English edition of David Lloyd's acclaimed crime-noir thriller

David Lloyd Interview

Conducted for the French magazine Bahniwé at the Festival Quai des Bulles à St-Malo, October 30th 2005

David Lloyd

Bahniwé: What made you decide to become an artist? What are your inspiration sources?

David Lloyd: Well, I always loved to draw, but the first time I realised I could make a career of it, was when I was a kid. I saw a TV show which was some kind of educational programme, with a lot of people in a studio representing different kinds of professions—and one of them was a commercial artist, a guy sitting at a big drawing table. It looked cool—a great way to make a living! So I thought, that is what I wanna do.

But the people who inspired me... I didn't know European comics, we didn't have access to them in England. There was Tintin, but I didnít really like it—it was too gentle for me. So, when I was a kid, there was Steve Ditko, and two English strip artists: Ron Embleton and John Burns. Those guys are not really very well-known outside England. They were really great, and they were the two greatest influences on me, I think.

B: Are you interested in European comics†now?

DL: Well , I only discovered European bande dessinée very late with things like Metal Hurlant... but I really admire the work of the creators here. You're very lucky in France—you have a fantastic range of great creators at different levels, and a wide range of readers who are interested in a wide range of stories. That keeps the medium of strips healthy and open to artistic growth. In England, only a small section of the public buys comics regularly so our only long-running comic of relevance to fans of the medium is the science-fiction title, 2000 AD.

A lot of the creators who worked on that book are now working in the American market. DC comics recognised the quality of the folks working on that comic and came over to the UK in the mid-'80s and invited a whole crowd of them to dinner at the Savoy Hotel—one of the most exclusive hotels in England—to convince them that they should work for them. It was a succesful tactic. At the time, you'd be lucky to get a pub lunch from a British publisher. They all looked on their contributors as completely dispensible and interchangeable.

B: When did you begin to draw attention to yourself as an artist?

Page from Kickback
ABOVE & BELOW: Pages from Kickback
Page from Kickback
DL: When I was drawing Night Raven for the British division of Marvel: Marvel UK. That was really the first thing that made people notice me. There was a quality to that strip which showcased some of my particular strengths as an artist.

The editor of Marvel UK at that time was a guy called Dez Skinn, and when he left the company he created his own comic magazine called Warrior (you can still buy copies of it mail order from Dez's trade journal Comics International). Before Dez took over at Marvel UK they only published reprinted American stuff, but Dez began to publish English artists and writers doing stories which were specifically created for Hulk Comic—a comic issued to capitalise on the appearance of the Hulk TV show in England. Thatís where I drew Night Raven—he was a vigilante, a crime fighter in Prohibition America. When Dez started Warrior he wanted a character that was similar to Raven created for it, so he basically asked me to come up with something, and initially said to me, "Just write and draw it yourself." But Alan [Moore] had been recruited to Warrior and was working on an update of an old British superhero, Marvelman. I'd worked with Alan well before. He was a great writer and a great guy, and I felt the strip would be better if he scripted it.

V for Vendetta
V for Vendetta
Then... well... the story of how V for Vendetta developed is all in the article at the end of the collected US edition, and it's too long a story to go into here...

B: In France, you're mainly known for Night Raven, V for Vendetta. and now Kickback. What are your other works?

DL: Oh, I've got a whole page of credits, you'll have to publish them with the interview... I jump from one thing to another. I mean, a lot of artists... when they finish one thing they go straight on to another. I don't. There are big gaps between the things I do. If something interesting comes up, I'll do it. Like a Hellblazer, or war stories...

But the greatest thing about Kickback for me is that it's all mine. I like writing my own stuff, but the problem is that when editors like what you do as an artist, and see how well you illustrate various writers' scripts, they always want you to keep doing that. It's very difficult for an artist to get to write his own stuff because he has to make an effort to do that, and take time out from paying work he can get doing other stuff to develop his own ideas—in effect, that means ignoring calls from editors who want him to do something on someone else's script, or hoping the phone doesn't ring with the offer of a job.

Kickback became more than usually important for me to get off the ground a couple of years ago because just before it I'd done a couple of war stories with the great writer Garth Ennis. I did one that was set on board a destroyer and one set on a Lancaster bomber. They were good, realistic stories, and they had to be accurately drawn with the use of extensive photographic reference material. The result of the research was a good job—but the intensive effort involved in doing it removed much of the pleasure of the work. I wanted to get that pleasure of working back for myself. Kickback is set in a mythical US city—not a real place at some specific time. Franklin City is in the state of New Plymouth. It's a fictional state but as familiar in all aspects as any other real city you've ever seen portrayed in a film or an album. But nothing, absolutely nothing—apart from the revolvers—is completely accurate in structure to the real objects and settings of the contemporary world around us... the cars are just regular basic cars that could be Fords or Chryslers, or whatever. It was done without piles of reference material to stop me enjoying my work and enjoying telling a story to the people I hope will enjoy reading it.

B: Your drawing style is very recognisable, very dark, it gives a very particular mood to your books, were you sometimes tempted to change your style for more commercial stories?

Mardrox cover sketch
Mardrox finished cover
TOP: Sketch for Madrox cover.
BOTTOM: Finished cover.
DL: Well I like changing styles now and again. If you see more of my work, you'll see that. But the opportunities to change style a lot in the regular comics market arenít plentiful—especially when editors like you to do what you're well known for doing most of the time.

I could be more commercial and do superhero stuff, and people always tell me, "Your style is dark, you should do Batman." But, I'm not interested in Batman. I'm not interested in superhero-style stuff at all, these days—I hate the way the superhero genre has practically taken over the whole industry in the US, though I like the best of the characters in their traditional forms... I did a Captain America story in Captain America: Red, White and Blue—but I only did that because I was told it was going to be a benefit book, and, generally, I'm happy to suppress my personal preferences for charity. I also did some covers for Madrox, recently—a Marvel series about one of their X characters. This Madrox was different, though—not a guy in a spandex outfit. It was a terrific private eye story and very well done: the kind of super powers story that is believable and sophisticated and something I'd like to see more of.

B: In Kickback, you use a computer in your drawing. How do you see the evolution of your style?

DL: I don't think my style has ever 'evolved' in the usual sense of the term. I've always just chosen to use different tools or techniques according to the needs of a story.

I didn't actually plan to use any computer effects at the beginning of Kickback, but it just occurred to me to use them while I was doing it. I know some comic purists hate them. But I don't overuse them. It's very important not to overuse them. I use them in very specific cases. I think they're valuable tools. I didn't have a computer for many years. I got my first one in 2000 and discovered it had great value to me.

What I do with Kickback is scan in my black and white art, reduce it to the size of the printed page, print it out in black and white, then use colour pencils to colour it. Then I scan that using a Photoshop filter tool—smart blur. You can turn the texture of the colour pencil work into a pure colour shade, or keep some or all of that texture depending on what you want from a page or panel. Copy and paste the black. Make tifs, put it on cd. That's it.

B: You couldnít do that with V for Vendetta...

DL: Well, I didn't have a computer like I've got now back then, but if I had, I would have wanted to use it. But nobody in the US was using computers on comic colouring, then. The 'blueline' system of colouring was used on V—something you're familiar with here. It was very different. I made some rules for the colourists who did most of it—like not using strong reds. But it's the actual printing of V that's been a problem over a long period. That's just starting to change, now. I've been fortunate recently to be able to change the colour balance on some new US and Scandinavian editions of the book. Ideally, I'd like to be able to do that in every country it's published in. Here in France, also.

B: It being such a huge thing, how do you handle the fact that V for Vendetta overshadows your career?

DL: Well I don't argue with it because, to be honest, if I hadn't done V for Vendetta I wouldn't be here talking to you. People wouldn't know who I was. Kickback wouldn't have happened. I don't mind it. It doesn't stop me doing what I want do. I've done various things. I did Global Frequency, Aliens, Territory, I've done horror stories, war stories. They're usually thrillers of one kind or another—but that's what I like doing anyway! But there's nothing stopping me doing something radically different if I want to. I have the freedom to do anything I want to. But I wouldn't use the extent of that freedom just because I have it. There'd be no point to that.

B: What are your future projects?

DL: I haven't got the slightest idea, and I like that, you know. I finished Kickback in September. I'm gonna take three months off. I won't do anything else until January. I might do a single issue of something. I've got no plans. I must say it will depend on Kickback's sales. We need more publicity on it. But I'm very glad to have done it, and been given the opportunity to do it here, directly for the French market. I like the fact that books here are usually on the shelf for a reasonable length of time. In the USA there are hundreds of new comic books each month, and whatever you've spent months and months creating gets a brief moment in the spotlight then gets relegated to a pile of back issues. And you have a more accepted variety of styles here, too. Of course, there's the traditional 'clear line' style that much of the population is devoted to—but there's a wide variety of other stuff, as well. Like I say—you're lucky here.

Page from Kickback Page from Kickback
Two pages from Kickback.

(Answers collected by Lucie, Nicole, Pierre and Stefan Radulovic. A big thanks to Lorba for her help on the transcription.)