Interview first published: 23rd February 2007, links updated July 2019
Titan Books recently released their edition of the collected Albion, Wildstorm’s welcome revival of many British comics heroes owned by IPC. The trade offers the complete story – with some sprucing up of some of the art in places and a wonderful collection of original stories featuring some of the characters in the new adventure, culled from various annuals and other sources.
In the third part of an extended feature marking the release of the Albion collection from Titan Books (hot on the heels of Wildstorm’s edition last December), John Freeman talks to Albion artist Shane Oakley…
downthetubes: Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your past work, prior to Albion?
Shane Oakley: I started doing fanzines/small press stuff in the early 1980’s, but well before that, at junior school, I was drawing comic strips, copying them with carbon paper and selling them to the teachers for 2p (Back when I were a lad, that would buy you a BIG fistful of chews). They had full coloured pencil covers and at least six pages of comics and puzzles – bargain!
I soon decided that carbon paper wasn’t the most efficient method of mass production, so getting together with a kindred soul at college, we had our first fanzine photocopied in the campus library and pre-sold over 50 copies, which is pretty feeble but at the time we felt like rockstars.”
[Actually Shane, fanzine editors still count themselves lucky to sell 50 copies! – Ed]
We only managed a second issue and after that I lost touch with my co-creator mate Chris, and got into playing in a band instead, and trying to make low budget horror movies.
A year or so later, I hadn’t set the charts on fire or got into the ‘Fangoria Horror hall of fame’, so I drifted back into the comics, just for something to do.
Through a poster I saw, I met up with a bunch of misfit virgins, who had a passion for all thing comics, and gathered once a week at a community centre, to chinwag and to put together fanzines. Over two or three years, we did a load of small press comics; one-off ‘mini-novels’, artist spotlight specials, and at least 10 issues of Andy Yoxall’s Hardware and Hardware Presents, which had early works by Mark Buckingham, D’israeli, Mike Mathews and the dearly missed, unsung talent, Art Wetherell. We did the marts, and sold other peoples stuff, too. met a lot of folk, made some good friends (and a couple of enemies).
It’s one of my favourite times, I have many good memories, and I’m always trying to channel some of that spirit in my work.
Somewhere along the way I joined the SSI (nothing more sinister than ‘The Society of Strip Illustrators’, now the the Comic Creators Guild) which helped encourage me to have a go at doing-funny-drawings-in-little-boxes for a living. I was rubbing shoulders and quaffing beer with the likes of David Lloyd, Neil Gaiman and Bryan Talbot, who all offered a lot of useful advice and encouraging words. Through the SSI I heard about the AARGH! benefit book and I ended up doing a four-pager with Jamie Delano.
The strip, ‘Growing out of it’, led to Neil putting me forward for Mister X (an ongoing retro-futurist detective series from the now defunct Vortex Comics). I got the job, did six issues, messed up, and took an early retirement and since then I’ve bounced back and forth, retiring at least every two years. I’m always trying to do something more ‘9-to-5 normal’, always getting bored, and always sitting back down at me drawing board and wishing I’d never left it.
downthetubes: Have you always been a British comics fan?
Shane: I was reading/collecting British comics from about age three or four, a looooooooooong time before I was into Marvel and DC. Titles like Pippin, Twinkle and Playhour, and a lot of Watch With Mother tie-ins [a BBC children’s programme stream which included Bill and Ben, The Woodentops and Andy Pandy] – gorgeously illustrated work, with a charm and style you don’t see anymore.
That led to titles like Topper, The Beano, Sparky etc. On the rare occasion I visit a comic fair, that’s the kinda stuff I’m sniffing after.
downthetubes: Who are your favourite British characters and why?
Shane: Most of the characters that have stayed with me, resonating wildly in my memory banks are more or less the cast of Albion, most especially The Spider, Faceache – erm, sorry, Fred Akeley – Grimly Feendish and House of Dollman. But they’re part of a huge list – you can add Brassneck, I-Spy, Babyface Finlayson, Red Star Robinson, almost anything by Leo Baxendale, Solano Lopez, Eric Bradbury and Ken Reid.
I find this huge back catalogue of characters and the artists who drew them far more evocative/potent than US superhero books. There’s a dreamy quality to them, something odd and otherworldy. Yeah, at their worst they could be lame and corny, but they could also be wildly imaginative and beautifully strange and it’s that weird magnetic force that keeps pulling me in.
Also, I suppose it’s because it zooms me right back to when I was a snotty-nosed nipper, reading em on the back seat of my grandad’s car, on the way to Blackpool. and what school kid wouldn’t want his own radio-controlled army or a pirate ghost as a pal? (I still do, for that matter!)
downthetubes: (question from Lew Stringer) How familiar were you with those old Odhams and IPC characters? I’m presuming you’re too young to remember them at the time, so how did you discover Bad Penny, The Legend Testers, Grimly Feendish etc?
Shane: I remember some. I was an avid collector at a very early age, and I had parents/grandparents that indulged my passion.
Back then, there was always plenty of cheap old comics on market stalls and second hand bookstores. I first got my hands on a load of early Odhams and Fleetway stuff at a school jumble sale — we’re talking a rolled-up bunch of comics (at least 5-7 per, including summer/winter specials) tied up with string for a penny.
My gran was always spoiling me and paid for enough to fill two carrier bags. I spent the whole weekend with my eyes on stalks – Valiant, Lion, TV21, The Hornet, Wizard, Smash!, Pow!, Wham!…
downthetubes: (question from Lew Stringer) I seem to recall Alan Moore talking about the basics of what became Albion 20 years ago in a pub, so I was pleased to see it finally evolve into a comic. However I understand you brought a lot of ideas to the concept, too? What was your initial input – apart from your striking artwork?
Shane: Mostly a persistent, manic enthusiasm to crowbar as many characters (or at least a reference) into the mix as possible. Alan, Leah and John may see it more like a terrorist campaign, a constant bombardment of letter boxes/ phones/ computers with old comics, p/copies of old comics, requests, suggestions and crazed demands. But it got Jason Hyde in there, and Adam Eterno (ssshhh!) and I threw in a coupla new dolls for Penny.
I was also mad enough to suggest the Janus Stark comic-within-a-comic, which was a pain to draw, but a rewarding pain. and Cursitor Doom as ‘ringleader’ was something I put in a pipe-dream pitch I’d written myself (when I was convinced I could buy the rights up to the Fleetway/IPC characters) which I sent to Alan, so maybe that was the one good idea that got used.
downthetubes: How did you approach so many famous characters for a new audience?
I was very nervous about drawing Albion at first, because I knew we’d be playing with precious toys, y’know – powerful iconic characters which were sacred to many (including myself), but I decided to stick with the motto, ‘If it ain’t broke…’. Obviously, I was gonna upset some folk with the way I actually draw (other than the ‘flashback’ scenes I did in an imitation old style), but I tried my damnedest to capture the humour and general anarchic energy that English comics used to have. and if you look at it, other than the characters getting older and battered, they’re still the same classic archetypes.
downthetubes: Of the major characters, were there any you particularly enjoyed bringing back to comics life?
Shane: Fred, Captain Hurricane and Feendish, hands down, gave me the most pleasure to draw, and later on, I grew especially fond of the grizzled features of Charlie Peace. Drawing pretty isn’t much fun.
downthetubes: My apologies for asking this, but it’s something several have wondered: what caused the delays on the Albion schedule?
Shane: Bad planning and bad luck. No sooner had I sat down to draw the first issue than I got a call to tell me to stop, until the DC legal department had sorted out “copyright issues”. I didn’t wanna starve, so I took on some other work.
Then I got the green light again, but I was still busy. Albion was scheduled – but I was drawing something else. I was behind before I even began. add to that ongoing health problems, increasingly difficult working relations, bad morale, obsessive re-drawing, and the fact I’m just not the quickest artist around, well, you’ve got a late book. Partly my fault, partly not.
If Wildstorm had waited until they had two or three issues complete, before scheduling, it would’ve been a different story. but the ironic thing is, #3 was the first late issue, yet it sold out of its complete print run — something that [Comics International editor] Dez Skinn didn’t report.
downthetubes: Were there any characters you slipped into the background that you’d have liked to have seen in the main storyline, but copyright issues prevented this?
Shane: Not really, although we did have a great scene with Werewilf (the schoolkid who turns into a wolfman when he stares into a mirror) which got cut, and I would’ve loved to have drawn a wrestling match between Galaxus and Mytek the Mighty. But even if we could’ve, we didn’t have the room – it was tight!
downthetubes: If there was one character you could draw in a solo series from the IPC library, who would it be and why?
Shane: I’d really love to do a House of Dolmann comic, not with Penny, but her father, set back in the early 1960’s with the original dolls/puppets. No post-modernist posing, no swearing or ‘adult themes’, just a rip-snortin absurdist romp.
downthetubes: You added a wealth of detail and wonderful background ‘visual gags’ to Albion. How much was your input and how much was in the script?
Shane: Some of it was in the script, but a lot came out of talking over the phones or e-mails. The rest I just put in anyway, to keep my ‘joy-level’ topped up. John and Leah aren’t as black-belt nerdy about English comics, so I wanted to put my mis-spent youth to some use… I’m a also a sucker for comics/movies that are chockful of ‘in-jokes’ and references, and Albion was a golden opportunity for nods and winks-a-go-go!
downthetubes: Are you pleased with the way Albion turned out and the critical praise it received?
Shane: Overall, I’m pretty chuffed and proud of what we did. Albion had its problems, and for John, Leah and myself it was a huge task to take on, and we all suffered from a bit of ‘stage-fright’. But we did the best we could do, and I know it’s cliche, but Albion was a real labour of love, and a lot of people picked up on that, and loved it right back.It wasn’t another comic churned outta the sausage machine, it wasn’t just fights and spandex, or bad asses in leather blowing things to shit. And for most who hated Albion, that’s probably the reason why.
Neither was it Watchmen or Marvelman or some massive multi-layered, complex, dark and de-constructivist Alan Moore superhero epic. Nobody said it would be and for critics to base a review solely based on that comparison is totally missing the point.
Although partly a loving tribute to a bygone age and a criminally-ignored heritage, Albion has a unique agenda and character, and stands on its own.
downthetubes: What are you working on next?
Shane: At this very moment I’m working on an updated version of The House of Usher for the Edgar Allan Poe anthology book, Nevermore. It’s 16 black and white pages, with a script adaption by Dan Whitehead, and I’m loving it!
Then I’m hoping to start on a 6-issue horror series, written by the ever-so-brilliant Robert Tinnel.
Having said that, I am due another ‘retirement’…
downthetubes: Thanks Shane!
• Shane Oakley’s web site: shaneoakley.blogspot.com
Contrary to rumour, Shane was born and bred in Stoke-on-Trent, not America, or anywhere near America (that’s the other Shane Oakley – rich, handsome, famous, his art adored by millions).
Shane Oakley contributed to the alternative comics review Deadline from 1989, where he created “Fatal Charm” with D’Israeli, along with other characters. He’s contributed to several anthologies, such as Negative Burn and The Big Book of Urban Legends.
He worked as a penciller on Mister X for Vortex Comics, and his other creations include Stratosfear, Limbo and Urbane.
By Alan Moore, Leah Moore, John Reppion & Shane Oakley
For decades, children all across the British Isles thrilled to the exploits of their favourite heroes such as The Spider and The Steel Claw, stars of cherished comic-books such as Lion and Valiant. But the comics, and their heroes, disappeared…
Now Danny, a young student, and Penny, who claims to be the daughter of a forgotten hero, is investigating the disappearances. Meanwhile, in an isolated castle, a group of jailers watch over ‘criminals’ with peculiar pasts and bizarre names and abilities.
Is it all real? Are Danny and Penny delusional? Albion has the answers, in this epic tale that reintroduces these classic characters of yesteryear.
• John Freeman’s 2005 interview with Andrew Sumner about the Albion project first published on Comic World News
2007 Creator Interviews
Albion Guides and Annotations
• Comics Should be Good offers a quick Albion primer called “An Unnecessary Guide to Albion” and the AFB Blog has a brief but excellent guide to the major characters in the story here – but if it’s a full checklist, notes, links and more you’re after then your best port of call in the brilliant “In the Fifty Pee” web site, now archived on Wayback Machine, which includes issue by issue Albion Annotations by Pádraig Ó Méalóid, Damian Gordon and the Bash Street Contributors: Issue One | Issue Two | Issue Three | Issue Four | Issue Five | Issue Six | Annotations for the Collection
• International Hero
A terrific guide to British comic characters