His shadowy, scratchy style is a perfect fit for the edgier end of comics. Laurence Campbell tells Joel Meadows why he’s always been drawn to the dark side…
Beginning his career drawing for US indie publisher Caliber, Campbell really put his name on the comic map while working for Rebellion on strips such as Judge Dredd, Bison and Synnamon. Since then, he has gone on to draw for Marvel on Wolverine, Punisher and Moon Knight, and he’s been the artist on Hellboy’s acclaimed spin-off BPRD since 2013.
Comic Heroes: You trained at Central St Martins – how much did this help you as a professional artist?
Laurence Campbell: “I’d already worked as a graphic designer (while attending the London Cartoon Centre in the evenings) before going to art college so I already had a professional approach. Art college really helped me to expand my horizons. It gave me the opportunity to experiment and it meant that I wasn’t afraid to make mistakes. I also got to look at other artists outside the field of comics. I continued to read comics while at art college but I’d only draw comics in my spare time; I didn’t let them affect my college work. I purposely kept the two separate. Although my artwork at college was still illustration, it was more experimental and photography-based. I guess artists like Dave McKean blurred the boundaries between formal comic art and formal illustration and I was influenced and inspired by that. I was reading Cages [Dave McKean’s award-winning limited series, later collected as a single volume] and a lot of Vertigo comics while I was at art college.”
CH: Your first professional work was for Caliber Comics. How did that come about?
LC: “While I was at art college, in my spare time I was drawing a comic called Something Inside written by Paul Carstairs (who had done a few Future Shocks for 2000 AD). Looking back, I was influenced by Hellblazer. It was a real learning curve for me, being the first time I had pencilled, inked and lettered (about 30 pages). This was around the time of Vertigo, Deadline and Crisis. Self-publishing was too expensive at that point and not everyone had a computer, printer and scanner. We sent it off
to a few publishers in the UK and didn’t hear anything, so we tried sending it to America. Caliber picked it up and printed it as a one-shot. I continued to get work from Caliber; a couple of short stories for Negative Burn to begin with and then it developed from there.”
CH: You’ve also drawn Judge Dredd for 2000 AD. Did you read 2000 AD as a kid? LC: “Yes. As a kid I was reading Starlord and I joined 2000 AD when the two merged. I can still remember what sticker I got with the first issue of Starlord. ‘The Day The Law Died’ story arc in Judge Dredd had a huge impact on me. The image of Judge Dredd having been shot in the head, face covered in bandages, riding the lawmaster was very iconic to me. The whole thing, Judge Cal, the Kleggs etc, really set this world up for me. I was buying black-and-white reprints of Marvel Comics beforehand, and 2000 AD felt a little more dangerous and a bit more out there.”
CH: Judge Dredd is such an iconic character – how did you approach drawing him?
LC: “Judge Dredd, written by John Wagner, was the first thing I drew for 2000 AD. Looking back, I think I was a bit intimidated but it was a great way to start. Every time I’ve drawn Dredd, I feel like I’ve got to know him a little bit better. Judge Dredd has got such a history with such iconic artists and it took me a while, but I feel like I put my own stamp on him in the Judge Dredd Fallout collection. Myself and Rob Williams have a Dredd arc that we’d like to do at some point which really excites me and hopefully at some point we’ll get a chance to pitch it.”
CH: You’ve worked for both UK and US publishers. How different is it?
LC: “In the UK I’ve only really worked with 2000 AD and they seem to be a bit more ‘hands off’ than the US publishers. For the US, I send work in at each stage – layouts, pencils and inks – whereas for 2000 AD I just sent in final inks. I enjoy working both ways. I also enjoy getting feedback from the writer, although this doesn’t always happen. I like it when the artist and writer work well together – I think it shows in the work. The storytelling part is very important to me.”
CH: You’ve drawn a number of less traditional heroes such as the Punisher, Judge Dredd and the members of BPRD. Why do you think you’re drawn to the darker side of comics?
LC: “I’ve always liked the darker side of comics. From liking Wolverine as a kid and thinking Orlok was pretty cool in Judge Dredd. At Marvel I think I was much more suited to the street-level type heroes and Axel Alonso, my editor at the time, realised this and put me on certain projects. Working on Punisher Max was tough but enjoyable. I liked the realism and the real emotional impact that the violence had on the characters. It made it feel a much deeper version of Punisher.”
CH: You’ve also worked for Marvel, initially on Wolverine with Rob Williams. Was that a very different experience to working for Dark Horse?
LC: “Rob and I had worked together before on Breathing Space for 2000 AD. We got on and seemed to work well together so we pitched a character to Marvel and Axel asked us if we wanted to do a Wolverine one-shot. Things developed from there. Dark Horse is a much smaller company and therefore feels a bit more intimate in some ways. Having said that, I developed some good relationships at Marvel, especially with Axel, who I learned
a lot from. I’ve never worked for DC but I have a Batman itch that I’d like to scratch at some point.”
CH: What are you currently working on?
LC: “I’m working on BPRD for the foreseeable future and that’s very exciting for me. It’s a dream job. I work with great writers, great colourists, an enthusiastic editorial team and a continuing story with strong characters that is developing all the time. John Arcudi is a great writer, and when I first receive the scripts, I read them as a fan. I am a huge fan of Hellboy so the opportunity of working with Mike Mignola is fantastic. BPRD has some amazing artists working on it which makes me want to raise my game all the time. I feel like I’ve experimented with my work and I’m always looking to push it, which is a great feeling for an artist.”
Info British artist who puts a new twist on classic American line art