Ian Kennedy played a part in my childhood as one of the comic artists I most admired, for his work on Dan Dare, and many other stories. He also played a part in my adult life, when I met and became friendly with him. He and his wife graciously welcomed me into their home over the years. Ian loved planes, and when my young son, going through his own airplane phase, expressed his love of Concorde, Ian gave him a print of a painting he’d done of the supersonic jet.
He was a childhood artistic hero for me, and as you can see from the above, a kind and thoughtful friend in adulthood.
This is an interview I conducted with Ian on 8th July 2008.
|Ian in his studio, 2008. Photo by DR.|
DR: What are you working on right now, as we speak? What’s the most recent thing you’ve been doing?
IK: Well, at the moment basically, we’re just down to working for Commando, doing covers and features, the little features inside the back page. We’ve been doing them for quite some time now, on aircraft. Running through from fighting aircraft, transports, and at the moment we’re doing trainers. There’s a huge number of them. I should think we’re about halfway through them at the moment, so they’ll go on for a bit.
DR: The aircraft have always been a big interest for you.
IK: Oh, very much, very much, yeah. I wanted to fly, but I contracted ear trouble and that was it, out the window. But I suspect I would have been rather disappointed in my hopes to fly anyway because I don’t think my mind is quite the type of mind that is needed for a pilot of today, for instance. The technology, etc., I don’t think I could ever have mastered that side of things, so it’s maybe just as well.
DR: You never got around to doing it just for fun, having flying lessons?
IK: No. I was up once or twice. My first flight actually was when I won an aircraft spotting competition when I was just about sixteen or seventeen. We flew from Scone and arrived at Dundee, and to my eternal shame I was airsick (laughs). And then the family bought me a half hour flying lesson two or three years back at Riverside and that was enjoyable, but by that time of course, you’re long since gone.
DR: Comics then...did you read comics growing up yourself?
IK: Yeah, I did. I read the usual comics like Rover, Wizard, Hotspur, and all the rest. My favourite one at that time was the Champion. I can’t remember offhand who produced the Champion, was it Amalgamated Press? I’m not absolutely sure about that, but it was my favourite one. But I did grow up with them, and it took off from there.
DR: Were there specific stories or artists that you liked back then?
IK: No, just generally. And I’d always been...a story that goes around; when I was younger and especially when I was still just a toddler in my cot, they said, “If you want to keep Ian quiet, give him a paper and a pencil”. Then in the evening, when the kitchen table was free...it was cleared and then I drew on the kitchen table (laughs). That was my desk at that time! And that was it. That’s where it all took off from.
DR: So it was really natural. You just took to it.
IK: Yes, it was just something I wanted to do.
DR: You said you had ear trouble...did you do National Service?
IK: No, that kept me out of National Service as well. I had a mastoid operation when I was seventeen, eighteen. I’d actually started work at that time. I started in ’49 in Thomson’s, and that would make me seventeen, at that time.
DR: Right, so you never did art college, or anything like that?
IK: No. I did a session or two at the old Dundee art college at Bell Street in the evenings, went to modelling classes and a bit of life drawing. But really I learnt my trade in the art studio at Thomson’s. The guys who were there were the tops.
DR: Do you remember who was there?
IK: George Ramsbottom, Fred Sturrock, Dave Ogilvie, who was instrumental in getting me into the job, Pete Sutherland. Too many, too good to mention.
DR: That’s good company to be in.
IK: Oh, great company. If you did something good, and it was looking good, that was called a beezer. It was a beezer. And if it wasn’t good, they weren’t long in telling you. It was a great place. It was an apprenticeship, in the old sense of the word, because you had professionals there who were gonna keep you on the right lines. Just as they were sort of passing, they would have a quick look at you and see what you were doing.
DR: How did you get into Thomson’s?
IK: It was one of these things. I lived in Baldovan Terrace and there was a school teacher who lived on the top flat. We were on the ground floor. Dave Ogilvie, who was in the art department then, was known to my mother. I think they’d been at school together, or something like that. But the school teacher was at that time in much more close contact with Dave, and she had mentioned me to him. How it kicked off was his mother lived in Baxter Park Terrace, which was just the next street along. So I met him there at his Mum’s house, when he’d went to see his Mum and Dad. I went down to meet him and eventually, after one or two visits, he gave me a few original story headings. Black and white pen and ink work. I just set to, copying the artwork and I would take down my efforts. I was coming up to sixteen. Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen; coming up to the Highers, the old Scottish Highers. And I really had my job fixed with Thomson’s, to go in in August the year that I sat my Highers. You sat your Highers in March, April, if I remember correctly, and my job was more or less fixed before I sat an exam. I often say, unlike some of the more clever folks in my class, who were worrying about these sorts of things, I didn’t have to. So, I’m not gonna say I sailed through my exams, but I passed them. I already knew the future was there, so I started in August ’49.
DR: It’s interesting that...you actually went on staff as an artist at Thomson’s?
IK: Oh, yes. I went right into the studio as a tea boy. Making the tea, the young lad always got that job. Filled the urn in the morning and got it going. Woe betide, now and again, if you forgot to switch the urn on. Half past ten came and it was still stone cold! (laughs) You got a pummelling then! My first published job, this is the joke, was the crossword for The Sunday Post.
DR: The crossword?
IK: You got the graphed paper, the sectioned paper, and it was usually sent in by a reader. I had little gummed numbers for the relevant corners and painted in the blacks, and that was my first ever published job. Then I went on to doing little things like the quick tick quizzes in the old papers, where you had little sketches and three answers to the question, and the reader would tick whichever one, you know? And then onto headings, because the picture story really hadn’t come in at that time. It was just beginning to. One or two picture stories, but it was mainly text stories, with a heading. A three or four column heading across the first page. And then what really made me go freelance was that I got married when I was twenty-one to the nurse who nursed me when I had my ear troubles.
DR: So something good came of that, then.
IK: That’s right, yeah. So then we soldiered on for a wee while, but the wages weren’t all that very good. There was a chap who used to work in D.C. Thomson’s who was at that time running an agency, a chap called Bill McCail. I think Bill had been sacked because of his Leftist tendencies, which were frowned upon at Thomson’s at that time. I think they possibly might still be, I’m not sure about that. Doug Phillips, who does People’s Friend covers, etc., is more of a landscape artist. Doug and I sat together. We sort of goaded each other along, “Let’s go and see Bill and see if we can get a job down in London”, because things really were beginning to take off. That was in 1953, ‘54. That was the start of what I call the golden times. I went along to Bill McCail and on one of his visits down South he took along some of my stuff. He came back and said, “Look, you could be earning an awful lot more.” The figure of one thousand pounds was quoted - per year. Which, in 1954, was good money. So my son was just born, and that was the year I went freelance. And of course, the family were all, “Oh, he’s giving up his steady job with Thomson’s.” Anyway, we took the chance, and I never did...well, I didn’t do for quite some time, earn a thousand pounds. I think it stuck somewhere about sixteen pounds a week, which was still more than twice I’d been on before. So I started off doing Kit Carson, I think it was, for the Knockout. Western stuff, of course, with horses. Which I have hated ever since. I do not like drawing horses and they keep getting me to draw horses from time to time! But from there on, the number of subjects that you got into…What I have to do is take out all my accounts books for all those years, which I have still, and I’ve been told by a friend over in Canada, a chap called Peter Hanson, “For Goodness’ sake, do not bin them, because these sorts of things are very interesting.” And that would obviously give a record, not only of what I earned, for what it’s worth, but it would give also a diary really, or a history, of the number of types of subjects that I produced strips on throughout the years.
DR: Which companies were you working for?
IK: At that time, it was Amalgamated Press, which eventually became IPC, and I went down there and met one of the big bosses, a chap called Monty Hayden, big tall fella, very much the Louis Mountbatten type.
DR: Were you still doing all this work from Dundee?
IK: Yes. I’ve always worked from home in Dundee. At that time, we had a two room flat in Lyon Street and then my daughter came along, so that meant there was no room for working in the place. So I rented a room down Victoria Road way, and that was my studio for a while. And then we did saving, etc., to buy our own home, and of course I had a room as a studio, especially for the job.
DR: Did you go down to visit London often?
IK: I would go down possibly once or twice a year and I got to know quite a few of the editors, who were all possibly just about the same age as myself. The editors would be a bit older, but the sub-eds, they would be about the same age and they of course eventually became editors. I keep up with one or two of them still. They’re retired. Barry Tomlinson, he was an Eagle editor. Dave Hunt, Eagle editor. Dave Gregory, a few others besides. If nothing else, we exchange Christmas cards. There’s always the phone now, we can give each other a ring. But they’re all retired now. It’s only stupid artists that keep going (laughs).
DR: Did you ever do any humour strips?
IK: No. I always say it’s because I didn’t have a sense of humour. (laughs) No, I never did get around to doing the comic comics, if you see what I mean.
DR: OK. Well, you did Westerns and then you got onto your aeroplane, aircraft stories. Air Ace.
IK: Yes. Air Ace, War Picture Library, they were really, by that time, going places. I got into them, and that, I suppose, was where it all really took off. Up ‘til then, it had just been sort of a gradual progression. Six months after I’d left Thomson’s, of course the thought was, having left, that was it. You’d cut loose and you wouldn’t ever get any work from them. But it didn’t work out that way. They were looking for artists and they were looking for people who could draw aeroplanes, etc. So obviously the editors in Thomson’s, the ones I knew, they prevailed, and six months later I started doing work for Thomson’s again. So between Thomson’s and A.P., as it was, I was kept very busy. Extremely busy.
DR: That worked out very well, then…You would have grown up during World War Two?
DR: Was that an influence on your interest in planes?
IK: Oh, aye, very much so, because there was never more than about a quarter of an hour passed that there wasn’t another aeroplane coming across the sky. You had so many airfields around here. I don’t think people quite realised that around the Dundee area alone, you had something like five or six operational fields. It’s always been a puzzle to me why the Germans didn’t cotton on to that and attack them more often. If fact, I could say they never were actually attacked. The only time bombs dropped on Dundee, I understand, was a guy coming back from raiding Glasgow and he still had a couple left, and he just dropped them. Jettisoned them, and one landed in Baxter Park, the other landed on a Jute factory. Next door to it, I think there was a third bomb, and that landed somewhere around Rosefield Street. And that was the height of Dundee’s involvement in the war. But you had Leuchars, Tealing was a training aerodrome, Erroll was sort of a subsidiary drome. Edzell. It’s quite amazing just how many local airfields were around the place, and of course you had the flying boats on the Tay. There was a fleet at Stannergate and there was a Norwegian squad, Catalinas over at Tayport, based at Woodhaven. So there was a tremendous amount of air activity. I was seeing that and I wanted to get up there and do it myself.
DR: Do you still keep your interest going in aircraft?
IK: Yes. It’s beginning to flatten out now, I would say. Up until three or four years ago, I was involved doing the covers for Leuchars magazine until a decision was made to start getting them done on computer.
DR: Ah. That’s a shame.
IK: To be quite honest, I think that killed a lot of my interest…not interest in aircraft, but my feelings for doing anything like that. The guys I’ve always usually had to deal with, either editorially or otherwise, they were the tops, they were professionals.
DR: They knew the value of your work.
IK: Yeah. And they knew what they wanted, and I gave them what they wanted. Most times I think we managed to compromise. Now and again, when I’m doing a private commission, you will come across a chap who will try to fiddle about a little bit. I just say to them, “Look, if you want me to do it, you’re gonna have to let me do it. I’ll put in everything you want, but you have to let me do it, so I’m happy. And as long as you’re happy at the end of the day, you have to let me do it.
DR: It’s still your artwork.
IK: It is, yeah. So if somebody looks at a bit where somebody has interfered, it isn’t quite right, they’ll say, “He hasn’t quite got that right, has he?”, little realising that it wasn’t my wish that that should be in the picture.
DR: So, they’ll come to you with say, a cover, and say,“recreate this”.
IK: Well, for instance, I have a chap over in Belfast, who’s a great Dan Dare fan, and he’ll tell me what he would like to see in it. Then I do a black and white pencil sketch, a composition, send that over to him, just to see if he’s quite happy with that layout. Most times he is, he’ll say maybe, “can we have that character a wee bit more prominent”, or something like that, and I’ll fiddle about with it. That’s how we do it.
DR: Do you have any comic book artists that you admire?
IK: There are quite a few. Most of them, I don’t know them by name. I know their stuff. I remember way back when Dan Dare, the original Dan Dare, was on the go, there was an artist called Tacconi. There was a series in the Junior Express…hang on a second. (Ian leaves the room, comes back clutching a comic). I’m sure you’ve come across this publication.
DR: Oh, yes. Spaceship Away.
IK: Spaceship Away. (searching through the pages) It’s maybe not in this issue, of course. Sure as fate. Here we are, Journey into Space. Tacconi, I assume was Italian, although he might have been Spanish, although it does sound more Italian to me, and this stuff I did admire. It’s excellent stuff. It’s coming up pretty well, even on the reprints, but to see the original, I’ve probably got some of the original stuff somewhere, it’s so very good. This really did have an influence on me when I started doing Dan Dare.
DR: Yeah, I can see it.
IK: You can see the use of colour. Obviously the figure work and everything is really different. This was coming out in the Junior Express, if I remember rightly. (looking closely) I wonder if the date of the original is here? Here we are, it’s a BBC radio serial. First published in Express Weekly, but they don’t give a date. I think it must be back in the Sixties. Yeah, maybe the late Sixties. But you can see it did influence my approach to colour.
DR: Do you ever collect any artwork by other artists?
IK: I’ve never really been able to get a hold of originals, unfortunately. I suppose what I should really do is the like of Doug Phillips, do my own commissioning, you know. Get them to do something for me, you know?
DR: Who’s doing Dan Dare in this magazine?
IK: (looking closely again), “Dan Dare originally created by Frank Hampson”, right. Now, this is written by Rod Barzilay, who’s been around for a long time now, and he’s producing this magazine. And it’s drawn by Don Harley. Now, Don follows the original Dan, the Frank Hampson stuff fairly closely. And then, Keith Watson, one or two others. Tim Booth. When I was doing Dan Dare, I wasn’t drawing the original Dan, it was a great nephew or something.
DR: A great great grandson.
IK: Yeah, a grandson, so I was able, because of that, although he still had the eyebrows, I was able to come away from the original character.
DR: Did you change the design of the Mekon, as well?
IK: Yes. Alan Vince was on about it in one of these latest magazines. It says, “Kennedy’s still got the Mekon top heavy”, and I always felt the Mekon should be a top-heavy.
DR: At a comics conference recently, there was a chap there I was talking with, and we were both talking about your Dan Dare and the new one. I said I like the new one, It’s good, I enjoy it, however the Mekon’s head has shrunk. What’s happened to his head? He was laughing because he’d had the same thought. It’s only slightly bigger than the other treens. So I think that must be what it is, I’ve been influenced by the way you drew him with the big head and the skinny body.
IK: Yes, I suspect I changed the Mekon a bit.
DR: Your layouts as well, were a lot more varied. These are all square. Yours were round, explosion shaped, figures coming out of panels.
IK: That’s right, that’s right. What they’re doing here, and I see what they’re on about, they’re trying to reproduce it as it was in the original Eagle. More regimented. There’s no question, this has been done with the original Dan Dare layouts in mind.
DR: They’re even using the Eagle logo every two or three pages.
DR: Have you seen the other Dan Dare that’s out just now? Gary Erskine, a Scottish fella as well, he’s drawing that.
DR: Erskine. It’s been a six or seven issue series. It’s Virgin Comics that have done it.
IK: No, I don’t think I’ve seen that.
DR: That’s the original character, as well. Not following quite as closely as Spaceship Away, in fact I think he’s...Like yourself, you designed all the craft and technology?
DR: This one’s the same. It’s all new spaceships, etc., again, with the same characters.
DR: But you’ve not seen it.
IK: I can’t remember. When did it start?
DR: It’s very recent.
IK: Very recently it’s been coming out. I must say, I’m guilty now of tending, especially with moving house this past eighteen months, I’m afraid, apart from just doing my job, I’ve kinda lost touch with what’s coming onto the newsstands, and the magazine stands. So I must really start having a look again. What do they call this?
DR: Well, it’s just called Dan Dare.
IK: It’s called Dan Dare.
DR: Yeah, and it’s, I think, six issues.
IK: Per year?
IK: Oh, it’s a proper compilation sort of thing?
DR: Yeah, it’s gonna be six, then it’ll be a book, and then they’ll maybe do another one.
IK: Ah. No, I haven’t seen that.
DR: It’s not...we’re around the middle of that. I think there’s one or two issues left and then...
IK: It’s similar to what Thomson’s are doing with Commando, where they’re putting eight or so together.
DR: You know, they’re not crediting anybody in these Commando books though. That’s an annoyance for readers, I think.
IK: That’s right. They’re beginning to credit in the actual Commando booklet itself now. They’ve started doing that. The new editor took over, Calum. I’ve known Calum since he came in to the office as a young lad. His father actually was principal, if I remember correctly, of Dundee College of Art, so Calum’s kinda steeped in the situation and he took over six months ago, something like that. Maybe a bit longer, because time does pass, and it was just about that time that they started inside the front cover on the frontispiece. There’s a little panel and it gives the cover artist, the inside artist, and the author. So at long last, we’re getting…it doesn’t give you any more money (laughs). But I’m probably fortunate in that most of my fans now can recognise, even if it’s not signed.
DR: Ah-hah. Oh, yeah.
IK: It’s just like handwriting, the style’s there.
DR: It’s distinctive. What I always liked was that you had your colour work and your black and white ones, and your style is still there in both, of course. That was fascinating to me as a youngster. The style was the same, regardless of the colour being there or not.
IK: That’s right, yeah.
DR: Do you have a preference for working one way or the other?
IK: Oh, I love to work in colour, but if it’s got to be black and white, then, yeah.
DR: You did some stuff for 2000ad. It was MACH 1…
IK: Yeah, I did some of that. Yes.
DR: …and your episode was full of the aeroplanes again.
IK: That’s right, yes. The guys down south, seemed to, when they saw a particular episode, I assume what they’d say is “we know exactly the guy to do that episode”, so that's the ones that came in my direction.
DR: “Get me Ian Kennedy!”
IK: (laughs) That was it. I really got to know the guys down south very well. Smashing crowd, really.
DR: Do you keep your artwork?
IK: No. I’m afraid, uh, no.
IK: You just had to accept it. That’s all there is to it, otherwise the chances were you wouldn’t have got the work. That’s all there is to it.
DR: What always strikes me with comics artists is that you’re not just drawing a picture. Well, you’re drawing a picture, but you’re doing a series of pictures. You’re conveying a story.
DR: I imagine you were given a script by the writer and then would it just be yourself who worked out the layout of that?
IK: What I got was basically a manuscript. What say, an actor would get. There would be a top line, and then down below would be what they wanted in the picture, and down below that again would be what each character is saying in his or her balloon.
DR: Then it was down to you to lay it out in whichever way your sensibilities dictated?
IK: Yes, and especially as things freed up from the regimented way. I would sit down and say, right, say it’s a two-pager, I would decide what would go on page one and what would go on page two.
DR: Now, that dictates how it’s read. How you lay it out.
IK: Oh, yes. It would still have to run.
DR: I always think so much of the writing is actually in the artwork, that I wonder have you ever written the script as well?
IK: I’ve written the odd script, but only ever one or two over the years. I did one for a Swedish company that I worked for latterly.
DR: Was that Fantomen?
IK: Fantomen, yeah.
DR: Right. What was that exactly? I only know the name.
IK: It was a guy called Tybalt. How did that come about? He was a quite good looking guy, but there was something…a nasty accident or whatever, and he ended up with plastic surgery, and all the rest, and he became a fighter for truth and good, you know? That sort of thing.
DR: Right, yeah.
IK: But it was really…the guy who wrote it, nice enough guy, he worked with IPC and AP, I think he was maybe slightly older than myself. I don’t know if Norman’s still alive, to be honest, but he didn’t, how can I put it? His imagination was limited, and it was a bit of a bore to work on at times. The money was good, so I just stuck with that. It was one of the series that I did that I least liked doing, to be quite honest. As you can well imagine, if an artist gets a script, if it’s a good one, it’ll spark him off. Really get him going. I’ve been very fortunate in that most scripts, in fact pretty well I could say 99.9% of scripts, there’s been enough there to just go whoosh! Off I go.
DR: So how did you end up writing that one?
IK: I did one episode, involving racing cars, trying to lift the thing off.
DR: Did you suggest, “I could write one of these”?
IK: I can’t remember how it came about, whether things had slowed up and they were needing a script quickly. I can’t remember, but anyway it was a case, as I said, of trying to give it a lift, and maybe give a hint to the regular author what exactly we want, what I would like to work on, but it never did work out that way.
DR: Did that turn out to be the best episode that you did?
IK: (laughs) Oh, I don’t know. I wouldn’t like to say.
DR: Right (laughs).
IK: But then just about that time, my wife contracted an illness which, a pretty serious business, shall we say. Hospital for seven months and she came out being told that she would never walk again. It’s one of these illnesses related to multiple sclerosis. Neuropathy. But, very fortunate, she’s really worked hard and the treatment they gave her at Ninewells, etc. over the past seven years of it. She’s now off the treatment and touch wood, things seem to have stabilised and she can walk. She looks after the garden. I do a bit of it, but she’s the one. So things are a lot better. But at that time, it looked as if I was going to have to do a lot of caring, so I had to regretfully, or maybe not quite so regretfully, although at the time I said to Sweden, “Look, I’m not going to be able to keep up this production rate, and something’s got to go.” And I thought to myself, well the sorts of things that I could still fit in to life as it looked as though it was going to be, were still things like Commando covers, one-offs, that sort of thing. Not getting into long series, so that was basically the last picture stories I’ve done.
IK: Because Dan Dare finished before then.
DR: Oh, yeah.
IK: That was back in the early ‘90s?
DR: That revamped Eagle, yeah, I think finished about ‘92, ‘93.
IK: I had a car accident and it was just after I recovered from that, when Barry Tomlinson came at me and said, “We’re looking for someone to take over Dan.” They’d resurrected him, but I don’t think they were too happy at the way things were going. And he said, “Can you take it on?” That was ‘82, I think.
DR: Gerry Embleton had brought it back.
IK: I think Gerry was involved.
DR: So he obviously wasn’t going to be doing it any more.
IK: I don’t know who it was they were unhappy with, but they just felt it was lacking something, and they had hopes I might be able to, with my Air Ace experience, etc, the mechanical stuff, they thought, and hopefully they were right, that I could inject the sort of thing they wanted. They must have been successful, because I think we did it for about ten years before Eagle folded again.
DR: You did actually draw the original Dan Dare character in some stories, didn’t you? Most of the time it was the grandson.
IK: That’s right. We had to, now and again, have a flashback. That’s right, yes, yes…
DR: You actually had Dan Dare being a pilot in the war, I remember that.
IK: Yeah? You’ve got a better memory than me. (Laughs)
DR: I was reading it avidly at the time.
IK: Yeah. (laughs)
DR: This was a big thing at our school. It was at the same level as Star Wars at the time. So it was definitely having an impact.
IK: Obviously! In your formative years.
(At this point Ian brought through a couple of cardboard folio cases with four or five art boards inside)
IK: This would be the sum total of my Dan Dare artwork.
DR: This is it? Ian, you did so much.
(Ian hands over the boards)
DR: Wow. Dan Dare.
IK: I wouldn’t even have these, but I was doing a lecture and Dave sent up the stuff and said, “Just don’t bother sending it back.” (Addresses board) This would be the centre spread.
DR: These panels are quite strongly based on the original Dan Dare. These are like redrawn scenes from the original stories.
IK: Actually, I’m just looking…these aren’t my colourings. That was at the stage where there was so much being done, I did the black and whites and this chap did the colouring for it. What was his name again? Oh, that’s terrible. Old age doesn’t come itself. This chap did the colouring for it.
DR: So did you pencil this, ink it, rub out the pencils?
IK: Yes. (Hands over another board) That’s my colouring.
DR: Oh, yeah. I remember this one. This scene here…have you ever looked at anything that’s on the internet about yourself?
IK: I’ve heard there are quite a few websites.
DR: There’s a famous one from Holland that lists all the worldwide artists. You’re on it and this is actually the one…
IK: The one that they show. Yeah. Chris Weston did a web, in fact he did the first web on me. He came up to see me when we were at another place quite a few years ago now, and I have a copy of that, a print-out of it, but that’s all I have. The friend of mine in Canada said he’d just been reading that one in Holland. (Looks at board) That’s my colouring.
DR: You recognise your own colouring.
IK: Yes. That’s definitely my colouring, and so is that. It’s just two there that were done by John…? John Burns!
DR: John Burns? He’s a good artist in his own right, isn’t he?
IK: Now, apparently there was father and son, I understand.
DR: Ah, OK.
IK: Father might have been more of my generation, I don’t know. But I seem to remember someone saying young John was doing the colouring.
|The Computer Warrior.|
DR: OK. (Points at board) This spaceship was the Firefly.
IK: That’s it! That was it, yeah.
DR: I remember this storyline. He had a bionic hand. I can still see in my mind the drawing you did of him punching through the glass.
DR: I could stare at these all day, I think.
IK: I’ll take them from you, if you like.
DR: If you must (doesn’t hand them over).
IK: That’s the sum total of my…of what I’ve got left. Actually, no, there are some other bits and pieces, but I don’t quite know where they are. Probably packed away, safely out of harm’s way.
DR: Did you just come up with all this…all this gadgetry here, the cockpits? It’s all made up, of course.
IK: Yes. Oh, aye.
DR: You would come up with this as you were going?
IK: Well, a lot of that would be based on going way back to the old days when I was doing cockpit stuff. It just evolved from that. And a lot of my spaceships would be based on…I had a Reader’s Digest repair manual, I still have it, and it’s full of pictures and diagrams of lawn mowers, and machinery, and you’d be amazed just how much that sort of thing helped me in shapes for my…I would just look, see a bit on a lawn mower or something, and say to myself, that would make an absolutely perfect centre part for a spaceship, and then I would build around it.
DR: Ah, that is fascinating. Some really inocuous item, and you’d turn it into something, a spacecraft.
IK: Yeah, you’d build it up.
DR: And then you’re obviously using your dogfight…I mean this is World War Two stuff here, in space.
IK: This is basically what they wanted from me when they changed it from…when they stopped getting Gerry to do it, and gave me the job.
DR: And is this…watercolours?
IK: Acrylics. Yeah, I’ve never worked in anything else.
DR: And is this white-out here? Tipp-Ex?
IK: Yes. When I started working in colour I worked in coloured inks, but acrylics were really just coming onto the scene in the late Sixties and early Seventies, and that was when I went over to acrylics, and found them to be absolutely ideal for the job, because they’re so clean, and you can do so much with them.
DR: I can’t seem to put these down. I keep trying to give them back to you and my hands won’t let me. I better give them to you.
IK: (laughs) I suppose someday they might just come on the market, I don’t know. I’m holding on to them, more for my family’s sake than mine, you know.
DR: Definitely, yeah.
IK: Because I have two grandsons and a great grandson as well, so maybe one day he’ll have a page or two of Dan Dare.
DR: Definitely, yeah. Great (hands over board).
IK: (handing over another board) You’ll know this one. That was an annual. That’s not the original, of course. That’s prints. I’ve got the originals of them somewhere.
DR: This must have been before you actually took the strip on in Eagle, because this is a 2000ad.
IK: It could well be. That might have been the trigger for them.
DR: Yeah, because this is the design of the late seventies Dan Dare.
IK: I’m not sure, but that’s maybe the reason they asked me to take it on.
DR: Yeah, I didn’t know you’d done this actually. I haven’t seen these. Interesting.
IK: I’ve got the originals of these somewhere. I’m just not quite sure where they are.
DR: So they’re really just quite arbritary about whether you would get the originals back or not, I take it.
IK: Yeah, I don’t know why...again, I think I got that back at the same time as I got the big ones.
DR: OK. Thanks very much. Good to see them. I’ll just go back to my notes here. I’m interested in the kind of speed you worked at. How did you find deadlines?
IK: I was very lucky in that very seldom did we actually have to work to deadlines. Dave Hunt, I can always remember he was editor of the Eagle when we were working on Dan Dare, but I worked with Dave for a long time before that in his other publications. I can always remember him saying to me over the phone, “I envisage you, sitting there in the studio with your diary in front of you because you’re able to say, “yes I can do it by such and such a time, or no, I can’t.”” It was pure instinct. When I got the script Dave said, “Look, I’ve got four pages to do and this is roughly what it’ll be.” What I never did, David, was all my career, I always made sure I didn’t over-commit myself.
IK: I always gave myself, let’s say for the sake of argument, two or three days more. If he said I need it by the 19th, I’d add my two or three days on, that made it the 22nd, 23rd. I’d say, “No, I can’t manage it by the 19th. Chances are I could, if I pushed hard enough. I would say, “No, but you can have it by the 23rd”, and that was usually okay, because he was allowing himself time at the other end as well. We got to know each other. As a result, deadlines never really came into it, because we were always working within our ability to produce, timewise.
DR: So how far ahead were you doing your three or four pages weekly?
IK: Before printing of the publication?
IK: Oh, that’s a difficult one, because it varies from publication to publication. I suppose you could be working...oh, no, I couldn’t even guess at it. No, it would be wrong of me to guess. I could say a month, I could say six weeks ahead of the publication date, but I would be wrong to do that because it would all depend on the state of affairs in their process departments. So I could give them it on a certain date, but it might be quite some time before, and then of course they were always filling in things like specials and annuals, etc., so I think it was always a state of flux.
DR: Okay. Is there any artwork you did outside comics?
IK: Well, this sort of thing (motions to several large impressive prints of aircraft hanging around the room). I was involved with Leuchars for must have been about fifteen years. I did the cover for the program.
DR: Any advertising things?
IK: I’ve done the odd advertising, very little. Really very little. Sometimes there was an advert needed done, it possibly involved something like a well known character, with Dan Dare. There was one other thing I did (looks through folio case). The Goodwood motor racing (brings out three pages of comic strip). It was featured in the program. It features Stirling Moss.
DR: This was quite recently?
IK: Yeah, this would maybe be about four or five years ago. It was actually a picture story they decided to run in the program, the presentation sorta program for Good Wood.
DR: Now, is this done in black pen? You see to have brush marks, too.
IK: Yeah, I developed a technique doing a black and white drawing almost, and then colouring it up. I found that was the best way to get the effect you wanted.
DR: This is kind of a trademark of your work, the speed lines.
IK: Yeah, the dry brush.
DR: It’s effective.
IK: (going through the panels) Stirling Moss, the bank robbers run away, he sees this young girl in a car, jumps in, and they go driving after the robbers. Obviously, it wasn’t all that successful, That was the last attempt at trying to get somebody to look like somebody. In other words, Stirling Moss.
DR: You quite like drawing the vehicles as well, the cars.
IK: Oh, yes. Anything mechanical like that.
DR: I love all the colours. It’s always broad daylight in your world, Ian.
DR: You see everything really well.
DR: Great stuff.
IK: That was a one-off. In fact, I’d done the artwork and the guy said, “Can I buy it from you?”, and I said, “Yeah”. He said, “What would you charge?”, and I gave him what was the run of the mill price for something like this, and he obviously thought he was going to get it for next to nothing. So I ended up with it. I’m quite happy to hold onto it. You do tend to find that an awful lot of folks who want to buy artwork don’t realise the amount of work that goes into it, the time taken...
DR: It takes a few seconds to look at it, say, “that’s nice, I like that”, whereas hours have gone into it.
IK: Yes, uh-huh. That’s it.
DR: Hours and days.
IK: But fortunately, most people who come at me for a private commission have a fair idea of the, y’know, the market value of the stuff.
DR: So how much would you charge for something?
IK: I think, if I remember rightly, for the three pages I was going to charge twelve hundred. In other words, we’re talking four hundred pounds a page. That’s a bit above the actual price you would get for doing the job, but then you’re selling the actual artwork, and it’s a one-off situation so there has to be some sort of a premium, you know? But I’ve been pretty lucky that way. I’ve never made a fortune, but I’ve made a steady living at it. I’ve just done one for a chap...in fact, I can let you see a print of what we did. I always like to get a print if possible when I’m sending stuff off. Come on through (to Ian’s studio). A friend of mine once said, “Thanks for letting me see the boiler house”, he said, “biler hoose” (laughs). Just watch your feet here, there are three steps down. This is part of the old cottage.
DR: Is this your mantra up here?
IK: That’s from the early Seventies. I was struggling like nobody’s business, and I was virtually sick trying to get the effect I wanted. And I finally thought, “Wait a minute. You know what you want, but if you can give the editor what he’s happy with, then “It doesn’t have to be a bloody masterpiece””. And what I did was I scrawled that out on an old bit of Bristol board and it’s hung above my board for oh...let’s say thirty to forty years that’s hung up there, and it’s as you say, my mantra. It doesn’t have to be...as long as you have given them what they wanted to the best of your ability, it doesn’t...What went on in your mind when you were doing it is of no real interest to the editor, or the customer, as long as the customer gets what he wants.
DR: You’re expending more energy than is required and it’s not even helping the piece.
IK: Exactly. You’re probably making it worse.
IK: That’s what I’m enjoying now, in partial retirement. I can actually afford, say for instance it’s something not quite going right. I can actually afford to put it aside and have a look at it tomorrow morning. And you know, it’s amazing, you’ll know yourself, something back here, you’re not conscious of it, just works away and works away, and then you come back and you look at it and either you say, “Oh, I know what to do now”, or you say to yourself, “I’m not needing to do anything, because it’s all clear”, you know.
DR: And what’s this above it here?
DR: “Don’t!” in red letters.
IK: That’s another one. That’s to do with my wife.
DR: Ah, okay.
IK: There are times, don’t discuss certain subjects. (laughs)
DR: That’s not an artistic one.
IK: Well, it has something to do with it as well. It has a relationship to, you know, “Don’t overwork it”, so to speak. In other words, what’s the new saying they say nowadays, “Don’t open your mouth until your mind’s in gear”. Have you heard that one?
IK: It’s somewhat similar. Do you know what I mean?
DR: Just back off a bit.
IK: Yeah, just back off a wee bit, and think about it. Because I feel so many people get themselves into trouble and arguments by just saying something too quickly.
IK: Life’s too short for that sort of thing.
DR: (sees stereo) Do you listen to music while you work?
IK: Not so much now. When I was really in full production I used to listen to what used to be the old Home Service, Radio Four. That was mainly what I listened to back then. But now, I find, maybe it’s because I’m a bit older, I find it tends to be a bit of a distraction. So now I don’t really, I tend to work in silence.
DR: Just when you’re inking or colouring, maybe?
IK: No. I would say all the time I’m working in silence. (Rummages around) That’s a print of the one that went off to Vienna. I actually gave him the suggestion for the title, he hadn’t mentioned any, I said, “How about, “Seeing them off, 1940”?” (laughs)
DR: So is this the actual size?
IK: Yes, I just sent it like that to him, then what he would do is crop it, and frame it himself, when he got it over there.
DR: Did you know one of your pieces is on exhibition just now at the National Library of Scotland? One of your Starblazer covers.
IK: Oh! (Motions back to artwork) That was done for a chap over in Belfast. That was done for thirteen hundred, but you can see the content. He wanted the original Dan.
DR: That’s what I was thinking, that’s not the character you did so often.
IK: That’s the original Dan. Professor Peabody, What’s his name...Sir Hubert, isn’t it? And the Frenchman, the American and of course, Digby.
DR: Yeah, and that thing.
IK: Aye, that funny little beasty. I took three prints of that one. (Motions to pencil drawing) That’s just one of the little things that I do for Commando just now. You’ve probably seen them on the inside of the back cover.
DR: You worked on Judge Dredd too.
IK: Yes, I did one or two, but not very many. Just a case of them maybe needing, they were maybe running out of time, and I did one or two, I remember.
DR: Right. How was that?
IK: I never quite got with it, somehow. It wasn’t quite my scene.
DR: He’s quite...rough. (laughs)
IK: That’s it. I wasn’t into that side of things at all. Almost horror film style. It wasn’t quite my style. In fact, I remember one thing. I can’t remember what the actual subject matter was, but I do remember, it’s the only time it ever happened, I had to write back and say “No, I’m not happy with the subject matter of this.” It was just a bit beyond the pale. I can’t even remember what it was about, but it does stick in my mind that I said no. I didn’t want anything to do with that. I don’t think it was for any of the regular publications. It was one of the more horror style comics that asked me if I would do something and I said no. It just wasn’t...I didn’t want to be associated with it.
DR: When was that?
IK: That would be about the time when I was busy. Back in the Seventies, Eighties, maybe, I don’t know, I can’t remember. It just sticks in the mind, the one occasion when I did refuse to do something. I know that other artists have also had that experience.
DR: Is it a difficult decision to decide to turn something down, you don’t want to get known as being... “He’s not working”
DR: No. It doesn’t work like that.
IK: No. Well, as I said, I was fortunate enough to have plenty ongoing anyway.
DR: You had plenty on.
IK: At the end of the day it was quite an easy decision to make.
DR: You did Blakes 7 as well.
IK: That’s right, yeah. That was quite interesting because I went down to meet the cast. I saw them filming one of the episodes. That job was difficult because I’ve never been good at getting likenesses. I suppose it’s a bit like portrait painting. People specialise in certain branches of the art. A good friend of mine, Jimmy Thompson, is a tremendous caricaturist, and I once or twice thought about getting in touch with Jimmy and saying, “Look, here’s Avon, or whoever it is from Blakes 7, will you do me a caricature of him”, so that he would have picked out the salient, the important features, then I could have based it on that. I never did get round to it, but it did cross my mind once or twice. And yet, when I think of it, if I could sit down and have a photograph of an aeroplane, and just sit and draw it from the photograph, surely to goodness I should be able to do the same with a human face. It never did work out like that.
DR: Maybe it’s just your particular interest that’s fuelling it. Anyway, the likenesses were really pretty good.
IK: Yes. Looking back now, people do say that I got most of them pretty well. But at the time you were always thinking, that’s not quite right. I was too close to the job. People looking back now, seeing it with a fresh eye would say, “Yeah, that’s recognisable.” It was just one of those things. I was learning all that.
DR: Was it the editor who was strong on getting the likenesses right?
IK: Well, he certainly never complained. I’m trying to remember who was the editor?
DR: Was that a Marvel Comics thing? Marvel UK?
IK: Was that Marvel? Ken Armstrong was involved. Ken was another Dundee chap actually, although he’d gone down South to live. Who was the editor? The name Dave Gregory comes to mind. Now, if it’s Dave Gregory, it would have been IPC. I’m not absolutely sure. But I remember Ken was involved. We went to the studio together.
DR: It’s probably one of these properties that went through a few hands.
IK: It’s a pity it didn’t go for longer. It didn’t seem to have the appeal that Doctor Who has. There you are, you see, I’ve never been a great Doctor Who fan. Never quite got with it. Although, it’s probable the fault is mine. I have never really watched an awful lot of it. It maybe strains my imagination a bit too far sometimes. I say, “Oh, come on, get real!” (laughs) But no. I enjoyed the Blakes 7 stuff. It was not unlike Dan Dare, in the general scheme of things.
DR: It strikes me that a lot of these comics based on Doctor Who or whatever, really the likenesses aren’t there at all. It doesn’t seem to matter a lot of the time though. If you think of someone like Al Williamson doing Star Wars, the artwork is really good, but it didn’t look like Harrison Ford, or anything like that.
IK: No, no.
DR: But when you did it, likeness was important.
DR: Another one that I remember in the Eagle was The Computer Warrior.
IK: Oh, yes. I remember that vaguely. I didn’t do any of that, did I?
IK: Oh, gosh.
DR: The little boy goes into the computer and runs around.
DR: Yeah, you did that.
IK: Dear me. You know, going back over the years, it’s unbelievable. I look at stuff sometimes, some reprint stuff, and I think, “they tell me I did that”, but I can’t remember doing it, you know. I’m not questioning the quality, although sometimes I’ll say to myself, “I could have done better than that.” (laughs) But no, it all tends, apart from the really special jobs, it all does tend to fade into the mists of time. Especially if I’d maybe just done a few to fill in.
DR: Yeah, I think that Computer Warrior, it had a long story, but each chapter he was in a different game.
DR: So every different game was a different artist.
DR: You were one of the games in there (laughs).
IK: Yes. Maybe almost sort of a one-off situation.
DR: Yeah, or maybe four or five issues or something.
DR: And that was in Eagle, it kinda changed format, went to the more square format.
IK: That’s right. It went down in quality paper, too, didn’t it?
DR: It did, yes.
IK: They started to cheapen it.
DR: Eagle and Tiger. They re-launched it as Eagle and Tiger.
IK: That’s right, yes.
DR: You had some covers on there, somebody else was doing Dan Dare at that point, you were doing Computer Warrior.
DR: But it doesn’t stick in the mind.
IK: No. (laughs)
DR: OK. Nowadays, most of your work, all of your work as far as I know, is covers, more than actual strips.
IK: Yes. I haven’t done any, let me think, the last series, black and white picture story series, we must really go back to the Swedish stuff. I did one or two Commando novels right through, cover to cover, but I think they were done quite some time before my wife’s illness. So that would go back to the Eighties and Nineties. I haven’t done anything like that since. I’ve been basically existing, strange to say, on Commando covers and various bits and pieces like that.
DR: Do you miss that side of things? The storytelling aspect of it?
IK: I don’t miss it now. I don’t think so. I think possibly at the age I’m at now…I haven’t done what Gordon Livingstone has done. You’ll know Gordon Livingstone. He did an awful lot of interior Commando stuff. He was always on the staff of Thomson’s, although he was one of the ones who was eventually able to work at home, on a freelance basis, but he got staff rates. I suppose it must be about five years ago now, Gordon was asked by George Low, editor at the time of Commando, if he would go on doing work. Gordon said no, and he hasn’t lifted a pen commercially since.
DR: He just stopped.
IK: He just stopped, like that. I know that he does the odd little…he was quite good, he had a bent for the comic or caricature style as well, and I know that he’ll do something now and again, you know, in the way of a wee flyer for the bowling club, the village has a do on or something. Obviously he’s not paid for that. He hasn’t done any commercial work at all since he retired. He just said, “That’s it”.
DR: You like to keep your hand in.
IK: I couldn’t really do that, I don’t think. Not yet, anyway. (laughs) I’d like to continue. As long as Commando continues, and there are one or two little bits and pieces to do.
DR: Well, it’s still good to see your artwork out there.
IK: Yes. It’s good to be involved and well, I don’t know what I would do with myself if there wasn’t something along those lines, just a wee working part of the week. Because my wife will find plenty for me to do otherwise! (laughs)