GCE Exclusive: Interview with 2000 AD Artist Thomas FosterJuly 18, 2014
I was lucky enough to talk to artist Tom Foster about his past success at the 2013 2000 AD Portfolio competition, his future work, and his side hobby of doing stand up comedy.
Tom Foster was chosen by a panel of top 2000 AD talent as the winner of the third portfolio competition at the annual convention in Leeds, UK. The prize was a paid gig at the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic and this week’s issue, 2000 AD Prog 1886, features Tom’s work – a black and white Terror Tale entitled ‘Done Deal’, written by Alec Worley (Age of the Wolf) and lettered by Ellie De Ville.
The Terror Tales are just one incarnation of the Future Shock – 2000 AD’s famous four-page self-contained stories – which have long been the ‘testing ground’ for new talent, providing early work for well-known creators such as Alan Moore, Jock, Grant Morrison, Alan Davis and Richard Elson.
Of Tom’s work, 2000 AD editor-in-chief Matt Smith said,
[blockquote]“Tom’s work immediately stood out when I saw it at Thought Bubble as accomplished and very capable. He’d done a good job working from the sample script – his character design and storytelling were spot on, and he was clearly ready to appear within the pages of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. Anyone thinking of entering the 2014 TB portfolio competition would be urged to do so as you never know where it may lead!”[/blockquote]
I had the opportunity to chat with Tom about being an artist, the importance of winning the 2000 AD portfolio competition, and he offers advice to those looking to begin as a comic artist themselves. Check out the interview after the jump.
Has being an artist been a lifelong dream, or did this come about later in life?
I always liked comics and drew my own stuff as a kid, but it became incurable when Astonishing Spider-Man (vol. 1) #2 came out. Astonishing Spider-Man is a UK title that reprints three or so Spidey comics in a single issue, roughly a year behind US continuity. That particular issue was parts 1-3 of a story called ‘Shrieking’, pencilled by Mark Bagley, just as he was beginning to enter the best form of his career. That was the first time I’d ever really appreciated the quality of an artist’s work and, as Bagley continued his stunning run, I became further resolved that this was what I wanted to do with my life.
What led you to enter the 2000 AD competition?
The first time around, I did it just to get noticed and to see where I stood in relation to other aspiring artists. The following year, when they changed the prize to a paid gig in the comic, my interests became more mercenary. There were portfolio reviews with publishers and other competitions, but this was the only one that GUARANTEED publication for the best artist of the day. After coming in second the previous year, I figured I was in with a good shot.
Was placing second two years in a row a confidence booster, a bit frustrating or both?
At first, very frustrating – particularly given that the judging panel had been split down the middle the second time, but Will Morris deserved the gig. He had a far better grasp of page layout and all those seemingly invisible things that are so hard to master. The third time, I may as well have stapled my pancreas to the page with the amount of myself that I poured into it. I had vowed not to become the Jimmy White of Thought Bubble and god help any poor bastard that got in my way.
How would you describe your style of work?
I do like my realism, but photo realism can be a bit hollow. Brian Bolland was a big influence in that he demonstrated how real you can go while still having that dynamism and drama that the best comics art has. I guess I’d call it ‘comic book realism’. That’s what I aim for anyway.
How hard is it to break into the comic book industry, and what advice do you have for those who wish to try?
It seems to be very tough at the moment, but it’s all about the work. If they think you’ll shift units, they’ll probably hire you. As far as advice goes, if you’re in the UK, the advice is simple: enter the same competition I did. Surprisingly few people enter it, so you’re in with a shot. If you’re elsewhere, I’d advise you to go to as many portfolio reviews as possible at as many conventions as possible. The really big ones are a total clusterf**k, so try to go to the smaller ones that still have the big editors. You’ll get more time with them and they’ll remember you better. Also, show your stuff to the artists, if they’ll spare the time. They can give a lot of great technical advice that can make all the difference. Above all though – draw and study page layout and storytelling. Your portfolio should be almost exclusively sequentials, so learn how to do them right.
Is there pressure on you to push the envelope or is it more a question of just being consistent with your work?
I wouldn’t say there’s pressure on me at this stage to push the envelope. Obviously, you’ve got to try to stand out to get noticed initially, but solid draughtsmanship and storytelling are as good a way to do that as any. Consistency would probably be my first concern. Mail-shunting can wait ’til I’m established and people are getting bored of me.
So, you mentioned you do stand up. Is this a new career possibility or just a break from the rigors of illustrating?
The stand-up is really just a hobby at the moment, but there is an indirect link to my comics stuff. Getting published in a major title had been the single, undeviating goal in my life for so long that, when I won the 2000 AD portfolio competition, I ended up having one of those stupid existential crises that artists have when they run out of adversity. I figured that, by starting from scratch on another aspiration (to go alongside the artwork), I could sustain the lumbering chimera of desperation and professional jealousy that keeps me in check. Of course, it might have the opposite effect and turn me into a ego-maniacal prick. Stay tuned to find out!
Do you have a specific goal or idea that you would like to do in the future?
If I ever get to pencil Amazing Spider-Man, my dream will have been realized. I wouldn’t mind doing my own title as well at some point, just to see if I could actually create something popular. Then I’ll sell off the film rights and live like a corrupt land baron ’til my trophy wife commits suicide. After that I’ll probably just join a gym or something.
What is coming up for you in the future and how can people find out more about you and your work?
I’m working on something for Disconnected Press, but I don’t think it has a name yet, so just look up their website and keep refreshing the page until you see my name. As for keeping up with me, I’m on DeviantArt and Twitter @JumbleCashback. I should be exhibiting at MCM Glasgow later this year and I’ll definitely be behind a table at Thought Bubble. If anyone fancies catching my stand-up, I’ll be at the The Stand Comedy Club in Edinburgh and Glasgow quite a lot throughout the rest of the year too. I’ll put up the dates on my Twitter feed.
I want to thank Tom for his time and wish him the best of luck in his artistic endeavors. (All artwork present in this article is courtesy of Tom’s Deviant Art page)