British Showcase: An Interview With Russ Leach
Hello and welcome to this week’s British Showcase. I caught up with Russ Leach who has been making waves in the indie comic book scene and setting his goals on the big time. With art this good, why the hell not! Let’s start by letting Russ tell us about how he got into comics and his artwork.
I started in production in the late eighties – fresh out of art college. My first, proper job was in magazine layouts. I produced brochures for people like Sony and Dixons. I moved slowly into DTP and soon became a techie managing teams of Macintosh art workers whilst I art directed and designed on brochures. From there I moved quickly through a little multimedia design and production straight to web where I would have my own business designing and coding online applications and websites until two years ago. It was around then that I realized it was time to get my illustrator cap on properly!
At college my illustration tutor told me to “forget it and concentrate on design.” Being young and inexperienced, I followed his advice and focused on design until the mid-nineties. It was then that I had a go at some UK Indy comics and even got good responses from the Marvel new talent scout about my penciling. However, life and mortgage payments took over, and although I did the odd illustrative project, I had to wait until 2006 when I won a trip to the EPIC games offices after drawing a creature design in their competition. I realized how much I’d missed drawing and also met an extremely creative guy called Zane Manasco on the trip. We ended up creating a graphic novel that is still only in sketch form unfortunately, but I hope to finish it one day. What did occur though from that relationship and the events that followed the trip to North Carolina was a reinvention of myself, my life, and what I wanted to do creatively. I had the drawing and comic bug back and felt that my maturity had actually helped my approach to artwork and my comic style. I was confident enough to go my own way and mature enough to see my own mistakes and look hard at the talent in the industry and appreciate as many different styles as possible. I’d also like to think that with my production experience and business knowledge I also added a feel of professionalism to everything I tried to do.
That led me to roughly three years ago. I decided enough was enough and retreated from my other businesses to give myself to an illustrative career 100%. Since then I have managed to build up a steady stream of work. In fact, there aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done… it’s great!
My artwork… well I hope that speaks for itself. I am constantly trying to improve every aspect to be the best I can. I’ve a long way to go I think. The business… I love comics. I have loved them since my first copies of Captain Britain, Hulk, the Avengers, Spider-Man and 2000AD landed in my sticky hands. What I love most about producing comic art is the story telling. That’s why I do it. I love the constant change and dynamism that comic stories provide the artist the chance to experience whilst working.
- With traditional pencil and ink comic drawing taking a long time to produce, many artists are using modern tools and computers to speed things up. Where do you stand on the traditional to digital debate?
I have to say I stand firmly behind my Wacom tablet! The downside of that for me is not having real-world artwork to sell post production. There are artists who feel you can’t get the feedback from working on a tablet that you get from a real pencil, brush, and paper, and I have to respect their opinion. I could never say one production technique is better than the other. But for me, working digitally allows me to work faster, amend easier if need be and do away with scanning in pencils. I now tend to do much rougher pencils than I used to, as I tend to ink my own work when using the digital process – so it works for me.
- What comic book projects have you worked on, both past and present? Is there anything in the pipeline that has you foaming at the mouth with excitement?
Recent finished projects for me would be the Red Angel miniseries for What the Flux Comics and The Chronic Argonauts graphic novel for New Baby Productions. Great fun both projects and a good learning curve for me. I have my fingers in several brand new projects. I’m working with Kevin Gunstone on a new character and submission piece called The Spectral Detective. Plus, I have two other embryonic projects on the go, but if I tell you about them I’d have to kill you!
Currently I’m producing some covers for a brand new series in the UK for deaf people. It’s a great project and story with some very clever storytelling, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with Deaf Power publishing on their covers and jacket design. Another strip for a good cause is Street Cred, which is a small 2-page monthly I’ll be working on with Tim Quinn. Jason Quinn (writer on The Chronic Argonauts and Tim’s brother) put Tim in touch with me for this gig. He has amazing experience editing for Marvel and countless UK projects, so I’m really looking forward to working with him.
However, my main focus currently, and also what I’m definitely most excited about, is StormChasers for Unstoppable Comics. It’s a series based around a super group, but the creator (JayDee Rosario) has produced real diversity with the characters using people of all creeds and cultures being involved in the group. Jay is putting in some great ground work and really building Unstoppable Comics as a brand and was recently at NYCC where he had a wonderful response to the books. I’ve pencilled/inked issues 5 and 6, and am now on the title for the foreseeable future. Great fun!
- Sounds like you are going to be busy! Are you planning on attending any comic conventions next year to showcase your artwork?
Well I haven’t bought any tickets yet, but I really would like to go and experience what’s on offer. As for my own work, I would feel a bit of a fraud turning up and having my own table without a publisher behind me. I mean, I’m hardly a well-known artist (yet). The way I think is, why would people be interested in me if they didn’t know any of my work and hadn’t heard of me or associated me with books they had read? I suppose that’s the catch 22 of breaking into the industry in a big way.
On the other hand Unstoppable are talking with multiple distributors at present, so if I feel that we are getting noticed, I’m more likely to turn up and not remain anonymous. I think I have to see how the next 6 months turns out and make my decisions based on how far I feel my work has penetrated the industry.
- I’m sure you will be at that level very soon. Once there, what would be your dream job or project to work on?
I have some projects close to my heart that it would be great to see in a wider forum and being published by a more well-known and distributed publisher. However, to be true to my influencers and inspiration, I’d have to say that I would love a crack at any of the mainstream super hero titles.
But to give a short list of dream jobs for the answer, I’d have to limit it to the X-Men, Avengers, and Batman or Judge Dredd stories. I think if I ever found myself able to draw those characters for their respective publishers, I would feel I had made my personal professional dream complete. The idea of being associated with such giants would be immensely cool and satisfying.
- Batman and 2000AD seem to be the Holy Grail for aspiring British. What is it about that imagery you find so appealing?
I think it’s probably the gritty nature of both titles. 2000AD was unique in its time for producing shocking and amusing content both visually and story wise and surprisingly a healthy amount of political comment for it’s supposed demographic. Batman was emerging from a boy scout shadow to regain its former darkness. Specifically with the Batman and Dredd characters came a strong sense of right and wrong where no quarter was given, no compassion felt for criminality. The guilty got punished. Also those two are a major part of what I grew up with. I loved characters like Spider-Man as well but they never had the same underlying darkness that came with Judge Dredd or Batman. Probably a character fault on my part.
But I suppose to be truthful to myself and with the greatest respect to some fabulous story writing, it started with the art. Early Brian Bolland ‘Judge Dredd’ and ‘Judge Death’ were a major pull for me, and the great art of Adams in Batman was flowing and full of great structure as well as mood. Then of course, I found myself drawn outside of such dark characters with The Avengers and Captain Britain (including the Fantastic Four) because a lot of the stories drawn by John Buscema also made a big impression on my developing tastes.
- Where is the best place for Comic Booked readers to check out more of your artwork?
I regularly update my own website and I have regular uploads at Deviantart and Facebook . My work will also be available in previews at Unstoppable Comics where you can also buy StormChasers. Red Angel is also on Comics+, graphically, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon as well as the WTFC website direct. The Chronic Argonauts can be purchased on Android marketplace with part 1 for free.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Russ and best of luck in the future.