An interview with Mark Robinson (1996)

Here you may download the complete text of a 1996 interview I conducted with Mark Robinson. The interview was published in Zum magazine. This was after Mark and I had created our Silver-Age Superman comic, and his work took a sudden departure into a very bold, heavy-outlined style of drawing, along with compressed storylines with punchy edits and telegram-style captions. There was a lot of oblique (and direct) commentary about modern society, indicating a discerning mind at work, as well as a somewhat disaffected soul.

I’m putting in some text excerpts from the interview in this post; you can download a PDF of the entire text at the end of the page. To illustrate it, here are some scans from issues 8 and 9 of Mark’s Bang! comic.

I’d made a conscious decision to draw Bang 8 (and then Bang 9) in a sparser, simpler style, because I thought that way I would have more time to spend on composition and would be able to produce work in more quantity (I already had decided to do longer, involved stories).?With Bang 8, the story suggested that the art should resemble a religious tract, something like a pamphlet you might be handed in the High Street. I wanted the art to look as though it’d been farmed out to some anonymous commercial artist – in that way it would?bear no direct relation to the content. I find with a lot of comics, the style tips you off in advance of reading the story – an ‘action’ or superhero story is drawn in a very predictable style designed to trigger a conditioned response in the reader. I tried for a style with no spin to it, like ‘back-of-the-Yellow-Pages’ illustrations. Roy Lichtenstein fed into it, as did the paintings of Patrick Caulfield – that nice de-styled method of rendering.

Some of Bang 9 comes out of a period when I was listening to a lot of melancholic (whisper it) Blur songs. They seemed to echo some feelings I had had for some time about the ‘numbing’ of society. I think it’s a common modern fear that technological advance will rob us of our humanity and the ability to feel and interact – it’s
certainly robbed a lot of us of our jobs. There’s a huge shopping centre near us in Sheffield. I don’t deny its convenience but it is a very dispiriting place. You see this strange thousand-yard stare in the long queues at the SavaCentre, the aimless search for diversion and entertainment, and some shops selling absolute rubbish. It’s my upbringing I suppose, a need for authenticity.

By 1990, the great (if vague and hopeless) idea of making a living at comics had not happened. I wanted to do something with my Fine Arts degree, branch out, so I made a conscious effort to provide a future and prospects for myself. To be honest by then I was ‘burnt out’ with comics (I had been obsessed with doing them) and
dissatisfied with a lot of things in my life. So I dropped contact with a lot of the artists associated with the scene. I didn’t buy or read comics, and purposely didn’t go into any comics shops. It had become a rut. Bang 7 was published just before I went into teacher training. It was calling a halt. The dissatisfaction had shown up in my work. I got into this perfectionist mindset of drawing and re-drawing the same panel over and over, starting and not finishing. I spent too much time refining, and producing pages that were composed of virtually identical images, and astonishingly when I looked back at the earlier work it looked better. All the concentration was there, that pure flow between the pen and the mind which is hard to recreate conciously.

For me a lot of small press stuff was too short and whimsically fey. I was always more into longer and more engaging stories. Over in mainstream comics I found I could no longer engage with 99% of the stuff coming out. There was a massive shift to style over content. They tried to jazz up those tired old puppets, superhero characters, with a new superficial gloss, filched from Fine Art. Comprehensible action and settings were shunted aside by empty spectacle and pinup type images. Professional comic artists friends would rave about the Bill Sienciewiczes and the Simon Bisleys, but I could only see a loss. Simpler, more effective methods became dated (or indeed taken up by the small press – Carol Swain’s work has many of the qualities of understandability and directness I am talking about). There was no longer any room for the quirky old byways.?All the artists like Ogden Whitney and Pete Costanza that I liked were overlooked.

Download PDF of Mark Robinson interview

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