Arguably, the most overlooked 2000AD character in terms of popularity proportionate to quantity of merchandise, is everyone’s favourite white eyed time bomb toting bounty hunter – Johnny Alpha, star of the strip “Strontium Dog“, that first appeared in Starlord , the cration of John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, and continued into the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic when the two titles merged.
That is due to change shortly, with 2000AD fan groups abuzz with previews of a beautifully sculptured statue, complete with the helmet (which, legend has it, only Carlos Ezquerra was comfortable drawing), stripey top, Westinghouse Variable Cartridge Blaster and grimace.
This is the debut release from Fish Collectibles, a new business run by British expat Alan Fisher, ex of the DC Comics team at Warner Bros Consumer Products in Burbank, California.
Luke Williams had the opportunity to ask Alan a few questions on his inspirations and the process in coming up with a 3D Alpha…
Luke Williams: Alan, thanks so much for taking some time out to talk to me about. There’s a lot of excitement about the statue.
What’s your background? How did you come to be working on this kind of product?
Alan Fisher: I’ve been a graphic designer for over 30 years, a career I love but one that was suggested to me when I expressed an interest in comics to an art teacher when I was still at school.
I have loved 2000AD since I was 10, and a licensee I worked with when I was at Warner Bros Consumer Products approached Rebellion for a License but did absolutely nothing with it. That really got me thinking about getting my own license, though.
Luke: This isn’t your first high profile project, is it? What other big names properties have you worked on?
Alan Fisher: I was on the DC Comics team at WBCP. so I worked on every movie and tv show up until the Justice League movie as well as graphics for comics and game properties, etc. The Batman 66 style guide was a highlight – it took 30 years for WBCP to get the license from Fox.
Luke: I understand you’ve also got connections to some 2000AD alumni?
Alan Fisher: When I was at WBCP I always liked to hire British artists because…well, they are the best and are all beyond easy to work with. But it did mean I got to commission work from Jock, Ben Oliver and Dylan Teague – there may well have been others too, and can only apologise if I have missed them from the list.
Two years ago with COVID in full swing, I contacted the fantastic Bryan Talbot’s website and asked if he’d sign something for me, but Bryan himself replied and said he would. I mentioned I was a graphic designer and if he ever needed the services of one, he only need ask. Which resulted in my helping him design the covers for The Legend of Luther Arkwright and Grandville L’Integrale, and then designing his biography, which is a really fascinating read. There are plans for a major US publisher to release it too, as far as I know.
I was in the UK last August and stayed with Bryan and Mary overnight, and they are both wonderful people.
[Bryan Talbot: Father of the British Graphic Novel, was funded through Zoop. A few comic and book shops are carrying stock. We will run a news item on retail sites soon – Ed]
Since leaving WBCP, I’ve also hired Tiernen Trevallion, who is a really wonderful artist I think to work on some still secret projects with me and that has led to him writing and drawing a full length graphic novel for another licensee friend of mine (also a secret, sorry but the previews I have seen look brilliant).
Luke: What or who are your influences?
Alan Fisher: They are all 2000AD artists and writers, tv and movie stars just do not impress me at all. The late, great King Carlos is the first artist whose style I ever loved and I did meet him and get to tell him that.
Luke: What are your comic reading tastes?
Alan Fisher: If it’s not 2000AD I am kinda one note and not really interested. I do like Hellboy, despite Mike Mignola being a rather difficult character to get along with, which does take the shine off of it somewhat. I do follow 2000AD people who work on US titles, just not when it’s DC or Marvel. My lovely wife bought me the Skyward Omnibus for Christmas ‘cause y’know… Lee Garbett – and I did enjoy that.
Luke: Have you always been a fan of 2000AD? Are you a Prog 1er?
Alan Fisher: Like many people it lost me in the 1990s but yes I am a Prog 1er. At some point during the San Diego Comic-Con I found myself talking to Rebellion’s Michael Molcher, a lovely chap, at the 2000AD booth, when it was still a couple of tables.
Long story short, I bought Agency Files Volume One for the “Strontium Dog Journey into Hell” storyline and was simply amazed to find it was as good as I remembered it being – how often is that the case? So that was me very much back in, I now read as much new stuff as I do the classics.
Luke: There’s a special place for Johnny in many Squaxx Dek Thargo’s heart, but why did you think Johnny would be a good subject? Why did you choose him?
Alan Fisher: When I was involved with the licensee I mentioned earlier, who got the Rebellion license, we ran a Readers Poll and Johnny and Rogue Trooper tied for first place, but Johnny has always been my favourite character. Judge Dredd was not on the list because he’s the only character anyone ever seems to do. A big shout out to 3A, for Sam Slade Robo-Hunter, though! I had fun buying him at a US Convention from a guy who had no idea at all who he was, despite the fact he was selling him!
Luke: What do you think is the appeal of Johnny?
Alan Fisher: He’s just so troubled a character and I think all of us who grew up never really fitting in can identify with him, plus he looked so feckin cool!
Luke: What references have you used for the sculpt? Any particular stories or era? Johnny’s costume changed overtime, with a jacket featuring during the “Ragnarok Job” / “Bitch” era, but the in last few Carlos stories, he seemed to return to a version of the original?
What made you settle on that version of Johnny, there seems to be a mix of uniforms / costume from different eras?
Alan Fisher: Initially, I wanted to do a 1980s version, but when I looked into it King Carlos actually changed Johnny’s look a lot over the years so I settled on a 1990s model sheet he did. I am not entirely sure why he drew it but I thought the gold armour would work well on a collectible.
Believe me, I have spent a lot of time looking into [the look of] this, not that it’s a chore at all, and while I have made the decisions I have if I can get this business off the ground I would like to revisit him down the line, perhaps from the Starlord era.
Luke: What’s your design process? For example, sketching, or straight to computer before a physical build prototype?
Alan Fisher: Sketching if it’s graphics but for this I have a very good friend who was a toy designer at DC Collectibles (and now works at Super 7) and he put me in touch with a fabulous sculptor in Argentina called Alterton. I sent him my 1980s reference and that is when I realized how difficult the reference was to sculpt from due to how much variance there was… which is why I chose the model sheet.
The 3D printing and paintmaster was done by the supremely talented Chris Ratley in the UK.
Luke: What part of the design presented the biggest challenge?
Alan Fisher: Honestly, the most difficult part of the whole process was just in getting Rebellion to grant me a license, that took over two years… which is in no way a criticism of them.
Luke: There have been plenty of teaser pictures released and most recently we’ve seen the whole figure which looks brilliant. Is this the final version or is there still development to be carried out?
Alan Fisher: Everything is still to play for and some alterations have been suggested, that will be made before I release anything to the factory in Hong Kong. I have a Fish Collectibles website (fishcollectibles.com) now, and that is where I will post shots of any future alts to the sculpt… along with asking fans to get the word out too.
Luke: What’s reception to the release shots been like from Strontium Dog fans?
Alan Fisher: Good, I think. [When it comes to social media], I am a proud Luddite in truth and have only an Instagram account my wife insisted I have, so I have been getting comments from your good self and a few other fans which has been invaluable.
Luke: Carlos Ezquerra is obviously the definitive Johnny Alpha artists, but have you drawn inspiration from any of the other artists to have drawn Johnny?
Alan Fisher: They are few and far between. Nope, just King Carlos.
Luke: What’s your favourite Strontium Dog story?
Alan Fisher: The older ones I’m afraid “Journey Into Hell”, “Portrait of a Mutant”, “Bitch” “Rage” those are the ones that still resonate but I did like “Traitor to His Kind”.
Luke: What plans do you have for further 2000AD sculpts? Are you restricting yourself to 2000AD?
Alan Fisher: Rogue Trooper would be next but there are so many other characters I’d love to do and if I can raise the money for this one I should be able to proceed without crowdsourcing them. I have Bryan Talbot’s permission to do some of his original characters, too.
Luke: Is there a chance of any companion pieces to Johnny? Perhaps a huge, hammer wielding time adrift Viking?
Alan Fisher: Absolutely – and why stop at him? Why not Middenface and Durham Red, too? A Stix Brothers 3 statue set?
Alan, thanks so much for your time and good luck with the Kickstarter!
Brought up on a diet of Commando, British Boys Annuals and Asterix, Lucas Williams’s day job limits his reading time. Luckily for everyone else this also restricts his writing time.