Comics: on losing Brett Ewins
By now I imagine most of you have heard the news over social media, or seen Richard’s post a little earlier. There’s a strange emotional limbo-land these days, where we start to hear bad news filtering out slowly on Twitter or Facebook, then we see a few more repeating the news and think is it true? We look around for confirmation (or much hoped-for contradiction, please), we wonder again if it is true while hoping it isn’t. Like an emotional Schroedinger’s experiment, awaiting the deciding outcome. I remember checking Brett’s Wikipedia page – it seems to be one of those things we do now, when news like this starts to filter out – and it was unchanged. I just looked at it again early this afternoon, and it had now been edited and updated. And that simple act of digital editing, adding in a deceased date to the birth date, changing the tenses to past, was crushingly depressing, I know not quite why; perhaps it is the coldness of it, it’s just data. And Brett was far more than that.
(the busy Deadline offices with Brett and Jamie Hewlett – thanks to Steve Cook for the pic)
An utterly seminal figure for readers, especially of my generation growing up with 2000 AD and then, perfectly timed for us as we got that bit older, Deadline and other works, experimenting, pushing, improving, changing, pushing the nature of comics artwork and design (and in the case of Deadline, quite simply making comics cool – how well I remember my copies being borrowed by friends at college who hadn’t read a comic since they were kids, a perfect Cool Britannia mix of innovative comics, fresh, hip, hungry talent – being so nurtured by a generous Brett as many of them will tell you – and music and style, it was intoxicating, it was exciting). But harsh deadlines and long hours and responsibility all took a toll on Brett, one he never really recovered from. A few years ago we covered his health – mental and physical – problems and then that dreadful incident with an uncaring judicial system (sadly not uncommon for those with mental health issues to receive the stern face of supposed justice rather than the help they actually need and deserve).
(Brett at a photo shoot for promoting Tank Girl in Deadline, pic borrowed from the Beyond the Bunker blog)
One positive thing that came from that period though was when we talked to a bunch of Brit comics folks, from Simon Gurr to John Wagner to Nick Abadzis and more, and all together we created a post where many of them picked out their favourite Brett moments from comics (this was in 2012, while we also celebrated 2000 AD’s 35th anniversary) and several also very kindly sent us in some of their own Brett-inspired artwork, partly to celebrate his work and his influence, but also very much to show him and the world how important he was to many of us, how admired, loved and respected. You can still see that post here; eerily it is almost three years ago exactly, save a few days, since we posted that. I found myself re-reading it after the news today, and this segment, from the very fine Nick Abadzis, recalling meeting Brett when he was starting out in the business and Brett was juggling strips and Deadline editing, stood out at me, and I thought I would post it here again:
“I have an enduring image of Brett which is, for some reason, burned into the retina of my mind’s eye from the days of Deadline. Deadline had several offices before parking itself above Orinoco Studios which were owned by the mag’s funder. I think this was at the building before that, somewhere over in Hoxton if I recall correctly. It had a strange old lift with one of those squeezebox doors and you’d ascend to this huge old warehouse room at the top of the building, where the light always seemed to be a deep yellow. I used to deliver my artwork there and stop and have a cup of tea or even a pint if they weren’t too busy. (I had learned at that point that if you turned up at a certain time of day, a pub visit might well be suggested.) Brett was standing at a desk in a white t-shirt and jeans and massive DMs pasting up an article about some bloke who wore a pyramid on his head (this was in the days before everything was done on computers). He turned to me, and smiled, “Look at this.
The article was impressive, sure, but what was mind-blowing were the doodles in the margins of discarded layouts all over the desk, stuff that had just been coming out of Brett’s head as he worked. It was mind-blowing, loads of little characters. Inspired stuff. Brett was a lovely bloke to work for, very cheery and encouraging, a cheerleader for British comics and offbeat, inventive British creativity. He should be applauded for his services to his country – as far as the UK comics world is concerned, he should be recognised as a national institution.”
(Above: Judge Anderson in the inimitable Ewins’ style; below: one of the most powerful ‘future war’ strips to ever come out of 2000 AD, Bad Company, also showcasing some of Brett’s love of working in all sorts of hairstyles into some of his characters!)
The last time I heard was that Brett was slowly getting better – as Richard observed we just had that wonderful collected edition of his Johnny Nemo work, and I and many others hoped to see him strong enough to work his magic with the pens and brushes once more, because there were more tales and visual wonders still inside that remarkable head, waiting to touch paper and be shared with readers. And now we won’t see that happen; his status on Wiki has been edited and it’s bloody awful and just wrong, wrong, bloody wrong. And how much worse for his poor family and close friends, to deal with his sudden loss. A remarkable talent, an innovator who wowed so many readers and impressed and influenced his peers. We will miss you, Brett.