Going Digital . . . . . . .
Renowned comic artist Arthur Ranson has exchanged pencil and paint for the keyboard and computer screen
It was in 2007 that much- loved comic artist Arthur Ranson decided to hang up his Pentel pencil and CS10 board and announce his retirement. The British artist had a dynamic body of work behind him, including strips for the hugely successful DC Comics, alongside a brief stint with Marvel U amongst others.
His work had over the years been well received and many in the industry and fans alike mourned Arthur’s departure, most fearing that it was the last they would hear from the talented comic artist. But the unpredictable Arthur had other ideas and was about to surprise everyone.
Uninspired by retired life, he soon began contemplating a new career. Back in 2011, digital art, usually a sphere dominated by the young, seemed an unlikely choice for the then 72- year- old Arthur. However, never afraid of a challenge and certainly not one to be limited by convention, Arthur is making a mark in the world of computer art, bringing his unique style and photo realism to this new medium. He speaks about his transition into this new arena and the reasons behind his change of direction for the first time.
Arthur Ranson, born on 3rd June 1939 in Hornchurch, Essex, first became aware of his artistic skills at the tender age of four when his primary school teacher complimented him on his sketch of a pair of her spectacles. His official comic career, however, began a little later when he started work with Look- in during the Seventies before moving to sci- fi comic 2000AD.
Notable career high points included collaboration with writer Alan Grant on the fantasy story “Mazeworld” in 2000AD, where Ranson provided illustrations.
Grant recalls Arthur as “The best storyteller I’ve ever worked with. Seeing him translate my scripts for ‘ Judge Anderson’ and ‘ Mazeworld’ onto the page was a source of great satisfaction and inspiration to me.”
John Wagner, co- creator of “Judge Dredd”, who had also worked with Arthur on the critically acclaimed comic strip “Button Man”, speaking at the Comic Convention at Cardiff Motorpoint Arena, agreed: “Arthur does things his own way but you know you’re always going to get a good result. He’s such an accurate representer of life.”
Many more came to know the artist through his work on the fictional character “Judge Anderson”.
With such a body of work behind him and facing various health challenges, including a cancer diagnosis in 2007, anyone would have been excused for thinking that Arthur would call it a day when he announced his retirement. However, never one to back down in the face of adversity, those closest to Ranson were far from surprised at his decision to take on the world of digital art when he first uploaded “Sirius” in 2012.
“Sirius” is an ongoing digital art strip which Ranson features on his website and is increasing in popularity. But Ranson prefers to downplay his endeavours in this area to date.
“I don’t think of myself as a digital artist,” he comments when asked about his work.
Digital art has become a sweeping term for a range of artistic works and practices that utilise digital technology, which has in modern times gained popularity. The advantages associated with the medium include increased ease of replication, completing and correcting works, along with increased money to be made from this growing artistic empire, as those involved are able to buy and sell art in new ways that weren’t possible before. Arthur, however, is keen to point out that far from potential financial gains, his motivations for entering into this new field were rather different.
“Truth is, I wanted to do
something new, a challenge. Also, there were some great digital images around to act as an incentive.”
Arthur also points out that digital art is providing a means for those with difficulties or health problems to create more easily.
“My decision to try out digital art was also partly due to me having lost some sensitivity in my fingers and finding regular pencil and pen drawings increasingly harder to do to my satisfaction.”
Arthur also mentions that completing work on the computer offers other gains: “Unlike real- life, it has an ‘ undo last action’ button.”
Despite its increasing popularity and growing fan base, digital art has also attracted a certain amount of criticism with many viewing it as “artificial”, requiring less skill and with many artists relying too heavily on software. Arthur agrees that available software does enable effects that would be difficult with any other medium. However, he also says that this method is far from easy.
Whilst many involved in producing digital art strive to use the latest and greatest software and apps, Arthur prefers to keep things simple, sticking to Serif Paint, software regarded by the community as below par at best.
Many may wonder at Arthur making such a career change, but Ranson feels that his transition was made easier by his basic drawing skills.
“It wasn’t quite like starting over again. Knowledge of basic drawing, tonal stuff, colour awareness and so on was still applicable.”
Whilst Arthur advises those who seek to make the transition to get sufficient training in the field or to watch the many online tutorials available, his approach was somewhat more freestyle.
“Learning for me was by trial and error, trying stuff out and discovering what was possible.”
But Ranson, still loyal to his first love, feels that digital art far from trumps the more traditional art forms, making a somewhat bold statement: “Digital can have a tendency to look ‘ plastic’.”
He is also quick to point out that digital art sometimes takes away some of the magic involved in pencil work.
“Digital is an eye and brain thing, lacking involvement of the hand that I used to like. With physical artwork, I used to find the hand often took over the process which was something I liked and used to wonder at.”
But few can deny that with technology becoming an increasing part of our everyday lives and digital interfaces becoming more mobile and easy to use in the form of mobile phones, pads and graphics tablets this form of creative expression is ready to explode. One only has to observe its impact on Arthur Ranson’s domain, the comic world, to see that this medium is here to stay.
Most comics these days, include some, if not all, digital strips and Ranson points out that in his world of comics it is often difficult to tell what is digital and what isn’t. Some even fear that, in the future, digital art will completely replace the more traditional pencil drawings, but Arthur, whilst excited by his
involvement in this new craze, remains optimistic for his friends and colleagues using drawn art forms.
“Hands- on work is too involving and satisfying and provides a better way of doing some things.”
But with the exact impact of digital art on traditional art and artists still unclear, Ranson’s foreseeable future in this arena is more certain. His “Sirius” story will continue until it reaches completion and Arthur will work on a remastering of “The Elvis Story” which he drew for the comic Look- in, yet, in parallel to the contention between digital and traditional methods that exist in the art world, Ranson hints at his own conflicts, in reference to “The Elvis Story”.
“I can’t imagine how this could be done without a computer, and it might not be possible with one either,” he adds rather enigmatically.
Whatever the future holds for Arthur and his artistic career, it is sure to be exciting, making an important contribution worthy of praise. It was Alan Grant who described Arthur as having “the soul of a true artist”. And perhaps it is fitting to leave the well wishes and accolades to Alan who became more than a colleague but also a much- loved friend. “Whatever his circumstances, he will always find a way to express himself. Following his terrible illness, I am so glad that he’s decided to venture into the world of digital art, where his style and subject matter will be perfectly suited to the new medium. Go for it, Arthur!” For further information about Arthur Ranson and to see many other examples of his work, visit www. arthurranson. com
An illustration from “Lock- in”. Artwork by Arthur, produced digitally on Serif Paint. Opposite: Arthur shows the same quirkiness in his personal life that he does in his art, treating himself to a tattoo on his 75th birthday.
A panel from episode 44 of Arthur’s online comic “Sirius”.
“Bad” Anderson artwork which Arthur did digitally on Serif Paint.
A ballpoint pen sketch by Arthur Ranson.