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Game of Thrones artist heads to Malta | Will Simpson

Ahead of his visit to our shore for the upcoming Malta Comic Con, veteran British comic book and storyboard artist Will Simpson speaks to us about his wide-ranging career, during which time he’s drawn iconic characters like Batman and Judge Dredd as well as, most recently, served as a storyboard artist for the hugely popular HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
30 October 2013, 12:00am
Apart from being the current storyboard artist for Game of Thrones, British comic book illustrator Will Simpson drew iconic characters like Judge Dredd (above) and Batman throughout his career.
Apart from being the current storyboard artist for Game of Thrones, British comic book illustrator Will Simpson drew iconic characters like Judge Dredd (above) and Batman throughout his career.


You've drawn a large number of characters, some of them quite iconic - like Judge Dredd and Batman. How much creative freedom do you have when you're working on such projects, and do you feel any excessive pressure owing to the fact that they're so legendary and have such a dedicated fan base?

When I started my career, it was a massive step to go onto something like Judge Dredd, the character having been drawn by a series of incredible artists, but the greatest freedom, was the encouragement to be as independent in stylistic approach and develop the character in my own way. All the Dredd artists were given that kind of freedom. I think it's one of the reasons the character keeps going. Really, the same thing happened on Batman, as I got to work with the great editor, Archie Goodwin, who only hired artists on the trust of what they'd bring to the character. As to pressure, I felt my own imposed pressure, based on the fact that I was such a fan of the characters myself. But, from the first lines put down on paper, I totally relaxed into the stories, and trying to do my best.

How did you find your transition into the US scene to be like? What were some of the main stepping stones for you when it came to working for Marvel and DC, and was the experience anything like you expected?

I have a series of great fated moments in my life, and transitioning into the US Comic scene, was one of those. I'd finished on Rogue Trooper for 2000AD, with Dave Gibbons as writer, but the feeling was to move on, having drained myself on Rogue, and I was lucky to get interest from the States. I can't remember now, whether I got Aliens for Dark Horse first, or Hellblazer for DC Comics, but whichever came first, one would help the other. I'd been asked to ink Brett Ewins on a tryout Hellblazer page, but DC didn't go with Brett's approach, so only after that, I asked, could I have a shot, so I drew up a sample page. I got the job with Garth Ennis and life moved on from there. It wasn't the best experience as I hated being inked. I was used to doing all my own work and I had a rough time with inkers, some good, some awful. Now I'm not saying I'm best inking my own work but I'm certainly better than some of the messes that were inflicted on my stuff, so I guess it wasn't totally the best experience. But later, I got to ink my own work, Aliens, Batman, Punisher 2099, Vamps, and one of the two issues of Animal Man. I never minded the pressure or the deadlines, even when pushed, but I loved the work. I'm working on new stuff from Renegade in Canada, so it's back to doing everything again, which I much prefer.

Will Simpson

Will Simpson

Perhaps it's something of a given that comics and storyboards share a genetic link as art forms - given how they're both explicit examples of sequential storytelling. But what would you say are some of the subtle differences between them, both as an art form in particular, and as industries in general?

Storyboarding, for me, is like doing the roughs that I do for comics, so it's always unfinished work for me. I enjoy the storytelling aspect, and the fact that it's for camera, so when one sees it on screen, that becomes the sense of completion. But doing comic strips counts as finished art for me. And also, the angles we can use in comics are totally conceived by where our minds want to go. The storyboards are for camera, which is different, because there are very definite decisions why a particular shot is used, but overall, the difference for me is negligible: it's all storytelling for a finished product. It's the same art skill applied. The industries are similar, though with comics, the art has to please the artist first before the editor sees... in film, the art has to please the director first, so that he or she's vision, is clear.

Will Simpson storyboards for Game of Thrones

Look familiar? Wil Simpson's concept art for Game of Thrones.

What was working on a hugely popular property like Game of Thrones like? Is a TV series schedule more of a grueling grind than feature films? Did the fact that you had George RR Martin's original novels to draw from help you to illustrate the scenes?

Game of Thrones is a tremendous job. What can I say? I love it. I don't find any difference in the TV schedule and a film one. I'm given a certain amount of work, and I get on with it. Everything is always needed pretty much as fast as you can do it. George's novels certainly fill out some of the information that can help, but the scripts I work from for the series are pretty clear and have to be my basis for description on the job. Everything is about the best way to deliver the episodes, and what is practical to film. Also, one has to work from the concepts of scenes as developed by the art department, or the locations that have been chosen. A lot of extra information comes to me to try and get my storytelling right. It's the director's choice.

What kind of attributes do you think an artist - and, indeed, a person in general - should have to embark on a career like yours (namely, one that straddles both comic books and TV/cinema)? 

A love of art and a diversity of ability, is the simple answer. This is not a career for the weak at heart. It takes a certain type of madness to devote your life to drawing stories, in whatever media. But the big thing is: can you love what you do? Can you get up in the morning and find you have an overriding desire to draw, whether for cash or not?

Malta Comic Con will be taking place at St James Cavalier, Valletta on November 30 and December 1. More information: www.maltacomic-con.com.
teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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