We round off our “Lakes Bound” interviews to highlight the guest list for this weekend’s Lakes International Comic Art Festival with a very special artist, one who I have worked with many times down the years (and hope at some point, I will again) and whose work has always delighted and enthused: Mike Collins.
His appearance is part of a number of events celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who in comics at the Festival: the first officially licensed Doctor Who comic strip featured in TV Comic in November 1964, just one year after the show itself debuted on BBC1. Marking the occasion will also be editor and publisher Dez Skinn, the man who came up with Doctor Who Weekly – today, the best-selling SF magazine in the UK, Doctor Who Magazine.
Mike is best known as the key artist on the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, taking over the reins with the TV show’s triumphant return for an unbroken run of several years;. He still draws the flagship strip, alternating with Martin Geraghty (who also appears at the Festival). Mike has also illustrated two successful BBC original Doctor Who graphic novels and has drawn for the US IDW Doctor Who comic book series; and tomorrow night sees the first screening of the Doctor Who episode “Flatline”, on which he served as Storyboard Artist… a credit he has been unable to reveal for months.
“This Saturday’s Doctor Who is a first for me… as, thanks to the kind recommendation of [artist] Andrew Wildman it’s my first as the show’s Storyboard Artist!” he revealed in a public Facebook post yesterday. “The script is a cracker – and not being able to tell anyone the story for the last five months has been supreme agony!”
Creating comics for over 25 years, Mike has worked for Marvel, DC, 2000AD and a whole host of other publishers. In that time he’s written or drawn pretty much all the major characters – Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, Flash, Teen Titans, X-Men, Captain Britain, Judge Dredd, Darkstars, Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt and more. He currently draws a series of noir crime fiction graphic novels – Varg Veum – in Norse.
Mike is committed to using comics as an educational tool, running workshops in schools and libraries throughout Wales, targeting ‘reluctant learners’ and was heavily involved in the Read A Million Words In Wales initiative.
He garnered an improbable amount of publicity for drawing a comic based on the Royal Wedding, which – through an unlikely series of events – led him to cover the actual proceedings as a reporter for Dutch TV!
He lives in Cardiff, Wales and his studio is a short walk away from The Rift. He has a wife, three daughters, a neurotic cat and is an enthusiastic yet staggeringly inept dancer.
downthetubes: What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?
Mike Collins: In comics, I’m back on the Doctor Who Magazine strip, starting with the Christmas edition – and for the first time in years, I’m writing the story too.
downthetubes: Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Mike: A Christmas Carol, for Classical Comics. I took about a year out of my Doctor Who schedule to work on this- heavily researched, a labour of love. It’s stayed in print for the last six years, and I’d like to think has become a perennial.
downthetubes: How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Mike: My day is made of putting out small fires on whatever projects are current- whether comics, illustration, advertising work or storyboarding, during the day I flit between several. About 15 years ago, I got caught out by the US industry contraction, and realized I’d had all my eggs in one basket. I reassessed what my options were and threw my net wide (too many metaphors?) so I always have several projects on the go.
downthetubes: What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
Mike: Getting paid to tell stories with pictures.
downthetubes: And the worst?
Mike: The fact that my family’s income is tied to such a bizarre and erratic career. And the very, very long hours.
downthetubes: What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Mike: Scamming Cold callers. I work in a studio but they still ring up, telling me Windows is damaged, and if I’d just download this little bit of software…. and if I work at home, my cat who thinks I’m only there to worship her.
downthetubes: Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
Mike: Easier. As Marx demanded, the means of production is now in the hands of the workers. Self publishing is so easy now. Making a living out of it, that’s the tricky part.
downthetubes: Have you ever been to the Lake District before and if so what did you think of it? If you haven’t, what are you expecting?
Mike: I love the Lakes. I’ve a cousin in Carlisle so have visited here often. It’s a great place to recharge, mentally and spiritually.
downthetubes: Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Mike: I bottled meeting John Buscema when he attended a London Con years ago – he was one of my major influences, and I’ve always regretted that. I’d love to meet Sergio Toppi, an artist who’s work stuns me because I cannot understand how he creates a page – I’d probably irritate him with my incessant questioning.
downthetubes: How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?
Mike: They let us know we’re not working in a vacuum – that their are other creators out there facing and solving similar artistic challenges, and that we have an engaged, and engaging audience for our work.
downthetubes: What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Thirty years ago, when I was breaking into the industry a major creator told me ‘don’t bother, this industry has five years at best’. Thirty years later we’re both still doing this. No one really knows anything. If you want to work in comics, then draw, write, colour, whatever your strengths are. Just go for it. If you fail, then at least you’ve tried.
downthetubes: What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Mike: I love Marvel’s Hawkeye – it feels like a throwback book to the mid 1980s when I was starting.I described it as “The best Howard Chaykin comic that Howard never worked on”, it’s a constant inventive joy. And 2000AD continues to be a powerhouse and cauldron of talent, old and new.
downthetubes: Mike, thank you very much fro your time, and see you later in Kendal!
• Mike Collins will be appearing as part of the panel for Doctor Who in Comics: Fifty Years in 50 Minutes, alongside myself, John Freeman, Scott Gray, Nick Abadzis, Robbie Morrison and Martin Geraghty
• Mike Collins official web site is at: www.freakhousegraphics.com
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.