“Having fun is everything”: interview with Doug Braithwaite

“Having fun is everything”: interview with Doug Braithwaite

After taking over the rights of Valiant Comics for the Italian market, Star Comics started to published all the production of the publisher, promoting the series by inviting many important creators working for the publisher at the most important comic festival in Italy. This year Star Comics hosted Doug Braithwaite, award-winning artists with more than 30 years of career on his shoulder, during which he worked for the most important US publisher, before starting a close collaboration with Valiant Entertainment. We discussed with him about his career, his influences and his past and present projects.

Hi Doug and thanks for your time. You are working in the comic book industry since almost thirty years: when and how did you start your career?
Growing up I always been interested in drawing comics, I was fascinated by them. Already when I was in school everyone encouraged me to keep on doing that, but I never thought I could make a career out of it, it was more as a fan. Fortunately, I was good in drawing, as well as in painting and one day my English teacher saw my works and told me that could really try to start a career in this field. That was the first time someone opened my eyes on this world. He got some interviews with companies to see how magazines and comics are produced and one of this interviews was with Marvel UK, I was 15 at that time! The meeting was great, I could see how comics are made, how editors work so after that I really decided that that was what I wanted to do. I did a lot of night school courses, one of this was with David Lloyd. When I was 16 I got a portfolio together and went back to Marvel, because in my first meeting I realized I was not ready for it. After studying hard, I got more confident, they gave me my first job and from then I keep on doing this, never looking back. Since then comics have been in and around my life, I feel really lucky about that.

Your style is pretty recognizable, it's realistic, sculptural, but at the same time ethereal: which were the influence that brought you to develop this way of drawing?
I loved classic when I was growing up, at that time in the UK they used to do reprints of Marvel comics in black and white, so I could see the work of Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Gil Kane. When I started to understand better the process of drawing and anatomy, John Buscema became one of my biggest inspirations, he was a great storyteller and the work he did on the Silver Surfer is one of my favorite story ever. As I got older, progressing in my career, I started seeing more sophisticated form of illustration and storytelling. Working also in advertisement and films, I have tried to bring elements from that into my work. There are also fantastic artists out there that are inspiring my world, but in the very end I am bonded to the artists I loved as a child.

Like many British artists you have also worked for 2000 AD, a hotbed of talents and ideas. What do you remember about that experience and what did you learned from it?
It's funny, because before starting at 2000 AD I was working for Marvel for about one year. I met creators during cons and meetings, like Dave Gibbons, David Lloyd and Alan Moore, for example, and word got around that I was pretty good at what I was doing. So someone, I do not remember exactly who, probably Brendon McCarty, suggested me to go to work for 2000 AD. I was not sure in the beginning, I felt obliged with Marevl because they gave me my first break and I wanted to be loyal. But then I got convinced, I meet the editors and people working there, I showed them my work just to see what they thought. When I was leaving they asked me if I wanted to do a story for them, and it was a Judge Dredd story! And I immediately said yes, because not many people got to draw a Judge Dredd story on their first job for 2000 AD, you have to work up to get to work on such an iconic character. Being a good boy, I went back to my editor in Marvel, I told him that I got this job (at that time I had no exclusive contract for Marvel). He hit the roof, telling me to stay and not work for them, but I told him that, although I was flattered and I appreciated the fact that they gave me the work, that working for 2000 AD would help me to develop, to meet new people, to grow as an artist. After starting, I did a couple of Judge Dredd stories, a few miscellaneous cover and other short stories. I was in constant contact with during this period, David Lloyd introduced me to them (at various meetings and conventions) when I was 16 and they had taken a keen interest on my artistic development. When I had a few years of professional work under my belt, Karen Berger (Vertigo) offered me my first American work – which was, either, The Legion of Superheroes annual, or, Doom Patrol written by Grant Morrison.

Among the many stories you have drawn, you of the most iconic are the last two chapters of the X-Trilogy, Universe X and Paradise X: an instant classic, a monumental vision of the final days of the Marvel Universe. What did you remember about that project and how did you judge the recent news that Marvel is producing a prequel of the saga, Marvels X? Are you going to be somehow involved?
I did not know anything about this prequel, so I am not sure about it. It's been quite a long time from the Universe X work, but I remember how I got involved, it's pretty funny. I went to New York two or three months before I got this offer to do Universe X, I was speaking to different editors and they offered me different jobs, but none of this was really exciting me. It was always the same stuff, even if with different characters, and I was searching something that could push me. At the same time was getting offered jobs in film and advertising that were also really interesting and attractive, so I was probably going to accept those offers, if I have to be honest. I was travelling back from New York and was sharing a studio in London with other artists, I received a phone call (at my London studio) from Alex (Ross, NoI). One of my collegues picked up the phone and then told me that an Alex Ross was searching for me (they didn't have any idea who he was). I thought he was joking, but he was not! (Laugh) So I called him back, he explained me that he loved my work for years and he wanted to have me on that project, that was going on a slightly different direction from Earth X. He mentioned the scale of the project, the fact that it was involving almost all Marvel characters, and that was exactly the project I was looking for! I was going to work in the film industry, but fortunately Alex and Jim (Krueger) offered me something different and wanted me on aboard. It was fun but also a hard work, I never had so much references to study and they were piles of books, no proper internet at that time! (Laugh) In every scene I had to look for the correct costume for the correct character, and they were all slightly different, reinvented from the classical versions. But it was a good choice and a great project, it helped me to develop as an artist and to think a bit more about the way I tell my stories, because I love complicated scenes and the challenges that they pose to the storytelling, you have to work on it in order to convey the story properly to the readers. So it was a great project, and then I did the next one (Paradise X, NoI). Like an idiot!

Why are you saing that?
Because it was a lot of work, even more than Universe X! (Laugh))

Another praised Marvel run that you draw is yours and Kieron Gillen's Journey into the Mystery, spinning directly off your run on Thor. I am a big fan of this story and I was really impress by your ability to create a convincing fantasy setting and story, it looked like you really felt at ease in that world. Are you a fan of fantasy stories? How much research lays behind the creation of that world, which is a mixture of Norse mythology and superheroes?
I could switch my approach to a story depending on its content, and I love fantasy as much as anybody else, it is not a big jump from sci-fi. The thing that intrigued me is that Journey into the Mystery was a little bit different. I came from Thor that, although the fantasy, barbarian set up, was still pretty regular Thor story. But on Journey we had a kid Loki, as well as trolls and elves and a lot of mischiefs, as you would expect with Loki. Kieron is a fantastic writer, I enjoyed working with him on Thor, and so when he told me about this new project, with less big superheroes and more of something else, I thought it could be real fun. I think that Marvel did not expect a lot from this series, they were just about to launch the new Thor series so probably they just thought to give us a couple of issues before this restart. But when we did the first few issues it went off like that, readers loved that, people at cons were dressing like the characters of our stories, so people from Marvel were very happy. It was very funny, Kieron's humor, his knowledge of the norther mythology and its taste for fancy came out pretty strongly from this comic book. And the way he portrayed Loki was just fantastic!

After you experiences in Marvel and DC, since a couple of years you have been frequently collaborating with Valiant Comics, where you started working already after its relaunch in 2012. What did it mean to you and your career to start working for an ambitious and energetic publisher of a slightly different kind of superheroes stories?
Working with a different concept of superheroes was a big draw for me. The people who took the Valiant rights after the company disappeared at the end of the 90s have fresh ideas, they wanted to involved mainly independent writers, someone with different vision on the storytelling; I am talking about people like Matt Kindt, Jeff Lemire, Joshua Dysart. For me this decision of taking new perspective on superheroes was great, really stimulating, I love working with the best talents there are around. I got involved pretty soon as you said, also in character development. For example in Imperium I had to create the characters, to image how do they look like. One of my favourite is Sunlight on the snow, because he is a robot with no face but he is also pretty humane and sensitive, so I had to find ways to show his feelings, playing with the way it stands and moves, framing and the lights to create an emotional chiaroscuro.

Well, I have to tell you that I really enjoyed Imperium: the story, the characters, especially Toyo Harada that is mostly a Doctor-Doom-like character, I loved the setting and the fact that it is pretty tied with actual problems, like war, poverty, the run for technologies and resources, and definitely how the “dream” at the base of capitalism is crushing the world.
Yeah, I think Imperium is the work I am more proud of among the Valiant titles I did. I really enjoyed creating the characters and make them interact. And Joshua is a really talented author, he does a lot of work and research on the ground, he knows the problems and the situations he is talking about and he is able to transpose them into comics and create great stories, with great characterization and brilliant interacts among them. He puts a lot of passion and ideas in his job.

More than 30 years of career: looking back at it, how do you evaluate your experience so far? What's the project that gave you the greatest satisfaction and which is the one that, going back, you would never do again?
All of the projects mentioned (and even the ones not) have given me great satisfaction: Universe/Paradise X, my work with Garth and Kieron and my work with the writers at Valiant. But my collaboration with Alex on Justice is something I will look back on with great pleasure. When I look back, I do not have regrets. I made decisions that felt right in the moment I took at them; I think that's something that happens to all of us. I chose the projects I felt were the right for me, I had a lot of fun and had the opportunity to work with great creators. There's nothing that I look back and I say “I wouldn't do that again”. Everything helped me to develop in my career and my life. I tend to do a job, enjoy it while I am doing it and then put it on the shelf when it's done and move on to the next thing. I am not looking too much back, but when I do or when someone puts my past works directly on my face, I usually think that I had fun with that, so if the readers get pleasure and still appreciate it, I think I did a good job.

Let's close this interview looking at the future: what's next in your project list?
I cannot say at the moment what I am going to do in the future, I have a couple of projects in my hand and I am kinda deciding in which directions I am going with them. I am working both with Valiant and other publisher, since I have no exclusive contract I can pick and choose. The only thing is that, as an artist, you have to be really careful: a writer can do multiple projects at once, while who is drawing have to focus on one thing at a time, otherwise you risk to overload and your quality is going to be affected. So I am deciding right now, but whatever I am going to do is going to be great fun with great creators.

So we are looking forward to what is going to come out! Thanks a lot again for your time and availability.
Thank you and thanks also not asking about my job on Justice, I usually got mostly questions about that project, people seems to be obsessed with it! (Laugh)

Interview realized on November the 1st during Lucca Comics and Games 2019

Dough Braithwaite

Starting his career in Marvel UK when he was 16, Doug Braithwaite has been working in comics for more than 30 years. The british artist worked on 2000 AD and A1, before transitioning into the US market and working for the most important North-American publisher. In the beginning of 2000 he became famous for his work on the Earth X sequels, Universe X and Paradise X (with Alex Ross and Jim Krueger), as well as for The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe and Punisher: MAX #13–18, with Garth Ennis. After a brief break from Marvel, during which he joined again Alex Ross and Jim Krueger at to draw the twelve-issue limited series Justice, he returned to Marvel where he worked on Thor and Journey into the Mistery with writer Kieron Gillen, being praised both from fans and critics. In 2016 he joined Valiant Comics, drawing the most important characters of the publisher in series like Bloodshot, X-O Manowar, Unity, Imperium, The Eternal Warrior (in the recently published miniseries Incursion). Braithwaite was one of 62 comics creators who appeared at the IGN stage at the Kapow! convention in London to set two Guinness World Records, the Fastest Production of a Comic Book, and Most Contributors to a Comic Book, realizing together with Mark Millar a comic book in less than 12 hours.

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