Artist: Martin Griffiths
Company: Marvel UK
Joe- Hi Martin, I’m sure many people will recognise your name through your work at Marvel already but could you tell us about how you originally began working there and which comics you’ve contributed to over the years?
Martin- Sure Joe, it all started while I was attending David Lloyd’s (V for Vendetta) comic course in London around 1985/86. I became aware that Marvel UK offices were literally 5 minutes away, so about ten months into the course I arranged a meeting to show them my portfolio.
I met with Ian Rimmer, who was the editor in chief at the time and showed him my artwork. Somewhat impressed with my samples, he gave me an 11 page script for an upcoming Christmas story for Transformers! I was asked to pencil up 3 pages and upon seeing them about a week later I was asked to complete the rest of the pages and that was my first comic for Marvel.
Since then I’ve worked on many titles, such as. Transformers, Thundercats, Ghostbusters, Action Force, Zoids, Dr Who and some other titles that Marvel were doing in the 80’s.
Joe- What were your strengths and weaknesses as a comic book artist when you started out what were some of the most important lessons you’ve learned over the years?
Martin- My strengths in the beginning were my desire to learn and improve. Most artists are inexperienced when they start, so drawing and writing your own comics while you’re practising in your own time really helps. When you get that first commission however, there’s a sudden realisation that this is for real and there’s an actual deadline to aim for! “Will I do a good job?”…“Will they like it?” and many other thoughts go through your mind.
As time went on and other jobs came in I soon realised that I would never be happy with what I did. I think if you care about good drawing and storytelling then you will always focus on what you don’t like about your work and be overly critical. I suppose it’s like looking into a mirror and just seeing the spots and blemishes. I have to not see a piece of my artwork for a certain length of time, it has to almost be forgotten about for me to appreciate it when I see it again.
My weaknesses therefore were my inexperience but the more you strive to improve the better you get and the quicker you can work. I don’t miss any deadlines now!
Joe- You are without doubt one of the biggest names for fans of Marvel UK’s Thundercats comic, was that the series/franchise you worked on the most?
Martin- Thundercats was indeed the first title that I did the most work on. I would’ve created more art but I got caught up in the drawing quite often back then and due to that I was unfortunately late on some deadlines. I could complete an entire issue of Thundercats in half the time now.
Joe- How much impact did working with Marvel have on your career?
Martin- I’m not sure that working for Marvel has had an impact on my career. It was great for my ego when I first worked for them as I had collected their comics since 1972 but I guess that’s the biggest impact Marvel has had. I loved the artwork I saw in their comics and would copy it until I got better. As Marvel had offices in London I suppose I always felt that it was a natural step to one day work for them.
People I meet in everyday life are always impressed that I have worked for Marvel and DC comics but I think they find that fact impressive because more people are aware of Marvel now as they’ve been so successful with their movies. Believe me, when I was working for Marvel UK in the early 90’s they were struggling to survive!
At one Marvel Christmas party I remember everyone talking about what they were working on and what was ahead, it was all positive. The following Christmas party however it was all doom and gloom. Titles were being cancelled and everyone had to look elsewhere for work.
Marvel US was saved by the movies if you ask me. They were held in something called “chapter eleven” at one point in the 90’s which meant that they were effectively bankrupt and had a certain time to gain a new backer, a totally different situation to nowadays. I think Marvel should thank the advances in movie effects because CGI has helped their movies no end, that and good scripts. Look how good Dr Strange is.
Joe- You recently informed me that many of the artists that worked for Marvel did so from home but due to your location you often travelled in to deliver your pages. Can you remember much about the Marvel offices and the artists you came into contact with there?
Martin- At the time I started working for Marvel, I lived in Walthamstow, which is in east London. It would take me about an hour to travel to the offices and I often did so as I preferred to hand deliver my pages of artwork. It was also good to see the editors and if I timed it right, head for a beer (or two) but from 1986 to 1992 there were no artists actually working out of the Marvels offices in Bayswater.
Even though artists weren’t stationed there at that point, when visiting the offices I would often rub shoulders with Dave Hine, Kev Hopgood, Stephen Baskerville, Tim perkins, Geoff senior, Andy Lanning, John Higgins, Lee sullivan and others who’s names I can’t recall. I used to regularly meet up with my old mate Dougie Braithwaite too, who I met at David Lloyds course.
Artists who worked too far away from London would post their artwork to the offices so I only ever met those artists when Marvel had a function on.
From 1992, Marvel had a green light to produce comics for the American market and they relaunched Deaths Head, which sold out and went into a second print. A lot of other titles were commissioned after that and suddenly there was lots of work for everyone.
I started inking Knights of Pendragon and other titles quickly followed. It was then that I started to work from Marvels offices. Already working in the studio were artists such as Liam Sharp, Brian Hitch, Steve Whitaker, Andy Lanning, Edmund Perryman and Andrew Currie. Those were great times.
Joe- Correct me if I am wrong but I think you made your debut on the RGB comic in issue #13 (September 1988) providing the pencils for the third story and also the cover with Dave Hine. How did you end up working on the Ghostbusters comics exactly?
Martin- I’ll have to take your word for it that it was issue 13 of RGB that my first work was printed as I can’t quite remember! I don’t think I ever really thought about the first RGB artwork I did. At that time you could just walk into the office to deliver some Thundercats pages and be handed a script for a RGB story or Action Force on your way out. I would sometimes get a phone call to see if I was free to pencil a strip too but we all worked on different titles all the time.
Joe- Were all the Marvel UK artists required to move over to different comic projects or were people just happy to fill in for others whenever needed?
Martin- There wasn’t a set requirement from Marvel to work on other titles. As a freelancer you would want to take on as much work as possible but there wasn’t any pecking order. Editors would usually just give work to whoever was available.
I remember asking if I could work on Dr Who though and ended up pencilling 3 issues. Some artists were more assertive than others and would ask for work but I was more laid back and would wait to be asked. In hindsight it is best to be more assertive!
Joe- You started to become a regular artist on the RGB comics around issue #20 (October 1988) is that right? I think you not only did some pencils and inking for that issue but also the cover too (Peter and Egon).
Martin- Correct. I became more of a regular artist for the RGB comics around issue #20. I still remember the cover with Peter and Egon with the tins around them. I can think of at least other three covers that I did.
Joe- Which stories did you enjoy drawing the most for the RGB comic?
Martin- I think my favourite strip that I drew for the RGB comic was “Ghoul Fishing” which Dave Harwood inked.
Joe- Given the fact that many of the Marvel artists were capable of doing such a wide range of work, was there any real hierarchy with regard to who tackled the covers & who did pencils or did you all get a chance to do cover art?
Martin- I never really felt that there was a hierarchy at Marvel at the time regarding who did pencils for strips or who should do the covers. As I mentioned earlier I pencilled and inked 4 covers for the RGB and I also produced covers for Thundercats, Transformers, Zoids and Visionaries. As there was plenty of work around all of the artists had a fair crack at doing covers. I liked doing them when I had the opportunity, it was always a thrill to see them on the shelves of newsagents.
Joe- You were heavily involved for a number of issues after that point, regularly doing pencils and covers but after issue #30 we didn’t see very much of you, why was that?
Martin- Not sure exactly why I didn’t do much more work after issue #30. That must have been around 1989 so I was probably just doing work for other publishers as well. In late ’89 I started working on the TMNT for the Daily Mirror newspaper, which ran for a year.
Joe- When you began work on the Ghostbusters comics did you get much reference material from Marvel to work with?
Martin- A lot of the licensed comics we did at the time had an animated series on TV. This meant that we had photocopies of the character sheets given to us. Character sheets were black and white line drawings of the main characters, vehicles, bases/HQ’s etc. I can’t remember if they were what animators call “turn arounds” or not but they showed you a side, front and back view of the characters. The more you worked on the comic though they became second nature and you didn’t need to look at reference after a while.
Joe- Did you work on many of the later issues after and if so did you notice any change in the artists, content & stories over the years?
Martin- I did a few things here and there and had some of my previous stories reprinted. I can’t say I noticed anything different with the comic in the later issues. The RGB storylines were still light hearted from memory, keeping the age of its target audience in mind. The art would always be consistent with the reference supplied to the artist of course although it would have the artists personality behind it. By that I mean no two artist would draw the same, even though they had the same reference material.
Joe- Which of your fellow Marvel artists did you get on with the best during your years working on the UK titles?
Martin- I got on with everyone! My oldest friend from those days is Dougie Brathwaite though. Dougie now lives with his wife Sue near Newcastle. He was only 16 when I met him and I was 25, we both attended The comics course I mentioned earlier.
I knew other artists of course and we got on well and its great to see them at conventions nowadays. I’ve mentioned David Lloyd and his comics course a few times already but I just wanted to bring him up again because he really encouraged myself and Dougie in those early days. David now fronts Aces Weekly, his own online comic that you can subscribe to and see an array of new talent. David goes to convention all over the world promoting Aces Weekly. Here’s a link.
Joe- Who were some of your favourite artists to work with on the RGB comics and which in your opinion were the most talented?
Martin- I didn’t really work with that many people on RGB, except the inkers like Dave Harewood etc. I always thought that Dave inked my pencils nicely. I’m not sure if I met him now that I come to think about it? Once I handed my pencilled pages in It wouldn’t be at the same time the inker or colourist would be there so unfortunately we didn’t always see each other at work. Out of the artists that I knew then and now. I would say my old chum Dougie was the most talented artist at that time. He was great for his age but he improved dramatically. I have some artwork of his from that time and you wouldn’t recognise it as his work, he was a natural talent and only ever got better and better.
Joe- Are you still in contact with any of the other artists from your days at Marvel?
Martin- I don’t keep in regular contact with many artist in the conventional sense of phone calls and meeting up. I follow artists on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook though and I was at the N,I,C,E, comic con last year. It was great to see colleagues from those days like Cam Smith, Mark Farmer and Dougie of course. Theses days I hang out with Geoff Senior and Simon Furman who are famed as the artist and writer for many 80’s Transformers adventures, and are still working together today on their co creation called, To The Death.
Joe- Have you done any Real Ghostbusters commissions or comic book work since the comic in the 90’s? If not would you like to be involved with a Ghostbusters project again?
Martin- I haven’t worked on any published RGB comics since the Marvel UK days. I have been asked to do a few GB sketches at conventions. Not many, but I enjoy doing them when asked. Here is one I did in 2015:
To answer your question, yes I would love to draw a for a Ghostbusters project if I was ever asked. I can’t remember if there has been any new comics out since the 80’s, has there been a new one out since last years movie? Not in this country I don’t think. I felt the same when Thundercats was relaunched as a comic a few years back. I would’ve liked to have worked on it, but I was never asked. The style had changed though and as soon as I saw the difference I knew the comic wouldn’t last that long. They revisit these older properties that were incredibly successful in their heyday, re-imagine them, change them and then wonder why they don’t work.
Joe- I know there are loads of fans of The Real Ghostbusters that actively campaign for the cartoon and the toys to come back so I ‘m sure the community would welcome a comic project that could rival the original Marvel UK comics too (if that’s even possible!). With any luck the people that can make something like that happen are reading! Thanks for your time Martin.