Okay, that headline might be over selling it just a little bit – then again, with the tale I have to tell, maybe not. To set the stage properly, though: first things first.
As you wander around this site and check out the coverage we put up of San Diego Comic-Con, you may hear mention of a collective of Brits that make their pilgrimage to America’s Finest City every year to inject a little sense of European class and civility to proceedings (and then dismantle that civility as they get royally hammered on the Sunday evening!), the SDCC UK ATTENDEES GROUP (THE BRITISH INVASION, SPIRIT OF ’86)!
This is a Group that I’m particularly proud of, as it happens to be something of my own creation – two weeks after returning from San Diego Comic-Con 2011, and still on quite the buzz from that years proceedings, I decided to jump on Facebook to see if there were any other likeminded Brits who also made the trip. At half past two on a Wednesday night / Thursday morning, I hit Create Group on the admittedly clunky-titled page and was stunned to find, over the subsequent weeks, a whole raft of equally excitable boys and girls, all ramped up from that years activities and more than up for doing it all over again with like-minded tea drinkers the following July. We were off and running!
(Quickly, an explanation of the Group Name. As those of you that know me are aware, I have a particular interest in that period of comics on the late ’70s and early ’80s when American publishers came to the UK to meet and greet with the rising stars in UK comics – Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Peter Milligan, Grant Morrison, Chris Claremont, David Lloyd… these artists and writers met with the likes of Karen Berger and Paul Levitz from DC Comics, and were tempted across t’pond to inject a new life into the American comics market with their unique sensibilities and an auteur style. While the British Invasion took place way before, 1986 was a landmark year in its history, with the release of many pioneering books. Hence, the Group name.)
Now, to the point of this post. When I set the Group up, it needed graphics, some logos to pin the thing in place. I could’ve just gone for a generic snap from my Holiday Photos album but I decided to be a little more creative – and not just a little cheeky, too.
Taking my cue from the official Comic-Con International logo, I fired up Photoshop and decided to swap out the ‘comic eye’ from the logo and replace it with one with a British flair, choosing the most recognisable UK comics creation of all time: Judge Dredd, from the pages of 2000AD. I searched for a rendition of Mega City One’s most prominent judge, jury and executioner where Dredd was in a similar pose to the CCI ‘comic eye’. This, our first – and, to this day, default – Group Logo was born.
2012: JUDGE DREDD (The SDCC UK Attendees Group Logo)
(I have tried to find out who the artist is of this particular Dredd piece is, if anything to properly credit them with the work – if you do know that might be, please drop me a line or leave their name in the comments below. Thanks.)
This was at now three in the morning and I was feeling boisterous. I rustled up some more logo options, just in case I fancied a change down the line. (I’ve added to the pile of these over the years, usually my own choices, sometimes suggested by Group Members) All had the same brief: they had to be black and white, they had to be focused on the eye of the character to follow the original CCI logo, and they all had to be Brit-related, either by creation, characterisation or by publication. Harder than you think – can you recognise them all?
Once we had a logo in place, I was thrilled to discover that Group Members were up for having it plastered over t-shirts at San Diego Comic-Con 2012 to proudly proclaim their membership to the Group. I’m not going to lie when I say I got a little choked up to walk out on to the Firepit of the Hilton Gaslamp Hotel and find a bunch of people wearing shirts with something I’d knocked up on a whim in the wee hours. Emotional moment.
For 2013, I thought we could even take it up a notch. What if we contacted a artist, someone from the world of UK comics, to come up with a commissioned piece for us to use in the logo, something not just plucked from Google Image Search? Summat proper, like. Same brief as before but done by a pro. I put a poll out on the Group as to which character we should ask for – that year, John Constantine topped the chart – and then I hit my email.
I threw out some feelers on social media and was stunned to find that one of the very first names I contacted, 2000AD‘s Leigh Gallagher, was more than up for the task – and he was up for doing it for free, too! I was gobsmacked… but not as gobsmacked as I was when his piece came through my letterbox.
Leigh did something wonderful in terms of his lighting of John’s face, keeping him in his trademark trench coat, skinny tie and shock hair, fag in mouth and throwing the audience that sly ‘Pudlian grin, but Leigh really emphasised the meddling magician’s darker side with sharp black shadows over the front of his face. It’s a gorgeous piece – and one I’m very proud to have framed in my house. What a way to start.
2013: JOHN CONSTANTINE (Leigh Gallagher)
Fantastic stuff. It works well in the context of the logo but the full piece is just incredible to me – which kind of put me in a bit of a jam. How the hell were we going to top this the following year??
As well as my response from Leigh, I had several replies from my initial emails, with artists mentioning that they were interested and intrigued by the proposal but, for whatever reason, they were busy with workload or commitments. But one email I kept a hold of: Sean Phillips was a noted artist on Vertigo’s HELLBLAZER, which is why I had reached out to him to initially draw our John Constantine. He said he was too busy, at that time coming up with the Eisner Award-winning THE FADE OUT for Image Comics with Ed Brubaker, but to drop him a line after SDCC 2013 and see if he was free.
Miraculously, he was – or, as I later learned, maybe he was thinking of using us as guineas pigs. Either way, for SDCC 2014, the master artist rendered our choice of character that year: the X-Men’s Professor Xavier.
2014: PROFESSOR X (Sean Phillips)
This was a bitch of a commission – chosen, if I recall, off the back of the success of the 20th Century Fox films and a character made famous by the portrayal by Sir Patrick Stewart (a Yorkshireman, a way the Group Members got round the rules of the poll), at the end of the day, it’s a bald bloke. How the hell was Sean going to create something which focused on his eye and ended up still being recognisable as the leader of the X-Men?
Safe to say, Sean knocked it out of the park (again, somehow without charging us!!). Even when the image was cropped to suit, Charles Xavier just extruded out of the logo, his mutant mental abilities almost blasting out of the frame, his gaze locked on to the viewer. I gave the image a little kick to match the CCI eye framing but anyone who sees it knows exactly who it is.
An explanation of my previous comments: using us a ‘guinea pigs’? It was at the Lakes International Comic Arts Festival in Kendal that year that I approached Sean – a Special Guest of the event – to say thanks for the piece. He said it was his pleasure and that it was something that he wouldn’t forget for a while, anyway: it happened to be his first ever digitally produced art piece. I was blown away! I don’t care if the piece was his way of giving the new tech a try without the consequences of it being ever widely published or seen by the wider world – safe to say, those that did see it in San Diego that year were struck by the gaze of Professor X!
As I’ve said, we’ve been incredibly lucky over the years to have managed to convince these master artists to come up with these incredible pieces, totally non grata – with one exception. Following SDCC 2014, I headed to London Super Comic Con at the ExCel Exhibition Centre in the capital and managed to speak to Ian Churchill, an artist of which I had been a fan for some time, thanks to his work in the awesome MARINEMAN, his own creator-owned Eisner-nominated comic, and also REVENGE, a book that he drew for Image Comics, written by Jonathan Ross. Yes, Wossy himself.
Ian was up to the task of drawing our choice for that year – the votes had gone to Gandalf, from THE LORD OF THE RINGS (yup, the film portrayal of Sir Ian McKellen in THE HOBBIT series was very much in Group Members minds and, hailing from Burnley in Lancashire, meant he was eligible within the brief). However, Ian wasn’t just going to hand over the finished piece without some recompense and he asked if we could raffle the work off to the Group, raising money for his chosen charity, the Comics Literacy Awareness (CLAw) group, promoting reading of comics and graphic novels among children and young people. How could we possibly refuse?
2015: GANDALF (Ian Churchill)
It’s beautiful. Gloriously framed in that wonderful circle, looking beyond to the majestic rolling hills in the background, the piece could be seen as just a fine caricature of McKellen, with his bulbous nose, baggy eyes and bony, withered hands, but it’s so much more than that, with Ian capturing the wistfulness, elegance and charm that McKellen brought to the role. With his staff poking beyond the ‘window frame’, he really has a magnificent presence in this piece and, I have to say, it’s my absolute favourite of the logo commissions we’ve had.
(It’s my mum’s, too – when she learnt that the original of the piece had been auctioned off in the Group, she was horrified to find I hadn’t told her that was the intention. She said that she would have loved to have bid on the piece, she adored Ian’s work as a cracking piece of art. She still hasn’t forgiven me.)
Looking back, 2016 was a bloody weird and awkward year: not because of the fact that we continued our run of bagging a truly magnificent artist to draw our logo – voted that year to feature MARVEL’S AGENT CARTER, as played by London’s own Hayley Atwell – but that we were given the thumbs up by TWO artists! Both of which to whom I just didn’t have the heart (okay, or the courage) to say no!
First up, an artist who I had first met online, met in person as she won the British Comic Awards ‘Best Newcomer’ accolade and whose career I have followed since and beyond: the incredible Rachael Stott, a woman who I just don’t understand how she isn’t a household name and an absolute comics rockstar at this point. If you’ve seen here work for Titan Comics‘ DOCTOR WHO books, you know exactly how good she is – and she demonstrated as much on the outstanding piece she produced for us.
2016: AGENT CARTER (Rachael Stott)
Look at it! If you hadn’t fallen in love with Hayley Atwell before, you would’ve after looking at this, with Peggy’s perfectly coiffed cascading hair, sparkling eyes, odd little dumpling of a nose and strong, defiant pose. I love how clean, Rachael’s lines are, how measured and considered but still bringing out the warmth and vitality of her subjects (check out her renditions of Peter Capaldi‘s Doctor, you’ll see exactly what I mean). With Rachael’s permission, I threw in some comic book flair, a drop shadow and a trim out of the frame to really make her lean forward to the audience. 007? Move over, pal!!
Which brought me to my conundrum. As Rachael was cracking on with her piece, I got an email from someone who I just never expected to hear back from – the master himself, David Lloyd, an artist who has defined the British Invasion from its very beginning. He agreed to do us a logo – but it was to be completely on his own terms. It had to be his own concept, we couldn’t reframe it, we couldn’t re-shade it one pixel. We couldn’t even say on the shirts who was behind it, David’s argument being, “…if you didn’t recognise who the eye belonged to, you didn’t know comics!” And he wasn’t wrong – sending us something which followed the brief EXACTLY: a framing of an eye specifically in the box, and that of a British comics icon. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: V.
2016: V FOR VENDETTA (by …)
At first, I wasn’t too sure. After the logos past which were full of the character that we’d voted for, this was minimal, bare, restrained. But the more I looked at it, the more the eye fixated on me, I grew to love the initial simplicity and as I continued to stare, I grasped just how intricate and precise David’s intention with the design was. And the rest of the Group agreed, too – we were proud as hell, to have two logos for that year, both unique, both striking and both amazing logos.
Which brings us to this year, and our most recent contribution to our Group Logos, something which entrances me, every time I look at it. It’s my intention to get this one printed up on some fine quality paper and framed – it’s that tasty.
Jon Davis-Hunt is a incredible artist whose work has been seen in such books as 2000AD, TRANSFORMERS (IDW) and CLEAN ROOM (Image Comics), the latter which was he was Eisner-nominated at the 2017 Awards. (Again with the Eisner-tipped talent! I repeat, can you explain how the hell we’ve managed to pull this off, year after year after year?!!) I’d first met Jon in person at Thought Bubble Leeds 2016, where I had bagged the full run of CLEAN ROOM signed and he managed to charm the pants of Caroline with an ink sketch for her, which she cherishes to this day. I put forward the proposal for the logo, we exchanged details, and – after a bit of protracted delay from myself – Jon cracked on with the chosen character for 2017: STAR WARS THE FORCE AWAKENS‘ Rey, as played by English rose, Daisy Ridley.
The lateness of the commission was entirely my fault, as I got more and more distracted by the workload on AEISD, so the Group got to see the finished piece a lot later that we would usually have it and I got a fair number of grumblings about when the piece would finally show. But, safe to say, when it arrived in my inbox, me and the entire Group were blown away.
2017: REY (Jon Davis-Hunt)
In hindsight, maybe the piece would have benefitted from the instant brand recognition of Rey’s staff, just to bring home the whole outfit of the character. But, as I think you’ll agree, it’s not needed – you can recognise the scavenger of Jakku in an instant, with her determined stare bleeding from the page. The integration of the work into the logo frame was done with Jon’s permission and I’m glad that he too was happy with the way it sits in the ‘square’, with the horizon cutting a swathe boldly across the border. I’ve tried to reach out to Daisy on a couple of occasions as I think she’d love this piece as much as we do, to no avail. Never mind: I’m more than happy to wear the shirt this features on regardless. It’s a stunning, stunning piece.
And that brings us up to date. My task for the conventions I’m heading to here in the UK, over the next couple of months, is to somehow find an artist that can rise to the tall challenge set down by these master creative talents for our 2018. We haven’t chosen a character yet, but I’m betting nobody’s going to choose Pug from the BASH STREET KIDS, which I put forward as a suggestion every year! All of that is pointless if we don’t find someone to draw it for us and we’ve somehow, up till now, found ourselves being blessed by some of the best in the business. Ready for a familiar phrase? Because here it comes, one more time…
How the holy hell do we top these logos so far??