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Adventures of Andy in Comicland

by Andrew James Kent

Carmilla#4, cover by Andrew James KentEditor's Note: Andy Kent was one of the contributors to Ian Gould's seminal Eureka comic, and went on to some success in the US market. Here he talks about his inspirations and experiences with home-grown and overseas publishing. The article first appeared as a couple of postings on Aaron Burgess' Comics Australia forums, but I felt they were worth keeping in a more stable format, so have reprinted them here. If you want to read the original, including more comments by Andrew and others, you can find it here.

The first comic I ever "read" was at 4 or 5, about 1966/67... A Hulk comic. Wanted to be a comic artist ever since. These were the days when every kid read comics and you could pick up stacks of 60's Marvels at book exchanges for 2 cents! Would be worth a squizillion today. Anyhow, I submitted work to Marvel at age 16, even got a rejection letter with a Spidey logo on it. Needless to say I wasn't very good. Went to art school, learned nothing. Met Michal Dutkiewicz in about 1982 (great guy, absolute champion human being!). Knocked around a million concepts, did lots of sketches, came up with lots of great and dumb ideas, pipe dreams at this stage, the usual... but, as they say, practice makes perfect, and six years of drawing, drawing, drawing improves one's ability somewhat, and a particularly savage self-criticism is definitely a requirement for self-improvement.

So here we are in 1987-ish and Ian Gould (nice bloke all round) wants to put a comic out, and me and Michal are to be in it. Terrif. We got some manga-style stuff, MD's quirky girly strip (best work he ever did!) Verity, so it's up to me to throw in the ever-popular sci-fi bit for balance. Started off serious at first but heck, I find it difficult to remain serious for too long so it descended into silly territory in the following episodes, which I reckon worked better. I wrote all episodes of Rip Rory. Michal inked the first episode, and only two panels of issue #2's tale (even though I rather generously gave him full credit for the job).

Anyhow, I really loved Eureka!, had heaps of fun doing it. I was very disappointed it ended after three issues, because it was really only in its infancy and if it had gotten over the hump it would have really been extra-special. Such is life.

So now we move onto America. All kneel in supplication to McComics. This was the time of the black and white independent boom, so if you were a half-decent artist (or in many cases turned out shit) there were plenty of opportunities. Apple published some vampire posters of mine somewhere (got no idea what comics, I've never actually seen them, but I did get paid, so I assume they got used!), and Malibu commissioned some lesbian vampire covers for Carmilla no's 2 to 6. Liked the colouring on those. The inside was pretty average, but my covers were nice. I recall I was slated to become the regular penciller on Maze Agency by Innovation, but the mag was cancelled before I had a crack at it. I did some sample pages of Lost In Space for Innovation's David Campiti to present to Viacom to gain the rights to do a comic version of the show. The LiS comic was later drawn by Michal Dutkiewicz. I did a 4 page funny-animal style comic in full colour called 'Louie the Lizard' with a New Zealand writer, Cornelius Stone, for some sort of vague charity comic loosely related to LiveAid. This is all very hazy coz I never saw the book in print. It was supposed to be about 600 pages, and have contributors from all over the world. If anyone out there knows anything about such a project, I'm curious to learn about it more. The story was in full colour (water colour pencils), kind of looked like Ron Emberton on LSD. Lots of whacky aliens and a superheroine and a Lizard zooming around on roller-skates. One of my favourites.

I did the Australian War Stories tale, MD wanted to contribute something but he was working on other stuff so time permitted him to ink the figures only, and I pencilled and Phil Galley inked the backgrounds. I liked this one because it was quite understated, kind of like John Severin in a way. No clenching of teeth, bulging muscles and Stars and Stripes waving.

I have no clear recollection of the dates of Raider 3000. This was done for Caliber/Gauntlet in the U.S. Originally intended as a six-issue mini-series, it fell at the end of the black-and-white boom, and was discontinued after two issues. I wrote this one myself and actually had issues 4 to 6 complete and ready for publication (I was way ahead of schedule), but they never saw print. Sad, because they were pretty awesome, dude! Very much in the vein of Rip Rory, lots of ideas, anything I came up with I found a way of tossing into the mix. The two issues that saw print were not bad, the issues that didn't see the light of day were way better. You can imagine drawing 8 to 12 hours every day, by the time you've done 60 or 70 pages you're really getting into the flow of things, and the entire story was about 120 pages long, so I was really cooking, shall we say.

Rip Rory, from Eureka#1So we come now to DC comics. Here's the story. Now Michal Dutkiewicz is a friend of mine, top artist, we go way back. So he gets a job for DC, the Team Titans Annual #2. Wow what a break! The big league. Now the original artist, Luke Ross pulls out at the last minute, only drawn two pages of the thing, and this Annual is already been ordered by the comic stores and is due out in a few weeks! DC editors panic, and desperately fish around for artists to whack the comic out poste-haste. So it comes down to Michal. Now it's 50-odd pages long. 21 days to the deadline. You work out the maths. So MD calls his pal, me, and says he needs help on this one, so we began working together churning out pages at a rate of knots, working from a brief Doug Moonta plot, copies of every page has to be faxed to the editors so that the Scriptures can start writing the dialogue, some pages end up being sent to Brazil!!! Sending off a few pages every day so the inker can get straight to work and the letterer can begin lettering, one minute you're pencilling page 8 the next minute page 43. Rather chaotic few weeks but I had a ball, and the comic turned out pretty good (for a super hero comic, anyway).

So, Michal and I just continued on working together, split everything 50/50. Hey, it's working for McComics! They pay good money too! I think they even paid us twice for one job! Suckers!!! Well, I guess the joke's on us in the end. The pleasure of Team Titans didn't last. The Spectre issue (not sure of the number) was another rush job and in my opinion should go into the Hall of Infamy as the Worst Piece of Crud perpetrated by an artist. I did some shocking work on that one, what was I thinking?!!? Psyber Rats 1, 2 and 3 was a chore for the most part. The characters were soooo dull!! I just really suffered a bad case of burn-out. I thought "is this it? Is this what I've dedicated so much of my life to?" The dream and the reality weren't the same thing. You may all now race off for some tissues to dry those eyes, at such a tragic tale of woe.

That was quick! I thought you'd be weeping for days. Anyhow, I said "fuck this, I'm outta here" and have never regretted tossing it in. I would never contemplate working for McComics again, who needs 'em? Everyone seems to believe that they can work in the US on their own terms, but sadly the opposite is true.

I'm concerned that my attitude towards McComics may come off sounding like sour grapes... some people can make a go of it, no worries, and I would hate to discourage anyone from pursuing it. Despite my own disappointments, I also had a lotta fun, so the bad stuff makes the good stuff so much sweeter. Can't have one without the other.

Now, comics can suck you in, chew you up and spit you out pretty quick. Comics are littered with the names of literally thousands and thousands of creative names who have disappeared down the drain of obscurity... a fair number of them with a heck of a lot of talent. First making it onto the US scene is no guarantee of long-term success, as there are innumerable booms and busts, changing audience tastes and corporate takeovers, etc, etc, which make for a volatile industry and are things that you have absolutely no control over. If you can find a niche and express an individual voice it is easier to ride out such things, but at first you'll find yourself a very little fish in a big ocean and the trick is to survive being gobbled up by a bigger fish, in an ocean that seems hell-bent on making you an extinct species! In other words you survive in spite of the forces working against you. If you can survive (this can take many years) it should theoretically be plain sailing thereafter (the ability to turn a blind eye to McComics corporatised ideals certainly helps).

Carmilla#5, cover by Andrew James KentI find it interesting that, when looking at submissions, companies look for an individual "style" that stands out from the bunch, then they try their utmost to expunge any hint of individuality and try to make your work the same as everyone else's. The bland-isation of McComics is a very strong force, driven mainly by the shareholder's obsession to protect their "franchise characters" and thus their investment. So, you see, almost everything comes down to cold hard cash.

So, really, when all is said and done, making a go in the American market has a great deal less to do with the art you make and more to do with you as an individual... your ideals, values, principles, motivations, etc, etc.

I get the impression that the majority of Aussie creators are by nature a little bit on the independent/quirky/individual/off-centre side, which can either work in your favour or be the Kiss of Death. This is what makes oz comics so great!!! (!)

The saddest postscript (tissues at the ready) to my Adventures in Comicland is that my entire collection of original art, 15 years and, conservatively, 300 pieces of work, both published and unpublished (including the conclusion to Rip Rory, the unseen Raider 3000 issues, mountains of character sketches, story ideas and conceptual drawings) were lost some years ago, and could conceivably be floating around in a basement somewhere or even on a rubbish tip... I have no idea where. I have very few printed copies of my own work, and thus many of the works mentioned above I myself have not set eyes upon in any form for many years!

Finally, I never really enjoyed the limelight, so even though I am one of the few lucky enough to have had some international success, I am still a somewhat unknown quantity in the Australian scene. This epic concludes with a list of known AJ Kent works:

  • Eureka #1,2,3 (Rip Rory, writer, penciller, inker, Eureka Comics)
  • Some vampire posters (pencils/inks, Apple Comics)
  • Carmilla covers #2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (pencils/inks, Malibu comics, incorrectly credited as Alexander Kent)
  • 'Louie the Lizard' (pencils/colours, for charity comic — details unknown)
  • Australian War Stories ('My Victoria Cross', pencils)
  • Raider 3000 #1,2 (writer, pencils, inks, Caliber/Gauntlet)
  • Team Titans Annual #2 (co-penciller, DC Comics)
  • Spectre #crap (co-penciller, DC Comics)
  • Psyba-Rats mini series #1, 2, 3 (co-penciller, DC Comics)
  • Phantom Trading card (oil painting) don't ask me what set, I've got no idea!
  • One or two other DC's with Michal Dutkiewicz (a panel or two only, pencils)

Keep an eye out, you never know when I might pop up and do something new some day.

Australian War Stories, interior page
Australian War Stories, interior page by Andrew James Kent

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