Prisoners of Time: An Interview with artist Simon Fraser
British comic creators look set to be heavily involved in US publisher IDW's Doctor Who at 50 celebrations fortheir 'Prisoners of Time' maxi series, which launches this week.
'Prisoners of Time' will feature every incarnation of the Doctor, as well as a long list of villains, including the Zarbi from the TV story best known as The Web Planet.
downthetubes caught up with comics artist and writer Simon Fraser - best known for his work on Nikolai Dante, a series he created with writer Robbie Morrison in 2000AD - to ask him about his work on the first issue...
downthetubes: How did you gain the commission to draw the first issue of 'Prisoners of Time'?
Simon Fraser: I share a studio with Tim Hamilton who has worked for editor Denton Tipton at IDW on Doctor Who previously. Tim wasn't available this time , so he passed the job on to me. One of the advantages of sharing a studio with other comics types.
downthetubes: Are you a fan of Doctor Who and if so, which Doctor?
Simon: I was recently clearing my old stuff out of my parents house. I seem to have had six large posters of Tom Baker on my bedroom wall when I was 16. That might answer both questions. The other two posters were Star Wars related and there was an airbrushed poster of a Porsche (it was the 80s).
downthetubes: IDW are keeping their cards close to their chest about the story, but we do know the Zarbi feature in your issue - have you updated their design from how they appeared in 'The Web Planet'?
Simon: I have updated the Zarbi. They no longer have one set of suspiciously heavy stockinged legs and 2 other sets that seem to waggle aimlessly. I've gone for something that's a cross between an Ant and a wingless Wasp.
downthetubes: A project like this inevitably attracts comments over likenesses, do you find that limiting given the freedom you have on projects like Nikolai Dante for 2000AD?
Simon: It's all about learning the characters faces and mannerisms until they feel like your own characters. Rather than slavishly copying production stills or framegrabs, because that always looks wooden and stilted.
The older characters are usually easy. Hartnell especially was a joy to draw. It's one of the oddly wonderful things about a career in comics that I can now draw a decent portrait of Sir Thomas Huxley from memory.
I'm not sure I'm as strong on Ian and Barbara frankly, but I've spent a lot of time looking at them now and I've got a great deal better appreciation of just how good William Russell and Jaqueline Hill were in the roles.
downthetubes: Will you be doing more Doctor Who projects after this one?
Simon: I've got no plans to right now. I'm trying to keep off licensed properties for a while and do more creator owned work. When the chance to draw William Hartnell's Doctor came along though, I was powerless to resist.
downthetubes: 50 years of Doctor Who - what do you think is the key ingredient that's given it such longevity?
Simon: It's a very clever format. The TARDIS is a brilliant way of moving characters into interesting situations, while at the same time being almost ludicrously simple to execute within the restrictions of network television. Then you have all these great writers and actors being given free reign to use their imaginations and enjoy themselves, back when British television was all rather po-faced. Something so imaginative and odd was bound to engender a strong fanbase, strong enough to carry the show through some pretty rough times and ultimately ensure its rebirth.
If I had to pin down just one thing I'd have to say, Imagination.
downthetubes: You've just completed 'Nikolai Dante' for 2000AD. What's your next project?
Simon: I'll be popping in and out of 2000AD on shorter gigs no doubt. I've got a four-pager coming up written by Monty Nero. Then I've agreed to do a sci-fi exploitation story for a Dark Horse anthology book written by Alex DeCampi. I've made it my New Year's resolution to get back to Lilly Mackenzie & The Treasure of Paros which is my webcomic on ACTIVATEcomix.com and ultimately in the Judge Dredd Megazine, where the first Lilly Mackenzie story ended up being printed.
Beyond that I'm involved with a series of pitches for original projects. One of which is a very ambitious series of books about the origins of the Arab Spring, specifically Syria. So I'm very interested in the news right now.
downthetubes: Above anything else, what one piece of advice would you offer aspiring comic artists?
Simon: To be brutally honest here, if there is anything else that you think you might be able make your life doing , try that first. Drawings comics is alongside being a musician, an actor or a poet in terms of career prospects. There's not much work, it's mostly poorly paid and frequently frustrating.
So, given that you are absolutely committed to your own eternal damnation; learn the craft and keep learning it. Draw from life as much as humanly possible, then do some more. The way to get and keep a career in the creative arts is to have a unique point of view and a unique way of expressing it and the way that you get to that is by starting at first principles and working up.
As soon as you are half competent, then start putting your stories on-line and get people to comment. You won't get as much serious criticism as you will need. The good stuff is supposed to sting, don't be afraid of that. With any luck you are your own harshest critic . You're supposed to be vaguely dissatisfied with your abilities, that's what motivates you to get better.
Have I put you off yet? No? Well if you were interested in taking good advice then you probably would be doing something much more sensible than comics in the first place.
Hmm, that's more than one piece of advice!