Titan Comics has taken over the TARDIS, producing illustrated tales for the Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors. To celebrate the launch of the newsstand version of BBC Doctor Who Comic, here’s our exclusive interview with head of Titan Comics Steve White.
This piece first featured back in Issue 27 of MyM magazine, when the comic launched as a digital download in the UK…
Steve White has worked in various roles on big-name titles like Transformers, The Real Ghostbusters and Knights Of Pendragon, co-authoring work with Dan Abnett and working on 2000AD’s Rogue Trooper alongside artists such as Charlie Adlard and Chris Weston. Since working for Titan Comics, he’s overseen popular licences such as Wallace & Gromit, Shaun The Sheep, The Simpsons Comics, Star Wars and Transformers (again!). MyM stopped him doodling dinosaurs long enough to talk about Titan’s latest licensed franchise, BBC Doctor Who comic, which follows the adventures of the Tenth (David Tennant), Eleventh (Matt Smith) and Twelfth (Peter Capaldi) Doctors.
MyM: How did you get started working in comics?
Steve White: It was blind luck. I’ve always loved comics and I used to draw them with a friend of mine, as you do when you’re a kid. 2000AD was my benchmark, the one I always aspired to work on and that had the most influence on me. So I used to draw stuff and send it to them in the hope it would get published and of course it never did. Then my friend Gary – who went to art college, I didn’t – saw an advert for a job at Marvel UK doing the lowest of the low job at that time in 1986, which was colour separations. It’s a lost arcane method of colouring comics.
He got the job and I was obviously intensely jealous and said to him, ‘If any jobs ever come up…’ It was one of those things where I saw him on the Saturday night, then on the Monday he called me and said, ‘Phone this person, there’s a possible job.’ I phoned on the Tuesday, they asked me to come in on the Wednesday and I spent that night getting a portfolio together – I didn’t even have one, I was running around taking artwork off people’s walls! I went for the interview on the Thursday and they offered it to me.
You did eventually get to work for 2000AD…
I worked at Marvel from ’86 to ’91 and then had a brief interlude with a company called Tundra, which was actually a UK representation of Kevin Eastman’s comic company. They wanted a UK arm because there were so many UK creators over here at that point. That lasted 18 wild months but it was brilliant because I met so many people – guys who are now megastars, like Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch, Alan Moore was doing From Hell so he was coming into the office.
Then I decided to go freelance and I was lucky enough to have a friend who was editing 2000AD – John Tomlinson, who was Tharg at that point. They were looking for someone who could write Rogue Trooper as they felt it had become too much of a western and wanted it to be more military. John knew I had an interest in that kind of thing and I’d been writing at Marvel so he offered me the gig. That was a halcyon time for me because I was also colouring a lot of stuff and illustrating.
When you started at Titan Comics in 2003, what titles did it have?
At that point Titan had the licence to do collections of 2000AD material, although Rebellion subsequently got the license back when it took over 2000AD. So much of what we were doing was newspaper strips, Modesty Blaise, James Bond, Dan Dare – all those classics – bringing them together into volumes. It was interesting because you were tapping into a fanbase that loved to see all this rare material printed, so you did rely on the goodwill of strangers. We’d go over to the Daily Express to look at the James Bond stuff and there’d be a strip missing that was lost in the mists of time. So you’d go online and say, ‘Anybody got this one?’ and they would! I remember one particular one was a foreign edition and we re-lettered it. With Dan Dare you were dealing with people who didn’t have the internet so we got someone to write a foreword and it was handwritten.
When did Titan expand its comics output?
The first things we did still fitted into that newspaper strip mould, things like Wallace & Gromit. Then we started doing Clone Wars, which was really interesting because we got asked to do that. If you’d told my younger self I’d have been writing, drawing or editing Star Wars, it would have seemed extremely unlikely. And that was Titan’s first move into originated work, having done very well repackaging classic strips and American material.
It’s only really in the past 18 months that we’ve got into the US comic market, creating our own titles. We did a lot of projects with DreamWorks and we really enjoyed working with them. You would do the artwork and they would send back printouts with overlays – what we’d now call redlines – where one of their in-house artists had made the amendments, and it was obviously much easier for them to do that than for us to try and verbalise those changes. It’s something even now we try and do as much as possible, as it helps when you can draw to be able to guide an artist. It also puts fear into their hearts because if they know you can draw they’re not going to be able blindside you. [Laughs]
Most people think superheroes when they hear the word comics. Is there a big difference to creating a superhero comic and creating something like Shaun The Sheep or a WWE wrestling title?
Anything you do that’s licensed is much easier. Harking back to my days at Marvel, the reason I think so many creators came out of there and did so well was that they were given an opportunity to learn the fundamentals. The great thing about licensed stuff is that you have the background, the characters and the basic story outline and from the point of view of the comic artists it’s then pure storytelling. It’s those absolute fundamentals that allow them to develop really quickly. It was the same with a lot of British writers who worked on 2000AD – they had to be incredibly economical with their storytelling. You’ve got five to eight pages and you’ve got to think about the beginning, middle and end of a story, often with a cliffhanger.
Titan also published CLiNT magazine, how did that come about?
The anthology format I think is a very British thing. Historically it’s a difficult thing to get right – yet 2000AD has done it fantastically well, anything that lasts as long as it has must be doing something right. CLiNT was a different kettle of fish. But just working on it meant I was working with people like Garth Ennis, Jimmy Palmiotti, John Romita Jr and his colourist Dean White – who as a colourist myself is the guy I would aspire to be.
The great thing from our perspective was the success we had with Create Your Own Comic, which has seen Death Sentence spun out of CLiNT. The two creators Monty Nero and Mike Dowling sent it to Mark Millar and he really liked it so we ran it in CLiNT for a while. Then when CLiNT ended, we had a ready-made comic with a great high concept that was perfect for the audience. That was a real boon for us.
How did Titan land Doctor Who comic?
The licence came up for grabs and we just did the pitch. We approached the BBC with ideas about where we would like to take the comic, so the philosophy behind that was part of the presentation.
Were there celebrations when you won the pitch?
Fortunately the BBC really liked our take on it. But it was such a huge thing that it was still something of a surprise – a bit like asking a girl you really like on a date and expecting her to say no and she says yes! So we really had to shake up our team. Andrew James, who’s the editor of Doctor Who, was such a lynchpin in the editorial department but his new role is a fulltime job in itself. He’s leading the creators and is very much involved in developing stories.
Before that we had to choose artists that we thought could do the right kind of approach, the right kind of style. It was really funny when we announced we’d be doing it and there was a sudden stampede of creators. I came in the next morning and I had 20 emails in my inbox and only three of them weren’t related to Doctor Who.