Born in 1951, British artist and Eisner Award-winning comic colourist Angus McKie should need no introduction to many downthetubes readers, acclaimed as he is for his stunning SF book covers and illustrations, and work for 2000AD, Heavy Metal, DC Comics and Marvel.
Proving everyone has to start somewhere, here are two of the covers he created for the long-running comic zine Fantasy Trader in the early 1970s, initially edited by Mike Cruden, both issues digitally archived in full on the The Fanscene Project, an archive of classic British comic fanzines, curated by artist David Hathaway-Price.
A long-running adzine lasting from 1973 through to 1983, the title also sported covers by Tim Bennion, Alan Davis, Tony Johnson, Terry Moore, Paul Neary, Phil Rushton and others.
“I was first introduced to FT as free issues, distributed with subscription copies of Martin Lock’s BEM, and Gez Kelly’s Graphic Sense,” says David. Early issues were folded in half from A5, stapled, “little treasure mines of lists of comics for sale, by both dealers and people just selling off their collections.
“It was oft-times poorly printed, but as the advertisers provided their own originals, the editors were at their mercy when it came to how legible the resulting pages would be.”
You can view the archive assembled so far on The Fanscene Project. Many Fantasy Trader cover artists remain unidentified, and I’m sure David would welcome help addressing that lack.
Angus McKie’s work has appeared on the covers of numerous science fiction paperback novels since the mid 1970s and 1980s, as well as in Stewart Cowley’s Terran Trade Authority series of illustrated books, the first the focus of a long-running crowdfunding project unfortunately sideswiped in part by the pandemic.
His illustrations often present highly detailed spacecraft against vividly coloured backgrounds and high-tech constructions as demonstrated by his pioneering work on The Dome: Ground Zero for DC Comics imprint Helix, published in 1998.
Angus also wrote and illustrated “So Beautiful and So Dangerous”, a story for Heavy Metal magazine, which later became a segment in the film, Heavy Metal. (The strip was first published in French in Metal Hurlant, then translated and published in Heavy Metal).
Angus was also among the contributors to Bryan Talbot’s Teknophage project.
Like Peter Elson, Tony Roberts, Chris Foss and some other artists of the period, McKie has influenced an entire generation of science fiction illustrators and concept artists.
In the early 1990s, he wrote and drew the first two 52-page parts of a SF tale, The Blue Lily, based on a short story by Dave Weir, the first issue published by Dark Horse in April 1993. Sadly, this story of a robot private eye, Rusty Spade, who has a line in rumination on the human and robot condition, remains unfinished, although back in 2011 the artist indicated he was still working on it, in his spare time.
In The Blue Lily, what starts out as a simple missing-persons case soon leads Rusty down a dizzying path of intrigue, high finance, and corporate crime, all set against a futuristic backdrop in which entire star systems are bought and sold on Wall Street.
“The whole thing was drawn in very detailed rough form but I never
completed all the artwork,” Angus told fans.”It will take me a while to get it completely drawn and digitised – there’s a fair bit of redrawing to do and I’ve been rewriting here and there where I’ve expanded the back story (I did originally intend there to be a sequel to the original four episode story) – but I’m well into it now and will eventually finish it all this time.
“Unfortunately, I can only do it in my spare time and it will take months – maybe even a year, although I am intending to start web publishing pages weekly when I’m about two- thirds through.”
Here’s still hoping!
UPDATE: Author Dave Weir writes: “Rusty Spade started at Heavy Metal as Sebastian Holmes in a one-off called Pillow Talk. Much preferred my original name for the character.”
Thanks to Ammar Abboud for information about the first publication of “So Beautiful and So Dangerous” in Metal Hurlant