Artist: Tony O’Donnell
Company: Marvel UK
Joe- Welcome to theartofRGB Tony! How long have you been a professional illustrator and when did you first decide to pursue a career as an artist?
Tony- Thank you Joe! Well, I guess that would be when I landed a job with the Educational Resources Unit as an illustrator in October 1978. It was a job creation scheme and my job involved providing illustrations for teachers projects. It was a bit boring at first as the other illustrators were getting the more “exciting” jobs but I just stuck in and did my best and sure enough, after a while I did start to get better assignments. A few weeks before that I had gotten involved with Near Myths magazine in Edinburgh which paid £10 per page. My new job paid £60 per week so I felt quite wealthy after a summer spent working in restaurants for a mere £30 per week! It was very exciting to attend my first Near Myths meeting where I got to meet other comic strip artists for the first time in my life! I was very impressed by everyone’s work but especially so by Bryan Talbot, Graham Manley, John Eunson and a 17 year old Grant Morrison.
I can remember wanting to be an illlustrator or a comic strip artist from as young as 12 or 13 years old. The credits in Marvel comics were a big factor in that fantasy career choice of mine! I sent away for the famous artists course – talent test which was advertised in Marvel Comics back then. That would have been around 1970 or 1971 and then a salesman turned up and talked my parents into paying for the course. I remember they postponed buying a new settee on hire purchase to pay for it. I felt so guilty about that so I made sure I worked extra hard on the assignments over the following three years. The European group sadly went bust before I finished the course but by then I was doing higher art and applying for art college. Some of the Dutch tutors who critiqued my homework were first rate illustrators!
Joe- Whereabouts were you based when you started working for Marvel and did you ever visit the London offices?
Tony- I lived in Grangemouth, Central Scotland when I drew the comic pages so there was always quite a bit of distance between me and the London offices but I did visit when I travelled down to drop off my first samples. I remember drawing sample pages for Thundercats and Ghostbusters as well as a Dr Who illustration. Looking back it might have been a good idea to do a Transformers page too, but I ran out of time before my trip. Here is a Ghostbusters sample page that I took along
My first ever meeting with anyone from Marvel was with Richard Starkings, one of the editors at the time who promised me some work on Ghostbusters but it was nearly three months before I actually got my fist job on the title, some illustrations for the Annual. I got quite a thrill the first time I got a letter with the Marvel stationary, then came the Christmas card. I probably could have visited more often looking back but for me at the time it was just too far away. I was a few years older than many of the other writers, artists and even the Editors at the time so I think some may have even thought of me as a veteran at 30!
Joe- Who else do you remember meeting from he times you visited London?
Tony- Pretty sure I met fellow artist Martin Griffiths on the way to an SSI (Society of strip Illustration) meeting on the very same day I had presented my samples but I only visited the offices twice over the years so I missed a lot of the “good times” I guess. Martin was probably with a young Dougie Braithwaite when we met while I was with Danny Vallely and Rob Moran. So you had three Scots blokes with portfolios getting off a train who then spotted two other blokes with portfolios heading the same way! I may have been the only one who had been to the sketch club before but me and Martin were the only ones making any attempt at conversation. I guess it was five stressed guys walking in the same direction to the DC Talent Search haha!
Joe- Did you draw sample pages for any other comic companies back then?
Tony- Yes I did frequently. The SSI meeting was also a DC Comics talent search as I mentioned earlier and unfortunately it was also the moment I got an almighty rejection! One that I took way too seriously at the time.
Looking back, I had serious delusions that I could draw for DC or Marvel without providing any real proof that i was capable of doing any such thing. How I expected to get work on superheroes when the sample I drew was my first real attempt at drawing them since I was 15 I don’t know! I also did samples for 2000AD a few times too but got several knock backs. Richard Starkings encouraging response to my first phone call to Marvel UK after I had seen GB #1 was very welcome at the time because rejection can be hard to take when you are trying to impress and secure yourself a job. I remember I originally phoned Marvel to ask if they were looking for inkers but he was more interested in pencillers. He may well have known my previous work from Harriar Comics because he was involved with Harriar too, as were a lot of the Marvel UK artists and writers.
I enjoyed my time on Ghostbusters because I could work easily in that semi realist/slightly cartoonish style and it really helped rebuild my confidence after that huge DC rejection.
Joe- Your first credited work was in issue #31. where you provided pencils for the second story “These boots are made for haunting”, one of my favourites. Do you remember much about that first job?
Tony- Haha, yes I’ll never forget it! I was so nervous that I spent all day drawing just the first panel…then I actually had to go to the Doctor because I thought I was having a heart attack! It turned out to be indigestion caused by stress.
Joe- Wow, well I’m glad you got over your nerves or we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the other artwork you went on to create for the comic! You regularly provided pencils for stories after issue #31, did you ever get to work on any Ghostbusters covers?
Tony- I don’t recall ever being asked to do a cover, I don’t think it ever came up. I was just happy to be getting scripts as they were so well written and a joy to draw.
Joe- Was there any reason why you inked your own pencils on “Heavy Weather” in issue #90?
Tony- My ego would like to say that my editor, Stuart Bartlett realised that I could ink my own work to the same standard as the “inkers” but it is most likely that the inkers were just too busy haha! That particular story did indeed feature in issue #90 and I think some people had moved onto other jobs at that point. I inked some of my annual strips as well although that may have been because there was less time pressure on an annual job. I think that the inking fee was £40 per page with pencils at £60. My favourite inker was Dave Harwood who made my pencils look way better than I could at that time.
Joe- You did quite a bit of work on the Real Ghostbusters annuals didn’t you?
Tony- Yes I also did work for three Annuals. My first job was to illustrate a Highland Castle Ghost text story for the 1990 Annual. which was inked by the excellent Dave Harwood. I believe it was an entry from “Winston’s Diary”.
Here is a photocopy of some of my pencils from the same story:
In the 1991 annual I did a 4 page strip called “Bus Busters” and the last annual I did work for was the 1992 one. My contribution was a 5 page story called “Mayhem for Melnitz” which was written by Ian Rimmer. The first Annual from 1989 included a 12 page strip drawn by the late Phil Gascoine which believe it or not was my main “style guide” when I first started. Great artwork from a great artist.
Joe- Which of the stories you drew for were your favourites?
Tony- My first one of course – “These Boots” written by John Freeman. “Silver Scream” was a big challenge but I enjoyed drawing it very much. Other favourites were “School Ghouls”, “Bouncebusters”, “Cool Zuul” and “The Private Eye”. Honestly, I could list them all as I really loved my time as a penciller on The Real Ghostbuster’s Comic, they were all great stories.
Joe- This next questions is one I’ve often thought about but never asked. How exactly did artists get their original art back? Especially artists that like yourself didn’t live close to the offices.
Tony- Well, it was different from job to job. I was quite lucky to get my Ghostbusters pages back actually as I did not even know they were available. Most of my comics work until that point had been for D. C. Thomson and unfortunately they did not return art so I never thought to ask for my Marvel work after it had been printed. I got back in touch with Marvel UK around 1992 to do some samples for other titles and a kind editor located and returned all of my old artwork that they could find which I was very happy about.
Below are a few of Tony’s Real Ghostbusters title pages from various different issues:
Joe- Which other Marvel UK Titles would you have liked to work on back then?
Tony- I would have liked to have drawn Thundercats and as I mentioned above I really should have found the time to do a Transformers Sample before I visited Marvel UK, since SF art was a major interest of mine. Apart from Ghostbusters the only other work I did for Marvel UK were some illustrations for “Gilbert’s Fridge”, who was a grotesque Space Alien TV character, Combat Wombat for STRIP 13 and some “undercover” inking work for my mate Rob Moran who was writing and drawing strips for the “It’s Wicked” at the time.
Joe- How did your time working on the comic come to an end and what kind of work did you pursue afterwards?
Tony- While the title was still enjoying a faithful following I was working as an Illustrator for an Exhibition called Glasgows Glasgow so I was doing fewer and fewer Ghostbusters strips. Then all of a sudden the scripts stopped because they started using the American strips and needed less artwork.
From memory I was also drawing Star Romance for D.C.Thomson which ended at roughly the same time, Easter 1990. I was unemployed for a few months after that but then got work painting Murals for a Nursery. I sent samples to art Agents and also tried to land Lecturing and Graphic Design jobs.
Around November 1990 I was sent a Ghostbusters script which led to a few more jobs before it ended again. I remember drawing samples of strips as different as Desperate Dan and TMNT in order to land more work. I eventually joined the GCI Agency and started illustrating educational books. I also started drawing for football picture story monthly at DCT as well as doing a part time lecturing job (which did not last more than 18 months…) but between early ’91 and late ’92 I was earning more than usual by combining illustration work, comics and lecturing.
Joe- I’ve been following your art page on facebook and it’s great to see the caricature work you do but I also noticed you posting sketches for something called “The daily sketch challenge”, could you explain what that’s all about?
Tony- The Daily Sketch Challenge is a group on www.deviantart.com which selects a new theme or character to draw each day. Each piece of art is supposed to be done in 30 minutes! I believe that I first got involved about five years ago as a way to loosen up my sketching and to improve my figure drawing as I felt that my work was becoming a bit stiff and over worked. I enjoy the social side of it too, as you interact with other artists and see how they respond to each challenge. It was also a good way to learn to scan my art and post it on the internet as computer work has never been easy for me. There are some incredibly talented artists involved with the Daily Sketch Challenge and I still enjoy doing them.
Joe- Looking back what are your feelings towards the Real Ghostbusters title?
Tony- As I’ve mentioned a couple of times already, Ghostbusters was one of my favourite times in comics, even though I was a minor contributor compared to some. I can honestly say I was excited by every script I read, had a great relationship with my editors and found the job both relaxing and fun. Well, apart from the first few…when I was stressed to the max and desperate to impress that is!