Frazer Irving interview from Thought Bubble Festival, UK

Leeds was quite a lucky place for me as I got to interview two of my favourite artists (sadly I missed Cameron Stewart who is another favourite of mine, next time!). After Paolo Rivera’s interview I had to wait for Frazer Irving to appear at the 2000AD signing table and roll through the crowd of excited fans with his quick sketches and not-so-quick signatures.
The wait was always worth from the beginning and we had a nice chat about comics and digital techniques in the Holiday Inn next to the Thought Bubble convention center.

Milán Kovács (Comic Conventions): So I don’t like to do interviews in a Q&A style…

Frazer Irving: More like a conversation I guess.

Yeah I will sometimes interrupt you sorry for that in advance…

I might interrupt you as well.

What’s it like to work with Grant Morrison? What’s your method of adapting a script?

The technical process you mean… Okay I lot of scripts I get from him and well all the script I’ve ever had from him have had gaps like these other texts which haven’t been written like a dialogue to be decided later. Or some of the panel descriptions were a little bit vague or kind of very broad, like with Klarion the Witchboy; he didn’t describe any of the animals that lived in Limbo-town, he said there are animals and I was like what kind? And he seemed to be kind of slightly put out that I actually asked him to tell me which ones he wanted and gave me a few examples off the top of his head and then I realised what he wanted was for me to contribute more than just drawing what he described. And basically every time I work with him since then his scripts have had room for me to kind of breathe and explore my own ideas and to interpret his ideas in many different ways. To the extent where I think the more liberties I take the more I kind of like shift everything to suit my particular visual voice. I think that he likes that more. So I mean it’s still quite tight in terms of like how they’re paced…

So it’s more like a collaboration with him I guess…

More like a collaboration than any other job I do but it’s still not a full collaboration because I’m still following the scripts. In Batman and Robin there was one shot with Gordon tied to a table on a stage [in Batman and Robin #14]. That fisheye thing from above that’s all my idea. And after that he said: “That’s exactly the kind of thing I wanted you to do. I say he’s on a stage and these people walk on from the left but if you can find a better way to telling it in your own voice, please do.” And I think he leaves gaps to encourage this, forces me to be more inventive.

Batman and Robin #14 – Commissioner Gordon’s fisheye scene – © Frazer Irving and DC Comics

You know I chatted with Frank Quitely at Kapow! Comic Con in 2011 about the Batman and Robin covers he did throughout the series and he also drew the first 3 issues’ interiors as well. He said that none of the covers were actually his ideas. Grant [Morrison] sent layouts for nearly all the covers. And he wasn’t that happy about that, at least he said that. Maybe that’s why he’s working with other writers now. I mean that’s just speculation from me.

Honestly I do not know.

Because there’s going to be Jupiter’s Children with Mark Millar and you may know Mark and Grant are not the best friends to say the least.

Yeah I know the politics there.

So I was quite surprised actually. I know they may be friends I don’t know I mean Mark and Frank.

Yeah I mean the entire Scottish crew are mates anyway so they definitely know each other quite intimately I assume. But you know I kind of can’t comment on why an other artist would defect for a rival writer.

No of course.

[A private phone call interrupts our interview for a few seconds]

So you use a Wacom Cintiq for drawing. What size? Because yesterday Yanick [Paquette] showed that he has the biggest size available.

I have the previous model, the 21 inch because that was the biggest one they did at the time. And I don’t need to upgrade it yet I’m going to stick with it.

I think you don’t always have to upgrade to the newer versions.

Yeah it depends on if it has any new features but the size is very nice I’ve seen it and it feels like a proper drawing table and I would like one but there’s a few things for example the touch technology is not good enough. It’s sluggish and I’ll wait until they fix that and then I’ll upgrade. That’s another 3 years probably.

Interviewing an exceptional artist: Frazer Irving

So where were we before your phone rang…?

So Frank said that none of those covers were his idea. And I instantly asked him what’s your idea of the comics I brought you to sign? And he picked a few but almost all the Grant Morrison penned ones were Grant’s ideas. So is the situation the same with you working together with Grant?

No I don’t get those. The only sketch I’ve ever seen from him was a sketch of Klarion the Witchboy which I needed to use as a guide. He sent me some cover sketches for a different gig and I know I could use them or I could discard them because what he wants is for me to do my thing. He never sends me drawings and I don’t want to see them. I don’t want him to put any more than he’s already putting into it. Because I like this relationship the way he encourages me to be better.

So it sounds this might be a very different relationship than with Frank [Quitely].

Yeah I mean I don’t know why maybe it’s because they worked a certain way for so long that they felt they needed to change.

It’s interesting because Frank is a very imaginative guy like you.

I don’t know maybe I’m just hungry for it or maybe it’s because we’re at the courting stages in our relationship and we haven’t quite found out what our thing is yet. Bear in mind they did All Star Superman together and that was like their big statement together you could say. And after you might feel that maybe it’s time to move on. Me and Grant haven’t done that yet, we haven’t done that big thing.

Do you have a favourite writer you previously worked with? Or do you have someone who you would want to work with in the future? Do you actually want to write your own stuff?

I want to write my own stuff. Of course I’ve written stuff before and I’ve done graphic novels on my own in the ‘90s. And the only reason I didn’t become a writer is that artists get paid more and I can draw so it’s kind of silly to do the other thing. But I also want to write my own stuff because there are things which aren’t being discussed in comics just like as an art form it still sticks to very specific genres. Especially in the western world I mean Japan has its own thing but I think want to incorporate ideas which major publishers would not publish simply because they can’t sell underpants or lunchboxes of it. And I don’t want to go to a writer and get their ideas because again I’m just going to be doing someone else’s stuff. I want to be able to express myself. When I get a bit of my soul and put it on the internet and people will like laugh with joy or cry with fear or whatever. As long as it’s an honest bit out there, because when I’m gone and I’m dust all that’s going to remain is what I’ve done. And I want it to be 100% me as opposed to 50% like now where half is the writer and half is my drawing. But in terms of writers I would like to work with it doesn’t matter. Good writers can turn-in bad stories and shit writers can have moments of inspiration so I wouldn’t want to say “I must work with Alan Moore!” because that might be the only occasion when he kind of drops the ball, but you know if it happens it happens. As long I get paid [laughs]. Because this is a job.

Well you know Cameron Stewart is writing his own stuff like BPRD…

The Assassin’s Creed

Actually it was very nice, I mean BPRD: Exorcism and I asked him about if he did all the writing and he said yes, Mike Mignola only suggested some things.

When did you go fully digital? Why is it better for you? Why did you make the change?

I went fully digital I mean 100% digital in 2006 when I got the [Wacom] Cintiq. I did do some stuff like a Robin comic book which had to be inked because it was following on the Klarion the Witchboy series, but that was a blip. Everything else from that point onwards was 100% digital. So I’m like a hipster, you know, I was digital before anyone else was. The reason I did it is because of the artistic freedom I mean when you’re doing a drawing with a paintbrush if you think I want to be bold I want to explore something but if I make a mistake I have to paint over again and it’s a hassle. So therefore fear restricts me. Digitally I can do anything if I want to make your eye like really big or I can just shrink it. I’m completely in control of every aspect.

You use very unusual perspectives also in your comics. Like in Batman and Robin and also other works of yours. And I thought that might be the use of perspective tools in Photoshop.

No I mean the scenes we were talking about all of them have been eyeballed freehand. So I don’t really do those in Photoshop. If I would distort something you probably wouldn’t notice that it’s been distorted if you know what I mean. But yeah it’s very little of the computery aspect of computers in my work it’s still like Yanick Paquette was saying when he started doing digital work he was using a very traditional process and a very traditional approach. Not necessarily like the stages it’s the way you kind of build the picture up. I mean we sketch and then outline it. The only thing which we’re really using is layers. Layers are like the best thing ever invented.

Yeah you don’t have to print out the blue lines and then ink it and…

I’ve been there with lightboxes but the computery aspects is very very minimal in my stuff and I think that’s important because real painting has a character you see the brush marks and you can see where the canvas has been scraped a little bit and has life. So when you’re painting in Photoshop you’ve got to have have a brush and you’ve got to build the color up, you can’t just select and fill because it’s going to be lifeless.

Did you ever use a Wacom Tablet? Because Brian Bolland is using those even nowadays. He just doesn’t like the Cintiq somehow.

There’s the thing about those when you start using the Wacom Tablet before the Cintiq your brain adjusts to like seeing the screen and having your hand down below and also because your hand is not in front of the drawing you can see the artwork being constructed. When you get the Cintiq your hand gets in the way like in regular drawings and you have to readjust. That was one of the unexpected side effects of the Wacom Tablet with the fact that some people work better that way.

Did you think of doing anything other than comics, like book covers and stuff?

You mean ever? I’m an artist and I need to make a living. So if someone says ‘hey, Paul McCartney has done a new album and we think you’re really really super-fab, and we’re going to pay you X-amount of pounds to do an illustration’ I won’t say no. It depends on whether the person is a good client to work with. But yes any drawing’s drawing. The only reason I’m in comics because each job takes so long you don’t really have time for anything else. But I do stuff on the side.

Are you angry at me for starting this whole pre-show commission thing [laughs]?!

No not at all. It organizes my convention an awful lot better in respect actually I have something to do.

So I contributed to your convention schedule…

Yeah, my rebirthed convention schedule [laughs] my rejoining society, yes you helped with that.

Thank you very much.

Thank you.

[Original interview edited by Frazer ‘The Editor’ Irving]

About Milán Kovács 72 Articles
Writer, fan and collector of comics. Founder of and small press publishers Cyan.Ninja & Lives and works in Hungary. Loves travelling.