Interview. Comic book artist Steven Austin

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You first started work with Fanzines such as Zarjaz, could you tell me more about that period of your life?

I was working as a Business Manager at a village college, had been for about 2.5 years. I found the job was becoming increasingly stressful and it started to impact on my personal life. We had just had our first child who at this time was probably about 2 and I had decided that I was going to make a move that I probably should have taken a long time ago and decided to try out for life as a freelance artist. I decided that as I had financial responsibilities I should perhaps go down an artistic avenue that proved the best income and then try an side step into my first love of comics. I started to put the feelers out for storyboard work and once that started coming in OI decided to submit to publishers, top of my list was 2000ad. I drew a sample script, which was declined with feedback along the lines of, ‘You’re not ready’. I was putting my samples up on the 2000ad forum for critique and was approached by Owen Watts about drawing something for the Psychedelic Journal of Time Travel. I drew this script and found that my art improved so much over one 4 page story that I should continue drawing small press whilst I submitted work and so worked my way through many of the most popular small press publications including Bomb Scare by Time Bomb, Future-quake, Zarjaz and some more stuff for psychedelic Journal of Time Travel. This was a busy time with ‘lot’s of late nights as I was holding down a full time job, being a father and drawing comics.

Judge Dredd.

How did you land work with Zarjaz

As I mentioned above I got in touch with Dave Evans who I think had seen some of my other work and drew some stuff for future quake. Through the small press and social media I met Mike Lynch, a talented Irish writer and together we came up with a Dredd story that we wrote specifically for Zarjaz, we sent Dave the outline and he really liked it. It was entitled Cal’s Arena, the premise was that Dredd is captured by Chief Judge Cal and is pitted against some old foes in a gladiator arena that Cal had built to appease the masses. Mike done a fantastic job of writing it so that it slots into the original The Day the Law Died storyline. It appeared in Zarjaz #24 which you should still be able to pick up at the Future Quake Press website.

How did it feel to see your work in print?

Initially it felt fantastic, to see ones work in print with the lettering and title page etc. is always a thrill. But this is soon overpowered by the sudden realisation that every page has an error, all of a sudden all I can see are the errors. That’s the point at which I close the publication and put I aside. Recently I’ve started drawing covers for the prog, and to be honest that is a bigger thrill, to see my artwork on a shelf alongside other publications.

I can see a Brian Bolland influence in your work are you a big admirer of him

Yeah Brian was and still is a big influence. However there are several other artists over the years who have also influenced my work including Bryan Talbot,  Steve Dillon, Arthur Adams, John Byrne and Arthur Ranson. I’ve taken something from all of them at some point I think, in other words I’ve tried to draw like all of them at some point. Interestingly everybody seems to see a different influence within my work, Brian definitely being one of them – but I would never have the patience to ‘really’ draw like him.  I think ones style is the culmination of failed attempts to draw like ones idols. 

What are your future aspirations with your art Would you like to work for Marvel and D C

My future aspirations are to 1. Draw a Judge Dredd Strip, 2. Work for one of the bigger publishers although Dark Horse, Valiant or IDW appeal to me more nowadays then DC or Marvel, that said I would turn the offer down to work for either of those 2 as I grew up reading both DC and Marvel titles alongside 2000ad. 3) I’m still not entirely happy with my style yet, I want to continue to develop it and give it a bit more edginess.

Do you see Judge Dredd as satire or as a heroic figure

Definitely Satire, I think anyone who sees Dredd as a hero just doesn’t get it.

I feel you are a old school pen and ink artist would you ever use Digital art like Clint Langley

Never say never but at the moment it doesn’t appeal to me, I love the feel of pencil and brush on paper too much. I do use digital but in a limited capacity, to colour or to tidy up or make corrections. However the appeal of switching entirely to digital isn’t there.

There is a lot of rigorous detail in your art, do you prefer pencil or inks Who would be your ideal artist to ink and why

I really enjoy both disciplines, each offers something different. I love to sit and sketch with a pencil working through the ideas phase, this is generally quite fast, whereas the inking phase becomes almost meditative. With regards to inking an artist I would probably say Arthur Adams because he is so detailed and precise with his etching, I think it would be a real challenge to get it right.

Tell me more about your work with Toyota

Not much to tell really, Toyota is just one of many clients I have through the storyboard work, I generally work on advertising which means each job lasts for the maximum of 3 days, which suits me as I get fidgety working on the same thing for too long. 

Tell me more about your story Board work

I started pursuing storyboarding prior to comics as it offers a better income, as a storyboard artist I charge a day rate as opposed to the page rate comics offer. I work with various production companies around the UK on mainly Television commercials or online promotions. I draw adverts for cars, toys, clothing, fitness centres, expos, you name it. I’ve approached by production companies who are making commercials for there clients, I’m usually in touch with the producer and /or director and they will send me a script and sometimes a shot list. Much in the same was as with comic writers, some are really prescriptive with what they want whereas others will give me scope to draw what angles, shots I think would work. I usually provide a sheet of thumbnails first for the director/producer to see and then we’ll make any changes prior to me completing final boards. I average about 20 to 30 panels per day depending on what’s involved. Talking heads are obviously less time consuming than cityscapes.

What age did you get into comics?

My earliest memory of reading comics was when I was about 7, my mum used to buy me Marvel UK’s  Planet of the Apes comic and the Marvel Superheroes Weekly. With regards to 2000ad I first read that when I was 10, it was prog 277, with the Dredd story Fungus. I think it was also around this time that I started reading US format comics such as Batman, Detective Comics, X Men and Spiderman. 

Do you still collect comics?

Actually I sold my collection years ago but have since started collecting again for my kids, I have 2 boys, a 10 year old and a 3.5 year old, and a 7 week old little girl. With regards to new comics I tend to read them digitally. I still read the prog and am also a fan of Black Hammer and the Immortal Hulk. 

Books or comics and why?

Hmmmm, I read both, but if I ‘had’ to choose it would be comics, simply because nothing appeals to me more than visuals, and comics nowadays can be just as sophisticated as any novel with regards to storyline and narrative but with the added bonus that they include gorgeous artwork.

Anything you would like to end on

Just to highlight a couple of things that will be coming up over the next few months. I recently completed a new cover for either the prog or the Meg, another Dredd piece, not sure exactly when it’ll be released but its coming!! Also Mark McCann and myself will be relaunching our Kickstarter for our creator owned comic Black North. We did run a KS earlier in the year for a graphic novel c0ntaining the full story however this fell short so now we’re going to relaunch it as single issues. Also I’m currently in talks with the editor of Commando about draw/painting some covers for them, so keep your eyes peeling for those. Finally just want to thank you for the interview.

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