Jock is extremely and genuinely apologetic that we’ve had to wait so long for him to start art chores on the second run of his collaboration with writer Scott Snyder on the hugely acclaimed horror comic Wytches. But he has a good excuse. “Sorry about the delay in Wytches. It’s entirely my fault,” he explains. “I’ve been working on Star Wars VIII at Pinewood.”
Okay as excuses go that’s a good one. “I just really wanted to do Star Wars,” he adds, needlessly but sweetly.
Well, we say, you know we’re duty bound to ask you about that, but we know you’re going to say nothing about it. “Pretty much yeah.”
How about a bland, “It was such a great thrill…” comment? You know, so we can clickbait the headline.
“Honestly, I’m so worried I might let something slip I’m not even going down that route,” he says. And you have to kinda like him for that.
You can understand his excitement. When the young Jock, just embarking on art college, stood in a comic shop back in the ’90s trying to work out what kind of comic artist he wanted to be (he settled on the kind who worked for Vertigo) he probably never envisaged a career path that would lead to a galaxy far, far away. Starting out on 2000AD with Judge Dredd (“always my favourite character in there”, he says) within a few short years he was being courted by Marvel and DC. He’ s drawn all the icons – Batman, Superman, Wolverine – and worked on other titles that have passed into comic legend; The Losers, Hellblazer, Green Arrow Year One. He’s now one of the most sought-after cover artists, one of the main contributors to Mondo’s excellent limited edition movie posters and, most recently, an accomplished film concept artist.
It’s a careers that’s mapped out in images in the lavish new book The Art Of Jock, available in the UK from Titan Books (you can buy your copy here). And Jock himself couldn’t be more chuffed with it.
BUZZ: So are happy with the new book, The Art Of Jock?
JOCK: “It is a beautifully produced book. That’s one of the things I’m most proud of: the quality of the thing. It was originally instigated by Mondo, the poster company that I work for. Their quality control is outrageous and so all the way through the quality is amazing.
“This is basically a Mondo project. They’re looking to move into publishing as well as posters and toys and what have you. I was actually approached by a different publisher two or three years ago about doing a book of my work. And one of my friends at Mondo, Justin, phoned me and said, ‘Are you still doing that project? Would you trust it with us?’ For me, Mondo makes such beautiful things, that I was over the moon and said yes instantly.
“So it was instigated by Mondo, but then they partnered with Insight Editions in America, who are actually the ones who put the book together and decided on the specifications: paper and spot varnish and velum overlays. And then Titan are reprinting it for the UK.”
You have a long-standing relationship with Mondo, haven’t you?
“Yeah. It started, I think, in 2011 and I’ve been doing a lot of work with them ever since. They’re just so good. Aside from the quality of the prints and the posters, they’re just really great people to work with. They’re very open, they’re very encouraging and they make beautiful stuff. What more could you want?”
The limited edition posters they produce are often amazing, but do people accept them as official art for the films?
“They are all official. They all become official artwork for the movie. They’ve practically trailblazed the concept of bringing art back to movie posters. The effect they’ve had in their fairly short lifespan – I think they only started coming to prominence in 2010, something like that – and ever since then is amazing. Major studios now actively court Mondo to do posters for them.
“And aside from their influence in creating copycat companies who also produce limited edition movie artwork, you can also see it in the way some movie posters are again becoming – dare I say it – a little bit more artistic. A little bit more creative and interesting. And I’d like to think Mondo have had a hand in that.
“Some of the posters I’ve done for the are going into the American Film Institute archive – they are considered official art for the movies which is really cool aside from being exciting to work on.”
We hear that your Mondo poster for Pan’s Labyrinth had an unusual origin.
“That was entirely unique actually. Because the guy who was running Mondo at the time was quite good friends with Guillermo del Toro, and Mondo found out I was going to Comic-Con. So we were talking literally four weeks before the show and they said, ‘It’s a shame you haven’t got anything out for the show. Is there anything you’d like to do?’
“Now, things like approval can always put a delay on the turnaround. But they said, ‘We know Guillermo very well, so are there any of his films you like to do?’ And I said, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth is probably my favourite.’ So they emailed Guillermo and he just literally five minutes later emailed back, saying, ‘Yes, go for it.’ So that was the approval process.
“But it varies project to project. Sometimes the approval can be quite difficult, where you have to tweak things for approval, other times it goes more smoothly.”
So normally do the ideas for the posters you do come from you saying, ‘I want to do this or that film,’ or does Mondo come to you with suggestions?
“A bit of both, really. When I first talked to them I gave them a bucket list of old horror movies that I would love to do, including Zombie Flesh Eaters, Last House On The Left, Cannibal Holocaust… I’ve done all of those.
“And there’s something I’m working on at the moment that I can’t name yet that I think is kind of a travesty that somebody hasn’t done them yet. I asked a few years ago and they couldn’t get the licence for one of the films. Then just at Comic Con this year they got the licence so I jumped on that.
“But other times they’ll come to me and go, ‘Do you want to do Guardians Of The Galaxy?’
“It’s different to comics in that you can afford to be a little bit more choosy. I like to come up with an idea before I actually agree to take on a poster. If I can’t think of a good idea for it then I don’t think it’s going to make a very good poster. Whereas with a comic there’s a bit more leeway for just getting away with a heroic pose.
“There are some projects I’ve been offered where I’ve had to say, ‘I don’t know what to do with that, so I’ll pass.’
It must be lovely to be at the stage of your career where you can pick and choose like that.
“Sure, yeah. I do feel very lucky, to be honest.”
Hey, you’ve worked hard to create your own luck.
“Well, thank you. Nonetheless, I do feel lucky. But yeah it has been hard work building up relationships and trust.
“But comics-wise now I can pretty much only do the ones I really want to do, because comics are such hard work. Which I know is a very, very privileged position to be in for sure.”
“I’m doing an issue of All-Star Batman with Scott Snyder and then we’re getting back to the second story arc of Wytches. A few covers.”
Was it the subject matter or the fact that Scott Snyder was writing it that made you want to get involved with Wytches?
“Probably both. I am lucky – sorry, that word again – that the writers I like to work with have become friends and Scott’s a good friend. We were chatting about something else, and he said, ‘Oh, I’ve got this idea for a horror,’ and he started telling me about it, and I really liked the sound of it. And that was that really.
“But I love horror movies and the challenge was… I think it’s very difficult to do horror in a comic. With a film the viewer has no control over what they’re watching. The pace is dictated to them. But with a comic, you can slow down, you can stop, you can turn the page, you can look away. So to try to get something genuinely creepy into a comic I think is the challenge. One of the best things that I’ve heard is a lot of people have said that Wytches actually genuinely scared them. That was quite rewarding to hear that.
“I’m quite looking forward to getting back to that. We planned three story arcs and obviously we’ve only complete the one as of now.
“One of the main things about it that I’m quite excited about is the change of location. The first arc was obviously set in the woods with the trees. So in the second arc we take Sailor –the girl – entirely out of that environment. We did a promo image which is a tiny little figure in the desert with the quote, ‘There are no trees in the desert… I’ll be safe, right?’ And the short answer is no. These creatures can actually live anywhere.
“The exciting thing for me will be taking it out of that sort of environment that people know and expanding on the mythology of the creatures and what their actual place in the world is.”
How do prepare for a new comic? Do you think about what style you’re going to use to fit the story?
“I used to do that a lot more than I do now. I used to think about the palette; should I use desaturated colours? Things like that. The truth is, actually, style-wise, you don’t pick your style. The way you draw is the way you draw. Even with the best intentions on some things, once you’re two or three issues into it you’re just drawing it the way you’re drawing it.
“So with Wytches I think it’s even looser than I would normally do it. And the brush marks are rougher. But that wasn’t necessarily planned, it’s just more that when I started it, I thought it could support that kind of looseness.
“So the answer is, I do think about it, but less as the years have gone on and now I just normally start and things evolve naturally.”
So how did you get into comics?
“2000AD was my first work. It’s what I read when I was growing up. I loved the Vertigo comics in the ’90s – Enigma, Shade The Changing Man, Extremist, all that stuff. Which, when I went to art college and started thinking, ‘I want to draw comics,’ those were the things that were on the shelves. I remember going into a local comic shop and looking through them and seeing which ones appealed. Things like Kid Eternity and Enigma by Duncan Fegredo seemed more in line with my tastes. Heavy black but well drawn. Duncan can draw like a demon. That appealed to me more than the shinier superhero stuff. That’s just taste I guess. But I have got to work on those iconic character as well since so it provides a nice balance.”
“I’ll take that. I have a bag next to me full of merchandise – even Converse All-Stars – with that image on it. I’m well aware that’s one of the more successful images I’e done.”
A word fans often use to describe your work is “visceral”. That’s a word often used also in connection with horror movies. Do you think it’s valid?
“Um, I would like to think that. The art that always appeals to me is art that you can feel the hand of the artist in. When there’s an energy to it. This guys you think, ‘There’s no one else who can draw like that.’ And then you get the copycat guys who do the same style but they’re missing the energy that guys like Mike Mignola have. It’s not Mike’s style that’s giving you the art you like; it’s Mike’s hand.
“I mean, one of my first American comics was The Losers which was a kind of extreme action movie. I never necessarily thought I’d choose that as the kind of genre that I draw, but honestly, if I was going to do that I wanted to make it as ‘visceral’ and bold and dynamic as I possibly could. If we are going to do an action movie, let’s make it the best action movie you’ve never seen, kind of thing.
“I draw quite quickly. I try to draw exactly, but quickly if that makes sense. The lines maybe have a kind of energy in them that could be described as visceral.”
What do you work digitally or by hand these days?
“Both. Comics are still drawn by hand – black and white on card and scanned in. I occasionally augment with Photoshop. It’s just become natural as the years have gone by to use Photoshop to touch a couple of things up. Covers are done by hand, and coloured in Photoshop. The movie concept work is all digital because it makes it easier to edit.”
Are there still plans for a Wytches movie?
“Yeah, it’s been optioned by Plan B which is Brad Pitt’s company. We’ve got a script – a couple of drafts of the script – and currently looking for a director. But with these things you never know if they’re going to go. There are a million things that have been optioned that we never get to see on the screen. But we were lucky. We got a lot of offers from different studios and production companies, which is great. And we got to choose the home for it.”
“Like anything, it’s a collaboration. I worked for six weeks with director Alex Garland before anything was greenlit. I was pretty much the fourth person on the film. There was Alex and the two producers and then me. Alex called me and said, ‘I’ve got this script about an AI robot, and we’ve got to work out what she’s got to look like. Do you want to have a go?’
“So it was just me and Alex, back and fourth. I’d so something every day. I’d send him an email in the evening and then first thing in the morning we’d get on the phone and talk about what I’d done. It was kind of as much about finding out what not to have her look like rather than what she should look like. Because there are so many iconic robots – Maria in Metropolis, C-3PO. The one in Chris Cunningham’s Bjork video with the white plastic pieces that has been aped many times in various things.
“Well, you can see the images that I’ve done. You can judge yourself how much it was similar to the film, but once the film went into production and it went to Double Negative and the video FX guy Andrew Whitehurst there was amazing. Obviously they had a massive influence on the final outcome because she has to work as a 3D working model.
“So it’s a collaboration. But I have to say, I did that work with Alex, then probably about two years later the next time I saw him was actually in the edit suite in London. And the editor had a button which he could to use to literally turn the FX on and off – almost like a layer kind of thing.
“And they started playing with this sequence where Alicia Vikander was walking wearing the suit that she was wearing on set, and then they pressed this button and there was Ava, and she just looked so, so good. Faultlessly good. I was so pleased they won the Oscar for it. The effects in Ex Machina are almost environmental. They don’t draw attention to themselves. They just serve the story.”
Did you first meet Alex through Dredd?
“I was working on another film doing concept work when I heard that Dredd had been greenlit, and I did some images just for fun. And they got picked up as official artwork for the film and spread across the internet, with news sites going, ‘Here’s a sneak peek at the designs for Dredd.’ And I was thinking, ‘Oh, no, this is not good.’ And I got an email from one of the producers saying, ‘Can you call us please.’ And I thought, ‘Uh oh…!’ But it turns out that had seen the images, and Alex had responded well to one of them and would I like to meet with them to talk about the film?’”
Thank you Jock. There’s loads more gorgeous art like the art on this page in The Art Of Jock so make sure to buy a copy or put it on your Christmas list.