best thing has been the ability to use it for concept design on films and games and you can work fast and make changes on the fly. I sometimes plan a colour prelim digitally too. Planning a piece of art this way is something I do with most of my work these days and it’s really helped me to produce the work I’m satisfied with.
Paul: You've worked a fair bit in the computer games industry and for Wizards of the Coast. Can you compare those experiences with your time in comics? Are they as dramatically different as they sound?
Greg: Wizards are absolutely wonderful to work for, I really feel at home with them and it’s always fun and interesting as they respect the creatives. As for games I had many great experiences having done many since the time I started in the early 90’s but then I was under contract for a games company in Sheffield and it was such a horrible experience I haven’t returned to games since. I’ve done a few films and tv shows since which made up for my dreadful experience, but my heart will always be in comics and illustration, I feel a lot more respected, but it’s certainly left a bit of a scar.
Paul: You mentioned film concept work. I know sometimes these things are shrouded in some secrecy. What films have you worked upon?
Greg: I’ve worked on quite a few now, many I can’t name or never left development hell, but I was costume illustrator for Brad Pitt’s character on World War Z and I designed the look of Hellboy himself for the latest Hellboy film, there’s also a few I can’t mention because they aren’t out yet.
Paul: Can I ask if you ever miss producing pen and ink black and white pages?
Greg: Oh, I love pen and ink, it’s one of my favourite things to do, but I'm slow and my demand tends to be for painted so I'm comfortable with that.
Paul: I'd imagine pen and ink pages are a faster way to produce pages?
Greg: A little faster but I still take a long time and at the end of the day I like fine brushwork which takes almost as long as a painting. It also pays a lot less which unfortunately does factor into it a bit.
Paul: Are you ever offered comic work that is pen and ink?
Greg: Not very often these days, I think it’s mainly because I’m seen more as a painter and focus more on illustration these days which is a shame as black and white art was part of my portfolio when I started out and the Book The Horror Stories of Robert E Howard which I fully illustrated in black line is one of my favourite things I've done. I would love to do something similar again and have always wanted to illustrate a moody version of A Christmas Carol with inked and painted book plates. The last comic I illustrated in line was Bad Planet for Thomas Jane and Tim Bradstreet which really wasn't a pleasant experience, I quit early as I felt quite controlled so I think a novel might give me the creative freedom I would need.
Paul: Many artists and writers often develop their own creator owned projects, are their any Greg Staples owned characters in the pipeline?
Greg: I certainly have a few ideas and I’ve had a few meetings with writers and publishers but having turned 50 it’s all about quality which takes time. Who knows what the future holds though, it’s definitely not impossible?
Paul: Thank you for your time, Greg. It’s been a pleasure.