Artist of the Month: Gary Erskine

Gary Erskine

Gary is an artist and writer who has worked with DC and Marvel comics on titles such as Judge Dredd, Batman and X-Men. He has also worked on licenses such as Star Wars, Doctor Who and Terminator with writers Mark Millar, Grant Morrison, Alex De Campi and Warren Ellis, and characters including Captain America and Judge Dredd.

His latest independent project is a comic he is writing and illustrating together with his wife, Mhairi Stewart under the collective pseudonym Anna Malady. The project ROLLER GRRRLS looks at the realities facing women involved in Roller Derby and is based on anecdotes and experiences of women involved in the sport all over America and the UK.

Gary is also interested in the roles of women and feminism in the wider comic industry, especially the American "mega names" such as DC, Marvel and Vertigo.

I've met Gary in person and was lucky enough to chat with him about women and female representation in comics. He is always generous with his time and his knowledge, and is involved in teaching drawing at various schools and colleges as well as being part of the #MakeComics movement online.

Interview done via email as Gary is currently busy doing summer comic con appearances in various cities in the UK and abroad. See his Facebook page for the latest details of where he will be signing!

How did you get started in the comic industry?

I was working in Forbidden Planet after leaving college and had the opportunity to show my portfolio to Dan Abnett during a signing at the shop. He was editing an anthology called Strip magazine and I was offered an eight page script called X-Stacy, written by John Carnell. Another editor at Marvel UK, Steve White, saw my work and needed an artist for their new series Knights of Pendragon [an environmental super hero book] The original six issues continued to eighteen and by then I was being approached by Marvel and DC Comics in the US, and 2000AD.

What prompted you to create Roller Grrrls?

My wife and I wanted to work together and writing was something I needed to do for my own sanity. ROLLER GRRRLS was also born out of frustration and in response to the mostly exploitative portrayal of female characters in mainstream super hero books. We had been fans of roller derby while living in Germany in 2005, following the US teams progress online, and were convinced that the sport with all the potential characters on a single team would work well as a comic book series. When we returned to the UK in 2008 we found that Glasgow and Edinburgh both had teams and we attended our first live bouts. The community spirit we saw not just at the game but later at the after party and getting to know the girls socially helped focus our creative vision on the series and we honed the characters better. It also afforded me the opportunity to draw more positive representations of women in general and the work done on ROLLER GRRRLS reflects what Mhairi and I wanted to show with the project.

Has the industry changed since you first started, regarding female artists and female influences?

There were women working in comics in the early days of the industry but very few. The bias was certainly more male centric but women were generally in more powerful positions like editorial or publishers. The majority of the creative positions were still very much given to and taken up by men. Not a healthy balance and a lot of the stories and art at the time proved itself with overly misogynistic narratives and rather exploitative and sexualised portrayals of women. Nowadays there is a healthier balance with more female creatives in the industry and the audience too has broadened [for the better] I think that is also reflected in the quality and diversity of the books released and characters pushed forward. Characters such as Ms. Marvel, Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch have been getting both positive critical and commercial responses.

Roller Grrrls is an independent work that is gaining a lot of interest. Can you tell me more about the stories and the characters?

We made the decision to self-publish to keep the independence of ROLLER GRRRLS to allow us to tell the stores we wanted tell without any editorial interference misdirecting our focus. ROLLER GRRRLS is very much an ensemble book with various characters from each of the three local teams with continuing stories with their friends, colleagues and family. We have tried to focus on a core group to start with and hope that helps focus the reader initially but the plan is to have everyone's story told and have the narrative switch from character to character to tell many different stories to allow the reader to find their own favorite character to love/hate. Without any conceit of genre, ROLLER GRRRLS will simply follow the daily routine of many characters going about their lives. We hope to comment on issues that affect or influence us and use the characters to tell that story. Readers will possibly see themselves or others in those stories and have an opportunity to reflect. There will also be sport.

How have you been influenced by female role models in your work?

A lot of the characters are based on friends, family and colleagues. Other inspiration comes from the wider roller derby community and stories we read in the news or hear. The open ROLLER GRRRLS narrative allows us to work in many different influences and be inspired both directly and indirectly from many sources. we wouldn't wish to give away all our references at the start but some of the characters may well be more familiar to readers.

Do you have any advice for girls and women looking to break into the comic industry?

Work hard and try to enjoy the process. Listen to advice and also trust your own judgement. Anyone can create comics these days but finding work with a publisher has many different and challenging obstacles. Getting paid is the first, then paid enough to live on. Choosing the path to work with intellectual property (IP) or create your own work is also a major choice not to be taken lightly. Ultimately, the opportunity to create comics is there. How you go about it and where you feel you fit within the industry is worth considering before making that full time commitment. Write and draw with your own voice and tell your own story... unless it's Wonder Woman. Then always write and draw Wonder Woman.

#Issue6 #BeccaJones #Interview

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