I grew up in the 80s. Cartoons like He-man, Transformers and Hero Turtles were on the TV for an hour after school or on a Saturday morning, but comics were always there to fill the remaining hours of the day. I would read them over and over again until the following week, when the next issue would magically appear on the magazine rack of the shop.
I began reading The Beano at primary school age, and I remember copying the characters and teaching myself to emulate the drawing style. Soon I was making up my own characters, and with a friend, we created a Beano-style comic called Spizzler, populated with our characters and stories. Later I discovered 2000 AD, and I was hooked. I would draw whenever I had a chance, and at secondary school, I would cover my books and folders with drawings to amuse my friends.
I was good at art at school and went on to do an art foundation course where I also studied graphic design, printing and filmmaking. I saw Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas at the cinema and became obsessed with animation. Three years later, I gained a BA (Hons) degree in Animation from the University of Northumbria.
I moved to the South, first to London looking for work in the industry, then in 2000 to Brighton, where I met an aspiring comic book writer. Together, we started self-publishing our own comic books as Underfire Comics. We bought a black and white copier and printed, folded and stapled the books together ourselves. We self-published several stand-alone comics and an anthology series where our growing roster of creators could try out short stories and experimental ideas. Through selling our books at comic conventions across the country, I was able to get my pages seen by editors, and I soon found my first paid job drawing a comic strip in a magazine for a kids’ toy called ‘Gogo’s Crazy Bones’ published by Titan Comics. Over the next few years, I found further work illustrating children’s books and comics.
At that time, I was working as a graphic designer for a printing company when I received a tip-off from a friend that the comic he was drawing for was looking for more artists. The comic was Nickelodeon’s ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’; my dream job drawing one of my favourite childhood cartoons. It was a complicated process, tailoring my drawings to match the character style sheets, but I got the gig. Working on Turtles taught me a lot about being a professional artist. The deadlines were short, and I learned to work faster and more productively, although I still had to pull the occasional all-nighter to get the work in on time. It was a wild ride for four years, but with the birth of my daughter, I needed to take a break from the relentless monthly deadlines.
Reading with a child exposes you to so much illustration through picture books, comics and cartoons, things that you perhaps wouldn’t choose to look at as an adult. I’ve rediscovered favourites from my own childhood, such as Quentin Blake and Richard Scarry, and found new favourites, including Axel Scheffler and Béatrice Veillon. When it comes to my work, I am most inspired by comic artists such as Jean Giraud (Moebius), Mike Mignola (Hellboy), Jaime Hernandez (Love & Rockets) and Paul Grist (Kane/Jack Staff), and filmmaker Tim Burton. I think my all-time favourite illustrator would be Bill Watterson; Calvin and Hobbes is a pure delight to read.
Now that my daughter is older, I have been getting back into drawing regularly. Usually, I start a piece of work by sketching anything that pops into my head while I first read through the script. These initial images may not resemble the final piece, but I will often refer back to them throughout the process in an attempt to recapture that spontaneity. After researching everything I need for the story, I work on the characters, drawing on paper until I’m happy with their shape. I aim to create characters that have their own individual silhouettes and colour schemes, so they are easily recognizable on the page. Usually, I do the rough page layouts on paper, too. I enjoy the feel of drawing traditionally and find it easier to work out composition. Then it’s over to a digital tablet to draw everything.
I’ve always enjoyed working collaboratively since my early days making comics with friends, and I love getting feedback from a writer or editor. Breathing life into the characters is probably the most fun part for me, but it can take time to get into their skin. Once I am familiar with them, the pages themselves come pretty easily. I can work quickly and have drawn comic pages consisting of six to eight panels in a day for twelve consecutive days to meet a deadline, but it’s nice to have longer.
I’ve learned many things during my drawing career, but the most valuable has been learning the language of visual storytelling. I am incredibly grateful to all the artists who’ve shared tips, every writer who has trusted me to draw their story and every piece of valuable feedback from an editor. The best thing about this job is that you get to work on something that can make a connection with a reader, and hopefully, they will enjoy reading as much as I did growing up.
You can explore Iain’s work at https://iainbuchanan.crevado.com/