By Olly MacNamee
Working with Phil Hester on their critically acclaimed Image comic, Mythic, to how it all started back in Ireland, alongside childhood friend and partner in crime, Garth Ennis, John McCrea tells us about his career to date, as I met up with him in those brief moments when he isn't working away at his drawing board.
Olly MacNamee: John, I associate you with the goofier, quirky side of comics, what with Hitman, Dicks and last year's Plastic Man and The Freedom Fighters (DC Convergence). Do you prefer this type of script? Or, is it a case of typecasting?
John McCrea: Hitman had quirky moments but overall I think it is a very emotionally deep comic, exploring the darker side of human nature…. However, I do enjoy quirky, humorous stories but I think if you were to look at everything I've ever drawn the balance is about 50/50 cartoony/serious
OM: Who were your influences growing up? Was it just as much The Beano as it was The Batman, say? Born in Northern Ireland presumably traditional British comics could be picked up at a newsagent, but was access to American comics more difficult?
JM: Main influences were Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and John Buscema as I was a Marvel zombie, later I loved John Byrne and then moved towards more indie/underground fare – Robert Crumb, Hunt Emerson, Hernandez Bros, Matt Wagner and so on. We had patchy distribution of US comics, but my visits to seaside towns during the summer holidays always produced heaps of American mags – Halcyon days!
OM: Your partnership with Garth Ennis is well known, and always welcome, with you recently reunited for DC's All-Star Section 8. Did you know each other before working on the groundbreaking Troubled Souls that was serialised in Crisis?
JM: Yes, Garth went to the same secondary school as me, he was in my younger brother's class…. Later I opened a comic shop in Belfast and Garth came in to buy his comics – It was there that he pitched Troubled Souls to me.
OM: Any more plans, along with Ennis, for further collaborations? Are such thing planned well in advance between you, and have there ever been collaborative projects you've had to decline for one reason or another?
JM: Not at the moment- there is another series of Section 8 planned but I am not drawing it due to my commitment to keeping Mythic going.
OM: It seemed a few years back you almost reinvented yourself despite being a seasoned professional artist: there was a renewed vitality and sense of daring that began appearing in your work that continues to this day. Was there something that prompted this, an attempt to avoid stagnating creatively perhaps?
JM: Well, that's it exactly; I felt my career was stalling slightly and I needed to up my game – I started looking at the work of 30s/40s American illustrators and saw where that took me. There are so many amazing artists in comics now that there is very little room for complacency.
OM: Tell us about your work on the Image title, Mythic. Beyond allowing you to draw the awesome and the amazing, what else drew you to this epic scale, epic tale?
JM: Working with Phil Hester was the main reason- Phil and I have collaborated on 3 other projects and his writing has always been amazing- The Atheist that we did for Image/Desperado was a particular favourite of mine.
OM: As an established artist, are you able to give input into any scripts you receive? Particularly if it's from Ennis, or Hester – who is himself no slouch to the odd doodle or two.
JM: Garth's work is very finished, he has his vision. Phil and I agreed I would have more input into Mythic and so we work Marvel style, which gives me quite a lot of creative freedom – which I am enjoying at the moment.
OM: Do you still have a great love for comics as a medium? Would you consider there to be more variety available now and if so are such works commercially viable to your mind?
JM: I love comics and can't imagine a time when I will not! The sheer diversity of titles now available (and the quality of writing and art) means this is a bit of a golden age!
OM: And finally, you seem to just be hitting your stride and seem to be thoroughly enjoying yourself. What subject matter, or character, would you love to still tackle, or return to? Any unfinished business and what's next?
JM: There are still quite a few Marvel characters I'd like a shot at and I always love drawing Batman, but I find that, like many people, the freedom to create your own characters and stories is very exciting and liberating and that is the way I am leaning now.
Olly MacNamee teaches English and Media, for his sins, in a school somewhere in Birmingham. Some days, even he doesn't know where it is. Follow him on twitter @ollymacnamee or read about his exploits at email@example.com. Or don't.