British comic creators are heavily involved in US publisher IDW’s Doctor Who at 50 celebrations for their ‘Prisoners of Time’ maxi series, which will feature every incarnation of the Doctor, as well as a long list of villains, some new, some old.
IDW editor Denton Tipton wisely approached John Ridgway to tackle the Sixth Doctor segment – wisely because he, more than anyone, brought the Sixth Doctor to life on the printed page in Doctor Who Magazine during Colin Baker’s period on Doctor Who, conjuring up some amazing and fondly-remembered pages from incrdible, saga-style scripts by Steve Parkhouse.
downthetubes caught up with John to ask him about his return to Who after a long absence…
John started drawing for his own amusement in the 1950’s and then part-time in the mid 1960’s for DC Thomson’s Commando Comics. This led to work on Warrior, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Doctor Who, at which time he left his engineering job and went full-time.
John created the look of Hellblazer comic for DC’s Vertigo imprint and worked on several series for both Marvel and DC. With a general decline in the comic-book industry he went back to Commando. At this point in his prestigous career, he wants to write and draw his own stories – possibly for a European publisher.
downthetubes: Prisoners of Time marks a welcome return for you to the worlds of Doctor Who strip – you’re well known for your stunning visuals on strips for Doctor Who Magazine during the Sixth Doctor’s tenure. What prompted this return?
John Ridgway: IDW published reprints of my Doctor Who work for Marvel UK. They asked me to produce about five covers featuring the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker), then approached me last year and told me that they were celebrating 50 years of Doctor Who by publishing a series featuring all the Doctors, using, where possible, as many of the artists associated with the particular Doctors. As I had drawn all the Sixth Doctor stories [during his tenure], they asked if I would be able to draw that particular segment and we went from there.
downththetubes: Can you tell us which companions feature in the story? Is it true Frobisher the shape changing penguin is in the tale and if so, is he able to shape change?
John: The companions featured are Frobisher and Peri (although there is an appearance by of a couple of other characters). Frobisher’s ability to change shape (fully restored) is used to good effect.
downthetubes: How do you approach the thorny issue of ‘capturing likeness’ – always an issue with licensed series based on real actors?
John: I had a lot of trouble capturing a likeness for a cover for one of the reprints I had drawn earlier. Fortunately, working on computer means that if a picture “goes wrong” the picture can be replaced with a fresh drawing. I had several attempts at drawing Colin Baker’s face from photographs – without much success. Eventually, I put the photograph on a layer and traced over it to produce a reasonable likeness. The tricky part is getting the eyes right and getting flexibility to the line width (otherwise the picture looks too bland). From there, it’s fairly easy to alter the expression to suit what the script calls for.
John: There were several things that were a challenge. My original Doctor Who work had been drawn for black and white publication. Having recently coloured work originally done for black and white publication, I usually find that I am taking out a considerable amount of hatching and fine background detail. I cannot expect a colourist to do that with my work so I had to simplify my drawing style without reaching a point where it would disappoint readers expecting to see work as it used to appear. One other challenge was learning to escape from a straight-jacket!
downthetubes: You’ve drawn many British comic heroes (and some American ones). Who’s your favourite, and why?
John: The Sixth Doctor has to be my favourite – as written by Steve Parkhouse. He produced stories tailored to my strengths. He had the amazing ability to come up with characters as sinister as Voyager, as mad as Astrolabus and as endearing as Frobisher and set them in stories as imaginative as Windsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland.
Another favourite was the Famous Five – I loved developing the relationships between the five.
John: Probably because it changes and develops over the decades. The William Hartnell years were very serious – every other story was a history lesson, Patrick Troughton was quirky, John Pertwee dashing and flamboyant – and so on. The Doctor’s regenerations literally gave the show a new start in life every time. All this but with the underlying familiarities that make soaps so habit-forming.
Now, with a bigger budget and CGI work, the stories can get out of the gravel-pit locations and expand into a universe as big as the writers’ imagination.
John: Yes, I would like to draw another Doctor Who story. If I had to choose a monster I think it would be the Draconians, but I would rather work on some new monster (or creature). I’d like to do something with epic scope and grand scenery.
downthetubes: You’ve been working on a number of projects recently and have provided some amazing colouring work on the recent Space Ace comic featuring the art of Ron Turner. How did that project come about and will there be any more?
John: I’ve done quite a lot of colouring work over the past decade – very little of it has seen print (for various reasons). I submitted a Space Ace story to Spaceship Away, but they decided not to go with it. I started colouring Gil Kane’s Star Hawks for the same magazine, but they didn’t pursue the rights. I also did some work on Syd Jordan’s Earthspace but he wants to see all the Jeff Hawke related material published in the Jeff Hawke Cosmos. I’d hoped to do Frank Bellamy’s Garth for Print Media but that’s not going to happen now. I’ve been in touch with John Lawrence for some time and, as Ron Turner’s friend and agent, he decided to produce an album of Space Ace stories. A second album is in the works.
downthetubes: Above anything else, what one piece of advice would you offer aspiring comic artists?
John: Always do your best work within the constraints of the script. Try to keep your work fresh and original. Be prepared to weather a lot of disappointments.
• Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time #6 written by Scott and David Tipton with art by John Ridgway is on sale now from IDW Publishing.
Print editions of the IDW Doctor Who titles are not officially on sale in the UK but you can purchase the digital editions