Brett Ewins was born in 1955 and spent most of his life living in Hanwell, West London, where he met fellow local artist brothers, Brendan and Jim McCarthy, who lived 10 minutes down the road.
Brett studied at Goldsmiths College where he met Peter Milligan and, with Brendan, the three became lifelong friends and comics collaborators, putting together Sometime Stories out on graduation in 1977. This saw Brett getting work at the recently launched 2000AD and he contributed from Prog 33 onwards. He became a firm fan favourite drawing classic strips “Judge Dredd”, “Anderson Psi Division”, “Rogue Trooper” and numerous covers, and defined a generation of post-punk comic creators.
Milligan, McCarthy and Ewins teamed up again to produce the Strange Days (1985) anthology for Eclipse, with Milligan writing the antagonistic future P.I. strip, Johnny Nemo, with Brett. The character would later reappear in Deadline.
By 1988 Ewins was disenfranchised by lack of creator rights, he and fellow 2000AD artist, Steve Dillon set up the ground-breaking comics/music magazine, Deadline.
While giving a guest lecture at Northbrook College, Worthing, he discovered Jamie Hewlett, Philip Bond, Alan Martin and invited them to contribute to the first issue of Deadline, and consequently gave birth to the cultural phenomenon of Tank Girl. Deadline went on to launch the career of many creators including Nick Abadzis and Glyn Dillon (younger brother of Steve).
In 1986 he pencilled the anti-war Bad Company, again with Milligan, and inked by Jim McCarthy for 2000AD. The series was incredibly popular and team continued the series, off and on, until 2002.
His proto-Vertigo title, Skreemer (1989), with Milligan and Steve Dillon, was a futuristic gangster story wrapped around James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, and paved the way for the more cutting-edge comics DC Comics were to publish later.
Tragically, Brett suffered from bouts of paranoid schizophrenia after having a nervous breakdown in 1991. The Buddhist artist fictionalized his struggles with mental health in his 2004 anthology, Dark Gate.
In January 2012, he suffered a psychotic episode, which involved him attacking a police officer, after they were called to his house. This resulted in Ewins being hospitalized, after suffering a heart attack at the scene, and subsequently remanded in Wormwood Scrubs, initially without medication. All this left him in a weakened state of health, from which he never fully recovered.
Brett’s work spread beyond comics and his commercial work included designs and illustrations for Games Workshop products and Space Invaders crisps, but in later life he focused on painting.
At heart, Brett was a mischievous, trickster character who loved playing with people’s perceptions, and always had a sly, cheeky grin. He was also a gentle, but troubled, soul who was treated appallingly by the services that were there to supposedly protect him. He was a networker, a nurturer of talent and vital figure in the British comics scene. His legacy to the industry is far-reaching and he will be greatly missed by those that knew him and the legion of fans that loved his art.
He died in Ealing Hospital on the night of Monday 16th February, 2015, aged 59, after a short illness, apparently emphysema-related. He is survived by his sister, Jane, and brother, Russell.
– Tim Pilcher
Tim Pilcher is the author of several books, including Comic Book Babylon: A Cautionary Tale of Sex, Drugs & Comics, the completely unofficial memoir of DC Comics’ legendary London office. He’s also a lecturer, editor at Humanoids UK and Chair of the Comic Book Alliance.
• Brett Ewins official web site is at www.brettewins.co.uk