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Home ¦ Features ¦ Peter Doherty interview

Peter Doherty - A 2000 AD Review Interview
9th May 05

2000 AD -  Peter Doherty
Interview by Oliver English

Peter Doherty became an instant fan-favourite when he first started drawing Young Death, a strip which is still held up to be one of the best in 2000AD and the Megazine's history. He's made a huge impact on Dredd over the years and recently returned to the Dreddworld to illustrate the opening parts of Breathing Space. We caught up with him to find out more...

When did you first start drawing, and when did you come to the realisation that you could turn it into a career?

Like most people who make some sort of living from an artistic pursuit, I can't remember a time when I didn't draw. I suppose I decided on a what could laughingly be referred to as a career path using whatever artistic talent I have when I realised, a year into an applied physics degree, that I'd chosen a direction to which I was eminently unsuited.

What training, if any, have you had? And what tools do you use?

Training: I went to art school, but that hardly counts, although I did do a lot of life drawing and took some very useful design history courses.

Tools for comics: A pencils, old fashioned dip pens, all sorts of markers, nice paper to draw on.

Tools for colour: inks, watercolours, acrylics, gouache, and, in recent years, a Mac.

Actually I'll draw with just about anything that makes a mark, although the results might not be worth looking at, the process is usually enlightening to some degree.

Who do you cite as your inspiration? What other artists do you look to, both past and present?

Well, as someone somewhere else has said, everyone you look at is an influence, even the ones you can't stand. And even people who are influences probably aren't directly visible in my artwork. I also think non-visual influences can channel into visual work, so I could cite music and authors I like too, but ……

People whose work I like that come to mind at this current moment: Moebius, Hermann, Alex Toth, Mike Mignola, David Mazzucelli, Otomo, Claire Wendling, Michael Golden, Michael Kaluta, Geof Darrow, Duncan Fegredo, Rick Geary, Brian Stelfreeze, John M Burns, Brendan McCarthy, Frank Quitely, Mike McMahon, Brian Bolland, Tony Salmons, Lorenzo Mattotti, Chris Ware, Jim Woodring, Craig Russell, Francois Shuiten, Rob Haynes, Mike Ploog, Bengal, Steve Bell, Joel Meyerowitz, David Plowden, Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld, William Eggleston,Wim Wenders, Terry Gilliam, Jim Jarmusch, Chuck Jones, Craig Mullens, Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper, Chip Kidd, Hugh Ferriss, Lyendecker, Cornwell, Frank Brangwyn, Coll, Kley and lots and lots of others too.

2000 AD -  Peter Doherty

Given that you started your career producing painted art, do you have a preference between paint and line art? What do you think of the painting boom in comics in the early 90's, looking back?

Well I never considered myself as someone who produced painted artwork. The few bits I actually painted I thought were a bit of a disaster. Mostly I coloured my line drawings---I'd ink on watercolour paper with waterproof ink then use transparent media like coloured inks, watercolours, and thinned acrylics so the line showed through, and finally finish off with solid colour over the top.

Most of the painted stuff from the period I found a bit dull, it never drew me into the stories, the technique always seemed to get in the way of the storytelling. A lot of people just tried to lift Simon Bisley's technique and there seemed to be no drawing underneath. I did like Dermot Power's Dredd stuff, Sean Philips' Devlin was good but then they can both draw well.

What led to the shift to producing art on the computer? How do you come to construct a page, in comparison with your old methods?

Well I was a bit of a late comer to computers, I only got one in 2000, and didn't get chance to apply it to any work, mainly due to ignorance and inexperience. The following year I worked at computer game company which gave me some insight to what I could achieve using the computer.

When I returned to doing comics that experience helped in all sorts of ways.

In the past, one of the things I was always keen to try was blue line colouring. This used to be employed extensively in European comics, where the line-work is photographed and then printed in a faint blue line on a watercolor paper with a transparent, removable acetate overlay of the line-work for reference. The paint is applied to the paper, effectively you paint under the line, and the line work and colour are integrated at the printing stage.

In fact I asked if I could do the Grendel Tales series I drew in the mid 90's using blue line colouring, but Dark Horse had numerous production problems on the previous Grendel series which had been coloured in this manner, that I was talked out of it and ended up using my usual line-and-watercolour technique.

When I took up computer colouring I realized I could work in a similar way colouring under the line, only digitally. I can also use multiply layers in a similar way to how I used to use watercolour and ink washes. This is basically how I colour Shaolin Cowboy.

2000 AD -  Peter Doherty
I haven't really done enough of my own work digitally but I'm keen to try different approaches in future, maybe do everything digitally, or do each panel separately and combine them in the computer---George Pratt did this on a Wolverine mini-series a few years ago, he said painting each panel on a separate piece of paper freed him from the problem of making mistakes on one panel that would mean starting over on a complete page.

The technology has brought a potential control over the entire process of making a comic under the possible control of a single individual. You can see this in the work of a great number of young cartoonists who are not only doing all the work on a strip but avoiding publishers by presented the work on the web.

I think it's an interesting time we're living through.

How did you start working in comics and how did you get your first commission for 2000AD?

I knew a few people through working in a comic shop in Leeds. One of them being Duncan Fegredo. He introduced me to John Smith, who was writing “New Statesmen” and Duncan was the artist on a couple of episodes. John had a short sci-fi script that he was going to submit to 2000AD that he let me draw. John’s friend, Chris Standley, was trying to get work so he wrote a short story about an unemployed bloke, something we all knew a lot about back then, and I drew that too.

So off I went to a Glasgow convention with two five-page painted strips. I managed to show them to Steve MacManus, who obviously liked what he saw as he bought Chris’ story for Crisis and then gave me my first job on the Megazine.

Did you read 2000ad/and or other comics before working in the medium (you mentioned working in a comic shop)?

I actually picked up on 2000AD rather late, I picked it up when Bryan Talbot was drawing ABC Warriors sometime in the mid 80s. I worked back from there discovering all the old classic material like Dredd, Nemesis, McMahon's stuff on Slaine. I remember buying the first issue in 1977 and really thinking the art was crappy, and that free give away spinner was so cheap----so I didn't look at it for 10 years.

It was through the comic shop I landed an almost complete collection of 2000AD. The bloke who brought them in to sell didn't like the price he was offered by the shop, and I bought them off him for a slightly higher amount. So I caught up rather quickly having not read it in years.

As a kid I read Marvel comics, both the UK reprints and the US stuff, but as I became more aware of the various artists I tended to buy comics by the artists I liked, I never really followed any particular titles.

I was working as Saturday staff in Odyssey 7 (it latterly became a Forbidden Planet store) for in Leeds the mid 80s. It was a really optimistic time as it seemed comics were breaking out of the ghetto, as it were. It was the time of Watchmen, Maus, Dark Knight. I remember Dark Knight coming out--it didn't exactly fly off the rack initially in the backwaters of Leeds. Most people would pick it up, look through it, see the price and put it back---I think it was over £2 and normally comics were 50p-ish, if I remember rightly. It took ages to sell the first twenty copies, but by the time the last issue surfaced, with all the publicity it had attracted, they were flying out the door, there was probably ten times the amount sold than issue one in about half the time.

2000 AD -  Peter Doherty
Judge Death is one of the icons of 2000AD history – how did you get involved in the story that created a background for the alien superfiend?

Steve offered me it. He must have seen something in my artwork that he thought suited the story. I think he liked how dark it was but with a streak of humour, which suited the feel of the story.

Was it daunting to be working on such a high profile strip in the launch issue of the Judge Dredd Megazine?

It was, but then I think it would have been even if it had gone in a regular issue of 2000AD. This was the first professional work I’d done, that was daunting enough in itself.

How was the relationship with John Wagner as a creative collaborator on the strip?

Right from the start John was always very generous. I remember him saying that I was the artist, if I could come up with visuals that worked better than were specified in the script then to go ahead. That level of trust he extended to such a rank amateur as myself was very encouraging.

John’s scripts have been the best I’ve worked on---they’re always clear and to the point but are never vague, and leave enough room for a proper collaboration. Although I can't speak for John, I also think we share a view that the story is the thing, that the writer and the artist should collaborate to draw in the reader, and neither one is there to show how clever or talented they are.

2000 AD -  Peter Doherty
You were also the artist on what many readers earmark as their favourite Dredd story ever – Bury my Knee at Wounded Heart. What was your reaction upon getting the script for this?

I thought it was fantastic. David Bishop had already told me how good he thought it was before he sent it, so I was expecting something good. It is intimidating reading such a good script because I always feel simultaneously excited to be working on something so strong but there’s always the fear you’ll not do it justice.

You were one many artists drawing the Dredd epic "Judgement Day". What was your experience of drawing only a section of this series? How do you reconcile continuity issues in such a situation?

Continuity’s not really a big deal; everyone drew the characters in their own way, as artists tend to do with Dredd stories. So long as the main characters remain consistent enough to be recognizable it’s not an issue.

I remember Dean Ormston and I coming up with the villain, Sabbat, together and then circulating round some colour copies. This was in the pre-internet days - it’s much easier these days.

What work in 2000AD or The Megazine are you most proud of?

Well, “Bury My Knee,” I think is the best. Although I’ve drawn better stuff, the story really is one of those classic stories. I remember the script really pushed me to do my best, to try and capture it’s pathos and humour. I think I actually succeeded in a few panels too!!

Your work for 2000AD has being solely on Dredd or Dredd related titles. Could you be tempted to work for the comic on something not connected with Dredd's world?

Yes if I like the script. But then I’ve never been offered any either. I like Dredd’s milieu, I don’t think there’s anything else in the comic that has the balance of humour and seriousness that Dredd does.

Have you ever considered trying your hand at writing?

Not really, though I suppose like all comic book artists, the thought passes through your mind on occasion.

2000 AD -  Peter Doherty

What happened to take you away from the art duties on Breathing Space in 2000AD?

I was ill for a long time, and I had long, long periods where I lost the ability to draw, however odd that sounds now. Matt was very understanding but when it became obvious I was having very serious trouble working, he thought it best he get someone else to finish the strip. It took quite a while to find someone who was free to do the job, which obviously added to the time lag. When Laurence was chosen, as he doesn’t colour his own stuff, I offered to do that job so at least there’d be some measure of continuity. I thought it worked well given the difficult circumstances.

The difficulties with my drawing at that time are what led me to pursue colouring jobs, which have sort of taken over from actually drawing.

You are currently collaborating with Geof Darrow on the colouring for Shaolin Cowboy. How did that come about and what was your reaction to the Eisner award nomination?

Well I’ve known Geof for years and I offered to colour the comic as I knew he was having trouble getting someone, which I don’t think initially he thought I was serious about, until he saw Seaguy. As it’s turned out I do most of the design/production work and the lettering as well, which has been very interesting and a nice change to have control over the finished book.

The Eisner nomination was a surprise, especially as it was based on a single issue, so someone must have been mightily impressed. Shaolin Cowboy got five nominations, but you’ll know, if you’ve seen the cover of issue 4, it didn’t win a single one.

That and your previous work on Seaguy has seen you shift towards colourist as opposed to full art duties. Are there any plans in the future to return to full art?

Yes, I’m going to be doing a two part Devlin story for the Megazine very soon. I’ll have to practice my drawing first though----I’m a bit rusty.

It's odd as I almost drew "Red Tide" in 2001. I started the drawing but, out of the blue, was offered a full time job doing concept work for a video game company, which at the time seemed like a good idea--some sort of job stability, with me having a family, all those reasons. I remember the Tharg of the time, Andy Diggle, being pretty pissed off with me, understandably so. Ironically though, Jock was my replacement and he managed a few complete pages before jumping ship to go and work for DC drawing "Losers"…with Andy Diggle.

"The Curse of Devlin", as David Bishop put it !

2000 AD -  Peter Doherty

What do you think of the band Gorillaz?

I like the conceit, very ironic and postmodern. Jaime's designs are great. Music’s okay too.

Could you ever see yourself in a similar situation, or using your artistic talent in a different away from comics medium like Hewlett has?

I’ve worked outside comics, though not in such a commanding situation like Jaime Hewlett. I’ve done illustration, film design, storyboarding, game design and all sorts of different things over the years.

Who is your favorite 2000ad character? And outside of/away from 2000ad?

Don't have one. I'm more interested in the stories and whether they are interesting or not. In 2000AD the structure of the world inhabited by Dredd seems to me to have more potential than, say, the worlds of Slaine or Rouge Trooper, but that’s just my personal taste.

What are your favorite book/film/music

They vary from day to day and week to week depending on my mercurial moods. I’m growing more and more bored with most movies these days as they’re all so repetitive both visually and thematically, and so desperately over-hyped they can’t possibly live up publicity. Best things I’ve seen recently are two music based documentaries, “Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus” and “The Devil And Daniel Johnston”. The Wrong-Eyed Jesus film features Jim White, who’s a current musical favourite.

And books: I tend to read a lot of science books these days, for some inexplicable reason. I recently read Alan Bennett's "Untold Stories", which is easily one of the best books I've read in years. I seemed to have abandoned reading novels, although the last one I read a few months ago was good, Charlie Higson’s “Happy Now”, sick, funny and sad, although I was a bit disappointed by the ending.

2000 AD -  Peter Doherty

Have you ever sold any of your art on ebay? Or been tempted to? Who owns the art once you have submitted it?

I've had pages sold for me. I'm thinking about setting up properly to sell some art as I've just moved house and you realize how much stuff you've got, so you feel like getting rid of some!

I guess most people know in the case of 2000AD that both the reproduction rights and the copyright to the content are held by Rebellion, but the physical artwork, if there is actually any these days, is the creators’.

What advice do you have for any would be artists/colourists?

Well I don’t really have any advice as such, only my opinion, which may or may not be helpful or even useful.

Learn to do your job well, study both within and outside your own field. I think it helps to be self critical, so your work has a chance of improving. But then again there's so many people, especially in comics, who seem to have been widely popular without doing any of the things I mention, so what do I know?

And finally what are you doing currently?

As mentioned, I'm doing the artwork for a two-part Devlin Waugh story as well as a Judge Dredd one-off. I'm still working on Shaolin Cowboy in various capacities although I'm no longer the interior colourist. I'm trying to get my website up and running in a state more that's than just one page, so that it might be obvious what I actually do. Then I might stop getting mail from trying to blag tickets from me and wanting to make friends, thinking I'm the more famous Pete Doherty.

Visit Peter Doherty's website at www.peterdoherty.net.

Do you have any further questions for Peter Doherty? Let us know in the forum.

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