Peter Doherty's Thoughts.
My conversation with Peter was conducted a little while ago. His answers were very comprehensive. Instead of providing a photo he offered a self portrait for me to use. I found him to be extremely polite and very well informed. He has worked extensively for 2000AD. I very much enjoyed our conversation together. Despite the vaguely grumpy looking self portrait he is a quite lovely and humble man. As an accomplished artist he also managed to offer some valuable thoughts about colouring in the comic industry. We had a long talk. I hope our conversation represents him fairly.
Paul: Peter thank you for your time. I like to begin these things by just asking how artists begin to fall in love with comics. What was the first comic you especially remember enjoying? Was it a childhood memory? Was it bought for you, or did you buy it yourself?
Peter: I don't have a particularly good memory, but I do recall getting the first Mighty World Of Marvel (British reprint) delivered. And the main thing I recall is the first FF story being reprinted in black and white and, I think, green. That made an impression!! I think I got that delivered weekly when I was little, so obviously it was bought for me by my parents. I'm not sure if I was into comics before that though, as we were in the UK and didn’t see US comics unless it was via reprints, and I don't remember being much interested in the British comics I saw. I do recall buying the first 2000AD off the stands and chucking it away cos it didn't have much appeal to me then, after consuming a steady diet of Marvel reprints previous to coming across it. Of course, one's tastes do change!!!
Paul: Can you tell the story of how you first came to be published for 2000AD?
Peter: I did two five page stories to try get work. One was a story John Smith had written for 2000AD but somehow it never got published. the other was written by Chris Standley, who was a friend and co-writer of John's. I knew John and Chris through Duncan Fegredo who I'd met a couple of years earlier. I took these two stories up to Glasgow for the 1990 convention there and John said he'd introduce me to Steve, who was Tharg at the time. Steve bought the story of Chris's for Crisis and promised me more work. While Steve was looking the pages over, John Wagner walked past and had a little look over his shoulder and passed a favourable comment. I never did find out if that coincidence led me to being offered Young Death which was my first commissioned job.
Peter: I'd touted round some crappy samples a few years earlier at a London UKCAC and got little interest, but I did show them to Diana Schutz who advised me to learn to draw and tell stories better. So, I sort of gave up and went to art school to get a bit better at the craft side of things. Then I only did some samples when I was a bit more confident I could do the job, along with knowing some insiders who were actually making comics (Duncan, John and Chris). I joke that I almost got work on the first try, which I did. Most people have stories of trying to get into comics multiple times. I did try to make sure the samples I showed were what was wanted, which is always decent storytelling that is clearly readable and understandable.
Paul: You may always be associated with Young Death. Was it an enjoyable project?
Peter: Young Death was quite a surprising project to be given for the first thing I did. Wagner’s writing was a little intimidating for the beginner I was, but John couldn't have been nicer really. "You're the artist, you know what you're doing". I only found out after I started, it was destined for the first year of the new monthly Megazine. When I saw who else was drawing the rest of the content, I'm glad I didn't know earlier who I'd be published alongside, as I might have just run off!! The enthusiasm I recall I felt at the time was mixed with the awful fear of such a huge project. It was exciting to get such a high profile project as a first paid gig, so I sort of just ploughed on and tried my best. I guess my genuine enthusiasm fired me up and overcame any really crappy parts. I think it's remembered fondly as it's in those early Megazines, but also, it's one of the longest Dredd jobs I drew too.
Paul: You have worked with some American publishers. Did you find working with them a different experience? Do you have a perspective to share at all?
Peter US comics tend to be a bit more "corporate" in my experience, which is possibly a little biased of me, or they're more controlling of their I.P.!! But then my previous experience with 2000AD was working for a smaller much more tightly knit group of people. Even back in the Fleetway days, 2000AD was quite a compartmentalised part of the whole concern. These days it's a very small part of a much larger games company. US companies tend to be a bit bigger and a bit more analy retentive about their properties. It's understandable. 2000AD, in my opinion, tends to be less corporate and less bothered about the exact angle or the slope of Dredd's helmet and crap like that. So long as the work's good.
Paul: Your Grendel comics are especially memorable.
Peter: The Grendel Tales I got through James Robinson. He recommended me to Diana Schutz. Diana was great, very hands off, and very intelligent too. US comics seem to have a lot of very hands-on editors that use the creative team as vehicles for their own "self-expression", and that's a bit crap as far as I can tell. I never worked with Archie Goodwin, but I talked to him once when he was assembling teams for Legends of The Dark Knight and the possible plan was to work with my old friend John Smith on a Batman story. I recall asking Archie if he minded me suggesting John, (he was familiar with some of John's stuff.) Then he said it was easier for him as an editor if creators wanted to work together. It seemed eminently sensible when he said it out loud.
Peter: My experience working for US publishers was quite diverse, but it did throw into contrast how blessed I'd been working with John Wagner, who's the best writer I've worked with in 30 years. He is a top writer and a nicer bloke too!
Paul: Many comic artists are tempted away from the comic industry. Sometimes it is the film industry for storyboarding opportunities, on other occasions The Computer Games industry may ask for some design work. Have you found that to be the case?
Peter: I did work for a computer games company after a period in the late 90s when work was thin on the ground. I only lasted 10 months!!! (I’m not really a "team player.") Though a year or two before that I was in the same state of mind, and I was induced by having no work. I sent work samples off all over the place. These were pre-internet days!!all One of the places I landed work was Henson's Creature Shop when it was in Camden, which was quite a feat as they had tons of folk trying to get work and not many actually did.
Peter: It was a shame I never really pursued that avenue, because the work and people were both great. Decent pay too. Dermot Power and Glyn Dillon were working in the same building in Anthony Mingella's office. It was the first time I met either of them, even though I knew both of their work.
Paul: If my research is to be trusted you were nominated for an Eisner Award for colouring Goef Darrow's work on Shaolin Cowboy. I would imagine that must have been gratifying to be appreciated for what I'd guess must surely been a hard colouring job. How did that come about? Geof Darrow produces famously detailed artwork. Was it a challenge?
Peter: I knew Geof pretty well back then, since the early 90s, in fact. We used to talk quite a bit, just a load of nonsense usually, but he mentioned he was doing this Shaolin Cowboy comic. He was concerned to keep it looking like he wanted it to be, away from too much editorial interference. So, I said that these days (must have been around the early 2000's) you could do everything yourself or with someone with the required computer skills and programmes. So that's what I did. All the stuff that's not Geof, I did. Of course, he okayed everything I did, but we came up with the design of the comic together. Obviously, it's mostly Geof and me producing the finished files. I even did the scanning!!! It was a challenge. I think looking back I probably tried to do too much, cos everything takes time. And looking at what Dave Stewart's colour does for Geof's work these days, I think I likely tried a bit too hard, though I do think most of the stuff I did works pretty well, I reckon Dave's is quite a bit better.
Paul: I dare say that is all true, but an Eisner nomination ought not be sneezed at, as it were.
Peter: I was quite surprised when it was announced really. To win though, I think you have to do lots of books that are noticed, and that wasn't me, hence all the wins for Dave and, more recently, Jordie Bellaire.
Paul: Can we go back to 2000AD? You have illustrated many Judge Dredd stories during your career. Do you have one that you are especially proud of, or pleased with the response of from 2000AD fans?
Peter: Well, "Bury my Knee at Wounded Heart" was a favourite as soon as I read it. And it went down well with everyone as far as I know. I remember Diana Schutz telling me how sad she thought that panel of the old fella sat on the bed talking to his wife's body, and you get all his grief from the dialogue and his posture without seeing his face. It's gratifying when you hear stuff like that. And Slow Crime Day is a favourite too, cos it's such a laugh, but played pretty straight, but then that's John for you!!!
Paul: You mentioned colouring which is an almost entirely digital skill now. Do you have an opinion about the impact technology has had upon the comic industry and the way art is created?
Peter: The colouring question is interesting. As Matt Hollingsworth pointed out to me years ago, most pre-digital colourists didn't survive the change to digital, partly because it was really expensive in those early days to tool yourself up with enough tech to do the job. That change was a segue into a newer way of doing things rather than a switch being thrown on the introduction of newer techniques. So, colourists were still doing hand colour guides for a long time. A generation of the actual digital colours was being done by teams of people in separation houses, as it had been for years and years. It is just that they were using computers and not cutting film, to generate the files sent to print. It took several years for the individual colourists to be named in books, and to be actually generating the colours free from outside "help". But of course, the editorial side wanted the same schedules as before, so a book needing to be coloured in a couple of days, which is pretty difficult for one person to do. Yet it was still expected to be done in a couple of days!!
Peter: The use of computer technology just changed the method of production, and not the expectations of the folks in charge. So, colours look more "modern" but really, for the most part, they aren't much better because colourists are still mainly regarded as production people, and thus NOT artists. They aren't given the appropriate time to do the job, unless as a colourist you can rope in a ton of help. Things are changing a little. Matt Hollingsworth makes it clear that he only does around 10 pages a week (I think.) Although in certain circumstances he'll do a little more, but generally as far as I understand, he keeps his production to a sensible amount where he knows he can control the quality of the stuff to which his name is attached. But Matt's a rare exception. He does fantastic work!!!
Paul: I totally agree, His colouring is world class. Do you have any thoughts now about how comics are read online on tablet and computer and so forth?
Peter: I don't really have enough experience with formats other than print. It does seem to me that digital formats are much better places for the presentation of comics, especially colour. If it expands the market. It ought to be good for the producers of comics though these days. He says cynically, it just seems, as with the music industry, there's only a few portals for the presentation of content and it's the owners of those that make all the money!! Does that sound too cynical? Or too ignorant???..... Also, I should add, I don't think that applies in the UK as the jobs are small enough to handle week by week, but it's always been like that. Don't know how it works in other countries though. In Japan, I understand all comics material is produced by a team of people even if there's only one name on the cover.
Paul: That is a fascinating insight into the industry. Thank you for that. Part of being a comic artist involves going to comic conventions. Do you enjoy meeting fans for sketches and so forth? COVID obviously affected the industry a lot in this regard. Did you miss it? Are there any conventions you have especially enjoyed?
Peter: I missed talking nonsense with the folks I've known for years, mostly. It is gratifying to meet and talk to the people who've followed my work even though it's been the best part of 20 years since I drew anything near substantial. I got out of the habit of doing conventions in the early 2000's and only started up again when Thought Bubble started, as I know the people who organise it and I pitched in to help. Although quite a few years back it became clear at a con I have ten times less of the rep I used to have. I have faded into near uselessness!!
Peter: I've really not got much of that sort of "industry presence" anymore. For quite a while I've felt on the fringes of things to a great degree, but then workwise I've done such a diverse range of things it's almost a miracle anyone notices me at all. Covid made me stay in a little more than I normally would, as my health was badly impacted by what happened to me about five years ago (do you know about that? Lots of people seem to!) Whilst I was incredibly buoyed up by all the support from lots of people that was expressed, by both fans and quite a number of topflight professionals who are friends, my actual health hasn't really retuned to, "normal", whatever that is? And it looks like it never will.
Peter: Over the last year I had a small stroke. It was probably due to the earlier health problem, and I ended up in hospital to wait for a scan to check it hadn't done too much damage, or any damage that might affect me further. While I was in hospital, I contracted Covid, which wasn't a massive surprise as everyone on the ward seemed to have it and loads of staff were off having tested positive!!! I wasn't too bad considering a doctor friend of mine's dire warnings about my health if I did get Covid. It turned out not to be too bad, but then just before last Christmas I ended up back in the same ward having lost consciousness suddenly for no reason. Thankfully I was with a couple of other people who phoned the ambulance. Upshot of all this is I have been diagnosed as developing epilepsy. It is not a complete surprise given my recent medical history I've been told. So, my past year has been unusual but for some very odd reasons!!!.... This is why I missed that event in London to celebrate 40 Years of 2000AD. I'd only just left hospital and really didn't have it in me to attend. I couldn't walk very well and slept like I was almost dead!! I still sleep quite a bit, like it's an Olympic event!!
Paul: Blimey! You have certainly been "been through the wars" as my father may have put it.
Peter: "Been through"……sadly, I'm still in them to some degree!!
Paul: Was there ever a 2000ad character that you wish you could have worked upon? Like Chopper perhaps? I can imagine your art on a Chopper story.
Peter: I can't recall back to when I started, but I've never really been one of those artists that has a burning desire to draw certain characters. Lots of artists are like that in my experience, but I'm not, and lots of the artists I've worked with as a colourist have a similar focus. My focus is having a good story and script to work on, above all else. That's why working with Wagner is always fantastic. He can write stories I'd want to read.
As an artist are there any dream projects you have in mind? Are there any writers you would like to work with?
Peter: Not really. In all honesty, when I've been asked similar questions in the past, the results are usually disappointing: because you actually don’t get to work with your dream writer (if there is such a beast!) Everything fizzles out to nothing before anything substantial gets done, or your dream collaborator actually turns out to be nightmare collaborator. I hope that doesn't sound too bitter and depressing.
Paul: Do you have any creator owned projects planned?
Peter: It is a fair question, but I don't have any planned. Bit of a boring answer, I'm afraid.
Paul: Are you still producing art? Is there anything you would like to promote or advertise?
Peter: Currently doing a bit of colouring on a David Roach drawn strip for 2000AD, cos David asked me if I wanted to do it, and I did. I've not drawn any comics for a long time although I was thinking of trying to get back into drawing a while ago. Until the beginning of last year I was still doing quite a lot of life drawing, which for the most part, not many people see. Although I do put some up on Facebook occasionally. I've always drawn in sketchbooks when I travel about as I use public transport mainly. What with lockdown and being advised my medical situation might be quite serious if I caught Covid, I stopped indoors most of the time, but I've not drawn much.
Paul: Would be willing to share an example of your art from one of your sketchbooks. Could you select one you are especially proud of please?
Peter: This one turned out well, I recall I was sat down with the late evening sun coming through the window directly behind the model from where I was sat, so I really couldn't see anything. But it turned out quite well.
Paul: Peter, I thank you for your time and effort answering all my questions. It has been enlightening.
Peter: Well, thank you for both those things. Although the time thing, I do have quite a lot of that at the moment!