INTERVIEW: Brendan McCarthy
I was recently granted an interview with the British legendary artist Brendan McCarty. Though British born he is from Irish stock and lives the majority of the time in west Clare. In the interview I did a broad retrospective on Brendan’s career in comics and also TV and film covering his works at DC, Vertigo, Marvel and more. He is a two time Eisner nominated artist and is involved with the Mad Max film reboot on a scripting level due out with The Dark Knight Rises star Tom Hardy reprising the role made famous by Mel Gibson. He has a storied career and we cover a small bit of it here so read on…
David O’Leary: Hi Brendan, many thanks for taking the time to speak with us.
Brendan McCarthy: You’re welcome.
DO’L: You grew up in an era of massive change in the world in the sixties. How aware were you of what was going on in the world and how did it shape you in the years after?
BMCC: When I was a boy, The Beatles and David Hockney, British 60’s working class heroes, were a big influence on me… Marvel and DC Comics were also a very strong influence… My sensibility is essentially a fusion of those three tangents.
DO’L: I understand you worked on an unmade Dan Dare live action TV show in the late seventies. Did you read Garth’s Virgin Comics mini series recently and do you think the TV show would have worked if made either then or now?
BMCC: Anything that’s well made stands a chance of being successful. I liked Warren Ellis’ ‘Ministry of Space’ too. I’ve spent most of my career in TV and film, rather than in comics, but that’s where I’m best known in the UK. I was involved in the earliest days of cgi animation, well before Pixar and Dreamworks, with the TV series Reboot. That was a very exciting time for me. That led on to working with great movie creators, like Jim Henson, Anthony Minghella, Steve Barron… and Ridley Scott, Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch.
Sitting in a room in Sydney some years ago, discussing Mad Max 4 with George Miller and Mel Gibson was a very wonderful experience, given that the Mad Max trilogy was to me what Star Wars was to most other people of my era.
DO’L: Your work at Eclipse Comics in the early 80’s was at a time where creator rights were being granted back to creators. Eclipse were something of a trend setter in this regard. Was this in any way an enticement to create work for them?
BMCC: Of course. The deals available these days are shocking compared to what was on offer back then. Now, any company paying a page rate wants at least 50% of the rights and editorial control.
DO’L: You were a frequent collaborator of Peter Milligan. I understand that you knew Peter and many rising creators when you were all starting out. What kind of time was that to be trying to break into comics in the late seventies?
BMCC: Probably no easier or harder than it is today… You just have to have talent. persistence and luck! I knew all the future superstars like Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland etc when I was hanging around at the pubs frequented by comic book people in those days… They weren’t seen as anything special by me then, or now. Just talented guys. I’ve never been comfortable with fan worship and that distancing‘cultivated mystique’ that many creators succumb to… Fans give away their power to some very dodgy people that they like to put up on pedestals… Remember, all these comics and all these people will be totally forgotten in about 100 years from now! No trace of you or I will remain. Best to keep that in mind next time you’re worshipping some comic book writer!
DO’L: It is rare for Vertigo to print a book that has seen print elsewhere. How did Rogan Gosh get packaged into one volume at Vertigo after being published through Revolver previously?
BMCC: Well, in those early days of Vertigo, they were looking for hip British comic creators, and none were hipper than me and Peter Milligan back then! So Rogan Gosh was an easy sell. I eventually got the rights back from them too, as they never reprinted it.
DO’L: You devoted a lot of time several years ago to work on cult movie series Mad Max in a potential fourth film. Now that a cast looks like it is in place and production seems likely in the next year or so, do you know how much of your co-written script or production designs remain in the mind of director George Miller?
BMCC: From what I hear, it’s pretty much what we cooked up. It’s been quite a while since I was involved in the movie. It was a great gig, and I hope the film does indeed get made. I, for one, would certainly love to see it! I’m hoping it will be a credible addition to the Mad Max canon.
DO’L: When you were offered to do the last issue of Solo for DC, the book had already gotten the chop. With no reigns to speak off, how much fun was it tear loose on the book?
BMCC: It was one of my most enjoyable comics experiences. A few pages got censored, but othewise, it was a really fun job. I think it’s got to be one of the most unusual comics that DC have ever put out. Thinking back, I’m very pleased with it. It reminds me of a Syd Barratt solo record, kind of fragmentary, with a few polished pieces, and a peculiar atmosphere pervading it all. It dealt with a spiritual ‘dark night of the soul’ I had while living in Hollywood, and then the ‘spiritual awakening’ that came afterwards. Hollywoodis a brutal place, and it stripped me of any delusions I had about who I was, and what I hoped to achieve, and why… Everything was laid bare, all the stupid egoic grasping… And then a kind of clarity happened, a waking up from a dream I had been wrapped up in for the last forty five years. Me and my ‘story’ were redundant. And then there was a new kind of freedom to live from. The Solo comic captures that time really well.
DO’L: You have had a Marvel mini series released last year in Spider-Man: Fever. Firstly, the story is Doctor Strange centric. Strange is a character that a lot of creators seem to want a crack at. What was the attraction for you in doing a story with him?
BMCC: I like that he’s not a standard superhero. I’m intrigued by the occult themes in the book. Ditko’s visual style and the surreal, psychedelic worlds he creates are some of the most compelling in comics. I thought I was a natural fit for that character…
DO’L: The art is a homage to Steve Ditko, of whose art you are a big fan of. I understand that you have had contact with Steve about the book. Can you tell us about his thoughts on the project and what your thoughts were in trying to contact him?
BMCC: Although he has a reputation of being a recluse and a bit barmy, I found him open and charming. I just think he dislikes all that sweaty fanboy adulation. He finds it a bit silly – which it is, in a way.
DO’L: The story is a departure from Marvel’s norm and some might say tamer to what you would normally do yourself. How did the project come to fruition at all?
BMCC: I wanted to do a Marvel comic, in a typical 1960’s style of art and writing, so that meant that I should keep the artsitic leash on for a bit. But there are sequences that are pretty ‘far out’, particularly in the second episode… but Marvel still found it a bit bizarre for their tastes I think.
DO’L: Just recently you made a return to Judge Dredd for only the second time in twenty years with a story you conceptualised, written by Rob Williams. You went in a direction with the story that you don’t see in Dredd in doing a zombie story, what was the thinking for this?
BMCC: There is so much zombie stuff about, it just seemed glaringly obvious that Dredd should go’zombie’ for a story… It was fun, and it allowed me to experiment with some digital techniques, and try and hone a new style. Digital fauvism!
DO’L: How do you see the state of British comics and British creators at the moment?
BMCC: They seem all a bit ‘safe’ to me, just wanting to get into the big two US corporate comics companies… recycling Hollywoodmovie cliches… Where is all the radical creator-owned material? I don’t think this new crowd are a patch on our previous generation of artists and writers… There’s undoubtedly some good new stuff out there, but I haven’t been knocked sideways by any of them…not really. They’re mainly ‘company men’… No great new characters there either.
Also, there’s no real outlets for comics any more. 2000AD and CliNT are pretty much all there is.
DO’L: Your visual autobiography Swimini Purpose had a low print run and has become something of a collector’s item. Have you any plans to do another printing of it?
BMCC: Yes, very much so. I will probably wait another five years or so and then produce another volume. I will certainly republish a revised first edition, and then all-new material in a second book. I’ve looked at what I’ve got available and it seems I’ve already got lots more unseen material. So there’ll be two books overall and I’ll produce a nice slipcase to put them in as well. And that’ll be that. That’ll be my testimony.
I’ll most likely do it all myself again, as dealing with publishers can be an almighty pain in the arse. You have no idea of how greedy and slippery these people can be.
DO’L: Have you any creator owned material in the works at the moment or what have you keeping yourself busy with?
BMCC: Yes, I have about four great new projects in search of publishers. I’m just starting a new series for 2000AD called The Zaucer of Zilk, concocted by me and written by Al Ewing. I think he’s shaping up to be one of the better talents around. The strip is in the 2000AD tradition of Sooner or Later and Hewligan’s Haircut. It’s a bit of British surrealism… ‘The Wizard of Oz’ meets ‘The Mighty Boosh’.