Go­ing Dig­i­tal . . . . . . .

Renowned comic artist Arthur Ran­son has ex­changed pen­cil and paint for the key­board and com­puter screen

Evergreen - - Contents Summer 2015 - Claire Barnes

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

“Bad” An­der­son art­work which Arthur did dig­i­tally on Serif Paint.

A panel from episode 44 of Arthur’s online comic “Sir­ius”.

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 ball­point pen sketch by Arthur Ran­son.

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