Lowestoft-based comic book artist Jon Haward has worked on everything from Judge Dredd to Spider-Man. In this chat with Matt Badham, however, the focus is mostly on Tales of the Buddha (Before He Got Enlightened), recently released by Renegade Entertainment, his creator-owned comic produced in collaboration with Alan Grant and Jamie Grant.
Matt: Jon, Tales of the Buddha has been collected by Renegade Entertainment and is now appearing in Heavy Metal magazine. It tells the story of the Buddha before he was enlightened, but takes a comedic approach. How would you describe it to a new reader?
Jon: I would say that if you liked films like Life of Brian and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, you’ll like Tales of the Buddha.
Matt: It’s an irreverent humour strip, isn’t it?
Jon: There are messages in it too. For example, about living your life to the full because life is short and the dangers of dogma. Alan has been clever with his writing. It’s not just stoner humour. I’m always pleasantly surprised by how much depth Alan manages to get into his scripts considering it is a comedy.
Matt: It’s going to be in Heavy Metal magazine. Are you excited about that?
Jon: When I was a teenager in the 1970s, my brother used to buy Heavy Metal. It had Moebius, Corben and Druillet, all those guys. It was pure eye-candy. I’ve always wanted to work for it. I did try in 1999, when I did a strip called “Hell Comes to Elftown” with Alan for Frank Frazetta Fantasy Illustrated magazine. I suggested to him that we could get a gig in Heavy Metal but it just didn’t happen. They did tell us to keep sending stuff in, though.
The reason that Tales of the Buddha is now going in is because of editor Dave Elliott. He does packaging and editing for them, and has been kind enough to say that he loves Buddha.
Matt: How did Tales of the Buddha come about?
Jon: Alan and I were doing a strip called “Robin Head and his Marijuana Men” for Northern Lightz magazine and I suggested doing something a bit longer to Alan. Alan came up with Tales of the Buddha. Jamie Grant, who was editing Northern Lights at the time, got that coloured up and put it in the magazine. That was how we started in 2002. Then (when Northern Lightz finished) it moved to Wasted and, more recently, Renegade Entertainment has collected it.
It’s been 11 years that we’ve been doing it and people have said it’s my best work. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but what I do say is that it allows me to be unchained. I’m not restricted by anything when I’m doing it. I’m not restricted by time and I can be as over the top as I want.
Matt: What’s it like working with Alan?
Jon: Alan doesn’t mind me adding extra little sight gags or things that are not in the script. He’s brilliant at working with artists. He’ll just let them go with the flow. There are writers that I worked with that have such a precise script and they want you to follow it to a tee. I prefer Alan’s way of writing, where he gives you a minimal description that he then lets you run with.
Matt: He trusts you.
Jon: I’m a big fan of Alan’s writing. I used to love his stuff way back when he was doing Ace Trucking Co., Doomlord and all those other strips. I feel very chuffed and honoured to have had a long-term working relationship with him.
Jon: I’ve had lots of good feedback about Buddha. Some of this has come from other comics professionals, which has been nice. Liam Sharp said he enjoyed it a lot. Mike Perkins said it was wonderful and Steve Pugh liked it too. It’s been a wonderful journey.
Matt: You’ve already talked about Heavy Metal magazine and the artists in that anthology who very clearly left an impression on you. Who are your other artistic influences?
Jon: People like Frank Bellamy, Dave Gibbons, Mick McMahon, John Buscema, Frank Miller and Alan Davis. As far as cartoony work goes, Ken Reid, Leo Baxendale and Robert Crumb, people like that.
Matt: You’ve worked in quite a variety of styles, from the more representational to the cartoony.
Jon: Someone called me ‘Kid Chameleon’. I can’t remember who said it, but it was because they said I changed for each job.
Matt: That flexibility must be a great strength in comics.
Jon: I started out in an advertising agency as an in-house illustrator. They would come to me and say, ‘For this campaign, Jon, can you draw an image in this style?’ And I would have to follow the style and that’s carried on with my comics.
Matt: What else is going on in the world of Jon Haward at the moment? I saw mention on your Twitter feed that you’ve got an art dealer.
Jon: Rob Fish, at Fish4Comics, who’s based in Cardiff, is in charge of selling all my comics stuff that I’ve done over the years. He’s also got my comics collection to sell. I had to off-load a lot of stuff when I moved.
Matt: Are you available for commissions?
Jon: Yeah, definitely. If people follow me on Twitter, then they can send me a message that way.
Matt: You’ve also got an exhibition coming up.
Jon: That’s in March/April in Norwich next year. It’s all going to be original drawings based on comic characters. They’re going to be all the characters I loved as a child. Garen Ewing did it a few years ago. He did an A-Z of characters. I’m doing the same. They’re all going to be black and white A3 pictures.
I’ve also got a project called The Saga of Zoran that I’ve been working on with Alan Grant for the last two years. It’s a fantasy saga. I’m in talks with a couple of friends to see how we can produce merchandise and different things with the characters. I’m also toying with the idea of using Kickstarter to fund it.
Finally, I’m working on a project called Zodiac, which will be paintings of the zodiac alongside an art book and calendar for 2015.