From Judge Dredd to Kid Eternity to Enigma to Hellboy, Duncan has illustrated some of our favourite sillybooks. Most recently, he's been working on the brilliant MPH for Image Comics - part of the comics universe established by Mark "Kick-Ass/Kingsman" Millar.
Not only was Duncan - fresh off the final issue of MPH - kind enough to submit to interrogation, he even painted us a picture of his favourite Digitiser character: The Man's Daddy (which you can see at the bottom of this interview). Dunc-on!
"I did, although I can’t be sure how I came across it. Maybe from references in games mags, or maybe trying to avoid work by trawling through Teletext, a pretty good indication of a tough page, because Teletext was utterly tedious and slow enough to make dial up internet seem fast by comparison. Although thinking about it I probably didn’t have internet yet, if I did I wouldn’t be trudging through Teletext would I? Just as well or I wouldn’t have discovered the Joy of Digi.
"I suppose I read it at first for games news and reviews, there was something about the slightly disappointed tone in the reviews that made for a reliable indication of whether a game was for me or not, it wasn’t just hyperbole like so much of the gaming press. But the humour was something else, it was just so wonderfully surreal. I’d try to explain it to my wife and she’d just roll her eyes, quite right too; I'm shit at telling jokes and explaining humour is pointless.
"But I was hooked, Digi was the precursor to my working day. Well, Digi, games and then work. When I told Diana (my wife) about our exchange over Twitter, she reminded me that we could only holiday at places where I had access to Teletext. How messed up is that?"
HOW DID YOU ORIGINALLY GET INTO CREATING COMICS?
"I loved comics as a kid, for me it went hand in hand with drawing. I read whatever I could get hold of, but lost interest in all except for 2000 AD. I only seriously started to consider doing comics during my second year at college where I was ‘studying’ design and illustration. It was a fairly farcical course and I was fairly aimless until I chanced upon an issue of Daredevil on a newsstand.
"I thought it looked kid of cruddy, put it back on the rack… but for some reason I couldn’t get it out of my mind and went back for it a few days later. It was the Pariah issue of the Frank Miller/David Mazzuchelli Born Again storyline, in retrospect it was like seeing Star Wars for the first time. Remember how all space ships were sleek and shiny before Star Wars? Well, it was like that.
"The Marvel books I recalled were all slick and shiny, but here was Mazzuchelli drawing this grimy reality. It was so real you could almost feel it. So I started drawing some really shitty comics that went nowhere, and more importantly discovered the local comic shop.
"My course tutor was not a fan of comics, all the usual prejudices I suspect, but I have to credit him with giving me direction for my final year project, an illustrated adaptation of John Milton’s Paradise Lost… which I did with big scratchy pen and ink drawings of robots in Hell, obviously.
"I showed the initial drawings around The UK Comic Art Convention, and made the first connections that lead to my first work in comics. It was all very hands on, talking to folk, physically showing work around, pre-internet stuff. "
"Clearly not enough of an urge to make me get off my arse and actually do it… I really need to rectify that. If I fall on my face then at least I’ll know I was right to concentrate on the art side."
IS THERE ONE COMIC OR CHARACTER YOU'D LIKE TO HAVE A CRACK AT?
"When I was a kid I’d loved to have drawn Spider-Man, but the few times I have I just found to be a pain in the arse. All that bloody webbing. I scratched a few nostalgic itches drawing a Monsters on The Prowl for Marvel, a bunch of silly Jack Kirby monsters, the Hulk, the Thing from the Fantastic 4… it was fun, but that takes care of any tired nostalgia really.
"The reality is that it's all just drawing. It works best with being able to riff on a good story with compelling characters - that is where the interest lies. The one character I still feel strongly about is Hellboy, I love the the world and characters that Mike Mignola created, and being a part of that was a dream. Not an easy dream mind, caring about it only makes it harder because of the added pressure of not wanting to let Mike down, or the fans, or worse still - me!"
"There are guys out there who’ve had agents, but I never have. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg issue, you get offers of work based on the work you do, the trick is you just have to get work first. The 'net changed everything really. It made comic companies far more accessible, all the companies have websites with guidelines for submissions. A lot of it still depends on chance but you tweak chance to work for you whenever you can.
"Simply doing work and showing it to anybody you can connect with is the first step. I’ve been pretty fortunate. Rarely have I had to tout for work. I’ve had jobs fall through and a bit of frantic reshuffling takes place, but nothing lasting. I must be doing something right, because people sure aren’t employing me for my speed - definitely my weakest point, but I’m always up-front about that."
YOU'VE JUST FINISHED ILLUSTRATING MPH. HOW DID YOU CELEBRATE?
"Sleeping a lot and playing games without guilt! I generally just feel drained at the end of any book, drained and listless. I guess that is life without a schedule!"
"I actually don’t… I’ve a few ideas of stuff I want to try, a few covers, but right now I’m two weeks away from eye surgery so I’m taking it relatively easy.
"MPH was drawn with increasingly poor vision in my right eye, it made it rather hard to concentrate. I couldn’t have managed without making the shift to working digitally on a Cintiq. I’m sure by the time I’ve recovered I’ll have the next rear planned out."
HAVE YOU EVER DONE DESIGN WORK FOR GAMES?
"No, and I don’t think I should, tempting as it sounds… After all these years I find it hard to relax and enjoy reading comics, I want to keep games as relaxation, escapism. The moment I start working in games I’d be concerned I'd start seeing them as a job."
WHAT WAS THE FIRST VIDEO GAME YOU REMEMBER PLAYING?
"Various versions of Pong I guess. Text adventures on a borrowed Dragon 32, Franklin’s Tomb - that took up a summer holiday! Various arcade games, but the one that stole every available 10 pence I had was the Star Wars arcade machine - sit-down cabinet by preference. The first game I really learned to play, it was truly amazing to me. I even did a piece of art based on it, if I can find it… (as of writing... I can’t - arse.)"
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AS A GAMER, OR SOMEONE WHO JUST PLAYS GAMES?
"A gamer sounds like a job, don’t you think? Like it’s your job to find evey coin, kill every hidden Templar, grind, level up, grind, level up, ugh. I just play games, it’s why I tore myself away from playing Destiny, fun as it could be. Oddly enough I’ve spent a lot of time finding stuff in Far Cry 4, but because I’m enjoying the exploration aspect."
"I did have an urge to draw Ico, if only briefly. The atmosphere in that game was just wonderful, I think I wanted to draw it to try to capture it, experience it all over again. I don’t think I ever got past a few compositional doodles before picking up the joypad again. It turned out that a far easier way to experience that atmosphere was to play it again!"
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE GAME GRAPHICS OF ALL TIME?
"Definitely Ico, not just in art style but because of the level design, the way glimpses of distant locations were revealed, places you got to explore. It felt like a dream of somewhere I might have been as a child, in the way that the world was so much bigger than you, full of mystery and a sense of melancholy. But beautiful melancholy!
"Rez still looks amazing now, how digital worlds should look. Tron was right! Those graphics blended with that soundtrack, hypnotic perfection. I even recorded the sound track on minidisc, my best ever play through, start to almost finish. Bliss. I’m crap at it now, mind.
"Jet Set/Grind Radio still looks wonderful today - shame I’m shit at that now as well! Zelda: The Wind Waker looks even more beautiful now, 10 years old and it’s as fresh and charming as ever it was. All Zelda games should look this way.
"I have to mention the first Halo, it has dated badly now, but stepping out onto the surface, looking up at the horizon stretching out and rising above and around me took my breath away. It’s only occuring to me now that you never reached the relatively narrow edges of that world. Ooh, landing on the beach on the Silent Cartographer level... blimey. I replayed that so many times! I think that’s my favourite thing in games - exploring the worlds, discovering new vistas."
DO YOU PREFER GAME GRAPHICS TO BE STYLISED OR PHOTOREALISTIC?
"There's definitely room for both. I’m a lot more forgiving of games with stylised graphics in some respects. Repetive dialogue in npc’s behaviour loops, whatever, the closer the graphics get to realism the more those aspects jar the quirks of gaminess we all accept because that’s what games do. That said I really enjoyed The Last of Us. The characters felt very real to me."
"Man, I wouldn’t know where to start. I do know that HB wading through a crapload of demons is dull though. Something like Shadow of the Colosssus could be pretty amazing, though that doesn’t take care of the overall mythology.
"Maybe that doesn’t matter. Shadow had you fill in so much with those wide empty vistas, hints of ancient civilisations that created a mood of a wider, deeper story. No dialogue really helped in that respect. Graphically I think cell shaded could do a fine job of evoking Mike’s style. Damn - now I want to see it! Oh, lots of coins to collect, obviously. And shit Quick Time Events. Now I am truly a games designer. Hurrah!"
WHY DO YOU THINK IT'S SO DIFFICULT TRANSLATING COMICS INTO VIDEO GAMES?
"I assume we’re talking super hero comics? Spandex costumes are inherently silly. They work as a drawing on the page, because everything else is drawn in the same style, the characters inhabit that construct and are as believable as the rest of that world.
"The movement is implied both in the panel and between the panels, your brain fills the blanks and the flow is complete. Comics are essentially soap opera on a larger scale, even if a fight breaks out generally the story still moves on. Back when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were doing the Fantastic Four it was like faux Shakespeare! For me, the moment those costumes move into 3D they start to look silly, they no longer look part of the world, just the opposite.
"There’s a fabulous moment in the Thor movie where Thor’s Asgardian comrades turn up on Earth and they look exactly like a bunch of cosplayers. It's hilarious. Nothing against cosplayers by the way. Games tend to emphasise just the fighting, and that isn’t story.
"Narrative is apparently best for cut scenes - the best games manage is 'Take Object A to Person Z... avoid getting the shit kicked out of you by the rest of the alphabet in the process'. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it isn’t really narrative. The best comics or any narrative medium involve you emotionally. That’s hard to do if you’re just mashing faces constantly."
"Far Cry 4. I’m mashing faces, but finding I don’t really want to if I can help it! I love the world. It’s really pretty, and I’m having a great time climbing mountains and throwing myself off of them.
"I’ve mostly avoided the missions so far as they rather seem to follow the pattern of sneaky, sneaky, quiet, BOOM - YOU”RE COMPLETELY OVERWHELMED!
"I wish you could turn off the conflict for a while you can’t seem to go more than 30 seconds without packs of dogs or bloody eagles attacking. It’s really getting in the way of my holiday in Kryat!"
DO GAMES EVER INFLUENCE YOUR COMICS WORK?
"I’m not sure about that, I suppose it must, just as any visual media must. Games like GTA 5 always seem useful whilst playing, the shear visual reference for city and suburbs is astonishing. I never get around to making use of these things though."
DO GAMES EVER GET IN THE WAY OF YOUR COMICS WORK?
"Haha - officially no. No more than a good novel anyway! Diana insists that 'The game where you had a goat and kept making me look at the trees, that was a problem', and emphasises such with a roll of her eyes… It turns out she’s refferring to Oblivion and Skyrim, but I don’t remember the goat. She is right though. I sold Oblivion lest it reclaim my soul. Skyrim I still have, and I suspect any sequel will have to wait until some fantasy retirement."
WHAT ARE YOUR THREE FAVOURITE GAMES OF ALL TIME?
"Aw man, I have no idea. Ico must be in there. Mario 64? Pilotwings 64? Rez? Portal? Apparently I can’t count and just keep thinking of more, like Super Mario Kart on the SNES. Ocarina of Time! Zelda: Windwaker! Halo, I played the first outing numerous times. I don’t think I can separate favourite from nostalgia, so I’m not even going to attempt to hone this down. I’ll leave before I’m fired."
AND YOUR BOTTOM THREE...?
"I tend to avoid the stuff that I know will do nothing for me…. I just played a few levels of the much lauded Thomas Was Alone and that irritated the hell out of me. The puzzle aspect is fine but that voice over was so smug it made me want to rip my ears off. I’m tempted to say GTA 5…
"The environments are fantastic and I spent hours peddling over mountains or just flying around, it’s beautiful stuff, but I really don’t like the nasty tone, it’s just unpleasant."
Duncan Fegredo's Website
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