Monday, 31 January 2011

Mike McMahon



In the early nineties, Jim Boswell and me walked into a Macclesfield pub with photocopied, stapled issues of 'Weird City', our first self-produced comic, and amazingly - they sold.

If I ever get around to it, I'll scan a few copies and put them up here.

My contributions dwindled to nothing almost immediately - leaving Jim as editor for the rest of the five (or was it six?) issue run. And as I buggered off to University, he started attending 'graphic narrative' courses (or whatever they were called) in Manchester. Soon, a whole bunch of brilliant new people were contributing.

Weird City ended up being called 'a potential jewel in the small press crown' in some review or other, and, by the time the thing folded, Jim had even managed to convince Glenn Fabry to draw a cover, gratis, after interviewing him about his work.

I'll transcribe that interview another time, but for now, here's an interview that was printed with the fantastic Mike McMahon - a huge influence on many of the cartoonists I've spoken to who, like me, had religiously bought 2000AD as a kid.

(The interview was by Peter Walker, by the way. Some time in '93).



Weird City: How did you first get into comics?

Mike McMahon: I sent some samples to the War Picture library editor, and he thought they were alright, but he didn't want to use them. So he sent me round to an agent, who was a nice middle class guy who assumed my name was Mike. Everyone really calls me Mick. I didn't want to upset him so I said 'yeah, that's right. My name's Mike.' I've been stuck with that ever since! But he did get me into 2000AD.

WC: What was your favourite 2000AD character to work on?

Mike: Slaine. It was the first one I did where I thought I knew what I was doing. Looking back I don't think I did, but I thought I did so I enjoyed it a lot more than the other things. Usually when I draw things I worry all the time. For every line I make, I've rubbed out a dozen.
WC: the artwork you did on Slaine seemed to be more 'your style'. Did you have to adopt a cleaner style for Judge Dredd? Did they make you do that?

Mike: No. No-one's ever made me do anything. That's why I like working for Fleetway or IPC. I can really do what I like. Whereas when I've been working for America, the people who are managing the companies have all got their own opinion. They get a lot of 'house-styles' in America.

Well, they used to. I don't really look at any comics now, but I imagine they do with a lot of these 'X Comics' they bring out. These 'Image Comics' or whatever.

WC: With Slaine, your technique seemed to go more and more towards an almost 'pencil' style. Was that planned, or did it just happen?

Mike: No. I was drawing that and I totally lost confidence - and I could only draw on tracing paper! I'd do a drawing and trace it onto tracing paper and then mount it down. And I noticed all these little white gaps, so I thought I'd better carry on doing it like that.

Eventually I got to the point where so much of my stuff was being reprinted in colour that I thought 'I know, I can play this up' and make it impossible for it to be reprinted in colour. Which it was!

WC: How do you feel when characters like Slaine change with other artists. For example, your Slaine and Simon Bisley's look like two different people!

Mike: Yeah, well, Bisley's a much better artist than me, so it's bound to be different! He's a painter isn't he? An illustrator. I quite like seeing things done differently by other artists. It usually gives me new ideas as well - not that I copy them.

WC: What are you working on at the moment?

Mike: Well, I was doing a thing called 'Tattered Banners' for Vertigo, written by Keith Giffen, but the script apparently fell down the back of a bureau! And after a lot of excuses for three or four weeks, nothing arrived, so I've started doing Judge Dredd again. I've had the script since October. When I've done that, I'll go back to Tattered Banners.

WC: Who wrote the Dredd story?

Mike: John Wagner. It's very good; very funny. I think that's what's missing a lot of the time with new material these days. The trouble with many new people is that the do a script and they think that makes them a writer.
I mean, I never try to write because I could never reach the standards that should be achieved. But that doesn't seem to bother a lot of people.

WC: So what, to you, is a good standard of writing?

Mike: Well, it's hard to put your finger on it. But to me, it's someone who would never think of drawing a comic. Someone like John Wagner, who isn't really interested in the 'comics scene'. The standards he achieves are very personal - obviously they don't come across like that - but they reflect his weird sense of humour.

WC: Don't you think the bad guys in Judge Dredd are often more interesting than Dredd himself?

Mike: That's always been the case. When John created the thing, Dredd quickly became a dull, boring character - just shooting and killing people. John was interested in the people that lived in the city: not just the villains, but the general population - the fat people, and things like that.

They're all just eccentrics, because of where they live and the time they live in. I think the style of the script was that Dredd was a clone, a machine, or whatever you want to call him. And the emphasis was really on his victims.
That was quite a good formula, but now they've muddied the waters by trying to make Dredd an interesting character. But you can't have an interesting character if you can't see his face!

WC: Is it true that you drew the potential layouts for the Judge Dredd film?

Mike: No! I don't even know if there is a film. Is there? I suppose that whoever is going to be Dredd isn't going to want to wear a helmet all through the film are they? I mean, it could be anybody under there. He even wears it in bed!

WC: you've recently done a 'Legends of the Dark Knight' story, haven't you? Who wrote that?

Mike: Chuck Dixon.I thought I'd get on the bandwagon! For the first time in my life I'd do this just to get some money! Apparently the storyline clashed with another Batman story by Mark Badger. I've never seen it, but it's a very similar plot, which has never happened before in American comics! So mine had to be shelved.

WC: What do you think about artists who have imitated your style, or stolen some of your images?

Mike: I don't mind that. I don't like it when they trace things, though. You know, it took me a day to draw and it takes them ten minutes. They turn up in a lot of places. They fool me, I'll tell you! I can't see the point of copying things - you might as well go and work on the Stock Exchange. All they want is money, don't they? There's no fun in it.

WC: Is there anything personally that you'd like to work on?

Mike: No. My attitude tends to be that there are things I don't want to work on. I know what I can't do, like love stories. Or sports comics!

Whatever I'm doing, I want to find something that I can get out of it. I usually spend about a month wrestling with how I want to present a new story. Which means I'm not making much money a lot of the time!

But I create for myself a world I can believe in - that I can explore, more than the actual subject matter. The subject matter is important, but I need to have some sort of a 'hande' to hold on to. That I can twist as I draw it.

WC: Do you find working from home distracting?

Mike: Well, it all depends if there's cricket on. I'm very easily distracted. Any excuse not to do it! You know - the ice cream van. If it's the world cup, then that's it.

WC: Do you work in short, concentrated bursts, or does it occasionally come together well?

Mike: The deadline has a lot to do with it! When I drew the Alien Legion book, my wife helped me colour it, and I did 45 pages in seven weeks, which is something I've never done in my life! I'll never do it again, I expect.

Sometimes I spend a month doing a first episode of something, which is five or six pages. I wish I knew how to work. I don't think I ever will!

1 comment:

Mr Woolford said...

Nice stuff El. As a fellow contributor of Wierd City I too enjoyed the kind of kudos we received for doing it. I still have a copy of Wierd City 1 but not issue 2 and I thought my artwork was much better in that. How is Jim nowadays? Seen some of his stuff on the internet looks pretty cool.