FRAZER IRVING INTERVIEW - PIXELSURGEON
Pixelsurgeon: If memory serves, you were slap bang in the
middle of a slew of commissions when we chatted briefly a month
ago, and I noticed that a new strip is on the way in 2000AD. How
does it feel to be slowly sucked up into that next-best-thing
vacuum, and what are you working on right now?
Frazer: Well, I've been a busy bunny lately, with various covers
done for 2000AD, strips for a new French magazine and work on an
ongoing series for 2000AD due to start at Xmas. Its quite an
invigorating time for me as you say, being sucked up into the
whole "best newcomer" thing as a great deal more
opportunities are open to me all of a sudden. Aside from the
obvious career benefits, it's great as it means I can explore
some aspects of my work that a more restricted path may deny. For
the latest 2000AD series I'm breaking away from the style I'd
previously set up for myself, exploring colour as a far more
integral part of the strip in terms of mood and design, something
which I feel is often overlooked in modern comics.
Can you tell us more about the new 2000AD stuff, or has Tharg
sworn you to secrecy on pain of being taken to Mek-Quake? ;D
Oohh... lemme see now, the fear of a Rigellian Hotshot? Sod it.
The new series is called Storming Heaven and is basically a story
about psychedelic superheroes set in the late Sixties. It's
inspired by a passage written by Ken Kesey which suggests that
superhero comics are the true literature of the era because they
prepares us for our next evolutionary step. Our story picks this
up by asking "what if he was right?", cue lots of funky
cosmic visuals from me, and plenty of groovy text from Gordon
Rennie. As well as this I'm building up to working on a new Judge
Death series written by John Wagner. This strip is scheduled to
run sometime next year and is all in black and white...kinda like
coming home for me, as that (black and white) was where I
A Love Like Blood boasted suitably sombre colouring, but was
it a challenge to lay off the black shadows for Storming Heaven,
or is London still stockpiling Indian Ink exclusively for Mr
Well, when you get to read the whole story you'll see the black
ink has found a new home in the form of Thomas Caliban, the bad
guy of the piece. It was a bit of a challenge trying to start the
strip, as I work more comfortably in black and white, but once
I'd set up the visual 'code' for Dr trips and the
'Psychadeliverse' it was easy. In many ways this strip is
allowing me to experiment with many more techniques than one
would assume seeing the preview. Right now I'm working on episode
3 which has yet another risky artistic method applied to
illustrate a darker sequence; but then that's what comics are all
about to me.
What role does the computer play in your creative process?
Ah, my beloved Mac... well, for the past 2 years now I've used
the Mac as an essential part of my process. Previously I used to
draw full art on regular paper, and then use vast amounts of
photocopies to promote myself. Once I got the Mac I ditched that
whole way of working and started to invent a method all of my
On a basic level nothing really changes; I still draw the layouts
at print size on sheets of paper, still do ink lines with a
brush, but Photoshop has made it all a lot easier. I prepare the
panels initially in Photoshop, which I then print out onto
Bristol board. Then I scribble on these to rough out the basic
figures, shapes and shadows until I've got a workable layout.
This is then scanned back in and sized to be printed out at full
art size on my A3 printer.
Using this printout, I lightbox the shapes very simply and then
get into the traditional method of inking with a Sable brush. The
computer comes in here, as I can scan in panels of various sizes
and adjust them in the final image, or redo panels, have multiple
floating panels etc. I can refine the shoddy and scruffy linework
into a pristine black and white document, a cleaner result is
achieved. Much better than using any amount of Tippex!
Once this is done I get into colour. At first I just used the
basic tools in PhotoShop to select and fill, but since then I
developed a more natural style using custom made brushes, fills
from scans, various funky combinations of layer effects as well
as venturing into the murky world of Painter for some extra
special effects. To apply the colour in my strips and on covers I
first set up the linework as a separate layer set to preserve
transparency. Under this I arrange a number of layers, one for
the background, one for sets of figures, maybe one for isolated
panels and so on according to the complexity of the page. On
these layers I can then paint the colour on much as one would
paint Gouache onto acetate, but this smells less and isn't gooey!
Being able to zoom in 400% means I can get some tiny details in
there, whilst zooming out I can get an instant impression of the
colour scheme as a whole. The ability to set the brushes to
opacity and size variations means I can mimic the reality of real
brushes and Photoshop is significantly faster than Painter, so I
get quick results.
Also, as the colours are on layers, this means I can be sloppy
and still be able to trim the areas down or make colour
adjustments up to the very last minute; something which was
The latest discovery I've made is that now, for the first time, I
can include pencil art in the same image as a fully inked page. I
used this in 2 panels in Reefer Madness and it worked so well I'm
planning on using it in Storming Heaven and Judge Death. The
ability to mix extreme styles and textures to create a more
effective page is one of the best things about digital art. Being
able to undo stuff is another!
My aim is to create an image which looks initially like it has
been drawn the traditional way, but then on closer inspection
throws up all sorts of questions. When I was at college, one of
my mates pointed out that the art he likes best is the art which
prompts him to ask the question, "How the fuck did they do
It's a pleasing 'side effect' of using the computer to create
this stuff. I hope that, providing I don't give away too many
secrets, people will be asking that question for years to come.
Beyond creating the art, the computer also makes the distribution
and the archiving so much easier. I now have a stack of CDRs,
each case containing one or two disks which contain an episode
each, which allows me to keep the hard disk relatively clear of
junk, but also allows me access to pristine copies of the
original art with all it's layers; as well as any funky accidents
that any given episode may have thrown up.
If anyone's interested, I use a 400mhz G4 Mac with a gig of RAM
(and it's still not enough!), a 40 Gig hard drive, PhotoShop 6,
Painter 7, a super-duper smashing Wacom Intuous A5 tablet (though
I want to upgrade to the sexy new A4 oversize Intuous 2) and a
gorgeous new iBook for working in the kitchen or on the roof or
in the park chasing lions.
Hard to believe that in 1996 I didn't even know that computers
could 'make' art.
Tell us about the work for that French magazine you mentioned,
and didn't you have a big advertising job on the go?
Ah. Sore point. The magazine actually just went under this
morning! Just did the 5 page strip with Gordon, mailed in a cover
and BAM! They're gone! It was called KOG (Kaleidoscopic Oddity
Generator) and I was in issue 2, but it stops there. Damn. The
advertising gig? Well, you know about confidentiality clauses in
contracts, right? To be honest I prefer comics, but the money in
advertising is way better. If I can get the money in comics to
match up, then I may never need to stray again!
What floats your boat in the morning? Where do you look for
Heh heh. Hmmm. In the morning; coffee, email, etc... Generally, I
look all over the place. I often fall prey to the seductive
charms of many a great illustrator and then spend weeks trying to
ape their style, but I know this is bad so I try to put a cap on
that when working on a gig. As a rule I like to leave my
influences to chance. I don't go out of my way to find stuff, as
I just coast along and assimilate whatever's around me. This is
to avoid a clichÃ©d response to stuff. For Dr Trips it was an
obvious course to reference psychedelic art of the Sixties,
comics of the era; Steve Ditko or Brendan Mcarthy etc, but I was
too lazy and just used whatever I had on the subject (Easy Rider,
Beatles album covers) and let something new form.
I do have a collection of old British black and white Marvel
reprints with some spectacular linework from the likes of Alfredo
Alcala (RIP), Rudy Nebres, etc. These were the Phillipino guys
who stormed Marvel as budget artists in the Seventies, and I take
a huge amount of inspiration from them.
Beyond that I have started self-referencing, by which I mean
keeping a sketch book of compositional ideas or possible cover
illustrations which are all variations on themes of my own. I
like the idea that I can pull iconic images from the ether and
then riff off them as if I was another artist ripping me off!
We'd like to bet that despite spending every waking hour
behind the wheel, you still have time to soak in what's new on
the comics scene. Who is making your jaw hit the floor?
Odd as it may sound I don't spend half as much time working as
you guys. I like to keep an even balance between work and play,
it's good for the soul, and I'm efficient so I can do it! I don't
read that many comics either, like many pros I just can't stand
reading bad comics because I know why they suck and I can't fix
it. But of the stuff I do read I'm currently very much a fan of
Richard Corben's mainstream work. I loved his Hellblazer run
(despite hardcore Hellblazer fans loathing it) and I love the
current Hulk series, 'Banner'. I'm very much looking forward to
his take on Luke Cage: Hero for Hire. I think the whole
Blacksploitation thing in comics from the Seventies has left a
poor trail of token characters. Corben's promotional image of the
urban Luke Cage looks so perfect. As well as that I still like
Mike Mignola's Hellboy, although the stories are getting a bit
weak. I'm still waiting for the next episode of the excellent
Black Hole by Charles Burns; and of course I dig 2000AD.
Any plans to get into the film industry, maybe doing
storyboards and the like?
Well, I have some contacts, but I like the glamour of comics.
It'd be nice to do some work in that field at some point, but it
would have to be the right project. One of my friends does a lot
of work in that business, especially for Henson's projects, and
I've seen the quality of work they demand. I'm not sure I'm
suited as a work-for-hire guy in that respect because I have
strengths and weaknesses and I'm not entirely sure that industry
would be able to play to those. Having said that I have the book
of the Star Wars Episode One designs, and I noted that each
illustrator has their own area of expertise doing Sci-fi or
horror movies. That would suit me down to a tee; horror flicks,
especially the weird ones. And ones with lots of sex in too.
The ubiquitous question: Any advice for people wanting to
break into comic work, any dos or don'ts?
Hmm. this is a recurring question. Well, all I can offer is my
personal view, and it must be noted that this in no way reflects
the views of other pros or is even a particularly accurate
analysis of the industry.
Basically there are, as in any creative industry, more people who
can't do the do than people who can. The trick is to find out
which one you are. Comic artists come from all disciplines, be it
portraiture, graphic design, graffiti, fine art etc, but they all
have one thing in common, and that's a mad secret desire to draw
comics! I often suggest to aspiring comic artists that they
explore "real" art or media before deciding to commit
to comics because in today's eclectic global culture one needs to
be a tad more versatile or enriched to make any sort of attempt
at surviving. For instance, the wannabes I know of base their
style on an existing comic artist; which is effectively basing a
style on a style which is based on a style which is watered down
from yet another style, etc. There comes a point when what you
have is just thin and weedy crap.
Also, when exploring art properly, one often finds out where
certain strengths lie. When I was a kid I always wanted to be a
penciller, as defined by American comics. I never thought that I
could do the inking thing and never the colour. But learning how
to draw properly at college I discovered a natural flair for the
brush, and once I'd explored various forms of illustration I also
figured I had an odd yet effective take on the colour thing too.
But one has to explore to find these things out.
I see a lot of samples from aspiring artists and generally the
main flaws are the basic drawing skills: figure drawing, shadows,
textures and composition. These must be learnt before one starts
doing comic strips because to tell a story the artist has to be
able to render each possible element of the story, which means
being able to draw people, cars, trees, night time, sunset, etc.
At the past few conventions I've been to I've sat in on the
portfolio reviews and one of the startling things I saw was that
very few (I'm talking about 5%) of the people there actually
presented their work properly. I saw loose tatty A4 sheets with
doodles, large A1 canvas board pinups, a selection of oddly
shaped double-sided drawings unrelated to comics, but very few
actual comic pages, in sequence and clean enough to read. This
tells me more about the artist than any drawing.
I'd suggest to anyone who sends art in via post or shows art at a
convention should carefully consider how they present their work.
Always have a business card or postcard to hand out or to be
included with the sample; keep the pages clean; target the
recipient correctly so that superhero editors see superhero
pages, horror guys see horror pages, and 2000AD see some Dredd.
This makes a world of difference.
The other point which is rarely mentioned is that even if your
art is superb, you are unlikely to score a gig with the first
submission, purely because editors like to see consistency: an
artist can do five incredible pages, but in comics they need to
do it regularly. Any editor will like to see more than one
sample, or if they like the work they'll often supply a sample
script to see how you work on it. I see many frustrated and angry
young artists who are simply unaware of this and take it
personally. I sent in many samples over a period of a year before
the 2000AD editor decided I could do the do, and I'd already had
a few strips and a graphic novel published in the small press.
Some people do one drawing then get all angry when they get told
to come back in six months. Trust me, if you get told to come
back in six months, this is a good sign! "Piss off" is
a bad sign!
As a side note here; I still have the letters I received from
2000AD when I was submitted via mail. The first is "be
patient", the next was "Nice illustration, not sure if
it's suitable. Here's a Dredd sample to see how you get on",
the next samples got no response, then the next letter was
"Sorry, it's nice but the chances of you ever working for
2000AD are virtually nil", and then I got a "Wow! this
is more like it!" and finally "We have a script if
you're interested.", which came around the same time that I
met the editorial guys at the Comics99 Festival in Bristol. And
this was over an 18 month period. Go figure.
Finally, before I start repeating myself or other well known
points, I should say that independent publishing or small press
is a great way to hone ones skills and possibly gain attention.
All artists improve as they work, and the pros tend to improve at
a quicker pace not because they are paid, but because they spend
all day working. When I was at college, my drawing improved once
I decided that I would draw everyday, even setting up my own
figure drawing sessions with my friends over at the Magic Torch.
The same happened when I was on the dole and I committed to
working on various small press projects in an effort to get
publicity. Doing a set amount of work over a sustained period one
sees the change at periods along the way. There are days when
something just clicks, and you know you've made a leap forwards,
but it's consistent practice that does this, and if you aren't
being paid to do it as a living, then committing much of your
spare time to small press projects is the next best thing. It's
this that usually separates the wannabes from the gonnabes!
Oh, and another point; never try to suck up to a pro writer or
artist. The good ones will resent it and the bad ones will milk
you for all you are worth and then ditch you.
Anything you want to say? Any last words you need to get off
Hmm: Buy my work; chill out world; I know I'm sexy, but honestly,
your flesh will not ignite into a blazing crescendo of pink and
purple flames if we touch, so come on luv gizza kiss! Actually
let's not bother with that one...
Basically, I rant a lot, but most of it centres around the
validity and artistry of comics. Comics are the last great
unexplored medium of the 20th century. Due to the Commie-hating
barstewards of the Mcarthy era, comics were forced into a spiral
of self-censorship and were relegated to the kiddie shelves, when
in other parts of the world they flourished. But unlike movies
which escaped this far earlier on, comics stagnated creatively to
the point where only a few countries take them seriously.
Now that the great American landmass has embraced this new spirit
of "We'll print what we bloody well like", it seems as
if all the comic creating superpowers can start to mix and share
ideas and grow, like it should have done previously. But the
creators need to be there, and for that we need to reject the
ridiculous stigma that the art world places on comics and
encourage those who show interest to develop this interest and to
do some real funky shit!
But, uh, they better stay off my patch, right? I bite. I warn
Interview: Richard May Â© 2001 Pixelsurgeon