Creating Comics: An Interview with Doctor Who Comic Artist Russ Leach

Russ Leach - Art-vs-Artist

Russ Leach lives in England and has had a long production career spanning multiple disciplines including publishing, illustration, video game art, retail design and online software development. With the release of the latest issue of Panini Comics Doctor Who Adventures, we caught up with this ever busy artist to talk to him about his work…

Russ’s debut graphic novel Terminus at Fenton’s Green was released in 2014 to rave reviews and was published by cult Indy publisher Markosia. This was followed up with a second OGN in 2015 with master of the Macabre, Cy Dethan, with Indifference Engine 2 – The Suicide Show.

Whilst keeping one toe in independent comics with various US based titles and a story in David Lloyd’s Aces Weekly, Russ has also been the regular artist on Panini’s Doctor Who Adventures since April 2015 and produces illustrations for Marvel and Hachette’s art work magazine, Draw The Marvel Way.

downthetubes: How did the commission to draw the Doctor Who Adventures strip – and illustrate the short stories – come about?

Russ Leach: In 2010 my career came to a cross roads. I’d decided that I was going to make illustration my career focus from then on and what I wanted to do more than anything was sequential art… But I’d canvassed a few publishers, got a couple of very polite “no thank yous” and was realising it was going to be much, much harder than I had thought it was going to be!

During 1994/95 I had gotten very positive feedback from the Marvel new talent scout who told me “I had what it took” to be a penciler for Marvel. However things were very different and indeed slower then and due to various events, I never got any further than that. I continued as an Art Director and eventually had my own web development company.

Forward on to 2010 after another life and everything had changed! Apart from a couple of slush pile options (2000AD was still doing this), where once there was a submissions process for the big publishers, now stood a wall of “we’ll find you” notices! But, there was so much more happening online – the internet seemed to be the place to mingle and network. Also to show your folio to as many people as possible. I found a couple of small US publishers that could pay very very small page rates and one of them was NewBaby Productions.

Eric Mullarky was the owner of this brand and he was looking for something a little different and came up with the concept of using the first ever time travel story by H. G. Wells, The Chronic Argonauts mashed together with War of the Worlds. The writer on that book was Jason Quinn, now editor of Doctor Who Adventures, and so we worked together on that first graphic novel ever for me.

I wasn’t paid very much, but it was a great start for my learning process! And I really needed to learn, because I wasn’t very good to be honest. I had the basics but needed much more experience. The book was never published, unfortunately, but that did mean I had a chance at making my debut OGN a bit more polished!

Anyway, after the book finished we went our separate ways, keeping in touch whilst Jason was in India with Campfire. I worked a lot with his brother, Tim, in that time and when Jason came back and took the job at Panini he asked me straight away to do a try out for another magazine. That tryout convinced both Jason and Managing Editor Alan O’Keefe that I could do the job and Jason offered me the gig on Doctor Who Adventures!

downthetubes: How far ahead do you work and are the stories you’re drawing get printed in the same order that you draw them?

Russ: We currently work around 2 months ahead but we are trying to chip it away to 4 months. I think Jason would be happier with that. They are all printed in the order they are produced. In fact for the first time starting in issue 18 we have a run of Andrew Cartmel stories that are linked by an unnusual companion!

Doctor Who Adventures 18: Page 3downthetubes: Everyone has their own opinion on capturing an actor’s likeness. Have you found bring Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor, to the comics page hard?

Russ: I think it depends on an artists style as to whether that aspect could be called hard! I use a lot of photo reference as I really want to get him right. The earlier issues had a more comicy feel to them due to our brief. But the magazine never wants to talk down to its readers, and with that in mind I wanted to give a more classic look to the art and a more realistic Capaldi. Add John Burns style of colours to that and we ended up with a different look to the whole thing! Capaldi has such a unique face with loads of character, in some ways that helps, but if you get it wrong it leaps out at you!

This Doctor Who montage art by Russ Leach was the top prize in the Hull Comic Con 2016 charity raffle.
This Doctor Who montage art by Russ Leach was the top prize in the Hull Comic Con 2016 charity raffle.

downthetubes: Do you know what Peter Capaldi thinks of your “look” for him?

Russ: I have no idea – I would love to find out what he thinks… as long as he likes it of course!

downthetubes: Doctor Who Adventures hasn’t featured any TV monsters in its strip yet but if it did, what would you like to draw?

Russ: There are a few sneaky cameos in there already but it would be great to have some classic characters. Cybermen and Daleks are always up there in the list, but I’d really love to do a Sea Devils story!

Art in Progress: Russ Leach on Doctor Who Adventures

Inks for the lead strip for Doctor Who Adventures issue 17, written by James Peaty
Inks for the lead strip for Doctor Who Adventures issue 17, written by James Peaty

Doctor Who Adventures Issue 17 Page 5 - Inks

Doctor Who Adventures #17 - Strip Sample
The printed version, coloured by John Burns

Doctor Who Adventures Issue 17 Page 6 - Inks

downthetubes: How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)

Russ: It’s a rough guide rather than a plan really. It varies depending on where I am in any current schedule. It’s always a bit more manic the closer you get to the finish deadline on that months strip.

The day generally includes….

  1. Coffee and emails around 7.30
  2. Check social media a couple of times during a day for stories and posts
  3. During the day I draw and make sure to get up to stretch and move once an hour
  4. In the evening I often flick through my favourite graphic novels and art books.
  5. Evenings are also for invoice writing, checking sites and looking for interesting things to post the next day!
  6. There will be days I’m still drawing at 11.00pm and two out of every three weeks is a six-day week.
Doctor Who's Paternoster Gang by Russ Leach. Inks for an illustration for a new short story featuring the characters for Doctor Who Adventures Issue 17, written by Tommy Donbavand.
Doctor Who’s Paternoster Gang by Russ Leach. Inks for an illustration for a new short story featuring the characters for Doctor Who Adventures Issue 17, written by Tommy Donbavand.

downthetubes: Who’s your favourite member of the Paternoster Gang (if the one you like to draw is different to your favourite character, do say…)

Russ: Madam Vastra is my favourite but the best one to draw has got to be Straxx. Great armour (when written in armour of course) and an attitude!

downthetubes: What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?

The original Captain Britain by Russ Leach
The original Captain Britain by Russ Leach

Russ: Drawing comics! I just love them, always have, always will.

Since I first picked up a copy of Stalker by DC moving on to StarLord, 2000AD and Captain Britain Weekly, I’ve just loved ’em. John Buscema and Joe Sinnott on reprints of Fantastic Four in Captain Britain Weekly in the 1970s really inspired me. I don’t just love the art, it’s the whole medium. It’s hugely underrated as both an art form and a valid gateway to literacy. I never thought of myself working on a kids’ magazine but in a lot of ways, it mirrors those Marvel stories I used to read when I was a kid! The idea that I may be involved in someone else’s development in the same way that comics had an effect on my vocabulary and desire to read more is a real thrill!

But truly the best thing is being in the moment, forgetting the world around you and living that panel of story intimately by drawing it!

downthetubes: And the worst?

Russ: The hours I suppose. It’s double edged really. You love the work and love drawing but you can never, ever get enough done. There are never enough hours in the day to do it all and sleep and have a life. The pay isn’t great either, I got paid a lot more in design and web development but I am much, much happier now than at any other point in my career.

Madame Vastra in action for Doctor Who Adventures. Art by Russ Leach
Madame Vastra in action for Doctor Who Adventures. Art by Russ Leach

downthetubes: What most distracts you from getting your work done?

Russ: Social media can be a distraction. It is so usefull for promotion and networking but it can suck you in and lose time so easily!

downthetubes: What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?

Russ: Just one – that’s hard! – Be yourself, don’t copy other styles! Sure, find inspiration in others and always appreciate the vast array of different talents in the medium. But look for your own style and keep going.

downthetubes: What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?

Russ: I tend to only read trade paperbacks or graphic novels. I’m currently re-reading the Swamp Thing saga! I just finished Infinity Volume 2 and Thanos Rising.

downthetubes: Russ, thank you very much for your time and the very best of luck with all your projects!

Doctor Who Adventures Issue 18 - CoverDoctor Who Adventures Issue 18 is on sale now in all good newsagents and digitally via PocketMags. Web: www.dwamag.com | Read our news item on the issue here

• Russ Leach is online at www.russleach.com or www.kre8uk.net or find him on Facebook here and his Facebok art page here | Follow him on Twitter @Kre8uk | Tumblr: russleachdraws.tumblr.com | Support him on Patreon: russleachdraws

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a "freelance comics operative", currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY. John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor. He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY. Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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