Saturday, September 03, 2011

Lowlife: The Deal Part One - So What’s The Deal with Dirty Frank?

Dirty Frank in Uniform in part one of Lowlife: The Deal
Dirty Frank/Judge uniforms © 2011 Rebellion/2000AD
Judge uniforms created by Carlos Sanchez Ezquerra
Dirty Frank Created by Rob Williams and Henry Flint 
I’ll never be rich and here’s why; the big money in comics lies in drawing handsome muscular guys and cute muscular girls in Lycra, and that just nain’t my strong point, not nohow. Sure, I’ve drawn characters like Judge Dredd and Batman, but with questionable success; where I’m really at home is at the less glamorous and more outlandish end of the character spectrum. Think Lazarus Churchyard (depressed stinking plastic junkie), think Lament from Leviathan (sagging middle-aged bloke with drink problem), think Stickleback (venomous 70-year-old with atypical spine placement choices).

Think Dirty Frank.

Dirty Frank looking
surprisingly restrained
(From Lowlife: Hostile Takeover)
I was lucky to be offered the chance to draw Frank at a pivotal point in his career. In his previous solo appearances (drawn by the estimable Simon Coleby) he’d mostly been a bit of comic relief, a way of doing Lowlife as a palate-cleanser from the seediness and corruption of the Aimee Nixon stories. But my first series, Lowlife: Creation, delved into Frank’s back story, turning him from a lovable but rather stinky cartoon character into a more rounded personality, a man whose flights of madness sprang from a deep past trauma. As the tone darkened further in Lowlife: Hostile Takeover, I found myself working harder and harder to capture the different sides of a character who was a babbling street-bum one minute and a steely-hearted Mega-City Judge the next.

One effect of drawing this back story was that it subtly changed the way I drew the present-day Dirty Frank. My concept sketches for Frank were based very closely on Simon Coleby’s version, and my first episode reflects this; but as I thought more about the young, handsome Judge Frank we see in the flashbacks, the more I toned down the caricature elements; my Frank ends up quite good-looking under all that hair and grot.

Dirty Frank looking
unsurprisingly unrestrained
Lowlife: Hostile Takeover)
With each new series I undertake, I try to find some area of my work to change, improve, or approach differently. This is partly for my own sanity (I’ve been drawing comics more-or-less six days a week for the past ten years, so I need some way of ringing the changes every now and again) but also as a bulwark against staleness, which creeps in unnoticed if you sink too deeply into comfortable habits. In the case of Lowlife: Creation, I made some radical changes to the way I constructed my figures at the preliminary drawing stage. This was part of a process that had started with me bringing the characters more to the fore in the first series of Stickleback.

By happy coincidence, this change to my basic drawing made it much easier for me to give the characters’ body language a greater range and subtlety. Put simply: their “acting” improved. When Rob Williams came back to me to do Lowlife: Hostile Takeover, I assumed it was for my big-scale portrayals of the city; I was happily shocked when he said what he most valued was the degree of expression I could get into the characters. From then on, I really started concentrating on character “performance” (years ago, when I was a tiny wannabee artist-thing, Gary Leach once told me that a comic artist is the director, cameraman and entire cast of a movie all rolled into one; I’ve thought of drawing character expression as “acting” ever since). I think Hostile Takeover contains some of my best “acting” to date.

This new series provides new challenges. We start with Frank back in uniform - cleaned up, hair trimmed, stooped straightened to the best of his ability; wild behaviour reined in, so no extreme expressions. Finding a way to hold on to the essential “Frank-ness” with most of his props gone made this one a fascinating episode to draw. I don’t suppose it’s too much of a spoiler to say we’ll soon be dirtying Frank up again - though the new Frank won’t quite look the same as the old one…

Frank's Long Walk parade is supervised by Judge Lola, from the
 Judge Dredd time traveller stories I did with Ian Edginton.

Lowlife/Judge uniforms/Judge Lola © 2011 Rebellion/2000AD
Judge uniforms created by Carlos Sanchez Ezquerra
Lowlife created by Rob Williams and Henry Flint
Judge Lola created by Ian Edginton & Me 


ManEatingFish said...

Glad to see both you and Dirty Frank back in the hallowed pages of 2000AD. I have followed your work since your deadline days when you kindly answered a questionnaire for my Thesis on British Adult Comics and I still remember fondly your one panel "little biting satyr" which I included in my thesis

Emperor said...

I'm always impressed by Tharg's "casting" of artist's for a series - I didn't think anyone could match Henry Flint's time on Low Life and then Tharg brought in Simon Coleby for the new, more Dirty Frank-centric stories and I didn't know how anyone could compete with that definitive representation of him. Then Tharg brought you in for the next phase in his story and it all clicked into place again. Dirty Frank is possibly the best modern character in 2000AD and even though the ball has been passed between a range of talents no one has even fumbled the ball, let alone get close to dropping it, which often seems to happen at other, lesser comics publishers when the artist's change.

It is also interesting to hear how you change your style for each project - most artist's seem to prefer a more gradual evolution of their style because it does increase the chance of something going wrong, but it hasn't yet for you so perhaps more folks should try it. However, I suspect it might require an editor confident in his artists to let them do that, often they would be hiring someone because they liked their style on X and think it'd fit Y.

Pete Wells said...

More brilliance from Mr Brooker!

You've done a beautiful job on the first episode of Low Life Matt. Frank looked so sad and pitiful throughout. That final page had my heart thumping so hard in my chest I could feel it! I had quite the lump in my throat too.

It's wonderful to have you back in the prog sir!

shane oakley said...

matt! MATT!! MATT!!!!

very nice to see you dusting off the thick cobwebs of ye blog.

though you haven't done a 'where the fuck have i bin?' post, just seeing what you've bin doing is slap-up eye-feed indeed.

2000AD needs you! WE need you!
welcome back!

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you back to posting. Great stuff as always.

Mikal said...

Good to see you posting again!

Proudhuff said...

Wot No Fishpaste?! loving the development of Frank, looking forward to the TPB.

Matt said...

Low Life being back in the Prog makes my heart sing with joy.

Top notch stuff from you and Mr. Williams.

Matt Badham