Birmingham Bound: An Interview with Comic Artist Ian Kennedy

Convention co-organiser Steve Tanner with veteran artist Ian Kennedy - his first ever comics event outside Scotland. The Festival was also the occasion Ian and Keith Page met for the first time too. Photo courtesy of Steve Tanner.
Birmingham Comic Festival co-organiser Steve Tanner with veteran artist Ian Kennedy at lat year’s event – his first ever comics event outside Scotland. Photo courtesy of Steve Tanner.

Artist Ian Kennedy’s sixty plus career encompasses some of the best loved characters and comics published in Great Britain. To this day, he remains the undisputed master of aviation depictions. From his pioneering days on Air Ace and Thriller Picture Library through to Battle Picture Weekly and Warlord, his work has thrilled great-grandparents and their offspring right through to today’s kids who still regularly see the semi-retired octogenarian’s artwork emblazoned across the covers of DC Thomson’s Commando title.

Ian Kennedy’s work can be found within collectors’ copies of The Hotspur, Buster, Wizard, Warlord, Thunder, The Victor, Wildcat, Buddy, Blake’s 7, Thunder, M.A.S.K., Starlord, The Eagle, 2000AD and others. These titles call out like a roll call of the great and good: bestselling comics that often proved to be trailblazing weekly ones in their time. From the likes of Typhoon Tennyson and Battler Britton to Judge Dredd and Dan Dare and oh so many unknown soldiers in between, each character has been delineated with consummate craft by this fine Scottish gent.

Last year, Ian graced the Birmingham Comic Festival’s convention with a visit that delighted his English fans. So much so, they asked that he return this year (on Saturday 23rd April). Prior to this taking place, Ian took time out to answer some questions put to him by Paul H. Birch .

Commando No 4890 – Dive And Kill!
A cracking Commando cover (issue 4890) by Ian Kennedy

downthetubes: You’ve been an artist for a great part of your life and you still appear to have a zest and drive to produce it?

Ian Kennedy: Quote, “Give Ian a pencil and some paper, that will keep him quiet” – Almost certainly my earliest memory!  It has never occurred to me that I could be described as “passionate” about my work, but you are right in that it is very often a source of great satisfaction with the not infrequent bout of disappointment thrown in!

downthetubes: Did that passion ever fade with gruelling deadlines in the past at times, and is the work you choose to do now mostly a leisurely creative pastime?

Ian: Deadlines certainly can be gruelling, so I normally avoid them like the plague, thereby steering clear of the resulting stress.  Nowadays, the subjects tend to be much the same as ever but the schedule is not so full, allowing a break now and then.

A page from the Dan Dare story "Mekon Minefield", drawn by Ian Kennedy
A page from the Dan Dare story “Mekon Minefield”, drawn by Ian Kennedy, recently re-publiushed in the Eagle Adventure Special

downthetubes: Do you prefer drawing real world or escapist fantasy/science fiction material?

Ian: The real world is always interesting, especially aviation. However sci-fi is much more exciting, allowing the imagination full rein with virtually no limits on shapes or colour.

downthetubes: Have superheroes ever appealed to you?

Ian: A well rounded character is always fascinating; it is then so much easier to portray him/her successfully.

downthetubes: For a large part of your career, when credits were not featured on British comics and conventions rarer I would image you were largely unaware of how enormously popular you have been.

Ian: I was totally unaware of the situation until very recently, so am finding it all a bit difficult to take in.  My attitude was that “It’s just a very pleasant way of making a living” – Rather guilty of taking things for granted.

downthetubes: Publishers obviously kept you busy. I take it you worked through art agencies during some parts of your career?

Ian: As a freelance, I worked through an agency for the first ten or so years, then was fortunate in building up a wide range of contacts who, I suspect, were passing on the word, re: yours truly – the “grapevine” and all that!

Ian Kennedy's variant cover for Johnny Red #2 from Titan Comics
Ian Kennedy’s variant cover for Johnny Red #2 from Titan Comics

downthetubes: What do you think of the public reaction you’ve received in recent years as more people become aware of the name behind some of the great strips and covers they’ve enjoyed over the year?

Ian: I probably appear somewhat naïve, but the public reaction came as an enormous surprise verging on shock!  After all, there I was in my own “small corner” enjoying what I was doing for a living.

downthetubes: Is there a variety in the age range of your fans that you’re aware of?

Ian: I find it intriguing that the majority of really enthusiastic fans are “getting on a bit” although there is a sizeable contingent amongst the younger set,

downthetubes: You’re adept at keeping up with technology, using social media etc. How do you think your career may have developed if computers were available earlier in your career? Might the internet have resulted in you working for more international publishers? Could digital art tools have resulted in you swopping pencil and ink for those methods?

Ian: Obviously, to satisfy requirements, one would have had to adapt – Whether that would have brought in more business from abroad is anybody’s guess.  Digital tools would have been necessary but, oh, nothing will ever supplant the pleasure and satisfaction derived from using the pen and brush etc.

True War: The Douglas Bader Story, art by Ian Kennedy
True War: The Douglas Bader Story, art by Ian Kennedy

downthetubes: DC. Thomson appear, to have always treated you well and with respect – What, apart from your obvious, talent do you put that down to?

Ian: Only DCT can supply a satisfactory answer to that one!  It may well be the result of my having “grown” up professionally with editors who, although business associates, became genuinely good friends.  The same can be said of quite a few staff members in, especially, Fleetway / IPC.

2000AD Prog 1961 Ian Kennedy cover artwork
2000AD Prog 1961 cover art by Ian Kennedy

downthetubes: You’ve worked on 2000AD again after a falling out many moons ago when they were published by Fleetway…

Ian: Quite honestly, Paul, I cannot recall a falling out as such, it could be that my notorious memory is, once again, at fault.

downthetubes: I understood there was a period whereby Fleetway, didn’t want writers and artists working for several publishers. Regardless, the new publishers of 2000AD, Rebellion, had you produce a wraparound cover featuring Judge Dredd. Are there plans for you to work for them again?

Ian: My contact with Rebellion was through a friend who, I believe, is employed by the company.  As far as the future is concerned, Kennedy, as ever, loves to get involved!

downthetubes: Your appearance south of the border at last year’s comic convention in Birmingham delighted a great many people and you’re returning again this year. What was it like meeting these fans in person? A good experience I take it, and is that the reason you’re returning?

Ian: Birmingham was my first ever convention and, therefore, so very interesting, especially the unexpected, but nevertheless rewarding experience of being with so many enthusiastic fans.  It was extremely enjoyable and without doubt the reason why I am looking forward to a repeat performance this year!

downthetubes: And why we’re delighted you’re coming. Ian, many thanks for your time.

• Ian Kennedy will be appearing at The Birmingham Comics Festival’s convention on Saturday 23rd April. For more information visit: www.thecomicfestival.com

In his time, Paul H Birch has been an editor and writer for assorted media, on rare occasions they are comics related

 

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News Team

This account features guest posts by a wide variety of comics industry professionals, often cross posted with permission from their web sites. Our thanks to them for their support.

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