Interview with Martin Griffiths

Debuting in 1987, Marvel UK’s ThunderCats comic series ran for several years, spawning well over 100 issues. Although a lot of the title’s early content consisted of reprints taken from the ThunderCats comic book published by Marvel in the US, it wasn’t long until Marvel UK were producing some of their own ThunderCats stories. The series was illustrated by the some of the finest comic artists working in the UK – however, probably the most prolific artist ever to work on the series was Martin Griffiths. If you own an issue of the UK ThunderCats comics, it’s highly likely that at least one example of Martin’s artwork is in there somewhere!

Martin continues to work in the field of comics and illustration, and has recently produced a beautiful new ThunderCats poster, harking back to the artwork of the 1980s UK comic, but with a very contemporary and atmospheric feel. Martin took time out of his busy schedule to speak to us at TCL towards the end of 2007, and we are proud to present this insightful interview. Enjoy!

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Before going any further, Martin, can I say a big thank you for taking the time to answer our questions!

My pleasure Chris, thanks for being interested.

Martin GriffithsWith these interviews, I always like to go right back to the beginning – when did you start drawing, and who were your earliest influences, was there someone you particularly modelled your style on?

Like most of us we all like drawing from the moment we can pick a crayon up, and somewhere across the getting older line most of us leave it behind. Which may have happened to me if I hadn’t taken on a paper round and noticed American comics in the racks whilst waiting to be loaded up with tabloids. The art inside them was so exciting that I began to copy the drawings of the characters. My earliest influences were Jim Starlin, John Romita SR, John Buscema, Gil Kane and Neal Adams, to name but a few. There are others who worked in comics at the time (early seventies) who I liked, but those mentioned made an impression on me at the time.

Did you used to read comics when you were younger, and when you became a professional artist was it always your intention to work in the field of comics?

I began reading comics when i was about 12 or 13. I dreamt of drawing comics for a living and wanted to be a professional artist. It did not seem possible at first because I only read American comics, and I thought I had to live in America. But the intention was always there bubbling away.

What was your first professional assignment as a comic artist? How did you come to be working for Marvel UK?

My first published work was for the London Cartoon Centre, which was a council funded course in London on a Monday evening between 7pm – 9pm I believe. The tutor was David Lloyd, mainly known for his fantastic V for Vendetta work in collaboration with Alan Moore. I would like to point out that David has done some great work since V, check out his Kickback graphic novel published by Dark Horse. The course produced a self published comic called Silicon Fish, which those on the course contributed to, there was no set style of artwork or writing so we all did our own thing. The course was also only a five minute walk from Marvel UK.

Do you remember the first work of yours that Marvel published?

My first work for Marvel UK was to pencil issue 93 (I believe that’s the right issue number) of Transformers, a Xmas issue, which started first as a tryout strip for Marvel UK. Ian Rimmer, who was the editor-in-chief then, liked my samples and gave me the script for the eleven page story, he told me to draw three pages and come back and see him, which I did a week later, he liked them and told me to finish the eight pages as it would now be the Xmas story, which was inked by Tim Perkins.

How did you come to work on ThunderCats, and do you remember the first assignment you were given for that comic?

I was asked to do a two page tryout for ThunderCats. Up to this point I had been doing some work for Marvel but nothing on a regular basis. Again once I completed the two pages, which were received well, I was asked to be a regular artist on the comic. I was given a two issue story called “INVASION!” inked by Dave Hine, which were issues 11 and 12.

Over the course of Marvel UK’s ThunderCats run, it’s fair to say that you contributed a substantial amount of material to the title, arguably more than any other artist. Was ThunderCats the “main” title that you worked on during your time with Marvel UK, or was your time split between several different titles?

Yes I did a lot of work on the ThunderCats which I enjoyed. I was also working on The Real Ghostbusters, Action Force, Dr Who, Zoids and Transformers. I’m sure there were other comics I contributed to but my memory cannot recall them.

With so much of your work appearing within the pages of ThunderCats, was there a particular reason why the “powers-that-be” assigned so much of the art chores for that title to you?

When the “powers at be” saw my my two page tryout, I was asked “do you want to be the regular artist on the comic?”, upon which they heard me say a big “Yes”! You don’t really notice the amount of work you do over time, but on reflection I suppose it was a fair amount. It was a good way of improving your skills. I’m sure if I had been a bit better at keeping deadlines, I would have done a lot more.

When you started working on ThunderCats, how familiar were you with the characters and the concept? Did Marvel UK supply you with any reference material for illustrating the characters, vehicles, places, etc.?

Yes, I remember being given reference, which was in the form of videos, some Star comics, a lot of reference also would be character sheets or style sheets from the animated series. I remember being given the ThunderClaw toy but there was not much in the way of toy reference. The videos that were given to me and also catching episodes on the TV at the time was the best way to see how the characters interacted and to understand the concept of their world, you also got to know how they sounded. The more work on ThunderCats I did the less I relied on reference, so they became very familiar to me, of course reference was needed once something or someone new was introduced to the comic.

Was there anyone who worked with you on ThunderCats that you particularly enjoyed collaborating with, i.e. was there an inker who worked on the title that you felt particularly complimented your pencil artwork?

I was always eager to see the finished inked pages once I had handed the pencils in, my work was mainly inked by Tim Perkins, although some issues were inked by Dave Hine, and they both did a great job. Dave would ink more like I would myself, Tim’s inks had a nice energy to them. I even got to ink myself a few times which I liked to do. At Marvel UK then it was always a pleasure for your work to be coloured by John Burns, he would paint onto your originals or he was supplied copies of work on Cartridge paper, he told me once he would receive work on the equivalent to toilet tissue, whatever he coloured on though he always did a brilliant job! The editor I worked with mainly was John Tomlinson, who put up with my not so good deadline keeping.

On the same note, was there any one writer whose scripts you especially enjoyed working from?

I would like to say that I enjoyed working with a particular writer, however I cannot remember what writers wrote all the issues I worked on. I can remember enjoying penciling “Assault on the Onyx Pyramid”, a two parter written by James Hill (issues 17 – 18), I thought that was a good story at the time.

Was there a particular ThunderCats character that you especially enjoyed drawing?

I enjoyed drawing all the characters, but the one that stands out is Lion-O – if you were to ask me to sketch a ThunderCat he would be the one that I would automatically draw. I also liked drawing S-S-Slithe who was a fun character to draw.

Do you remember which ThunderCats stories you worked on for the comic, and if so looking back do you have a favourite one?

It would be again “Assault on the Onyx Pyramid”, and followed closely by “Invasion”. What makes them memorable I think is the fact that they were two parters. There was a Snarf story I pencilled I believe called “Homecoming” which sticks out in my mind. If I had all the issues in front of me I’m sure some memories would come flooding back. I do remember the issue I inked over Dougie Brathwaite’s pencils which I recall being a bit of a rush job for both of us (not my fault). But on reflection working on ThunderCats was a joy and I have some good memories of those days.

On a similar note, do you have any special memories of working on ThunderCats, any artwork you drew for that series of which you’re particularly proud, or any special memories of your time working for Marvel UK in general?

Thinking back on my time on ThunderCats I cannot think of one singular piece of artwork that stands out. Most artist look back on stuff they worked on, especially art from twenty years ago, and only see mistakes like bad anatomy, poor story telling, etc. – without making it sound negative you do notice some good things you did too. Working for Marvel UK at the time was special because that was when I broke into comics so when I completed a job I would always take my work in personally rather than post it to them, I lived in east London so within a short time I was in. It was always good to get feedback on your work. I remember once working all night to complete the cover to ThunderCats issue 27, getting into Marvel the next day and handing the work in, then I overheard two editors chatting about an urgent job needed for the next day and who had no one at that time do it. So I said “I’ll do it for tomorrow”, which meant going home and and working for another whole night, getting to Marvel the next day just around lunch time, having a couple of beers and completely making myself ill on the way home, I was totally whacked out. But I look back on that as good memory.

As well as working on ThunderCats, what other titles did you work on for Marvel UK?

As well as the titles listed in my answer to question 7, I was working in-house at Marvel from about 1992 in their basement studio at their new offices in London opposite Temple tube station (Arundel Street I believe). The titles I worked on there were Nights of Pendragon, Killpower the Early Years, Death’s Head, Death Wreck, and other titles that, again, memory won’t allow me to remember. It was a good experience working in a studio environment with fellow artists Andy Lanning, Brian Hitch, Liam Sharp, Andrew Currie and Steve Whittiker. At this time I was mainly doing inking work.

Are you still involved in the field of comics and/or illustration? What have you worked on since your time on ThunderCats and at Marvel UK?

I have worked on all sorts of things since. When the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hit big time in the late eighties I was offered the regular strip for the Daily Mirror newspaper which ran for a year, and more recently (this year) worked on TMNT for Titan Books as well as Wallace and Grommet for them. Since ThunderCats I have worked on lots of comics from children’s titles to work for Marvel US and DC Comics. I’m mainly doing storyboard work for advertising now, based in Soho, London, in a studio. My longest stint on a comic is from 1996 – 2006 working for Panini Books on Action Man doing both pencilling and inking, also working on Rugrats and Transformers. Marvel UK became Panini comics, so you could say that Marvel UK has been around me for a long time.

Are there any upcoming projects that you’re currently working on that we can look forward to seeing in the future?

I’m not involved with any comic projects at this time, instead getting on with storyboard work and working on my own character idea that I have had bubbling around for some time now, the only way to describe them is “Germs from Space”, in other words small aliens from outer space.

Something I always ask any of the UK comic creators that we have the privilege of speaking with – did you get chance to see any of the ThunderCats comics that were published by DC/Wildstorm a few years ago in the US, and if so what did you think of them?

Yes, I picked up issue 1 when it came out and thought it was very nice. I’m sure if I was to have drawn some of those issues my art would have looked different to what I did for Marvel UK, because I’m a better artist now. It was good to see ThunderCats back.

Martin Griffiths' new ThunderCats posterIf given the opportunity, would you be interested in working on any future ThunderCats projects, either comic-based or otherwise? And, with the revived interest in ThunderCats thanks to Warner Bros’ planned movie, are you going to be working on any ThunderCats-related projects in the future?

I’m sure if the proposed film is well made and successful that there will be a new comic out to coincide with its release and I would like to work on it. They would probably reprint the Wildstorm issues in there too. But it would be good to see original material created over here again, let’s hope that I can do some work in a new ThunderCats comic. As you can see I have created a new ThunderCats poster which is the first time I have done any artwork on them for a long time. And, I plan to do some more posters, and if any one wants private commissions done on the ThunderCats then that can be another way I can be involved with the characters.

Many thanks again, Martin, for taking the time to speak to us!

Once again, thanks for your interest Chris – my best wishes to all at TCL and keep up the good work.

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A big thank you once again to Martin for taking the time to speak with us. If anyone here is interested in acquiring one of Martin’s ThunderCats posters, or would be interested in him creating a special ThunderCats-themed commision piece, please e-mail me and I’ll put you in touch with Martin!

— Chris (He-Fan)