By Jason Thibault
I’ve been reading comics drawn by Chris Weston for over a decade now. Whether it’s a Garth Ennis penned war story or a certain chapter of Grant Morrison’s Invisibles, I’ve always been more than impressed with the amount of sheer skill and detail that Chris puts into a page. This interview was a joy to put together as I got to revisit artwork and certain comics that have brought me a lot of pleasure over the years. Chris strikes me as a creator who carefully picks his projects and as a result has gotten to work with some of the best writers in the biz.
You’ll find that he’s infused the answers with that good natured humor that he’s known for.
First professional work (piece / year) and maybe a quick story behind it?
My first published work was a Judge Dredd pin-up I painted as a speculative piece. This was presented to 2000ad and they bought it and ran it on the back cover. I was instantly offered a six-page Judge Dredd story, “Night at the Circus”… and did a spectacularly bad job on it. But it wasn’t enough to prevent me from getting more work, unfortunately for the readers…. and it wasn’t embarrassing enough that I needed to airbrush it out of my career-history like others have done to their 2000ad stints! You know who you are!
Self-taught or formally educated? (or mixture of both, mentors etcâ€¦)
Unofficially educated by the late, great Don Lawrence, artist of “The Trigan Empire” and “Storm”. As a kid I was a huge fan of his fully-painted, photo-realistic style which he pioneered thirty years before Alex Ross… so, imagine my astonishment when I discovered he lived about two miles from my house. I’m ashamed to say I used to pester him for advice and eventually he offered me a good old-fashioned apprenticeship in the art of comic-strip illustration. At the end of my year under his tuition I had a portfolio strong enough to present to 2000ad. Liam Sharp is also one of Don’s protÃ©gÃ©s.
Tools of the trade: Taking a quick glance over at your pens, brushes etcâ€¦what tools have you mainly been using over the last few years?
I’m mainly a felt-tip guy, unfortunately. I do prefer the look of art that has been done with a brush and Indian ink; the finished art looks so much better done like that: the blacks are more solid. But for some reason, the moment I pick up a brush, my productivity slows down to a standstill. Felt-tips, however, just seem to glide across the paper with no problems at all. They do leave a tiny little blob on the end of a stroke which is the bane of my life… I’m then compelled me to “sharpen” up the lines in Photoshop… but that’s just the sort of anal, autistic task I relish.
My favourite pen? The FINEPOINT SYSTEM 0.1, made in Japan. Lovely … especially when it’s on the verge of wearing out… that’s when I get the best results out of it.
Favorite brand of ink:
Daler-Rowney “Calli”, a jet-black Indian ink, made for calligraphy purposes.
Type of paper:
The cheapest photocopy paper I can get my hands on. Something that will go almost transparent on my light box.
Which artists or creators do you return to for a quick boost of inspiration?
Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons, Jean “Moebius” Giraud, Jesus Blasco and Brendan McCarthy remain an inspiration. Other artists come along whose sheer quality force me to raise my own game, like Sean Phillips, Dave Taylor, Frazer Irving and Laurence Campbell… but I’m not sure if that’s inspiration or envy. Fear of unemployment, most likely.
To be honest, I don’t really refer to other artists any more. I’m pretty comfortable with my own techniques and my style is pretty much set in stone now, however hard I try to change it. In the old days my desk would be buried under all sorts of comics that acted as reference material. Not anymore… now it’s buried under empty Digestive Biscuit packets.
Who are the masters of ink?
Well, Brian Bolland was THE Master before his work went all-digital. I grieve for the pages of original art we’ve been deprived of thanks to this technique… and Bolland really should have his computer forcefully confiscated by “The Government Department for Culture, Media and Sport” to prevent further losses to this country’s comic-strip heritage.
Once a client has handed off an illustration job to you, how do you first tackle the job. Could you give us a quick overview of your process?
Ah, this is the moment I reveal the fact my career is triumph of technique over talent!
First of all, I read the script over and over, and run through the events in my head… as if I’m watching a movie. Once the script is memorized I throw it to one side and never again refer to it.
I then set up the camera on a tripod, activate the timer, jump in front and act out the events of the script, chronologically. These reference photos are basically the stills from the film I have running in my head. I’ve got all sorts of costumes, capes, hats and weapons lying around… and they all get used.
I remember the time I was taking my reference photos for the “Secret Original” sequence from The Filth… I was dressed as a super-hero, in a hired wheelchair, throwing spastic shapes whilst waiting for the timer on my camera to go off… and I thought: my parents must be so proud!
I try to avoid using photos or reference from existing films or magazines, ‘cos someone is bound to recognize them and tell Rich Johnston. I have done it a couple of times in the past… I’m not saying where… but I always felt like I was cheating and needed a shower afterwards. I won’t be doing it again.
For the female characters I generally use my wife, or as a final resort use Poser. I’m rubbish at drawing women.
Once all the photo-ref is done I download them onto my Apple Mac, and use them to compose the pages in Photoshop. I’ll add in backgrounds, either taken myself, found in Google or computer-generated in Cinema 4D… and then covert the final page to a black and white image and printed off. This is then traced over on my light box… taking care to convert all the figures into likenesses of the characters… and not just depictions of my own aging features. Noses are reduced in size and the middle-age spreads are erased.
The artwork is then scanned in, tidied up, and sent off by email. Then I have a nice cup of tea and some more digestive biscuits.
What’s currently sitting in your mp3 / CD player / turntable?
I tend to just listen to the BBC radio channels…. especially those which are a bit more conversation- based. That way I get to pretend that this isn’t the saddest and loneliest profession in the world, and those voices in my room are actually my friends.
What’s hanging on your walls and what is your favorite piece of art that you own (not created by you)?
I’ve got a nice Carlos Ezquerra “Strontium Dog” pin-up, which is my pride and joy.
Last novel you read and last movie that you saw (that you’d recommend)?
I read “Lord of The Flies” from cover-to-cover on the flight to the New York Comic Con, which was riveting but also really depressing.â€ Zodiac” was the last film to make a big impression on me; a film that criminally over-looked by the critics, the award ceremonies and the general public. It too was riveting and depressing. Hmmm… I see a pattern emerging…
Current and upcoming projects.
Still working on The Twelve… it’s a long road and there’s no end in sight just yet. However, that hasn’t stopped me lining up work beyond it. I’ve had discussions to re-boot a languishing property; a character I’ve always loved… but nothing’s signed yet, so I can’t talk about it.
But, at the moment I’m totally absorbed by “The Twelve”. I’m really proud of the book… I think it features some of the best art I’ve done for ages. It’s got a great script by Mr. Straczinski; great characters, great dialogue. And it’s a real, page-turner. I’ve no idea where it’s going… and that’s a good thing. Finding an unpredictable story is a rare treat indeed these days.
More people should buy it!
I’ve also done some concept work and storyboards for an upcoming sci-fi movie, which is a dream come true. Nothing green lit just yet, but I’ve been paid, handsomely, and it’s all looking very promising. More news on this once I know what’s happening.
What would you tell an aspiring artist who is working his ass off but still needs and wants to break through to the next level.?
Give up! This industry’s a leaking life-raft and, already, there’s barely enough space for me and my established colleagues!
Well, that’s what I’d like to say… but I’m not cruel enough to crush someone’s dreams like that. I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of negative feedback: I once presented my portfolio to a representative of the Humanoids Publishing Company and his rude and dismissive remarks are now permanently seared into my very being. This was doubly disappointing when you consider how much of a fan I was of their oeuvre… However, I must admit I was so offended by the nature of his criticism that I found it hard not to enjoy a nano-second of schadenfreude when their US deal went sour! I’m SO bitter and twisted… sigh! I still love their work though.
Seriously, I would try to tailor my advice to suit the artist’s personality and style… but in general I would urge them to keep plugging away and never be afraid to ask the publishers what they are looking for. Remember, you’ve only got to be better than the worst artist already in employment in order to get their work.
I’d consider showing the work of newcomers to my editors… if I felt it was good enough to be published… but I’d probably do it with gritted teeth and worry that they were going to do me out of a job! There ain’t nothing going on but the rent, after all! But it would be a nice way of repaying Don Lawrence for his help by giving the same encouragement and assistance to others who needed it.
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