Talking Doctor Who with CBI Finalist Dan McDaid

Even before Marvel UK launched “Doctor Who Weekly” in October 1979, there had been a long history of synergy between the popular science fiction television series and comic books. Indeed, going right back to the show’s earliest days, when TV Century 21 started running strips based on The Doctor’s first incarnation, played by William Hartnell, in 1964. And when cinema got in on the act, with “Doctor Who and the Daleks” in 1965, comics were there, too. In fact, director Gordon Flemyng craftily insinuated that the grandfatherly figure of Doctor Who was still in touch with his playful inner child with an early establishing shot of actor Peter Cushing reading the classic weekly “The Eagle.”

That was then, and this is now. The launch of a new season of the reinvigorated “Doctor Who” is about as big a media event as you can get in the UK these days. Series Four begins on Saturday, April 5, two days after the 394th issue of “Doctor Who Magazine” goes on sale (now published by Panini Comics, who bought the catalogue of Marvel’s UK operation in 1995). It’s a rather prestigious time for any comic book artist to have their work appear in the magazine, which makes it all the more impressive that this will be the issue in which Dan McDaid, best known around these parts for coming third in COMIC BOOK IDOL 2007, makes his debut as a professional comic book artist.

McDaid is a lifelong Doctor Who fan, and his career has been bound to the character for a year now -- first, his illustrations accompanied the Gareth Roberts’ text story “The Body Bank” in “The Doctor Who Storybook 2008,” then, during the heat of the COMIC BOOK IDOL process, McDaid landed a writing gig with DWM, a four part story called “The First,” which ran from issues #386 to #389. Now Dan will become the first creator to write, draw AND colour a strip in the magazine’s twenty-nine year history.

On the verge of this breakthrough, CBR News spoke with McDaid about loving comics, Doctor Who, hurling grenades at communists, and cheap supermarket fizzy wines.

Now that the dust has settled, what are your lasting impressions of COMIC BOOK IDOL 2007?

At the risk of sounding like a total saddo, CBI was my life for a few weeks there. Seriously, if I wasn't actually drawing for the assignments, I was thinking about 'em, or fervently reading the forums, or constantly hitting "refresh" on voting day. It was nuts - and I'm sure the other contestants would agree. And it all came at a really bad time in many ways: my partner and I had just moved from Dundee to London, my first major Doctor Who job was looming. And the day that we got the second assignment, I had an accident and tore off my big toenail. So I was hopping around our new flat, bleeding like a mofo and going "aargh, got to get '80s reference, what does a Honda look like" etc. This was for CB Cebulski's assignment - which came out the best of all of them, weirdly. Anyway, it was great, great fun and has led to some really cool stuff since. But my hair definitely went a bit greyer over those few weeks.

How'd you get your gig with Panini, and what was the chronology there - there must have been a period when getting the assignment to illustrate the story in the 2008 storybook, the assignment to write for the mag, and getting through onto CBI came in pretty rapid succession?

Actually, the Storybook job came nice and early in the year. Maybe April or May 07. But yeah, CBI and the early, worrying stages of my forthcoming Who strip hit at about the same time. The Panini job came up because I had reached the end of my tether with my job as a sub-editor for DC Thomson and it became pretty obvious to my bosses there that my heart was no longer in it. By the end, there were more sketches and scraps of artwork on my desk than galleys or proof pages, and I was even told to stop drawing during my breaks because it looked bad.

So I was politely shown the door and, after some initial "what the fuck do I do now?" moments of panic, my girlfriend persuaded me to take a punt at sending some art samples to "Doctor Who Magazine." And to my surprise, the (then) editor of "DWM" phoned me three days later and said that they liked my work and did I have anything else to show them. Luckily, I had been working on an online comic of my own for a while at this point, so I was able to say, "look, I can draw buildings and robots and I can tell a story etc." I remember I checked my blog stats one afternoon after that, and I found that somebody at Cardiff - where the TV series is made - had spent about half an hour on my blog. Very gratifying, that.

Anyway, that led in short order to me doing some illustrations for the Doctor Who Storybook, which was lovely. Among the samples I sent Panini was a strip called “Mr McGuffin” - which I had written myself - and this led to my being commissioned to do some writing for the Magazine proper. My partner was reading about explorer Ernest Shackleton at the time, and she suggested that I do something around him and his story. Which was a gift really: once you've got a character like Shackleton and a setting like the Antarctic, a lot of the rest of it falls into place. So I wrote a four-parter called “The First” and that was it - I was finally in “Doctor Who Magazine!” The Tesco Cava flowed like reasonably priced wine that night, I can tell you.

And next up, I've reached what George Costanza might call the Trifecta: I'm writing, pencilling, inking and colouring my next strip for “Doctor Who Magazine.” It's called “Hotel Historia” and it's about - hey - a freaky hotel run by a mysterious businesswoman called Majenta Pryce. She's probably one of the best characters I've ever come up with - although it took my current editor to see the potential there. She’s a great, bosomy, bolshy pain in the arse for Doctor Who - and I'm overall really pleased with the strip. That's on the shelves over here on the 3rd of April. People in the colonies will receive their copies in due course.

With the long history of Doctor Who strips going right back to the '60s, do you have any personal favorites? Plus, every Who nut has their personal favourite Doctor and villains, what're yours?

You can't beat those early Marvel UK strips. It's an incredibly raw, sexy time for British comics generally - you've got Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Bryan Talbot, Alan Davis, all really hungry and doing some of their best ever work. And you've got “2000AD” and its ilk, with John Wagner and Pat Mills doing some seriously mad stuff. So when they bring some of that vigour and humour over to the Who strips with stuff like “The Iron Legion,” it's really mind-blowing. Then Steve Parkhouse comes in and takes over and the strips get more otherworldy and oblique, taking Who into territory where the TV show would never go. That was twenty years ago of course - these days, the TV show is practically a spin-off of those comic strips. And more power to it, I say.

Then more recently, you've got Scott Gray's run from the late nineties to the mid naughties. These strips are my bible: everything you need to know about how to write Who - and particularly Who comics - is there. Deft characterisation, big ideas, iconic moments, and an eye for the surreal. As a complete body of work, I'd put it on a par with Peter David's run on “The Incredible Hulk.” It's that good. And it's all out now in trade form, so you should do yourself a favour and go buy.

Favourite Doctor: Paul McGann. I say this partly to be contrary and partly because he really was very, very good. I also loved - and still miss -- Christopher Eccleston. David Tennant is brilliant though - a tremendously gifted actor and visually an artist's dream. Really strong, expressive features, a wicked quiff and a cool, faintly superheroey costume. Favourite villain: the Daleks. But not in the comics, because you're losing the thing that makes the Daleks so upsetting - the voice.

Readers have remarked that you've really got "the voice" of Tennant's Doctor down pat. Can you just summon it up at will, at this point?

I don’t know - I’ve watched a lot of Doctor Who, so the character - in all his forms - is burnt into my psyche. And this Doctor is really beautifully defined so he’s (relatively) easy to nail: he’s complex, funny, a bit of a show-off, his mind’s always racing; a bit studenty, a bit of a pseud, but with a lot of hidden power and anger. I think a lot of Who fans feel like he's a bit like them in some respects, and I'm no exception - so I just tap into the Who-y side of myself and I write from that.

A quick scan of your website or your blog reveals a long love of genre TV, and superhero comics. What were your early favourites? Any dream projects you'd love to take a swing at?

When I was a kid I think my favourite show would probably have been “The A-Team.” Although I loved the “Doctor Who” books, if it came down to a choice between watching Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford or Hannibal Smith and Mr T on a Saturday night... well, it was no contest really. Also there was the slight problem of having been banned from watching “Who” by my Dad in the late '70s/early '80s on account of it being too frightening. Watching the dude from Breakfast at Tiffany's throwing grenades at Communists wasn't nearly such a daunting prospect. Then Sylvester McCoy became the Doctor and my Dad decided either a) I was old enough to watch the show or b) the show was now so silly there was no way it could scare me. So there you go, when I was boy it was “Doctor Who” and “The A-Team” - and I'd say those two things are still big influences on my work.

Artistically, my big influences when I was a kid - though I didn't know this at the time - were guys like John Romita Jr, John Byrne, Frank Miller (when he was drawing superhero stuff), Mike Zeck. And then there was a phase when I was about ten when I would have given my eye-teeth to draw like (Transformers artist) Geoff Senior. He was my favourite artist for ages, and having recently caught up with reprints of those Marvel UK Transformers strips I'd say his work still stands up really well.

Then in my teens, “Doctor Who” went away and so something else had to fill the void. At this point, I pretty much accepted any old culty tat that came my way: “Quantum Leap,” “Crime Traveller” (which is even worse than it sounds, folks), “Red Dwarf.” Then I discovered alcohol and “The Avengers” (the Emma Peel/John Steed variety) at about the same time, then came “The Prisoner” and a whole bunch of other oddball sixties and seventies stuff. And then “Doctor Who” sort of came back and I got all excited about that again.

Dream projects... This is a tough one, because I'm basically working on my dream projects. Other than Doctor Who I'm working on something with "Glorious" Glen Brunswick of “Killing Girl” and “Gray Area” fame and we're doing something that's going to be really cool, and that hits all the beats I love - people having arguments in malls, Kirby style heroes having vast scraps in space.

I'd love to have a go at Spider-Man, Shazam, Superman, Batman; any of the biggies. Anyone with a cool costume. I'd quite like to get Iron Man back to that David Michelinie/Bob Layton era, when he was basically Magnum PI in a suit of armour. When I'm not drawing anyone else, I like to doodle the Hulk, so I guess he'd be a fun character to draw. Tanks being hurled around, massive, earth-shaking battles. Always good fun. On the writing side of things, I've got a ton of ideas for Superman - including an idea for a Thor/Superman crossover, which makes me laugh every time I think of it. It's very unlikely to happen while the Big Two aren't talking to each other, but I can dream, can't I?

Any favorite current comics creators you'd like to work with?

I make no apologies for my man-crush on Darwyn Cooke. Everything he does exudes class and cool and I truly believe he's the saviour of this little medium of ours. Seriously, non-comic fans who see his work "get it" instantly: stuff like “The Spirit” and “The New Frontier” just pulls 'em in. I also love anything by Grant Morrison, Dan Slott, John Romita Jr -- I read his “Eternals” book with Neil Gaiman recently and it's just beautiful. He's great at scale, and I really envy that. I'm only now getting into Moebius, particularly his Blueberry stuff. He makes everything look easy, instinctive. Marcos Martin is brilliant, a really exciting artist who pushes all my buttons. His Doc Strange stuff was gorgeous, but I saw a preview of his upcoming Spider-Man stuff and... wow.

Failing that, sort me out with a TARDIS of my own and I'd go back to the heat of the Silver Age and try to get work with those guys. Toth, Robbins, Kirby, Kane... That's where it's at for me.

If you had Joe 90's specs, whose brain patterns would you nick, er, borrow?

Er, Alan Moore? Morrissey? I don’t know if I'd really want someone else's brain patterns (and isn't that a mad idea for a kids' show?). Can't I go the Captain Scarlet route and have invulnerability instead?

And finally, if you were a Skrull in the Marvel Universe, whom would you covertly replace?

She-Hulk. For obvious reasons.

Now discuss this story in CBR's Independents forum.

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor: Holiday Special #1

Tags: doctor who, dan mcdaid, comic book idol

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