In August 2008, after a long gestation period, adventure hero Garth returned to British newspaper The Mirror – albeit, for now, only on the publication’s web site.
Here, artist Huw-J talks to John Freeman about the new strip and his many plans for the character’s ongoing revival…
The return of Garth, a newspaper strip adventure hero first created in 1943 for what was then The Daily Mirror, is something pretty momentous for British comics fans. This new incarnation is the work of Hayena Studios, and in particular, the determined efforts of artist Huw-J.
The new Garth project, revamping the often time and space travelling hero for a modern audience in several different formats, has been in the offing for a while. The first online strip, The Gold of Ragnorock, is now up and running, with Garth summoned to the Arctic for a mission of dangerous exploration.
“Actually, I’m not sure I’d call The Gold of Ragnorock a ‘strip’,” opines Huw-J, who has his studio over at the Animation Art Gallery in the Movieum of London at County Hall, Westminster.
“It’s more of an online graphic novel, possibly the first of its kind in an official way as it’s full page colour toned, and will run for 65 pages.
“It was originally conceived as a strip but the guys at the Mirror‘s syndication department looked at it and really liked the way it read but felt it lacked something ‘extra’ for the re-launch,” Huw-J reveals, “So it was decided to vamp it up and ramp it up to the format you see online at the moment.”
Publicity for the return of one of Britain’s finest comics heroes, previously drawn by the likes of Frank Bellamy and Martin Asbury, was at first strangely lacking, but the Mirror is now promoting the strip in the newspaper.
The team’s approach to revising the character has been dedicated, intentionally setting out to attract new readers without alienating the legion of Garth fans who followed and admire his original adventures.
“We have re-worked the characters giving them a more coherent background,” says Huw-J of the new strip. “Cutting away 60 years of Wolverine-like back history and mixed up origin was no easy task, but we managed to put something together in the graphic novel that we think will please old and new fans alike.
“The first story is a simple one really,” he explains, “with an Indiana Jones /Mummy Returns type story: good guy archaeologists in search of a lost Viking treasure versus bad guy Nazis, polar bears, dark monsters. avalanches and plenty of fun!
“You’ll notice that we have taken the stories back to the pre-World War 2 time period,” Huw-J notes. “It was decided that this offers such a rich tapestry of possibilities where stories and simple adventure are concerned.”
This online story is what Huw-J calls ‘Garth-lite’ – a straightforward adventure with not too much back history to worry about or a huge number of supporting characters to get to grips with.
“We didn’t want anyone to have to try too hard to read this one,” he explains, “hence it’s ‘Garth-lite’ — simply a re-introduction to the character.
“What you won’t have in this first story is the team of specialists and re-worked support characters that graphic novel writer David Seidel and I have worked out for the first print graphic novel, because this story is all about re-introducing the lynchpin character ‘Garth’,” Huw-J outlines. “The graphic novels will be more in depth, have meatier stories and be much more team driven books.”
“We have two follow on Garth-lite online graphic novels worked out and as long as we can get the digital footprints to show we are getting the hits then we will be able to get the character back in the Mirror itself,” Huw-J reveals.
As for seeing new Garth in print, “We are just finishing the script for the first full colour graphic novel,” says Huw-J, “which will be released early next year which is looking amazing.”
Other possible Garth projects are in the offing. “We’re talking to games companies, as well as animation and film studios as possible avenues for the characters,” Huw-J says.
“We’re also working on the possibility of printing the 65 pager in three parts [in US comic book format] and sending them to the boys out in Afghanistan as a morale booster.”
Huw, who says he lives on a diet of old Edgar Rice Borroughs, Arthur Conan-Doyle, Jack Kirby and an unhealthy dose of Silent Bob, is full of praise for the project’s writer, David Seidel.
“David was brought on board to work on the first couple of graphic novels and other related projects that are surfacing,” he explains. “David’s writing is exceptional he has a really good grasp of timing and just enough dark humour to be able to give the characters that depth that is needed for a more modern reader without killing the fun of setting it before World War 2.
“David’s written some amazing scripts for radio, TV and stage, including The Treason Show and actually had a monologue rejected by Private Eye because it was too dark. He’s a really funny guy and a very good writer, so I’m really glad to have him on board.
Other creators may join the project as it expands. “I will also possibly be doing a one off special with Jim Krueger, a buddy of mine out in Los Angeles, and I’m talking to other writers about the odd collaboration that might be possible should this book pick up pace as I think it will do.”
Considering his determination to get this new Garth off the ground and his extensive credits and reputation as the runner of a Masterclass where he teaches the foundations of character and comic related art and storytelling, Huw-J remains very modest about his own talents.
“I draw everything with my one favourite clutch pencil,” he says. “I could do with a good colourist as my fingers are worked to the bone.”
He’s worked really hard on reviving Garth and continues to do so for now.
“Essentially, I do nearly everything,” he says. “I plotted, wrote, drew, coloured and lettered the online pages, where I would normally bring in inkers or digital guys to support me. I guess I’m a bit of a control freak with this project as it’s a bit of a labour of love with as much investment in blood sweat and tears as there was in finances.
“The Mirror‘s Syndication did the editorial, but I created all the graphic design for the online strip, too, while the Mirror created the flash output.”
Talking about the background to how Garth was revived, “I have always loved the character even in its more convoluted days, with weird stories and big breasted Amazons,” says Huw-Jand of course I was a huge fan of artist Frank Bellamy, and later came to appreciate Martin Asbury who had the horrendous task of taking over from Bellamy after his untimely death in 1976. So since its cancellation in 1997, I always felt that it was something I wanted to re-visit but my deadlines and heavy work schedule, along with brining up two children kept getting in the way of going after it in a big way.
The project has taken several years to get to this stage. “I first started talking to Ken Layson, the editor of the Mirror‘s cartoon pages about this in 2002,” Huw-J recalls, “and together we started plotting.
“It was all a bit like a Michael Bendis comic plot when it came to getting this off the ground. It took a lot of twists and turns but eventually, after I moved on from a company that I had created due to artistic differences, I found myself in a position to take on a new license and approached the Mirror about a Garth revival.
“Fergus Mckenna at Mirror syndication and I hit it off and agreed to work out contracts last year. “Since then there have been a few hiccups and while we advertised a re-launch in Comics International slated for December 2007, the legals were tied up and we had to put things back a bit until here we are, with Stage One of the Garth re-launch online.”
Stage Two, hopefully, before other developments for the character such as animation or films, msut surely be to get Garth back into the Mirroritself.
“That’s the goal ,” Huw-J agrees enthusiastically, “Or at least one of the main goals ,and I’m a pit bull when I set my eye on something or someone. I don’t stop until I get what I’m after. So watch this space. But you and the readers here can help by hitting that link!”
• Read Garth at: www.mirror.co.uk/fun-games/cartoons/garth
2014 Update: Since this attempted revival, rights to Huw-J’s incarnation of Garth has been published as Freeman of the Armed Services by Markosia. Currently, the Garth strips in the Mirror are reprints from the paper’s archive