The comics artist on how he beat brutal rejection to go on and ink Batman.
Jock remembers waiting in line to see Glenn Fabry in 1995. He’d hitchhiked to a comic con – all the way from Devon in southwest England to Glasgow in Scotland. He went with a friend. The pair had painted together for six months, often staying up all night to do so. Neither had any paid work, but they felt ready to show their portfolios to the professionals. He was 22 at the time. His friend – fellow comic artist Dom Reardon – was just 18. Jock reached the front of the line. Glenn, an artist who’d painted some of comic’s most famous characters, glanced as his work and said: ‘ Why are you showing it to me? F*** off and make some money.’
“It was our first big trip, young and coy, and Glenn was the first person we showed our work to,” says Jock. “He essentially said, ‘Great. Why are you showing me? Go make cash from it.’
“Persistence. The only advice I can give is persistence. If we’re honest with ourselves, and literally compare your work to someone else’s, you know whether you’ve got something, or if there’s at least potential that you’ll have something. I tried to be realistic about it. Not in denial. It’s persistence.”
His persistence certainly paid off. The British comic book artist –
real name Mark Simpson – has worked for 2000 AD, Marvel and DC. He created one the most iconic covers in recent memory: Detective Comics #880 features his brilliant and terrifying vision of the Joker. More recently, he moved into the film industry. Jock created art for Iron Man 3, The Dark Knight trilogy, Dredd, Star Wars: Episode VIII, and the Oscarwinning Ex Machina. But it’s been a long road from that first meeting with Glenn Fabry to where he is now.
from north to south
Jock moved to Dorset as a boy, but was born in Glasgow – hence the nickname. After his A levels, he completed a one-year foundation degree in art. He wanted to study on a full degree, but was rejected from every university he applied to. In those days, he says, art schools frowned upon comics: “Maybe the tutors could smell it in my work.”
Instead, Jock spent his time building his portfolio and showing it to editors. He moved to Devon and rented a onebedroom apartment, where he worked on his hands and knees with a drawing board on the floor. He didn’t have a job and survived on a very meagre government Jobseeker’s allowance. In a career full of setbacks and rejections, only once did he ever consider giving the whole thing up.
In 2000 he went to visit his old friend Dom Reardon. The pair hadn’t painted together for a while. They stayed up all night, just like the old days: “I was walking home,” Jock says. “It was dawn, getting light. And for the first time I thought, ‘ What am I doing?’ I didn’t have any work. I had a baby at home. I started thinking about some sort of compromise.
“I went downstairs and there was an answer phone message waiting from Andy Diggle of 2000 AD – offering me paid work. I’ve worked ever since.”
all the home comforts
Jock still works from home, only now he has a specially built studio in his back garden. The studio is small but comfortable, with underfloor heating and an outside decking area. He
I woke up and there was an answer phone message from Andy Diggle of 2000 AD – offering me paid work…
works five days a week and keeps regular hours – though he may continue into the evening and on weekends if he has a deadline.
He gives an example of an average project: Scott Snyder sends him the first draft of a Wytches story. They talk it through over the phone until it feels like a final draft. Jock draws thumbnails to work out page layouts. He takes reference photos. Then he inks pages by hand and scans it into his computer.
Next, he touches up the page in Photoshop, which he finds quicker and more versatile than working by hand. It enables him to create a handdrawn look, but one that’s more accurate and controlled. He then sends the pages to the colourist, along with any notes. Some days he might only complete one panel. Other days – especially around deadline – he may ink three or four pages.
Learning on the job
Working digitally meant Jock could experiment more. He likes spatters of ink and loose line-work, which he has more control over when working on his computer. His first digital piece – which was also his first proper DC project – was a front cover for his comic The Losers. “I was literally learning how to use Photoshop in print,” he says, “on the cover of DC.”
The Losers – which Jock drew and Andy Diggle wrote – was his breakthrough project. He met director Peter Berg while working on the
Learning on the cover of The Losers was a trial by fire. I was literally learning how to use Photoshop in print
Superman: American Alien Jock felt Superman had become quite dark, especially in the movies. He wanted to draw him a more optimistic version, using quick strokes to represent speed and flight.
Jock created this drawing for 2015 film Ex Machina. He felt his job was to work out what feeling and presence the character Ava should have. This variant cover from DKIII: The Master Race is a homage to Frank Miller’s cover for The Dark Knight Returns. A nod to Miller Sketching Ava
These covers from Wytches #1 and #3 are full of atmosphere and rich textures, in which Jock aimed for an image that’s just step or two away from reality. Sidestepping reality
The Losers This image, for The Losers #1, was Jock’s first ever digital image: “Learning on the cover of our new comic was a trial by fire. But it gave everything a freshness that had been lacking using physical media up to this point.” Shaun of the Dead Jock’s original version of this poster showed Shaun ready to fight, but he changed that to give the hapless hero a more “befuddled” look.