I Love Comics Interview: Boo Cook

ComicScene: Hi Boo! Thanks for letting us interview you for Comic Scene!

Tell us what you are currently working on?

Boo Cook: I’m currently working on a fungal body horror / existential mayhem strip DEATH CAP for the Judge Dredd Megazine with writer Tom Eglington which is currently running in the comic. The story is about disgraced ex Texas City Judge Anita Goya whose bad decision sees her end up raising a small family in a wild west rad-back town. While she is away, mutant marauders who are infected with a further mutated variant of the old Grubbs disease from “Apocalypse War” story “Fungus”by Wagner/Grant and Ezquerra, are led to her town by Wayde in search of something specific and in the process, burn down Goya’s town and murder her family while she is away. This causes Goya to go off on an angst fueled warpath to track down the mutants and exact her revenge.

ComicScene: That sounds amazing! For those who want to read more about Death Cap, there is a great interview with Boo and Tom Ellington by 2000AD here.

ComicScene: You have worked for 2000AD now for over 21 years and your enthusiasm for the brand stems from your days as a child when your grandfather bought 2000AD for you. The length of your career with 2000AD shows a great mutual loyalty between artist and publisher. What in particular has earned that loyalty and do you see yourself working there for another 20 years?

Boo Cook: I will happily work for 2000AD as long as they’ll have me! one of the things that’s kept me happy working for them is the general creative freedom that they afford their contributors – I rarely have any calls to re-work art for them if ever, and knowing that someone has that faith in you to deliver what they initially employed you for is a great confidence boost and also means that the creative process runs incredibly smoothly. obviously that approach isn’t going to work every time, but if you look at the plethora of groundbreaking ideas and big names that they have nurtured over the past 40 odd years I think that speaks for itself.

ComicScene: When you think of the work you have done on British Iconic Comic Book characters such as Judge Dredd for 2000AD and the likes of Dr Who and compare them to those you worked on for Marvel such as your Wolverine cover, what do you think are the main differences between American comic book “heroes” and British? What international appeal do you think that these British made characters have?

Boo Cook: There is of course a lot of grey area in terms of stylistic output from all these companies but for me the overarching vibes from here and across the pond are that, for me at least, American heroes tend to be quite wholesome and earnest at times whereas 2000AD characters could be said to have a more radical, gritty anti-hero vibe, with more emphasis on satire too. There’ll always be exceptions of course but it even goes down to the visual designs – here things are a bit more detailed and off the wall whereas the world of capes is often very simple, colourful and slick. i think you could probably tell a lot about the soul of a nation by the style of it’s comics output…

ComicScene: You said in a past interview for 2000AD’s podcast that you have not had a great deal of success breaking into the American comic book industry but are perfectly happy working in UK comics. In your experience, what did you see as the difference between working for an American company such as Marvel vs. 2000AD?

Boo Cook: one of the main differences right out of the gate working for Marvel was the high level of hoop jumping – everything had to be nailed down in terms of process. Exact colour system matches in photoshop, costume colour guides, and a lot more micro-managing interference. I guess a lot of that is a result of Marvel being a massive company dealing with art contributions from a vast number of artists and having the process nailed down so tightly will no doubt grease the wheels in terms of collation and admin etc. With a company like Rebellion/2000AD as they have a smaller output and less contributors it’s easier to fix the odd formatting problem or whatever, but i’m pretty sure they’ve never put out a ‘Judge Dredd character costume sheet’ for everyone to adhere to and when you look at all the amazing takes on Dredd over the years you’ll see why I prefer that looser more trustworthy editorial approach.

ComicScene:? You also said that 2000AD have given you artistic freedom. How daring has this allowed you to be with the characters of Judge Dredd and Judge Anderson and what unique personal qualities have you brought to these characters?

Boo Cook: With such iconic characters, for me at least there was a tendency to jump straight in and do something crazy or unique with the design, to put your own stamp on the character. Over the years however that has all taken more of a back seat and i’m happy to let the personality and look of the character just come out naturally based on absorption of 40+ years of different approaches to their look. Hopefully by the time i’ve put all the influences from my favourite artists through my own personal filter, my ‘take’ will appear naturally and hopefully be recognisable. Judge Anderson was tricky as there are so many variables to her look that I wanted to try them all – i’m not sure that helped with the continuity of my 4 year run though and i’d leap at the chance to draw her again without considering any previous incarnations and let her just flow from my brain as she may…

ComicScene: Judge Dredd has been drawn by many artists over the years. You have said that you like to take inspiration from most artists who have drawn him for 2000AD. Over the course of your career, which comic book artists in particular do you think had a profound influence on your art style and why?

Boo Cook:  I think that the main artists whose take on Dredd have influenced me most over the years would be Brian Bolland, Brendan McCarthy, Carlos Ezquerra, and Cam Kennedy – and following very closely behind that, the other thousands of artists that have portrayed him. I think these incredibly imaginative and groundbreaking artists hit my young impressionable brain at the perfect time and blew the lid off my expectations of comic art which were previously based on comics such as The Beano and Tiger. There were just so many artists blowing my mind on a weekly basis – Mike McMahon, Steve Dillon, Brett Ewins, Ron Smith… all of whom are vying for control of my style brain when I draw Dredd now. Then of course there’s other artists who are less associated (if at all) with the 2000AD canon who are also a big influence such as Frank Quitely, James Harren, Moebius, José Ladronn, Jakub Rebelka, Masamune Shirow, Paul Pope, Sergio Toppi, Juan Gimenez – also more fantasy based artists such as Roger Dean, Time White, Chris Foss, PAJ… there’s a lot!

ComicScene: Diversity in terms of story, artwork as well as gender, race and sexuality etc. is an essential part of today’s comics and shows through in your work.  Perhaps one of the most diverse cast you have worked on is for Elephant Men by IMAGE Comics which features a cast of human/animal hybrids. Thinking about this and considering your work on both male and female lead characters such as Judge Dredd and Judge Anderson and currently ex-judge Goya, can you tell us what your views are on the importance of diversity in comics and if you have noticed an evolution in diversity over the course of your career in comics?

Boo Cook:  I think there has clearly been an evolution in diversity in comics over the years and that probably has a lot to do with creators generally seeming to be quite a kind, compassionate and wise bunch. I believe that reading strips such as Strontium Dog and Nemesis The Warlock as a child taught me much about equality, rights, inclusion and the need for debate about such things and those strips have in turn given me the mindset to continue creating comics that spread a positive message to any parts of the human race who are tuned in. Once strip that comes to mind that I completed is the final episode of BLUNT, for the Judge Dredd Megazine (written by Tom Eglington) is probably the most diverse strip in terms of race and sexuality which was something we wanted to consciously address. Our approach though has been not to crowbar big plot points in which address these issues, rather to just have characters from those diverse backgrounds in the strip, living, acting/reacting the same as anyone else without any particular attention drawn to their usual minority status, just simple inclusion and representation.

I’ve actually had (very brief) conversations with people on the internet who find this idea totally abhorrent and disgusting, but it is of course that very reaction that urges me to continue creating diverse comics. Many of the issues that currently plague the human psyche were solved for me really easily and clearly by reading great comics as a kid and it astonishes me how that evolution of our intelligence appears to be rolling backwards these days, so the diverse approach is more important than ever. Comics that are part of the solution.

ComicScene: You mentioned that you are a Star Wars and Sci-Fi fan and you worked on a print of the droid character 4-LOM from Star Wars. This was in collaboration with actor Chris Parsons who played the character in Empire Strikes Back. Tell us more about this project and how you became involved. Also, would you like to work on Star Wars comics in future and what are your thoughts on fan art as a means for an artist to express themselves and develop their skills?

Boo Cook: The Empire Strikes Back 40th anniversary 4-LOM print came about in quite a humorous way – I was sketching in the middle of a shopping centre in my home town for the opening of the new Scorch Comics shop and while I was feverishly drawing away someone gave me a nudge and stuck out their hand to shake and said ‘alright? i’m 4-LOM!’ I was pretty taken aback being such a big Star Wars fan, but it was definitely him (Chris Parsons) and we agreed right then and there to meet up over a pint and discuss working together. He’s a great chap, very enthusiastic, and was also keen to reprise his role as 4-LOM again so if anyone out there knows John Favreau give him a nudge! The anniversary print itself was delayed due to C-19 but the print is now available from Chris on his website, so if you’re interested that’s where you can get one!

I would love to work on some kind of official Star Wars project, although i’m not desperately trying to find a way in as I think it’s sometimes quite nice to have something that you can just bask in as a punter, but then something like the 4-LOM project comes along and i’m straight in so I certainly wouldn’t turn down anything SW related if the chance came.

As far as fan art goes, to some degree that indicates that you’re working on something you haven’t been officially employed to work on, which in turn means you are doing it for the love of that character and what could be a better reason for doing a bit of art?

ComicScene As a predominantly traditional artist ,can you tell us how your work process has been affected by the global COVID-19 crisis? Have you had to change the way that you work and do you have any thoughts on the impact that COVID-19 has had and will continue to have on artists? Do you think that there is a greater need now for digital art? Also, you are on twitter, instagram and youtube. What are your thoughts on the importance of social media at present for promoting your career as a comic artist?

Boo Cook: being a freelancer there hasn’t been a massive amount of change in my day to day life – as most of my colleagues will no doubt attest, we’ve been in isolation training for a long time! That isolation does mean that when I do need to get out and be with friends that’s really important – missing that ability to let off steam was starting grind a bit but Zoom discos and 80’s cult film watch-along’s kept me sane. Just about. In terms of the work itself, decent art materials were getting harder to come by but the most significant effect of the C-19 lockdown that I found was a real drop in focus and attention span when working so things got a tad slower. It’s something I heard a lot of people mention at the time but i’m not sure what the reason was exactly… I also took up other forms of art such as stone carving since the pandemic hit which I find so absorbing that my wife has to clout me round the ear to get any response from me! I also rely heavily on music as one of my creative outlets and the absence of the ability to jam or do gigs in a physical group way has seen the forming of a ‘viral band’ among my musical friends and peers whereby we all sonically ‘infect’ each other by sending layers of songs, drum beats, synth drones, spoken word files etc. into a collective Dropbox folder which anyone with a digital audio workstation such as Ableton can make songs out of. There were some crazily refreshing results and we are working on an Album called Annihilation Products to be released via our record label Menk Recordings.

ComicScene: You told me about a recent youtube video you put together of a large painting you completed in 2021 with a soundtrack from Menk Recordings. Tell us about it.

Boo Cook: The video showcases my 6×3 feet painting called UMTHEK done on a slab of MDF between February and July 2021. It’s a tip of the hat to the inspirational sci-fi artists of the 70s and 80s – especially those featured in the Terran Trade Authority books. Also, it’s a homage to the blue green women of Vladimir Tretchikoff and the album covers of Malti Klarwein. You can view the video and see the painting here https://youtu.be/9eb99RCu9ok

ComicScene: You like to experiment with a variety of art styles when you get the chance. Personally, I’m a manga fan.  What are your thoughts on the manga art style and would you ever try drawing manga? You are also working on music labels. Can you tell us how you got involved with this and how your work as a comic book artist lends itself to this?

Boo Cook: I’m mostly clued into older Manga stuff such as Akira, Ghost In The Shell, Appleseed a bit of Deathnote and stuff but as a rule i’m generally massively impressed with the art i’ve seen and much of it goes way over my head in terms of technical ability and also the ability to draw tech! I once read one called ‘That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime’ which was both amazing and hilarious. I don’t have a vast knowledge of Manga but there does seem to be a crazy amount of original concepts bursting out of Japan like Tetsuo’s huge mutating arm. As for music and art – apart from what I mentioned above i’m in a few bands Forktail, Motherbox, Stance Katarvis that all have albums out on Menk (see Bandcamp) but it ties in great with the art side when it comes to the album covers of course. Aside from comics and more traditional painting, album art is one of the few kinds of job I will happily take on. I’ve been doing them for various folk for years but a fair few of them have been for artists on the Tru Thoughts label which I have enjoyed immensely.

ComicScene: Before you were a professional artist did you ever participate in art competitions and what value do you think this adds to an aspiring artists skill development?

Boo Cook: I don’t recall ever really entering any art competitions – I think i’ve always just been someone who does a bit of art because I feel like it, or I have a concept I want to portray, or that i’ve seen something that i’d like to draw or paint – or of course if i’ve been asked to draw it for an employer. I certainly don’t have anything against such competitions though – unless it’s the kind where essentially a big company is trying to get a piece of art out of someone for free and hoping that the ‘exposure’ will be enough compensation – not cool! Competitions that are all fair and above board are a great proving ground though, plus it’s great to get your art compared up there with your peers. There is of course that exposure angle too which if you’re starting out is very important, just don’t get ripped off folks!

ComicScene: You are very versatile. You do pencil work, inking and colouring, you are both a cover artist and sequential artist. Can you tell us about  your preferences for each of these and how the requirements of a project dictate the extent of your involvement e.g. as penciller, inker, colourist and sequential vs. cover artist?

Boo Cook: As I mentioned earlier, I really wanted to get into comics to spread positive values in an entertaining way, so the story side of sequential art is of course massively important to me and is a thrill every time I start a new page. Where it differs from doing covers is that sometimes you get a panel to draw that is really cool but there’s so much else happening on the page that you have to draw it 3cm high which can be a little disheartening – with covers however you get to take that tiny instant from the story and blow it up into a full image which you can really get stuck into and maybe use an approach that’s way more detailed or takes a lot longer. There’s no point in busting out the easel and oil paints for a 3cm panel that will take you a week as the reader’s eye will only settle on it for a few seconds or as long as it takes for that info nugget of story telling to be absorbed, but covers are a chance to really go nuts on an image and I love that. Also, the content of a strip or cover will dictate my stylistic approach – for example some work on Elephantmen will usually require that I get out my 8B graphite stick for some gnarly organic tonal work whereas a Dredd strip set in the sleek domes and angles Mega City One might require a clean ink line instead to capture the vibe.

ComicScene: Many think that digital art tools are faster than traditional techniques. However, you said in a past interview that you take just as long to colour digitally as you do traditionally. Why do think that this is the case? Also, in 2017, you took six weeks to complete the spine artwork for 2000AD, the Ultimate collection that featured a huge cast of characters. Would you say this was one of the more challenging pieces you have worked on and what are your experiences of working to deadlines e.g.  for 2000AD?

Boo Cook: It doesn’t seem to matter what  approach I take in terms of different mediums – I just have to keep tweaking, chipping away at the image until it feels right and that is seldom a quick process. I don’t think i’m the slowest artist out there but i’m certainly no Kim Jung Gi! Sometimes a combination of the physical size plus the emotional magnitude of a job will mean that it will take even longer – the spine artwork for the 2000AD Ultimate Collection was such a weighty job for me in terms of getting to draw all the favourite characters from my past in one image meant that I had to do every single nanometer of it to the best of my ability and there were a lot of nanometers in that job. I think my boss, the wise and prescient Tharg has long since realised that although I can work to deadlines, he get’s a much better realised piece of art from me if he books me way in advance and just lets me get on with it. Having no deadlines can mean things take even longer because there is no fire under my arse to keep me on the case so I think there’s a sweet spot where it’s quite urgent but I can still go to town without panicking… medium deadlines. okay… long deadlines.

ComicScene: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me Boo!

Boo Cook: Thanks for having me! 🙂

Links to Boo Cook’s work:

ART

www.instagram.com/boocook

www.boocook.blogspot.com

MUSIC

https://owlmask23.bandcamp.com

https://menkrecordings.bandcamp.com

About the interviewer:

Atholl Buchan interviewed Boo on behalf of ComicScene for the I love Comics 2022 online comic con. Atholl is an Indy Comic Creator from Aberdeen who goes by Buchan Comics on Social Media. He is the creator of Spitfire vs. Aliens, a comic currently in progress and he also recently joined SENTINEL as an artist and is working on Alan Holloway’s They call her Trinity, a Scifi Western for a future issue of Sentinel. Buchan Comics is on Facebook, Twitter and Tiktok  but Atholl’s main art page is www.instagram.com/Buchan_Comics. New followers always appreciated!

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