Something for the Weakened

Archive for August, 2012

Convention Sketches – Part Four

August 5th, 2012 by Alastair

Here we are again for another delve into the small selection of sketches I acquired from comic artists at the couple of conventions I attended back in the mid ’90s. Should you be interested in more details about my experiences at them, I refer you to the first post in the series. You might also like to try the second and the third. I’m going to try not to repeat myself or bore you any more than my general waffle normally would. Except with this paragraph, which I’m going to be pasting into all th other posts anyway. Ignore it in the next one you read and just move down to the sketch. Here it is.

The Phantom by Dean Ormston

The Phantom was created by Lee Falk and is copyright 2012 King Features Syndicate

This was a bit of a peculiar choice to ask Mister Ormston to draw, hence the slightly peculiar image that he created. Several sketches earlier, though I forget when, a realisation struck me; that just because an artist creates comics, it doesn’t mean that they are necessarily able to sketch any comics character off the top of their heads. I forget who I asked, I forget what I asked them to draw, I forget even if I asked someone or just saw someone else make this error. But by this point in the afternoon, I knew that my best bet was to request the artists I was approaching to draw characters that I had seen them illustrating in print. At this point in his comics career, Ormston was mainly known in the comics world for the work that he’d done on Judge Dredd in the Megazine. As you should have already seen in part three of this series, I already had a Dredd sketch and didn’t want another. What would the point be? They’d all be the same, wouldn’t they? Oh poor, naive naif I was. This commitment to always get a different character drawn by every artist I approached continued through my brief convention going period, as you will see as the series continues.

Anyway, around this time I had seen copies of a new Phantom series on a number of newsagents shelves. These I think came about due to the popularity Defenders of the Earth was still experiencing when the Beeb were still showing it and because the character is so massively popular worldwide, leading to metric tonnes of material being available for cheap, poorly translated reprints. I don’t actually know if they were poorly translated, as I never bought an issue, but I have my suspicions and apologise if I’m doing wrong by those multi-linguists who did the work. I did however notice Ormston’s very distinctive painted style on a couple of the covers, possibly even going so far as to check the indicia to see if my suspicions were correct. I was that kind of kid. I am that kind of ‘adult’. So, asking for a quick sketch of the character, seemed like it might be a decent idea. Something different for him to draw. Something unusual, but which he still had a pedigree for having done. In doing the research for this post, I’ve discovered that he only actually created four covers for the series – you can see them all here, numbers 5, 7, 8 and 9. So it is plausible that my request might have only been the fifth time that he’d drawn the character. Unlikely, as I’m sure he’d have had to do a couple to land the cover gig, but still slightly possible. Whichever way, it clearly wasn’t a character that he was that familiar with, hence the sketch itself. He apologised to me for it as he handed the paper back, to which I probably nervously giggled, or something. I’m still very fond of it. It has character and wit, along with Ormston’s distinctive chunky, noirish figure work.

At the time of our brief meeting, Mister Ormston was only a couple of years into his comics career and had pretty much exclusively been producing work for the 2000AD group (except for something in Marvel Comics Presents – an anthology they put out, occasionally showcasing new creators – back in ‘88, when he can barely have been much more than a foetus). He had also been drumming for a number of bands that never quite hit the big time and producing artwork for some that did. My old smoking chum Bourney had a T-shirt that I instantly recognised with his artwork on it, that the band had all signed after Bourney had passed out at the front of one of their gigs and was dragged, prostrate backstage to recover. I’ve always remembered the band being Ned’s Atomic Dustbin in my head, but I can’t find any corresponding images online, so I might be misremembering. The closest I’ve discovered is this Mega City Four cover, which looks similar, but I can neither imagine my friend being that into Mega City Four to buy any of their merchandise, or indeed anyone being frenzied enough to pass out at one of their gigs. Maybe I’ll ask when next we meet.

The work for the Megazine continued, mainly on Dredd, but also on the Harke & Burr strip, that I remember rather fondly for it macabre, grave robbing comedy scripted by Si Spencer. Then, the inevitable move onto Stateside publications, where one of his first published works was an issue in the penultimate arc of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, The Kindly Ones. This was followed shortly afterwards by The Eaters, a fantastic tale of a family of middle class cannibals going on vacation written by Pete Milligan when he was really at the top of his game. It was reprinted about a year and a half ago and I would highly recommend seeking it out. Now if they’d just reprint Milligan and Fegredo’s Girl and Face, not to mention Delano and Davison’s Tainted, I’d be happy to advocate them. But that’s beside the point. Ormston’s continued to work predominantly for DC Comics since then, almost exclusively for the Vertigo imprint (though he did apparently produce some Predator comics for Dark Horse, that I had no idea existed and a spin off from James O’Barr’s The Crow, which I recall coming out and remember having no interest in, thereby single handedly destroying Kitchen Sink Press with my own indifference). Much of that work has been fill in issues for ongoing series, giving the primary artists a bit of a break from the monthly grind. Primary among these were the Sandman spin off Lucifer, written by Mike Carey, where it always felt like a bit of a treat to get an Ormston issue at the end of a six month storyline. He also appeared in the millennial one-shot Totems, which I personally found to be a horribly contrived mess, with some admittedly pretty pictures, the penultimate jam issue of The Invisibles, and a couple of issues of the underrated House of Secrets series, primarily produced by Steven Seagle (no, not that one, check the spelling) and the amazing Teddy Kristiansen.

Longer form works appeared in the form of the four issue mini-series The Girl Who Would Be Death, another Sandman spin off, this time written by Caitlin R. Kiernan. Haven’t read it for a long time, but I don’t recall being particularly enamoured of the story, though again the artwork pleased me. Five years later, Ormston helmed his first and, to date, only ongoing series, The Books of Magick: Life During Wartime. Another Gaiman spin off (Vertigo do love to milk him so), but of a character not generally associated with the Sandman series. This reunited him with Si Spencer on scripts and Gaiman did actually play a role as consultant on the series, more than he was credited as having done on most of the other works that were derivative of his own. The series lasted 15 issues and I rather enjoyed it, if memory serves. Updating a character that Gaiman had created as an 11 year old boy into late adolescence/young manhood was an interesting choice and was handled pretty well. Ormston’s art was pleasingly epic in large, fantastical battle sequences. Since the series’ cancellation, there’s been a lot less Dean available in the funny books. A one off Swamp Thing issue that I must have read but have no memory of (wasn’t massively impressed by Joshua Dysart’s run), a few issues of Douglas Rushkoff’s really terrible Testament (the art in pretty much every issue of that series was great, but the story and the dialogue were simply fucking awful) and a two parter in Brian Wood’s Northlanders (really good, thoroughly enjoyed it and am very sorry that the series was cancelled – the world needs more violent, swearing viking comics) in 2008, but next to nothing since. Until the start of this year, where he does appear to have reunited with Mike Carey for an issue of the almost indescribable fantasy The Unwritten (I’m only reading the trade paperbacks when they’re collected, so I haven’t got that far yet) and drawn a strip in Dark Horse’s revival of the old Warren Creepy franchise. What he’s been up to in those four years, I have no idea. I hope he’s alright.

As far as I can see, Mister Ormston doesn’t have a website, except for a MySpace page that doesn’t seem to have been touched since 2008, which is as it should be. You’ll find a list of comics his art has appeared in here and the Tumblr feed for his name has a decent selection of his art from over the years. Next time – someone you might have actually heard of if you’re not as comically obsessed as I.