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Home ¦ Features ¦ Arthur Ranson Interview Part 1

Arthur Ranson - A 2000 AD Review Interview
4th September 04

2000 AD - Arthur Ranson interview
Anderson in Shamballa
Interview by James Mackay

Arthur Ranson has been a professional artist since the late 1960’s, with a career drawing such varying subjects as The Beatles, Sapphire & Steel and Dangermouse. After a long association with TV magazine Look-in, he moved to 2000AD in the early 1990’s. Since then, he has become famed for his highly detailed artwork on some of the comic’s most distinctive and interesting series, including Button Man and Mazeworld, on both of which he is credited as co-creator. Most famously, he has drawn some of the most beautiful and moving stories seen in the comic in the shape of Judge Anderson’s long-running adventures. Arthur agreed to be interviewed for 2000AD Review…

JM: Could you first tell us about your background, what training you’ve had, and how you first became a professional artist?

AR: How did I become a professional artist? Hard work, my boy, hard work!

Essex boy. Apprentice Stamp and Banknote Designer, Art School, Painting and Printmaking. Teacher. Lettering artist for cardboard box manufacturer. Ran away to London. Labourer in tea factory. Colour-mixer in instant lettering factory. General patcher-up and filler-in at commercial art studio. Impressed visiting commercial artist who said if I went freelance with him he could give me lots of work. I did, he didn’t. Then I really became freelance.

The various biographies I’ve been able to uncover invariably mention your drawing the Beatles in the 1960’s. Could you tell us how that came about, and what it involved?

1960’s? As early as that?

2000 AD - Arthur Ranson interview
The Beatles Story

As far as I know, selection of strips always came from the editor. The first auto-biographical strip I did was ABBA. Then, when Colin [Shelbourne - Look-In editor] wanted to do The Elvis Story I wasn’t keen because it felt too restricting (cocky sod) and would only agree if Angus and I retained the copyright. Nevertheless, we got the same deal on The Beatles. When he realised, I believe the marketing director was not happy about that and scrapped the plans to bring it out complete. Publishers Ehapa of Stuttgart did in 1995, and Like of Helsinki in 1996.

Colin was an adventurous editor, and I suppose Look-In made good profits, as they paid the expenses of Angus and I to go to Liverpool for research. I took photographs and we had a few drinks. Then I found the usual, and in some cases, unusual picture reference I came across. Alan did his usual thorough job, and I still like some of the drawing, the line-work. Some was shown in the Walker Gallery for their Beatles artwork exhibition. We met Cynthia Lennon there.

Look-In must have been a fantastic environment to work in, with fellow Brit comics artist like John Burns and Jim Baikie (both of whom went on to draw for 2000AD). How did you start there and are you still in touch with any of the Look-In crowd?

At that time I would deliver my artwork personally each week and bump into people. With that and Look-In’s hospitality, anniversary and Christmas do’s, the artists and writer, (there was only Angus) did frequently meet up for drinks and meals, and yes it was fun. John Burns, Martin Asbury, Harry North, Colin Wyatt, John Bolton briefly, Jim Baikie, Phil Gascoine, Barry Mitchel, Bill Titcombe and the lovely editorial boys and girls whose names, forgive me, I cannot now recall.

2000 AD - Arthur Ranson interview
Buck Rogers
Although I for one felt in part competitive, John Burns being as good then as he is now, Colin’s treatment of us made me feel valued and part of at team. They also, I think, paid all the artists all the same page rate and it was a good one, much better relatively than at present, so it was a job one was keen to do well at. Look-In was for a while at least the country’s biggest seller and I was pleased to be part of it.

After Angus' and my trip to Liverpool, we became drinking buddies as we lived quite close and it was only his moving to France that saved my liver (will he read this?). If I was less misanthropic I could go visit him and Gillian but I do still exchange Christmas cards with him, and about half the others and even talk to Bill occasionally. He and I have a shared interest in trying to get Look-In artwork back. We came close but they keep changing owners, offices or staff in order to avoid us.

You created the comic strip of Sapphire & Steel, and drew all their adventures for Look-In. Did that give you any more insight than the rest of us into what the heck it was about? (Did you get to meet Joanna Lumley?)

I was the first and only one to draw Sapphire & Steel but I do not feel like its creator. I just drew Angus’s scripts. TV writer P.J. Hammond was the originator.

2000 AD - Arthur Ranson interview
Sapphire & Steel

I do not have much recollection of Sapphire & Steel. I do not remember the drawings or stories but think I never knew or troubled over what it was about. Was it time travellers who went about preventing events turning the world into something even worse than it is? Where they came from and what was their authority was never explained.

Two things I do remember: -

a) It was in a Sapphire & Steel script that for the first time I drew a frame that spread right across the page. I had never seen it done before and there were doubts expressed about it by Colin. Now it is common enough but I have wondered if I was the first to use it. Does anyone out there know when and by whom the first right-across-the-page panel was used?

b) When Joanna Lumley visited Look-In I was not there. She was kind enough to offer to meet me and pose for more photo-reference. Someone told her that no, that would not be necessary. Stupid sods.

You were awarded the “Good Grief Oh Crikey” award by Cosgrove Hall for your work on the Dangermouse strip. Would you want to draw everyone’s favourite British superhero again, or any other cartoony strips for that matter? (And do you still have the award?)

Britain’s favourite superhero? Really?

2000 AD - Arthur Ranson interview
If I was paid loads I might do it again; I did enjoy it at the time. The award is a painted model of Dangermouse in heroic pose with a nervous Penfold peering from behind him. It is in my trophy cabinet. Along with the other one which was from the Society of Strip Illustration and also for Dangermouse. The reflected glory from the highly popular TV show made me a big hit with my daughter’s primary school friends too.

I would consider doing a "cartoon" strip again but only if I were to write it

Aside from the Look-In work, what else were you doing prior to joining 2000AD?

Commercial artwork sweat shop stuff for dodgy businessmen. Illustration for mucky men’s magazines. Advertising work through an agent, some All-Bran adverts I can remember. Illustration for IPC magazines. I was too sensitive a plant to get on in advertising despite the high fees so was glad to move into comics, which I found more challenging. It engaged more parts of my brain.

Go to part 2

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Original content (c) 2002 Gavin Hanly (contact 2000AD Review).