INTERVIEW: Tim Pilcher on How Comics Work

One of the most exciting pieces of news I’ve had the pleasure to cover was the announcement of Dave Gibbons and Tim Pilcher’s new book How Comics Work. Due for release on 15th September, this invaluable instruction book features both creators teaching you about every aspect of comics creation – from script writing to lettering to cover design. Most exciting of all, the book will have both insightful commentary from Tim Pilcher and rarely seen artwork from Dave Gibbons!

This is a book I’m incredibly eager to read (and re-read again and again) and I was interested in learning more about the creation of How Comics Work. Luckily, Tim Pilcher agreed to provide that peek behind the scenes and answer a few questions.

Geek Syndicate (GS): Tim, thanks so much for your time !                  

Tim Pilcher (TP): Thanks for inviting me!

GS: What’s the elevator pitch for the new book ?                                         

TP: A private tuition course led by Dave Gibbons on how to create comics!

GS: How did you come to work on this project with Dave Gibbons ?

TP: Well, I’ve written over 14 books on comics over the years and I’ve know Dave for nearly 30 years (he wrote the forward for my and Brad Brooks’ The Essential Guide to World Comics) so it was a natural fit really. I’ve wanted to work with Dave for years and we both share a passion for the analytical aspects of deconstructing comics. We really enjoy delving into the mechanics of visual storytelling and exploring the possibilities. So I was developing an idea of using one creator’s insights into comic creation and it occurred to me there were very few creators that have had such a lifelong experience in ALL aspects of comics, from writing, pencilling, inking, colouring and even lettering, and so Dave was the obvious choice. Plus, given his delight in talking non-stop about comics, and the fact that his archives are enormous, it was a no-brainer!

GS: Your previous work has been on comics history books, why did you want to focus on a “How To” book this time around ?                        

TP: Well, actually the very first book I ever had professionally published, way back in 2001, was called The Complete Cartooning Course (co-written by Brad Brooks again)! And I commissioned Comic Book Design by Gary Spencer Millidge, while at Ilex Press, so it wasn’t that big a leap for me to do another “How To” book. As I mentioned, Dave and I are just fans of the medium and I used to teach at the London Cartoon Art Trust many years ago, so for me the “How to” part of comics is equally as important as the “history” aspect.

GS: The press release mentions the book has unseen process art from Dave Gibbons. What was your favourite piece of process art that you found ?                                                                              

TP: There’s SO much that it’s REALLY hard to choose! There are nearly 200 previously unpublished drawings in the book! I think it’s probably all the stages of the development for the Superman Annual #11 cover (For The Man Who Has Everything, written by Alan Moore). Dave is a total packrat and throws NOTHING away! So he had all his original rough thumbnails for the cover design, plus all the different layers of the logo, the pencils, the inks, the colour art, everything! So it was great to see how those elements all come together to create a work of art. That and his roughs for a Starsky & Hutch annual I never knew he’d drawn (which is in the book). The only heartbreaking element was all the stuff we couldn’t fit in the book, like his pencils for Harlem Heroes or The Creeper! However there’s the possibility Dave will have another book out in the future that might include all the stuff we couldn’t get in here!

GS: What did you learn about creating comics from working on the book ?                                        

TP: That everyone has a different approach to creating stories and I’d never come across Dave’s particular process of plotting before, which was fascinating. As was just seeing his development from a young letterer for IPC into the legendary creator he is today (I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that)! The confidence in his work is quite inspiring. That and the fact that there are no real shortcuts to creating comics. You have to do them right and meticulously or it’ll fall down at the later stages.

GS: What’s next for Tim Pilcher ?

TP: Fame, glory, money, a spot of rehab, and then retirement to a villa in Kerela surrounded by my acolytes! Meanwhile, in this current timeline, I have another book on cannabis out in September: Everything You Wanted to Know About Cannabis But Were Too Stoned To Ask from Ilex Press and I’ve been contributing essays to Fantatgraphics’ Complete Crepax Collection. I’d like to do a 10th Anniversary bind-up edition of my two-volume Erotic Comics: A Graphic History, particularly as so much has happened in the past decade, so it would be completely updated and revised. So we’ll see about that.

I thought it might be interesting to do another book on comic creation from other creators’ perspectives, as everyone approaches the craft differently, but the only other creator I can think of who has the depth of experience and the broad range of skills and insight as Dave, is Bryan Talbot. How about it, Bryan?! 😉

Other than that, there’s my “day job” of running Humanoids UK which keeps me incredibly busy editing books, dealing with distribution, attending shows, and the like. We publish around 20-24 graphic novels a year, so it’s always quite hectic!

GS: You’ve worked in the comics industry now for more than 20 years and even established your own publishing house. What is it about comics that you enjoy so much ?                                  

TP: Been in the industry (off and on) for nearly 30 years now (next year will be my anniversary *sob*). It’s a medium that is diverse and varied as prose, yet has an immediate, almost visceral, impact on the eyes – like cinema, but without all the distractions of music, sound effects or forced pacing. It’s the best of both worlds with none of the worst. I truly think sequential storytelling is just on the cusp of discovering the possibilities, and it adapts and evolves to embrace new technologies and formats, which proves it is an enduring art form. Comics are also like a virus, once they get under your skin you’re infected for life. You may have quiet periods, but then the itch flares up again – it never truly goes away.

GS: You have produced compilations of 1950s sci-fi, horror and romance comics and worked for Vertigo in its early years. What would you rather read – 1950s comics or the early 1990s Vertigo line ?

TP: Oh, both have their charm, but to be honest there is are so many good comics out there I’d rather try and catch up with everything being produced now! I’m trying to, and failing miserably! I’ve made it a bit of a rule to try not to re-read or re-watch anything, as there’s so much new stuff (and stuff I might of missed) out there that it seems almost disrespectful to keep poring over stuff I already know!
You can order How Comics Work from your favourite comics or book shop, or online here. Better yet, meet the creative geniuses and have them sign your copy at the events pictured below!

Geek Syndicate would like to thank Tim Pilcher for sharing his insight. 

Interviewer: Brett Harris 

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