Jack Lawrence: Lions, Tigers and Bears… and something called Darkham Vale!

A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Egg Embry

Jack Lawrence is the former writer/artist of Darkham Vale as well as the upcoming Image comic, Lions, Tigers and Bears (written by www.BrokenFrontier.com’s Mike Bullock). I’ve been following his work since Darkham #3… despite the terribly un-kosher sounding name! (Wink, wink) His adventure serial is truly an epic vision, and I was glad to discover it!

However, after finding out that he had quit off Darkham Vale over a major copyright dispute, I was a bit down… until the recent announcement that he had a new project, Lions, Tigers and Bears! With that news it seemed like a wonderful time to contact Jack to see what is going on in his corner of the world.

Egg: Before we get too far into this, give us an idea of what you do for a living.

Jack: I’m a freelance artist working out of the UK. Meaning I take on pretty much anything right now!

Egg: You started in animation, correct? What kind of animated projects?

Jack: I was a character animator for one of the UK’s top New Media companies, Lightmaker.com. I created about 1000 characters in my three and a bit years there, from quick gag animations to fully developed interactive avatars and a few 3-minute shorts. I also got involved with a few TV projects while I was there.

Egg: How did you transition into comic books? And how do comics stack up against animation from your point of view?

Jack: Comics is where I was always headed. It’s been my dream since forever. I’ve been drawing strips since I was about 4 or so. (In fact, my first recognizable drawing was a Batmobile at 18 months.) Comics and animation are miles apart. Animation is something that I will always love, but I’ve learned that I get on best with it when I’m not actually animating myself. I guess it’s not immediate enough for me. I want to tell stories, and I want to tell them dynamically. Comics are, for me, the ideal medium for that.

Egg: You live in England, which raises a couple of related questions about the state of comics in Great Britain. Are comics principally sold in specialty comic book stores, or bookstores, or on the newsstand there? And what’s attendance and fan reaction like at English comic book conventions?

Jack: The US stuff is sold in comic shops, with US reprints and kids comics sold on the newsstand. Conventions here are way smaller than their American counterparts, but you can’t fault the enthusiasm and friendliness of the fans. I absolutely love conventions. You meet so many lovely, lovely people, see a lot of young talent and get to just chat about this wonderful medium we all love. I’ve actually made some really nice friends just from the conventions I’ve attended as a pro.

Egg: What comics are big across the pond? Do ya’ll get a lot of translated continental European comic albums or are you mainly fed a steady diet of domestic as well as American books?

Jack: Man, I wish we did get a lot of translated European stuff, but it’s just as hard to get here as it is in America. It’s actually not that great over here. We get a lot of reprint US stuff, on inferior paper invariably, and a whole slew of comics that are aimed at really young kids. The quality of art and story in those is generally execrable. 2000 AD, of course, is a respectable mainstay, and you can see it on the newsstand and in the comic shops.

Egg: How was Darkham Vale received in your native land? Did it do better there or in America?

Jack: The reception here was terrible! America really got behind the book once it popped its head above the radar, but aside from a relative handful of die-hard fans and loyal retailers, England just didn’t want to know.

Egg: Now, you did the first Darkham Vale maxi-series (10 issues plus a 0 issue), writing, penciling, inking, coloring, and lettering all on a monthly basis. During those months of knocking out pages and covers, was there any time to sleep? (wink, wink)

Jack: Very little. I put my heart and soul into Darkham Vale. It’s no exaggeration when I say I made myself ill, stressed myself out completely and nearly ruined my long term relationship. In a way, it was worth it, although if I had to do it over, there are a few things I’d definitely do differently.

Egg: What’s a day of working on comics like for you? When do you get started? When do you get finished? Do you have a definitive routine? And how much do you try to accomplish in a single day?

Jack: I try to get the equivalent of at least a page done in a day. I usually start an issue by drawing about 6 pages, then I scan those, so I can colour during the day, draw in the evening. That way I’m maximizing my time. I start when I get up, which is usually between 6am – 7am. Break for lunch and a walk (don’t want to get fat!) which usually takes me away for a couple hours, then it’s back to work until about 6ish if I want to have a workout too, 7ish otherwise. Then it’s dinner and working in front of the TV until bed. It seems like a lot of working, but if I don’t do that, my hands just get bored!

Egg: With Darkham Vale you made all of your deadlines. To give us an idea of how tight those deadlines were, how much of the series did you have in the can before issue one was printed?

Jack: I had the series pretty much figured out in my head, and up to issue 5 written before issue 1 saw print, although there were running changes as I went, right up to issue 10. It was tough, but I was willing to put in the time as I was working on what I thought was a creator-owned title.

Egg: You obviously put a lot of hard work into Darkham Vale; this was your baby, but you’re no longer having anything to do with it. What happened?

Jack: As I say, I was under the impression that it was creator-owned. Unfortunately, I was naïve. Let’s just say I’ve discovered how clever lawyers can be, and I signed away a lot more than I thought. After the first series, events led me to discover exactly what I’d done, and I faced the prospect of continuing to work 24/7 on a project that turned out wasn’t strictly creator-owned, that I wouldn’t get paid much for, for a publisher I could no longer trust. I couldn’t even think about continuing to work under those conditions, so after a couple of agonizing months, I had to make the decision to break away and leave my baby behind. It was an extremely hard thing to do. Extremely hard.

Egg: I’m sorry. That doesn’t sound none too pleasant. But, moving on, what’s your favorite art tool?

Jack: That’d be my lovely Wacom Graphics tablet. Thanks go to my Mum for that one!

Egg: Who are your biggest influences in writing? In art?

Jack: For art, I’d have to say Mike Wieringo, Humberto Ramos and Ed McGuiness mainly, as well as taking influences from Manga, Anime and western animation. Writing-wise, I have a love of mysteries and cliffhangers. I’m a major soap opera addict, and as weird as it sounds, I think they’re what influences the way I work my way around writing a story. If there’s one complaint I think all of us have about comics, it’s that the medium can very easily revert to formula. I really want to try to bring something different to comics, not necessarily in terms of characters or situations, I’m a big fan of archetypes, but in the way the story is presented and manipulated. People really responded well to the way Darkham Vale opened up gradually, with a new piece of the puzzle turning up in each issue. Darkham Vale was a serial, without a doubt. If you missed an issue, you missed something important. That has its downside of course. After issue 1, it’s not as easy to jump on and know everything that’s going on, but if you get the whole thing, I hope that it’s very rewarding. People tell me it is!

Egg: Ok, what else are you working on at the moment? And how far into the future do you have work lined up?

Jack: Aside from a couple of bread and butter illustration jobs I’m doing over here, my time is pretty much monopolized by Lions, Tigers and Bears, which is being written by Mike Bullock, while I supply the art. It’s being published by Image, which of course is the most exciting thing that’s happened to me in years! LTB is a 4 issue series, and as yet I have nothing in the pipeline to follow it, although I’m starting to get some interest since the announcement of LTB, so who knows? I’ve got a couple of new projects of my own that are starting to come together too, and I definitely want to get back to writing a book at some point.

Egg: How did Lions, Tigers and Bears come about?

Jack: It was one of those wonderful instances where everything comes together at once. My part in it really started in March of this year. I was in my former publisher’s offices, sketching on some promo comics, and I got distracted by a wonderful book that happened to be lying around. It was a collection of drawings and paintings by a European artist called Wendling. I’d never seen her stuff before, and I was blown away by her animal studies. In particular, there were several Big Cats in there, and I started thinking about a comic book with Big Cats as the main characters. It never got any further than a thought, and although I immediately got a hold of the book for myself, the comic idea was shelved. Fast forward to May 4th, the day I discovered I no longer owned any rights to Darkham Vale, and I contacted a friend of mine, Mike Bullock. Mike’s a writer who had expressed an interest in collaborating on a project. He went on to tell me about this fantastic story that had Big Cats as the central characters! I couldn’t believe my luck, really. Of course, I jumped on it and started work on character designs immediately, juggling LTB and Darkham Vale. We showed Image a five-page preview at San Diego, and the rest as they say…

Egg: What’s your dream project in comics?

Jack: Long term, my dream project would be something I’ve created myself. I really want to create a huge epic that runs to, oh, I dunno, 60 trade paperbacks or something stupid! I’d love to have that to show for my time on Earth. It was what I’d planned for Darkham Vale. Next time, I’ll do it right! I’d also love to work on some of the established Super Heroes. I’m a Batman fan (who isn’t?) so I’d love to work with the Bat family, that’d be awesome! Particularly Robin. I just love the character.

Egg: Any final thoughts?

Jack: I’d like to say thanks to everyone who picked up Darkham Vale, all the hundreds of people who’ve shown me such huge support since I left the book, and everyone who’s getting hyped about LTB. Thanks everyone! In case anyone isn’t aware, I have a website at www.Jackademus.com.

Egg: Jack Lawrence, I’d like to thank you for your time! I really appreciate it, and I can’t tell you how I’m looking forward to your work for a long time to come!

Jack: No problem, Egg! And thanks right back at'cha; it’s been a blast!

For more on Jack Lawrence try www.Jackademus.com. For more on Lions, Tigers and Bears try www.RuneMasterStudios.com.

For more on Egg Embry, try www.KamenComic.com, DEAD@17: Rough Cut #1, or MORE FUND COMICS #1 or his new home at www.ArcanaStudio.com.

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