Tuesday, February 27, 2007

28 Days of 2000 AD #27.1: John Ridgway

A bonus interview transcript, this time with artist John Ridgway. It opens with the 2000 AD artist recalling how he came to illustrate Luke Kirby...


I was approached to draw it. I think I was approached because of the type of work Alan knew I’d done in the past. I’ve got a feel for the countryside and old world things. In the 60s I was in my twenties, I’ve got quite a good recollection of what the 60s were like. I’d done something slightly similar for the Transformers comic, a Luke Kirby style of boy. Alan knew what sort of work I could do.

I’ve always preferred a more natural scenery, trees, mountains, fields and animals to the confines of Mega-City One. Having drawn Hellblazer for a while, I was sick of cities!

You did Twister, a Dredd story that covered the transition from the strip being black and white to full colour…

That was fun. Again, I think it was quite an unusual story for Dredd. That had a fantasy, fairytale element to it. It takes me back to the sort of stuff I would really like to do in comics. Again, you’ve got the natural scenery, the fantasy element. It was the gritty bitterness you get with the Dredd stories a lot of the time. It was a completely different atmosphere.

You also drew iconic Dredd story The Dead Man…

I’m not sure whether I knew in the first episode, but I certainly knew very early on the Dead Man was Dredd. It was set out in the wilds of the radlands, all natural scenery. It was nice to be able to draw that. I’ve always wanted to draw a western and that’s about as close as you could get to Clint Eastwood and a western –duster coat, the same sort of hat Clint used to wear. The attitude was the same too, don’t say much and shoot the feller if he looks the wrong way at you.

The Mike Fleisher-scripted space drama Junker – 95 pages long…

It felt like a hundred and 95! I always took it as being serious. But there was never any real detail as to what you were looking at in there. I remember talking to Richard Burton when I got the first script and asking him about the spaceship, what sort of size it was, Junker’s ship. He’d no idea. He gave me Mike Fleisher’s number and a time to ring him. I rang him and apparently got him out of bed. He was a bit irate about this. I asked him about the details of the ship and he said make it any size you want.

In those first episodes it was a ship that towed in a wreck for salvage. I saw it as a space tug. Later on it became sufficiently sophisticated and large enough to hold all these machines that could cut up a battleship and store it inside somehow! It was sort of like the TARDIS. There was no real description of his pal, Razzamatazz. I had no idea how tall he was or what sort of build he was. I need he had tail, I knew he had teeth. But he suddenly developed spikes in a fight! It was this sort of thing that was going on.

I had no idea what I supposed to be doing with it. I would have loved to have drawn a real space opera. I was trained as an engineer. If I do anything about spaceships, I like them to look like they’re going to work. That story just rumbled on. I was given no description of the female character in it, who turned out to be the villain. I drew her in a skin-tight costume. Near the end she was supposed to be hiding about her person this jewel! The only place I could think of was in the helmet she was wearing! There was a design on the front of the helmet that could conceal the jewel. It was just chance she happened to have that, otherwise I’m not quite sure where she might have hidden it!

It was really quite disappointing to work on that. I thought at the start it was going to be something which could really work. If you look at the first page, one of the spaceships floating around in that junkyard, is the Anastasia from Dan Dare. Dan Dare is the love of my life as far as comic strips go. It carried on, just disintegrated.

I think if I’d got all the story at once, and been able to go through it and understand what was going on, I could have played it better. I was flying blind on that story, all the way through, no idea of where it was going or what was happening next with it.

Darkness Visible…

Nick Abadzis. (Bit of a Vertigo story?) I suppose it was a bit. It didn’t seem out of place to me, there was quite a wide variety of stuff in 2000 AD – Luke Kirby, Brigand Doom. I was never keen on the Hellblazer stuff I did for Vertigo.

Luke Kirby – anything you want to add…

I think Alan’s wrong claiming he was sole creator. He set it in the 1960s, but he didn’t create the 1960s. He didn’t create the backgrounds, the scenery – he suggests them in the script, but that’s what a writer does, they suggest things for the artist to go and create. The Luke Kirby character was the same as the little boy in The Iron Man story written by Transformers by Steve Parkhouse. If you say photographs of my eldest son at that age, you’d know where the figure of Luke Kirby came from. To suggest he was sole creator is a little bit naïve, really.

I liken it to Pope Julian the Second claiming that he’d created the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I don’t know how writers think along those lines. The creative process is very involved for artists.

I was disappointed I couldn’t carry on doing Luke Kirby. I didn’t mind if Steve drew it, I’d worked with Steve in the past. I loved the stuff Steve did for Doctor Who and Warrior. I thought he was one of the best writers of comics I’d ever come across – it’s a crime he doesn’t write more, he ought to be castigated or something!


Alan McKenzie said...

I want to take issue with John Ridgway's "naive" jibe in the above post. But first, some background. When Fleetway was first looking into selling the film rights to some of "its" intellectual properties, both Ridway and I were approached to sign an assignment of copyright which would "confirm" Fleetway's ownership of the Luke Kirby character. John and I spoke and we agreed that we wouldn't sign such a document - which, if memory serves, also assigned the moral rights of the character to Fleetway, a pretty cheeky move.

However, despite Fleetway's previous position that the creative credits for any character were divided equally between writer and artist, Fleetway decided to reverse this in the case of Luke Kirby and told me they didn't need Ridgway's agreement and if I signed, I'd be the sole beneficiary of any royalties.

I found that assertion profoundly disappointing. Some people I respected were a party to that subterfuge. However, I believe in W. C. Fields' philosophy that "you can't cheat an honest man," and refused. I would not countenance anything that would bilk John out of any money due to him. However, because of the increasing desperation Fleetway were demonstrating (I'd been told by friends inside Fleetway that MD Frank Knau had sent round an email effectively blacklisting me for refusing to sign his document) I thought I'd better investigate the legal position.

As a member of the National Union of Journalists (still am!) I checked the situation with their legal department. Seems that, in a way, Fleetway was in part right. Legally, if not morally.

When I wrote Luke Kirby, I'd written up scripts which I was going to try to sell to Dave Hunt, editor of The Eagle comic. I showed them to Richard Burton, with whom I was working as a freelance assistant editor on 2000AD, and Richard said, "Eagle, hell ... let's run it in 2000AD," which was fair enough with me. By the time we'd settled on Ridgway as the artist for "Summer Magic", the scripts were already written. And Ridgway had no input into them. And unlike Dredd, the character of Luke Kirby had no unique look, he was just a ten year old boy living in the early 1960s.

I believe this is what Fleetway had in mind when they suggested that we could proceed without Ridgway's consent as long as I consented to a Luke Kirby screen project. When I discussed the position with the NUJ legal department, they said that Fleetway might have a claim to the copyright in the published Luke Kirby stories in their existing form, but that to exploit the character further they would need at least my assignment of copyright.

However, they were also quite clear that the ownership of the characters rested with the original creator and that this would certainly apply to any use of the character in the future, as well as to retellings of the published stories in other formats, including screen or prose. Fleetway's extraordinary document would re-assign all rights in the Luke Kirby characters, past, present and future, to Fleetway, along with the moral rights of the author (me!). In short, that means they could turn Luke Kirby into a porno star and sell it as "Alan McKenzie's Luke Kirby", which would probably cause my mother some distress.

And of course, I couldn't consent to that.

(An aside to all other creators - Fleetway have also tried to assert that all freelance payment cheques were issued with a stamp on the back that said the undersigned relinquishes all claims to copyright and that the payee had to sign the back of the cheque in order to cash it. The NUJ pointed out to me that a cheque is a promise of payment and that no one can add conditions to that payment after the fact. No bank can enforce that condition and copyright extracted from creators on that basis will not hold up in court.)

John's reference to Pope Julian isn't an analogy that holds up to scrutiny. Of course writers create stuff alone and without help. For example, if I wanted to write a Luke Kirby text story, I could do it without John's input (or consent) ... and it would still be a Luke Kirby story. What John couldn't do is draw a Luke Kirby story without my input, creatively or legally ... and that's just a plain fact.

I value John's ability as an artist tremendously, but he should understand that just because you've drawn a character, it doesn't mean that you have any claim to ownership. Otherwise, Neal Adams would own a slice of Batman, and that isn't the case.

No, copyright is always vested in the creator of an intellectual property until it is actively signed away by the creator. Fleetway's panicked attempts to get creators to sign "confirmations" that Fleetway was the copyright holder on 2000AD characters clearly points out that they knew the legal situation full well and were using the carrot of a tv or movie adaptation down the line (which of course didn't happen) to get creators to retrospectively relinquish their legal rights. And that's pretty crappy, don't you think?

John Ridgway said...

I’m afraid Alan is not correct about the roles off artist and writer. Alan wrote a story for which I created the appearance of all the characters in the story, the general look and feel of the background – in fact, all visual aspects of the story. Yes, Alan created the story but he did not create the strip. I agree that, in this instance, he could write a Luke Kirby to be published in text form - I wouldn’t challenge that, but I would challenge the use of my artwork and the use of the appearance of the characters. I may not win there because the characters and settings were costumed or super-heroes, but the situation is similar to claiming that Jack Kirby was not one of the creators of any of the characters he drew, or that Carlos Esquerra was not one of the creators of Judge Dredd .