This post was originally created for my Patreon supporters back in August 2018 and I have decided not to update the text so it reflects my feelings and thoughts at the time.
An altered version of this post was printed in the excellent Illustrators Special ‘The Art of Commando’ book published by The Book Palace in 2019.
Four Commando Comics are published every fortnight by DC Thomson & Co Ltd and you can find out more information about them and a free digital trial at their website: https://www.commandocomics.com
You can also buy this issue of Commando ‘The Red Devil’ digitally over at Comixology.
Released today, Commando Comics No.5153 ‘The Red Devil’ is the first of what I hope will be many featuring my art on the cover. If you live in the United Kingdom and follow British comics at all you will probably have come across these digest sized comics at some point. Commando has been published since 1961 and is well over 5,000 issues and counting, it is a well known feature on many newsagents shelves. For myself Commando and its science fiction offshoot Starblazer (now sadly not in print) were, along with rival publishers titles like War Picture Library, just part and parcel of my comics reading as a child. You picked up these war comics along with humour titles like Buster, The Beezer and Nutty and action comics like Victor and Warlord. There where so many of them that you never ran out and you swapped and traded copies with friends.
When I was 16 I went to the offices of DC Thomson & Co Ltd (to give them their full name) with my high school portfolio stuck under my arm in the dwindling hope that I could convince them to take me on as some sort of art office junior and learn my trade. Sadly it wasn’t to be, times were changing at Thomson’s and the arrival of computers on the scene was radically changing how the art department worked. I spent a great hour or so being shown around the art department and given encouragement and criticism from the manager viewing my portfolio. I was dejected but not unhappy with the result knowing that I was going to be heading off to college eventually after having attained the right grades for entry by taking night classes.
Cut to three years later and two years worth of college study later I was about to move onto another two full years in a different course but decided that I would once again see if I could make ground at DC Thomson. Apart from cherry picking some college pieces to show them I purposefully painted a humour piece (they are well known for publishing comics like The Beano and The Dandy) and two sample covers for Commando. Since I’d begun to show interest in art I’d always loved the painted covers found on Commando Comics and I envisaged them welcoming me with open arms to the fold with the two samples I created. Sadly once again it was an interesting visit but a definite no to my abilities. I’m sad to say that as I approached my 20s the lure of graphic design and a steady job took me away from art and my attempts to work for DC Thomson.
Still it was always in my mind what could have been and many years later when I did finally start creating work for the company it was with a sense of ‘finally’ that I had convinced them I was up to the job. Creating some paintings for them of their humour characters (the same characters I had painted before as samples) and being commissioned to do them was a big ‘You’ve done it’ for me. Over the last five or six years though I’ve still looked at the covers for Commando Comics and thought ‘give me a go’ and finally I got that commission. Ghosts laid to rest? Well maybe in one way but now I want, and hope, that they continue to commission me and I can settle into being one of the artists that is known for painting the covers of the title in its 57th year.
The brief for the cover came with a very simple description and a few images of the main character Irina that is wonderfully drawn by the interior artist Vicente Alcazar.
‘1942, Daytime in Stalingrad. Close up of Irina and her sniper rifle. Irina is in herearly 20s, She had long dark hair tied practically wears Russian army Winter private uniform for 1942 and is armed with Moisin rifle.’
I set to work on roughing out the layout for the cover in pencil on paper and knowing that I wanted to impress and put across my ideas well enough I decided to also colour the rough in photoshop. Knowing that the story was about a sniper my mind instantly returned to the countless Commando, Warlord and Victor covers where the crack shot sniper centred onto their target which we saw through the circular crosshair sights so graphically used to great effect. It seems like an almost unwritten rule for a war artist to include these round crosshair sights in a story about a sniper and who am I to break a rule that works.
I submitted my roughs and was pleased to receive a very positive response with only one request to alter the colouring to reflect the title of the comic. So a quick play around in Photoshop and with added red elements the rough was approved.
Onto the pencils where the details of the rifle, destroyed city, targeted soldier and Irina herself where all nailed down in my usual way of pencilling flipped onto tracing paper. The finished pencils where then scanned in and the tracing paper version was used to transfer the pencils onto the watercolour art board I was going to paint onto. Part of the image wraps around the comic and I wanted the image on the back of the comic to stand on its own which is why I placed the ruins of Stalingrad in an opposing colour scheme in this area. It works as a whole but also separately and I recall as a kid, and even now, excitedly seeing what hidden bonus had been painted on the back of the comic.
Painting in watercolour moved through quite swiftly with me concentrating on getting the main character right first before adding in the background.
The finished piece was scanned in and retouched and modified in Photoshop. With no small amount of trepidation I sent off the cover for approval by the editor and was delighted by the response and praise for my first cover.
Here is the press release for the issue:
5153: Action and Adventure: The Red Devil
Hiding in the thick snow, the Red Devil is watching. In the battle-torn, bomb‑shelled carcass of Stalingrad, she stalks her prey. Her sights aimed and her finger taut, she pulls the trigger…
Specially selected for the cover, Graeme Neil Reid’s exhilarating art shows our hellish heroine in a blood red light, capturing her plight for the Motherland as well as her deadly shot!
|Story | Iain McLaughlin | Pencils | Vicente Alcazar | Cover | Graeme Neil Reid |
I managed to read the comic a couple of weeks ago when the editor showed me the proofs ready for the printer. It’s a cracking little story which moves along at a good pace all written by the talented Iain McLaughlin who has a long and varied career on many different DC Thomson titles among other things. The comic will be available in all good newsagents for the next two weeks along with the three other issues also released at the same time. If you can I’d ask that you try and pick a copy up and if possible sing the covers praises on social media to Commando Comics themselves. If the comic sells well and enough people mention my art then it all helps to convince the editor that I’m worthy of more and I’d love to see this become a regular gig. As always with client work where I can’t share the work prior to release with my supporters I will endeavour to record the process and show it upon release of the work.