August 16, 2002 Posted by admin

Frequent Grant Morrison collaborator and Zenith co-creator, Stockport-based artist Steve Yeowell has been one of the UK’s most prolific comic creators for over 15 years. With work appearing regularly in 2000 AD, guest spots on Starman, JSA and Paradise X, Steve’s high-quality work continues to prove the popularity and reliability of British talent. BULLETPROOF COMICS recently spoke to the man himself…

Steve, what’s your artistic background?

I studied for a BA (hons) in 3D design: Silversmithing and Jewellery – during the completion of which I rediscovered my childhood fascination with comics. If drawing (an essential element of the design process) is going to take up a large amount of the working day, I thought, then why not spend the working day drawing something fun?

Was your first published comic work Lieutenant Fl’ff for Harrier Comics?

Before Fl’ff I was writing and drawing Hawker for Manchester-based stripzine, Totally Alien. I’d met editor David Baber through a college-era friend, who’d shown him some sample designs I’d drawn for a sci-fi hero with robot sidekick. Mike Collins and Mark Farmer – who I’d met at The Society of Strip Illustration (now The Comic Creator’s Guild) – put me forward as their replacement on Fl’ff when they moved on to other things.
Your first published work with Grant Morrison was in Zoids for Marvel UK. However, I understand that before that point you both collaborated on a project for IPC that never saw the light of day?

David Lloyd was putting together a dummy comic for IPC called Fantastic Adventure, an anthology title featuring strips based on then popular TV series and films. Grant and Jamie Delano wrote, I think, all the strips and I drew California Crew (written by Grant) which was loosely based on The A-Team. Other artists on FA were John Burns, John Higgins, John Bolton, Steve Whittaker, Ron Tiner and David Jackson. Unfortunately, IPC dropped it in favour of Mask, a toy licensed title.

You both hit your creative stride with the award-winning pop culture superhero strip, Zenith, for 2000 AD. Where did the concept for the series originate?
The genesis of Zenith has a long and convoluted history which I had nothing to do with. As far as I can remember it includes elements of previous strips Grant had written and drawn for both Near Myths and his local newspaper, along with all the usual Morrison elements – HP Lovecraft, Nazi demonology, Chaos Magic, The Beatles – married with observations on everything that made the early eighties the early eighties.

Artist Brendan McCarthy produced the initial costume designs for Zenith. How much of those designs remained in the final look of the character?

For the first series Grant asked for the retro-Elvis hairstyle Brendan had designed to be altered to something resembling an ultra-firm gelled Morrissey quiff, and for Zenith’s boots to be made somewhat heavier. Design changes in the later series were mine, okayed with Grant.

Were you a fan of superhero comics as a child?

I was never exclusively an American superhero comics fan. The vast majority of comics I read were the traditional weekly British titles (including any girl’s titles my sister would get) or the monthly war comics.

Interested though I was in American comics, they seemed expensive compared to British weeklies, a month seemed too long to wait between issues and I could never work out when they would be in the shops anyway. I knew something like The Victor, for instance, would be in the newsagent on a Saturday morning or sometimes Friday evening which tied in nicely with pocket money being handed over. I would buy the occasional American comic on an irregular basis, and most of those I bought from a second hand stall at the local market. I didn’t get a sustained regular exposure to superheroes until Marvel UK started bringing out their weekly titles in about 1973.

As Phase III of Zenith began, you were called upon to design a huge cast of super-powered characters. Where did the inspiration for these designs begin?

Anything from Fleetway could be used without fear of legal action. Others were modified to varying degrees according to how well known they were in their original form (Big Ben for instance). I sometimes based designs on what I was seeing around the bars/pubs/clubs of Manchester at the time.

Do you think you and Grant will ever revisit Zenith at some point in the future?

Grant likes the idea of doing one-offs, if they seem appropriate, but when that’ll be – if ever – who can say…

Looking back on the controversy that surrounded The New Adventures of Hitler, were you surprised at the reactions from both the press and public?

Bemused more than anything.

What was the first work you produced for the US?

I drew a short story for the first issue of Open Space, the Marvel sci-fi title edited by Kurt Busiek.

You’ve also drawn issues of Starman and JSA for DC. Were these projects you specifically requested?

I’d worked with James Robinson on a strip for Revolver called Mystery Tour (which never saw the light of day) and a graphic novel for Epic called Sixty-Seven Seconds. He asked me to fill in on Starman, and Peter Tomasi (editor on Starman after Archie Goodwin) asked me to fill in on JSA.

When receiving work from writers, do you prefer full scripts or Marvel-style plots?

I’m comfortable with either. I particularly enjoyed the approach James and I used on Sixty-Seven Seconds where he provided me with a screenplay type plot description for a page or several pages, along with all the copy that had to appear. I had both the freedom to break down the page in the way I wanted and all the information the dialogue provides (much more readily than any amount of panel description) for appropriate facial expression and character body language.

When the time came to collaborate with Grant on The Invisibles, did you feel that his writing style had changed dramatically since your days together on Zenith?

It changed in the way that anyone’s work changes over time. No one works the same way forever, at least not if they want to maintain their interest. I could see the same themes present though.

You’ve worked with Grant on many projects over the years. What do you think makes your partnership so unique and successful?

I don’t know that it was unique. It was successful in that Zenith was the classic case of the right thing at the right time. We worked well together because he liked the way I drew, I liked his scriptwriting and wanted to do the best I could and neither of us tried to interfere with the other’s job.

The majority of your artwork has been black and white. Would you like to produce more full colour material?

I would but the opportunity doesn’t seem to come up that often and I tend to dislike my own colouring compared to that of, say, Chris Blythe. I’d like to letter too, which I used to in my Trigon and Harrier days.

Your stark, black-and-white work on Zenith became more abstract as the series progressed. Was this a conscious decision on your part to change your style of drawing?

As I said earlier no one works the same way all the time if they want to maintain their interest. It was, I think, a change influenced by work I was seeing elsewhere and a need to freshen up. It felt like the right thing to do at the time anyway.

You’ve been producing material regularly for 2000 AD for a number of years, including the hit series’ Sinister Dexter, Pussyfoot 5, Red Fang and Nikolai Dante. Why continue working for a UK company when many of your peers have been lured by the call (and big bucks) of the US?

I enjoy working for both The US and UK – each has it’s own challenges. At 2000 AD there’s less money but more freedom.

Which 2000 AD series do you feel has been your most artistically rewarding?

All of them in one way or another – although equally I can find things I dislike in all of them too.

Would you like do develop more creator-owned work?

In so far as I’d like to draw more period costume settings – everyone’s probably noticed that even my approach to science fiction is retro.

What projects do you have in the pipeline?

I’ve just finished Xen, a Paradise X special which Bill Sienkiewicz is inking, Foot Soldiers: Volume 3, a 156 page b&w trade paperback written by Jim Krueger (Earth X), and I’m currently working on The Red Seas with Ian Edgington for 2000 AD – voodoo swashbuckling in the golden age of piracy – Splundig Vur Ho-ho-ho, me hearties!!!