¦ Features ¦ Steve
Parkhouse Part 4
What was your
reaction to the 'controversy' amongst some readers who didn't get the inherent
joke in 'Big Dave'?
Anybody who didn't get the
joke in Big Dave must be a few sandwiches short of a picnic. I mean - it ain't
rocket science. It was just three people having a laugh. What's to get? I think
what really pissed them off was that it wasn't their beloved science fiction.
The pole, as they say, was so far up their keisters, they didn't know how to bend
in the breeze.
The Mark Millar/Grant Morrison period of 2000AD has come infor much criticism
these days - what was your impression of working with them at the time?
It was a breath of fresh
air. The old school had been strutting their stuff for about a thousand years.
People are so conventional. My image of a 2000AD reader is like someone who listens
to Desert Island Discs on Radio 4 but has a tattoo just in case they get found
out. Using the medium for a bit of satire was a brilliant manoeuvre. It was much
more in the spirit of true science fiction than kneepads and big guns. Science
fiction has always been
controversial and contentious and largely satirical. The genre has now been swamped
by the trappings of fetishism.
Some of Mills and
Wagner's early stories were highly politicised and extremely potent because of
it. They obviously knew their history and they knew science fiction. They covered
just about every cliche and tenet that the genre had to offer.
Also for 2000AD
you took over artistic duties for the 'Luke Kirby' strip, written by Alan McKenzie.
Did you enjoy working on this as a change of pace from the more humorous strips
you had been known for? Were you aware of the friction created between 2000AD
editorial and John Ridgeway over his replacement from the strip?
I enjoyed Luke
Kirby a lot. For reasons I've stated above, it was an opportunity to set characters
in real landscape. I've been described as a rural artist- and that's a fair observation.
I'm much happier in an organic environment than a mechanical one. I like drawing
people in natural situations, with tangible backgrounds. It doesn't always work
with readers, because people invariably demand pyrotechnics all the time. I think
it's something to do with their dwindling attention span. Or collapsing brain
cells or something. Probably an environmental issue. I wasn't aware of any friction
between editorial and John at the time. But I knew he wasn't happy with being
replaced. John thought the strip was his baby - which is always a mistake.
You've drawn a few 'Judge Dredd' strips and a 'Sinister Dexter' story for 2000AD:
did you enjoy drawing these strips, and is it hard depicting characters that have
been drawn by so many artists already?
No I did not enjoy
Dredd or Sinister Dexter. I'm not really a 2000AD man. I've never really found
a niche there. Dredd is an impossible character to draw and I hate him like poison.
You've got to be really into that fetish stuff to enjoy rendering the agonising
detail. Artists like Cam Kennedy make it look so easy, probably because they've
had the chance to create a kind of shorthand. But I struggled with Dredd and finally
gave up. I ain't drawing Dredd again. Life's too short. Sinister Dexter was a
trial that became too ponderous to sustain. I just didn't get it. Other artists
have done amazing work on those characters - but they wouldn't perform for me.
It's just not the right slot, I guess.
You worked on
The Sandman (#13) with Neil Gaiman and spin-off The Dreaming with Peter Hogan.
What was your approach to these stories, and how did you find working for DC imprint
Sandman (Pencils by Michael Zulli)
The work I did on Neil's
story was just an inking job. I was chosen for my "illustrative line"
I'm told. Basically, I found myself working like crazy to contain Michael Zulli's
manic pencilling. He pencils like a spider on speed. The line just kind of rushes
around all over the page, only occasionally making sense. He doesn't draw, he
weaves. Sometimes like a drunk down a midnight street - and sometimes like a sober
spinster. It was a bizarre experience. But I got a postcard from Neil which was
really nice. It was crammed full of tiny writing - which would have given a graphologist
a field day. The Dreaming was mostly all my own work and I enjoyed it at the time.
My approach was fairly straightforward: stick to the script and try not to miss
the deadlines. Vertigo were good to work for. I got on very well with the female
editors. They brought something quite special to the whole
approach of making comics.
You drew one of the most memorable issues of Grant Morrison's The Invisibles
(vol. 1, #12), depicting the life story of a henchman killed by the heroes in
the previous issue. Did you enjoy drawing a story at such a tangent to the rest
of the narrative, and what was your approach to working on an already established
series such as this?
I thought this
story was a tour-de-force. It reinforced all my feelings that comics can compete
with novels, TV and cinema as long as there is a writer of real quality at the
helm. Grant excelled himself with that story. It sent shivers down my spine when
I first read the script; I knew exactly what he was doing. He was writing from
a perspective that had never been seen in comics before. It was personalised and
powerful and poignant and had a novelist's sensibility - or rather a playwright.
To take a non- character and write his life story in a single issue was so far
out of left field that it beggared belief. It had all the hallmarks of literature
and I was thrilled to be a part of it. I wish I'd done it more justice.
Also for Vertigo you created the miniseries Muktuk Wolfsbreath: Hard Boiled
Shaman with Terry La Ban in 1998. How did you come to pitch this strip, and what
did you think of the results?
I didn't pitch for it all.
Alisa Kwitney just asked me to do it. Alisa is a published novelist in her own
right - and her Dad was a very, very famous science fiction writer. When somebody
like that asks you to do something you don't turn it down. I liked Muktuk. Terry
liked my Muktuk. The Comics Journal said it was the best thing DC published that
year. But I don't think it sold very well. The fans just weren't ready for a Siberian
You do a variety of freelance illustration work, such as illustrations for
How to Write and Sell Comics (written by Alan McKenzie) and your work for Daedelus
studios. Do you enjoy this type of work as much as your comics work, or is it
more a case of something that pays the rent?
It pays the rent. But I
like Alan and Chris, too. They're my partners and friends. I'd be lost without
them. I'm much more into storytelling than just static illustrations. But the
energy required to sustain something like a graphic novel is formidable. Sometimes
you just have take it easy and knock out a score or so of one-offs. Mind you -
we've had some scary moments with deadlines at Daedalus. Panic is the norm.
You've worked on titles such as Scatterbrain (Red Erchie written by Keith Young)
for Dark Horse. How do you find them to work for as publishers?
My editor, Scott Allie, is the original absent-minded professor. But there's something
endearing about them, too. I always find myself saying Yes - even though I know
I'll get paid months late and nothing will go to plan. I have to put in a word
for Matt Dryer at Dark Horse. He's a prince and a gentleman. I won't hear a word
Your most recent
work for Dark Horse was The Milkman Murders written by Joe Casey. How did you
get involved in the project, and what was your approach to working on such an
unusual and disturbing horror story?
Joe was a fan of Big Dave.
We worked on a Hellboy story together and I just loved his writing. He's a total
pro and a great guy. I love him. Joe wrote the Milkman Murders with someone like
me in mind. When I was asked to do it I just said yes. About fourteen times. I
knew where Joe was coming from even before the script arrived. He's a young guy,
and he was upsetting a few people just like Grant had. I like that. Apparently
some of the execs at Dark Horse hated the book, presumably because it was dark
and un-American. I liked that even more. Especially at this moment in history.
I decided that this story needed the whole nine yards. Do I mean that? Is that
some kind of gridiron term? I just set out to make every character as grotesque
as possible - something like the tradition of Cruikshank and those early satirical
artists. It allowed my natural tendencies to just flow. Scott Allie knew that
it wouldn't work properly with half measures - so we all got down in the mire
and let rip. Scott was convinced that we were all sick and I'm not going to argue.
But it was fun, too.
Have you been pleased by the positive critical and reader reaction that there
has been for the series, both for the story itself and the exemplary colour art?
Yes. It was my
first major digital job and I think I got away with it.