Maximum Punishment

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Laurence Campbell’s art on the recent Punisher Annual #1, from the Marvel MAX imprint, has drawn rave reviews for this UK-based artist. BF caught up with Laurence to chat about the Punisher, 2000AD, childhood aspirations and gun-toting killer elves…

BROKEN FRONTIER: Reading the biography on your website it would seem you were always fated to break into the comics business. Could the young Laurence Campbell, doodling comics in his bedroom, have ever foreseen his art being so popular it would reach the heady heights of the Heat Index in Wizard?

LAURENCE CAMPBELL: Not really, I've always seen being a comic creator as up there with being an astronaut. I know that sounds daft, but to me, when reading and looking at comics as a child, I always thought it was something other people do. The nearest I thought I could get to doing it would be working in the graphic design field.

BF: After attending the London Cartoon Centre, you studied graphic design at Central Saint Martins College of Art, part of the University of the Arts London, and later went on to lecture there. How much did this influence your style and your approach to your later comics work?

LC: While I was at Central Saint Martins I kept my comic work outside college. I wanted to develop other skills at college and then maybe bring them into comics later. It was very important for me not to draw comics while at college.

Saying that, I was going home and then drawing comics in my bedroom. I'd done a few strips for Caliber Comics while I was at college. I was at college during the 90s, and David Carson was a big influence in my design work. I feel some of this has rubbed off on to my comic work.

To me college should be about pushing the boundaries, something I feel Dave McKean shows in his work. He endlessly looks to push his work into different directions.

BF: What was your first big break in the industry and how did it come about?

LC: While on a Foundation course I teamed up with a writer from the London Cartoon Centre, Paul Carstairs, who had done a few Future Shocks for 2000AD. I pencilled, inked and lettered a 26-page comic called Something Inside - your typical boy-kills-girlfriend-while-looking-for-her-soul book.

We didn't have a publisher and I was thinking of self-publishing (this was before the days of personal computers and printers). We were lucky enough to get Something Inside picked up by Caliber Comics who printed it. This formed a relationship with Caliber, for whom I started to do a few strips while at college.The Caliber work led to the 3 issue mini The Disciples at Image Comics which led to 2000AD which led to the work at Marvel.

BF: On your website you talk about scribbling Judge Dredd on your exam papers when you should have been concentrating on your 11+ exam! How did it feel then, years later, to be working on Dredd for real for 2000AD?

LC: Not the wisest thing to do… I had finished my 11+ exam paper early and on the workout sheet drew a picture of Dredd on his Lawmaster. I failed my 11+ but I did draw Dredd for 2000AD, so I guess there was a happy ending!

BF: Taking on the established icons is many potential creators’ dream but you’ve also had the opportunity at 2000AD to help create the look of a new character and her future world with the strip Synnamon (pictured). I think most British fans have a special place in their hearts for dear old 2000AD so it must have been a thrill to be in on the start of a new ongoing character for that venerable institution?

LC: As a fan of 2000AD I wanted to draw Judge Dredd, but it's also great to create new characters for the comic. Sadly, I think it's tough to create a totally new female character for 2000AD. Other than Halo Jones (which wasn't a success to begin with) there haven't been that many new female characters that haven't been spin-offs from ongoing series.

BF: Which artists or creators have inspired you and your work? To me there’s something of the detailed realism of Arthur Ranson to your art…

LC: Arthur Ranson is good, I also like the work of John Paul Leon, Sean Phillips, Michael Lark, Jorge Zaffino, Steve Yeowell, Mike Mignola and Alex Toth. All have been a big influence to me.

BF: How did the transition to the American scene and your recent work for Marvel come about? And how do you feel the approaches to storytelling differ on either side of the Atlantic?

LC: With 2000AD you have 5 to 6 pages of very dense storytelling. With a 22-page book you have more time to build up tension and also indulge on fight scenes taking a little longer. Both have their benefits, but I do enjoy the build up and subtlety you can have in a 22-page book.

BF: Last Christmas saw you take on an X-character in the Christmas issue of Wolverine #49. That story had a darkly comedic undercurrent and, of course, plenty of gun-toting killer elves. You can rarely go wrong with gun-toting killer elves… Did you relish the chance to show your versatility on a story with a morbidly humorous edge and how did it feel entering the mutant realm of the Marvel Universe?

LC: Gun toting killer elves... when I saw the script I was very happy! Rob Williams and myself just wanted to create a self-contained Christmas story with a bitter sweet end. I think it worked. The response from the issue was very good.

BF: Your Punisher Annual from the Marvel Max imprint came out recently with a script from Mike Benson, writer of the Entourage TV series. Mike’s story was told from a very different perspective, in that it focused on a criminal fleeing from the vigilante’s rough brand of justice. With this in mind, how did you approach your depiction of Frank Castle for this one-shot?

LC: I enjoy drawing the Punisher. I see him as a tour de force, a dark shadowy menace. In the Annual I like the idea that the criminal may or may not be imagining the Punisher is after him as he goes through his personal hell.

BF: You gave us a very noirish New York in that Annual. The city is almost a character in itself. Was that an effect you were aiming for and how much research went into setting the mood and tone for the story?

LC: When I read the script it was clear to me that the city played an important part. This is something I loved. I'm a big fan of Michael Mann films and wanted to try and capture some of that in the Punisher Annual. I've never been to New York, and some of the places in the script I had never heard of, but luckily for me I've a friend who lives in New York who sent me some photos of certain places.

BF: You’ve recently been inking your own work, to great effect I must add. How much more creative freedom does this afford you?

LC: When you're pencilling to be inked you have to cover all the bases, which means tight pencils. You learn a lot from getting someone to ink you. You get to know your weak areas etc. But inking yourself is more fluid, you can change your mind as you go. It feels more natural. I can pencil and ink as many pages a week as I can just doing tight pencils. Like I mentioned earlier, I think part of my David Carson school of thought comes into practice here while I'm inking myself.

BF: Of all your work is there a piece you’re most proud of?

LC: I'm very pleased with the Punisher Annual. Inking myself has been good for me. I'm also very happy with Breathing Space (pictured right) for 2000AD (published in #s 1451-1459). It's a crime thriller set on the moon written by Rob Williams. I was very happy with how that turned out. It was that strip which helped me get noticed at Marvel.

BF: Which characters would you most like the opportunity to work on in the future?

LC: Daredevil, Batman, Hellblazer, etc. I like my heroes troubled.

BF: Dredd, Wolverine, Punisher… these are pretty big players in the comics world. Does that feeling of awe when you get to play with a major character for the first time ever go away?

LC: To be honest I've not really thought about it until reading this question. I like working with these big characters, but what's more important for me is the story itself.

BF: What next for Laurence Campbell? Are there any upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?

LC: I'm doing a run on The Punisher at the moment, which I'm loving.

Some of Laurence’s 2000AD work has been collected in the Bison trade paperback published by Rebellion (ISBN 1904265138) and the Wolverine: Blood and Sorrow trade paperback (ISBN 0785126074) includes the Christmas Wolverine story mentioned above (an ideal stocking stuffer!). His Punisher MAX Annual came out in September and shouldn’t be too hard to track down in your local comics shop.

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