Sketchy Details: A conversation with illustrator Des Taylor

Trevor Hogg chats with Des Taylor about his love for Pop Art and Comic Books…

“My brother Darren [Jazz name Vidal] is a Jazz musician touring with Courtney Pine,” states Des Taylor who comes from an artistic family. “My sister is a concert viola player with the BBC Radio orchestra and her husband Alistair Scahill has his own string trio called Florin Music; I am always proud when I see them on the telly. My other sister, Dawn, is a chef; the stuff she creates makes your mouth water and birthday dinners are always a delight in my house. I used to play the bassoon and classical guitar but left music to concentrate on being an Illustrator.” The British born talent studied Graphic Design at West Herts College in Watford. “I can positively say nothing at school influenced me. After seeing Star Wars back in 1977, I went home and started to draw these immense battle scenes on paper that my Mum brought home from work. Mum was a Tailor by trade, so fashion became my influence. I enjoyed creating the outfits for characters as much as the action scenes. I have great memories of collecting tons of Vogue [which trust me was hard to take being a young Black man living in Tottenham and hanging out with the bad-boys at school], ripping out the best pages and trying to draw the supermodels. Cindy Crawford was my favourite!”

“A great illustration is all about the concept and trying making it aesthetically pleasing on the eye,” believes Des Taylor. “If we are talking comics then I have to talk about my favorite artists Hergé, Crisse, Albert Uderzo, Romita Sr, Neal Adams, Eisner, Bruce Timm, Garcia-Lopez, Darwyn Cooke and Kirby. These are guys whose line work was perfect! Their work can be put on ANY wall regardless of if you are a fan of comics and can be used commercially. They are artists who wake up in the morning with the sole purpose of being the best at what they do.” Taylor emulates the approach of his idols. “For me, I have that thought process with every piece I do. Last year whilst recovering from a knee injury, I knocked up an illustration of Wonder Woman. In my mind I wanted to capture her as if she was relaxed on a bench, as if someone just came over and asked her, ‘Excuse me, can I take your picture?’ That illustration went around comic boforums and blogs, and literally put me on the radar in the comic world.” The profession has not been the easiest career choice. “I would say my biggest challenge would be finding the drive to continue with what you love doing, and perfecting your style whilst being rejected for jobs. There have been times in which I have asked myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ It took time to understand [working on fashion magazines] that an editor rejecting your work wasn’t personal. They just want to get the right look for their publication. It is most important to be confident in your style and stick with it. Sooner or later someone will hire you.”

Comic-Con has been the essential for freelance artists like Fashion Week is for designers,” observes Des Taylor whose clients have included Michael Jackson, Theo Fennell, FHM, Cosmopolitan, La Perla, and Citroën. “For most professionals, it is the chance to put them in the shop window, to attract business, and network with other publishers and creators. It also gives you the chance to sell your own books, promote your own projects, and find your own fan-base. I am amazed by the amount of Conventions that are popping up everywhere. This can only be good for comics as an industry.” The idea to form the artist collective DESPOP came from Taylor recovering from surgery. “When sitting down with your leg up in plaster you get time to come up with ideas. I thought it made sense to create a one stop shop for people who want to buy my artwork, and the art of my fellow creators. It was essential to think like an artist/businessman and give the customer something exclusive. Which is why I only print short runs [1 to 25] of work. I also wanted to give creators the chance to make some money from their work. So many illustrators moan about how they never make any money so I want to set up something that gives them that chance. I am also planning to do some exhibitions later in the year to promote this all.”

In his Blogger profile, Des Taylor writes that he has “a passion for comic book and Pop Art fused with an obsession for retro film and 50’s pin up girls.” When asked about his influences, the illustrator enthusiastically admits, “I AM A RETRO FIEND!! I was brought up through the 70’s and 80’s where some of the best TV programs and movies were made, plus all the re-runs of classic movies were shown on terrestrial television. Now there are too many channels so everybody misses out. Monroe, Bacall, Bogart, Hepburn, Elvis and Astaire movies were always on in my house. The style, attitude and the way they carried themselves had a great effect on my work. When thinking about design and illustration you HAVE to take inspiration from the past. In music today, most of the new artists I have seen think they can go it alone without any past inspiration. Now most of the music sounds the same – NOISE with no melody or harmony. When it comes to comic books, I find it’s the same way. Most modern comics are 22 pages of characters beating the lumps out of each other or destroying a city. It bores me now! I always hit the indie shelves to find more interesting stories. I guess you can say I like to hark back to the time when the story was central to the book, full of angst, emotion and the illustrations were raw energy. The only comic for me that is totally capturing that recently is Humberto Ramos’ Spider-Man: Big Time storyline which is well written, excellently executed, and a pleasure to look at.”

Questioned about what drew him to create Vesha Valentine, Katie Rogers, BLU, Scarlett Couture, and Blue Lotus, Des Taylor replies, “One day whilst recovering from knee surgery I came up with the idea of an everyday hero that girls could relate to. The Trouble with Katie Rogers was the outcome; she came out of the watching the actions of two of my best female friends. This character took me to places and introduced me to people that I could not have dreamt about creating comics. This drove me to create more strong female protagonists. I’ve had Hollywood actresses, Pop stars and large companies telling me how much they love my art and what I am trying to do. Most recently at the San Diego Con I had an actress who told me she was finally happy to see someone who drew women the way they should look… FABULOUS! Plus, when a 14 year old girl comes up to you with your book and says, ‘When I grow up, I want to be Katie Rogers,’ it makes you feel accomplished. I have been lucky to have been surrounded by great looking, strong-willed, and determined women all of my life so finding inspiration for these characters was easy. Keeping track of each storyline is harder. I try to work on two pages a day from each book: Monday – Scarlett, Tuesday – Blue Lotus, etc.” Taylor reveals, “I’m still in the middle of completing them all. Scarlett Couture will be up next from me and is nearly complete. Blue Lotus will follow with 22 pages left to do. Then I am pondering in releasing an Anthology book called Pulphouse Tales with my other properties. I have rounded up some great people, Alex Sim-Wise G4TV, Ryan Shrodt – CLiNT magazine and Kevin Freeman – SubCulture, to write some of the stories. Alex will be the only one with her own property, Alma Mater, a story about a kick-ass girl gang out to solve a mystery within their sinister catholic school. It’s going to be a lot of fun to do.”

“The way I do my comics it makes no difference whether I do black and white or colour,” says Des Taylor. “All of my drawings start out traditional pencil, paper and ink before being scanned into Photoshop, Streamlined, and then every character is individually colored before being put into a scene. It is more like animation.” Computer technology has become an indispensable part of the artistic process. “I am my own studio because of Photoshop. I take thousands of pictures to use as reference and to use in my work no matter how trivial: the corner of a draw, a puddle, a tree or a woman walking down the road talking on her phone. It is the best method for me to work. I recently had a conversation with a fantastic photographer I know named Nathen Atia to create a comic reference book to inspire indie artists.” Taylor remarks, “My favourite graphic book is Selina’s Big Score; it is a fantastic read even if you are not a fan of comics and a book I have bought for friends as a present on numerous occasions. My favourite all-time comic is Amazing Spider-Man 269-270, ‘And there shall come a Firelord.’ Spidey dukes it out with a former herald of Galactus with all the drama that comes with Peter Parker’s life. Top stuff. My favourite comic movie is a toss up between The Dark Knight [2008] and Superman: The Movie [1978]. Love those films! X-Men: First Class [2011] and The Incredibles [2004] would be close behind.”

The diehard soccer and Tottenham Hotspur fan declares, “I hate Arsenal… with a passion. Love Guinness, catching up with my girly friends over coffee and the lads over beers, and coming up with new ideas for comic stories. Waitaminnit… I also love my missus, Wiesia and my newborn girl, Scarlett Lana Valentine Taylor.” Reflecting on his career ambitions, Taylor states, “I am in the middle of doing something that I have always dreamed of doing. Hopefully you shall see the results before the end of this year. Outside of that I would LOVE to create a retro Superman Fleischer style graphic novel or a Lois Lane one-shot. I love vintage Superman! Not a fan of the New 52 incarnation’s suit. Although, I do understand the need to move on and refresh the character for a new audience, these won’t be the incarnations I shall be bringing up my kids into loving. My other ambition is to do Pop-up comic art shows. After the success of my first solo show I am dying to showcase some art from other artists as well as myself.”

Many thanks to Des Taylor for taking the time for this interview and for providing the images.

If you want to learn more about Des Taylor visit DESPOP and his personal blog DESPOP: The Art of Des Taylor.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.