One of the strengths of DC's mature readers imprint Vertigo is that, beyond presenting a critically-acclaimed line of comics every year, they also introduce readers to a wealth of new talent. How many fans were familiar with the name Neil Gaiman before they heard of "Sandman"? Didn't Vertigo teach you to pronounce Millar differently from Miller? Haven't you learned what a Diggle is yet? (You can learn through the recent CBR News interview).
And in the strangest turn of a phrase yet, Vertigo asks - "Got Jock?"
The young artist is one half of what is being billed as "Vertigo's newest trend-setting team," on the conspiracy-laden action comic "The Losers." Along with writer Andy Diggle, the UK superstar is eager to live up to the hype surrounding the series, so he caught up with CBR News at the Comic Festival in Bristol, England in May. But if you don't know Jock from, well, his namesake, the man intends to clear up any confusion. And if you haven't heard of "The Losers," he's here to provide a quick introduction to the series...
"It's about a team of ex-Special Forces soldiers who've uncovered a dirty secret about the CIA... and so the CIA tries to kill them," Jock told CBR News. "The CIA thinks they've done the job, but they're wrong, and now The Losers are out for payback. It's part conspiracy thriller, part heist caper - every decent action flick rolled into a Vertigo monthly."
For American readers who may not be used to UK slang, the next question is obvious - is Jock his real name? "It's not my real name; all it means is that I'm from Scotland," explains Jock. "I was a little bit concerned about [getting teased by American audiences] at one point; I thought that if I'm working for Vertigo, should I change the name? But when my first script arrived from Mike Carey for 'Hellblazer' #181, he'd written in, 'Art By Jock,' so it was decided for me! The reason I originally chose it is because when I was starting off, no-one forgot it. When I'd send samples and follow up, they'd know they spoke to Jock - they remembered me. It just stuck!"
While Diggle and Jock knew each other from their "2000 AD" days, the way they became attached on this series wasn't a foregone conclusion. "I met Karen Berger and Richard Bruning at the Bristol con last year, and I sent samples to Vertigo editor Will Dennis, and I thought that was that. Then Karen sent me an e-mail back saying, 'Great work. Will's been in contact with you about working on 'The Losers,' hasn't he?' And I'm like, 'No, he hasn't... What?' And so then I get this amazing e-mail from Will saying, 'We want you to be the artist on 'The Losers,' we think your art is fucking awesome!' It was amazing - I couldn't believe this guy was so enthusiastic! I don't know what led them to pair me with Andy; maybe it was the compromising photos… [laughs] No, I guess they thought that we had worked well together as a team on 'Lenny Zero' for the Judge Dredd Megazine, and decided to give us a shot."
Beyond his name, Jock's garnering attention in North America for his gritty art style that's already earned him a strong fan following in the UK for his work on "2000 AD." While some have compared him to Eduardo Risso - as some seem to do when any artist adopts a realistic and non-superhero artistic style these days - Jock admits to having a wide range of artistic influences that include current and veteran artists. "When I was growing up I went through all sorts of stuff, and that's one of the amazing things about doing this now. The guys I really admired are now my peers. I got a postcard from Duncan Fregredo a little while ago asking if I want to swap a cover with him. Part of me was going, 'Yeah, yeah, that's fine, that's great', and another part of me was going, 'Shit! That's Duncan Fegredo! That's amazing!' Who else? Kent Williams, Bill Sienkiewicz, Sean Phillips, Dave McKean, Ted McKeever, Eduardo Risso's great - just good guys and the people with something interesting to say, who're doing their own thing. People with their own style."
Since Jock's obviously admired people who've had the independence and drive to strike out on their own, it would stand to reason that he would be one artist who'd want to develop his own style and would have concrete ideas about what his style is and isn't. Except when to describe his style, he was speechless and answered, "I don't know what I'd say."
But fear not, since all comic business in the UK must take place in a pub, and this interview was no exception, Andy Diggle was on hand to lend his perspective to the interview. "Gritty, DIRRRRRRRRRRTY, raw," says Diggle of Jock's art. "It's a lo-fi, punk feel. In fact, Frank Quitely was telling Jock last night how he's jealous of Jock's style, how he'd like to loosen up. Jock's done just that."
"Some people draw over and over their pencil lines, carefully sculpting their image - for me it's about putting the right line down straight away," adds Jock. "It's different styles, that's it. I'm not sure if that makes me a particularly fast penciller; my average is about a page a day, and perhaps someone who's more detailed would also do a page a day. But I just like getting the lines where they need to go and that's it."
Jock's artwork has a very realistic feel, especially with the clothing, which he says is a result of wanting to inject a different look into American comics. "It's really important for me that the stuff I do be grounded in reality. I love superhero stuff and all those guys, but the classic thing is when it's converted to film, it can look pretty ridiculous. Like the 'Daredevil' film - is it just me, or does Ben Affleck look ridiculous in the suit, thinking how serious he is? I remember there's a shot where he's in a subway station and it's supposed to be dramatic… but he just looks like an idiot. I wouldn't be scared of him! That whole look, the straps and stuff can be visually cool; but to tell a powerful story, you have to believe in it, so I try to keep it all real."
With such a "cool" vibe permeating "The Losers," it'd be easy to think that the art would be a bunch of clichéd full page spreads or people striking dynamic poses, but Jock says he sees it as a challenge to make the cool… cool. "I kinda love it," he says. "Zackary Rau, the assistant editor, was saying how the first scripts were in danger of being too testosterone driven; too many people standing around, feeling grim about stuff. Nothing against Andy's writing - it just had a different feel when we started out on this. But he thought with the way it was drawn, it'd give it some weight, it'd change the dynamic. So hopefully you get real strong story and characters, with the grittiness of reality to it as well. It should be a potent mix. That's the plan anyway!"
Despite a pace that would make rival company CrossGen proud, Jock says there will be a fill-in artist on the series every so often, but that is to compensate for the fact that he's providing the covers for the series as well. "We are having a fill-in guy," he admits. "Someone else was going to be doing the covers because our editor, Will Dennis, wasn't so keen on my cover stuff on '2000 AD,' which is all a bit one-note and grim. Karen Berger wanted me on the covers, but I couldn't just say to Will, 'I'm doing the covers!' So once I proved myself to him and showed I could do it, we thought it best to get a fill-in artist to keep things on track. Doug Gregory's drawing a couple of issues of 'Hellblazer' at the moment, which is apparently looking fantastic. He's an amazing artist - he could draw the pants off most people I know - so I can't wait to see what he does on 'The Losers.' Turning the book around in four weeks is tough, and with the covers as well, it just pushed it over the edge. But that's okay, because I love the covers!"
One of the great appeals of Vertigo is often the level of collaboration between the writer and artist, with each contributing elements to the other's work. Nowhere is this more evident than between "The Losers" duo Diggle and Jock, whose sheer glee over even sound effects speaks volumes. To overhear their discussion of future issues is evidence that these two enjoy working together. That said, don't expect to see a "Losers" issue pencilled and written by Jock in the near future - while he contributes plot and character elements, he's not about to try and write the series himself. "I leave the writing to Andy, but we'll try to get to get together every so often and talk about where we're going with the series, even character stuff as well. I think the way I'm drawing the characters influences how Andy will write them in some cases. Like Clay, the main guy, has a real tense look in his eye. When he started out he was more just a regular tough guy, but now he's got a little bit more of an edge to him. So for me, that where's I have an influence."
With recent Vertigo success stories like "Y-The Last Man" and "Fables," and surefire hits like "Sandman: Endless Nights" and "The Originals" in the pipeline, the imprint has been really working on making each new launch count - and "The Losers" has been getting the royal treatment. Full color ads in popular trade magazine "Wizard", house ads in DC Comics, an 8-page preview in issue 45 of the hit "100 Bullets," and an eye-catching poster for retailers to display - all of which could lead some creators to feel somewhat pressured if their series was promoted this way. "If I started to feel the pressure… Let's not even go there," smiles Jock. "This is where we're at and let's do a good job, that's where I'm at. It's great that DC is so behind the series, and it means they have some faith in us, but I'm not worried about that - I just have to do my job as well as I can."
When asked if there's any downside to the series so far, Jock says there isn't, and explains that it's all been a blast thus far. "I'm really enjoying the series and because it's a big thing, and we're big unknowns, the gauntlet's been thrown down. Hopefully will pick it up and prove worthy. Since starting it, I'm basically doubling my output from '2000 AD.' The most fun part? Hmmm, not Andy - he sucks [laughs all around]. DC is basically taking a risk on two unknown guys and it's great to see DC behind us. That feels good."
Many American readers may not know that for the past few years, Jock has been to Judge Dredd in the UK what Jim Lee has become to Batman in recent times - the hot artist. His Dredd images are everywhere, and his popularity at the Comic Festival was evident, with many fans turning out for sketches from one of their favorite "2000 AD" artists. "I'll still be doing covers, bits and pieces for them, as well as the year-end pieces, but 'The Losers' are taking up the most of my time. As far as the longevity of my work goes, whenever they need Judge Dredd art for skateboards or a promotion, anything which pushes Dredd out into other mediums, it's been my Dredd that people have been seeing. Which is just great. It's hard to leave it behind, I love it, but having 22 pages a month is such a different dynamic and that's exciting. Six page stories require everything to be so condensed, and now I can breathe, explore different storytelling ideas. And if all goes well, I'll still be doing 'The Losers' in five years. I have so much freedom - they ask me where I want the barcode on the cover! Will Dennis is great and they've given us a lot of freedom to do what we want."
Like fellow DC-er Joe Casey, Jock has a musical side- he's a drummer and he shares his music exclusively with CBR News. "'kay, the first track is from a band called 'Is' who I haven't played live with- a friend of mine produces it, and he used a previous recording of my drums on this track called 'Step On Out.'
"The second track is a live recording from when i was touring with the band 'Elevator Suite'... They recorded their album using samples and I was one of three musicians brought in to play it out live. We toured throughout Europe for three months playing to between three and five thousand people five nights a week. It was a blast! The biggest crowd was sixty thousand (!) at a Radio event.... it was some experience. This is a bit of a dodgy mix straight off the desk, but the track's called 'Weekend Wonderboy.'"
Jock tells CBR News that those interested in buying the above can do just that. "Elevator Suite" releases are available trough Mushroom/Infectious Records and the "Is" track will be available in an upcoming "Jazzanova" compilation.
Jock stresses that he hopes everyone gives "The Losers" a chance, and adds, "Hopefully our take on things will be different than they've seen before. And I'm certainly trying to expand my artistic horizons. It's great working Will and Zack... and that Diggle guy can be OK, too." [laughs]