In the run up to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival (17th – 19th October), we’re planning to run a number of interviews spotlighting at least a few of the huge number of guests and comic creators who will be at the event, starting with ace comic artist, illustrator and designer Doug Braithwaite, who I’ve known since my days back at Marvel UK, where he began his professional comics career at just 17 on Action Force (also working for 2000AD on strips such as “Judge Dredd” and “Tyranny Rex”).
He broke into the US market just two years later and since then, he’s worked on many of the industry’s flagship titles and has drawn just about every major character for both Marvel and DC comics in titles including Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Green Arrow, Universe-X, Justice, Secret Invasion: Thor, Wolverine Origins, and Journey Into Mystery, to name but a few.
Recently, Doug and David Hine’s creator-owned series Storm Dogs (published by Image) received great acclaim, with nominations for best mini-series of 2013. His work on the series Unity for Valiant Comics has also received major praise from both press and fans alike and he’s currently working on the same copany’s new mini-series Armor Hunters.
As well as working in comics, he also fits in the odd advertising job for clients such as Ridley Scott Associates, Saatchi & Saatchi, Adidas, Sega, Sony, EA sports, Toyota and Formula One, providing storyboards and concept designs for commercials, games and film.
As part of the Lakes Festival line-up, the organisation, now in its second year, has commissioned The Universe Within, a special exhibition of Doug’s work, which opens at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal today (12th September). It not only celebrates Doug’s unique contribution to the superhero genre but also reveals why the other universes he has helped create (Storm Dogs and Unity) have won him award nominations and great acclaim from critics, peers and fans alike. The Universe Within will explore Doug’s working process, as well as showing the finished artwork, and will underline why he is considered to be a truly “fine” artist both within and beyond the comic art world.
downthetubes: What are you working on, comics-wise, right now and when will it be published?
Doug Braithwaite: I’m currently working for the American comic book publisher, Valiant. Last year I helped launch Unity, which was Valiant’s first Super-Hero team book. I’m currently working on Armor Hunters, which is their big blockbuster event of the summer and it ties into all of their main titles.
downthetubes: Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Doug: There are several: I’m very proud of the creator owned series Storm Dogs, written by David Hine, which was published by Image comics last year. Although aimed at a mature audience, I’m glad to say that the series has been very well received, by the critics and fans alike.
I also have a soft spot for Fear Itself: Journey Into Mystery, written by Kieron Gillen. It was a bit of an off-the-wall series from Marvel based on the exploits of Thor’s kid brother Loki and the chaos he inspires. It was great fun to illustrate, not least because Kieron’s writing is so brilliantly funny. It was one of those series that nobody had any real expectations about but it proved extremely popular and it seems to have inspired a bit of a cult following – Cosplayers certainly seem have taken to the characters Leah and child Loki from the series.
I’m also quite proud of what we did at Valiant with Unity and the reception it received was quite remarkable! Then from older days there’s Punisher – I loved doing the Punisher! Then there’s Universe/Paradise X at Marvel, and Justice at DC, all of which I’m proud to have drawn.
I suppose I’m quite proud of a lot of the comics I’ve been involved with over the years – and I’m sure you can buy all of those comics as collected trades from most comic shops or online as both paper and digital comics.
downthetubes: How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Doug: Well, I don’t have a routine other than a quick cup of tea, a browse of the news, and then down to work. I work late, so I just pick up where I left off the night before. If you’re asking how I plan my work, then I can expand:
When I get a new script I spend a day reading it, collating reference for characters, locations etc. Once I’ve got it straight in my head then I start laying out rough thumbnails. I use these to pace the story, work out choreography etc. Once that’s done I can start on the full sized pages. There will be examples of my working method on display at the exhibition for those who are interested.
downthetubes: What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
Doug: Stretching your imagination and using the creative process of visual storytelling to bring bizarre situations to life is, I suppose, as good as it gets – I know that could be termed daydreaming – but the hard bit is I have to draw it. Oh yes, and not having to commute to work comes a close second…
downthetubes: And the worst?
Doug: Deadlines, Deadlines and Deadlines.
downthetubes: What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Doug: Sunny days and unexpected visitors.
downthetubes: Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
Doug: The opportunities for creators to get their work seen is far greater than it was when I started. Back then, there were publishers that artists and writers could pitch to, but they were few and far between, so you could struggle to get feedback and frequently talent worked in isolation without the benefit of their work being exposed. Now you have the internet, so there is instant exposure to communities of like-minded creators to share and develop ideas with. I’ve heard that companies do look to these sites for new talent and it’s a good way to show the world what you can do.
Having said that, you’re now competing with the entire world of creators, so whether it’s easier or harder to get published by the major companies is hard to say.
You can also self-publishing relatively cheaply these days – it’s a simple way to collect your work in book form and put it out there at shows.
downthetubes: The Universe Within is an exhibition of your work that’s part of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Can you tell us what’s in it and if there’s an item you’re most pleased with?
Doug: The exhibition is a retrospective of my career, from my first foray into the comic book business through to some of my current projects. You can see my progression as an artist through the years and there will be examples of work displayed that should give the viewers a bit of an insight into my working process. As for an item I’m most pleased with; while the work in the exhibition has been chosen because I like it and it represents my career to date, it would be hard to pick one thing above anything else as there are quite a few favourites in there.
downthetubes: Have you ever been to the Lake District before and if so what did you think of it? If you haven’t what are you expecting?
Doug: Yes, many, many times and I’ve visited Kendal on a couple of occasions, not least for the inaugural Lakes International Comic Art Festival last year. For anyone who is considering sightseeing, it’s a beautiful region of the country.
downthetubes: Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Doug: I’ve been fortunate enough to have met most of my comic book heroes and in some cases have been lucky enough to spend some time with them, whether it be an hour or a couple of days, discussing everything from the influences on their work to the state of the industry – John Buscema and Al Williamson being two of the most memorable. The only person I wish I could have had a little time with would have to have been Jack Kirby.
downthetubes: How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?
Doug: For those trying to break in to the industry, festivals and cons are great for meeting other creators who are also trying to break in; writers meet artists they can collaborate with, ideas get bandied about, they’re places of creativity where you’ll make some lifelong friends. They’re also places where you can meet the established creators and talk to them and, if you’re lucky, you might get your work looked at by an editor. They are great places to network, make friends and contacts and generally absorb some of what the industry is about.
For me, festivals and shows are great for catching up with old friends and fellow comic creators. For the most part, we work in isolation, so it’s a great antidote for cabin fever! And It’s its always a pleasure to meet the fans, old and new, (and I don’t care what anyone says, having someone tell you they loved what you have done is balm for the ego!)
downthetubes: What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Doug: Simple: ‘Learn your craft.’
And if you want me to expand on that:
If you want to be a writer or artist, look at what is successful out there and try to emulate it, but that doesn’t mean copy it. It means learn from it.
If you’re an aspiring artist don’t try to slavishly copy an established artist’s work, it’s a waste of time. For the most part, all you would be studying is the ’top gloss’, you have to understand what is going on underneath to make it work. Learn the basics – do life-drawing classes, that way you learn about anatomy. Read books on anatomy, teach yourself perspective, lighting, movement, again there’s some more book reading to do.
Then you need to learn how to translate a script onto the page. How to make everything you put down relevant to the story, in a way that conveys what is going on in the story, whether it’s action or emotion. To do that you need to look at the greats of the business and study how they do it. Watch films, to see how the camera frames shots for dramatic effect – it’s relevant in comics too.
If all that sounds a lot to learn, it is. A good artist should never stop learning.
My thanks to Doug for finding time to answer my questions. I’m looking forward to catching up with him in October!
• The Universe Within: The Art of Doug Braithwaite is at The Sugar Store Gallery, The Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal from today, Friday 12th September – 26th October 2014 (usual opening hours)
• Lakes International Comic Art Festival (17th – 19th October 2014). You can view or download the full festival programme via Issuu