Atholl Buchan interviewed Ian Kennedy before he sadly passed away this week. We decided to print the interview as our tribute and dedicate the I Love Comics Con in his memory. Thanks for all your great art Ian – you are a legend!
Hi Mr. Kennedy! Thanks for letting me interview you for ComicScene.
Q1: What are your thoughts on fan art as a means for an artist to develop their skills? For example, you have mentioned in another interview that you used to copy the work of another artist and that the artist kept an eye on your work and gave you pointers. Can you give us more background on this process and how it helped you grow as an artist?
Ian Kennedy:. Any encouragement for budding artists – young and not so old is very welcome. In my case, while still at school, I was put in touch with David Ogilvie, an artist in D.C. Thomson’s art department. He had me copy old story headings using the “dip” pen and black ink which were used in most illustrations at the time.
I left school at 17, entering D.C. Thomsons as a trainee illustrator.The next five years were spent surrounded by a group of very talented men and women. This was the best start possible to my career.
One person in particular, George Ramsbotham,whose work I admired, took me under his wing!
Q2.: You’ve had a long, distinguished career and witnessed the industry evolve over time. Can you tell us about your preferred art medium and materials? What do you think of the trend around digital art and would you ever be tempted to learn how to use digital art tools?
Ian Kennedy: For some considerable time now, I have preferred Acrylics, using them as I would watercolours with the bonus that they combine well with today’s printing – a huge improvement compared to the past when there was always doubt as to how close the result would be to the artwork.
Regarding digital art, it is quite tempting, but as yet, I have to find the time to try it out. I note recent improvement in eliminating flatness. I doubt however, if it will ever replace the brush completely!
Q3: You’ve worked for nearly every British comic magazine, what can you tell us about your time with DC Thomson, 2000 AD, and Eagle?
Ian Kennedy: The early spell with DC Thomson was invaluable. Without it, my subsequent career would not have taken place! I went freelance in 1954 working for Amalgamated Press. Others followed very quickly due to the enormous amount of work available during the “Golden Time of UK comics”. Despite early concerns, DC Thomson followed suit.
I concentrated on work of only the highest quality leaving my studio, which editors began to expect. An editor is after all, a customer and there is nothing like a satisfied customer e.g. IPC and 2000AD etc.
Q4: There are many iconic comic book heroes but few like Judge Dredd. Can you tell us how you came to work with 2000AD and your thoughts on the character of Judge Dredd?
Ian Kennedy: Regarding Judge Dredd, I had great difficulty with such a fearsome character – so different to the clean cut hero I had portrayed previously. I did one or two episodes and then gave up on it as Dan Dare in the new Eagle came along keeping me very busy. Since then, relations between the Judge and I appear to have improved to such an extent that he is probobly my favourite character and my version of him is looked on by John Wagner and Sandra Ezquerra with approval! I am sad though, that I was never able to meet Carlos Ezquerra in person.
Q5: Considering you’ve also worked on Dan Dare – what do you make of British heroes vs. American ones? Can you tell us whether you ever worked on American heroes like Superman or Spiderman?
Ian Kennedy: The opportunity never did present itself but I hope that I would have been able to cope with the challenge. Regarding the difference between the types, I suppose it mirrors the basic national character of the laid back, stiff upper lip UK hero vs. the more energetic and over the top American.
Q6: Do you think that you would have liked to have worked for DC or Marvel and worked on their American heroes like Superman or Spiderman?
Ian Kennedy: It’s not difficult to answer this in that I have realised as time goes on that in order to be professional about a job, you must be prepared to take on whatever challenges are presented to you in the way of subject matter etc. and so if I had been approached I obviously would have grabbed the chance, permitting that I had the time to do so, in the hope that my previous experience would help me cope with any difficulties or changes that were necessary.
Just like for instance even in this country where the editor of a publication that I hadn’t worked with before contacted me and I would be very careful in getting as much in the way of a picture of what he wanted and how he worked etc. It was almost an instinctive thing so that I could tailor my response to suit. As I said earlier, the editor is the customer and the customer has to be satisfied.
Q7: The majority of your work is as a cover artist but you have also produced many sequential comic pages before. Can you tell us about these and your thoughts on doing cover work vs. sequential comic pages and if you approach them any differently?
Ian Kennedy: I suppose that they each demand a different approach. I do enjoy the sequential, in that it involves translating words into visuals, whereas the cover is an advertising tool, enticing the reader to buy, then leading him/her into the story proper. My preference is for cover work which I make sharp, bright and eye catching in order that they are visible on top shelf, which is especially important as Commando is for small pocket books.
Q8: Speaking of which you still provide cover art for Commando, how hard is it to draw detailed vehicles, aircraft, and backgrounds for a comicbook artist?
Ian Kennedy: Fortunately, it would appear that I have an eye for detail, meaning that I draw what comes naturally. Early on, Dave Ogilvie pointed out that the best artist knew what to leave out, whereas Dave Gibbons emphasised that my fans like my use of detail!!!
Q9: When you think back on your career, today’s comics are digital, read on tablets, and promoted with social media – what do you make of all of these changes?
Ian Kennedy: To put it mildly, more than a little overpowering. I fear there is a bit of a luddite in me that it took huge pressure from my family to make me invest in a laptop. Now, because of the change in career from illustrator to a sort of P.R. man for comics, I find it indispensable in making and maintaining contact with the folks out there without whom I would not have had such an interesting life! What do I make of it? – I spend a fair amount of time trying to regain my breath!
Q10: Can you share any thoughts that you have on the importance of diversity in comics e.g. in terms of representing race and gender etc. and over the course of your career, have you noticed any changes in the way that diversity is represented in comics or even in the way you are asked to draw characters in your cover art?
Ian Kennedy: That’s a tricky one. When I started out, I believe that comics were purely entertainment. There would appear to have been little or no concern regarding race, colour or gender. Recently I have been made aware for example, how editors have to guard against stepping out of line . It is a very sensitive world out there! Personally, I have not been affected to any great degree.
Q11: I notice that you have a stronger online presence than most artists. You have your own Facebook page, instagram, twitter and your own website Ian Kennedy Art. Your friend Mark helps with sales and social media and responds to general queries on your behalf. How did this happen and what are your thoughts about having an online presence?
Ian Kennedy: This development has been necessary due to the growing interest in my work and career – something that has come as a bit of a shock in that in common with many others, I was just making a living doing what came naturally. Like Topsy, it grew until it was approaching the unmanageable. On the advice of my good friend Cam Kennedy – no relation, I contacted Mark who has very kindly and efficiently taken on the reins.
Ian Kennedy will also be interviewed alongside Barrie Tomlinson talking about 1980’s Eagle in the History of Comics 1982