Lee Paddon coaxes a few dark secrets from John Richardson, the man who allows Jetman from the confines of his warped mind every month
Until Issue Six, CRASH had been carrying on nicely, dedicating itself to reviewing the latest in computer games. Light-hearted perhaps, humorous hopefully, but fairly earnest nevertheless. Then along came Jetman, and nothing at CRASH Towers has ever been quite the same since.
It all started quietly. No fanfare, no blurb, no introduction: he just appeared, suddenly and silently. The original excuse for the strip was a game called Lunar Jetman (lost in the mists of time but recently released on an US GOLD/ULTIMATE compilation). Reviewed in the very first issue of CRASH, it got the highest ever ‘value for money’ rating — a ‘perfect’ 100%. Obviously flushed with this success, Tim Stamper (the reclusive head of ULTIMATE) decided he wanted to promote the game with a comic strip.
Tim had seen John Richardson’s work in other magazines and commissioned the strip from John, who explains his involvement with the computer games world: “Tim sent me a copy of the game on tape. I tried loading it on my Sirius computer, but it didn’t seem to work so I’ve never actually seen it. In fact, the only computer game I’ve ever played since then is Star Trek on my Sirius — that was so awful I’ve never tried to play one since. I must admit I’ve never met Tim. The nearest I ever got was when the strip was rather late and his father came to pick it up.”
Since then Jetman has taken on a life of his own. The game has faded from memory, and even ULTIMATE isn’t the name it once was. But Jetman lives on. In fact if the Jetman strip misses an issue, there are howls of anguish. It makes the rest of us toiling minions at CRASH Towers feel really insignificant sometimes...
So who is the warped mind behind this inter-galactic goon? A sign on the door of a Middlesbrough studio proudly announces Richardson Freelance. Inside I found John busy toiling away on a strip for CUSTOM CAR. Obviously aimed at a slightly different audience, this follows the adventures of a superhero called Super C C and his topless assistant (no, she doesn’t stop at the waist). Well, what do you expect from these car freaks — they can’t even have a motor show without spraying the place with scantily clad young ladies!
Amongst John’s other commissions are a strip featuring Tina Tailpipe for SUPER BIKE, and Pwlong for a GB magazine. Pwlong is, so John assures me, the Greek God of CB (well the Greeks were a very advanced civilisation). Apparently, Pwlong was born deaf, and only the advent of CB has given him the ability to hear.
By way of a complete change of style and emphasis, John also produces a Famous Five strip for an Enid Blyton fanzine. “Fortunately, I only have to draw the pictures for this — they supply the plot line. It’s published in Denmark and appears in lots of different languages. It’s really weird to see your speech bubbles filled with some totally unheard of language. I suppose there must be a lot of Enid Blyton fans out there somewhere who just can’t get enough of the Famous Five,” John explains.
It all started at school, in the small mining community of Eston. The young Richardson began doodling away during some of his duller lessons, and decided he rather liked it. After a spell as a farmhand, and six weeks as a professional wrestler, he got down to some serious drawing. “I couldn’t take to wrestling. It was quite fun, but rather silly. The whole thing is stage managed — you rehearse what you are going to do and when. It’s okay as long as you both remember your moves. What’s worse is when you’re meant to win, and the other guy decides he wants to impress his girlfriend and throws you around.
“My drawing was influenced by the late Frank Bellamy’s work on the old Eagle comics. It’s a pity really that so many of the good British comic artists have moved to the US where salaries can be astronomic — just because the magazines have such huge circulations.”
“My first strip was Phantom of Fells in BUNTY. The heroine was a teenage girl, and this Phantom kept popping up all over the place. Really terrible stuff, but they seemed happy enough. I then drew a strip called The Mean Arena in 2000AD. It was a futuristic American Football type game. Just about as far away from BUNTY as you could get. I wrote the plot for that myself — the sport included rules like you were allowed to kill a certain number of opponents during the game, and all sorts of totally over the top stuff like that.
“Another thing which helped me to develop my style was having to fill in for other artists. My agent would ring up and tell me that so-and-so was ill, or on holiday, and I’d have to quickly get in to the style of that artist. This really helps you to learn from other people and gradually evolve something unique. As for plots, I like science fiction, particularly Arthur C Clarke, author of 2001, A Space Odyssey.”
Naturally, the uppermost thought in the minds of Jetman’s many fans, must be ‘what’s going to happen to him next?’ Unfortunately the development of the storyline is a closely guarded secret, and as John keeps the plot locked in a safe deposit box in a highly secret Swiss bank. there’s no way we can give you a sneak preview...
Actually, that’s a Big Fib: “I make it up as I go along. I start drawing the strip and hardly know what’s going to happen from one frame to the next... if you’ve got any good ideas, they might come in handy!”
So there’s an open invitation to Jetman fans: if you want to influence the outcome of your favourite strip, write to John at CRASH, and we’ll forward your suggestions to him. Who knows — they might even turn up in future strips!
According to John, the best thing about drawing cartoon strips is receiving the pay cheques — he looks forward to them with particular fondness. “The jokes are fun, but after I’ve drawn the thing and lived with it for a few weeks, it somehow doesn’t seem quite as funny as when I first thought of it.”
John has no idea where a lot of the made-up words that Jetman uses — like Bwah and Dongle — came from, but he suspects that there is a great deal of himself in the character. This sounds like rampant paranoia, because as John admits, the central theme of Jetman is that everyone is constantly trying to get rid of him — preferably permanently.
Fans of John’s work will be pleased to see that he is going to have his own strip in our sister magazine LM, in the form of Umquat The Alien — defender of freedom, seeker of truth and justice, President of the Galactic Tail Waggers Club, seeker of wisdom and cheapo souvenirs, prannie of the universe, gallumphing gourmet, and general mental incompetent. He’s also the owner of a clapped-out spaceship which keeps going ‘Phut’. Oh yes, he just happens to have a computer disguised as a rather curvaceous looking alien.
The LM strip also introduces those nice little chaps, the Grumlins. These are some of John’s regular characters, that tend to crop in his work, generally messing things up. “I use them whenever the plot wants to change direction a bit... If something blows up when you least expect it, it’s handy to be able to blame the Grumlins.”