Exclusive: Creating Comics – Chris Weston talks “Time Breakers” and “Paranoid Gardens”

downthetubes catches up with artist Chris Weston, to talk about the collected edition of Time Breakers, written by Rachel Pollack, currently seeking funding on Zoop, and his work on the upcoming Paranoid Gardens from Dark Horse, working with writing team Gerard Way and Shaun Simon…

Chris Weston
Chris Weston

Chris Weston has been a professional comic strip artist since 1988. After studying for a year with Don Lawrence (artist of Storm and the original artists on “The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire”, for Look and Learn), Chris secured his first paid job for 2000AD, comic drawing Judge Dredd, a character he regularly returned to right up to the present day.

Chris worked on several series for 2000AD, his favourite being the gruesome Indigo Prime: Killing Time, co-created with John Smith. Canon Fodder, written by Mark Millar, followed this. Chris worked again with Millar on an issue of Swamp Thing, his first work for an American comic book publisher. Thus began a long sequence of work for Vertigo and DC Comics, as Chris drew The Invisibles, Starman, Garth Ennis’ War Stories: Johann’s Tiger, Enemy Ace, JSA, Lucifer, The Authority and Time Breakers.

He went on to co-produce two critically acclaimed creator-owned series: The Filth and Ministry of Space. The former was a mind-bending paranoid thriller written by Grant Morrison; the latter a limited series written by Warren Ellis, which saw Britain winning the Space Race. Chris then drew his first series for Marvel: Fantastic Four: First Family followed by The Twelve, a twelve-issue limited series written by J. Michael Straczynski.

In 2008, Chris began to produce concept art and storyboards for films. Amongst a variety of movie productions, he worked on The Book of Eli and an unmade live action adaptation of Akira, both for director Albert Hughes. More recently, he worked as a costume designer on Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Chris now juggles his time between drawing Judge Dredd, film work and a growing line of silkscreen print commissions.

Time Breakers Collection - Cover Art by Chris Weston

In Time Breakers, Angela Attenborough is a young, bored housewife of the 1950s… but her life is about to change beyond her wildest dreams! She’s about to be recruited by a future version of herself to a secret society of time-travellers known as The Time Breakers. Comprised of members drawn from the past, present and future, The Time Breakers are dedicated to the creation of time paradoxes, which they believe are instrumental to the creation of life itself. Their efforts bring them into a deadly conflict with The Knowers, a rival time-travelling cult who zealousy resist all forms of meddling in historical events.

Paranoid Gardens #1 - Cover by Chris Weston

This summer, Gerard Way and Shaun Simon, the writing team behind Tales from The Umbrella Academy: You Look Like Death and The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: National Anthem, are back and bringing eerie vibes to a brand-new, surreal comic series, Paranoid Gardens. As we previously reported, this six-issue comic from Dark Horse Comics will be written by Way and Simon with art by Chris Weston (Judge DreddMinistry of Space), colours by Dave Stewart (Hellboy, Shaolin Cowboy: Cruel to Be Kin), and letters by Nate Piekos (Stranger Things: The Voyage, Black Hammer: Reborn).

Time Breakers #1 - cover by Chris Weston

Chris, thanks for chatting with us about the new Time Breakers collection, and Paranoid Gardens, too. For those unfamiliar, do you recall the “elevator pitch” for the story when it was first proposed to DC Comics?

Ha ha! Sadly, no, I don’t. It was so long ago now! 1997, I believe. What I can tell you is that I was hooked instantly by the story’s premise: the heroes of “Time Breakers” are a cell of anarchic time-travellers on a mission to disrupt the accepted flow of historical events and create as many time-paradoxes as possible. In previous time-travel tales, it was usually the villains who were hell-bent on changing the timeline, something that only spelt bad news for all mankind. The Terminator, Biff Tannon in the Back to The Future films and the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact are good examples of time-travelling villains who try to change historical events in their favour. Even relatively benign time-travelling characters can rue the Butterfly Effect where a trip to the past can have dire consequences on the present; author Ray Bradbury popularised this trope in his story “A Sound of Thunder”. By contrast, in Time Breakers, it is our heroes who are the ones making chaotic changes to the timeline, while the villains do their best to stop them and restore some kind of order. I loved that subversion.

Did the story change in the telling?

I don’t think so. I think Rachel knew the story she wanted to tell and it was all there in the scripts I received. I had no input in the story at all.

Time Breakers - Sample Art by Chris Weston

Rachel Pollack was a ground-breaking writer in so many respects, across many different fields. How did you come to be paired on this project?

The editor, Stuart Moore, put us together. Stuart was responsible for my US comics debut on Swamp Thing #153. I went on to work with him on The Invisibles, too. Stuart was put in charge of a new comic imprint at DC Comics called Helix. It was intended to replicate the success of another imprint, Vertigo, only Helix concentrated solely on science fiction-themed stories. I thought this was a great idea. I think Time Breakers was amongst the first wave of Helix books and all the scripts were either written or worked out prior to my recruitment as the artist.

What was the motivation behind getting Time Breakers back in print?

Vanity, really, I think! Eventually the rights to the book reverted back to Rachel and I, after being out of print for designated number of years. We were always disappointed that no trade collection containing the whole story was ever published. The time-travel element (with all its loops and call-backs) meant it worked better as a complete story rather than serialised fiction.

We tried to get other publishers to reprint it, but we could never nail down a contract that suited everyone, although we did manage to get an Italian language edition together, and that led to me being a guest at the incredible Lucca Comic Convention.

I wish this new crowdfunded English-language edition could have been something Rachel had seen during her lifetime. She gave me her blessing to proceed with the project and I’m making sure 50% of the profits will go to her surviving partner.

Time Breakers Collection - Cover Art by Chris Weston
Chris Weston’s cover art for the new Time Breakers collection

What have been the biggest challenges, getting the pages together for this new collection?

That was the easiest part. I have all but one of the pages of original art and I recreated the missing page quite easily. They weren’t needed anyway, as we had all the print files for the book. Ideally, I would have liked to put out a newly scanned Artist’s Edition-style book (in black and white), but I was persuaded that the colour version would sell better. We’ve compromised by having a gallery of newly scanned art in the back of the book.

For fans of the original series, have you created any new material for the collection, in addition to the cover?

I’ve created a limited-edition bookplate to go with some editions of the book. I will also be doing sketches and signatures for a limited number of buyers. I insisted on hardback, but beyond that I wanted this to be as fancy-free and economically enticing as possible. I was encouraged to sell my Time Breakers original art as part of the campaign, but that wouldn’t have made any sense, as I would have had to share the proceeds of the sales with Rachel’s partner fifty-fifty, and I’d rather I was the only one to benefit from my artistic labour.

What are your favourite elements of Time Breakers?

I think Time Breakers is a rare example from my first decade in the industry that doesn’t make me cringe with horror at the quality of my early artwork. It holds up quite well. It came just as I was introducing photo-reference into my work, and that helped make the story-telling quite consistent. It also helped me hit the deadlines. The art on Time Breakers is quite sedate by the standards of pumped-up 1990s comic books. Mark Waid said it reminded him of a Silver Age comic book, which I took as a compliment, as I was a big fan of Curt Swan’s more illustrative style at the time. Curt was definitely an influence on my work during that period.

Time Breakers - Sample Art by Chris Weston
Time Breakers - Sample Art
Time Breakers - Sample Art by Chris Weston

You have an incredible career as a comic creator, originally working with Don Lawrence, co-creator of “The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire”, before moving on to draw “Judge Dredd” for 2000AD, but were you always a comics fan? What persuaded you to a career as a comic artist?

Oh yeah. As I’ve related before, I had many years during my childhood when I grew up abroad without access to television. Comics and drawing were my main source of entertainment. I’ve got my own comics I drew as a child somewhere in the loft. I had these characters called “The Dustbin Army”, basically sentient trash-cans that loved to fix broken objects. They were a bit like a more militaristic “Wombles”.

Don Lawrence and Chris Weston, in Don's studio. Photo courtesy Chris Weston
Don Lawrence and Chris Weston, in Don’s studio. Photo courtesy Chris Weston

I never lost that desire to be a comic book illustrator, and I was fortunate enough to have Don Lawrence to help me along that road. That’s why I think my artwork is so detailed: I’d been so aware of the incredible luck I had (at the beginning of my career), that I tried to earn it retrospectively by pouring heart and soul into every page I’ve ever done. I think that’s called “imposter syndrome”, something I am heavily afflicted with!

Killing Time: An 2000AD - Indigo Prime Story by John Smith and Chris Weston

Across your career, which have been your favourite projects?

I think Indigo Prime: Killing Time is still a favourite, as it represents the moment that my own style began to formulate. My two big creator-owned projects, The Filth and Ministry of Space are stand-outs too. More recently, the issues of Judge Dredd I’ve done with Rob Williams have been good fun.

Coming Soon: Paranoid Gardens

Dark Horse have also announced you’re working with Gerard Way and Shaun Simon on the horror title, Paranoid Gardens. How did that come about?

I dunno! I just get the offer out of the blue, and it was very welcome. I suspect that Gerard is a big fan of 1990s Vertigo books, and I was part of that scene at the time. Paranoid Gardens could easily come out of one of DC’s imprints from that decade, albeit with some added modern concerns weaved in.

For that reason, I think it makes a great companion piece with Time Breakers, I think they have a similar sensibility: young female lead protagonist, an expanded cast of eccentric supporting characters and a mind-bending narrative arc. Paranoid Gardens is way more surreal and psychedelic, though.

If you had to pitch Paranoid Gardens to someone unfamiliar, how would you do that?

The elevator pitch I came up with was “Derek collides with Doctor Who in six psychotic episodes.” It’s set in a run-down care-home called “Paradise Gardens”, which is packed with all kinds of strange residents: ghosts, depressed super-heroes and aliens. It’s a very mysterious setting for a story, and you’re not exactly sure who is a resident and who is a carer. On the surface it seems to be a benign institution, but not everyone within its walls may be operating with the best of intentions. The mildewed corridors of the home are navigated by a young woman called Loo who cares for the residents; but there may also be more to her than meets the eye. I’m reluctant to say more than that!

It sounds like there’s a bit of a nod to the 1960s TV series The Prisoner in this horror thriller, would that be accurate?

I think there’s a large dollop of The Prisoner in the mix, in the way it’s set in a seemingly comfortable community but odd things are shifting beneath the surface. The very ground that The Garden is built on seems to be permeated with peculiar properties… which makes it all-too desirable to less decent entities. I deliberately wore my moth-eaten Prisoner t-shirt during my first Zoom call with Gerard to see if he’d recognise the image. It was the first thing he commented on, approvingly.

You’ve been working on this strip for several months… Were there – or are there – particular challenges involved in bringing the script to life?

The story contains lots of crowd scenes, something I find difficult to draw; scenes set in a typical common room you’d find in typical care-homes. So I had to draw lots of armchairs full of characters playing jigsaw puzzles, reading books, watching TV, drinking tea etc. It sounds sedate, but that kind of scene is way harder to draw than Judge Dredd blasting perps in Mega-City 1. It takes a lot more time to make it look authentic.

Has the story evolved as you have delivered the pages? Have Gerard and Shaun reacted to your art and pushed the story in new ways as a result?

I don’t think so. Much like with Rachel Pollock on Time Breakers, Gerard and Shaun knew exactly where it was headed and how to get there. All that was left for me to do was to wrangle the bizarre imagery they’d conjured up in the script into a coherent and consistent sequence of pictures. Gerard even provided a few designs of some of the characters, and they were great. I didn’t feel the need to improve on them at all; I just “Westonised’ them a bit (which is code for “adding lots of unnecessary detail”)!

Paranoid Gardens - Bolshevik Bother Poster by Chris Weston
Paranoid Gardens “is a celebration of good ol’ fashioned entertainment; not the neutered rubbish we get nowadays,” Chris teased on X recently

Looking to the future, what are you lined up for? Or would love to draw?

I’m currently brainstorming a new sci-fi series with a writer I’ve never worked with before. Hopefully it will end up being another creator-owned project. I think it’s quite important to concentrate on creator-owned projects from here on, as there doesn’t seem to be much sense in pouring so much time and love into work that will mainly benefit others financially.

I’m sure I’ll occasionally pop back to 2000AD for a “Judge Dredd” strip, though; mostly for my own pleasure!

Chris, thank you very much for your time and the very best of luck with your projects.

Check out Time Breakers here on Zoop

Chris Weston: Official Site – chriswestonart.com | Facebook | X

• Paranoid Gardens #1 (of 6) arrives in comic shops on 17th July 2024. It is now available to pre-order at your local comic shop | Dark Horse #1 Page

• Follow Dark Horse Comics on social media and check the official website, darkhorse.com, for more news, announcements, and updates

• Follow Gerard Wat @gerardway and Shaun Simon @ShaunSimon on X

Web Links

Comic Book Club Live Interview about “Time Breakers”

Chris Weston – 2022 Tripwire Interview

Rachel Pollack: The Comics Journal Obituary

Rachel Pollack: Guardian Obituary

Wikipedia: Rachel Pollack Profile

Categories: Comic Creator Interviews, Comic Previews, Comics, Creating Comics, Crowd Funding Projects, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Features, US Comics

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