Thursday, 23 February 2012

Ewins and Dillon of Deadline Gulch

From Secret Origins: The Birth of Deadline. Brett Ewins, Jamie Hewlett & Steve Dillon, 1988

Many moons ago, I decided to leave my job at Marvel UK and go freelance. Robert Sutherland, Marvel’s MD, very kindly offered me a studio space in the basement as an incentive to carry on working for them in some capacity. This was a very helpful gesture and made the leap of faith into the precarious world of the freelancer a far more secure option.

With my design work for Marvel, my newly acquired work for 2000AD and my photographic commissions from other clients, things were working out in my favour. I’d also taken up Martial arts in the form of Hapkido and my teacher was a terrific guy called Philip Hartstein. The reason I mention Phil, is because he was instrumental in helping me find another studio when Marvel eventually re-located to another part of London. He also helped me move all of my equipment which was no mean feat. Way back before the modern-day scanner, there was a humongous piece of equipment called a Grant Enlarger, which was a vital tool for a designer, but it was made of metal, it was six foot high and it weighed a ton!

The studio that Phil discovered was a place called South Thames Studios and it belonged to a business acquaintance of his. I don’t know quite how he did it, but he managed to get me a work unit there for no rent whatsoever. It was also a 3-minute walk from the 2000AD editorial office. It was a good, nicely located place and before long the word got around, and it became a thriving community of comics professionals. One of these was another ex-Marvel colleague John Tomlinson who will continue the story from here...

Ewins and Dillon of Deadline Gulch
By John Tomlinson

Judge Anderson by Brett Ewins
When I first went freelance I rented an office unit (read: open top cubicle) in South Thames Studios, Blackfriars, across the road from the 2000AD Command Module at Irwin House. The 2000AD droids called it Vermin House due to the hot and cold running rodents, but South Thames Studios was quite plush by comparison – we had pigeonholes, photocopiers, even our own receptionist! Steve Cook, who already had a unit there, had told me about it. And my next-door neighbours were Brett Ewins and Steve Dillon, then in the process of setting up what became Deadline magazine. Brett and Steve were the undisputed stars of South Thames Studios and to me they always sounded like a couple of legendary gunslingers – Ewins and Dillon of Deadline Gulch, Arizona. Saloon doors wouldn’t have looked out of place on their cubicle. Regular visitors included Phillip Bond, Nick Abadzis and a gangling teenaged Jamie Hewlett with his early Tank Girl strips.

I soon discovered that freelancers keep weird hours. I’d rented the unit for some semblance of office life, but I certainly didn’t work a 9 to 5 day. I think I realised I was overdoing it when, as the last to leave one night I found myself thinking it might be a laugh to slip away unseen by the baleful red eye of the security motion sensors. I turned out all the lights and began to crawl, verrry slowly, across the carpet. PLNK! Damn. I started again, got a few more millimetres: PLNK! Bugger. Go HOME, Tomlinson.

Despite the silly working hours, the worst that ever happened to me was nodding off at my desk and having to answer the door with bog brush hair and my keyboard clearly indented on one side of my face. But then, I was a lone freelance writer/editor. Next door, Brett and Steve were launching a completely new, fully originated magazine whilst also writing and drawing much of the content, editing all of it and organising production, printing, marketing... No matter how early I arrived each day there'd be the inevitable plume of smoke and tinny murmur of headphones from over the wall and I'd know that Brett, Steve or both were already at work. There's a legend (perhaps apocryphal, just as likely not) that Steve could draw an entire US format comic book overnight, a can of Guinness on one corner of his drawing board, a bottle of Pro Plus tablets on the other and his favourite album on auto-repeat.

The Art of Brett Ewins: Air Pirate Press
What's not in doubt is Brett's Herculean schedule, as detailed by Brett himself in the epic, no holds barred interview that forms the backbone of The Art Of Brett Ewins. He wrote the Deadline editorials and drew one of the lead strips, Johnny Nemo (written by his long time friend and collaborator, Peter Milligan). Brett also wrote regular text features, music reviews and my personal Deadline favourite, the brilliant and frankly uncategorisable Ron Merlin’s Paradigm Shift. To make ends meet he also took on extra illustration work (advertising, album covers) whilst also drawing a miniseries, Skreemer, for DC. After eight hours in the office he’d arrive home – and sit down at his drawing board. Few could survive such a workload for long. In Brett's case it was the catalyst for a serious breakdown from which, in many ways, he's still recovering. It certainly affected his output, forcing early retirement from comics. His recent problems and disastrous run in with the law have been well documented elsewhere. The short version is that an incident, which might best have been contained by qualified mental health professionals, was instead dealt with by police with truncheons – leading to Brett being hospitalised with serious injuries and to a subsequent GBH charge.

Brett Does Dredd! (click for large)
The Art Of Brett Ewins, produced in collaboration with former 2000AD editor Alan McKenzie and published under his POD (print on demand) line, Air Pirate Press, is an autobiographical retrospective of Brett’s life and career. The in depth interview covers his days at art college with Peter Milligan and another lifelong friend, artist Brendan McCarthy, from their earliest collaborations (Sometime Stories) to Brett’s groundbreaking association with 2000AD, from Rogue Trooper and Judge Anderson to the Milligan/Ewins/McCarthy masterpiece, Bad Company. Brett pulls no punches in the fascinating and frequently inspiring interview, which also covers the Deadline days, his battle with illness and more recent projects such as The Dark Gate, a labour of love anthology that took a decade to complete. The book includes detailed pencils, inks and lovely full colour artwork from all stages of his career, some previously unpublished.

In terms of recovery, Brett is at least out of hospital. Anyone interested to help might like to know that he benefits directly from each copy of The Art Of Brett Ewins sold. For anyone merely curious about the work of this uniquely gifted creator, here’s ample proof of his reputation as one of comics’ all time greats.

Deadline lasted seven years, outlasting other, similar counterculture comics/magazines, and was never more brilliant than in those early issues with Brett and Steve at the helm. For me, The Art Of Brett Ewins was a fun reminder of the short, exciting time I spent in the company of two unusual artists and creators, slipstreamed briefly along in their wake on the road to Deadline Gulch, and their place in publishing history.

The Art Of Brett Ewins is available for £9.99 from:

UPDATE Nick Abadzis talks about his time at South Thames Studios, here...


  1. Some of Brett's admirers pay tribute to his wonderful work:

  2. Thanks, Rich!

    I just sent them something myself.


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