Every year, in the countdown to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in October, we bring you a series of interviews with guests at the event. This “Festival Focus” for 2019 is with Robert Deas is a British comic artist and the creator of "Troy Trailblazer", the science fiction adventure series appearing inside the pages of The Phoenix and The Sunday Times.
The fan favourite has been a regular strip since 2012 and Troy Trailblazer and the Horde Queen has been collected as a graphic novel and nominated for a Stan Lee Excelsior Award.
As well as his creator led material, Robert has also worked extensively with Medikidz, a publisher specialising in medical comic books that explain illnesses to children using a team of young superheroes that travel inside the human body. He has worked on 8 full-length titles and helped redesign their core characters.
Robert’s early career was characterised by a string of graphic novel adaptations of literary classics such as Manga Shakespeare: Macbeth and Pride & Prejudice for SelfMadeHero. Other clients include Disney, IDW, The Book Trust, Rubicon Canada and First Media.
Robert works completely digitally from his home studio in Lincolnshire using a Wacom Cintiq21UX and a combination of Sketchbook Pro and Adobe Photoshop.
What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?
Robert: The latest series of "Izzy Newton" has just appeared in the last few issues of The Phoenix and I have just finished pencilling and am about to start working up final artwork for my next series of "Trailblazers". It's a huge 100+ page epic finale to the current run of "Trailblazers" entitled "Alliance", that brings to a close the Collective / Overseers / Agent Strife storyline that’s been running for the last four years.
Which comic project you've worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Robert: I’d have to say Troy Trailblazer And The Horde Queen, from David Fickling Books. It’s a collected edition from my Phoenix series and the first book that I’ve both created, written and drawn.
I’m immensely proud of my last series of "Trailblazers" too, "Doppelgänger". The story takes place across two parallel dimensions and the guys at the Phoenix let me loose to work in both black and white and colour to represent the two different dimensions, which I thought was really exciting.
How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Robert: I’m pretty disciplined, I have to be with weekly deadlines. My "Izzy Newton" episodes are generally four pages long, so once the whole story has been written and roughed out, I try to get a page pencilled and inked Monday to Thursday and then colour the episode on Friday. It doesn’t always run as smoothly as that, but that’s the general plan.
"Trailblazers" is a little more involved, as I’m responsible for the writing on that too and the episodes are longer. The new series is six pages per episode minimum, so an episode takes more than a week. That’s excluding all the writing time and rough stage before getting to the final art stage.
What's the best thing about being a comics creator?
Robert: This has been my dream job since I was 5 so that’s the best thing. After that it’s being able to work from home, drawing all day and creating stories that excite me.
And the worst?
Robert: Despite drawing comics being my dream job it can get pretty intense at times. Deadlines can get on top of you and it sometimes feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day. Having said that, I’ve never missed a deadline in my 13 year career. Some might find the isolation hard too, hours on end in your won company sat at your drawing desk. This doesn’t bother me at all but some people who enjoy a more sociable working environment may find it a struggle.
What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Robert: The Internet! Despite finding Twitter a pretty hostile place, I do spend a lot of time on there scrolling through it and everyone’s very vocal opinions. It can be a very useful tool for sharing artwork and keeping readers up to date - but I do find I’m using it less and less these days.
Do you think it's easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
Robert: There’s probably two sides to that statement. Easier from the point of view that the internet makes it so easy to create and reach an audience for your work. However the ease at which you can get your work out there means there’s a lot of competition and it can be hard to make yourself heard and get yourself noticed.
From a publishing point of view I’d say that comics are going through a bit of a resurgence at the moment and there are definitely more opportunities out there than there were 10 years ago.
Have you ever been to the Lake District before and if so what did you think of it? If you haven't, what are you expecting?
Robert: I have and I love it! Such a great family friendly atmosphere. It’s a more varied festival than you’re standard comic con and the one that I always bring my whole family to as there’s so much to do. I’m really looking forward to my WE DRAW U DRAW event that will be running in the Westmorlands Shopping Centre over the weekend.
Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Robert: There’s a few big name artists taking part in WE DRAW U DRAW this year, some of whom I haven’t met before and who’s work I love so it’s going to be great to finally meet them. I’m a huge fan of Criminal and Kill or be Killed, so meeting Sean Phillips will be great, along with Becky Cloonan, Duncan Fegredo, Michael Lark - and many more top flight artists taking part in the event this year.
How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?
Robert: As a comic creator, you spend a lot of time isolated in a little bubble creating your work. I’ve found that comic events are a great place to meet the people that actually read your work. I always find the interaction very motivational as it really energises you to get back to the drawing board and make more comics, knowing that people are reading and enjoying them.
What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Robert: Don’t wait for the industry to notice you before you start making comics. Start a webcomic and get your work out there. That’s how I got my break. It’s a low cost way of getting your work out to your audience, getting used to deadlines and honing your craft. I’m always learning as an artist and a writer and that’s because I’m effectively practicing everyday.
What's your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Robert: I’m a very pro digital kind of guy, from games, to films and now comics so I read a lot of my comics on my iPad using Comixology. I don’t have much room in my studio these days so I just find buying digital works really well for me. I love being able to store so many comics on one device too and regularly store up my iPad for my Sumer holidays with lots of great reads. I’ve just read Death or Glory by Remender and Bengal and really enjoyed that.
All my fellow Phoenix creators are making amazing comics as always too and you can pick up the Phoenix weekly from www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk.
Robert, thanks for talking to us and we're looking forward to seeing you at the Festival!