BARRY KITSON: I grew up in the West Country near the Stonehenge area.
DB: What were some of the earliest comics you read as you were growing up?
BK: My first interest in comics came from American comics. The first comic I came across, I think, it was an Avengers comic, a kid who lived nearby showed me that when I was about five or six. Then my grandparents used to have a caravan down on the South Coast where theyíd go for the weekend and theyíd usually take me along. In those days American comics used to come over as ballast on freighters, so the only place you could buy American comics at that time in England was near the ports. It made collecting interesting because they didnít come over in any order because they were literally just thrown on as ballast. So week to week, where you might get a comic from 1965, next week the news ones might be from 1961. So there was absolutely no logic to any of this. My collection came through just by buying everything at random and just piecing it all together. So it was Jack Kirby that made me want to start drawing.
DB: What sort of schooling did you have in regard to art?
BK: None really. I failed my art A level, which is the system where you took a exams at various ages. The 15 year old one I passed, but the one you take at the age of 17 or 18 I failed. Basically because everything I drew looked like comics and I wasnít interested in any other sort of art at the time. I just wanted to draw comics. I stayed friends with my A level art teacher, he actually passed away earlier this year, but he always thought it was highly amusing and he quite frequently asked me to go back and speak at the school, that his one pupil who went on to become a relatively well known artist was the one who failed. I think until last year I was the only failure he had at A level. <laughter>
DB: It just goes to show you donít have to pass to be able to do it.
BK: Well thatís it. I have met lots of people since who have gone onto art colleges and such who said the experience actually made them their comic ambitions more difficult to achieve. Itís one of those things really. With drawing comics nobodyís ever asked me if Iíve got any qualifications, they look at what you do. You can have as many art degrees as you like and still not produce anything that anybody likes.
DB: How did you break into comics? As I understand it you got in through Marvel UK.
BK: Well that was really through John Stokes who was a well known artist in his own right. He used to do the original Warrior at the time in England. He just saw some drawings Iíd done. Iíd done a degree in English Lit and was teaching English at the time but I was still drawing for my own amusement. He saw some of the drawings and was kind enough to give me some editorís numbers and say that he thought I was worth seeing. That was how I got to be seen at Marvel UK. Like so many things to do with art I was lucky to be there at the right time. By chance I met an editor who had just started there, a guy called Ian Rimmer, who was looking for somebody to draw Spider-Man and I just happened to walk in on the right day. Ian said, ďHereís a script for a page, go away and draw it and bring it backĒ and that was my first job drawing Spider-Man.
DB: Who else was there at the time? Were Alan Moore, Alan Davis and Paul Neary there at the same time as you?
BK: Sort of. Alan Moore and Alan Davis were doing Captain Britain. Paul Neary wasnít there at the time. I never really got to know them. There was sort of a generational gap. They were the established heroes and I was kind of in awe of them. The Spider-Man that I drew was written by Mike Collins who went on to do Thunderbolt and other things for DC and it was inked by Mark Farmer, who, as you know, has gone to ink everybody.
DB: From you work at Marvel UK was there ever any interest from Marvel itself? Most of the people who started at Marvel UK all ended up working at Marvel proper.
BK: But they all went to work at DC first.
DB: Thatís odd isnít it?
BK: That was the irony of it at the time really. Marvel had started to show some interest. Chris Claremont and John Romita Jr came over and I met Jim Shooter and Tom DeFalco and people like that. They were generally very supportive but there wasnít really any impetuous from Marvel in the states to use people from England at the time. It was very much a DC initiative. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were working on the Watchmen at the time I first became drawing. Alan Davis went over, but they all went to DC. Brian Bolland did Camelot 3000.
DB: Although youíre influenced by the American artists, a lot of the English artists have a similar style Ė very clean line work, very detailed art. If you look at your style and those of Bolland, Gibbons and Davis, thereís not a wasted line, itís all very clear, clean and crisp.
BK: I couldnít answer that. In my case itís a kind of unfortunate obsession <laughter> I want everything to be clear all the time. I do greatly admire a lot of artists who arenít very good; I just canít bring myself to do it. I think when I first saw original artwork by people like Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons and people like that I was just so amazed at how clean and tight it really was that I thought that was what I had to do.
DB: The springboard for a lot of the English artists was 2000 AD.
BK: That was very much the path really to getting to the States was through 2000 AD. Certainly in my case I was working with Alan Grant on Judge Anderson at the time and Alan and John Wagner had just started writing for DC. I think that Alan had been talking to Denny OíNeil and through that Denny rang me up and asked me if I would be interested in drawing the Batgirl Special, which was my first DC work.
DB: That was the tie-in to the Killing Joke wasnít it?
BK: Thatís right. That was the last Batgirl story before the Killing Joke.
DB: Again it has that English content and connection Ė the last Batgirl story drawn by yourself and the Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. How did you see the Killing Joke when it came out?
BK: I was always a huge Brian Bolland fan so it wasnít a big surprise to me that it was great.
DB: From there you didnít do all that much work with DC. You went over to Marvel at one stage?
BK: My first regular work was the Batgirl Special, and then I did a Legion Of Superheroes annual, which, again for the connection, had a Brian Bolland cover, then I did four seven page Catwoman stories in Action Comics when they were doing the compendium issues for a little while there. At the end of that I was basically offered a choice of a regular Catwoman mini-series or Legion, which I wonít be leaving because Iíve always been a Legion fan. I did about 15 issues of that and then Marvel offered me a couple of things, Wolverine and Wildcards. So I took about six months off and worked for Marvel for about six months but it didnít work out as well as Iíd have liked because Iíd basically taken on too much work and couldnít do it as well as Iíd like. So with the Wolverine issues, Iíd like to have done six of them and ended up doing two <laughter> just because I couldnít get the work in. DC was keen to have me back on Legion and I was keen to get back to a more regular work style so thatís when I came back to Legion and stayed there for a long, long time.
DB: Youíve been pretty much exclusive with DC ever since then.
BK: Iíve been very lucky and, touch wood, long may it go on. Iíve really enjoyed working at DC. I nearly went to Marvel again just before I started doing Superman. Marvel had offered me a couple of number one issues to do, one of which was War Machine. I had actually started drawing it when DC asked would I be interested in doing Superman, so I said to Marvel I would only be able to stay on War Machine for about six months, because I thought six months was long enough to not put them in any difficulty. They decided that if I wasnít going to stay on the book long term then theyíd rather get someone else in, so my issues of War Machine never actually came out, they were re-drawn by someone else.
DB: What attracts you to a character?
BK: Iím not sure there is any conscious process that goes on. A lot of the DC characters I really fell in love with as a kid so just to get the chance to draw them I still get the same thrill that I had as a kid. As in anything, there are some characters you particularly like and some you donít. I canít think of any off the top of my head that Iíd say that I didnít want to draw.
DB: Do you look at some characters as a challenge? Do you look at some things and say, ďI think I can make this interestingĒ?
BK: Yeah, I think I would probably assume that I would be able to do that with virtually anything I was offered. I wouldnít want to do sort of gross, bad taste comics. Some people enjoy doing them, but thatís just not me. So I wouldnít get a lot of fun out of it. I like to do things that have a little bit of subtlety in them, which doesnít really rule most things out I think. <laughter>
DB: Youíve worked very closely with Mark Waid over the years, who are some of the people that stand out for you? You worked with Archie Goodwin at one stage.
BK: Yeah. Archie was my editor on Azrael for about three years. He was a great friend and it was a very sad loss. I havenít worked with that many people though when I come to think of it. I worked with Alan Grant and Mark.
DB: Iíve spoken a lot with Norm Breyfogle about Alan Grant, they worked together on Batman. Norm tells me that Alan is a very subversive kind of a guy, very political Ė he says heís lovely man and Iím sure he is from the limited contact IĎve had with him Ė so how do you find him?
BK: I think there are some things that heís put in there if you look really carefully. The problem was probably I didnít appreciate just how subversive he is. I think Iím probably fairly naÔve as far as such things go. But I really enjoy working with Alan and I think heís one of the most straightforward, honest people Iíve ever met.
DB: What are the differences between working with an American writer with Mark Waid, and an English writer with Alan?
BK: <laughter> Well apart from the fact that theyíre completely different characters. I wouldnít put it down to a nationality thing. Alanís much more a direct, plot based writer and Markís much more character driven but thatís about the only real difference. They both work with me in much the same way, in being very generous and helpful, letting me take part in the plotting and having quite a lot of say in how we deal with stuff.
DB: Gorilla Comics. It was a big announcement; there were so many talented people on board with yourself, Tom Grummett, Stuart Immonen, Mark Waid, Kurt BusiekÖ what happened there?
BK: <laughter> I donít know legally how much I can say. Letís say the business side of things was not as we, as people working, were led to believe. Basically it came down to the fact that while we may have been all perfectly good comic creators, but I donít think we made good businessmen.
DB: Itís a shame, because with the talent involved Gorilla should have been as big as Image.
BK: Yeah, it was extremely unfortunate. As I say, we were told one thing by certain people and at a critical point we found out that what we had been told wasnít actually the case.
DB: Whatís the status of Empire?
BK: <laughter> Thatís a good question. Basically we want to do more of it, Mark tells me that at every convention he goes to he still gets dozens of people asking if thereís going to be some more. Itís something that we want to do; itís just a time factor, on my part more than anything else. I just barely keep up with drawing Legion at the moment, so until we have some breathing space we canít really do anymore.
DB: Back to Legion, I look at it and think that itís almost like you were born to draw it.
BK: <laughter> Well yeah, I kind of think something along those lines. It is sort of the comic that Iíd put my name down as the comic I would choose to draw. Itís full of superheroes, itís set in the future, and itís got a scope for huge storylines or small storylines. The only downside to it is that there are so many people to draw <laughter>
DB: How familiar are you with the whole history of the Legion? Itís so rich with artists and writers.
BK: Iíd certainly not claim to be any sort of authority on it, like Mark. Mark could name which number of a Legion comic it is from the adverts on the back.
DB: Thatís scary. <laughter>
BK: Yeah, it is rather scary. Where I canít claim to be able to do that, I can honestly claim that I was reading legion when I was in primary school. Itís perhaps not something one should admit, but when I was in primary school I used carbon paper and from the Curt Swan drawings I made little Legion characters that I cut out and did little flaps on the bottom that made them stand up and Iíd happily amuse myself playing out my own little Legion adventures. Strangely enough at a convention last year in England somebody did come up to me and say they did exactly the same thing.
DB: Oddly enough when I was in year 9 at school I made a chess-set out of Legion characters doing exactly the same thing Ė tracing them and cutting them out. <laughter>
BK: Excellent! Youíd have to send me a picture of it if you still have it.
DB: Itís long gone now <laughter> but we all did it. Curt Swan has a lot to answer for. He and Jim Mooney both. <laughter>
BK: The thing with Curt is that he was one of the few artists who actually drew whole figures, so you could trace the whole figure. So thatís how far I go back with the Legion. Again, my Legion history is patchy because when I collected them I collected them in the wrong order. Unlike Mark who probably bought every issue as they came out, the storylines are somewhat muddled in my head as to what happened when.
DB: I think I really started to get interested in the Legion was when Keith Giffen did it. The Great Darkness Saga, around those years. I remember buying them and seeing a complete change in art style.
BK: Yeah, that was an epic time with the Darkness Saga, and then Keith did his change about in art style completely out of the blue. <laughter>
DB: How has the industry changed now to when it was when you broke in? Clearly living in England, the internet must have been a Godsend.
BK: That certainly saved an awful lot of phone calls anyway. Also youíve got the option of scanning art yourself and just sending the scans in, so the artwork never has to leave my studio. I just send the pages straight into DC to be coloured and stuff, so that obviously helps.
DB: Youíll always get the artwork back.
BK: <laughter> Well yeah, exactly. You think youíll never lose possession of it. I donít think things have changed a great deal since I started. I think the really big changes came just prior to me starting. When DC first started hiring English people a big change came, and when I came in the big names in England were already starting to work for DC. I think indirectly thatís why there was another generation of English artists because somebody had to fill the shoes of the guys who had gone to DC. The great thing was that they went to DC as fully formed artists because they had done their apprenticeships, if you like, on English books. I know in Brians case, and in Dave Gibbons, they did things fro African publishers. One of the reasons they made such a big impact is that they came onto the American scene fully formed and very, very impressive.
DB: †What does the future hold for you?
BK: For me? <laughter> Well at least hopefully another couple of years of L.E.G.I.O.N. Iíd like to do some more Empire at some point and just to keep improving. Iím one of those annoying people in that if you ask what did I want to do as a kid, well I am doing exactly what I wanted to do as a kid, although Iím not quite as talented as Iíd like to be.
DB: You sell yourself short there.
BK: No, itís kind of half joking. I really do want to be better than I am. I had a phone call this week from an editor who I donít actually work for. He saw some pages Iíd sent in and said he had to phone up and tell me that he thought they were the best things Iíd ever done, which just means so much to me because thatís the whole point of it, to just keep getting better and just really enjoying it. It worries me when I see artists who I think just look like theyíre coasting and not really enjoying it anymore and not really putting anything into it.