Asking "Nearly" '77 Questions With Andrew Sawyers

Andrew Sawyers has been a recent revelation for the UK comics scene. He is a 47 year old Surrey based illustrator who is an overwhelmingly obsessed coffee drinker and will consume almost any food group if you can put it in a sandwhich! His favourite movie is Robocop because..., "it really does have many layers, but at its heart is a great storyline." He only recently returned to create art after a 25 year hiatus of doing anything art related after quitting academia having turned down a position at the John Rennie Mackintosh school of art in Glasgow - He said "I think I panicked at the thought of then having to do my own laundry !!!" He also said he is a huge fan of Suicidal Tendencies (the legendary Venice based Punk Hardcore Thrash band ) as he prefers music over sports.

Paul: I like to start by asking how your relationship with comics began? Can you recall the very first comics you enjoyed reading? How old might you have been and where might they have been purchased from?

Andrew: Yes, I recall it vividly and very fondly! I’d read, or rather seen comics before - but, the most profound moment was when my father returned from work early one morning, and brought home a pile of 2000ad’s. I was five years old at the time. It was 1981 and the one which captivated me was Prog 236 (31st Oct 1981) Naturally I was blown away by the Bolland cover, but it was McMahons interiors on the opening salvo of Block Mania that literally blew me away. I was mesmerised and terrified in equal measure, and perhaps it’s the byline by which I judge all comics, any genre, but they’ve gotta grab you right !?!
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Paul: I quite agree.
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Andrew: Comics, were instrumental in learning to not only read, but then pursuing literature and reading as a pastime in general. Throughout the 80’s it was predominantly 2000ad, in fact it was only f**kin’ 2000ad (laughs) but I can recall cool runs on Daredevil by Miller, Byrnes stuff on FF, Battle Action. I’d read anything I could get my hands on, loved some early stuff Sienkiewickz did on ROM, Space Knight. Then there was that explosion, I recall reading about both in glossy Sunday supplements, Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns - American comics.
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Paul: All comic fans recall that era I am sure.
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Andrew: I guess now in part because of the British Invasion, had become grittier, y’know, then there was The Killing Joke … It was early days at senior school and this was profoundly bravura stuff …  around the same time Robocop dropped, and there was an explosion of comics everywhere - it was a truly golden era for me as influences go… around 2000 though, I got tired of the damage done by the whole Wizard/Image era so walked away from comics for some 20 years.

Paul: It was certainly a unique era for the comic industry. 
 
Andrew: In very recent years, it’s good to see a new school of talent, writers and artists have established themselves as the new guard, and I think now, comics are back in safe hands, Jock springs to mind, Cliff Chiang, Ben Caldwell and Jim Mahfood to name a few. I’m pleased to see long standing creators still innovating such as Sienkiewickz.
Paul: You seem pretty excited about comics.
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Andrew: It’s an exciting time, so much so, I keep getting exposed to new stuff, and it blows my mind, and I’m trying to cut back on buying books (laughs)… as far as a relationship, and it’s important, comics by and large are an incredible medium, and have always been there, and I’m lucky I’ve recently been able to contribute to the medium. It’s been a personal journey marked with some incredible moments, working on a Simon Furman script, appearing alongside McMahon and Jock - insane, as three years ago I was drawing with cheap pens on envelopes.
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Paul: Did you always plan from a young age to be artistic? OR did comics genuinely inspire you to become an artist? Is there a chicken or egg situtation involved here? Which came first?
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Paul: Can you describe how your very first published work occured? Who was your first editor?
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Andrew: Well, ha!! So, I’d got back into 2000ad and was enjoying moving around social media conversing with long standing Dredd and 2000ad fans. I started listening to Everything Comes Back To 2000AD and shortly there after in 2019 the launched the inaugural Drokktober (Inktober.) I did all 31 days, raised a small profile and got offered a script straight off the back of that event with The ‘77. Originally it was a Steve MacManus script, I couldn’t meet the deadline and thought I’d squandered any momentum I’d capitalised off of Drokktober, however the Editor put me in touch with the Deputy Editor Steve Bull. Steve’s generous with his time, and a calm and collected broad minded editor. He set me up with Bambos Georgio (Marvel UK/Deadline) and actually got to Co Develop the dystopian strip, The Cell !!! Originally it was intended as a one shot, I managed to get Bambos on the phone and within hours we’d planned a whole three book arc!
Paul: It sounds like a lot of work.
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Andrew: I recall drawing the whole thing in a weekend, it was four pages, it was, at the time, I felt good enough and served the script well enough - it’s a little heavy handed and I had to play to my limited ability at the point in time … But, I’m proud of it and it’s my first published work, besides, I thought it looked badass once it’d been lettered and ‘mastered’ for print …
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Paul: That is so cool.
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Andrew: There was a huge amount of generous support for it editorially, which, rather than tearing it to pieces, encouraged me to do more, this in turn inspired me to push harder.
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Paul: Could you possibly name who might be your main artistic influences. can you say which artists have truly inspired you and why?
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Andrew: Influences - hmmm, that falls into to two categories, heroes and those who directly influence my style, at least decision wise in the artistic choices I make. Heroes are easy Frazetta, Alan Davis, Bisley are all up there. Adam Hughes I’m in awe of! Bisley, I like his approach - he’s got attitude to what he draws, he’s having fun, does it for fun - he has his detractors, but can and has crushed it with the best of em’ - he can tell a story, illustratively f’sure.
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Paul: No disagreement so far.
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Andrew: Influences? Straight off the bat, McMahon - Block Mania, Sky Chariots, sheer power to all of that stuff! Steve Dillon, Dredd, Alone in a Crowd us up there a favourite and the standard in taught storytelling … Of course Ezquerra, Gibbons, Cam Kennedy … Jock is instrumental to my return to art, I’m in awe. Equally I get frustrated with some of us aesthetics and then he’ll surprise and turn everything you thought you knew about his art on its head! It’s funny how it’s changed, years ago the list would of been very different - and of late I’ve drifted more and more towards a host of newer established artists, Cliff Chiang, Becky Cloonan, Ben Caldwell, Jim Mahfood, Lee Garbett. They’re ushering in a whole new aesthetic to storytelling whilst still be respectful to the medium … Brendan McCarthay springs to mind !!! … and of course Sienkiewicz.

Andrew: not to be different for the sake of being different, but I think McMahon and Jock have inspired me to be ‘different’ - I’ve just not had the guts to jump all in and go really crazy yet, but I think the next episode of Jubilee will see a huge shift in style, tone and delivery. I think from all art and illustration, I’m generally inspired to explore and innovate - sadly I don’t get to spend as much time at the drawing board as I like, so progress can seem for many months, glacial !!!.

Paul: The Cell is a pretty cool storyline for The '77.How did you appraoch it as a project?
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Andrew: Initially the stand alone script, was an isolated story. When I was asked to rough out some prelims to give them an idea visually what it would look like, I made sure to include illustrations which showed not only character designs, but the environment they operated in, the world they live, work and sleep in. I wanted to open a door to Bambo’s and the editorial. I wanted to show them there’s more here to work with, you can have if you want, an ongoing story that eventually could build into something else, a potential legacy. In real terms, the bulk of what I put forward though was mood pieces, armoured guard designs, the look of the populace. I did change the whole alpha numerical name thing on the back of their orange flight suits, distilling it down to a barcode with a simplified eagle surround, and the name then runs along the serial number of the barcode.

Paul: If I may say so, that is rather clever.

Andrew: I wanted something more permanent, and as clothing be changed, the barcode is continuously read as traverse through ‘The Cell.’ Influences came from lots of Colin MacNeil stuff I’d been reading, not directly, but taking that interpretation of how he approaches buildings and stuff . It was and is very crude, but then, so was a lot of early strips. I'll return to it soon enough, and I think I’ve worked on enough stuff with variation, I’ll be able to bring a lot of new things to The Cell … Make it bigger, badder, harder … … meaner !!
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Andrew, could you explain how you came to be published by SHIFT please?
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Andrew: I got the call, or rather struck up a friendship with Shift Editor Adrian Clarke. We’d been spitballin’ ideas, potential reruns, covers etc for a few months He was very interested in getting something of mine out, and to be honest, whilst it had yet to happen, Adrian is exactly the kinda guy you want to be working for - he’s good people! Literally out if the blue he called me up, and simply said Simon (Furman) wants you on the job for the third part of Rex and Rule (the To the Death reprise) which was going to be in the Shift year book. One phone call with Simon Furman, contract went out, script arrived and I worked on it solidly. It was pretty much seamless aside from one fraught redraw, but - in hindsight that wasn’t actually all that bad,- and the rest is history. It was a huge thrill to work with, and appear alongside Simon, Geoff, Steve White and Richard Starkings as some 36 years ago I got the 1st issue of Dragons Claws - so y’know the provenance of such an opportunity was magic. I even got to hold a page of original Dragons Claws art (laughs)
Paul: I'd like to ask the about The '77 in more gerneral terms? Launching a new title in the UK marcket is a remarkable acheivement. Sustaining it especially during a cost of living crisis is all the more impressive. From your perspective as a star artist for the title how far can you see it going? Are there limititation on what could be accomplished?
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Andrew: Not sure about star artist, there’s some real talent involved in this such as Ben MacLeod, Ian Stopforth, Charlie Gillespie and Lew Stringer. More relevantly it’s a group effort, with a strong Editorial including Art Editorial. I think in essence it’s the grass roots, DIY ethic, in spite of the slick production values that have resonated with an audience who yearn for that more subversive underground genre of comix … Early 2000ad, Warrior, Electric Soup etc.
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Paul: I maybe a touch biased, but I quite agree.

Andrew: I believe it has real longevity, and there’s plans ahead throughout 2023 and beyond for The ‘77, Blazer, Pandora and Haunted. I think, in its current iteration, there’s an audience for a comic of this size as it presents considerable value, and it’s inclusionary attitude towards its readership is a real strong selling point and has created brand loyalty/ I’d like to see it around for decades quite frankly, things like these have an opportunity to become and have an enduring legacy which can become a platform for new talent. As an experience it has been very rewarding. Whatever it is, readers have taken to my art style, and that’s been more than enough encouragement to continue devolving and pushing harder to keep taking it up a notch. Likewise I’m close with many of the writers, letterers and artists, we’re enthused by the reception and that is more than enough to keep on going. Whilst comics are being hit hard by the current economic climate, it’s that hands on engagement that has got us this far, and hopefully it will grow our audience.
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Paul: Technology and comics have altered the way many artists produce their art. To what extent is technology used in your creations? 
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Andrew: Good question, I guess I’m a traditionalist! After a 25 year hiatus, it’s been a hard road getting to grips with everything, and there’s still lots to learn, figure out and explore. When it comes to pages of sequential stuff, I usually sit down with the script and read it through over coffee, and make little annotations, really small little thumbnails and ideas and try and get a feel for each page's layout. Subsequently, I rough it all out on scrap paper, which is a great process for literally just drawing and drawing over the top these prelims - they serve as a great guide later on when committing it all over onto art board. I start roughing everything out in blue line (pencil) really loosely. I like to keep that energy going and it creates an atmosphere and feel that I try to keep as I move each page forward.
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Paul: It sounds to me like you have a lengthy process.
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Andrew: When I’m relatively happy, I start to tighten up the pencils using a propellant pencil, and start to drop in shadow and texture to inform what, or how I’m going to ink it all. It’s a little tedious, but I line everything in, this has proved to be useful when fully committing to full inks as you can see what needs correcting, lines that need to be thickened up or where patina or additional effects are required. Lastly, I usually, if required, start working back in with white out pens. When it comes to colour, I’ve adopted as my preferred medium, marker pens, whilst proving inconsistent (I like the stark contrast and mottled effect which gives a nod to the printing process of older comics) I like that raw, more tangible, textured aesthetic. Many comics are becoming far too polished. There’s a magic wand to that ‘demo tape’ feel to older stuff. I use little to no technology when producing any or all art. I’m not opposed to it, but have drawn additional panels, scanned them and had them composited in. I’d like to explore digital colouring, but I’d use it in a way similar to how I colour artwork physically . I quite like the fact you can drop backgrounds back and flatten colours, do cool reverse negative stuff.

Paul: So are you conflicted about digital colouring?
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Andrew: I’m not a fan of digital colouring where everything gets a highlight and lens flares everywhere. Technology is here to stay and has become a common place everyday tool amongst many if not all illustrators. I’m sure I’ll embrace it at some point, if only to achieve some things that physically can’t produced in ink or paint. I do believe though, over the years ,  within illustration it’s become more natural, and is used equally and sparingly like any pen or brush, it’s not so jarring as it once was. For now though, I’m enjoying mastering the basics and getting to a point where I’m satisfied and confident in my ability.
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Paul: Whilst we're on the subject of technology, do you have an opinion about the advent of digital comics themselves? Are you a traditionalist in your own reading habits and prefer a paper copy of a comic to read, or have you tried reading your favourite titles on a computer or tablet? After all both 2000AD and The '77 are both available digitally these days. 
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Andrew: I’m torn. I prefer a physical copy, as I collect and there’s just something that feels great about about a tangible copy, that new book smell and feel. I’ve read Snow Angels from Lemire and Jock, and Book of Evil from Jock and Snyder, both worked hard to utilise the digital platform to their advantage and that made it enjoyable. It can come off as a little cold and clinical visually, but I appreciate it’s the future and great from a storage vantage. I’d like to present something eventually as digital exclusive and see what the medium has to offer. I thought it was cool that Comixology/Prime made Snow Angels free to members. It was a good marketing tactic and presented yet again good value to having that membership. All that aside, there’s nothing better, even after all these years, sitting at the table with a fresh cup of coffee and a brand new comic, or trade to read.
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Paul:  Another part of your job as a celebrity artist now is attending conventions. I am sure you've attended cons in the part but how does it feel going now as a guest? It must be satisfying after all the long hours at the drawing board to meet fans and to be asked to sign copies of your work.
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Andrew: Ha, I’m not sure about ‘celebrity.’ It is a word I’m definitely uncomfortable with. I’m a simple guy and as long I’ve food in my stomach and those I care about happy we're good to go, but, yeah it’s an honour and a privilege, and one that’s to be cherished and respected. It is satisfying to be able to connect with people, readers of stuff that’s been published, and it makes all the blood, sweat and tears worthwhile. It is a celebration of that, and to be able to share that reaction, which has been incredibly positive, it a palpable experience.

Paul: Please tell me more.
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Andrew: I think several things that have blown my mind. At two separate LFCC’s some readers had travelled very long distances to get stuff signed, I was absolutely blown away by that, y’know, so you try and take care of em’ and get em’ some free prints, remarque their copies and do em’ a sketch - simply because they deserve it. Whilst I’d be doing this for fun in my kitchen, I’d not be here or at the Con without these incredible people. It’s also very gratifying to receive acknowledgment from peers. Clint Langley took me out for a beer, we were discussing The ‘77 when a voice behind us called out and exclaimed ‘I read that it’s cool stuff’ - it was Will Simpson! It’s presented some huge opportunities, to a panel with Steve MacManus and John Higgins, share stories with Geoff Senior and to be published alongside McMahon. I’ve done smaller stuff and bigger shows like Thought Bubble, but the key rule for me is to engage, be generous with your time and be patient. It’s about the attendees day after all, right? Publishers and event hosts have been very kind and gracious, Tim Pilcher springs to mind, and is working hard along with his team to bring comics, art and the whole big event back to cons. I’d argue he’s the standard setter, and really goes out if his way to make you comfortable. So, I gotta say a huge thank you to him. It’s a surely bizarre and surreal position to be in, and it’s hard not to get distracted by the thought ‘how on earth did I get here’ and I just feel very, very lucky. I walk away with the mindset to produce and work harder and making better comics and giving those that are there at the cons even better comics !!!
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Paul: I think you may have coverered it but during a convention have you been genuinely Starstruck?
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Andrew: Yeah, once (so far) whilst at Thought Bubble last year, I’d taken up some stuff as I knew he was gonna be there. He had a queue forming already, but midway through signing some kids stuff Jock called out to me by name. I apologised to the kid in front of and asked for a minute and signed up my stuff. He’s a real hero of mine, I’ll always remember that and that’s the standard to be - it meant an awful lot !!!
Paul: So my final question is simple. What does the futue hold for Andrew Sawyers? Where do you see yourself in five years time?
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Andrew: Well, who knows. I very much hope, to be putting out more comics with more frequency. I’d like, what I’d really like, by that point is to have a more established style. There’s been some good growth and I’m getting stronger with each passing work, strip, whatever and getting more and more comfortable with not only storytelling but drawing anything and everything. I’ve just physically printed something of my own, it’s not yet available for release, but hopefully there’ll be more self published stuff in the pipeline. Perhaps even the opportunity to help people out and give them the opportunities I’ve been afforded, pay it forward y’know. I’d really like to be able to put out my own stuff. I’m sure it’ll be well before five years is up, but I’m getting back into painting, so I can bring something different to cover work. Ideally, in five years time I’d really like to do this full time. Dream stuff would pretty much be drawing Dredd !!!
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Paul: Thank you for the interview and your valuable time Andrew. 

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