From Sylvanian Families to Shakespeare: An Interview with artist Jon Haward

The Classical Comics project to make literature contemporary and relevant through comics is ambitious, but has already received high praise educators and actors, including Royal Shakespeare Company fellow and Star Trek icon Patrick Stewart.

On the launch of the second Classical Comics project, downthetubes caught up with accomplished British comics artist Jon Haward to talk to him about his work on Macbeth — an adaptation which includes all the scenes featuring the witches and their controlling goddess, Hecate — and his varied career…

Interview by John Freeman | This interview was first published in March 2008 and added back to this site on Sunday 5th November 2023. Jon is no longer working

Classical Comics - Macbeth - Plain Text Version

downthetubes: Jon, in November 2006, you told me you thought your comics career was “sinking like the Titanic“… Your five year run for Panini on Spectacular Spider-Man had come to an end and your were out of work after drawing two new Marvel Pocket Book covers. The next month, you were working for Classical Comics. What changed?

Jon Haward: Getting an e-mail from Clive Bryant, editor in chief of Classical Comics. We decided to meet up in Birmingham for the first Birmingham International Comic convention. 

It was there he showed me his vision of classical comics, to make classic literature appeal to school kids through the form of graphic novels.(He even showed me an old copy of Macbeth by Classics Illustrated). I was very excited about the thought of drawing a more updated graphic looking Macbeth.

Nigel Dobbyn was at the same con and it was on the strength of his Billy the Cat work for DC Thomson that I asked him to join me on the Macbeth book. I’ve been a fan of Nigel’s work for years — in my book he’s a great person and great talent.

DTT: are you excited by the upcoming release of Macbeth?

Jon: Yes, on so many levels. After 21 years in comics I have my first graphic novel and it’s an iconic character/play written by a British icon. Everyone around the world has heard of William Shakespeare and I think Macbeth is his most performed play.

Plus, I created the look of the characters which was hard work but a lot of fun — over 30 in all.

DTT: Why did Clive choose you for the project?

Jon: Clive’s simple idea was to try to make Shakespeare as cool as Spider-Man and as I had drawn Spidey for Panini, it was a logical step for him to get a Spider-Man artist on board. I’m just glad and lucky he picked me.

DTT: What were the artistic challenges in creating art for a strip that would have three different formats – original, plain text and quick text versions?

Jon: The main thing was at layout/roughs stage, I had to make sure I left enough room for the big speech balloons [that form the original text and plain text editions], so some pages have only maybe two or three panels. The script was broken down showing each version of the text alongside each other, so I could double check everything – plus Clive helped out with his eagle eye’s if a balloon need more space.

DTT: How did you research the historical period? Is it true to the period of Scottish history, or did you have to wing some of it in favour of story?

Jon: As Macbeth is a fantasy play that includes ghosts, demons, witches and a goddess I tried to give it, shall we say, a bit of a Lord of the Rings feel in the design — plus, as far as tenth century Scotland is concerned there isn’t much to go on apart from the fact the Scots fought the Vikings a lot, so I used the late great Angus Mcbride’s book Warriors and Warlords for some reference. 

I got some books from the library, but quite a bit of the design of the flags and castles decor was from my head. I hope whoever sees the book will feel it looks the part ok — I tried my best.

DTT: What were your favourite elements of Macbeth, and why?

Jon: The fact he starts out the hero and ends up being a total anti-hero who kills his king and best friend — and in the end loses everything. It’s very powerful in places. Also, the witches and Hecate where fun to create .

DTT: What were your inspirations when drawing the story?

JonMacbeth was long before Lord of the Rings and Conan, but I wanted my Macbeth to echo those films and books. I also love the Ray Harryhausen films. In his film  Jason and the Argonauts Hecate, the goddess featured in Macbeth, is shown as a three headed statue

I’m also a big fan of Jack Kirby, so I used ‘Kirby crackle ‘when you see Hecate.

There are other influences: John Buscema’s Conan and Frank Bellamy’s Garth… actually, page 36 has a classic type Bellamy layout. Then there’s Frank Frazetta. I told Nigel, when he coloured the plain text cover to think Frazetta. So, lots of inspirations.

DTT: You’ve previously described Macbeth as “a classic anti-hero”. Do you still feel that way now the project is complete?

Jon: Yes, I think he was in many ways the first anti-hero but he’s cursed by his greed for power. Although he’s a powerful person on the battlefield, inside he’s weak and does not have a strong moral backbone. In a lot of ways his wife was the stronger person .

DTT: Were you a fan of Shakespeare before you started the project?

Jon: No! When I was a kid at school, we had small smelly old books to read with small type and we watch old black and white films. I couldn’t get to grips with the stuff we where taught. But since I’ve worked on Macbeth I actually understand Shakespeare, thanks to Clive’s three different texts. I’ve enjoyed the poetry and story of Macbeth a lot. Working on this project has opened my eyes to a whole new world and I’m seeing Hamlet with a pal soon.

DTT: What are your impressions of the book and working on the project now it’s published?

Macbeth was the toughest thing I’ve ever drawn in comics – more demanding than any other project I’ve ever worked on. 

I drew the book for 54 weeks, so it was quite a mountain to climb, but thanks to Clive, and my friend John Stokes (who gave me a lot of advice, helped along by the fact that he one played Macbeth on stage in Norwich in 1980’s!), I managed to complete the play.

Macbeth was a great team effort for me, from the other freelancers who worked on it to the Classical Comics team. It wouldn’t look as good if it wasn’t for Nigel Dobbyn’s great colouring; and Gary Erskine helping me big time on the last third of the book on the inking to meet a tight deadline. John Mcdonald’s script was great — working from his script with the three versions written out helped a great deal in understanding the play. 

As for the Classical team, Jo Wheeler did a great job with the design of the book and production, and Karen Wenborn’s support and marketing, plus her great notes in the book about Macbeth and William Shakespeare were invaluable. And of course Clive Bryant is a great editor to work for. 

We all put a lot of time and effort to produce a quality product, one that I’ll always be proud of .

DTT: How do you feel about Patrick Stewart’s support for the project?

Jon: That was a great feeling to have his support. I’m a fan of his work, he has a great voice and presence. I’m also a Trekkie, plus I love the X-men films and his Hallmark film work, so it’s an honour for me to have his positive comments on the back of my book.

DTT: You’re now working on The Tempest – does that present different challenges?

Jon: Yes, this one again is a fantasy based play so I want this book to look fantastical. I met up with Nigel Dobbyn recently, to talk over how this one will be coloured. It needs to be lighter in tone than Macbeth. There’s more humour in the play and the costumes are 1570s based, so it should all being well look a feast for the eyes, especially as I’m very lucky to have the great Gary Erskine inking me, too.

DTT: If there was one book you could adapt for comics tomorrow, what would It be?

Jon: It’s a tie between The Time Machine by HG Wells or Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island, both great stories.

DTT: And, moving on from that, if there was one character you’d kill to draw, who is it?

Jon: There are only four characters I’d like to draw — Batman, Lobo, Conan and Hellboy — but the chances of me working on any of them are slim because you have to be invited to draw them by the editorial guys and in the USA I have no presence,, although that might change if DC Comics gets Alan Grant to write Lobo and Batman, and if  [Dark Horse editor] Scott Allie likes Macbeth! But I won’t count my chickens on it ever happening anytime soon and I’m very happy working for Classical Comics .

DTT: You worked on Panini’s Spectacular Spider-Man for five years drawing 30 stories (last issue 142), do you have any favourite issues?

Jon: A few. The Captain Britain issues – the Fury story – got me a 9/10 review in Comics International! The Doctor Doom time machine issue –  David Roach did a brilliant inking job on that one. Then there’s the Spiderslayer issue with the Black Widow, the Defenders issue, the Wolverine issue, the Silver Surfer… I had a blast. I got to draw all the main Marvel heroes in my five-year run. It’s a shame Marvel US has only reprinted my Captain Britain/Spidey versus the Red Skull story. 

I had some great writers on Spidey –  Jason Quinn, Ferg Handley, Jim Alexander, Mitchel Scanlon (For Marvel Rampage) and good inkers –  John Stokes, David Roach, Lee Townsend, Bambos.

Maybe if Macbeth does the biz Marvel might get a US collection out of my work.

DTT: You’ve worked in comics for 21 years. Aside from your latest projects, what have been the highlights?

JonDan Dare for New Eagle, drawing a Judge Dredd story written by Garth Ennis for 2000AD, Sinister Dexter with Dan Abnett, working with Steve Moore with his amazing Tales of Telguuth scripts (lots of hard work but a lot of fun) 2000AD, Spider-Man for Panini.

Then there’s Hell comes to Elf Town, co -created by Alan Grant and me for the Frank Frazetta Fantasy MagazineShinobi for Sonic the Comic, the Eternal Champions Origin SpecialSideburns with Jim Alexander for Negative Burn/Bulletproof, Tales of the Buddha, again with Alan Grant — a true genius. Oh, designing Tiger Steel and her world for a US jewellery company was also a cool gig. 

I also had a great time drawing Ancient Blood for the Warhammer comic, written by Mitchel Scanlon, I was drawing Helmar, a guy like Conan meets Dracula. It’s a shame I never got the chance to finish the story – the comic got cancelled.

I’ve been very lucky, working with some great guys over the years. 

DTT: Do you have a favourite character you’ve drawn down the years?

Jon: I loved drawing Spider-Man and Dan Dare but my all time favourite has to be Tales of the Buddha for Bad Press. Buddha brings a a fat grin to my face every time I draw him. I hope Alan Grant’s new UK comic, Wasted, does well as I’ve drawn enough Buddha strips for a collection. Both Alan and I really enjoy the Buddha work.

DTT: You started out drawing junior characters, do you think that was a good training ground before you moved on to Dan Dare and others?

Jon: Before my first paid work, which was on Charlie Chalk for Postman Pat Picture Weekly, I had worked for [UK independent publisher] Harrier Comics on their anthology title Avalon, on Jane Wild and Diana has the Power. I learned a lot drawing that stuff but Ii just hope no one still has copies, as the work now looks well bad!

If you’re an artist you should always learn and grow. I still feel there is better to come (fingers crossed). I was very lucky that I was allowed to draw Dan Dare.

DTT: What are your memories of working on Dan Dare for Eagle?

Jon: My main memory was that I didn’t like Tom Tully’s scripts: ”Dan is a judge for a beauty in space contest” (groan). I hate to admit it, but Don Lawrence was right when I met up with him in 1990 — I wasn’t ready to draw Dan. Some of my work isn’t bad, but I guess you can’t top Frank Hampson or Bellamy, or Keith Watson on the art front.

I was only 25 years old and I was pretty green but David Pugh was a great help and so was my editor, Barrie Tomlinson.

Incidentally, a lot of my Dare art was never sent back to me, and that includes a Mekon cover and all the Mekon stories, which is a shame.

DTT: You’ve also worked in the gaming industry, is there much difference between games work and comics work?

Jon: Nope — they both have sharks who will take all your talent and not pay you! I was very surprised how badly people get treated in the gaming biz. This was the 1990’s though, I hope things have changed for the better.

DTT: When you started drawing Spectacular Spider-Man for Panini, it was selling 15,000 copies but by the end you reckoned it was 30,000, and at its height, 50,000. What’s the enduring appeal of Spider-Man in the UK, do you think?

Jon: As long as there are movies, toys and cartoon shows you’ll always have fans for Spider-Man, now he’s been around so long dads buy Spidey for their kids because they liked him when they where children. He’s a fun character with a big heart and he tries with his job with his friends to do the best he can – plus he’s a wise cracking gag guy so he’s fun to read as a fan and as a pro drawing him, he’s pure gold .

DTT: What’s the best thing about being a comics artist…

Jon: For me, it’s entertainment, seeing the work in print. With a comic you can draw anything, see any amazing world, draw fantastic women, dynamic heroes or humour. 

I’m lucky — I draw different styles for different jobs. I like the fact I can draw different subject matter (again, I’ve been very lucky).

Also, meeting fans who have liked my work gives you a buzz, as most of the time your just sat in your studio drawing the stuff never knowing what Joe Public thinks. So comic cons are great to meet the people and fellow pros.

At my heart, I’m still a fan too.

DTT: – and the worst?

Jon: Deadlines, working for people who bullshit you, not getting paid for work, editors who say, ‘Yeah, I’ll give you work’, and you get nothing or put in a pile of other piles of stuff. You get no warning you’re off a title that can suck.

Once, a Marvel US editor sent me a style to follow for samples – this was, I think 1996 – anyway, the sample pages he sent me were the worst Jim Lee knock off pages I’d seen. The artist couldn’t draw like Jim Lee, his figures weren’t right, he had no sense of depth in his work, it was crap. [I was so dispirited at seeing them] I didn’t send in any pages to the editor and gave up trying to work for Marvel US.

[I haven’t fared much better for DC Comics]. One editor asked me to draw 16 pages of a Justice League America story, for an annual in 1999. I got Kevin Gunstone to write it — Kevin was writing Marvel Manga for Marvel and The Agents for Image at the time — and Tim Perkins inked some pages. I worked on it for three weeks, the story was never used — it was put on file — and I never saw any money from DC comics so I gave up trying to work for them.

DTT: Is it hard to break into professional comics these days?

Jon: No. If you have a funky web site and you checkout submissions the power of the Internet can get you work. I got Spider-Man and Macbeth thanks to my web site, so I think that if you have a good style, you have a good attitude and work ethic, like Declan Shalvey, a great young talent I’m art directing on Frankenstein for Classical Comics, you’ll do ok.

Listen to advice and work hard, plus be polite at conventions — you’ll get work. Editors have no time for ego .

DTT: If you could offer just one piece of advice to an aspiring artist, what would it be?

Jon: “Follow your dreams, don’t take crap from anybody and believe in yourself ”. Gene Simmons said that in 1978 and I’ve followed that advice since and it’s worked well for me!

DTT: Jon, thank you very much for your time and the very best of luck for the future and with Macbeth.

Special thanks also to Clive Bryant and the Classical Comics team

• Buy Macbeth – Original Text
• Buy Macbeth – Plain Text
• Buy Macbeth – Quick Text

Classical Ciomics’ Macbeth
William Shakespeare

“All hail, Macbeth! that shalt be king hereafter.”

Fate? Destiny? Or one man’s obsession with power?

Macbeth is probably the most dramatic of Shakespeare’s tragedies.

Set in 1040, this spectacular treatment of one of the
greatest works of the Bard will give you a brand new and totally

fulfilling view of the sheer genius of his story telling.

Witchcraft, superstition, murder – it’s all here!

Featuring stunning artwork, and full of action, atmosphere
and intrigue from start to finish; this new graphic novel of The Bard’s wonderful tragedy will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.

“Here at downthetubes, we think the advance pages from the project look great and Jon Haward has clearly proven the right choice for bring Macbeth to life, successfully accommodating the demands of three different formats with consummate professionalism. Couple that with Nigel’s colouring and Classical Comics surely has a winner on its hands.
The interpretation Jon’s brought to the text is bold and striking and should surely stir some young hearts and minds to take an interest in our beloved Bard of Stratford!”
– John Freeman,

Script Adaptation: John McDonald
Pencils: Jon Haward
Inks: Jon Haward
Inking Assistant: Gary Erskine
Colouring: Nigel Dobbyn
Lettering: Nigel Dobbyn

• Buy Macbeth – Original Text
• Buy Macbeth – Plain Text
• Buy Macbeth – Quick Text