Interview: Comic Artist D'Israeli

Interview: Robin Lewis
Tuesday 12 August 2014
reading time: min, words

Comic book artist Matt Brooker, aka D’Israeli, is equally at home drawing a Victorian London gothic horror as he is a science fiction action thriller starring a tramp and a businessman with a shark’s head. He sat down with us for a chat about his new book Ordinary...


So, why D'Israeli?
Me and a mate were sitting at the back of the class, coming up with ideas for daft things when we should have been concentrating on history, and Disraeli was someone we heard about during the lesson. I started doing comics that I used to pass round my mates, one of which took the mickey out of the teachers. I thought it was probably not a great idea to have my name on it, so D'Israeli became the name of the artist.

Did you always want to be an artist?
I had a few Star Trek books that had artists’ impressions of the characters, and I copied Mr Spock from that and realised I could do a drawing that kind of looked like an actual thing. I went to WHSmith to buy a big pad and a fistful of 2B pencils, then copied pages from Neal Adams comics all summer, drawing so much that my finger went numb and I had to take a couple of days off.

Were you always a comic book fan?
I’ve always enjoyed storytelling in comics but my own stuff would peter out after a few pages. I got together with a friend of mine and we started making radio plays. We had a BBC sound effects record we used for background noises, and we’d write scripts very much influenced by The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. During the biggest, most complicated one we did, the tape recorder broke. I said “bugger it,” and drew it instead. It was a tipping point, and from there it was always ticking away in the background. I probably drew about 200 pages of comics while I should have been revising.

Did your schoolwork suffer as a result?
Absolutely. I was pretty bright, but I was shy and hated disapproval, so I would be quiet and do what I was told, but the moment I could stop working on something that didn’t interest me, I did. I managed to get through my O-Levels, but when I did my A-Levels I crashed and burned. I actually got a D in art. In retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened, because I did so badly that the assumption I’d go to university and study was off the table. The only thing left was a design course.

So that was something aimed more at becoming a designer?
Essentially, I was being trained to work in an advertising agency, which wasn’t something I was really interested in. The way a friend of mine put it was that sooner or later you’d end up standing in front of a roomful of executives with a new tampon box design talking about an exciting new creative opportunity, and I just didn’t have it in me.

How did you get into comics?
I happened to meet some people who were involved with comics and got invited into a drinking club for artists that introduced me to a whole array of contacts. I’m very lazy, and if things start heading in one direction I won’t start backpedalling. I got work for Fleetway on a single issue of Crisis, and then DC for most of one issue of Hellblazer. I got fired from both jobs within three months.

Not an auspicious start.
No. I assumed editors would tell me what they wanted and explain everything that was expected of me. Not true. I didn’t impose myself on the work, so it ended up being very bland and generic. I thought, “to hell with it, if I’m going to get fired I might as well do what I want.” I got a couple of pages a month for Deadline magazine and a job on a Canadian comic called Mr X, and both of those gave me a huge amount of freedom to do my own thing. That was the start of my proper career.

You work entirely on computers now?
Yes, for about fifteen years now. I was a pretty early adopter. The last six months I was at college they bought a suite of Macs. I realised there was no way I could afford something like that back then, but it was clear that this was the future. Now every time I go back to using a pen, I miss the undo key.

What have been your influences as an artist?
The first artist I ever remember identifying with was John Burns. I paid him for a sketch at a convention, but I think he was a bit pissed off that I was standing there with grey in my beard telling him I loved his stuff when I was a kid. Two guys who particularly stuck as influences are Mick McMahon and Kev O’Neill. I’ve got about three feet of bookshelves devoted to Moebius, and I love Hayao Miyazaki. Alberto Breccia, the guy who’d use absolutely anything to make a comic. Amazing.

Your stuff is often incredibly detailed. How long does a single page take?
It takes me a fortnight to do five or six pages, getting up at eight every day and working into the night. Stickleback, the thing I’m working on now, is something where every page is like solving a puzzle. For Ordinary, I wanted to make it less complicated to get out of the way of the story.

Tell us about Ordinary...
It’s a creator-owned thing I’m doing with Rob Williams. I’ve worked with Rob before for 2000AD on Lowlife, and he came to me with this idea that one day, for some reason, everybody in the world wakes up with a superpower. Except one poor sod that just can’t do anything, the last ordinary guy left in the world, and by dint of that he becomes extraordinary.

What do you most enjoy drawing?
I love architecture. I always joke that it’s a pity to have characters cluttering up these lovely backgrounds. As far as characters go I’m definitely better at rendering flawed types. Michael, the main character in Ordinary is a shabby, divorced father living in a flat in Queens. Dirty Frank, Lowlife’s protagonist, was an undercover policeman posing as a tramp and is probably now a tramp who thinks he’s a policeman. My favourite characters in Stickleback are Black Bob and Tonga. Very few people caught on that they’re a gay couple. I want to do a Christmas special with them in bed like Morecambe and Wise reading the newspaper.

What are you working on right now?
Another series of Stickleback for 2000AD. The next big thing is for Marvel. They’re re-releasing Marvelman, by Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham. I coloured the original stories and they’ve asked me to redo them and continue working on new issues they’re writing now. The story was famously left unfinished, buried beneath legal problems, but that’s sorted now and they’re going to complete it. I’ve been friends with Mark for a very long time. He’s very successful, likes my work and doesn’t know Photoshop. It’s a hugely obliging combination that’s proved very lucrative for me, so thanks for that, Bucky.

Any final words?
I was forever told by teachers to settle down, stop messing around with comics and do some proper work. All that mucking about formed the foundation of my adult life. I did an exhibition in 2005, and the first thing in it was two pages of comics I drew instead of revising for exams when I was seventeen. Seeing those on the gallery wall was a fantastic “up yours!” Perfect.

Ordinary is out now, and available from all good comic shops.

D'Israeli website

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