Sunday, 3 June 2012

Interviewed by Mr Atomic

Having mentioned Nick Setchfield in my previous post, I was thinking about something he said to me at the Kapow Convention a couple of weeks ago. He said he liked the anecdotes on here and that I should write more of them. It was reassuring to hear because I've never really imagined my name with the tagline "Words are his Power", but I'm always happy to give it a try. Having said that, there's not always time. I'm amazed that I've managed to post stuff on here every day for the past seven months as it is, but waking up at the crack of dawn probably helps. 

Jason Atomic by Billa Baldwin
Anyway, here are some anecdotes, though I am cheating a bit (a lot) because Jason Atomic (left) interviewed me about three months ago for the Stripped exhibition that he was curating and these were his questions and my answers. 

Jason: What kind of art do you usually do?

Steve: My type of art varies according to where my head’s at, at the time, though as long as it has an aspect of fantasy or absurdity I’m happy. You only need to take a look at my website and you’ll see what I mean. This fairly recent image (below) is called The Traveller Returns and is from Phase 2 of my Alternity series.

When did you first start reading comics?

I was reading comics for as long as I can remember. I started off with Teddy Bear, Playhour, Rupert and a title called (believe it or not) Bimbo. This was my favourite until I had a recurring dream about a wizened old hag telling me “Don’t read the Bimbo... DON’T read the Bimbo; still gives me shivers and it was enough to stop me reading it. I think I migrated onto TV Comic after that, followed by Beezer, Topper, Lion, Valiant, TV21, Countdown, in fact, I don’t think I missed much in the way of comics as I grew up. It got interesting with the advent of Fantastic, Terrific, Wham! Smash! And my favourite, Pow! This period for me was the beginning of a fascination with the Marvel Age of Comics.

My brother Martin (left) and me reading our favourite Rupert comics, sometime in the 60's.

What is your most treasured comic book?

Hmmm... That’s a tricky one. There have been so many, but I guess it would most likely be Spragg! I’ve already mentioned it before, but I can recount the story here.

It was a sunny day in 1967 and Spragg! Stared at me from his lofty position on the shelf behind the counter in my favourite sweet shop. Every day he caught my eye and every day I asked my mother if I could have him. Luckily there were no other takers and one day, having been worn down by my persistence, my mother relented. Two shillings and sixpence was a fair price for the onslaught of hideous, pre-comic code nightmares to come for this eight year-old boy.

A couple of disturbed decades later and I'm standing in the 2000AD office watching the mail pile up on Alan McKenzie's editorial desk and I see something poking out from under the deluge. Just a corner, but it was enough to recognise Spragg! My long-lost childhood treasure, but what on earth was it doing here? "Dunno", Alan said, "a reader sent it in, here's his letter". I read it, but there was absolutely no mention of Spragg! or why he'd sent him. There was however, a phone number. I called him and told him I'd love to buy it from him, but he wasn't interested in money. He just wanted a 2000AD mug!

Anyway, I sent him far more than that and in return, my long lost... Spragg! ...He came back.

Do you consider yourself a fan of 'pop art'?

Yes, I first became interested in Pop Art when I was given a book on the subject as an Art prize at high school. I think they tried to give me something that seemed relevant to the kind of work I was doing in art class. A particular favourite was an eight-foot high rendition of Steranko’s, Sheena - Queen of the Jungle on the art room wall. I’ll always be grateful that Miss Grace, my art tutor was up for any weird ideas I had, though it seemed a tad untimely that I was adding the final touches to one of Sheena’s ample breasts at the exact moment the Head Master decided to show the governors round the school. The art room visit seemed rather hurried. 

Andy Warhol - London, 1986
I particularly like Warhol’s work and I’m forever thankful that I managed to wangle my way into his birthday party in London shortly before he died and get a couple of shots of him and his ‘hair’. 

What is the best bit of a comic book for you (the characters, story, covers, paper stock, the smell etc..)? 

Everything really, but you just can’t beat the smell of old comics, or magazines for that matter. They should synthesize it and sell it as one of those home fragrances. 

Have you ever dressed up as a comic character? 

Erm... it has been known. There were three of us at Junior school who decided we’d have our own secret identities. We each made a costume to wear beneath our school uniforms. Unfortunately, lycra or spandex were still to be invented and mine was made of rather itchy wool. It’s a wonder we didn’t all pass out in the blazing heat of summer, but I got my special moment as I was leaving school that afternoon. A girl in my class (who obviously knew my secret) said to her mother who was waiting beside the school gates. “Look, Mum... look at this boy’s secret identity!” and forced me to pull back my school shirt and tie to reveal a rather pathetic home-made attempt at a Spider-Man costume. 

I never could find anything suitable for a mask. The closest I got, was one of those string net bags that you buy oranges in, but to be frank, it looked ridiculous, so I gave up on that. 

This very same ‘costume’ had one more outing the night my father discovered a burglary was in progress in a house on the other side of the street, and was on the phone to the police. It took me 3 minutes to get changed and run down the stairs to the front door and 3 seconds for my father to stop my heroics as he yanked me back in by the scruff of my neck. 

Have you ever made a comicbook? (obviously some of you are pros in the industry but I'm thinking more handmade/self published fanzine type stuff) 

Apparently, I used to make little funny animal comics for any sick kids in my neighbourhood when I was eight or nine. They were usually about Mighty Mouse, Atom Ant, or my own incredibly original creation, Super-Rabbit. I recently found one that I’d made for my own amusement in my parent’s loft. It was dated 29th May 1970 and it appears that I was attempting to design comics even then. I had no recollection of it at all until I rediscovered it.

Do you have any other comic related memories you'd like to share? 

Well, I guess I have another that relates to my Spidey costume fascination. You see, there was a great cut-away in my favourite issue of Spider-Man showing the costume hanging in Peter Parker’s closet and I always wished I had one to hang in mine.

The Amazing Spider-Man King-Size Special, Nov 1967.
When I decided to leave my staff job at Marvel UK in 1988 and go freelance, the MD offered me a studio space in the basement as a sort of incentive to continue doing freelance for them, which was great. A few months later they decided to relocate to another part of town leaving me behind until I found another studio space of my own. Anyhow, they’d left a lot of old rubbish down there in their haste to vacate the premises, and one night I was packing up to go home after a completed deadline and I was looking for some change for the tube journey home. A coin fell out of my hand and rolled across the floor to rest behind a big old cardboard box in the corner of an abandoned office. As I shifted all the rubbish to get to it, I saw, in the dim light, a red webbed hand hanging over the edge of the box. I peered in and there was a complete (if a little ragged) Spider-Man costume. I couldn’t believe my eyes! 

I knew that the publicist had invested in a new one for public appearances a few months back, because we used to share an office, but it hadn’t occurred to me that she’d just binned the old one. A bit of a wash and some needlework renovation and my childhood wish had come true!

Yep! - 'fraid so!

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