In­ter­view: Jock

The comics artist on how he beat bru­tal re­jec­tion to go on and ink Bat­man.

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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.

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