The Art of Brett Ewins
With The Galaxy’s Greatest Comic hitting 35 over the last week we’ve all been busy on the blog with a slew of 2000 AD related posts – it isn’t every day one of the most influential comics in the country turns 35, is it? A double remarkable anniversary for those of us who were wide-eyed 10 year old back in ’77 ignoring all that Silver Jubilee nonsense the grown ups were so excited about because we had more important things to occupy our young minds, like brand-new, amazing things, like Star Wars and closer to home a new weekly sci-fi themed comic. I doubt any of us would have imagined it would still be going three and a half decades later!
But after the run of 2000 AD posts we have a very special themed one for you today – Matt, Richard and I put our heads together and decided we’d like to combine celebrating 2000 AD with celebrating the work of one of the most infuential artists to come out of that scene (and go beyond with work on the groundbreaking Deadline), Brett Ewins. As we’ve observed on here Brett has been dealing with some serious problems which seem to have come to a head recently. We know a lot of folks in the Brit comics community who are admirers of Brett and his work and we thought we’d talk to some of them about using the anniversary as a way of showing him how much esteem and friendship he still has in the comics community. I’ll hand you over to Matt to explain more:
Brett Ewins has been quite unwell for some time. As has been reported elsewhere, he’s currently on remand for GBH after an incident earlier this year that, to quote John Tomlinson, “…might best have been contained by qualified mental health professionals…[but] was instead dealt with by police with truncheons…” Of course, we don’t know the precise details of this incident, which is currently under investigation, and it would be wrong of us to speculate about them here (Brett will apparently appear in court again in April).
That’s not what this post is about.
Instead, it’s about using 2000 AD’s 35th Anniversary as an excuse to highlight Brett’s situation, to celebrate the effect he has had on us as comic readers and to make him aware of the esteem he’s held in by readers and professionals alike.
To that end, we decided to do a post celebrating 2000 AD, but more specifically Brett’s part in it. Of course, Brett didn’t just draw for 2000 AD. He co-edited seminal comics magazine Deadline, mentored the likes of D’Israeli and Jamie Hewlett, drew for DC Comics and… oh, much, much more.
So, inevitably, several of the people who have written pieces for us have mentioned Brett’s work outside of the self-styled Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. And that’s only appropriate considering what a full career he had.
We checked with Brett’s close friend (and fellow artist) Rufus Dayglo about posting this tribute because we didn’t want to invade Brett’s privacy or upset his family. Apparently, the family are fine with what we’re doing and hopefully when Brett is well enough, Rufus can draw his attention to this blog post to remind him of how much affection there is for him and his work.
Finally, we hope that you enjoy the below contributions — art by and tributes inspired by the work of Brett Ewins.
(Read John Tomlinson’s article in full here (it really is an excellent piece about Brett, Steve Dillon and Deadline). Also, note his excellent suggestion that you buy the brilliant Art of Brett Ewins book, which contains a long interview during which, among other things, Brett talks about his health problems. My information is that he gets a healthy share of the profits from this.)
Note — If you’ve been affected by mental health issues, there’s a BBC website with information about the subject here and a list of contacts you can access for support should you need it. And as Darryl Cunningham made clear in his moving Psychiatric Tales, there is no shame in admitting to mental health problems – most of us will face them at some point in our loves, or have to help friends or family deal with them, but as Darryl made clear there are good people out there, from friends to volunteer charities to professionals who will understand and try to help you, you don’t need to deal with these demons on your own.
Just before we move on to the art a quick thank you to everyone who so kindly agreed to share some thoughts of Brett, or his art, or their own artistic tributes, at fairly short notice and to those who were generous enough to spread the word around the Brit comics community, much appreciated. Now let’s move on to what some of those writers and artists had to say:
John McCrea: “Always a fan of Bad Company- Brett’s crazy design skills shown at their best-and these cards I did back in 2005 are my tribute, I guess- and thank you Brett, for bringing me into the Deadline fold! I had some great times and met a lot of lovely folks along the way.”
One of Brit comics godfathers, John Wagner remember enjoying working with Brett: “Brett has drawn too many great images to single any one out. I can say, though, that he’s always been a pleasure to work with. I can’t remember him ever turning in a bad job, or even just an ‘acceptable’ one. There was always loads to enjoy in a Brett Ewins page. He’s right up there with the best. I wish him all the best in overcoming his current problems.” a scene from the early Dredd epic The Day The Law Died, teaming up John’s writing with art from Brett:
Bugpowder contributor and creator Dan Fish, like many of us, loved Brett’s work on seminal 2000 AD future war series Bad Company (still one of the best future war comics every, I think, with Brett’s art being a major reason for its enduring appeal), and has created this tribute in the form of his own take on Brett’s depiction of the troubled leader with the strap-down cranium, Kano: “Brett Ewins’ style to me is synonymous with the ethos of 2000 AD, in that the sheer imagination apparent in the art and design is astounding. Plus, the clear lines and stark shadows means it looks great in black and white, as is evident in the epic strip “Bad Company” (which I discovered at age 17, when ‘Best of 2000 AD 77 hit newsagent’s shelves). This strip featured Kano as it’s enigmatic sometimes-lead character. Ewins style never failed to communicate the conflicting psychology at war inside this part-human/part-alien/all-classic character. ”
The excellent Brendan McCarthy was kind enough to send us some rarely seen unpublished cover art he and Brett worked on: “Not many people have seen this cover to Sometime Stories Number 2 from about 1978 or thereabouts. The cover art is by Brett Ewins and myself. The whole second issue was drawn but never published. Such was the life of a pair of young UK comics upstarts who were intent on making a name for themselves, back in the day…
Part of the new wave of british creators who shook up the industry in the 1980s, Brett is one of the most singular talents UK comics has produced: From Felix Adler, Johnny Nemo, Skreemer and Bad Company, Brett knew how to create memorable characters – with great stories provided by his awesomely awesome co-creator Peter Milligan.
I’m pleased to hear that Brett is slowly recovering from his injuries. Perhaps there’ll be some surreal new creations from Brett to look forward to one day. Let’s hope so!”
Respected creator David Lloyd send his best wishes to Brett: “Hi. Just want to wish you well, Brett! You’re the living, breathing embodiment of the Brit Wave energy that swamped the stagnant waters of old, complacent comics traditional means and methods that washed turgidly around our beloved medium until guys like you refreshed it all. Get back your strength and keep smilin‘”
Artist Richard Elson kindly sends us this fabulous tribute to Bad Company; “It’s a re-working of a pin-up I did for 2000AD a few years back. I never felt I did justice to the character of Kano in my original version so here’s an updated attempt with respect and great admiration to the work of Brett Ewins and Jim McCarthy.
For my art pick, any shot of Kano from Bad Company. Bad Company is quite simply my favourite 2000AD strip of all time and Kano my favourite 2000AD character. The work that Peter Milligan, Brett Ewins and Jim McCarthy did on that strip is inspired; full of drive, creativity and warped invention. Pure comics. Great new characters were regularly introduced only to be dispatched a few progs latter and replaced by new, even more bizarre figures. Brett came up with a catalogue of great designs that, for me, have never been bettered in the pages of 2000. Get well soon, Brett. And thank you for your wonderful work.”
Top scribe and good egg Al Ewing chose one of the many Brett covers that have adorned 2000 AD over the last 35 years: “If I had to pick one 2000AD cover by Brett Ewins, it’d be Prog 392. This was the end of the ‘Traitor General’ storyline in Rogue Trooper – in other words, the end of Rogue Trooper, as far as anyone knew. And here’s the Traitor, front and centre, his hideous face hissing with hate, reaching into the gunsights like a clutching zombie – the gunsights perfectly rendered from white and negative space, complex and layered but still easily recogniseable for what they are. The mountain ranges on either side form natural speed lines, empasising how quickly the monster’s rushing towards us – little chips of dirt are crumbling off them, hanging in the air. Everything’s collapsing, eveything’s disintegrating, this is the final battle at the end of the world. At the same time, the red of the sky and the floating chips trick the eye into seeing an explosion – it’s all action, this. The final second of a battle that’s been raging through the entire strip. Kill or be killed! Fire or die!
…Except in the story itself, Rogue’s choice was whether or not to shoot the Traitor in the back, not the front – and then the Traitor got away only to be blown up unsatisfyingly by his own faulty ship. Denied the closure promised by this white-hot cover, Rogue limped along for a few more years looking for new enemies, new Traitors, trying to recapture that one, perfect, lost orgasm of combat… but it only exists here, in this one electrifying Brett Ewins image. If I could do it all again, I’d skip the Rogue story in Prog 392 and just read this cover over and over again instead. And so would you.”
Steve Yeowell still wonders about certain hair styles introduced to the comics reading public by Brett: “I always think of Brett as the man who introduced Dreadlock hairstyles – most memorably in Rogue Trooper(!) – to 2000AD! Design statement? or a result of him playing Black Uhuru on his walkman while burning the midnight oil to hit a deadline? I think we should be told…” I couldn’t find a decent dreadlocked image from Brett but I did find this remarkable example of his love of drawing a seriously cool quiff in comics:
UPDATE: David Rees read this and was kind enough to send us in an example of Brett’s dreadlock love in some Brett original art he spotted (thanks, David!):
Top artist John Higgins picks out a scene from Bad Company, one which has stuck in my head over the years since I first read it and I bet it is one many of you still think about too, the moment when even the dead don’t get to rest in this future war – the Zombie Beat! “Brett and I started around the same time, so trying to pick just one of Brett’s images from his many creative periods is pretty hard. I looked out for his work in 2000 AD, for me he epitomized the punk anarchic ethos that 2000 AD seem to tap into at that time, he brought in punk sensibility with his art style and the ‘punk attitude’ with the Bad Company series with Jim and Pete. So for me this page of artwork from that strip, has the sense of ‘YAARRGH!’ that Brett did brilliantly well with his attacking style of art, love it.”
Fab scribe Andy Diggle wanted to pass on his thoughts on Brett: “Brett’s work has been with me almost as long as I’ve been reading comics. His Future Shock “The Man Who Was Too Clever” was in one of the first progs I ever read, and I followed him through Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, Anderson and of course the brilliant Bad Company. I enjoyed his non-2000AD work fondly, too – I remember making photocopied collages of his Games Workshop artwork when I was a teenager, and Strange Days and Johny Nemo are still among my all-time favourite comics. But if I had to narrow it down to one favourite piece of work, I’d have to say Judge Dredd: The Haunting of Sector House 9. It’s a wonderful mix of high-tech badassery and crypto-mysto weirdness. When the blood-splatters on the wall turned into shrieking human mouths… man, that really creeped me out!” (on a personal note huge thanks to Andy for being kind enough to pass round our request to many fellow creators)
Matt “D’Israeli” Brooker sends us his own tribute to Brett and Peter Milligan’s iconic Johnny Nemo: “Brett was, without doubt, the best editor I’ve ever worked for – each month I’d bring in my finished art to Deadline, plus roughs for the following month’s episode; Brett would go over the roughs with me and – not direct me, but just ask me what I was trying to achieve with particular things, and I’d start explaining and he’d guide me round to different approaches… By the time I’d finished there might be three or four big changes to make to a two-page piece but he’d have me fizzing with excitement at the thought of how much better the work would be! He was always such an enthusiast, and he had a way of infecting you with that same excitement.
Although he done some amazing stuff (Johnny Nemo, Skreemer and Bad Company to name but a few), I keep going back to the first thing I ever saw with Brett’s name on it, an early 2000AD “Supercover” (one of the ones which didn’t relate to 2000AD characters, but attached to a short text story on the inside cover.) I can’t remember the Prog number, unfortunately – must have been before Prog 50 if it was a Supercover – it featured two guys in a narrow canyon, turning in horror as a massive face with horns and huge teeth pushes into the gap behind them. It was signed Ewins/McCarthy so I’m guessing Brett pencilled and Brendan inked.”
Excellent scribe Paul Cornell wanted to pass on his regards to Brett: “Brett, I hope you know the whole of the UK comic community wishes you well. I hope you get well soon. We look forward to you joining us at a convention once more.”
Creator Edmund Bagwell sends us this fabulous piece celebrating a whole bunch of 2000 AD and Deadline characters from what was a seriously exciting time in Brit comics:
Artist Simon Gurr tells us “My favourite piece of Brett Ewins art has to be this intense spread from the Judge Dredd story The Haunting Of Sector House 9. Not only does it boast some classic Ewins warping faces and a fine, single-tier double page spread layout – it also has a couple of super-shiny Judge helmets! For my money, Brett is second only to Bolland for highly-polished headgear.”
“I included Brett’s version in this comic-strip essay which I made back in the ’90s:”
“Brett’s is one of my favourite interpretations of the uniform, ideally suited to his crisp, clean lines and blacks. It must have influenced the way I draw Dredd’s head:”
“I see Brett Ewins’ art as one of the unique visions which made 2000AD look so distinctive, and you can trace the development of his style from The Day The Law Died onwards. I’d love to see him do something new for 2000AD and hope he makes a fast and complete recovery from his injuries.”
Fab artist, one of the new generation artists who has made magic for 2000 AD, and no stranger to the blog Boo Cook gets in touch with this lovely Judge Cassandra Anderson (oh, Judge Anderson, sigh…) on a very particular medium for a very interesting reason: “this is my piece of ‘fan art’ for Brett – it might not look like much, but there’s a reason why I’ve done what I’ve done…
28 years ago, as a kid I met Brett at a comic convention in Exeter. I’m a massive fan of his art and back then I was particularly enjoying his work on Judge Anderson in ‘The Gargarax Gap’, so he drew me an amazing head shot of Anderson in blue biro on a brown paper comic bag… little did I know that this highly inspiring wee sketch would eventually lead to me drawing her for a living!
I was real sorry to hear of the sad events that recently took place in Brett’s life, so as a ‘get well soon’ card, I’ve returned the favour by drawing him a Judge Anderson head shot in blue biro, on a brown paper bag. Here’s to his speedy recovery!”
Nick Abadzis shares memories of his favourite Brett work and also that frantic Deadline office: “Brett’s work on Bad Company in 2000AD always intrigued me because it didn’t really look like anything else in the comic. It had an extraordinary designed aspect to it – you really felt it all locked together as a set of patterns on the page as well as being imagery that told the story. There were repeated motifs and mark-making that reminded me a bit of Kirby when he’d go cosmic but Brett’s stuff was always much more visceral and dirty, which of course was incredibly appealing to me.
Brett always had amazing skills of character design too – there was always some remarkable visual tic or prop that he’d give to a character, some weird hairstyle or fashion sensibility. He was one of the mainstays of 2000AD right when it was formative comics literature for the likes of me, so it was a real thrill eventually to work with him and Steve Dillon when they became my editors on Deadline magazine.
For me personally, Brett’s high point was Skreemer, a mini-series put out, I think, by Vertigo. It was written by Pete Milligan and had inks by Steve Dillon and it was dark stuff – really pulp, sort of future-gangster-noir. The art style was very stark and brutal, lots of sharp edges, as you’d expect, but beautifully honed – the balance of black and white on the page was really finely-tuned, a progression on the work he’d done for 2000AD and Johnny Nemo. It was way, way ahead of its time and for some reason, it’s never been collected – it’s long overdue for that.”
“I have an enduring image of Brett which is, for some reason, burned into the retina of my mind’s eye from the days of Deadline. Deadline had several offices before parking itself above Orinoco Studios which were owned by the mag’s funder. I think this was at the building before that, somewhere over in Hoxton if I recall correctly. It had a strange old lift with one of those squeezebox doors and you’d ascend to this huge old warehouse room at the top of the building, where the light always seemed to be a deep yellow. I used to deliver my artwork there and stop and have a cup of tea or even a pint if they weren’t too busy. (I had learned at that point that if you turned up at a certain time of day, a pub visit might well be suggested.) Brett was standing at a desk in a white t-shirt and jeans and massive DMs pasting up an article about some bloke who wore a pyramid on his head (this was in the days before everything was done on computers). He turned to me, and smiled, “Look at this.”
The article was impressive, sure, but what was mind-blowing were the doodles in the margins of discarded layouts all over the desk, stuff that had just been coming out of Brett’s head as he worked. It was mind-blowing, loads of little characters. Inspired stuff. Brett was a lovely bloke to work for, very cheery and encouraging, a cheerleader for British comics and offbeat, inventive British creativity. He should be applauded for his services to his country – as far as the UK comics world is concerned, he should be recognised as a national institution. ”
And David Hine says quite simply: “It had to be Dredd. This covers distills elements of all the classic depictions of the character into a single iconic image of the omnipotent lawman. Also featured are Brett’s trademark cyberpunk perps.”
Simon Coleby sends us his tribute to one of Brett’s most iconic characters, Bad Company’s Kano:
And one more update – after seeing this post go up Steve Cook was kind enough to send us in this great pic of better days, a smiling Brett with Jamie Hewlett in the Deadline offices back in the day: