Creating Comics: An Interview with Phil Gascoine

Phil Gascoine at the London Comics Festival in 2005. Photo: John Freeman
Phil Gascoine at the London Comics Festival in 2005. Photo: John Freeman

First Published on downthetubes in August 2007

This interview with Phil, who died in August 2007 after a short illness, was first published in the the British comics fanzine Eagle Flies Again in early 2006.

We’ve also published a number of tributes to Phil by creators, editors and fans, and a checklist of just some of the comics and strips he worked on.

Artist Phil Gascoine’s comics career spanned 45 years. He left school aged 15 and worked in an art studio until leaving to complete two years National Service.

As a freelancer, Phil drew for several girls’ comics for over 10 years, including such titles as DC Thomson’s Bunty and School Friend, and IPC’s much-admired Jinty. Among many other boys adventures strips, he’s well known for his work on Battle Action!, on “The Sarge“.

In addition to work for Marvel UK, Phil also drew strips for the US market, including The Unknown Soldier, The Punisher and various titles for DC Vertigo such as Shade The Changing Man.

John Freeman caught up with this talented artist in 2006 to talk to him about his career…

John Freeman: You started drawing almost as soon as you left school at 15 – was illustration something you decided to do at an early age?

Phil Gascoine: Yes it was something I always wanted to do.

John: Did you want to be a comics artist when you started your career or did it just happen”?

Phil: It was something just happened.

John: Which were your favourite comics as you grew up?

Phil: The earliest comic I remember reading was The Champion, and the WizardThe Champion was my favourite at that time. I then moved on to the Eagle, and of course all the American comics.

John: Were there any particular artists or strips that you especially enjoyed in Eagle?

Phil: There was one artist beside Frank Hampson, his name was Richard Jennings, [who drew “Storm Nelson”]. He also used to draw an advert for Walls ice cream, [“Tommy Walls”]. I found that his artwork had so much energy, and movement, that I really admired it.

John: Which American comics were available?

Phil: I’m not sure, they were the usual ones, but then they started banning the “horror comics”. Political correctness had arrived!

Bill and Ben Book art by Phil Gascoine
Art for a Watch with Mother: Bill and Ben book published in 1961, by Phil Gascoine

John: What was it like working in an art studio? What were the best and worst aspects of that?

Phil: I loved working in an art studio, because I felt I was amongst artists. The worst part was making the tea, and sweeping up, changing the water pots delivering artwork etc.

John: Which art studio did you work in?

Phil: I worked in various studios in London. When I was delivering artwork, I would call into any art studio (there were lots of them in the Fleet Street area) that I happened to be passing, and ask if they had any vacancies. I changed my job quite a lot this way, and also picked up some freelance work, and made a lot of contacts.

John: After National Service it appears you decided not to return to an art studio but went freelance. Why was that?

Phil: I didn’t go freelance immediately, but I was spending a lot of time doing nothing in the art studio. I found an agent that got a series of pocket sized comics [for Pearsons] based on the TV medical drama, Emergency Ward Ten. This was my first comic book work. I still see one of the actors that was in that appearing on Emmerdale [Richard Thorp]. I didn’t have a TV at that time , so I worked from a few publicity shots of the actors.

John: How did you get your first work for DC Thomson?

Phil: I sent some samples to them, and I wrapped the samples in a piece of card that had a drawing of a young girl in an ice skating rink on it, which I had drawn. Well, they liked that better than the samples, and they were looking for artists who were able to draw young girls, at that time!

John: You worked on girls comics for both DC Thomson and IPC – was the style of scripts different between the two companies?

Phil: Yes, very different. IPC were much freer in their outlook. D C Thomson had more panels on a page, but I think that their scripts were a bit better.

John: Do you have any favourites of the girls’ comics strips you drew for either company? You worked on them for ten years…

A cover for Jinty drawn by Phil (Cover kindly provided by Jenni Scott)
A cover for Jinty drawn by Phil (Cover kindly provided by Jenni Scott)

Phil: I did so many that I can’t remember a particular one!

John: Which strips did you draw for Look-In?

Phil: I worked on Knight Rider [see note below] and Robin of Sherwood. I think there were others but I can’t remember.

John: This seems to be a very under-rated comic by fans, which is odd when you consider the talent involved. Why do you think that is?

Phil: It started off well but then they got a bit politically correct and decided that there was going to be no violence – no guns, no car crashes, no fights etc. As you can imagine, this killed it! It also made it very difficult to put any action into the drawings.

"The Sarge" by Phil Gascoine, drawn for the Eagle Flies Again publication of this interview
“The Sarge” by Phil Gascoine, drawn for the Eagle Flies Again publication of this interview

John: You then worked for IPC’s boys comics, including Battle Action, where you drew “The Sarge” for a few years. Which other titles and strips did you work on?

Phil: I drew a strip called “Sailor Small“, about a young lad who just wanted to join the Navy, which needed a lot of references – I spent a lot of time in the National War Museum. I also worked on “The Wilde Bunch“, for Battle Action, and “The News Team“.

I was also working on a strip in either Jinty or Bunty at the same time but can’t remember which one, but I do know that I was producing about six pages a week.

John: Did you have to do a lot of research for your work on “The Sarge” or was it supplied? I understand DC Thomson sometimes supply reference for Commando.

Phil: DC Thomson never supplied reference when I worked on Commando. it was all down to research that I did myself. I have quite a library of military books.

John: Did your years in national service provide useful reference for drawing “The Sarge”?

Phil: Yes it was great training, because I knew how the uniforms fitted, and they weren’t much different to the wartime ones, that were featured in “The Sarge”.

John: Do you have any particular memories of working on the boys comics and anecdotes you can share?

Phil: Yes – the kids that read the comic were always making sure that the uniforms and weapons were accurate. They would write letters saying things like, “that Enfield 303 rifle was not produced until 1949, and this story is set in 1946…”

One classic letter I got told me that an anti-tank weapon that I had drawn was back to front so that it was firing backwards! The only reference I could find didn’t make it clear which was the front. I did it wrong.

Genetix - a series Phil Gascoine worked on published by Marvel UK by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Genetix – a series Phil Gascoine worked on published by Marvel UK by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

John: You also for Marvel UK, on titles such as Knights of Pendragon and Genetix – how did that come about?

Phil: Marvel UK were producing a lot of titles at that time, and I got roped in. I wish it could have gone on longer.

John: You’ve also drawn a number of strips for both Marvel Comics and DC – The Unknown Soldier, Punisher and various titles for DC Vertigo such as Shade The Changing Man for example. Was your US work the result of working for Marvel UK, or had you already begun drawing for the US?

Phil: I think that the US work came first, I might be wrong. I was, and still am, just a jobbing artist and did everything that was offered to me. That’s why I have worked on such a variety of characters.

John: How do you find working long distance?

Phil: I’ve always worked like that and rarely met any editors, although when I started working for Marvel UK I had much more contact, because I could get into London quite easily.

John: What do you find are the major differences between drawing for the US and the UK?

Phil: I’m not sure, I think it’s just the distance. I like America and would like to do more with them.

John: At the moment, you’re still working on Wendy, a girl’s horse story published in Europe. Isn’t it a bit strange that this is being commissioned by a British publisher, but not published here?

Phil: I think this is because the best artists are available here, but the young people in Britain just don’t read so much as their continental counterparts. I would like to see it published here, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.

A page from DC Thomson's Wendy comic, drawn by Phil Gascoine, and below, two panels from the last Wendy story Phil drew . Wendy images © Wendy Promotions.
A page from DC Thomson’s Wendy comic, drawn by Phil Gascoine, and below, two panels from the last Wendy story Phil drew. Wendy images © Wendy Promotions
Wendy - Pencils by Phil Gascoine (2007)
Wendy – Pencils by Phil Gascoine (2007)

John: And you’ve also drawn the occasional strips for Loaded magazine — how did that come about?

Phil: It was a full colour strip based on “Get Carter”. Artist Andy Lanning got the commission and needed someone to do the pencils, and the colouring on a double page spread. I had helped him to get some work on Look-In many years before so he thought of me. After a couple of episodes, he was unable to do the inking so I took it all over.

Wendy - Pencils by Phil Gascoine (2007)
Wendy – Pencils by Phil Gascoine (2007)

I was really enjoying it but the plug was pulled when Michael Caine’s agent decided that it breached his copyright. It just stopped abruptly. But fortunately Loaded liked my work and still use me to this day.

John: Do you think originated British comics could ever make a return?

Phil: I would hope so – but I don’t think it will happen.

John: If you had the chance, what would you really like to work on as a comics artist?

Phil: I would like to do a graphic novel in the French style, probably with a western theme.

John: If you had one piece of advice to give a prospective artist anxious to break into the comics business, what would it be?

Phil: Be prepared to draw any character that you are offered, and even if it doesn’t seem very well paid, do the best that you are able, because you never know where it will lead. Unless you’re a genius and can stick out for what you want – but there aren’t many of them about!

John: Phil, thanks very much for your time.

* Barrie Mitchell was working on Look-In‘s Knight Rider in 1986 when he developed a hip problem and couldn’t work. Phil stepped up to the plate and drew the strip for six months before Barrie returned. “He was up for anything and always busy,” recalls Barrie. “He was a good friend.”

• Phil Gascoine Comics Checklist

Tributes to Phil Gascoine

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this tribute to Phil, but especially Barrie Mitchell, Bill Graham and David Lloyd

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