ComicScene Podcast host Phillip Vaughan caught up with Ian Kennedy and Barrie Tomlinson at their recent signing of Turbo Jones for Rebellion. It was hoped to bring you the interview on the Podcast but the quality wasn’t great. So here it is for you to read and enjoy. You can hear both Ian and Barrie also be interviewed as part of the Masters in Comics series on the ComicScene Podcast website at http://soundcloud.com/comicscene
Phil: Okay, so we are in Newcastle and we are fresh from a signing of the new collection from Rebellion, Turbo Jones, which is from the pages of Wildcat comic.
I am joined by former IPC Group Editor, Barrie Tomlinson, and legendary artist Ian Kennedy for a long overdue catch-up!
I wonder if you could tell us how Wildcat came about and how you both got involved in creating a Turbo Jones.
Barrie: It seemed like a good idea at time. The publishers asked me to produce a science fiction comic and left me to go away and think about it. For the first time I wanted to produce a comic full of stories linked together rather than have individual stories which were unrelated. And that’s what we did. I then had to find someone who could interpret that idea and I wanted the best artist available. I was very fortunate that Ian said ‘Yes, I would like to illustrate it’.
Phil: Ian, how did you come up with the iconic character designs?
Ian: Barrie gave me quite specific instructions or descriptions for each of the main characters and it was just a case of my interpretation of his description. I didn’t have to use a lot of imagination because he kicked off the ideas very clearly! The main character, Turbo, no problems there. I think me and Barrie pretty much agreed and came up with similar ideas.
Barrie: I think you objected to one character, the robotic character, but you redesigned it.
Phil: So I believe this one was of the last boys comics releases of the 1980’s. The unusual thing was the interlinked stories. How did you create the world the that the characters inhabit?
Barrie: I think I took the day off work! I sat at home and came up with the idea of a giant spaceship being built, to find a new world, after the earth is destroyed! I came up with a basic crew for the spaceship (named Wildcat) and came up with different stories based on each character. This was then beautifully illustrated by Ian and the various other artists who followed him!
Ian: I think I managed to get the characters more or less the way you wanted them, Barrie! The spaceship comes back to my interest in aeronautics. I suppose I was always aware of the fact that if I did design something, no matter how ‘way out’ it was, I wanted it to still look like it would work! So it was just a case of starting off with a simple shape, and then add a bit here and a bit there and eventually it all came together!
Phil: Lets go back a bit in time, so when did you first actually work together?
Barrie: 1700 and something? (Laughs) The first comic we worked on together was chiselled out of stone! I remember you doing the cover for the first issue of Speed?
Ian: Yes, now you are testing my memory bank I am afraid! I was aware of working with people like Dave Gregory and others, but this name Barrie Tomlinson kept popping up. He gradually came up more and more in my correspondences and that was it!
Barrie: I had spent years and years trying to get Ian to work on my titles but he was always too busy! So I was absolutely delighted when suddenly you were available, and we never looked back!
Ian: Well I must say that I can’t remember exactly how it was that I became available, but the association over the years became something which was fairly successful! I hope Barrie feels the same! We built up a personal relationship which had a beneficial effect on the results we came up with!
Barrie: Very much so! Yes indeed, like Morecambe and Wise! (Laughs)
Ian: As I said, I am constantly amazed that we should have worked so well together, and of course we were working 500 miles apart at the time when communications were either by letter or by telephone. Long before the days of the email!
Phil: That’s really important to stress how you communicated with each other and how the stories progressed. For me one of the first major collaborations was when you both worked on Dan Dare. How did that come about?
Barrie: Well, we wanted a new artist to draw Dan Dare, and once again the person at the top of my list was Ian! I contacted him and fortunately he was available at that time! I wrote Dan Dare for a few years…
Ian: I am not sure I would have been that aware of who was writing it!
Barrie: In the early days, when we got the script in from an author, we had to cut the name and address off the script before we sent it off to an artist! We didn’t want an artist to know the name of the writer!
Phil: Why do you think that was? Do you think it was to keep the artist and writer apart, or was it so they didn’t run off together to a rival, such as DC Thomson?
Barrie: Yes, the artist might have sold the details to DC Thomson’s for a fortune!
That’s a joke, folks!
Ian: I was very fortunate that I instinctively never got involved in the politics, I knew it went on, but it was a case of deciding that I was going to do my job, I had a job to do and I just did it to the satisfaction of the person who commissioned it!
Barrie: I am sure we never had any artwork sent back to you to be corrected?
Ian: No, that is correct! I was lucky in that respect! I was under no illusions though, let’s put it that way!
Phil: That collaboration ran in the New Eagle for a good number of years, and on a weekly schedule. How did you both go about managing that really high turnover of work?
Barrie: Looking back, I am not quite sure! At one point I was in charge of around 10 different publications plus annuals and specials! So there was an enormous number of pages going through our hands every week. People ask me questions now about a particular page or a particular issue in a particular year, and it’s very often I don’t know the answer because so much material was being produced! And you only remember the best, and I am sitting next to the best!
Phil: Ian how did you manage to work at such a high standard and pace?
Ian: I think you can put it down to the fact that I was enjoying myself. I was being presented with challenges all the time, especially on Dan Dare, and the ideas that Barrie and the other writers were coming up with. Once again this was where, along with Dave Hunt, Barrie and myself were in-tune with one another, on the same wavelength. I instinctively knew what these guys were after! Fortunately I was able to supply them with what they wished!
Barrie: I think this is a question I have never asked you before Ian, did you have a limit on the number of pages you could produce in a week?
Ian: Yes, I think going back to this instinct business, I just always felt that I daren’t take on too much. I knew I wasn’t the fastest worker in the world, and Dave at one point said to me that when he phoned me up about a job he got the impression that I was sitting with my diary open, to tell him exactly what I could do and what I couldn’t! But it wasn’t that way at all Barrie, it was just a case of knowing what I could cope with. If I couldn’t, then I made sure I didn’t take on more than I could handle.
Barrie: It’s important for you to say no. Often editors phoned up and said, ‘Can you do an extra page for us, and in colour, instead of black and white?’. Some artists would say yes, but would really struggle to meet the deadline.
Ian: Actually, if you recall, Dan Dare was a pretty good example of that sort of situation. It started with a double-page centre spread, which I did for a while, but then it expanded to the centre spread and the front cover. I was able to cope with that. Then it went to the back cover as well, that was of course when I had to put up my hand and say ‘Sorry! There is no way I can do all that and meet the deadline!’. That was when I decided that I would do the centre spread and back cover in black and white, and the front cover in full colour. The interior art was then coloured by John Burns, who I must say did it very successfully.
Barrie: It was very good.
Ian: It was not the easiest thing in the world, matching someone else’s style.
Barrie: The reason I asked the question originally was that the great artist Joe Colquhoun, who started Roy of the Rovers and went onto do Charley’s War, was often asked to do extra pages, and he went on to do them. It was only after he died that I spoke to his widow and she said he always said yes to the extra work but it was too much for him. He spent a lot of extra time on it, worked day and night on it.
I think editorial did not realise what we were asking for when we asked for extra pages.
Phil: That’s the interesting thing, because in the UK the schedule is weekly, whereas in American comics, it’s monthly. It’s more pages, but if you analyse it, the UK comics were going through a lot more stock every week compared to their US counterparts. The other main difference was the fact that American comics were much more of a production line, pencillers, inkers, colourists, letterers, all separate jobs, whereas in the UK the artist was doing it all! Basically there was a sole creator of the art, and that’s what gave British comics a much more distinctive look.
We are sitting today in front of a collection of work from the 80’s. What is it like to see the work again, republished after all these years? Am I right in saying this is the first time you have both met up in person since the 1980’s?
Ian: Yes that is correct!
Barrie: It’s very nice to see Ian and the work again, and see how good it looks, it hasn’t dated at all! I think we had a good product to start with and it has stood the test of time.
Ian: I must agree with Barrie. It’s a feeling of distinct pleasure seeing it coming up again so well, after all these years! There are times when I do surprise myself in some of my earlier work, I often think I would be quite lucky to continue along those lines today! But you know, seeing it printed again, and printed so well, I am taken with the black and white art because I did do a lot of very fine pen work, which doesn’t always reproduce well!
Barrie: I think the great advantage here is that Wildcat was fortnightly, so we could have longer stories, which gave the artists more time to do the work! It was just launched at the wrong time in the history of comics…
Phil: It is interesting that it has resurfaced now, because it is arguable that there is more of a market for this now than there was when it originally came out!
Barrie: It’s a great compliment for everyone who worked on the title.
Ian: Yes, I think so.
Phil: Next, I do believe that Rebellion are going to be publishing Death Wish, which is one of the stories you wrote Barrie?
Barrie: I am looking forward to that one very much! It was always a popular story.
It started in Speed, then went into Tiger and then into Eagle. I wrote it for a very long time! It was illustrated by the Vanyo brothers, throughout its run, so it’s great for me to see one of my favourite stories coming back, and looking as good as ever!
Ian: Again, I have got to concur. To see the work coming up as fresh now as the day it was done is a testament to the tremendous restoration work and printing that is available today, possibly coming up better than when it was originally published!
Phil: Ian, what do you have coming up next? I know you are still doing covers for Commando. Is there anything else you can talk about?
Ian: Just a case of the odd commission from private collectors, who want a picture of their favourite character, I have just finished one of those. The variety of commissions I am enjoying very much. I am thinking it’s about time I did something that expresses myself a bit more. I enjoy drawing aeroplanes, and the various characters, but perhaps I should sit down and do something quite revolutionary?
Phil: Well you have Barrie sitting right next to you! Maybe you can come up with something new?
Ian: Let’s put it this way, Barrie might find that I am once again available!
Phil: Barrie, there is an offer you can’t refuse! I do believe you have written another book?
Barrie: Yes, I am working on a third book now, which is my life story, a big chunk of which covers my comics work. The first two books I produced are still available, Real Roy of the Rovers Stuff and Comic Book Hero (Both available on Amazon and eBay Refs: 153399708478 and 153399710963). So I am enjoying writing that, as it brings back lots of memories for me, and I kept a lot of souvenirs and photographs from my career.
Phil: And Ian?
Ian: There is a book coming out, The Art of Ian Kennedy (now available here: www.dcthomsonshop.co.uk/the-art-of-ian-kennedy). A selection of my DC Thomson work from the last 70 years! I would dearly love all of my art to be published eventually, but in the meantime, we are going to concentrate on this. It’s a nicely produced 160-page publication, and I am very happy with the results!
Phil: Well thanks very much guys, it’s great to finally get you both together again, after all these years, and hear what you have to say, and maybe this is the start of a new working relationship, so watch this space! Keep an eye out at upcoming conventions for both Barrie and Ian, to see what they come up with next!
Thank you for all the years of entertainment you provided me growing up!
Ian: Thank you very much!
Barrie: Thank you!
Barrie Tomlinson has written a number of articles for ComicScene and will cover Death Wish and Hot Shot Hamish in future issues. Watch out for our Ian Kennedy exclusives in Issue 3 & 4 of ComicScene. Subscribe at http://www.comicscene.tictail.com by 31st March for our best subscription price ever!