Tripping into the Studio – a chat with Joel Meadows

Published On May 28, 2008 | By Joe Gordon | Comics, Interviews

Joel Meadows is a name well-known to many in the UK comics scene (and much, much further afield too). With a new volume of the now-annual Tripwire due later this summer, the new Studio Space comic art book coming from Image and a bunch of appearances in stores and at comics conventions it seemed like an appropriate time do ask him a few questions:

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FPI: Hi, Joel and thanks for taking some time to have a quick chat with us. I can see from your blog that you were recently over at the New York comic show with Studio Space and even more recently it was time to visit the Bristol comics expo, so it’s been busy, busy, busy, leading the glamorous life of an international comics guy! How did the New York show go?

JM: New York was a fantastic show but we weren’t set up there. We got to show off the galley from Studio Space and I got to see people like Bill Baker and Walter Simonson who I don’t see that often.

FPI: Talking of your blog reminds me of a very important question; will we be seeing more picture of Molly Crabapple on your blog? Because I think the world needs many more!

JM: It was great to meet Molly at New York because she is a talented artist and very nice to boot. Her boyfriend Fred Harper is also a fantastic illustrator. If I meet her again at another show, then perhaps there’ll be another photo of her. A friend of mine who is a huge fan of hers was very jealous when he found out I’d met her.

FPI: Okay, we better turn to the books before I dig myself into a potential hole there… You and Gary Marshall have Studio Space just being released this month from Image – I know it showcases how a lot of artists work, but could you expand on that a bit for our readers and tell us about what they can expect in the book and what your aim was with it? It wasn’t just to make an art book saying look at the pretty pictures, was it? Its more of a look at what they do and how they do it?

JM: Studio Space is a book that tries to look at the mindset of the twenty artists in the book and discusses their formal training (or lack of, in some cases), their first professional work and how their work day runs. We wanted, from the start, to showcase artists whose careers and work we have admired for years and offer an accessible intro to that work for people unfamiliar with it, so it was important that it wasn’t just a book with pretty pictures in it. Although there are over 300 images in Studio Space, so the visual element is important.

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(one of the pages on Mike Mignola from Studio Space, published by Image)

FPI: Well of course you can’t ignore the ‘pretty pictures’ aspect of it since, let’s be honest, we all want to see that! Still, some comics art books are just simply pages of art, which however lovely they are, I find a bit annoying after a few pages because I really want to know a bit about how that particular image came into being – some recent works like the Art of Brian Bolland and the Art of P Craig Russell have added this to the visual work to great effect, I thought. How important was it for you to get some decent context in there with the art?

JM: Context was essential because, while some art can stand on its own, part of the appeal of art is placing it in historical or cultural context, so we always wanted to have the artists discuss the art within the pages of Studio Space. It doesn’t serve the purpose we wanted to achieve with it otherwise.

FPI: That’s good to know, as I said personally I think it is better to have some more context to a work, I think it adds to the viewing experience and I imagine a lot of other readers would think the same.

Now I know that you have quite a range of top creators in there, including some of my own personal favourites like Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons, Mike Mignola and Bryan Talbot to name but a handful. How hard was it to approach so many high-profile artists to get them into one book?

JM: To be honest, years of working on Tripwire helped us to line up such an amazing group of artists, many of whom we had interviewed over the years and we had an existing relationship with prior to the book. We are very proud of the list of artists here, we managed to work with Brian Bolland (Judge Dredd, Invisibles), Dave Gibbons (Watchmen, The Originals, Green Lantern), Tim Bradstreet (Punisher, Hellblazer), Howard Chaykin (American Flagg, Mighty Love), Sean Phillips (Hellblazer, Criminal), Duncan Fegredo (Hellboy, Enigma), Joe Kubert (Sgt Rock, Enemy Ace, Kubert School), Mike Mignola (Hellboy), Tim Sale (Heroes, Batman Long Halloween), George Pratt (Batman, Enemy Ace), Tommy Lee Edwards (Matrix, Batman Begins, Star Wars), Adam Hughes (Star Wars, Ghost, Wonder Woman), Sergio Toppi, Walter Simonson (Elric, Thor, Manhunter), Jim Lee (Batman, X-Men, Superman), Frank Miller (Sin City, 300, Dark Knight Returns), Bryan Talbot (Luther Arkwright, Alice in Sunderland), Alex Ross (Superman, Batman, Marvels), Steve Dillon (Preacher, Wolverine) and Dave Taylor (Tongue Lash, Batman).

We are also very chuffed that we got an introduction by Guillermo Del Toro and foreword by Michael Moorcock.

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(a spread from Frank Miller’s section in Studio Space, published by Image)

FPI: As well you should be, two very fine creators in their own right and that is a pretty impressive roster of the Great and the Good. However it was a far from straightforward road to creating Studio Space, I believe? Despite being well known in the comics community I understand it took years to actually get to where you are now with a finished book about to appear in front of readers – can you tell us a bit about how the idea for it first came about and the long slog to actually turning that idea into a reality?

JM: The idea for Studio Space came out of Tripwire. We ran three Studio Space features in Tripwire, on John Bolton, Phil Hale and Tim Bradstreet and they were well-received so when we had to mothball the magazine, we thought it was too good an idea to leave on the shelf, so we worked up a proposal for a book. The book changed shape several times with the original line-up including Matt Groening and Gerald Scarfe and we had a publisher on board in 2005 but our editor left and they cancelled the book. It was Richard Starkings at Active Images who recommended Image to us and we signed with them last summer. It has taken four years of blood, sweat and tears to get this book out…

FPI: That’s a side of publishing the reader isn’t always aware of, I suppose – we see the finished article but we don’t always know about just how much effort went into creating it.

Of course you’re also well known for Tripwire, which from the early 90s to early 2000s delivered articles and commentary on all things related to the wonderful world of comics, with some terrific interviews with major names and even columns by now ultra-famous names like Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis. The magazine may be gone but now we have the Tripwire Annual keeping the flame alive. There are obviously some successful precedents for going annual – look at the extremely high quality Comic Art by Todd Hignite which we’re big fans of here – but what prompted your decision to go down that route?

JM: The Annual came out of frustration with Studio Space, which had just been cancelled and I was fed up with other people making decisions for me, so I looked at the market and thought that a once-a-year title would be less of a risk than jumping back and doing a periodical again. So I started to sit down and think about what we could fill it with. It has the same crossover themes that the last incarnation of Tripwire had but I’d like to think we do it a little more cohesively than we did back in 2003.

FPI: You featured a lot of different writers, artists and series during Tripwire’s original run – do you have any particular favourites from those days? Were there some folks you worked with who you suspected were going to go on to be huge?

JM: We did publish a lot of features and columns with writers and creators who went on to be big names, like Warren Ellis and Mark Millar, and interviewed Paul Grist and Peter Milligan, but some of our subjects had already become fairly well-known by the time we got to them.

We did chat to Mike Mignola back in 1997 when Hellboy had started but only just and I had a feeling that he was going to do well. I enjoyed our columnists’ work; writers like Simon Jowett, who now has a successful career in animation and Gary Ushaw, who I think works in the games industry now. So I’d like to think that we did our part in making people aware of work they might not have done otherwise. We certainly promoted Vertigo material long before it was fashionable elsewhere with people like Duncan Fegredo, who we cover-featured when Face came out back in 1995, Jamie Delano and Peter Milligan.

FPI: Turning to the new Tripwire 2008 annual due this summer I see you have a cover by Tommy Lee Edwards (see below) which warms both of my geekboy Time Lord hearts: a terrific montage of new Doctor Who and classic 70s Who, with David Tennant plus Tom Baker and the late Jon Pertwee. From that cover is it fair to infer we’re going to be reading not just about the current Who but also the classic Who many of us grew up with?

JM: The Doctor Who piece in this year’s Tripwire Annual will act as a guide to the history of the series, talking about its key turning points in the show but also the history of Doctor Who on the comic page. Matthew Badham is writing the TV side while Robert Cave takes the comic side of things.

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FPI: That man Badham gets about! So are you a big fan of the new version of the show yourself?

JM: I think the new Doctor Who is a great British cultural high watermark and I am very pleased that its comeback has been met with such enthusiasm.

FPI: Do you have a particular favourite Doc? And a favourite companion?

JM: I used to really like Tom Baker as a kid and Leela always used to press my buttons. Must have been the loincloth ;)

FPI: I suppose so many of us old Who hands grew up with Tom’s incarnation that liking it is almost hardwired into our geek brains. I still find it funny to see Louise Jameson in soap operas like Eastenders and think back to her in the 70s in her barbarian’s sexy leather loincloth! Can I ask what else is going to be enticing readers to part with a tenner for this year’s Tripwire?

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(Matt Groening, David X. Cohen and Bill Morrison talk about the return of Futurama with Pat McGreal for the 2008 Tripwire Annual, images (c) Fox)

JM: This year’s Annual is more packed with diverse goodies than last year’s edition: the Doctor Who feature includes a fantastic image especially commissioned for the magazine by Jeff Carlisle, we have a look at ITV’s Primeval, Ashes To Ashes and Life on Mars creator Matthew Graham talks about the renaissance in UK genre TV, Michael Moorcock talks about his career accompanied by Walt Simonson, P Craig Russell and Michael Whelan’s interpretations of Elric on the page and the book cover, Matt Groening, David X Cohen and Bill Morrison talk exclusively about the return of Futurama, we talk about translating Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis from graphic novel to animated movie, graphic novel cartoonist Posy Simmonds reveals all about her career and we lift the lid on Tank Girl’s comeback.

We also celebrate Superman’s 70th anniversary, there’s three film-related features: one on Pinewood Studios’ expansion plans, one on ILM and one that interviews former Garth artist and current storyboard artist Martin Asbury on his 25-year movie career that includes James Bond, Alien3 and Wanted. Plus there’s strip content from Roger (Fred the Clown) Langridge, Eagle award winner Declan Shalvey and Jamie (Suburban Glamour, Phonogram) McKelvie and much more, as they say.

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(Andrew Colman’s Seven Decades of Steel feature celebrating Superman’s seventieth anniversary in the upcoming Tripwire annual, art (c) DC, words (c) Andrew Colman and Tripwire)

FPI: Holy Drokk, that’s a huge amount and all for under a tenner. Joel you and some of the artists featured in Studio Space – Dave Taylor and Steve Dillon – will be signing at our Manchester store on the 28th of June and I know you and more artists were set up at the recent Bristol International Comics Expo as well – how did that go for you?

JM: Bristol was a huge success for us as we launched the paperback of Studio Space with signings from Dave Gibbons, Walter Simonson and Dave Taylor on our table and a panel, which was well-received. So we are excited to see people at the Forbidden Planet Manchester signing and we’ll also be set up on Image’s booth at San Diego this July so if anyone wants to come and talk to us, we’d be happy to see them and chat.

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(Dave Gibbons and Walter Simonson at the Studio Space signing at the recent Bristol International Comics Expo, pic courtesy Joel Meadows)

FPI: Looks like its going to remain pretty busy for you for the next little while, Joel – thanks for taking the time to chat with us and good luck with the other appearances. Studio Space is out now in both paperback and hardback from Image, while the 2008 Tripwire annual should be available later this summer; Steve Dillon and Dave Taylor will be in our Manchester store (65 Oldham Street, Piccadilly) to promote Studio Space on Saturday 28th of June from 2 to 3pm. You can also check out the Tripwire website here and Joel’s own blog for more regular updates.

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About The Author

Joe Gordon
Joe Gordon is ForbiddenPlanet.co.uk's chief blogger, which he set up in 2005. Previously, he was professional bookseller for over 12 years as well as a lifelong reader and reviewer, especially of comics and science fiction works.

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