Stuart Jennett, Creative Director at Alien Apple Studios, is a name older downthetubes might remember as a once rising star in comics, delivering some terrific work for Marvel UK in the early 1990s on their Warheads title – and then he vanished from comicdom.
Now the talented artist is back, writing and drawing his own book, Chronos Commandos for Titan Comics – a story he’s been itching to tell for some years that has finally found a home.
downthetubes caught up with Stuart as the first issue was set to hit comic stores on both sides of the Atlantic…
Stuart Jennett started out his career as a comic book artist for Marvel UK before embarking on a career within the games industry, back in 1994. Since then he’s become an industry veteran with over 17 years of experience, working as a concept artist for studios such as Psygnosis, Warthog and as studio art director at THQ Digital UK. Stuart has also experienced a successful freelance career and has recently started venturing into back into comics as well as film and TV work.
Along with his wife Donna, Stu he founded Alien Apple Studios Ltd., a conceptual /graphic design studio based in the North West of England. Donna has 18 years’ experience within the games industry herself, specializing in graphics and UI design quickly becoming the lead UI artist for Juice Games and THQ Digital,UK. Donna also has experience in motion graphic design and project branding and identity.
Before we get into the interview, here’s some choice pages from Chronos Commandos #1, to whet your appetite…
downthetubes: Chronos Commandos – What’s the pitch on this, for those who came in late?
Stuart: The basic premise is that during World War Two, both the Nazis and Allies have developed a crude form of time travel and are now fighting a new front across history itself. This first five part mini series, ‘Dawn Patrol’, is set mainly in prehistoric times so we get to have a lot of cool dino fun before moving on into new time frames in future series… hopefully!
downthetubes: Was there a specific inspiration to doing a dinosaur/time travel adventure? There’s a lovely tip of the hat to Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder” in some of the preview images… but I’m thinking Satanus from 2000AD is burned into your brain?
Stuart: I’ve always loved drawing dinosaurs and, pre-Star Wars, I grew up soaking up as many World War Two and monster movies as possible. The Dirty Dozen and The Valley Of Gwangi had an especially profound impact on me a kid.
On the comics side my intention was always to keep this quite pulpy and fun kind of like the comics I grew up with such as Action, 2000AD, Battle etc. I guess it’s a fusion of my childhood obsessions really.
downthetubes: And by late, it’s clear this is a project very dear to your heart which you’ve been ‘nursing’ for several years…
Stuart: Yeah – Chronos Commandos was initially conceived as a black and white comic strip over ten years ago. I did complete the first issue, but it took that long fitting it around my day job I was pretty unhappy with it in the end and left it on the shelf for years.
It was roughly two years ago that I decided that now I was working digitally I could bring this back to life in colour and have a pretty fast turn around as well.
downthetubes: This is the first comics project you’ve had published, I think, since your time on Warheads at Marvel UK? What happened?
Stuart: Well, after the comics bubble kind of burst in the early 1990’s I decide to head into video games as I’d always had an strong interest in concept design and it was an itch I had to scratch. I ended up branching out from that into 3D /storyboarding etc and finally ended up as a studio art director for THQ UK. Since THQ closed its doors my wife and I have set up Alien Apple Studios which we now run providing concept, illustration work and UI design across the entertainment industry.
downthetubes: Do you recall how you got the Warheads book at Marvel UK?
Stuart: Yes definitely, it was at UKCAC 1990 when Steve White (who was at Tundra at the time) introduced me to Paul Neary and yourself at the Marvel stand. I think I was just about to head home to be honest, fate was in my favour though!
downthetubes: You and writer Craig Houston had some great ideas for future Warheads stories – can you remember any of them?
Stuart: Yeah that’s right – Craig Houston was the writer on Warheads during my run. We actually started work on our own mini series Ripwire following that. It was going to be a real crossover strip with Liger’s Warheads troop from what I can remember. Sadly it was never to be as half way through the old Marvel UK office was closed. I did get the original pages back, although they’ve been scattered to the four winds now during a number of house moves.
downthetubes: There’s clearly more money in computer games and illustration – so why come back to comics now?
Stuart: Well it’s good to branch out and with having the support from Titan Comics this was a unique opportunity to create my own IP. It was just a situation I couldn’t say no to, really.
I’d always had the comics itch as well, throughout my years in the games industry and I’d also started writing quite a lot which I found I enjoyed as much as creating artwork. So I guess this was a good fusion of the two and hopefully a good opportunity to get back out there into the world of comics.
Stuart: Yes, definitely – I’ve already planned out in quite a lot of further adventures in some detail as well as a final mini series that would kind of wrap it all up. If I do get that far I’ll be happy man and people won’t be disappointed, it’s massive! So yeah, if this first series does OK and there’s a demand for it there’ll be plenty more adventures for the Sarge and his men.
downthetubes: Given your connections in the games and film industry, is anyone looking at turning this into a game or movie?
Stuart: I’ve had a few people approach me about the games right already although I have a specific idea and route to go with it visually if that ever comes off. It would have to be retro in its own way, as I think is the comic.
downthetubes: Do you have a favourite character in the series?
Stuart: Definitely the Sarge and the Prof. Although the Sarge at this stage is kind of the usual archetypal anti hero type, we’ll get to see what makes him tick as time progresses. The Prof is obviously based on Einstein and could well be him… I made a conscious decision thought to actually never address that as it kind of makes him more of my own character which I can sculpt as need be without contradicting the man himself.
downthetubes: What one piece of advice do you give aspiring comic creators?
Stuart: On the art side, given on the amount of portfolios we see as a studio, I’d say for the love of god please draw as much as you can – on paper. Digital tools are great but they’re just that, fancy lighting effects don’t fool anyone. On the writing side, narrative structure and pacing is key.
• Alien Apples Design Studio: www.alienapplestudios.com
• Stuart’s official web site: www.stuartjennett.com
• Stuart’s official web blog: www.stuartjennett.blogspot.com
• Stuart’s Flickr Pages