Whilst some areas of London Film and Comic Con 2017 were filled to the brim with colourful cosplayers and dealers’ stalls full of cuddly alpacas and Funko Pops, the “Comics Zone” upstairs offered a quieter atmosphere, with both independent and more established creators set up to sell comics, prints, original art and more at their tables. You might be disappointed at this–feeling as if more people should recognise and respect those creators whose work has been adapted into multi-million dollar franchises–but you couldn’t mistake the levels of adoration directed at comics creator Mark Buckingham, who attended the convention last Saturday.
Almost all day, his table was busy with comics fans, eager to talk to him about (and have him sign copies of) his work on titles like Fables, Miracleman, Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme, Sandman and more. I sat down with him to talk about working with Neil Gaiman, his musical interests, and what advice he has for people looking to take the next steps in their own comics careers.
“This is my first con in about a year,” Buckingham begins, full of excitement as we sit down to chat, “because I’ve been a little bit distracted by becoming a Dad for the first time…I basically haven’t been doing conventions or comic books for the last year, but now I’m getting very busy again, so that is good! It’s nice to be out seeing friends and fans, and it’s lovely to be reminded that people like the books, and that I should probably make a few more.”
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“I have just finished a Kirby 100th anniversary project that DC are doing with a series of six books, ” he continues, when I ask him about what he’s currently working on, “Each one highlights a different character that Jack Kirby worked on at some point during his time at DC…in my case, I’m working on a strip that Keith Giffen and Dan DiDio have produced, and it’s Manhunter from the 1940’s meeting the Golden Age Sandman. So that’s a lot of fun, and I got to indulge my love of Jack Kirby’s art to the ultimate level, and it’s just a nonstop twenty-two page tribute. Apart from that, I’m doing some covers for the Dark Crystal comics…I did an illustration for the Labyrinth tribute book that came out earlier in the year, and so I was one of the artists approached for this new project. It’s a sort of sequel to the original Dark Crystal movie, and it’s based on the designs and the screenplay for the never-filmed follow-up movie, so it’s quite nice to feel that you’re working on something that has a direct relationship with the core material.”
“I’m also primarily focused now on getting Miracleman done,” he says, with a somewhat sheepish look and a laugh, “having accidentally ignored it for a little while! The problem is, Neil [Gaiman, the current series’ writer] also became a Dad again, and so basically [our children] have been the reason why very little work got done! The good news is that it is coming, Neil and I have been meeting regularly to work on the new scripts together…we’ve made a few interesting changes, so it’s not going to be the exact story we’d intended to tell back in the 80’s and 90’s, we’re now thinking about it in the context of today, and in how the world’s changed. Artistically, I kind of went on a bit of a journey, trying out a range of different art styles to try to see what would work best. I had a good twelve, thirteen years on Fables and although I made changes and varied things a bit along the way, it was still primarily a consistent kind of style. I spent a lot of time doing painted covers, different techniques…just trying out new things to see what excited me. The funny thing is, I’ve probably ended up back at a place which is not so remarkably different from where I was with Fables!”
“I’ve been doing a lot of stuff outside of comics, as well,” he explains, “I’ve worked on about seven different albums, creating artwork for all of those. That’s been fun because, again, each project’s been quite different and has allowed me to try out a range of approaches to each of the illustrations. I’m also making music now as well, I’ve been in the process of recording an album…that’s been fun, songwriting. It’s still storytelling, that’s the thing. It’s still stretching some of the same muscles, but in a very different way.”
I then questioned him about his relationship with the writers, editors and other creators that help shape some of the comic books Buckingham is so well-known for. “Bill [Willingham] and I, for example, when we were planning out the last sixteen issues of Fables, we did that on a little vacation together”, he says, letting me know that very few of his relationships are based on him having no input into the narrative, “it gave us an opportunity to really think about all the stories we’d told, what was left to say, which plot threads we’d left dangling for too long, and to just find a way of wrapping all of those things up. There are still things we haven’t addressed but, you know, it’s an excuse to maybe come back to it at some point.”
“With Neil,” he says, referring to the creative process behind Miracleman, “we’ve always had a good friendship and a nice working relationship. In this case, I’m actually co-writing the scripts for Miracleman with him…so what’s happening is we’re meeting from time to time and actually going over our plans for the stories and fleshing everything out. It’s a fun process, and it’s nice to be involved right from the outset on the development of something like this, because the storytelling aspect of it is very important to me. If I’m involved with the plotting and the scripting of the thing, it helps me get a sense of the weight and scale of a story before I sit down to draw it.”
Finally, I ask him about those who are looking at taking the “next steps” in their comics careers, and if he has any advice for people looking to make comics their career. “Doing the thing is 90% of the battle,” he says, “if you’re already creating scripts and you’re having fun and you’re getting on with it, just do more of that. I think sometimes it’s a mistake to get too fixated on trying to get your work into a particular place that isn’t necessarily suited to your voice. I mean…if you want to be a superhero artist, go draw some superheroes. If you want to work for Vertigo, go draw some weird shit and some people talking in a pub and you’ll probably get a gig! We’re in an interesting place at the moment, in publishing…a lot of the rules have gone out the window. It’s amazing to see the richness and the diversity of the material that is out there…you can have an indie artist who finds themselves suddenly drawing a Marvel book, and it’ll make sense in the context of what that book is. My best advice is to just draw what you want to draw, and to believe in it.”
Thanks to Mark Buckingham for taking the time to talk to us at London Film and Comic Con 2017! You can find his Facebook page here.