Artist Ian Kennedy Talks About His Return To 2000AD

Ian Kennedy Dan Dare Dundee Oct 2015
To put it quite simply, Ian Kennedy is the most experienced British comic strip artist working today.

Beginning his career as a staff artist at DC Thomson in Dundee in 1949, he went self-employed in 1954 for the simple expediency of it paid better, and since then he has never looked back. Ian has illustrated weekly comic strips, monthly comic strips, picture library comic strips, from black and white to painted colour, as well as being a cover artist for the same range of titles both on the regular issues and their summer specials and annuals. Working as he did for both boys and girls adventure titles you are as likely to find his painted covers on Judy annuals as you are on Warlord annuals such is his versatility.

Yet his own favourite subjects are aircraft and so it is perhaps appropriate then that his last new comic strip to be published in a British comic, “Bombs On Target” in Commando issue 3072 published in 1996, featured Lancaster bombers. Since then, and despite being “semi-retired”, he has maintained a run of new covers for Commando the latest one of which was “Viktor’s War” in issue 4865 which was published last month.

However this month, December 2015, sees his distinctive ‘Kennedy/.’ signature appear on the variant cover for issue 2 of Titan Comics’ Johnny Red as well as his spectacular return, after three decades away, to Mega City One with the wraparound cover for 2000AD’s end of year issue, Prog 1961.

downthetubes’ Jeremy Briggs spoke to Ian about this new Judge Dredd cover and his memories of working on 2000AD and its sibling titles, Starlord and Tornado.

2000AD Prog 1961 Ian Kennedy cover artwork
downthetubes: How did your new wraparound cover for 2000AD come about, how did they get in touch with you, and was there much discussion about what would go into the cover?

Ian Kennedy: Matt Smith, the editor of 2000AD, got in touch apparently via a good friend, Sean Wiggs at Rebellion, offering the chance to do the Judge Dredd wraparound – obviously too much to resist. As for the contents, the requirements were very simple, Judge Dredd gazing out over Mega City – hence the result.

2000AD Prog 423 Ian Kennedy Dredd
DTT: You have done Judge Dredd work in the past, the “99 Red” strip about a rogue Judge, a painted cover for the 1984 Sci-Fi Special, and a wraparound cover for a weekly issue, but that was all thirty years ago. How did you go about referencing both the character of Dredd and the landscape of the Mega City for the new cover?

Ian: I have in my rather meagre collection some of the black and white originals of that particular (“99 Red”) episode. However having just recently entered the computer world I have been able to avail myself of examples of the work previously done by others, including another of the Kennedy clan, ie Cam!

Ian Kennedy Cam Kennedy Dundee Oct 2015
Artdroid iKenn-E-D and trashzine artist Kenny Who compare notes on how they have avoided Mek-Quake for all these years – Ian Kennedy and (the unrelated) Cam Kennedy at Dundee Comics Creative Space in October 2015

It was not too difficult to follow their example although, to be honest, as it wasn’t quite my “line of country” I’m not absolutely sure my Judge Dredd is altogether the “gutsy” character he is meant to be!

2000AD Prog 2 MACH 1 Vulcan Ian Kennedy
DTT: 2000AD is not a comic that you have appeared too often in, partially due to your long run on Dan Dare in new Eagle, the other big boys’ adventure title of the 1980s from 2000AD’s then publisher IPC. Looking back on your work for 2000AD you were there in the earliest days of the title illustrating a Vulcan bomber story for MACH 1 in Prog 2 and the contemporary combat story of Invasion in Prog 6. These would both have presumably been completed before the first issue of the comic appeared on the shelves.

Does it make a difference to you as an artist to be able to have seen examples of any continuing strip you are new to in the published comics beforehand or does a given title’s editorial team bring you up to speed beforehand?

Ian: I’m afraid I cannot confirm whether or not the artwork for MACH 1 or Invasion was completed before the publication of the first issue. In taking over established series, attention to previous storylines and depictions is most important – any assistance, editorial or otherwise, is always invaluable.

2000AD Prog 210 Airbase Hell Ian Kennedy
DTT: Chronologically your next 2000AD credits are all aircraft related: Prog 36 saw you back on Invasion for a story about a Harrier jump jet, Prog 96 was a cover for Angel of pilot Harry Angel ejecting from a yet another Harrier into the path of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet, while Prog 201 was your only Future Shock showing the devil taking Vietnam-era pilots to ‘Airbase Hell’. With these you do seem to have been the “go-to” man for 2000AD for aviation subjects.

What sparked your interest in aircraft and do have you any technical drawing training that helps you depict your aircraft so accurately?

Ian: Most of my teenage years during World War II were spent watching, day in and day out, aircraft from the numerous bases around Dundee crisscrossing- the skies overhead. Consequently my ambition was to become one of “The Boys In Blue”. Unfortunately, due to ear trouble, that was not to be!

I loved to draw so I ended up drawing and painting the darned things. I had no technical training – I suppose that while a portrait painter must zero in on the character of the sitter, it would appear that I intuitively did the same with aeroplanes etc. They are, after all, living vibrant creatures with lots of “character”.

2000AD Prod 446 Ian Kennedy cover
DTT: Your Judge Dredd story in Prog 423, “99 Red”, lead on to you completing a wraparound Judge Dredd cover for Prog 446. The story in the issue, “The Squadron That Time Forgot” about Nazi Messerschmitt Bf-109s appearing in the skies of Mega City One, was written by John Wagner and Alan Grant and was illustrated by former Warlord artist and, by then, long time Dredd artist Ron Smith. That story could have been written for you in mind.

Could this be a case of them wanting you to illustrate a story, and writing one for your strength in aviation art, but you not having the time with your other work to fit it into your schedule?

Ian: You could well be right but, honestly, because those times were so busy on this, that and the next, I am the last person to supply a satisfactory answer to this question – sorry. All I can say is that, without a doubt, I was enjoying myself!

Tornado 10 and 16 Ian Kennedy covers
DTT: You are well-known these days for your cover artwork for Commando which you have been painting covers for since 1971. Yet in the 1970s and 1980s you also did covers for weekly comics such as Battle, Warlord, Bunty and Judy. These covers, like the run of six covers that you did for 2000AD’s sibling title Tornado, were coloured by editorial at the production stage rather than by you.

Did you have do anything differently for a cover like these, were you are illustrating in black and white for others to colour, in comparison to a ‘normal’ page of black and white art that would not get coloured? Did you enjoy creating this type of single page images that tend to be more striking than a multi-panel comic strip page?

Ian: The artwork for such covers had to be kept clean and open, rather like the images found in a child’s colouring book. Compared with the work in comic strip pages, it was always more enjoyable working on the larger scale.

2000AD Starlord Painted Covers
DTT: Your painted covers appeared on the 2000AD Sci-Fi Special for 1984 featuring Judge Dredd on his Lawmaster and on issue 20 of 2000AD’s other sibling title Starlord where you had a very Earth Vs The Flying Saucers image of a saucer crashing through the American capitol’s Washington Monument. Indeed the higher quality paper and production values of Starlord allowed for painted strips within the comic as well for which you did two episodes of the team time travel story Time-Quake and two two-parter Ro-Busters stories including the 9/11 prescient tale of a space rocket crashing into a skyscraper.

In comparison to the black and white covers, how long does it take you to produce this type of painted cover?

Ian: It was so satisfying to see one’s efforts printed so well and just a little bit weird when the skyscraper episode became a tragic reality. The Starlord cover I have great pleasure in accepting responsibility for, however did I paint Judge Dredd on his Lawmaster? I cannot for the life of me remember painting this cover. (The image Ian had of this Dredd cover was too small to see his signature in the lower corner).

Regarding the time taken, a full colour cover would take, on average, three times longer (than a black and white cover).

Dan Dare Annual 1979 Ian Kennedy
DTT: The comic strip that you are probably best known for is Dan Dare in new Eagle, a strip that has never had a mainstream reprint, which you illustrated for some two and a half years in the early 1980s. Yet you first visited the character in the Dan Dare Annual for 1979 providing a colour painted strip set during the Lost Worlds adventures of Dan when he was being illustrated by Dave Gibbons in the weekly 2000AD. This has just be reprinted in colour by Rebellion in the sumptuous hardback Dan Dare: The 2000AD Years Volume 1.

While you never worked on the original Eagle comic you did provide spot illustrations for at least one of the 1950s Eagle annuals. What was it like to be asked to work on what is one of the best known British comics characters both for the 2000AD version and the rebooted new Eagle version?

Ian: To put things in context, I was recovering from a long spell away from the drawing board, so to be offered Dan Jr was viewed at that time as just a way back into harness.

In retrospect I consider it to be a bit of an honour taking on the job and can now say that it has been a very rewarding experience including, I must add, working with amongst others my good friends Barry Tomlinson and Dave Hunt (IPC editors at the time).

You mention the Dan Dare adventure in the 1979 annual – I hope that it is not looked on as a conceit when I consider this to be one of my best ever! (Don’t tell everyone, I have the originals safely stored away!)

DTT: Ian Kennedy, thank you for taking the time to speak to us.

Ian: In conclusion Jeremy, I must yet again place on record that anything I have achieved over the years would not have happened but for my extremely short spell in the Art Department of a certain Dundee based publisher circa 1950-1954. From that wonderfully talented bunch of Ladies and Gents I must mention David Ogilvie, who was instrumental in my getting the job there, and of course the huge influence a certain George Ramsbottom (Rammer) had on, I suspect, a rather cheeky apprentice!

There are more details of all Ian Kennedy’s work for 2000AD, Starlord and Tornado on the Barney Database.

There are many more examples of Ian Kennedy’s art on the unofficial Ian Kennedy Art Tumblr.

Ian Kennedy was interviewed in the Telegraph’s My Space series and for the 50th anniversary of Commando comic in DC Thomson’s Dundee Courier.

2000AD Prog 1961 Ian Kennedy cover
2000AD Prog 1961 is available in newsagents from Wednesday 16 December 2015. As well as a newsstand cover by Ian Kennedy and a Diamond Previews UK comic store exclusive cover by Simon Bisley, the issue features:

Judge Dredd: Melt by Rob Williams and Henry Flint
Strontium Dog: Repo Men by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra
The Order: In the Court of the WyrmQueene by Kek-W and John M Burns;
Absalom: Family Snapshots by Gordon Rennie and Tiernen Trevallion
ABC Warriors: Return to Ro-Busters by Pat Mills and Clint Langley
Kingdom: Beast of Eden by Dan Abnett and Richard Elson
Future Shock: The Mighty Mykflex by Martin Feekins and Jesus Redondo
Sinister Dexter: Blank Ammo by Dan Abnett and Simon Davis

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Jeremy Briggs

News, reviews, interviews and features for print and on-line: Spaceship Away (since October 2005), Bear Alley (since February 2007), downthetubes (since June 2007), and Eagle Times (since October 2008). Plus Titan’s Dan Dare and Johnny Red reprints, Ilex’s War Comics: A Graphic History and 500 Essential Graphic Novels, and Print Media’s The Iron Moon and Strip magazine.

5 thoughts on “Artist Ian Kennedy Talks About His Return To 2000AD

  1. To put it even more simply, Ian Kennedy is not only the most experienced but incomparably and unquestionably the finest comic strip artist who ever put pen and brush to paper or board – not only in England but anywhere on this planet. He also happens to be an exceptionally modest gentleman who Her Majesty QE2 has inexplicably failed to honour her realm by honouring him with at the very least a knighthood for his unparalleled services over six decades to a moribund art form.

    1. I think several people have tried to work out how to nominate great comic artists for honours without success (although some comic creators have been honoured at no direction from their fans, such as Grant Morrison in 2012 who has an MBE – Member of the Most Excellent British Empire). “Moribund” seems a strange descriptor for the comics art form given that Mr Kennedy’s work in the form, to name just one, confirms it is alive and well.

  2. With all due deference, John, I fear I must disagree. My abiding interest in and love for comics dates back to what Mr Kennedy terms The Golden Times, when CAD and digital art or ‘art’ in all its variations {to my mind, depressing sameness} were undreamed of except in nightmares. The quality of the paper on which these glossy images are printed has certainly improved, but the artistry in my humble opinion has not; hence my use of the opprobrious epithet. My very dear friend and boyhood hero Ian alone, I feel, harks back to those halcyon days when comics more numerous than my bob a week pocket money could afford, by rejecting technology {although he has adopted technical pens!} and steadfastly nailing his acrylic colours and shimmering inks to the topgallant mast from which his standard has been flying for as long as British comics have set the standard for other nations to emulate – if they could. Of all the many thousands of images in my collection I have found none – not even those of Tacconi, Frazetta, Wood, Uncle Tom Cobley and all – that can hold a candle to those in the extensive oeuvre of Charles Ian Kennedy of Dundee.

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