Continuing our series of exclusive interviews, we were lucky enough to be able to have a quick chat with two-time New York Times Best Selling artist Dave Taylor, whose impressive CV includes such titles as DC’s Shadow of the Bat, World’s Finest, Batman: Death by Design and 2000AD.
Here’s what went down
Big Comic Page: First off Dave, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. It’s very much appreciated.
Dave Taylor: It’s a pleasure.
BCP: Now, your comic book career started back in 1990 with Marvel UK. How did that come about, and what was the first title you worked on with them?
DT: When I finally decided to try my best to get into the industry, age 26, I did some portfolio pieces and sent them off to Marvel UK. I’d done a few Blueberry images, based on Jean Giraud’s work, which included a few horses, which I presume got me the job of drawing six issues of Zorro. It just so happened they needed someone who could draw a western style comic, including lots of horses, so I got lucky.
BCP: Who would you say your main artistic inspirations in the comic book world were?
DT: The first guys that caught my imagination and inspired me to consider becoming a comic book artist were Mike Ploog, Cam Kennedy, Mick McMohan and Brain Bolland, the latter three from 2000AD, which I got from prog one, it blew my mind! I then discovered the Heavy Metal artist Moebius, Druillet and Bilal, who again blew my mind.
BCP: You had a terrific run with DC on titles like The Riddle Factory, World’s Finest and Shadow of the Bat. What was your highlight from that portion of your career?
DT: I had a lot of fun doing the Riddler book with Matt Wagner, very fond memories. I experimented a lot in that book, different approaches to drawing and inking, and it was such a good script. My work on Shadow of the Bat was mixed, being forced to use inkers (which changed a few times causing me grief) and I didn’t have a clear idea of my style at that time. I felt obliged to adopt a DC house style, which made me constantly uncomfortable. I think the high point of that run was the three issue Poison Ivy story, a great Alan Grant script.
BCP: You took a break from comics after your experiences with DC. Do you mind telling us about what happened there?
DT: Briefly, I’d signed a contract to pencil and ink the whole ten issues of Worlds Finest, written by Karl Kesel, with my colourist on my creator owned series Tongue Lash, namely Scarlett Smulkowski. It was meant to be my European style version of Batman and Superman, something unique. Not long after I’d started drawing I heard the deadline had been brought forward eight months, which was the first of many changes to my contract. Then I was asked to not ink but to find an inker. I was furious at this stage, I started to suspect this might turn into a nightmare. Then, just before Christmas, I was asked to phone Scarlett to tell her she was sacked, even before she’d started. I guess I was asked to do this myself because the editors didn’t have the balls.
These changes were made to help bring the book in on time, despite my best efforts to draw as fast as I could. Karl was also getting frustrated with the editorial element, them insisting he write in characters for no logical reasons, and he knew I was getting sick of things. Eventually I’d had enough, especially when I discovered I was being used as a scapegoat for the book being late…so I quit. I was begged to reconsider, made all kinds of empty promises but I couldn’t take it any more. I replaced myself with Pete Doherty on pencilling duties, did the last few covers and walked out. I ended up being talked into doing the last 48 page book but again the promises were lies, the deadline changed so I quit for good.
The book was meant to secure my place in the industry, give me a great platform for my future, but instead it gave me a bad name, bad reputation and a double hiatus hernia, which I later had to have a life saving operation to cure. A while later I was approached with the best script I’d ever read to consider. It was a Human Target graphic novel by Grant Morrison. It was awesome! I said I’d take the job as long as nothing was changed after I’d started. Again, I was to pencil and ink with Scarlett colouring. I drew eleven pages, the best I’d ever done, but then it happened. The deadline was brought forward months…so I quit. That was it for me. I couldn’t work for the pain I was in and I couldn’t take any more crap from publishers. My career was over.
BCP: And what was it that drew you back in?
DT: I spent about six years trying to get healthy and to find something to do with my life. I found myself talking with Pete Doherty who reminded me that all I’d ever really wanted to do was work for 2000AD. It suddenly all made sense to me, the lightbulb lit and I realised that’s what I should do. I phoned Alan Grant, who I have a deep respect for, and put the idea to him. We soon proposed a Judge Dredd strip I’d had an idea for called Big Robots to Tharg (which turned into an Anderson strip), it got accepted and I was back in comics!
BCP: Let’s move on to Batman: Death by Design, your (two-time!) NY Times Best Seller. How much input did Chip Kidd have into the distinct visual style of the book, and what was the collaborative process like between the two of you?
DT: Chip had a very clear visual plan for the book right from the get go, that’s why I was brought on board, because of my work on the Robin origin story I’d done years before, all in pencil. It was the first all pencil comic produced at that time, which I’m super proud of, as it was my idea! My love of architecture helped me get the job also, I’d always tried to draw Gotham as intricately and as interestingly as I could. I have a great love for pencil drawing, so it developed that I should draw the whole book in pencil with no inking.
Chip and I communicated by phone a few times until he felt I’d completely understood what he wanted. He was very easy to work with, very clear on what he wanted but was also very open to ideas. The whole book was a joy to work on, especially as DC awarded me as long as I needed, as I was also a full time Dad looking after a toddler daughter at the time.
BCP: Death by Design was a massive undertaking, involving months of research on your part. What kind of things did you have to research prior to tackling the project?
DT: Chip and I agreed the book should look like it was drawn in 1938 so I studied the work of illustrator Andrew Loomis and architect Hugh Ferris, both highly prolific and inspirational in that era. I also spent months collecting a huge file on my computer filled with all manor of reference, cars, desks, light fittings, clothes etc. I became very familiar with how 1938 looked.
BCP: What prompted the choice to go back to ‘basics’ on Death by Design with the blue pencils ‘inked’ in graphite? The results are nothing short of stunning, but it’s a fairly unusual technique in today’s comicbook world.
DT: It’s not as unusual today as you might think. As I said, I first used the method on the Robin story because I wanted a unique feel for the book. Technology had developed to the point where you no longer had to ink a page for publication, you could scan in pencils, colour on a computer and then print the result. It took me months to convince DC that this was a good idea, funny how so many people use this method today, often going unnoticed. Chip had seen the Robin book, thought it looked great and wanted me to use the same method for Death by Design.
BCP: You recently attended Collectormania in Glasgow. How did that go, and how did you find the Scottish comicbook fans?
DT: Dreadful people! I hated it! Never again! That said, I have an affinity with Scotland. My mother’s family are called Bathgate, had the town named after them, so I’m part Scottish and proud of it. I’m very Celtic! I sat next to a childhood hero Cam Kennedy and had a ball. He’s such a hero and a great bloke to boot. It was great fun.
BCP: You’re also writing and drawing a story for DC’s upcoming ‘Batman: Black and White’ series, I believe. What can we expect to see from that?
DT: When I was asked not just to draw but also write the short eight page story I was thrilled. I love the series, love the fact that the creators are given a clean slate on which to express themselves. The only stipulation was to “do it in my euro style”, meaning implement my history as a Moebius influenced artist. For the story I decided to follow some great advice…write what you know. As a bit of a conspiracy theorist, UFO witness and all-round “odd ball” I decided to write about such things. The story is predominantly about humanity verses robots, another love of mine. Actually, I don’t mean love. It’s more a fascination. Are robots a good idea? Will they be good for our future as a species?
BCP: And finally, where can we see you next, and do you have any other upcoming projects you’d like to mention?
DT: I’m working on an issue of Image’s Prophet, written by Brandon Graham, who’s a delight to work with. We’re both huge Moebius fans and could talk about him and his work into the wee hours! Prophet is one of a very small handful of books that I read these days, I’m a big fan of the books, so its very cool to be given the chance to create one myself.
I’m also working on a movie and TV adaptation of the famous 1980 Rendlesham Forest UFO incident, the UK’s Roswell. I’ve done some concept and storyboard work for the proposal, which is about to be sent to producers and directors with the hope that it’ll be picked up.
Lastly, I’m waiting to start working with the great Ian Edginton again, who’s got a big box of Dredd ideas and other things in mind for us both. We’ll be starting off by following up on our Judge Lamia character, a psi Judge who “sees dead people”!
Oh…and very lastly…I’m still working (when I can) on my graphic novel Tom Tom Macoubre, an esoteric space opera like no other. I’ll probably be in my 90’s when it finally sees print!
BCP: Thanks again for taking the time to talk to us, Dave. We appreciate it, and can’t wait to see more from you in the future.
You can find out more about Dave’s past and future work on his blog.