Neil “Blackbird” Sims, a key artist in the creation of the look of The77 anthology and creator of “Philthy Luka” for the title, has been a professional artist for the past 25 years, working on many projects in many different mediums. With skill sets spanning both 2D and 3D, he’s very busy creating both comic strips for a variety of small press titles, with plans for many more…
Past projects have included a 10-year stint for the Laurel and Hardy Society, supplying sculptured character busts and figures for collectors. He also created sculptures of some of the characters from Lord of the Rings when the first movie the fellowship of the rings was in post-production, which were used to create high quality vinyl model kits.
downthetubes readers will know you now for your work on The77 – covers and strips – but how did you start out in working in comics?
Neil Blackbird Sims: Well it’s a long story, so I’ll go the long way! I was born into a very military family and serving one’s country was paramount within my early belief system. I became ill when I was eight years old and fell into a diabetic coma. When I survived, I rewarded with Rice Krispies and my Beano. Before that, I had been a very physically able young lad but after it, later on, I was told I couldn’t go in the Army. So I focussed on drawing comics to help myself get a better idea of purpose within myself.
My career shifted early. I became self employed very early, at 21, but decided to concentrate on sculpture which is ironic, as my main ambition and focus is to be recognised as a comic book contributor no matter what!
Was it hard to get that first “break”, and what would you suggest to new creators trying to get there work out there?
Neil: I haven’t had a break yet, I’m still a struggling artist and will be to my dying day, young artists have to understand their market I’d say, then be prepared to live at least part of their life homeless! (Laughs)
Do you spend a lot of time designing a character before starting on a strip? Or do they evolve as the story unfolds?
Neil: I conceptualise the character roughly with the writer then change it about a bit without their say so and try and sneak it in amongst many huffy arguments.
How did you get involved in The77 and what’s been the best thing about the project for you?
I’m a member of the 1977-2000ad Page and editor Ben Cullis asked for artists. The best thing for me was getting the cover of Issue Two. I’m doing the cover of Issue Five now and it’s gonna rock!!!
How did you arrive at the final look of The77’s “Philthy Luka” and what inspired it?
Neil: Philthy? Ah, he was my baby. Alan Holloway had him described as a weird Napoleon saddo, but I added a punk edge with very subtle suggestion… (laughs). Philthy’s a punk grandpa, kept alive by the spirit of 1977, but he got dropped from the line up! Ha ha – what a shame! Oh, the irony!
Are you currently working on anything else – and if so, where can people see it?
Neil: Yes, I’m always working! You can find me on Facebook. I’d say at this moment, I’m co-writing a story with my daughter called BARK. I’d like to do some sculpts on that, we’re going to make a graphic novel, very fresh, dark and current.
Along with drawing comics, you’ve carved a deserved reputation for your model making/ sculpting. How did that come about?
Neil: Making things in mud when I was a kid just made sense to me, I just took it further, like playing an instrument or writing calculus!
What’s been you most favourite sculpt and which one have you yet to get a commission for that you’d love to do?
Neil: I made a sculpt when my daughter was born, man! That was 18 years ago, it’s my favourite, young and naive but it has power, when I became a father was the single most important event of my life.
I want to sculpt a million things, I have ideas shifting about all the time.
How do you both plan your days as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Neil: I work in a bit of chaos as my time is split amongst family living, I tend to work very late into the early hours when everyone is unconscious lol
What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
Neil: The best thing about being a comics creator is the marks you leave. I’d be drawing my pictures and sculpting my clay anyway, but it’s a privilege to have more than me see it. Comics are communication, I love that.
And the worst?
Neil: Feeling you’re on a sinking ship, but we have to remain with her, till the end…
What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Neil: Mainly making meals or reading books or playing with the kids. My youngest boy was obsessed with Halloween so that took up a good chunk of time!
Apart from The77, what’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Neil: My favourite comic will always be the Beano. We should all read the Beano, it might cheer the tight arses up! (Laughs)
What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Neil: Other people wishing to work in the industry should give their head a shake and have a word with themselves like me and many of my friends should have!
What do you hope readers will most like about The77 – and what do you most like about the project?
Neil: I hope readers of The77 can see its potential. There’s excellent material being produced, it’s like some horrible deformed mutant foetus that you check in on every two month, suddenly it’s 16 and wrecking your house!
Neil: The77 is growing and I hope people nurse it to adulthood. I’m one of the granpappies – so let’s hope so!
Neil, thank you very much for your time and the very best of luck with all your projects!
• Check out more of Neil’s work in The77 – and on Facebook
The77 Issue Three features a stunning cover by Ade Hughes featuring Anat from ‘V’ | Available for priced £6.95 for 64 pages in oversized format.All editions and back issues, posters and other merchandise available from Get My Comics here
Contributors include Dave Bedford, Conan, Conor Boyle, Steve Bull, Joe and Jeremy Dunn, Phil Elliott, Sinclair Elliott, Anna Evert, Filippo, Bambos Georgiou, Morgan Gleave, Dave Heeley, Ade Hughes, Kek-W, Hal Laren, Mac, Leonardo Manco, Sarah Millman, Michael Powell, Jon Roydon, Andrew Sawyers, Neil Sims, Lew Stringer, David Thomas, Dan Whitehead, Brendon Wright
Variant 1 cover by Paul Williams; Variant 2 cover by Neil Sims
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.