If you were to think back upon the most important comic book stories of the last forty years, you’d be surprised to realize just how many of them came from British comic book creators. Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison are three of the most acclaimed comic book writers in the history of the genre. Artists like Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland, Kevin O’Neill and David Lloyd created some of the most seminal comic book works of the 20th Century.
Right in the middle of this seismic shift in the creative energy behind the comic book industry was none other than Len Wein.
Now, DC Comics was no stranger to looking to other countries for new talent by the time that the 1980s began. After the success of Tony DeZuniga for DC Comics in the early 1970s, the Philippines became a major source of new artistic talent for DC Comics, with artists like Nestor Redondo, Alfredo Alcala and Alex Niño all being recruited (in part because they were paid less than American artists, while still getting paid more than they were making as artists in the Philippines). However, the “British Invasion” seems to have begun in an unusual manner.
Green Lantern artist Joe Staton flew to England to attend a comic book convention in 1979. British comic book artist, Brian Bolland, let him stay at his place. While there, Bolland expressed an interest in wanting to draw covers for DC Comics. Staton, having functioning eyeballs, realized that that would probably be something that would work out well for all parties involved. So Staton contacted his editor, Jack C. Harris, and Harris assigned Bolland to draw the cover to Green Lantern #127…
It was such an obviously good cover that Bolland soon got more and more cover work for the next two years, with Justice League of America editor Len Wein probably giving him his biggest exposure with the legendary covers to Justice League of America #189-190…
Intrigued by the work that Bolland was doing for them, DC did an official talent scouting trip for two of their major editors, Dick Giordano and Joe Orlando, to England in 1981. It was here that they met up with the cream of the crop of British creators, including Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and more. Gibbons later noted that it was simply a matter of DC offering a lot more money than he was making as an artist in England at the time that made it a simple decision to start drawing American comic books.
Paul Levitz and Len Wein also traveled to England in the early 1980s, in slightly less official capacities, to recruit artists. More importantly, though, was that they weren’t just recruiting creators, they were finding real and important work for these creators. For instance, starting in 1983, Gibbons began doing back-up stories for Green Lantern. However, when Wein took over the title in 1984 (as writer and editor) he bumped Gibbons up to the artist on the main feature…
They famously introduced John Stewart, the African-American “back-up” Green Lantern as the main star of the book after Hal Jordan quit the Green Lantern Corps…
Even before then, Wein had also found a way to use Brian Bolland’s prodigious talents on a project with writer Mike W. Barr called Camelot 3000, a 12-issue maxiseries with fancy paper back at a time when people were not really doing 12-issue maxiseries with fancy paper.
The 12 issues would take two and a half years to all come out (Bolland is not the world’s fastest artists), but the end result was a tremendous critical and commercial success.
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