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Roy of the Rovers
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Παρασκευή, 27 Φεβρουαρίου 2009

Μεγάλη συνέντευξη του David Sque


My recent post about Roy of the Rovers (and the indelible mark certain stories, from that comic, left on me) set me off on one of my infrequent internet trawls to see what hard information I could dredge up about this great (and sadly missed) title. Unsurprisingly (given the relative neglect1 suffered by British comics) I found precious little of substance on the creative talent behind what was, in its time, essential reading for every young fella with even a passing interest in football. Luckily enough, however, one (significant) avenue of exploration was open to me, since I had - over the last few years - exchanged a few emails with the man whose artwork on Roy of the Rovers remains the most iconic (and elegant) take on the character: As royoftherovers.com reliably informs us: David drew the Roy of the Rovers story from January 1975 to August 1986. He gave Roy a new image with the flowing blond locks he became famous for. Essentially, then, David's span on the comic coincided with my most formative (and comic-devouring) years, so it's no surprise that I consider the period in question to be something of a 'Golden Age' for the strip (although I consider that opinion sound, even when subjected to objective scrutiny). Where better then for fústar.org to go for answers/clues/anecdotes than to the door of the man whose inimitable style made the character one of the most celebrated fictional sporting heroes of all time? Fortunately for me, David was nothing but enthusiasm and cooperation personified when I asked him to submit to an interview, and the result, I hope, is something that will interest all those readers who once followed a comics industry that has (sadly, and perhaps terminally) suffered near total collapse. Anyway, it is not our business, here, to dwell on such negative thoughts…so on with the show. Enjoy.


I guess an obvious place to start, David, is to ask if you were interested in comics as a child? If so, what would have been some of your favourites?

Ah, I was quite interested in comics…I wasn't much of a reader but because they had illustrations in them I suppose, I did enjoy comics. They were the thing in those days. That was your weekend entertainment, and reading matter. Because you know I've only become a reader of books, for instance, in my older age. I always thought, because of being an artist, that the usual thing of laying in bed and falling asleep reading a book, to me that was straining my eyes and wasting my eyes and eyesight, you know? I'm so lucky in that I only need glasses for close work now. Anyway, I used to read Beano, Dandy, those sort of things...Tiger, whatever I fancied. I didn't have any favorites until the The Eagle came out, and when Eagle came out that really started my interest going. Not that I thought at that time I wanted to be a comic illustrator. It was just that I loved the artwork in there, and I remembered going with my thru’penny bit, which I doubt you'll remember, to the local newsagent to buy my first Eagle, and it was just magical, it really was.

I see, and how did you first become interested in illustrating yourself?

Well, I went to art college, Poole college. It was a four year course for a national diploma, so I could get an NDD behind my name, not that that means anything. Basically it was to get another string to my bow, in case my eyesight gave out in later life, I could teach with that…or go into other things…but I enjoyed the course because it was so varied.
The first two years were basically composition, life drawing, fabric design, sculpture…all sorts of stuff as far as an intermediate course is concerned. Then you had to choose and either go to Bournemouth or Poole College of Art…so I decided to study graphic design. Right now, how ironic things are. When I was doing my paintings, because I did paintings now and then and all sorts of work right across the board - portrait work being my favorite, but (alas) I was born too late because people will either have a photograph taken or…anyway they're not really into portraits. Anyway, the thing that used to really piss me off is that when they were reviewing our paintings and compositions and whatnot, when it came to mine they said, "Beautiful artwork – but that would make a good illustration." I was offended at the time! [laughs] Right. I thought, "It's not an illustration, it's a bloody painting for Christ's sake! I was really, really annoyed - but that was the path that I was meant to go.

Indeed.

So basically I was introduced to that world, funnily enough, by Yvonne Hutton.3 Her name was actually Yvonne Mullins (at the time) and I used to go to Poole Art College with her. She was in the year above me, Yvonne. And she mentioned this guy Colin Page, and they were doing comic illustrations for children's newspapers, or whatever you want to call them. So I said that's interesting, and she said why don't you come out and meet him, so I went and met him and basically in the final year - in the summer holidays before the final term - I worked with him, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was really brilliant. But when I went back to re-enroll, I was sitting there with this one guy - and he was a typical one of those guys, "If you can't do it, teach." He was a failed graphic designer! Great guy, don't get me wrong – and he asked, "What have you been doing this summer?" to which I replied, "Oh, I've been doing some comic illustrations…children's illustrations." He said "Oh, Christ!" and yelled across the whole hall to the rest of the staff shouting "Did you hear this? Squey's been doing whiz bang pop stuff!".

[laughs] So it wasn’t looked on too favourably…

No…and when I actually started the term, the principal called me into his office and said, "I heard this rumour that you were doing some children's illustrations, or comic illustrations. Is that true?" and I said, "Yeah, it's very interesting." And he said, "Oh come on, you're a graphic designer - you don't need to be doing that sort of thing." So I said, "Well, I enjoy it and that's a big plus for me, and I'm doing something different all the time. Plus the fact I'm totally autonomous - I'm doing it all, from start to finish, my own work.


What publications were you working on at that stage, David?

At that time, when it was just part time and I was doing it while I was at college, they were mainly the annuals - the Christmas annuals, and I would go help this guy with his work. So the irony of it was when I actually completed the course and went full time, the first job I got I actually earned twice as much as the principal! And I said, well that's a nice little, you know, kick! [laughs] Anyway, back to the story of Colin Page - the guy that Yvonne worked for and I worked with as well - he was a guy from London who thought I was a hick from the sticks...

[laughs] So where were you actually born?

Bournemouth - that's were I'd lived most of my life. They are sort of linked together Bournemouth and Poole, but I was born and raised in Bournemouth. So he thought that I was a hick, but I showed interest in wanting to do his type of work because I liked it…and he lived just outside of Wareham in a little village, he had his house there. They were the idyllic young conservative couple from London - 2.1 children, you know, and the good life and I envied them that actually! The good life. Above the stables (he had a stable) was his studio.
So, I would do the penciling, and he would say, "Make this bigger, alter this" whatever. I'd make corrections and send it to him and he'd say, "Yep, go ahead, just alter that a little bit, then go to ink." So then I would ink it all in and he would look at it and check it and say, "Just make that a little bit so and so.” So he was teaching me that that field of work.

What stories were you illustrating then, can you remember?

Well, I did some work on Skid Solo if you remember that…I just helped him on those sorts of things, and he was... what was he doing at the time? Fighting 13, I think it was called. It was a Rugby story.

I think I remember that…

Umm... He actually took that on from Joe Colquhoun, and Joe was actually a friend of mine.

Right! Of course Joe was a legend with... Charley's War being what he's most famous for I suppose.

Yeah. Well he actually lived nearby in Swanage. So there's a link there…lovely guy, actually, really lovely. So, anyway, when I was doing all the work myself, I would be getting all the money. I would give him [Colin Page] some money for use of the studio while I was out there, and the idea was we would become partners, or colleagues - which in my field of work is a brilliant idea, because you cannot afford to be ill. The amount of times I've been working, two o'clock in the morning sitting on my desk with an anorak on, and two pieces of rolled-up kitchen roll up my nose...and working even though I'd got the flu. The buck stops with you. You can't say, "Oh I'm fed up with this, I'm going off." or "I'm going to have a sick leave" or whatever. So that was the principle and basically after a year working with him I thought, "Something's not right here." I didn't think I was getting enough money, etc., etc. And there was a mutual friend - John Batchelor who's a very famous cutaway illustrator - and I rang him up when Colin was away on holiday (I think he’d gone to Ibiza for a couple of weeks). So I rang up John Batchelor (who knew all the contacts in London) and I said I said to him, "John, this is David. If you want that this phone call never took place, I'd quite understand, but this is the position", and I explained that all the work went through Colin and I had no contact with London at all (IPC magazines who were in Faringdon Street at the time). I could imitate his work and he could imitate mine, right? So it would have been a golden opportunity to make life easier for each other. Stand in for each other, take holidays, breaks, sickies, whatever you want. It would have been brilliant…but he was a crook from London [laughs]. I said "This is the position, John. He gets the work, it goes out in his name and so and so", and he said, "That's not right. Christ, I didn't know he was doing that." He said, "Right, I'm going to make a few phone calls." So he rang me back and he said, "Can you come to London on Friday with me?" And I said yes. So, we went up to London and I met all the big bosses. Within half an hour, they said, "We know your work, we like your work, and they gave a job straight away - within half an hour. Then they took me out for a three-hour lunch in the Red Lion, off Faringdon Street where all the hacks go, and it was brilliant. So that's basically when my career took off.

And what age were you at that stage, David?
I was twenty one.

Okay, right. So really not long out of college, at all…

No, I finished college when I was nineteen-going-on-twenty, and that would have been…around 1966. So anyway, I subsequently found out that all my work went up as his and in his name. and I was getting less than half the fee, though I was doing all of it! So he was screwing me, and he was screwing Yvonne, obviously, who was also working there.

So as far as the people in London were concerned , the work was his?

Yes. They thought that he did it!


Okay, because that was a question I was going to get on to in a while, but you didn't have any credits in those days. The American comics always had a sort of "who did what" but with British comics you were generally anonymous, weren't you?

The reason for that was there was a big rivalry between IPC Magazines and DC Thomson, the one based in Scotland, and I have done some work for them, but they wouldn't allow you to sign your artwork because they didn't want you to be poached. I used to get the odd sort of fan letter written to "whoever the artist was", because of their rule of not being allowed to sign anything or be acknowledged…and if I remember rightly, 2000AD was the first one that did it. Yes, they did, and some of those people became, not household names exactly, but they became known within the comics world because of those credits: the credits for lettering, the credits for art, the credits for the writing… It was a stupid viewpoint of theirs [IPC/DC Thomson] really. Because if they gave credit and their artists were appreciated then it would have led to healthy competition, and then everyone would have been happy. They would have got better artwork, the best artwork, and the artists would have been paid proper money. But DC Thomson for instance didn't know what IPC were paying their artists and vice versa. It was an insular family type business, all secretive.

Interesting.

They guarded their artists jealously, but they didn't pay them accordingly! It's never been fantastic money. I've lived well, but I've been lucky. I've had a career working at doing something people consider a hobby. You know, I love it.

Indeed, so can you perhaps talk us through the path from there to Roy of the Rovers, which, I suppose, is the next step.

Right, so the first job I had that I was given then was "The Hand of Khan", and it was a guy that was a Viking….a super hero that used to fly around and he had this steel hand. Now this also links with the fact that my style is an amalgam. Basically - and everyone does this - anyone creative is inspired by different people. So first, on one of the pages on your site, you talked about "The Hand of Khan"...sorry "The Steel Claw". Now the guy that used to do that, or at least he did it at one stage, was a guy called Velasquez [sp]. His artwork was the best ever. Absolutely superb. He just used the lines - that's when I learned to illustrate with a brush. Most people use a pen when they are doing ink wor, but I use a brush, because it is far more expressive, and that's what Velasquez used to use. Where he comes from I don’t know…probably South American – they used to get illustrators from all over the place. So, Velasquez was my first influence.

Anyone else that springs to mind?

Well there was…Barry Mitchell, I liked a lot of things he did with his line work...and then there was Ron Embleton, he was a friend of mine, a good friend.

I'm trying to think…what would he have done?

You would have known him from fantastic work that he did in Look and Learn.

Ah, I see.

He had a very distinctive style because he used to actually draw with colour - it was all strokes. He didn't blend or anything, it was all strokes. And he then went on to do 'Wicked Wanda' in Penthouse - did you ever see that?

Ehm...

No you were a good little boy. A good little Catholic boy!

Absolutely! I wouldn’t know anything about that sort of thing…ahem…

[laughs] Anyway, lovely guy unfortunately he died suddenly aged 58, and poor old Joe Colquhoun, he died quite young too. Actually, when I started Roy of the Rovers I had an awful lot to do and I went to see Joe to see if he could help me…and he helped me out, drawing in a few pages for me and then I'd pick them up and ink them in. All right, we can go back to the story of my life so to speak. So first there was "The Hand of Khan", then…

Sorry David, what publication was that in?

Well you've got me there, it was either Tiger or Victory - was it Victory…or...

Victor maybe?

Victor. That's right. One of those two anyway. Then I went on and for a short while I did "Slogger", which was about an Australian Cricketer, and more of a funny, cartoony type of style. Then I got my first sort of serious job which was "Philip Marlowe". Now he was a secret agent and his cover was being a professional golfer. He was like a James Bond character.


[laughs] I don't think I remember him…
With a little fat cat caddy as his sidekick. Actually when I look back at some of those drawings they were horrendous! But I thought they looked good at the time. Then they created a story for me, and that was "Martin's Marvelous Mini". Martin was me, because I was into motor racing and whatnot and they used to race and rally this mini, and went all over the world. Funny little story, they were going though Africa and I said, "Oh I'll do a distance scene" - it was center-page and full colour. So you've got, in the distance, the mini with a long plume of dust behind it, and I thought for interest I'd put a tiger in the foreground. So I spent a lot of time on it and it went up to London on delivery and Barry Tomlinson who was the guy who was my editor then and is my editor now - well not my editor he's my scriptwriter. So I sent it up and Barry said "Brilliant, love the artwork, lovely tiger, could you do a redraw. They're only found in India!" I thought "Oh Shit!". I didn't think, you know! [laughs] And again... I'm trying to remember, what publication was "Martin's Marvelous Mini" in? It was either Lion or Tiger. I think it was Lion. Yes, it was Lion, I'm sure. Funnily enough, even though some of these stories would have been before my time, I ended up getting a lot of comics from these local 'Sales of Work' (as they were called) which were in local parish halls raising money for various religious organizations, the missions etc. There would always be mothers who would, very cruelly, take all their son's comics and...

[Laughs] Right!

...bring them into the jumble sale and of course, I'd buy them all. I still have some of them. So there'd be plenty of comics from the 60s. I was born in the 1970s but I had all these old British comics and a lot of these stories sound pretty familiar to me. What year are we talking about here, by the way? Hmmm… I think something like 1968. Somewhere around then. Now then, Yvonne at the time was doing "Roy of the Rovers", okay, and that was in Tiger.

Yes, because the comic didn't exist at that stage - the actual, separate Roy of the Rovers comic.

Right, no. Now then, so Yvonne went on to do something else and so "Roy" was in the offing...but of course they pigeonhole you: "Oh David is motor racing." And I was talking to Barry and he said, "Oh Yvonne's giving up 'Roy of the Rovers'". So I said, "Well I wouldn't mind doing it….I'll do it for a while to help out if you want", and I actually did both stories - both in full colour- for something like three months, which was a nightmare!

[laughs]

Anyway, they said, "This is football! You’re not interested in football" and I said, "No I can draw anything." People are people, figures are figures - just put a football shirt on them or whatever! Now of course I was sworn to secrecy and couldn't tell the Sunday papers that I didn't like football when I was doing the national footballing hero in comics! Obviously I've played it, but I'm a doer not a watcher. I loved playing football at school and in later years.

But did you not feel overawed taking on a major football strip when you weren't particularly keen on the game yourself?

Not at all, no. Now don't get me wrong. My pet was "Martin's Marvelous Mini". It was my story. So I was just helping out. Of course, one of the things was to cure money problems - get some money in the bank - the joys of being self employed! So after three months I was swimming in it - no worries at all - and I rang up Barry [Tomlinson] and I said "I'm sorry, it's getting too much. I'm going to have to give up 'Roy'"." They said “No, no, no, no, no. We love the way you're doing 'Roy'. You're going to have to give up 'Martin's Mini'." [Groans] They didn't really give me much choice...but to sweeten it they said we're going to make "Roy" bigger and "Martin's" was going to go back into black and white anyway. I don't think it did for a while but it was just to tell me that I was going to lose money if I made that decision. Of course I could have said, "Stuff the lot", you know, "I'm self employed", but I went on to do "Roy" full time, even though I wasn’t a real football fan. You see, I hate what goes along with football, that's the problem. I follow all the big international games - England, whatever when they're playing. But it's just that, I suppose, through most of that time there was lots of hooliganism and violence and whatnot…

Of course, that was probably the worst period for that kind of thing in England…

Yeah, it really was, and I remember that…Barry went on to supervise six publications at one point: Lion, Tiger, Roy of the Rovers and three more that he'd taken over. So he was group editor. And my editor, who came in to do Roy was Ian Vosper. Lovely, lovely guy. So he was my immediate editor on Roy and he rang up one day and said "Hey! Portsmouth (…he was originally from Portsmouth…) are playing Bournemouth at Bournemouth. Would you fancy going?" And I said "Yeah…alright", and that was the first professional football match I had ever been to. I could not believe it, we were up in the back of the stands, watching the Portsmouth fans run across from left to right, making loads of noise, this is while the game is going on! Then they were running back, right to left, followed by the Bournemouth fans. Then they'd stop, and say, "Oh someone scored a goal... Yay!" and then back to the fighting again!

God! [laughs]

And I thought if this was bloody football, forget it. It was a nightmare outside too. I remember once being on one of the back roads in a shop, and I was talking to the owner. I had an Aston Martin at the time - a DB6 - my pride and joy and it was parked outside and we heard this noise. So we went out and there was this football crowd, because it was a Saturday afternoon before the match. So they went down the corner, about a hundred yards down the road, and then one of the tail-enders said, "Whoa, look at that! An Aston Martin!" And they all come screaming back up, marching towards the car, and I thought, "Well, fuck this for a game of soldiers" so I got in, started it up, and drove straight through ‘em, because, you know, you didn't know what kind of damage they could have done. It's just that feeling that totally put me off football. I can totally understand that, in a way. I've always loved football, and obviously, I loved football stories in comics as well. But then again, I've been to relatively few professional football matches - being Irish - because we have a very tiny, nonexistent almost, soccer league here. So I've definitely been insulated from that aspect of things. I never experienced that kind of feeling, that sort of hostility.

Unfortunately, fan is short for "fanatic," and that's what the mentality was.

Very tribal as well...

Yeah, very tribal and very territorial.

So fans that went to watch an away match just risked their lives! Because they were going into foreign territory, and like you see the fights in the bars where it all starts out friendly, drinky drinky and whatnot, and then there's the, "Ah, you're wankers" and so on and then “Whoa!”, it all takes off, with, "You're rubbish," etc, etc., and it's just bloody tribal war again!


It's something I never considered. Now that you actually mention it, when you started doing the strip it was a particularly nasty time, wasn't it, In terms of that sort of stuff? They say football has become more family-friendly these days. I don't know if that's true but…

I would definitely say so. I mean, there are still the firms that just go for a fight. Those still exist but it's kept out of the stadiums now.

What I was going to say to you as well, was that I found it strange when you said that you weren't a fan because I remember at the time reading the comic thinking – and I won't mention any names - that some of the other football strips used to feature action that was kind of incredible. It was a bit daft, you know, people dribbling the length of the field and scoring ridiculous bicycle kicks and so on, but I always felt with Roy that it was pretty rooted to reality. There wasn't really that sort of ridiculous end of things, you know?

Well, one that was down to the scripts, and two, I wanted to get away from the 'super hero'. I never drew him as a super hero. Actually this leads me on to a story. When I was doing it for about a year full time it started to get really popular. Now whether that was my artwork or just the feeling at the time, I don't know, but they decided that it warranted bringing out a magazine of its own, and that's how Roy of the Rovers (the comic) was born. Now, getting into that, I chatted with Barry [Tomlinson] about it and we decided that it would be a good idea to make him a real character. Okay, now the downside of that is that it spells the death knell of the character, and it actually ended up being (essentially) Son of Roy of the Rovers (at the very end). But that's the natural progression, as soon as you establish an age. There were always jokes, of course, because he started in…1954 I think it was, and he was a perpetual hero. The jokes were, “Oh Roy Race must be 55 by now!” and all this sort of thing, but of course in the true hero mould it was ongoing, "no set period", you know. So it could go on and on forever. Anyway, we decided to make him a real character. But you know there was this cut-throat business side, and hierarchy in the company. Barry is a lovely, lovely guy and a good ideas man, and he went to his boss, who was the big group editor - he was a nasty piece of work actually – and Barry goes to him for a meeting and the guy says to him "How's this going, how's that going, how's Roy of the Rovers going?" And Barry says "Great, we've got several ideas about it. We want to make him a real character, marry his secretary Penny4, and have kids." And the guy said "Oh, crap idea! Bollocks! That will never work." A month later - Barry told me this - a month later they had to go to the top floor, to the managing director, editor in chief. So they are all sitting around this big table, and they talked to all the different people present, and the big cheese says to the guy in question, "Well what's happening about Roy of the Rovers? That's looking good". And the guy says "Yes, actually, I've had a brilliant idea. It might be a good idea if he got married - married his secretary - and had kids, and became a real character". And Barry had to sit there and just listen to that….even though it was Barry's idea and this guy had pooh-pooh'd it!

Bloody hell…
And this guy just stood up there and took the credit for it - "Yeah, good idea, great! Go for it!".

So Barry was forced to bite his lip…

Yeah, he couldn’t do anything, but that's the way of business isn't it? Corporate business anyway. That's why I've been well out of it, and I've never had a boss. I work for me. Mind you, I've been a bastard of a boss - I won't let myself have time off for Christmas, and I'm not allowed to be sick. [laughs] What about some of the writers who were working on the strip at the time. Whatever about yourself and people like you who did the artwork, the writers of the period were pretty anonymous. I don't know anything about them to be honest…I don't even know anybody's name. Ummm... I can't think of the guy who did Roy - I can't think of his name, because I loathed him! He was like an out of work actor, but he owned a pub, and his wife ran it and he was upstairs writing all the scripts. Every time I opened the envelope with the script - he smoked very heavily - and all you could smell was nicotine wafting out of the envelope [laughs]. But I didn't like him, though I actually quite liked his scripts. I can't for the life of me think of his name. Yvonne didn't like him either.

And Yvonne had worked on Roy before you had?

Yes, very talented as well. Unfortunately they had a hold on her and she didn't leave Colin Page. She was angry when I told her all the things that I did, and I think he calmed her down- just gave her a bit more money or whatever.
Okay, so now's probably a good time to start talking about how the whole process - from start to finish - of creating the average weekly strip on Roy. Could you describe how it went?

Okay, basically how I used to go about Roy of the Rovers was the same way I do now. First I get the script. Basically it will be...a scene description, the characters involved, and then the dialogue, Okay, so first off, you divide it, in the case of Roy, into pages. Some frames have to be bigger than others of course. That's one thing I will say I've never been that good at is page layout. There are some better artists than I as far as page layout is concerned. Occasionally I would get an inspiration and I would do some good things, but I was just run of the mill as far as page layout was concerned I must admit.

Well now, actually, that you mention it - I do remember one page that sticks in my memory. It was the time when Roy was due to leave Melchester to join Walford and that whole saga. I do remember a full page with him having various memories (in 'memory bubbles') of past events and what have you...and that was a real favorite of mine as a kid, because it was a pretty dynamic image with lots going on.

[laughs and feigns voice] Oh I have me moments!

[laughs] Anyway go ahead.

So I divide it up into pages then I say "Right, I've got five, six, seven, eight frames on this page - which one do I give dominance to?" Goal scoring ones in Roy were difficult because they had to take up space. So basically the format that I would work to is...say we've got frame one and it will say: "Here is Roy talking to Blackie Gray" and whoever. Then you go to the dialogue. Now English you read left to right, so say you've got three characters - the first one's got to go top left (balloon) the second one has go to go top right, then the third person has got to be below that. You can have them all in a row if you can fit them in, you see, but I never liked putting balloons on anything. On action, on people, whatever. So having done that, I would then imagine the three characters chatting…and their expressions. Then I would be like a camera - walking around that group until I got the best view and the best distribution of the balloons…so they're readable.

Okay.

Because London would go bloody ape if they were unreadable. I mean, back in the past, I've seen pages where they've had to draw arrows in [laughs] and number the boxes because the artist hasn't done it right, you know?

That's a strange thing too, but I guess you develop a certain 'comic literacy' that means you just know what order these things are supposed to fall in. I don't know...but maybe if you showed it to someone who'd never read a comic in their life they'd find it hard to follow the conversation…

Yeah, that’s true.

But I think as a kid, you would figure it out, because of certain familiar conventions or whatever...

Yeah.

So, was that standard then, that you would - because I'm trying to think of what the job would be for the letterer - you would place the balloons yourself?

No, though I would do an undersized balloon. Because it did really annoy me later on when I was doing colour and they'd say, "Don't leave any balloon spaces. Leave empty spaces", but there was a lot of work that would get covered up and it really teed me off.

Yeah, I've often thought that must be annoying! All your good work covered up...

I'd be thinking "Right then I'll just leave acres of sky to put the balloons in!"

Well it must have been good having the crowd to put the balloons over as well….

Yeah and I actually used to enjoy - I had a great trade going - of putting friends in on the advertising hoardings, so when I was courting my ex I'd put "Jennifer's Salon" or "Jennifer's Hairdressers" on the hoardings during the matches, you know?

[laughs] Very good.

So I did everything but the balloons. Anyway as an aside, the greatest disappointment in my artistic life, and a real bring-you-down-to-earth thing was this: Where I used to live, where I grew up, there was heath land over the back, and they were gradually filling in the valley with rubbish - you know, land fill. Now none of my friends and family ever threw out magazines. Those went to me, because I always wanted to draw everything accurately. So I would thumb through every magazine I could possibly read and tear out references for whatever I had to draw. I can draw most things I want now off the top of my head unless I need a special car. I think, oh, I'll put this guy in a Lamborghini. Now I go on the Internet and I'll go to images and I'll get a Lamborghini and away we go. But then it was magazines. Now I used to take my dog for a walk over the heath land and go by this rubbish dump. I'm one of those people who cannot pass a skip without rummaging through it, and the amount of things I get out of skips you wouldn't believe. I've always been that way. One man's rubbish is another man's gold!

[Laughs] I hear you. You've got a kindred spirit here.

The amount of things I've got out of skips and put right because of mechanical knowledge or whatever, mended or fixed and for nothing, right? Anyway, so the point that I was getting to was…I was walking along and there was a copy of Roy of the Rovers with shit all over it... I had always had an idealistic view that my art was so wonderful that it was pinned up on kids' walls. But no, it went in the bin! [laughs] So that's the full cycle, from nothing to rubbish!

Well having talked about the production of individual strips perhaps we could talk about the different formats the comic went through…because there was a period in the mid-80s when Roy of the Rovers (and some other comics) switched over from decent quality paper to a newsprint type of thing.
[Sighs] Yes…

The stuff I still have previous to that is in great nick, but the newsprint stuff is literally falling apart…

Yeah, that was one of the indications that the comics world was falling apart too! When that happened I used to have to draw my black outline, which was then printed blue - I was no longer responsible for the colour – and then on that blue sheet someone up there in London would block colour in. So it would be a tone, a colour tone: a block red shirt, block whatever…. So I was only responsible for the line work when it went to that stage…and it was printed on toilet paper. It was all done to save money and everything, and if you're ready for it I can tell you about the demise of the comics!

Em…let’s just save that for a little later. I’m very keen to hear your thoughts on it by the way. Anyway, changing tack slightly here David, I wanted to ask if there was any specific inspiration for the distinctive look you gave Roy himself? As a Liverpool fan I always suspected there was more than a touch of Kenny Dalglish about him…

Well, you're right in the respect that Kenny Dalglish was a factor, but it was really an amalgam of four things: 1) Roy as he used to be transmogrifying to my style, 2) The influence of Dalglish's looks, and…3) a little bit of Cliff Richard. You will see in some of the artwork that his nose is like Cliff Richard's.

[laughs] Why Cliff Richard?

I don't know, I was a fan at the time…oh and the fourth thing was that I used my own hairstyle for him, which was the style back then. So basically that's how he morphed into looking like he did. I don't know if you want to put this in…but when it changed to another artist - when they were all trying to cut corners and everything – I got loads of letters sent on to me by people complaining, "Why has Roy Race become an all-in wrestler?"

Oh yes, the "He-man" period…

Yeah, they couldn't believe it, because I tried to draw him as a real, normal character. Anyway, I'd had enough of Roy anyway by that time, and when you think about it I was doing front cover, center pages, back cover, all full colour! So I was working 75-80 hours a week at home (there was no traveling to and from work or anything else) so that was a lot of work.

Yeah, that's something I forgot to ask you actually. What kind of time frame was it from the moment you first saw the script to the moment you had the artwork ready to send of?

Well, as I said about 75/80 hours. That's five, and mostly six, long days. I had a big Victorian six-bedroom house, three cars, and kids at a private school to support. You know you create your lifestyle to match what you're earning and then you're on the treadmill to keep it going.

Moving on - towards the end of the 'toilet paper' period, a lot of …er…unexpected real life personalities ended up joining Melchester Rover…

[laughing] Ah yes, I remember quite a few people - I met all the people that I drew - like Emlyn Hughes. Lovely, lovely guy.

Well as a Liverpool fan he has a special place in my affections….

Magic, big beaming smile! And Wilson, the goalie, he's a lovely guy too. Bob Wilson? Then of course we went on to Spandau Ballet, and that was a bloody nightmare for me…so much drawing! I remember one, I think it was a cover wasn't it, which featured the whole band, all their instruments etc.

That’s right. I remember it very well.

Right! Actually, I've got taped somewhere a Frank Skinner interview with Martin Kemp of the Kemp brothers [talking about his stint on Roy]. Great fans they were, absolutely great fans. In fact, a few years before then I met…em…Hadley, what's his name, Hadley? The lead singer…

Tony Hadley, was it?

That's right, Tony Hadley. Anyway, he worked at IPC before they [Spandau Ballet] took off. He worked on Love Magazine [laughs] with an old college mate of mine - just an ordinary, nice guy you know. But they were big hits at the time, and I had to draw them all, but the two [Kemp] brothers played didn't they?

They certainly did.

At that time they were touring Ireland and staying in a castle somewhere. Don't know the details of that. But come what may they had to trundle into town and get the Roy of the Rovers magazine every Saturday morning! In whatever state of hangover, or whatever, they were in. They had to go and get it and they absolutely loved it. They were tremendous fans. And another great, great fan was Nick Berry from Heartbeat and, what was it, Eastenders? Anyway, with the demise of Roy of the Rovers, he developed this passion, that I heard about, to do an animated feature of Roy, or an animated series…but that never got off the ground.

As far as Roy went, then, the Basran bus crash story – where there was a major clear out of the 'old guard' - was the last major story that you did, wasn't it? That was the end of your tenure on Roy…

Yes, but I moved on quickly to something that really appealed to me which was "Story of the Star", and I earned more money in half the time doing that than...so I had more time to spend with my family and it was much more rewarding artistically. I still enjoyed doing "Roy of the Rovers", don't get me wrong. It's a love/hate relationship. It's the same with me with Scorer now [Ed: The strip David does for the Daily Mirror]. When I'm pushed, there's nothing worse than to go in there, read through the script and then get out a blank sheet of card and look at it. You think, "I'm going to piss this off!" Right? "I'm not paid enough, I'm just going to piss it off!" Once the pencil starts flowing though, that feeling is gone. I don't think of money, or time, or anything else...I just get involved in it and then I'm thoroughly enjoying it. I've enjoyed doing all my strip work, but it's been a little bit sad for me that I've gone back to Scorer because I've gone on to better things. People do enjoy Scorer, I suppose, but I don't flatter myself. People only read it because they’re passing through the paper, so they read it and move on. There are, of course, quite a few Scorer fans out there but it's not like they’re saying "Oh God, did you see Scorer yesterday? Fantastic!" If you think that, you're not in the real world! In fact, I only know two people in the whole world that read the Daily Mirror. One's an ex trade union leader! Nobody turns straight to Scorer, for Christ's sake! But they enjoy it when they get to it, I guess, because it's football and it's a religion.

Indeed.

Anyway, I had to, what is the expression, beat them or join them? I had to join the computer age which none of my artist friends have done [Ed: David only does the linework for Scorer. The backgrounds and colour are added in digitally]. I should point out that most of the computer artists are not artists, they are people who have got some talent and they know how to use the art packages. The problem with that is that the clients soon realised that, because they were all using the same package, all the artwork looked the same, like plasticine people, you know. Yes, I couldn't agree more. It does tend to look very, very samey and there's a very distinctive (and not very attractive) look to the whole thing. It was a big threat though in the beginning, you know, when it first took off because they all wanted to go that route. So anyway, post-Roy I went on to do something that I really, really wanted to do which was (as I've said) "Story of the Star". Now that was a mixture of photographs and my illustrations.

And the stories were all based on real life footballers…

Yes, and that's where my portraiture really came to the fore. Because I'd done Kenny Dalglish, most of the big names...Gary Lineker…all about how they started off at school in the first eleven, were spotted, and we followed them right the way through their career. It was lovely to do, and if you watch out on eBay, I'm going to put some of the artwork on there.

Oh, right, OK! Let me know!

I'll tell you all about it before I do it because you might have some ideas. I thought the only people who would be interested in that original artwork would be the guys themselves. Half of them are dead, or they’re on their uppers. They're stony broke and they've pissed it all away! [laughs] Well, you'd be surprised. I know quite a few people, like my brother-in-law, for example, who’s big into comics, and he's always bemoaning the fact that there's so little British comic art available to buy. The situation with the American stuff, of course, is completely different…and the market is pretty saturated. You can buy practically anything you want as long as you've got the money…

Yeah.

…but original British comic art is extremely hard to find compared to its American equivalent. It's just a brain wave that came to me some time back. I haven't got Roy artwork, which is a tragedy because it was all moved from London into a warehouse somewhere up in Birmingham, I think it is, and all my old artwork is up there…of course there's copyright with that…

But it still exists presumably?

Whether it still does or not, I don't know. I shouldn't think so the way people are. They'll have cleared it out because they need space and it's a waste of money having all that space occupied - they could rent it out, or sell it, or whatever. So it's probably disappeared. It could be still there somewhere in a warehouse, but I don't know.

Did you ever actually own the Roy artwork, or once it was handed over was that it?

I actually did own it, although I didn't know it. Because the artwork is, in fact, mine so I could have gone and reclaimed it. But I wasn't interested, it was history…or that's how I felt at the time when I could have done it.

But you still have some of the "Story of a Star" stuff...

Yeah, I've got loads of that, and some other artwork too, but basically IPC magazines hold first rights and I couldn't sell it to be reprinted anywhere else. So that's why it's useless to sell on. I really, really got pissed off with the Christmas annuals where our stuff was reprinted and we got sod all for it. Mentioning that reminds me that there was a strike, oh I can't remember when - it was when I was buying my bloody house I think - and the day I was due to complete, Barry [Tomlinson] rang me up and said, "Sorry to have to tell you this Dave, but as from 12 o'clock today, Roy of the Rovers has ceased publication." They were pushing for a rise, you see, and unions being what they were back then - it was a them and us attitude - it was all very fraught. I think IPC magazines offered two and a half percent and the union wanted eighteen percent. Quite a void! [laughs] But I think they eventually settled on twelve percent. Now IPC, in their wisdom, issued an ultimatum that said, "OK, we agree to twelve percent, but only to NUJ (National Union of Journalists) members." So what did everyone do? We joined the union![laughs] Just for the sake of getting the increase of course. Now they said that there would be terms to be agreed for further printing of artwork - you know, second printing of artwork etc., etc. So we thought, "Thank Christ for that!", because all these years these poor artists have starved while their work has been reproduced and whatnot, and it just wasn't fair. So, I get the first huge cheque - because it was a lot of money in those days, it was something like 750 quid a week – and by the time it came through we'd been waiting and waiting because we'd had to skip some money due to the strike. So, I get the cheque and say "Thank Christ! Darling, I'm just going down to the bank, Ok?" and I get to the bank and I have got to countersign it on the back. So they'd agreed to pay us for first rights - for first publication, which is Roy of the Rovers magazine – but in small print underneath it says: "Signing this", which we had to countersign, "Signing this signs away all rights". Bastards! But that was the way of the world then…and it still is, of course, in business.

Ok, so I guess we should tackle the collapse of the British comics industry now! When did you first feel like the writing was on the wall, and what’s your take on the reasons for the collapse?

Well, my synopsis for that is, number one, that the number-crunchers came in from America, and this happened in every field of business in England. Their religion said that one paper couldn’t support another, Ok? So Barry [Tomlinson] had, as I said earlier, six publications going1. They treated it as a group and if one was failing they would allow it to carry on with low distribution figures because they had other successful ones supporting it. These people came in, and they've done it with all sorts of businesses, and they said, "Lame duck, cut it off. It's not paying its way, cut it off."

So that's one trend that spelled the end.

Two, my boys were a good barometer because they grew up very proud of their dad, you know, and told all their friends at school, "My dad does Roy of the Rovers" etc. But, having said that, they only bought the odd comic and weren't that interested because they were getting into the computer age. Stephen, my eldest son, was of the opinion - why should he spend his money on comics that were, in his mind, old hat? They were old hat because he had living pictures and would actually create levels in Doom etc., he would create rooms and dungeons and all sorts of things. He had his own version that he would play with his friends that he created. So where's the attraction in comics if you've got that sort of thing opening up in front of you?

I suppose comics could seem static, possibly, in comparison, I don't know…

We've got a nostalgia for them, we have a value on them. They just felt: "No, I'm not interested in that!".

Well, my brother is 25 and I don't know if he's ever even opened a comic in his entire life. So there you go!

Well that's what I mean. It's all about influences and what's popular around you. So that was number two. The big death knell though, which not a lot of people know about, again relates to number-crunching and all the rest of it. Now the local distributor of newspapers and magazines etc., was a company called Thunder and Clayton in Bournemouth. Now then, the principle before was a newsagent would put in an order for newspapers, magazines, whatever. Ok? So for the sake of argument, they would put in an order for 30 copies of Roy of the Rovers. Come the following week - it was called sale or return - Thunder and Clayton would make their deliveries and take back what didn't sell: Magazines, Roy of the Rovers, whatever. So that would go back to pulp, or whatever they did with it, and be recycled. Now the number-crunchers came in and they said: "No, it's not sale or return any more, they buy them." Ok? Now then if the newsagent didn't sell all ten by the Monday he’d reorder for next week saying, "Can I have eight", then "Can I have six"…and that's it... we're starting to go down the pan. I remember, at the point that it went to the toilet paper, I think - don't quote me on this but say for the sake of argument - it was somewhere around 60,000 to 70,000 distribution of Roy of the Rovers, and not long after we were getting down to almost break even 20,000 on a Saturday each week. So that's when people were starting to poo themselves and think, "What are we going to do?".

But of course it was across the board, I mean...

Oh yeah, sure. The only one that survived was 2000AD.

And even with that, I think (though I may be wrong) that the readership is now largely composed of people who bought it back in the day and are probably in their late 20s or early 30s now! Anyway, I remember well, when I was about 13 or 14 I suppose, that every time you visited the newsagents you'd find a couple of comics had amalgamated into one publication. There was a period when that seemed to be happening almost on a weekly basis. So one question I wanted to ask is what people did when it all went to the wall? Obviously there were a lot of people employed in the industry who were know facing a crisis…

Well some artists…their artwork stayed the same year in, year out. In fact it degenerated. They were pissing it out more and more. Most of the good artists, on the other hand, if you look at their artwork over five year periods, it gets better and better and better. They're the only ones that survived. I have survived – and I don't want to sound as if I'm blowing my own trumpet - but I have survived in this business (and that includes general illustration work as well) through quality. Quality will win out in the end. Going back to what I said I learned from artists like Velasquez, Frank Bellamy etc – where I would see something about their artwork that I would like and pick that up - I ended up, of course, with my own style…and it got to a point where people would go, "Oh, David Sque did that" - you'd just have to look to know that I did it. The artists that I cribbed from could look at it and say, "Oh, he got that from me!" - a particular part of it, you know, the way I would drawn an eye etc. But the greatest compliment to me - and friends of mine have said, "Why didn't you sue the bastard!" - was when I went into a newsagents, picked up a comic, opened it, and flicked through it and there was a complete story that was my artwork nicked! The guy had copied my artwork religiously. So people said, "Why didn't you sue him? It's plagiarism!" I said, "No, I've been there!" and to me that is a compliment, a great compliment. That someone has chosen my style out of all the other people that he could have chosen…

I certainly would have been nicking plenty of things from your style when I was drawing. I was still at school but…

[laughs] Well that was the other thing. I used to get plagued by mothers and fathers saying, "My little Johnny, he's a brilliant artist. Would you have a look at his work and just see what you think?" And I never said no, because you cannot suppress talent, as you never know where it's going to lead. So I would always talk to them. I might think, "This is a dead, almost traced copy and crap", but I didn't say that. I'd say, "If you persevere, we'll see how it develops. If you've really got a taste for it you'll make it." You've got to encourage talent of any description. Do you think – and this is a question I don't know if there's an easy answer to - is there a future, I mean the way there was in the 70s or 80s, for comics in Britain? It would have to be a coming together of a sort of cult move of revival that would appeal to the younger generation. The thing about the comics of the 70s and 80s is that they appealed to all ages. That was the thing. They called them children's comics but fathers and the grandfathers used to fight over them too! Still, you just never know what's going to spark a revival…

I'm wondering how much, in terms of the way the industry was run back in those days - the ownership and management and what have you - I wonder how different that culture is now to the way it was in those days?

Unless they've swept quite a few of the old boys out, because unfortunately it's like father and son, the bosses will pass onto their underlings rules and regulations and ways to go. You get a few that stand out and change things, like the guy that did 2000AD, he's a beatnik sort of guy. I really can't think of his name because I didn't do any work for him. But I'll give you an example. When all of these things were tightening up, they were given strict budgets. Roy of the Rovers cost so much to produce, paying all the contributors with the printing fees and everything else. Ok? And the same with 2000AD. So, at the end of the financial year they were all hauled up to the top floor of IPC magazines in front of the big bosses etc, and each editor would be grilled. And so my editor Ian was a good boy. For the sake of argument say he had 2,000 pounds budget per issue, that's paying all the artists, everything involved, and he was bringing it in at 1,999 pounds, Ok? Then you've got this guy that was running 2000AD and let's say his end of year figures were 2,500 per issue, Ok? So they go through it and say to Ian, "You've kept to the budget, we want you to make some more cuts, because you're doing well on that," And so they cut his budget by 10%. They go to the guy from 2000AD and say, "You're doing well, you obviously need more money so we're going to up your budget by 30%". Now where's the logic in that? It doesn't make sense does I?! But that's the way it works. His budget went up and up so he was allowed to get the top quality artists, the leaders in the field. I mean the guys that did Judge Dredd, there was a team of them I think, three or four different artists.

Well, there were some superb artists working on 2000 AD at the time…
Absolutely. Wonderful stuff. Anyway, at that point I got into computer artwork and I did some lovely work with that. I had the advantage, as I said earlier on, that I was an artist using the computer as a tool, whereas most of the other artists that were using the computer were able to use the package as opposed to being talented artists (and that's why all the artwork looked the same). I've done some lovely work that I really enjoyed and that's the way I thought I was going until Scorer cropped up. I've got myself bogged down in Scorer now, because I’ve got to the point where I feel, well, I can do it with my eyes closed. It's still quite enjoyable work to do, but now I'm back to really working too hard for what I'm being paid. Still, it's regular work, and I'm one of the few people from that era that is in regular work.

So just going back to what we were discussing, what are most of your ex-colleagues doing now?

Well, I'm good friends with an artist that I told you about earlier- brilliant artist - John Batchelor, who went on to do lots of technical stuff. John used to do the centre cutaways in the revived Eagle. Cutaways of guns, tanks and all the rest of it. Pete Sarson [sp] was involved in that too, and he’s now a painter and decorator. I don't know what other fields they've gone into but Barry Mitchell is still scrubbing along, last I heard. There just isn't much work out there. A lot people have gone to the States for work.

Well, a lot of the British talent that went over to the States ended up becoming some of the most interesting and dynamic figures out there because they obviously brought a freshness, and totally different slant to the world of American comics.

It's unfortunate that like with most jobs, when you specialize and that's all you do, you're in deep shit if it folds. If that's all they've ever done - and there are quite a few artists who all they've ever done is comic illustration - they don't know anything else. I've diversified, doing everything from oil paintings, to magazine illustration etc. I've not got my eggs in one basket, so if all else fails, I can make a living doing oil paintings. Anyway, it's interesting to see what'll happen. I think the key thing for any revival, really, is for it to be something that is more than simple nostalgia for people like myself. For it to be sustainable I suppose it would have to target the '13 year old boy' market successfully…

Yeah. You've got to appeal to the kids for the pocket money first. They're the highest spenders on that sort of thing.

And the most loyal as well, probably. Buying it week in, week out sort of thing, you know?

Well, anyway, I think we'll leave it at that David, but I should add that, doom and gloom about the British comics industry aside, you're still easily one of my favourite comic book artists.

Thank you very much. I've had some lovely correspondence from all over the world, emails and whatnot. I had a load of emails from America and I couldn't understand why I was getting them. They said, "My dad was stationed in Oxford airbase – an American airbase - and I used to go into the local village and buy Roy of the Rovers every week religiously. I just got to love your artwork and yours was the best period", and whatnot and all these lovely flattering things. And of course, they're now sort of 40 year olds, 50 year olds. It was really great to get all that stuff and to know your work is appreciated.

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