I first heard of Tom in 2011 at Thought Bubble, he came second in the 2000AD Portfolio Competition. But I recall him very clearly from 2012 2000AD Portfolio Competition at Thought Bubble, where he came second.
This year I bumped in to him in the queue to the 2000AD Portfolio Competition at Thought Bubble. What an amazing coincidence… Well OK maybe not. He came second in the first two years this competition was on so I kind of expected to see him there.
I introduced myself to him and got chatting. In front of me was Craig, he was also in the Competition and has recently moved from New Zealand to Paris to pursue a career in comics. We had quite a nice chat and as Tom is from Edinburgh we got to talking about DC Thomson and ended up plotting a Future Shock…
If you aren’t aware what Thought Bubble or the 2000AD Portfolio Competition are all about (one hopes you do)…
Thought Bubble is a pretty epic week long celebration of the art form that is ‘Sequential Art’ or Comics to give it its most commonly known term. The week ends with a Comic Convention, this year that was 23rd & 24th of November, at Royal Armouries Leeds.
The 2000AD Portfolio Competition is a kind of Dragons Den affair… About a month before Thought Bubble 2000AD release a Script for artists to draw. On the Saturday Matt Smith views portfolios from hopefuls and draws up a shortlist. Those on the shortlist progress to the Final on Sunday. Last year and this year the prize is a paid commission from 2000AD.
A great Comic Con and a great competition. Tom’s entry is dotted through the interview (in order) you can open a larger copy by clicking on the small version here (it’ll open in the same window/tab). You can read the Script here (it’ll open in a new window/tab).
Tom – Actually, a few people at the convention did recognise me, but it still surprises me, as I never expect people to remember some guy they saw once at a large-scale event with hundreds of other people. It’s certainly not weird in the bad way – I’m always flattered if someone remembers me or my work. That’s what you want, really. The whole point of going to events like these, from a professional point of view at least, is to broadcast yourself as much as possible. Ideally, without turning into a total bell-end in the process.
Semple – You’ve shown your work to Matt Smith before, what is the experience like?
Tom – From the few experiences I’ve had with Matt, I’d say it’s very constructive. He’s quite particular about what he wants and isn’t afraid to let you know the weaknesses in your work – which is great. People like that are often the most positive influence on your work. It’s always nice to hear praise, and it can invaluable if you’re beginning to have second thoughts about your vocation, but it doesn’t make you any better. Matt’s advice does.
Tom – Wild horses couldn’t keep me away this year. Last year’s split decision was a big blow, but, having seen more of Will Morris’s work since, he deserved to win. He had achieved a fullness of style with which I was (and still am) struggling. My layouts were weak and I had attempted to mix media somewhat unsuccessfully. This year I knew that, having come second twice in a row, I was in with a really strong chance if I really put the work in.
Semple – The panel was smaller and only one page was looked at this year due to the late start. Did this worry you, did you feel that any of your later pages stronger?
Tom – No, I was delighted. My first page was the strongest by a country mile. There was some stuff I liked in the later pages, but my eye always went straight to the shit that I hated. That page, while it had its weaknesses, was the one that I could look at and see as a whole. This may well have been due to the fact that I put so much time into it that first one that I had to pull a 28 hour straight shift to get the last two pages finished on time.
Semple – When you show your Portfolio to an Editor do you tailor what you are showing depending on what they publish?
Tom – It depends. I try to have a bit of everything in there. I put in a few DC things, a few Marvel things, some 2000AD stuff and a few more down-to-earth things that would appeal to somewhere like Vertigo. Typically though, I just try to show solid storytelling and draughtsmanship. So long as, somewhere in there, you show that you can translate that to accommodate various sensibilities, I think you’re okay. But I’ve never got a job just from a portfolio review, so maybe I’m wrong.
Semple – You were showing your Portfolio to Marvel, Vertigo & Image this year too, how did that go?
Tom – Yeah, I got to show to all three, I was dead chuffed. There’s only so well an Image review can go if you’re not pitching something, as they only do creator-owned stuff, but their editor was very pleasant and encouraging, so that was nice. Will Dennis from Vertigo gave me some really good advice on improving my pages and C.B. Cebulski was really forthcoming and enthusiastic. He’s sent me a script to try out on and I’m really looking forward to it. Marvel scripts are always really well geared towards getting dynamic artwork, so it should be a blast.
Semple – Which artists have been your greatest inspiration?
Tom – Christ, now there’s a question. There really are too many to name, but I suppose the most influencial ones would be Mark Bagley, Brian Bolland, Chris Weston, Al Williamson, John Romita Sr., Neal Adams, Lee Weeks, Frank Cho, Michael Lark, Kevin Nowlan, David Finch, Mike Deadato Jr., Sean Gordon Murphy and and basically anyone who was drawing Spider-Man in the 90s. Mark Bagley was the guy who made me want to be a comic book artist. His mid-90s Spidey stuff with Randy Emberlin was just out of this world.
Semple – Will you go to the next 2000AD Portfolio Review at Thought Bubble and kick back and relax?
Tom – It seems a bit conceited, but I think I might. I think this was only the third year of it and, if so, I’ve been to every one, so I might make it a bit of a tradition. It would be nice just to see it as a spectator for once. Plus, judging by this year’s audience, a few extra onlookers would probably be appreciated.
Semple – What advice would you give someone who is showing their portfolio around?
Tom – See everyone you can. Obviously, the editors take priority because they’re the guys who give out the jobs, but other artists and writers can be your best source of advice. An editor will tell you what they don’t like about a page – an artist will tell you how to fix it. If you go to the bigger conventions, there are usually tons of big names there who’ll be happy to take a look. Be polite and don’t push it if they seem busy or not in the mood, but most of them will welcome the break from signing stuff and anwering questions about who the best Green Lantern is.
Semple – Maybe I should pitch that Future Shock that got built up in our conversation in the queue to the Portfolio Review…?
Tom – If you’ve got something, pitch it. There’s no negative outcome. If they accept it, you’ve got a job. If they turn it down, they’ll usually tell you why and then you’re one step closer to coming up with something they will like.
Semple – I know you’ve not yet had your Future Shock published… but if you could draw any 2000AD character and Tharg would publish it which one would you pick?
Tom – No contest, Dredd. I know it’s the obvious answer, but the list of artists who’ve worked on Dredd is too much of a pantheon not to want in on it. Besides, he’s the one character I’ve actually had some practice drawing, having done a couple of Dredd submission scripts before. He’s probably the one who suits my style best anyway. Not that that’s an accident or anything.
Semple – Alan Moore’s script style or John Wagner’s… how wordy a panel description do you like.
Tom – I’m not sure what Wagner’s scripts are like, having only read them with the finished artwork already in tow, but, from what I understand of Moore’s writing style, he does appear to be the more prescriptive. I think my stuff would probably be more suited to Wagner. The aesthete in me wants to rattle off lavish pages that catch the eye. I’m a big fan of raw storytelling too, but I like the scales to be tipped ever so slightly further towards the art side than Moore’s style tends to allow and I do like to interpret. For reading purposes, either is great, but professionally, I think I’d have more fun with a Wagner script.