Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 July 2019

'2000 AD' legend Simon Bisley's advice to the Middle East's aspiring comic book artists

The 'Slaine' and 'Judge Dredd' artist speaks to The National at the Middle East Film & Comic Con in Dubai

Dubai, April 12, 2019. MEFCC day 2- Artist, Simon Bisley. Victor Besa/The National. Section: AC Reporter: Chris Newbould
Dubai, April 12, 2019. MEFCC day 2- Artist, Simon Bisley. Victor Besa/The National. Section: AC Reporter: Chris Newbould

Leading comic book artist Simon Bisley has some advice for aspiring comic artists in the region – quite simply, draw.

“Just get some work done,” the legendary 2000 AD artist, who has also worked for Marvel and DC, says, speaking at the Middle East Film & Comic Con. “Stop talking about it and get it done. Get on Instagram, create your own web page. Knock out a few hundred comic books yourself. You can do that these days. Just get it out there.”

He adds that young artists shouldn’t be afraid of approaching the big names either: “Send your artwork to publishers. Get contacts and send them to DC, Marvel, whoever,” he says. “They all have talent scouts with an office in the building and their job is to nurture new talent. An Irish friend of mine, really talented artist, he’s been working with a woman at Marvel. She’s not been showing him how to draw as such, but how to do the Marvel style. You know, less muscularity here, too many veins here. He’s got some work doing some covers for them now. I’m not really much good for Marvel. My stuff’s too over-the-top, too exaggerated, but I don’t care.”

Bisley is well placed to offer tips. The artist had no formal training when he began his work with 2000 AD in the early eighties. Not only was he, technically, unqualified, but he also chose to paint his work instead of using the traditional comic book pen and ink style. Bisley’s intricate work is credited with revolutionising the look of British comic art, but the artist is sanguine about his achievements: “That’s the only way I could do it because I can’t do pen and ink, I’m not good at it, so I couldn’t do the traditional comic book style,” he admits. “I thought ‘why don’t I just paint it? That’ll be better.’ You can do a lot with paint, create a lot of atmosphere. Pen and ink’s just too laborious. I was painting each panel like it was a work in its own right. I wasn’t that concerned about telling a story, I just wanted to show off.”

Bisley is modest about his influence, but both in terms of its artwork and the depth of its storylines, often touching on political, environmental and moral issues, 2000 AD was breaking boundaries during this period. It was essentially the UK’s first “adult” comic and paved the way for writers like Alan Moore to usher the graphic novel into the world of literature - Moore is also an alumni of the comic, creating the Ballad of Halo Jones and DR and Quinch series. I ask Bisley if he was aware at the time of how influential the comic would become.

“I knew. When you’re young you want to change the world,” he says. “I was still young and I wanted to jump in a ship and sail the seven seas. You’re hungry when you’re young. That’s when you’re at your most adventurous, and your most dangerous. It was like I was climbing a mountain and everything was new. I was discovering this style and it was just coming out of me. It’s an amazing feeling. I knew it would have an impact, and I really enjoyed that. I was part of a movement. The writers were taking comic books a bit more seriously and writing something a bit more intelligent, and the art can be the same."

Bisley has already been immortalised by his art work, but he’s also been marked for eternity in a TV show. Simon Pegg’s lead character in the Star Trek actor’s breakout TV show, Spaced, is the aspiring comic book artist Tim Bisley, named in honour of Simon. Bisley is clearly flattered by the gesture, though he does have one unanswered question: “It's strange actually. He got another artist to emulate my work for the show. Why didn’t he just ask me?” Bisley says. “It’s puzzling why he got someone to copy me, he never asked. I’m not putting the guy down, I’m very humbled by that. People say ‘he ripped you off.’ He didn’t rip me off, it was a homage to my work and the things he likes, it was wonderful, but he could have asked me.”

Updated: April 12, 2019 05:40 PM