When Bob Wakelin was a lad at school, all he ever wanted to do was artwork for comic books. This didn’t please his art teacher, who felt that such a talented lad shouldn’t channel his artistic energies into something which wasn’t quite ‘art’. During his three year stint at art college in Wales, his homeland, Bob’s lecturers also tried to put him off the idea of working for comics — to little avail.
Shortly after completing the Graphics course, and once he’d finished the obligatory spell on the dole, Bob started work for a Liverpool studio which specialised in artwork for the entertainment industry, and executed a lot of commissions from rock bands, producing artwork for album covers.
Working his way up from Whipping Boy, graduating to Lackey and then achieving Studio Manager status, Bob decided it was time to branch out. Starting as a freelance in 1978, he at last became involved in his first love — comic books — working for Marvel Comics. Sadly, the dollar exchange rate in those days meant it didn’t pay too handsomely, though.
In 1980 Bob joined a band, playing synths. ‘It was a whim really. I’d got bored with drawing and some friends had a band. I joined them for a while, and we did reasonably well. Then, as is so often the case, we had a row and split up.’ And the manager departed with funds.
Should the ex-manager of this particular band happen to be a CRASH reader, Bob would like to state publicly that one day, he’s going to catch up with you. ‘Revenge is a great thing,’ Bob told me, ‘it gives me a reason to live.’ There was a slightly evil undercurrent to the jocular tone in which that remark was delivered.
Back in Liverpool, his adopted hometown, and with the band’s spilt behind him, Bob started looking for freelance work again. Through the uncle of a friend of a friend, of a friend etc. he learnt that David Ward was starting up a software house down the road in Manchester and was looking for an illustrator.
Just as he did the first job for Dave Ward’s new company, Ocean, all sorts of people started to get in touch, offering work. Mrs Wakelin wasn’t too pleased with some of the commissions her husband accepted. Something to do with girlie calendars... but all that’s behind him now. Mr Wakelin does all the inlay illustrations for Ocean.
‘I’m still doing occasional covers for C&VG and comic books too — just so I don’t forget how to draw superheroes,’ Bob explained, ‘but Ocean has grown and expanded so quickly that I’m doing nearly half my work for the one client.’
It takes about four or five days from start to finish to complete a painting for Ocean. ‘I spend a day referencing it, and then three or four days completing the artwork. I start off by doing a very tight drawing in pencils, filling in all the detail and then airbrush over so that some of the pencil lines come through the colour. I don’t like the tubular, plastic look of most airbrush work and find that the pencil technique avoids that... I generally finish the painting off, adding tiny details in gouache or felt pen.’
It would seem a fairly logical move for an artist working on cassette inlays for computer software to transfer his attention to the screen, designing characters or game screens: ‘I was asked eighteen months or so ago, but I’m not interested in designing screens at the moment. I’m not a lover of computer graphics... I’m not happy with the medium. Sure I’ll have to get into it eventually, but at the moment I would get frustrated about not being able to get the detail I want into a picture on a TV screen. Maybe when the technology catches up, and the price of high resolution equipment comes down I’ll get involved... anyway, I haven’t yet done all I can with the traditional media of paint, pencil and ink!’
So what plans does this thirty-two year old ‘honorary Liverpudlian’ have for the future? ‘There are several things I really want to do, not least get back into comics, but I like not knowing what’s going to happen next.’
Firmly a freelance, Mr Wakelin explains that planning ahead is not his forte: ‘I’ve got such a short attention span, that if I made plans for the future I’d get bored before I brought them into action, and change everything... there isn’t really time for forward planning anyway,’ he added, ‘I haven’t had more than a couple of days without work in the last few years and haven’t taken a holiday. I could only take a holiday if I had a couple of weeks without any work on — but if that happened I would be pacing up and down the room, biting my fingernails, worrying what was going wrong, rather than enjoying a holiday.’
The Wakelin fingernails are fairly safe, methinks....