With the Kickstarter for The77 Issue Four drawing to a close tomorrow, here’s another in our series of “Meet the Creator” interviews conducted by Morgan Spiceman with the writers and artists involved in British comics anthology. This time out, he chats with Ben Macleod, aka Mac, artist on the strip “The Trackless depths”, written by Dave Bedford.
Unlike certain famous musicians, Mac, the artist Formerly Known as Ben Macleod, was not the willing victim of an evil, soul sucking corporate label. “Mac is just easier for me to remember,” he says, adding he is “currently enslaved” by writer, Dave (Evil) Bedford, for ‘The Trackless Depths’ in The77.
What is The77 to you?
Mac: The77 is a new British anthology, inspired by the golden age of comics from the seventies and I‘m guessing the informative, halcyon years for a certain number of the editors and creators involved.
I know for me the 1970s was a time of wonder and huge artistic influence… Star Wars, Superman and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea were the first three movies my dad took me to see at the cinema. Music still meant something, Led Zeppelin ruled the world, rock was unabashedly bloated but still cool and in comics we had the Eagle, Action, 2000AD and many more.
I think so much of what we have artistically today arguably has its real beginnings in that decade. So for The77, I think the idea was not so much to just do a retro rehash but to take the ethos of that time and produce an anthology comic that Is very much a product of now. Don’t quote me on that though… BenKsy [Ben Cullis] might have something to say about my analysis!
How did you get involved?
Mac: I think it was on Facebook where I first met BenKsy… we kind of gravitated towards each other based on friends and artistic interests. Around the same time, I came across an ad for an artist to work on what turned out to be “The Trackless Depths”. I dropped him a line and after a little discussion on which story I would most like (there were a couple of options at that point), we settled on “Trackless”.
What is “The Trackless Depths” about?
Mac: The story is a great little sea faring yarn, what I see as an homage to Jaws and Jules Verne – although you’d have to ask Dave Bedford if that’s accurate. It’s set in 1870 onboard the HMS Catullus, a three mast clipper, when a series of strange events and mysterious deaths lead to….
Who are the characters?
Mac: The main character is first officer Charlie Cahill, a young man who witnesses his best friend and another sailor seemingly commit suicide. The captain denies the two a burial, as suicide Is dishonourable and, I presume at the time, regarded as an un-Christian act… Charlie however believes something else is at work…
Things get supernatural and pretty quickly the captain, the crew and the ship itself are under threat.
What are your hopes for The77?
Mac: My own hopes for The77 is, firstly, that it becomes established as a mainstay in the British comics industry and eventually beyond. It’s been a difficult time for comics in general and the industry in the UK has always been small and therefore relatively fragile. Games and tech advances have presented opportunities and threats for comic publishers in the last decade or so and I really would like to see the enthusiasm, talent and dedication of the whole The77 team rewarded.
What else are you working on?
Mac: I am working on a new story with Will Hill, an exciting new writer, which should be running early next year in The77.
I’m also working with a renowned photojournalist on a long term project. He was at the heart a developing refugee crisis a few years ago, and walked with many desperate people as they fled their homes in search of hope and anew life. We’re collaborating on a book telling some of those stories with photography and comic style sequences.
How long have you been doing art?
Mac: I began drawing before I began speaking. My mum’s famous family story is that she needed to shut me up…I couldn’t speak, but I made a hell of a racket. She’d tried toys and other things but they hadn’t worked…so she grabbed some crayons and shoved them into my tiny clutching hand… and I was blissfully quiet for the next 15 years.
Of course, that changed when I hit adolescence, but that’s another story.
Who are your favourite artists?
Mac: I dreaded this question. There are so many artists that I love and have been inspired by. One of the earliest artists I can remember was the great Star Wars concept artist, Ralph McQuarrie.
I loved the early 2000AD work of artists such as Carlos Ezquerra, Brian Bolland, Cam Kennedy, Kevin O’Neil and Glenn Fabry. Then there was that wonderful time for comics in the 1980s when Simon Bisley exploded onto the pages of the 2000AD and Frank Miller wrote and drew the seminal Dark Knight Returns, originally in those four wonderful graphic novels. Then Watchmen hit stores…. man, that was an exciting time.
As a comic fan and whenever I’m in need of inspiration, I’ll pick up Slaine: The Horned God or Dark Knight, just to remind myself that comics can be a truly astounding art form.
There are so many more, Richard Corben’s comic erotica masterworks starring the ever naked Den and his equally shy female co stars… Moebius, Enki Bilal’s Gods in Chaos and Woman Trap, to name a coupe of European artists – and recently I came across the fantastic work of artist Enrique Fernandez, who wrote and illustrated Brigada, a wonderful book which I highly recommend.
Alongside the countless comic artists there’s Gustav Klimt, W W Waterhouse, John Everett Millais – and wow… I almost forgot the master… the late, great Frank Frazetta.
I could go on but I’m sure people will just get bored and switch on Netflix.
What are your favourite comics?
Mac: My favourite comic… how the hell do I answer that?! Ha ha ! Loved Alan Moore’s Captain Britain run (did I mention Alan Davis? ). Marshal Law was a great story with O’Neil’s incendiary, expressionist artwork. Dark Knight showed me how well a comic could pace and drive the narrative. Miller made an art form of building tension and underlying psycho drama.
Blade of the Eternal by Hiroaki Samura is the perfect example of the incredible dynamic line work you find in the best Manga. I love Leinil Yu‘s work. I’ve just finished reading Madam Samurai by Gary Young and David Hitchcock.
A particular favourite is the beautiful Duncan Fegredo run on Hellboy, which adds something else to the already awesome minimalist style of Mignola’s storytelling and art. Apologies to anyone I’ve missed….
What are your influences?
Mac: I’ve probably already named most of my influences, but I’ll add a couple of three movies to that list. All the Ray Harryhausen films, American Werewolf in London, John Boorman’s Excalibur … but really Star Wars was massive. I often describe myself as a Star Wars baby. I caught the first movie at the cinema at the age of six and it seared itself indelibly into my psyche…
Going back to the 1970s, it was a time when cinema magic was still in relative infancy but Star Wars was mind blowing in its capacity to truly make you believe this world… a long time ago, in a galaxy far away… was real. Christopher Reeve as Superman flew ! Nowadays, all this is taken for granted and we see an over abundance of magic on TV and in cinema.
It’s not that those films were so much better but more that the experience was a truly original and groundbreaking one for that generation of kids, the Star Wars babies.
What characters would you love to draw?
Mac: Batman would have to be top of the list really. What a glorious character. Dark, dangerous, deeply damaged psychologically, gadgets galore, exotic hardware, martial art moves and a host of great antagonist villains to choose from.
The problem is that he’s been written and drawn so brilliantly so many times, I would worry about what else I could bring to the table… and how do you follow those guys? Still, I guess I don’t have to worry about that right now… Much as my ego would like me to think, DC are not knocking my door down with a ‘For Mac’ Batman script!
Next would be Captain Britain, in the vein of Alan Moore’s version, complete with uncertainties and insecurities. It made him such a believable and truly British character.
Perhaps a nice little Thor issue or two or a rampaging Hulk story, lots of destruction and puny Banner trash talk. Oh and I would love to draw the ABC Warriors, or a possible team up with Joe Pineapples and Hammerstein (my preference would be pitting them against Geiger’s aliens) but, sadly, Pat Mills may not be writing any more for those two. Slaine would also be a much treasured project.
Who would you like to work with?
Mac: Frank Miller would be awesome, I love the way he lays out stories in his panels. A Mark Millar story would also be damn cool. I would love a Pat Mills phone call, John Wagner maybe! ha ha …if thats not on then Mr Mignola…I am available… for the right money of course!
What advice would you aspiring artists?
Mac: It’s boring, but honestly…draw, draw, draw is number one on the list of advice.
Number two is practice (yes, I know that’s the same thing really – but it really is the best and number one bit of advice.)
Apart from that, I would advise aspiring artists to soak up the lessons to be learned from the masters in various art forms but be careful not to be overwhelmed.
Also, be aware that being a comic artist is, for the vast majority, not a well paid occupation. Apart for a handful of guys and gals saving up for that £800,000 dream house in the country is not a realistic option – so be prepared to take on other work.
I guess it boils down to doing it for the love of it. Of course, the money is important, but you produce your best work when you focus on this rather than the monetary rewards and when it comes right down to it that’s what life is about isn’t it….
Mac – thank you very much for your time, and the best of luck with all your projects.
The77 Issue Three features a stunning cover by Ade Hughes featuring Anat from ‘V’ | Available for priced £6.95 for 64 pages in oversized format.All editions and back issues, posters and other merchandise available from Get My Comics here
Contributors include Dave Bedford, Conan, Conor Boyle, Steve Bull, Joe and Jeremy Dunn, Phil Elliott, Sinclair Elliott, Anna Evert, Filippo, Bambos Georgiou, Morgan Gleave, Dave Heeley, Ade Hughes, Kek-W, Hal Laren, Mac, Leonardo Manco, Sarah Millman, Michael Powell, Jon Roydon, Andrew Sawyers, Neil Sims, Lew Stringer, David Thomas, Dan Whitehead, Brendon Wright
Variant 1 cover by Paul Williams; Variant 2 cover by Neil Sims
The77 is also available from these UK comic stores: Atomic Comics, Bath; Calamity Comics, Harrow & Hatfield Castle Bytham; the Community Village Store, Lincolnshire; Gobsmack Comics, Horsham; Heroes, Isle of Wight; Krackers, Taunton; Mega City Comics, Camden, London; Millennium Comics, Northwich; Not Just A Comic Shop,