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INJ Culbard

13 November 14 interview: Robin Lewis

Comic book artist, writer and animation director, there's not a lot Culbard doesn't do. We had a pick at that overactive mind of his

Did you always want to be an artist?
I wanted to be a stuntman but I've always drawn from a very early age. I just found it easier to communicate that way. All my writing assignments had pictures.

You have a very spare style. Is that the way you draw, or do you strip away all the unnecessary strokes? Which is harder?
The spare approach is harder, I reckon. You'd think it would be easier but it's a good deal simpler to scratch away with detail and build a picture up than it is to strip it down to the essentials. Composition is incredibly important, as it should be. I like the idea of working to strict perimeters, it gives me a direction.

Who’s been the strongest influence on the way you draw?
Jean-Claude Mézières, Alex Toth, Frank Robbins, Milton Caniff... to name but a few.

Do you see much of their style in your own work?
I’m not sure. I think we acquire our own style by failing to be the artists who inspired us.

Was it daunting to put Lovecraft's monsters on paper, given their indescribable, unknowable nature? Did you worry about pulling back the curtain to reveal something less scary than the things people had imagined?
I viewed it completely differently. I feel like Lovecraft was a very generous writer. Not just in sharing his ideas with a close-knit group of friends, but in terms of the way he wrote. "Indescribable" and "unknowable" mean carte blanche to me. It allows me to do whatever the hell I want. Add the fact that he doesn't have much dialogue in his books, and I can flesh out characters he only sketched. My intention was to make the adaptations books in their own right. I did take liberties, but stayed true to the spirit of what he wrote and hopefully worked to the strengths of the medium I was adapting it to.

You've drawn a lot of stories set around the Victorian and Edwardian era. Is there a special fondness for drawing those periods?
It's almost like typecasting, isn’t it? I seem to be stuck in the last two centuries, but that's mostly due to the adaptations I've worked on. I’d like to do something set in the sixties or seventies. I'd also like to do some hard science fiction set in the far future. Celeste, for example, is present day.

Celeste was your first graphic novel – is illustrating and writing your own stories something you want to do more of, or do you prefer working in partnership with a writer?
Both. I love working with Ian Edginton and Dan Abnett - they're great to bounce ideas off. I like to come up with stuff myself too. It can be a lonely job, but also enormously fulfilling. I have systematic ways of working, I've broken processes down to tackle things one at a time, that way I'm able to focus more. I've recently adopted working on characters first against rough backgrounds and designating a day when I come back and just work on backgrounds. That way, I focus a good deal more on just the acting and there are no distractions. I'll take a single issue of a comic and for one day I’ll draw one character right the way through the book. Then I'll come back and draw another the next day, and so on. Breaking it down makes it easier and a lot less daunting. Before I know it, I've drawn a book.

Getting Celeste published must have been a tremendously proud moment...
It was. It didn't hit me just how difficult a year it had been until I read my first review for the book. At that very moment, it all caught up with me. I was in and out of hospital three times and nearly died, so I was experiencing this shift in perception about a lot of things. Life, the mind, the body and the soul. That's essentially how the three stories in the book break down. They're different stories interwoven to cover similar ground. Comics have, to some, become a quick fix. I wonder how much people really take in. Celeste was never meant to be a book you race through in twenty minutes with any sense of satisfaction. It was always going to be one of many books as part of a review pile, so it was something of a gamble. Fortunately, for the most part, the reviews have been favourable. I've always thought of it as getting 'the difficult second album' out of the way first. I'm presently working on my debut.

Dark Ages, the new comic with Dan Abnett you have out, is a definite change of pace.
It’s a medieval alien invasion story. Kingdom of Heaven meets Starship Troopers. A godless warband looking for work suddenly find themselves being attacked by creatures they perceive as demons but we know are aliens, so they hole up in a monastery. From that point it also becomes a little Assault On Precinct 13. It's very gritty, action orientated, and it's been a lot of fun to work on.

The latest chapter of Brass Sun, the epic adventure story set in a celestial orrery, is being serialised in 2000AD and reprinted in America. That’s been going for a few years now, hasn’t it?
Me and the writer Ian Edginton have been running Brass Sun in 2000AD on a weekly basis since 2012 and it runs for about twelve weeks each time. The incredible thing about 2000AD is just how much story it gets through. We work on it for six months, and then 2000AD consumes it in just twelve weeks. It's a hell of a beast and an enormous privilege to work for; I grew up reading it. We also have it all collected as one book for Christmas this year. Edginton’s scripts take the series in all manner of directions, visiting unique worlds with each turn, and I get to draw tons of interesting stuff.

Is there a projected end point for Brass Sun, or is the plan to keep going?
It does have an ending, but it's not about the destination. It's about the journey. As long as people are enjoying the journey, we're in for the long haul. The heroine, Wren, has a heck of a way to go yet. There are so many places it can go. It's a proper adventure. Frankly, I love it, so I hope it keeps going.

What's next?
I have The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath out this autumn from SelfMadeHero, which is my fourth HP Lovecraft adaptation. And then we've got Wild's End being published right now from Boom! Studios. It's Wind in the Willows meets War of the Worlds. There’s a lot happening now and a lot more coming soon.

Celeste, Dark Ages, Brass Sun and Wild’s End are available from all good comic shops.

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