October 14, 2004
Josh Jabcuga, Squib Central: I don't recall having seen any books entirely devoted to highlighting the contributions of comic book artists from the UK. In the book, you write: "This tome is recognition for every British artist (past, present, and future) for a rich heritage that I hope will never be forgotten." What made you want to tackle this project? Did you feel as if these British artists were being slighted by the mainstream comic book community (if there is such a phrase)?
Favorite Favourite Sons: Wherein Joshua Jabcuga talks about the British comics scene with George Khoury, author of TRUE BRIT: A CELEBRATION OF THE GREAT COMIC BOOK ARTISTS OF THE UK.
George Khoury, editor/contributor of TRUE BRIT, TWOMORROWS PUBLISHING: This was a dream project for me. It was something that I wanted to do since before I had started writing books for TWOMORROWS. I wanted to do a book that covered the history of British comic art that was accessible and inviting, both in design and text. The thought of having all of these different artists together in one book, I think, was a big drive, because I wanted people to realize how varied and beautiful the art these illustrators were producing out there in the UK. They deserve this spotlight; I did feel that these artists werenít getting their due or press. I just wanted to remind readers that Britain isnít just producing great comic book writers like ALAN MOORE, GARTH ENNIS and GRANT MORRISON, they also have some of the best artists to ever contribute to those four-color wonders we love. The contribution of a DAVE GIBBONS or a BRYAN HITCH are just as important to the history and future of comics as that of their writer counterparts.
Josh Jabcuga: In the book's credits, you're listed as an "Anglophile: fond of British films, music, comics and culinary treats." When did you become fixated with British culture? Maybe a better question would be what about it pulled you in?
George Khoury: I donít know; it isnít intentional. I guess thereís a lot I like about the culture. I remember watching a lot of the television shows that were on PBS when I was younger. I remember staying up late to watch THE YOUNG ONES and things like that. Most of my favorite bands are Brit (BEATLES, BADFINGER, ELO, QUEEN, THE CURE, THE ZOMBIES, THE KINKS, I probably should stopÖ) and Iíve also have heard way too much New Wave music from the eighties. Donít really know how to confess to this question.
Josh Jabcuga: TRUE BRIT includes interviews with everyone from DAVE MCKEAN to BARRY WINDSOR-SMITH to DAVE GIBBONS to BRIAN BOLLAND, really a virtual Who's Who of British artists. Aesthetically speaking, did you find any underlying similarities in the work of these artists?
George Khoury: Theyíve all shared many of the same trials and tribulations that are a part of the comics industry. This industry isnít kind by nature, and theyíve all encountered their share of frustration. One thing that they have in common is that their love for comics is strong; no matter the many obstacles they have to endureÖ their passion to create comics is steadfast.
Josh Jabcuga: I found it extremely interesting to hear BRIAN BOLLANDís comments about MARVEL, in that when he was growing up he found MARVEL covers irritating because they were cluttered with too many blurbs, and compared to DC he thought they appeared cheaper and tackier. Certainly that's a matter of preference, but did you find in general the artists you spoke with were influenced by American comics and respectful of them (MARVEL in particular), or were they viewed as being loud and "cluttered" compared to their tastes and even, I guess in a sense, cultural mores?
George Khoury: All of the artists featured in TRUE BRIT have a great respect for American comics. What I didnít know was how strong that influence was until I worked on this book. I assumed that the majority of their influences would mostly be European artists, which wasnít the case because the names of JACK KIRBY, ALEX TOTH, NEAL ADAMS, HARVEY KURTZMAN, STEVE DITKO, WILL EISNER, ROBERT CRUMB and others came up many times. Even the older British artists like SYDNEY JORDAN mentioned MILTON CANIFF as a strong influence on his art style, and he started working in comics in the early fifties.
The wave of artists who followed BARRY WINDSOR-SMITHíS lead and brought their art to American comic companies were all impacted by the Silver Age movement. The work being done by STAN LEE, JACK KIRBY, and STEVE DITKO had a profound impact across the Atlantic. This was a revolutionary phase in comics that changed not only the way comics were perceived, but changed the way they would be done after it. British readers took all of this to heart as well. Super-heroes were dying over there during the sixties because they were stuck in a rut as well. MARVEL COMICS during the sixties and seventies changed all of that.
Josh Jabcuga: Getting back to that last question, in your opinion, do you think STAN LEE and JACK KIRBY are essentially too "American" for people outside of this country to truly grasp? I guess that's a silly question, but in one sense, looking back at their work, KIRBY and LEE captured a specific time and certain values that were quintessentially American, much like early rock n' roll such as ELVIS PRESLEY. I mean, it's not like we have to be from the UK to appreciate THE BEATLES, but they certainly brought something to our culture that was distinctively British and previously lacking. I don't know, maybe I'm stretching here, but what do you think?
George Khoury: The stories that STAN LEE, JACK KIRBY, JOHN ROMITA SR. and STEVE DITKO did during the Silver Age of MARVEL COMICS are universal and timeless.
Josh Jabcuga: No doubt.
George Khoury: Theyíre accessible to everyone in every part of the world. Look at the success of the SPIDER-MAN II film and the ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN series; the stories are essentially the same as those of the past with only minor tweaking to update things that might have gotten out of style. These are stories that will be around forever.
Like THE BEATLES, the majority of British comic creators are influenced by American culture. Throughout TRUE BRIT, youíll hear the creators themselves say that. I think the scary thing is that the British understand and appreciate American pop culture better than we do. Thereís also a surreal quality to seeing our way of life through their eyes, so I think thatís part of the charm as well. Look at the SHAUN OF THE DEAD movie or PREACHER by GARTH ENNIS & STEVE DILLON. Zombie movies and Western pulp are as American as apple pie, but through slightly different eyes we get a refreshing spin on a tired genres. The Brits think more ďout-of-the-boxĒ than we do. Weíre so used to getting pop culture and political propaganda force-fed to us that we donít take the time to think for ourselves and find our own individuality.
Josh Jabcuga: I always thought the YELLOW KID strip was the landmark strip that all comics owed their heritage to, but in TRUE BRIT it's noted that WEARY WILLIE AND TIRED TIM, first appearing in May of 1896, beat YELLOW KID by six months, making TOM BROWNE the father of British comic illustration. Comic book history is not exactly my forte, but would this make TOM BROWNE the father of ALL comics?
George Khoury: Thereís always been a debate been about what comic strip came first, but I still think that R.F.OUTCAULTíS YELLOW KID may be comics first true star in the United States. But in England, TOM BROWNEíS WEARY WILLIE AND TIRED TIM was causing the same kind of hysteria that YELLOW KID had in the U.S. WEARY WILLIE became the first comic ever adapted to film and the first recurring characters that appeared in a comic book pamphlet -- not just as a daily in newspaper. As it is pointed out in the book, WEARY WILLIE AND TIRED TIM appeared at least six months before YELLOW KID was a full-fledge strip. History hasnít been as kind to WEARY WILLIE AND TIRED TIM like it has been to THE YELLOW KID.
Josh Jabcuga: George, would you take British comics over American comics?
George Khoury: I still enjoy the comics that were done by NEAL ADAMS, JEFF SMITH, ART ADAMS, ROGER STERN, ADRIAN TOMINE, PETER BAGGE, HARVEY KURTZMAN, ALEX ROSS, WALLY WOOD, and others. Whatís going on is that I find myself --more often than not Ė enjoying comics by British creators today. If thereís one thing that really stands out between British and todayís American comic creators is that the Brits donít limit themselves to one particular genre, and that is something that I admire. They donít look for a niche. Theyíre not afraid to experiment and try different things. Look at ALAN MOORE or BRIAN BOLLAND, they can do stories about any subject and keep the reader entertained. If comics are to survive, diversification will play an important factor.
Josh Jabcuga: We've seen what Hollywood did to JUDGE DREDD. We've seen what they did to LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMAN and FROM HELL, which, OK, wasn't entirely bad. We see what they're doing with CONSTANTINE. Do you think the secret to Hollywood adaptations of British comic properties is to stay away from "Americanizing" them?
George Khoury: No. I think what Hollywood should do is have some balls and not change the setting of these characters. In the case of CONSTANTINE, his nationality is very much a part of his individuality Ė a lot of that characterís charm will be lost. Hollywood should trust the source material more. When there are so many British actors that could have made CONSTANTINE a viable character, they go for KEANU REEVES hoping that they at least get a whiff of his MATRIX box-office success. There are plenty of British television shows and books that have survived the transition, but it is true that the majority do fail in the end.
I also think that the way globalization is taking shape that soon there might not be a need for all of these ďAmericanizingĒ of concepts, because Americans can easily understand the humor in a show like THE OFFICE because the concepts are universal.
Josh Jabcuga: Do you fear what might be done to WATCHMEN when it gets the Hollywood treatment?
George Khoury: Not really. The film will be a different entity from the comic because thereís no way to condense something as dense as WATCHMEN into a two-hour picture. What Hollywood usually does is just ďcut and pasteĒ the parts of the book they see being cinematic and lose the feel that the author originally intended. Hollywood doesnít have the patience or the respect to adapt an ALAN MOORE story properly, because there are too many people opinionating on any Hollywood project. You have to report to the producers, to the marketing department, to the test audiences, etcÖ There are way too many hands on the kettle, where in comics the storytelling is entirely up to just writer and artist and no one else.
Josh Jabcuga: Getting off topic just a bit, TRUE BRIT comes to us from the TWOMORROWS PUBLISHING, who also happen to publish my favorite book, "WRITE NOW!Ē, along with a whole slew of other noteworthy titles like "DRAW!Ē and "THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR.Ē I think a lot of these titles are unsung, and deserve to be commended. Did you bring this project to the publisher, or did they organize it?
George Khoury: Iím sure that JOHN MORROW, the publisher, would be happy to hear these sentiments you just expressed. For ten years, MORROW has been publishing these magazines and books that have explored comics like Iíve never seen before. What heís doing is vital to comics because it encourages readers to appreciate and respect the art form. The biggest shame is that there are still a lot of comic book stores that donít carry any of TWOMORROW books because they think their customers donít want to read about these things outside of another hype-galore WIZARD issue, theyíre selling them way short.
All of the books Iíve worked on originated from me. I pitch the project to Mr. MORROW in a detailed proposal; it is then up to him whether he wants to publish it or not. The advantage of working for JOHN is that heíll leave me alone to do the work on the book the best way I see fit. That trust goes a long way because Iím doing the type of books I that Iíve always wanted to see done, and having a lot of fun working on them. I devote a lot of time in planning these books and hope that enthusiasm shows on each page.
Josh Jabcuga: I totally agree about the need for the types of books that TWOMORROWS publishes. I know with WRITE NOW!, the book is just this spectacular learning tool. Iíve learned more from one issue of that magazine than I have from ten yearís worth of WIZARD. Itís really unfair to even compare the two, though.
And as far as TRUE BRIT goes, the same thing. Itís really quite a respectful, scholarly, even entertaining book thatís incredibly detailed and well researched. Can we expect a companion piece to TRUE BRIT that highlights the great writers of the UK?
George Khoury: Iíd have to say no for now. Iím not a big fan of sequels and such; there are a lot of other things that I want to do. When I work on a book, I try to be as exhaustive with the subject as possible. Iím not going to rule out a revision of the book when it is out-of print, but there wonít be a second part. I wanted to do an art book, and thatís what I did. Plus, I already did a book called THE EXTRAORDINARY WORKS OF ALAN MOORE that covers the most important comic book writer in the UK scene.
Josh Jabcuga: If people want to get a copy of this book, they can order directly from the Web?
George Khoury: They can order a copy of the book at the TWOMORROWS website (www.twomorrows.com), Amazon.com, Barnes and Nobles or comic book stores like Jim Hanleyís Universe in New York City that arenít afraid to carry books from TWOMORROWS.
Josh Jabcuga: George, I know this upcoming week is your birthday...33, I believe? Happy Birthday, man! Do you have any upcoming projects that you're working on, for TWOMORROWS or anyone else, or anything you want to plug?
George Khoury: Thanks. Thirty-three is right, thirty-three very long years. (Sigh)
Well, Iím about to embark on the next project that should take at least two to three years of my life. Also working on a book about super-heroes on television (with co-writer JASON HOFIUS), which I hope will be out late 2005. Lastly, thereís a book called SWAMPMEN (with JON B. COOKE, editor of COMIC BOOK ARTIST) thatís been an on-going project since 2001 that I hope will finally be published in 2005. That last one is going to be the ultimate book about swamp monsters; weíre covering the history of these creatures along with interviews with all the creators behind these stories. And you can always find me in the pages of COMIC BOOK ARTIST magazine from TOP SHELF PRODUCTIONS.
Josh Jabcuga would take BLACK SABBATH over THE BEATLES any day of the week. When not listening to old-school OZZY, JOSH JABCUGA can be found writing Squib Central, which is published every Thursday at www.moviepoopshoot.com.
Press kits, promos, items for consideration to be reviewed in Squib Central should be sent to:
3910 Sharondale Dr.
Hamburg, NY 14075
E-MAIL THE AUTHOR |