Sunday, 28 April 2013

Interview with Darren - A M.A.S.K. Fan!

One of the key aspects of my site is getting to you; the readers of my blog and Facebook Page.  It's great to find out about what others like about M.A.S.K. and interact; rather than just discussing my point of view.

Recently, Darren posted a link on my  M.A.S.K. Comics Facebook Page to a great Facebook Page all about Artist David Pugh.  David is responsible for much of the greatest artwork in titles such as The Eagle, 2000AD, Judge Dredd and, of course, M.A.S.K.  There are many original works and I recommend that you have a look and like this fabulous page.

I contacted Darren to see if he would be interested in a little Q&A session and he said yes.  Not only was this a great interview session, but Darren has a great wealth of knowledge about the Artists that created our favourite Comic!

Who are you?

My name is Darren Gregson, and I am thirty 'something' years old.

I am originally from Nottinghamshire in the UK. I have recently moved to the US marrying my American fiancee.

My background is in Art and Design, and I worked as a Graphic Designer for 10 years in Leeds, West Yorkshire.

I am now currently in the process of planning and setting up my own business as an Artist Designer Illustrator.

What first got you into M.A.S.K?

I have several distinct early M.A.S.K memories.

The first is watching a TV commercial for the toys that aired during Saturday morning television.  The advert was for Rhino. This would be in the run up to Christmas 1986.  To this day, I still recall the feeling of excitement I experienced seeing the TV commercial for the first time.

My second memory is finding the first issue of the UK M.A.S.K comic on a newsagent shelf shortly after.  It was actually my brother Paul (who is four years younger than me), that collected the first few issues (specifically issues 1, 4 and 7).

My next memory is receiving Jackhammer for Christmas that year.  Paul had Gator.

From then onwards, we were both officially hooked.  Toys, comics, cartoons, books, sticker book and any other related merchandise.

Did you collect the comics growing up?

I started collecting the UK comic from issue 8 (the one with the cover and poster 'joiner'), and collected every issue until number 80, before it merged with Eagle. I also acquired issues 1,4 and 7 from Paul. (I would say for a fair swap, but he may disagree). In addition to the regular comic, I collected several holiday and seasonal specials. I remember Paul had the 'Action Special' too (which was hardback like an annual).

Even at that young age I was a collector, and had to track down those missing early issues for my collection. I remember obsessively asking my school friends to sell me their copies of issues 2,3,5,and 6. I even recall paying 60p for an issue (which was a lot of pocket money for me in 1987). Eventually I was able to complete my run.

I was only slightly aware that there was an American comic. My friend had the first issue (purchased from a car boot sale I believe), but the quality of the artwork was inferior, and I never looked for those until I was older.

Do you still have your collection and have you added to it?

I do still have my M.A.S.K comic collection. As you may expect, my original collection was neglected during my middle teenage years. However, around fifteen years ago after contemplating the nostalgic value of my childhood, I sealed them all into mylar comic bags and stored them in a comic box to keep them safe. The early issues are far from perfect, but from around issue 14 onwards, they are all nearly as new (except when the free gift was removed from the cover and my surname was written on the back for paperboy delivery).

In September/October 1988 when M.A.S.K merged with Eagle, I was so disappointed that I stopped collecting the comic totally. It just wasn't the same. I then went on to collect Wildcat (a UK sci fi comic), Marvel UK's Transformers, The Real Ghostbusters and any other comic that looked new and interesting.

Many years later, I did regret not collecting the Eagle issues, and when I discovered Ebay, I quickly purchased the full run and additional copies of my damaged early issues from 1986-1987. I also purchased the Grandreams UK annuals (which contained reprints from the American comic), the actual DC comic mini series, and the M.A.S.K comic preview issue, which I didn't know existed until then.

What was your favourite aspect of the comics?

The artwork without a doubt. I loved vehicles of any description, I loved to draw cars, and the comic was a perfect combination of everything I enjoyed at the age of nine and ten. It was also at this point that I started to understand that comics were created by an artist. It was a job and they were paid to draw. Although the illustrators were never officially credited, I would see names signed within the panels, and begin to recognise certain artist's work from their style.
I no longer wanted to be a Ghostbuster, I wanted to draw comic books.

I even drew two issues of my own M.A.S.K comic and took them to school for friends to read.  They were terrible, but I wish I still had them.

I loved the fact that the stories were multipart with a definite conclusion (it even said conclusion on the final episode). At the time I had looked through some Transformer comics, and the stories just seemed to continue. At at that early age, I didn't want that, I wanted closure.

Every fortnight, then every week, Paul and I would obsess and debate over what new vehicles would be introduced into the stories, and more importantly, what was going to be on the poster. That also added to the excitement.

How do you think the comic compared with the toys and the cartoon?

I collected the comic, I played with the toys, and I watched the cartoon.  I enjoyed all three immensely. But if I had to pick one now, I would say my favourite would be the comic.

Certainly when I compare the comic to the cartoon, the stories have more depth.
They had more impact on me. Especially in the early issues.  They also fuelled my love of reading comics and reading in general.

And even though there were comedic moments in the comic, I always felt that Venom were dangerous.  Certainly more dangerous than in the cartoon.

If you collected more than one variant, which is your favourite?

The UK Comic was my favourite.

How do you think M.A.S.K compared to other comics of the time or now?

I can only really compare the comic to other licenced comics from the 1980's.

I would say the first thing is the quality of the artwork and storytelling. It was far superior to anything I had seen at that time.  The comic was 100% M.A.S.K (no random back up stories), and contained five or six stories to read per issue.

I think one of the things I took for granted at the time was the continuous front and back cover illustration. Most comics, licensed or not, would use the back cover for advertising. A wraparound cover would be a 'special gift' for the majority of comics I collected. But M.A.S.K had one every week. And a fully illustrated poster too.

You recently shared a link to the David Pugh Fan Page, can you tell us more?

As I mentioned earlier, I had a hunger to know the names of my favourite M.A.S.K artist's.
My two favourite M.A.S.K illustrators were Ron Smith and David Pugh.  I would read their stories first.

Ron had a very distinctive style, and his characters were always very expressive. There was an energy to his M.A.S.K vs VENOM battle scenes that engaged my imagination.

David's work was ultra realistic. The most detailed of all the artist's. His drawings looked exactly like the toys, but he somehow made them look real and placed them in real world locations.

There were others that I liked too, but I didn't always know their names, or their full names (some work wasn't signed, or only signed with a surname).

As I got older, I came across the comic 2000ad, and began to make connections as the stories were officially credited.  The internet helped too.

Ron and David both illustrated comics for 2000ad too (they also worked on Wildcat).

During the latter part of my degree (I studied Visual Communication in Birmingham, 1995-1998), I was fortunate enough to be able to correspond with Ron (this was before the rise of the internet and email). He gave me information on his background. He had been working as a comic illustrator since 1949. When he was illustrating M.A.S.K, he would have been in his early sixties.

Ron also helped me with my dissertation and gave me feed back on my artwork (I still wanted to draw comic books at this point).

In 2003, I asked Ron if he had some of his original M.A.S.K artwork, and if he would sell some to me.  His reply was that basically Kenner owned the artwork, and he never got it back.  I was disappointed and assumed that all of the other artist's were in the same position.
(I imagined a warehouse somewhere full of this artwork, forgotten and just rotting away).

Ron kindly signed some pages from spare comics that I had.  They are one of my most treasured parts of my M.A.S.K collection.

Always polite and a gentlemen, I am eternally grateful for Ron's help and positive contribution to my life.

With the rise of the internet, I have managed to piece together gaps in my knowledge, and last year I found David Pugh's Fan Page.  And too my amazement, he had some of his original M.A.S.K artwork for sale?!  I couldn't believe it!

We began to correspond, and I asked him questions regarding his work and M.A.S.K.

He told me that in the early 1990's, he was asked if he wanted his artwork back before it was all destroyed.  David and his wife had to travel to London at the weekend, and basically grab as much as they could before everything was incinerated on the Monday.

David and I agree that it is likely only his work has survived (Although I hope I am wrong about that).

If anybody is interested, the following is information I have gathered regarding M.A.S.K comic artist's over the years.  Some of it is from childhood memories, personal correspondence and of course the internet.

Ian Kennedy.
Ian illustrated the origin story, 'The Beginning'.  Ian is semi retired, but still creates cover illustrations for DC Thompson's Commando comic.

Ron Smith.
Ron Illustrated stories such as, 'Project Dinosaur', 'Operation Vandal' and 'Doomseed'.
Ron retired in 2003 due to failing eyesight. He would have been seventy nine!

David Pugh.
David illustrated many stories such as, 'Kamikaze', 'Maelstrom Mayhem', 'Ice Station' and 'Funnsville'.  David no longer draws comic books and has set up a charity called Bus Fare.

Please note that Kamikaze and Maelstrom Mayhem were written by Peter Milligan.

Carlos Pino.
Carlos (a spanish artist) illustrated the colour stories including, 'The Great Head Robbery' and 'Amazon Mystery' in addition to a couple of black and white stories.

John Cooper.

John Colquhoun.
John is most famous for illustrating a seminal 1970's war comic story called, 'Charley's War' written by Pat Mills.  John passed away in 1987 during his work on M.A.S.K.

Kim Raymond.
Kim illustrated 'Double Trouble' in the early issues, and later 'Hogan's Gang'.
Hogan's Gang was a story about M.A.S.K and Venom toys that came to life.
(Sorry if that's a spoiler).  Kim now works as a painter/fine artist.

Anthony Williams.
Anthony drew the later episodes of 'Hogan's Gang' as well as 'The Adventures of Cliff Dagger' strip.  Anthony also worked on Marvel UK's The Real Ghostbusters, 2000ad and many more.
Anthony still works as a commercial artist.

Sandy James.
Sandy illustrated the majority of the covers and posters for M.A.S.K comic.
He also illustrated one story possibly in printed in issue 16. (My comics are stored in the UK therefore I cannot check).  It is likely that Sandy illustrated himself as part of the Venom cover to issue 28 (the artist with the beard).

I believe Sandy passed away recently.

What was your first M.A.S.K toy?

Jackhammer. It is also my favourite.

How big was/is your collection?

Combined, my brother and I had around 17-18 vehicles (he actually had more than I)
Unfortunately some were broken through excessive play and therefore thrown away (I should never have taken Switchblade to school for 'bring a toy' day).

Our collection varies in condition, with many complete and some in almost perfect condition (particularly toys from the later Racing Series). By the time the 'Split Second' series was released, we had moved on to other things.

To this day, I will never be able to explain why as a teenager I decided to take Jackhammer apart. First with a screw driver, and then by force. I always regretted that.

Quick Fire Questions.

Gloria or Vanessa?

I always wanted Shark (didn't we all), but I did love Manta.
I would have to say Vanessa.

Spectrum or Ultraflash?


Hurricane or Firecracker?

Hurricane (but only just).

M.A.S.K, G.I Joe or Transformers?


Scott Trakker - Love or Hate?

As a child I didn't have a problem with Scott.
As an adult.....Ugh!

Thunderhawk or Switchblade?


You may know that I've written a script, what are your thoughts on a M.A.S.K movie?

A M.A.S.K movie would be awesome.  A new comic would be equally cool.  IDW publishing are you listening? (Highly unlikely).

Which characters and vehicles would you like to see?

In the first movie I would love to see all of the original vehicles and characters from series one.

Transformers came under fire for changes to many of the vehicles?  What are your thoughts on vehicles for M.A.S.K.?

A variation of original designs and some updates would work well.

Seeing Jackhammer as an original 1980's Black Ford Bronco (in which the toy was based) would be much better than a modern 4x4.

But a modern rig would be cool for Rhino.

I think Switchblade would need to be updated/changed.  Really when you think about it, a helicopter than turns into a plane isn't that exciting.

However, like the Transformers live action movies, there would ultimately be a sponsorship deal made with vehicle manufacturers, and that would determine what vehicles were used.

Thank you very much for your time Darren!

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