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The Road to Deadline
Studio life with Brett Ewins and Steve Dillon
Many moons ago, I decided to leave my job at Marvel UK and go freelance. Robert Sutherland, Marvel’s MD, very kindly offered me a studio space in the basement as an incentive to carry on working for them in some capacity. This was a very helpful gesture and made the leap of faith into the precarious world of the freelancer a far more secure option.
With continued design work for Marvel, my newly acquired work for 2000 AD, and my photographic commissions from other clients, things were working in my favour. I’d also taken up Martial arts in the form of Hapkido and my teacher was a great guy called Philip Hartstein. The reason I mention Phil, is because he was instrumental in helping me find a new studio when Marvel eventually re-located to another part of London. He also helped me move all of my equipment which was no mean feat. Way back before the modern-day scanner, there was a humongous piece of equipment called a Grant Enlarger, which was a vital tool for a designer, but it was made of metal, it was six foot high and it weighed a ton!
The studio that Phil discovered was a place called South Thames Studios and it belonged to a business acquaintance of his. I don’t know quite how he did it, but he managed to get me a work unit there for no rent whatsoever. It was also just a 3-minute walk from the 2000 AD editorial office. It was a good, nicely located building, and before long the word got around. Brett Ewins and Steve Dillon came and had a look, and decided to use it as their base of operations for the newly founded Deadline magazine. This was great news for me because they took me on as their features photographer, giving me another source of freelance work and an opportunity to photograph people like Jah Wobble and Danny John-Jules.
My ex-Marvel UK colleagues were to follow. Rahid Khan moved in and became Deadline’s designer. Nick Abadzis paid a visit, and after I prompted him to stick his head over the partition to show his work to Steve and Brett, they took him on immediately, and commissioned his well-loved Hugo Tate strip. Nick decided to stay and share a larger studio space with me and our other ex-Marvel colleague, John Tomlinson, who volunteered to continue the story from here...
Ewins and Dillon of Deadline Gulch
By John Tomlinson
When I first went freelance I rented an office unit (read: open top cubicle) in South Thames Studios, Blackfriars, across the road from the 2000 AD Command Module at Irwin House. The 2000 AD droids called it Vermin House due to the hot and cold running rodents, but South Thames Studios was quite plush by comparison – we had pigeonholes, photocopiers, even our own receptionist! Steve Cook, who already had a unit there, had told me about it. And my next-door neighbours were Brett Ewins and Steve Dillon, then in the process of setting up what became Deadline magazine. Brett and Steve were the undisputed stars of South Thames Studios and to me they always sounded like a couple of legendary gunslingers – Ewins and Dillon of Deadline Gulch, Arizona. Saloon doors wouldn’t have looked out of place on their cubicle. Regular visitors included Phillip Bond and a gangling teenaged Jamie Hewlett with his early Tank Girl strips.
I soon discovered that freelancers keep weird hours. I’d rented the unit for some semblance of office life, but I certainly didn’t work a 9 to 5 day. I think I realised I was overdoing it when, as the last to leave one night I found myself thinking it might be a laugh to slip away unseen by the baleful red eye of the security motion sensors. I turned out all the lights and began to crawl, verrry slowly, across the carpet. PLNK! Damn. I started again, got a few more millimetres: PLNK! Bugger. Go HOME, Tomlinson.
Despite the silly working hours, the worst that ever happened to me was nodding off at my desk and having to answer the door with bog brush hair and my keyboard clearly indented on one side of my face. But then, I was a lone freelance writer/editor. Next door, Brett and Steve were launching a completely new, fully originated magazine whilst also writing and drawing much of the content, editing all of it and organising production, printing, marketing... No matter how early I arrived each day there'd be the inevitable plume of smoke and tinny murmur of headphones from over the wall and I'd know that Brett, Steve or both were already at work. There's a legend (perhaps apocryphal, just as likely not) that Steve could draw an entire US format comic book overnight, a can of Guinness on one corner of his drawing board, a bottle of Pro Plus tablets on the other and his favourite album on auto-repeat.
What's not in doubt is Brett's Herculean schedule, as detailed by Brett himself in the epic, no holds barred interview that forms the backbone of The Art Of Brett Ewins. He wrote the Deadline editorials and drew one of the lead strips, Johnny Nemo (written by his long time friend and collaborator, Peter Milligan). Brett also wrote regular text features, music reviews and my personal Deadline favourite, the brilliant and frankly uncategorisable Ron Merlin’s Paradigm Shift. To make ends meet he also took on extra illustration work (advertising, album covers) whilst also drawing a miniseries, Skreemer, for DC Comics.
The Art Of Brett Ewins, produced in collaboration with former 2000 AD editor Alan McKenzie and published under his POD (print on demand) line, Air Pirate Press, and available at Amazon, is an autobiographical retrospective of Brett’s life and career. The in depth interview covers his days at art college with Peter Milligan and another lifelong friend, artist Brendan McCarthy, from their earliest collaborations (Sometime Stories) to Brett’s groundbreaking association with 2000 AD, from Rogue Trooper and Judge Anderson to the Milligan/Ewins/McCarthy masterpiece, Bad Company. Brett pulls no punches in the fascinating and frequently inspiring interview, which also covers the Deadline days, his battle with illness and more recent projects such as The Dark Gate, a labour of love anthology that took a decade to complete. The book includes detailed pencils, inks and lovely full colour artwork from all stages of his career, some previously unpublished. For anyone merely curious about the work of this uniquely gifted creator, here’s ample proof of his reputation as one of comics’ all time greats.
Financed by Tom Astor, Deadline lasted seven years, outlasting other, similar counterculture comics/magazines, and was never more brilliant than in those early issues with Brett and Steve at the helm. For me, The Art Of Brett Ewins was a fun reminder of the short, exciting time I spent in the company of two unusual artists and creators, slipstreamed briefly along in their wake on the road to Deadline Gulch, and their place in publishing history.
Here’s a list of some of the many Deadline contributors that Brett and Steve commissioned: Alan Martin, Jamie Hewlett, Nick Abadzis, Shaky Kane, Philip Bond, Glyn Dillon, Jim McCarthy, Jon Beeston, D’Israeli, Nabiel Kanan, Al Columbia, Julie Hollings, Simon Bisley, Rachael Ball, Peter Milligan, Brendan McCarthy, Gary Rice, Ilya, Tony Riot, Bambos, Frankie Stein, Roger Langridge, Ola Belo, Chris Webster, Mike Noon, Ra Khan, Steve Cook, Rian Hughes, plus editors who followed on: Si Spencer, Dave Elliott and Frank Wynne. - John Tomlinson
Thanks to John for his recollections, and thanks to Nick Abadzis for sending this beautiful tribute piece for Brett to add to the article. Below is a tribute for Steve, put together on behalf of DC Comics, by Mark Chiarello, Garth Ennis and myself. This appeared in all of the comics in the month of November, 2016. We miss them both dearly.
Nick Abadzis wrote about his move from Marvel UK to South Thames Studios and Deadline magazine in this interview by Chloe Maveal on NeoText Review
There’s a page on Facebook dedicated to news about exhibitions of Steve Dillon’s art here.
The Guardian did a piece about Steve and his brother Glyn, here.
The Art Of Brett Ewins is available on this link at: Amazon and Air Pirate Press.
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