There are constants that are evident if one merely conducts the most superficial examination of history. The human need and joy in recreating their surroundings from within and around their selves has accompanied the rise of civilization as surely as physical evolution. An excellent representation of man's need to artistically express himself can be enjoyed within graphic novels and comic books. This Examiner.com columnist had the opportunity to talk to noted illustrator and sequential artist, Russ Leach who is based in the United Kingdom. His work is starting to impact the United States and it was evident that an interview was needed to further introduce this artist to fans in the States and other parts of the world.
Examiner.com: Russ-can you tell us about your background and how you arrived at your decision to become an artist of sequential art and design.
Russ Leach: I've wanted to draw comics since I was small. It turned out however that for my art to work I needed to have a measure of maturity. This was obviously something I didn't know early on and indeed, I only really came to know it by accident or fate if you like. I've been extremely fortunate to have had a career in production that filled up a chunk of my life. It kept me in the creative world and impressed a level of discipline upon me that if I'd been an illustrator from day one, I might not have been able to foster on my own.
I drew some small press comics in the 90's but it never turned into a career. I had to pay a mortgage and feed a family and that was pre-internet, so any discussion with US publishers took months. I couldn't wait and to be honest I was impatient and that is another aspect maturity can help with!
So I embarked on a career that started in magazine production and moved into retail design and art direction all the way through to my own business producing websites and intranet systems. That all came to a natural end about 5 years ago. At that point I decided I would follow my dream and the only way to make my art reach what I considered to be an acceptable standard was to do it all day, every day. I set out to be a professional illustrator focusing on sequential art! It's just beginning to shape up, but I have the rest of my life to get it right
Examiner.com: Following up on this question. What artists(or others) influenced you. I detect a strong influence of two rather famous artists who had worked at Marvel Comics. Am I far from the target to say that there is a strong Jack Kirby and Alfredo Alcala influence that might possibly be at play here? What can you tell us?
Russ Leach: The first comics I remember reading were probably Jack Kirby's work or inspired by him at least. So although he's not my favourite artist his work's dynamic nature must have affected me.
I have several comics from the sixties in my collection and my two favorites are The Eternals by Kirby and SHIELD. It is funny you should mention Alfredo Alcala as I believe he inked a fair portion of work by my favorite artist, John Buscema.
I was definitely a product of the 70's and loved everything that John Buscema did as well as giants like Jim Steranko, Neal Adams and Jim Starlin. Later on Brian Bolland and Jim Lee would also be in my top list. All of these artists were not only brilliant at their craft but also had huge passion for their work and they are also incredible professionals.
Examiner.com: As an artist who is based out of the U.K. do you detect any kind of differences between the British approach and the approach found here in the States?
Russ Leach: Up until the mid 90's I think you could see a definite style difference between the two. I don't think it's quite as prominent now and the grittiness of British art has been distilled into the U.S. That being said though, the more Indy you go the more of a difference I can see between Europe, UK and US output. None of that takes away from the fact that comic strip art is more varied now than I think it's ever been.
Examiner.com: On your website you have an amazing amount of samples of past and current work, but one area caught my eye. Do you wish to one day become a Marvel artist and join in the famed Marvel Bullpen of talent?
Russ Leach: I love working on all types of books. The more varied the work-the greater the challenge-the more improvement gained. I would be an outright liar if I told you that I wasn't that bothered about working for someone like Marvel! I would not consider my career a failure if I carried on producing what I'm doing and working with brilliant creators and publishers-the likes of which I have been fortunate enough to have been involved with so far! I would consider working for Marvel as a dream come true on any of their properties! It would just be a childhood wish made real!
Examiner.com: Your command of anatomy is rather remarkable. Did you receive any formal schooling and/or training? Or are you a self-taught artist?
Russ Leach: A bit of both. In order to keep improving and growing you have to constantly be observant and practice all the time. I like to constantly look around me for inspiration. I'm always checking out how a person might move or the difference between peoples features. I try to take in as much as possible and watch documentaries on anything from engineering to biology to gain reference. The internet is a wonderful library as well. I did attend art college and took a diploma in graphic design. Part of my general studies was an art class in life drawing. I would suggest everyone try and draw from life when possible.
Examiner.com: I have noticed two very distinct type of artists in the business. The artist that makes extensive use of model reference that is augmented by his imagination and the other who strictly draws from his mind's eye. Can you tell us where you fall in these two classifications. Can you describe your creative process?
Russ Leach: Somewhere in between I suppose. I will make use of photographic reference and sometimes a wire-frame is good for buildings or machinery. Most of the time though I'll draw from imagination. I think it helps when trying to create drama as your minds eye can go anywhere!
I mostly use a Wacom Cintiq 21 UX tablet to draw with. I draw in photoshop with VFX brushes. This does mean that using reference from the web, correcting errors and making editorial amends is much faster than the traditional process, but it's still drawing in the way I've always done it. I do pencil real world artwork as well, but just commissions and special pages.
Examiner.com: What is your opinion of the current state of the art in the industry in regards to how it relates to graphic novels and comic books.
Russ Leach: At present I'm loving whats going on. I see huge innovation in the Indy market and an excellent standard in the big publishers. I think Marvel is producing fantastic books at present and taking chances with art styles!
Examiner.com: A number of artists express an ambivalence about the digital representation of their work as opposed to the traditional book format. Do you share such ambivalence?
Russ Leach: I love having a real book in my hands, but at the end of the day it's all about telling stories for me. I love the process of sequential art, so any outlet be it digital or traditional for my work, is fine with me.
Examiner.com: There are amazing amount of comic book related material that is being snatched up by film and television production companies for adaptation. Any thoughts?
Russ Leach: There has always been a huge variety and depth of creativity in comics. The reason you see so many comic book based films and TV nowadays is because movie production technology has caught up somewhat with comic book creators imaginations. I do believe though it is important to love the business and be passionate and not just do it in the hope of making that IP deal. Make comics because they are comics and not because there might be a film deal in it! Bearing that in mind though-the current crop of outstanding Marvel films can do nothing but good for the comic industry as a whole.
Examiner.com: As a designer have you worked on a motion picture or do you have any desire to participate in designing the appearance of a film or a television series?
Russ Leach: I have produced story boards for a couple of ads and some creature concept work for a horror film produced by Pat Higgins. I enjoyed the work and feel story boarding is so close to comic book story telling that I'm happy to do any that's thrown my way.
Examiner.com: What are your current projects?
I have several projects on the go at present. I'll list them for you.
1. I am half way through a Markosia graphic novel written by Cy Dethan. Indifference Engine 2 The Suicide Show is the second book in the series and should be out later this year.
2. I'm in early production of another Markosia graphic novel which is a steam punk romp called Foxglove. That should be out 2015.
3. I produce a monthly two page strip for the Endeavour kids charity.
4. I pencil and ink Unstoppable Origins and Stormchasers for Unstoppable Comics who are based in New York. They also have a completely new character called INTERCEPTOR which I will be working on. The kickstarter for that project is here- https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1123206134/interceptor-genesis-a-comic-book-project
5. I'm helping Erik Von Wodtke develop a new super heroine character. There's also a couple of other projects zooming up behind them and a couple in negotiation, oh and I teach art at a local school on a Tuesday afternoon!
Examiner.com: Can you tell us who is "Wonder-Brit" created by author, Erik Von Wodtke. Is she the British answer to Wonder Woman? I am intrigued-please tell us what you can reveal at this point!
Russ Leach: I can tell you some! Eric approached me after the LSCC to help him out with a new character he wants to develop. She is a strong female lead and the world she inhabits is somewhere between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.! I think the name may be changing to "Agent UK" but Erik will be able to tell you more!
Examiner.com: You just returned from the London Super Comic Con(L.S.C.C.). How was it this year?
Russ Leach: Fantastic! I had a great con signing books with my co-creator, writer Adam Cheal and Markosia did well also. Toxic Storm, Terminus At Fenton's Green and Apollo were all there as exclusives! My colleague, good friend and former Marvel editor Tim Quinn introduced me to Charlie Adlard and Charlie was kind enough to spend some time with me offering great advice. Harry Markos was kind enough to introduce me to comic book royalty-Howard Chaykin and he's a funny guy!
I got to meet some of the guys at the IDW and Zenescope stands and most importantly sold almost all the stock of my LSCC exclusive hard back, Terminus At Fenton's Green written by Adam Cheal.
The Cosplay was just superb and all the fans and convention goers were wonderful! It was a great weekend all round!
Examiner.com: Do you wish to to continue down this road of being an artist of sequential art and design or are you going to explore other avenues in the arts or otherwise? What does the future hold for Russ Leach?
Russ Leach: Yes is the simple answer! I love doing what I'm doing. I love being busy. I draw quite fast from what I can gather from others in the industry so I love the fact that I can get to work on so many great projects and still enjoy the process! The future... as long as people continue to pay me to draw and fans continue to buy my work-I'll keep drawing!