An interview with the artist.
Photo: Andrew Skilleter, in his studio at Poole in 2005.
Andrew Skilleter is best known for his work on the cover illustrations of the Doctor Who Target novelisations throughout the 1980s, and starting his own venture Who Dares, publishing calendars, art prints and books. He also worked on the Doctor Who video covers and illustrations for the 'New Adventures' novels for the Virgin Books range.
In the 1990s, he became one of the main artists working on the Fleetway comics under editor Alan Fennell, illustrating virtually all of The Complete Thunderbirds Story, and producing covers for for the Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90 titles. He also contributed to the cover and some backgrounds for the Merlin Captain Scarlet sticker album. Recently, he has renewed his acquaintance with Gerry Anderson related material, illustrating the mission sections for the Redan Thunderbirds magazine since issue 51, and becoming the cover artist.
With the untimely death of Alan Fennell in 2001, Andrew was recently returned virtually all his artwork for the Fleetway comics. Amidst these folders of beautiful pristine illustrations, he was kind enough to talk to Shaqui Le Vesconte and Kim Stevens of the Gerry Anderson Complete Comic History last year, and discuss not only his work, but his association with Alan Fennell, Redan, and other artists such as Keith Watson, Ron Embleton and Frank Bellamy.
Shaqui: Can you recall how you came to work for the Thunderbirds comic?
Andrew Skilleter: I was trying to remember quite why I got into this whole thing. I'd always been fascinated by magazines, but definitely the whole motivation was Alan Fennell basically - I still had these romantic memories of him editing TV21, and I thought to myself, because of my connection with Ron Embleton, and he had a lot of connection with Alan, I thought I would really like to work with him. I think if Alan hadn't have been there, I wouldn't have done a thing. It was a sideways step from Doctor Who, because I was doing higher quality, higher paid work, and I knew it would be difficult going back to magazines, with deadlines and lower budgets. But that was definitely the motivation but I wish now I could remember how.
Shaqui: Would it have been through another artist - Graham Bleathman or Steve Kyte maybe?
Andrew Skilleter: Possibly, but I didn't know either of them, and the only time I think we met up was the Stingray launch, which was done on a boat on the Thames. Alan did a little talk, and was very sweet - the way he introduced each of us. So that would probably give you an idea of the date.
Shaqui: The summer of 1992?
Andrew Skilleter: I obviously came in after Thunderbirds was established, and they must have launched Stingray pretty quickly after? I got in touch with Alan, and went to see him... show him all the Who stuff, and there was no question he wanted to work with me. And I think he must have suddenly thought maybe I could do The Thunderbirds Story, which was not what I was expecting because I was thinking I could do good covers for the magazine! So it was a very strange decision, and I can't quite fathom it to some extent, and I had to... not exactly fight for covers but I certainly would have liked to have more. He did start giving me covers, which I was very pleased to do as I felt it suited me more, and I did think a lot of the covers were pretty poor.
Shaqui: You mean the ones which were done before you started?
Andrew Skilleter: Well, even along with the ones I did.
Illustration: 'This was my sample piece, the first one I did. It took a lot, lot longer, particularly as I was new to it.'
Andrew's spec illustration, which effectively got him the job with Fleetway, and later used to promote the merger between the Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet titles in 1994. It was also used for the cover of the 'Supermarionation Sticker Album' free gift the following issue.
Scan courtesy of Andrew Skilleter.
Shaqui: What was Alan Fennell like?
Andrew Skilleter: He was from Kent, but almost came across as a bluff Londoner. He had connections near here (Poole, Dorset), there used to be a huge printing works, printing magazines he was involved with. His son, Lee, brought back all my original artwork in one huge lot, after his father died sadly. Tthe artwork was all stored in drawers at Alan's home, until Lee extracted it. He's in magazines as well, a production manager, on something very unlikely like 'Mother and Baby'! He brought all this artwork which I hadn't seen for all these years, hundred of boards! I've only ever sold one cover, and one original I never got back, which Alan reused for a later thing - the one with the MSV, which I liked a lot. (This was the front of the Merlin Sticker Album, and reused for the Redan Classic reprints). So I got all these originals back in one go, which I was very pleased about, and so it's a bit strange seeing it after these years. I might have had a few covers back earlier, but The Thunderbirds Story was all Alan's, because he was always planning to do a special publication, and his vision was as a complete re-editing job - not just bunging the pages together - and with digital imaging now you could reformat it, maybe cut it down, or even put new linking artwork in.
We wondered why Steve Kyte had illustrated three of the early instalments (Parts 9 to 11)
Andrew Skilleter: I can't explain why Steve Kyte did those episodes. He's got a wonderful watercolour technique. Steve, to give him credit, must have put an enormous lot of time into his strips - they were a labour of love. I had to find a shorthand technique to cope with the deadlines and the lower fee, so I had to fit it in with all my other work, to find a style that was simplistic but something I felt reasonably comfortable with. And give it a bit of panache and polish, and that's how I arrived at the technique for it. I mean, it doesn't pretend to stand up against the great strip illustrators - I'm not (laughs). I could have tried to adopt a Frank Bellamy-pastiche, like many people do, but I wasn't going to do that. I was going to try and do something with the techniques I had to hand, which was obviously using the airbrush, so I evolved that. Some of the early ones started off with a lot more work and painting, and then occasionally some would get more work than others put in them. Then Alan had this vision, with very simple scripts, which prompted me to do these big spreads, which of course I came into my own there really, where I could show off a bit. They were done, sometimes, very quickly and looking back... it was a question of having a spread drawn up one night, getting up in the morning, and making sure it was painted for the post at 5 o'clock that day. That's very fast.
And some of it looked really good, this is the point. It don't think that was a habit of mine, but it sometimes worked like that because of the deadlines. Because if I was getting other work, plus a Thunderbirds story - perhaps a page and a spread - it would converge as a deadline and you had to turn these round quite quickly. I don't think Alan ever gave you that long to actually do this. It was never like a month or so. You were literally into this fortnightly cycle.
Shaqui: Except after a while, Stingray went monthly?
Andrew Skilleter: Yes, it got very messy didn't it, as they launched all this sister titles, and it all went a bit pear-shaped, and there was a mad scurry back to basics again.
Kim: Would you get just one script at a time, or a handful?
Andrew Skilleter: Just one at a time.
Kim: So you wouldn't know what was coming up?
Andrew Skilleter: No. I don't think Alan did either (laughs). They were very simple scripts. This is interesting, because now I'm working for the new Thunderbirds magazine, which is aimed at an incredibly young age group - about 5 to 7 years. When the 90s Thunderbirds comic was launched, it was strangely - probably because of Alan's background, and the others working on it - trying to be several things. There was this young age group picking up on it but the approach was really quite sophisticated. There was a touch of TV21 about it. So in a way, looking back on this, and Alan's approach in making a very simple script - which no doubt got a lot of stick from some of the die-hard fans - he probably got it right. I suspect a lot of the readership was really very young, and required something direct and simple that they could comprehend.
As Kim and myself are chatting to Andrew Skilleter, he has revealed large folders containing the recently returned original artwork from the 1990s Fleetway comics, and as these are pulled out in a random order he comments on them, seeing most for the first time since they were painted. Intersperced though the interview are a selection of these...
The Complete Thunderbirds Story Part 23, depicting Jeff Tracy at the Tracy ranch (below)
This would have been the nearest I got to doing a centrespread strip, I suppose. I still can't remember whether I did any roughs for these. Alan would have specified a lot - he would probably have said 'sunset', said the time of day, a sort of ranch. As much as he could but without too much detail. He would have said this was to go on the centrespread, instead of being cut between two pages, which is quite unusual. Alan was always playing around with formats.
The Reconstruction of Thunderbird 5, from issue 26 (above)
Andrew Skilleter: Again, I was very nervous about that, because I had to sort of fudge it. I could really have done with someone who knew everything about Thunderbird 5, to tell me exactly what was inside and how it worked. I think I may have had Graham's cross-section. That was the best I could do, as I didn't have a lot of contact with other people.
Kim: Did you design the Tracy Aerospace logo?
Andrew Skilleter: Yes, and of course it's really the Dan Dare one (Space Fleet), from the Frank Bellamy era. It was an in-joke really. Alan got me to design several badges... I had to invent this special badge to go on the moon landing thing. He was always throwing things at me. It wasn't that easy, some of the things. He'd say 'oh, we're doing the construction of Thunderbird 5', and I'm like 'oh yeah?', and it must be nice for him to say that and a couple of weeks later I'd get the artwork (commission) through... This is a very early one, you can see there's so much more technique to that one. That's much more painted. There wouldn't have been time to maintain that degree of finish, polish, painted - I had to find shortcuts. (As we're seeing the original painting without any identifying captions, we don't recognise it initially - thinking it to be part of The Complete Thunderbirds Story - but the artwork is marked issue 26, page 11, and is indeed the first Thunderbirds artwork by Andrew Skilleter)
Shaqui: Which comics would you have grown up with?
Andrew Skilleter: Eagle, Swift, Robin... (laughs) typical profile of its time. But largely as I had an older brother, so whatever he was having I would grow into and read anyway. But my real love affair was Eagle, in the early 60s, when I started to rediscover it.
Shaqui: So this was the post-Frank Hampson era?
Andrew Skilleter: I hated that era, and we stopped having the comic, along with thousands of others, which is why the readership slumped - they really got that very badly wrong! They didn't understand the readership at all. It wasn't until the mid-sixties I realised there was another Mekon story I didn't know anything about!
Shaqui: Was that 'All Treens Must Die'?
Andrew Skilleter: No, because that was the era I was very much back in, and I loved Keith Watson's work. It was the era just before that... 'The Solid Space Mystery', which was Don Harley and Bruce Cornwell. I mean, it was good artwork and everything, but for a few years we stopped having it. And I rediscovered the old strip from the beginning, buying up old copies from 'Exchange & Mart', about six and thruppence for a volume (laughs)! You'd get this lovely mint volumes coming through the post! But I picked up on TV21 because of the art and the artists. I didn't take it regularly, but I did write to Alan Fennell at the time, congratulating him on the production values - the arrogance of youth - of the title! And asking why is it so much better than Eagle, which was going on worse and worse paper. TV21 was like this shiny new car that was fabulous! And I got a letter back from him, giving me some circulation figures and bits. I think that stayed in my mind, which why I went back to him again, and I couldn't resist it. I got thinking, 'I've got to work with this guy', because he's a legend! Even if you haven't met him, I suspect his name is constantly part of Anderson history...
Through friends I would dip into Beano and Dandy annuals, and I went through a period of buying these very pulpy comics like Victor in the sixties. There was a little phase I went through, I got very much into Second World War stories for some reason. Again the artwork was important to me. They still do them, the little digest comics, War Picture Library, and I collected these second-hand - some of the art was superb. But once the phase was over, it was over. Then of course Keith Watson took over the Dan Dare strip, and that was very influential on me. And from that point on he meant so much for those who still loved the old Dan Dare, and he captured the spirit of it and his artwork was very different, and very graphic and exciting. I still think it's very graphically exciting artwork, at its best. He had his dead moments but we all do. Of course, he got involved with the Anderson thing, but I wasn't so aware of that as I didn't actually take TV21 - I'd see old copies. So my connection with Gerry Anderson was through the artists, not so much the programmes.
Shaqui: Apart from Keith Watson, were there any other artists who were a big influence on you?
Andrew Skilleter: The first one was, apart from obviously Frank Hampson, when I first saw Ron Embleton's work, which would have been in Express Weekly. That would probably have been his front pages, the battleground thing, which could be any period - a profile of a famous battle, North America, Indian, Second World War... it was seeing the technique of what he did. With his work, it was the way he tried to paint the strips, and that was what suddenly caught my eye. Something triggered off my interest, the way he did flesh tones. It was very important to me.
Shaqui: Was that because it was such a departure from the usual line and wash work?
Andrew Skilleter: Yes I think it was, the way it sort of glowed in those days - things stood out more then in the print media. Then there was always Frank Bellamy. He was just a totally unique genius of an artist, and - out of all of them - he had a style that just couldn't be imitated. His personality was the style. I was lucky enough to meet him and to correspond with him, have phones calls, letters - this would have been the seventies, I think. Again I can't quite think what spurred me... yes I know, as soon as I wanted to do something in the art line, I wanted to try and talk to the best people who had done it. I was lucky enough to get to know Ron Embleton, and Frank Bellamy was a more distant figure but he was still very happy - when he had time - to actually make a few comments. Very friendly on the phone. Maybe that's because he knew my connection, and he knew I was serious but I think he was helpful to quite a few people. Ron Embleton and Frank Bellamy were like chalk and cheese, really.
Shaqui: In terms of style?
Andrew Skilleter: Yes, and also attitude. I think Frank Bellamy had a very rigid and puritanical view of how artwork should be created. He would regard airbrush as a total abomination, and process white was pretty well, near as, damnation! Ron would get the job out as fast as possible - how you achieved it was immaterial, what happened to it was immaterial, and its importance was immaterial. He had a personal pride in his work, but very pragmatic, a real professional, and it didn't matter if he put process white all over it or whatever happened. It didn't matter to him. But at the same time he was pioneering, because he was trying to go the opposite way of Frank Bellamy - he was keen to paint as soon as he could, to leave behind the black line. I think his Anderson work was fantastic, considering he wasn't really into it.
It's amazing to think Alan was there, being able to commission all these classic artists. I mean it was why TV21 was so special. It gave a refuge to all these talents, when Eagle was failing them. There wasn't anywhere else to go really. And I think it must have been just extraordinary to be getting all this artwork through every week. Ron Embleton, Frank Bellamy, Don Lawrence...
The Complete Thunderbirds Story Part 43, depicting Lady Penelope and Fireflash (below left)
Shaqui: This would have based in the Lady Penelope strip Eric Eden had drawn?
Andrew Skilleter: Yes, exactly. That's a favourite page of mine. It's incredible what Alan wrote and he didn't exactly direct me to it but fortunately I knew some of the work, or they had already reprinted it or something? I made a special effort to do a complete facsimile of what Eric had done, which is a nice touch. I quite like the layouts I did, they're very individual. They weren't exactly Frank Bellamy but they suit the style. And yet when I look back at this, it's like looking at another artist. If you look closely, it's not absolutely perfect - you can see pencil work underneath, biro work underneath, lines going over, colour being splashed over edges... because it's all done with energy within possible timescales. Whereas now if I go over a line I have to retouch it.
Shaqui: What about the other page, where you have the entire Tracy family and Brains all in one frame?
Andrew Skilleter: It's also something of a nightmare when you get a script like that. It's what artists joke about - some script writers just don't think! They say, 'we want Hannibal and an entire army, show all the elephants, over the mountain range... and on the other side... ' (laughs)
Shaqui: What do you use for your detailing? A fine brush?
Andrew Skilleter: Then I would definitely have used a brush.
Shaqui: Not a rotring? (a technical pen with precise different sized nibs)
Andrew Skilleter: I do now, a lot more, but I don't know then. It's possible but if it's brown I would have used a brush, with acrylic ink, throughout this. Liquid acrylics.
The Complete Thunderbirds Story Part 34, depicting 'the thing that couldn't fly' (above right - see further down interview for an explanantion of this!)
Andrew Skilleter: Maybe I'm forgetting but this is based on something from a Frank Bellamy strip?
Shaqui: I'll say yes, as Frank Bellamy did draw it in a Thunderbirds strip but it did originate in the Captain Scarlet television series.
Andrew Skilleter: In which case, I wonder if Alan supplied me with something. Actually as that? Or different? It might just be conincidence, in which case I lifted it from somewhere.
Kim: What was your approach - did you draw puppets or people? I mean, they're obviously people...
Andrew Skilleter: (laughs) Well, I hope so... on a good day! Yes, this was always a battle, with the likenesses. Alan, certainly on the 90s Thunderbirds, had a policy of never interfering. He'd never send you artwork back, he'd never make comments... he would more or less just accept what came through. It was difficult to quite gauge whether you were going in the right direction or not. As far as the faces were concerned, I'd try to look at a mixture of photographic reference - the puppets obviously - but bearing in mind the various artwork that had been done in the past. Just trying to get the look. I can't see exactly where it came from really. I'm sure with the faces, I'd have a lot of photographs around, but I'd try at the same time not to make them look like puppets.
Kim: You still have the problem of knowing what their faces look like, but the body proportions are wrong...
Andrew Skilleter: I try to keep a human proportion to them. Keith Watson came back late to do a Thunderbirds strip - 'City Of Fire' - which he did a really good job, particularly as he wasn't familiar with it. But he was struggling, because if you look at the bodies, instead of forgetting the puppets he was slightly using the same proportions. I looked at it several times, because doing the mission files for the current Thunderbirds magazine, which is all this line work and I don't do now, I was looking at Keith's work and stuff like that, and thinking, 'that's very strange proportions'.
Shaqui: Were there any artists' styles who you try and emulate?
Andrew Skilleter: Not really. Maybe on the layouts. Occasionally, there's a slight inconsistency to some of them, so maybe there's a Bellamy touch or approach. A classic line and colour approach which I knew I couldn't achieve. I think it was a situation that if I wanted to achieve, which I would liked to have done, something as good as Ron Embleton had done on Captain Scarlet, I knew I would have to spend three times as long on it, and it just wasn't going to be practical. There wasn't going to be the time, there wasn't going to be the money... because the scale, the fees they received in the sixties, compared to what we were getting in the nineties, was just totally chalk and cheese. I remember having discussions with Keith Watson about this, because he started as a very young man, doing Dan Dare for the first time, he was turning in around - about 1963 or 64 - £60 a week. We were working it out that's the equivilant of about £100,000 a year today. You were really on a roll in those days, if you were a strip artist. Ron Embleton, in the fifties, was earning massive money compared with everyone else.
They had this strange rate, which I think started with Eagle, of about £30 a page, and that seemed to stick and carried on through the sixties, and (laughs) I think through the seventies, god help us! So you had this situation where it went from being brilliant pay, to people working for next to nothing! Fortunately that wasn't the rate we were getting - I think we were getting around £170 a page from Alan Fennell. It's a question of really nudging it up, getting what you wanted. Covers weren't that well paid, about £200. About a couple of hundred pounds for a spread.
Shaqui: We did wonder how Frank Bellamy's rate was negotiated, as he was headhunted from Eagle?
Andrew Skilleter: I was really interested, as it might be a case of a special artist getting a special rate, because I think (what Bellamy was getting - which was rumoured to be about £300 a week) was way above. I think Keith Watson was still on £30 a week per colour page.
The Complete Thunderbirds Story Part 15, depicting Jeff Tracy and his wife Lucille (below)
Kim: Was Lucille based on anyone?
Andrew Skilleter: No, I think it was just one of those things thrown at me. I was never quite happy with her, but it was just one of those things. I guess it's like being an actor in a performance - it's what happens on the day (laughs). I'm really wondering where she came from, because she features several times. It was one of those filmic poster-esque sort of images... Jeff looking into the middle distance, and 'this is all I've achieved'. I think it got a lot of emotional impact there. I should think Alan suggested it fading to stars.
The Complete Thunderbirds Story Part 27, depicting the Hood's temple (above right)
Andrew Skilleter: I enjoyed that one, it was more of a proper painting. It's quite moody.
Kim: Did you use reference for that?
Andrew Skilleter: I tried to, because there's not a lot of reference for the temple I seem to remember. And I'm wondering where I got that from. I used that as a reference more recently - I used my own artwork as reference because I couldn't remember where I got it from! It's probably was an assemblage - I probably got a bit here, and a bit there. I can't remember if there's actually a still but I suspect I did use some reference photo, and drew it at this angle to make it more interesting. Perhaps Frank Bellamy drew it a bit like that, and I lifted it.
Shaqui: What was your thought on being offered The Complete Thunderbirds Story, which you were not expecting?
Andrew Skilleter: I must have gone in, expecting to do set-piece artworks, which I thought I would be good at, and I did get some opportunities for that. So I think I must have been quite surprised when Alan said he'd been planning this thing, and he kind of offered it to me. Always in my career, as a whole, unless it was something just totally wrong for me, I've generally said, 'well let's give it a try' - because it's an opportunity, it's new. It sounds really interesting, and as long as I could do it in my own way, not try and be a Frank Bellamy, I'll give it a go. I was surprised he came up with it, and I think it must have just happened fairly out of the blue.
Shaqui: Originally it was almost documentary or factual, tying in to space flight.
Andrew Skilleter: I can give one insight into this. Now this really, really stretched me, because of the reality thing, and I can look at this and think it looks pretty good. I felt, given the situation I was in, this standard of work I was really confortable with - I think I did it very well. You're having to give an impression of a full-blooded painting that somebody might be, in another context, commissioned to do and would perhaps spend two weeks on - and there was no way this could be a two week job. I often had to work with reference Alan would give me, some I would find, and I don't know if you're aware but Alan had this great passion for space travel and the space shuttle. He visited Cape Canaveral and other places, and got to know some of the astronauts, would take photographs - somewhere I've got a whole folder of photos he'd taken in the workshops and around the shuttle, stuff like that he gave me as possible reference. I think what he was doing was to marry up his early involvement with Thunderbirds with space travel, which I imagine didn't go down too well with fans?
Shaqui: Fans reading the comic for TV21 reprints often regarded it as just filler material.
Andrew Skilleter: It should have been, in an ideal world, like 'wow, this is what we've all been waiting for', especially when it's written by someone who has some cred in terms of their involvement - not some hack who's been given it to knock out. But I always felt that somehow it wasn't reaching the souls of the people that perhaps it was meant to be for. This is what I meant about Alan being so tolerant because I'm sure his knowledge of real space travel was quite extensive, the shuttles and how space stations should look and be constructed. So I felt really under pressure as I did my best but I'm not a techically minded person - I love hardware but I don't know how things worked - and it was hard to try and do my best in the time I had. And the wonderful thing about Alan was he never complained about anything. Whereas I have far more (a feeling of) someone looking over my shoulder now, with the young Thunderbirds, then ever I did then - we were basically allowed to do what we wanted. I think the first few issues I did roughs for, and after that I just delivered the artwork. But that's certainly where this real space flight thing came from... Alan's passion for space travel and the shuttle.
Shaqui: Once Alan Fennell had established the story 'in history' as it were, it went on to the 'real' Thunderbirds...
Andrew Skilleter: They had the nervous breakdown, discovering the island, getting married, having children and all that... Alan wanted to build it like that, which again was a pressure, because I think again it was a question of the expectation would really be so high for some people, that I knew I would never be able to fill them.
Shaqui: Did you get any feedback from the older fans about it?
Andrew Skilleter: Nobody. I think the best feedback is the fact I had absolute silence for, what, thirteen years now? That said a lot to me. I might have said when you first got in touch, that you're the first person to mention it! I was thinking to myself, just a gut feeling, that it was regarded as something quite peripheral. I think Graham Bleathman said to me that the facts were at odds with certain other perceptions, and actually got things wrong as well, but I don't think it was taken particularly seriously.
Shaqui: I suppose because I'm not (shock horror!) a pure Thunderbirds fan, and respect Alan Fennell's view in tying a fictional series with real space travel, my own personal opinion was a good attempt and I regard it quite highly - how the Hood knew of International Rescue, introducing Lady Penelope, and so forth...
Andrew Skilleter: That's interesting. I think it was all quite clever. It was very simple, and certainly the scripts were nothing - there wasn't a lot to them. But I never worked that one out, whether that was because Alan wanted to make life simple for himself (laughs), or he didn't have a lot of time, or he actually felt this was the best way to do it. To make it like a snapshot if you like, almost doing the opposite of what some people do with histories, which is fill in exactly (everything), like what their favourite food was. Let's just give the overview of it all. Maybe it's smoke and mirrors to some extent, because I'm not a technical person, so I just had to make it look interesting.
Shaqui: We were curious about the prototype Thunderbirds designs that appear in some instalments.
Andrew Skilleter: Some I can take credit for but others like Thunderbird 3, which was Martin Bower's I'm sure. I got the photographs first, I must have done. He was not too far away from here, as I went out to meet him at some point, before this I think... during the Who Dares days. The Cybermen book days. But that's another story.
We were curious about the 'Look & Learn-style strip' Cyberhistory for the book 'Cybermen', written by Cyberleader actor David Banks, and published and illustrated by Andrew Skilleter under his own 'Who Dares' imprint...
I scripted it, based on David's work, and then I would have had him check it. I wish I still had that - one of my collectors has it, as I sold it in the nineties.
Like a lot of the Who Dares stuff I did, some of the major stuff it was done over a period, on and off. I'd give it as much time as I could but the amount of time was taken up by the referencing - working with what I could - and obviously it was quite detailed as well, so yes it was (a labour of love). Which is why I couldn't do all the artwork I liked to have done in the book, because this turned out to be quite a major piece to do in the end. It was just something I wanted to do at that time. Again it was this flirtation I have, every now and then, with picture strips formats...
Andrew Skilleter: I think Alan, because of his reputation, drew various people to him. Martin Bower, myself, others like presumably Graham (Bleathman), Steve Kyte, came because Alan was there. Or maybe just because they wanted to do Thunderbirds art. I'd be very interested to know, did Alan bring them in as he was preparing the comic?
Shaqui: He asked Steve Kyte initially, and Steve approached Graham so both were involved from the start.
Andrew Skilleter: I think I was definitely viewed as an interloper. There was one particular artist who did a lot of work for this magazine, whose artwork I can't really abide (at this point we hold up an issue cover by who we know Andrew is referring to, and he pulls a face of disdain in agreement - laughter all round), but Graham and Steve were excellent. I always felt a bit of an interloper as they were real Anderson experts, and I wasn't. I was a professional using my techniques as best I could, and my enthusiasm as best I could. But I couldn't claim to have any great knowledge of the series, other than Thunderbirds being a classic creation, and always will be. I do like working with creations I feel comfortable about. I often said, I can put these different hats on, but I couldn't imagine myself loving to do Superman, or another genre just because it was popular - I wouldn't enjoy it. Thunderbirds has such good designs and characters, it was just great to work with. It's like Doctor Who - it's got a wonderful basis to work with as an artist. But something like X-Men or anything like that, I wouldn't have any great feeling for it. It would just be a job. So it was certainly a great respect for the creation. I have to say there were some artists Alan used who I find difficult to understand why he did, but maybe it was his nature which was also to give people a break, an opportunity, and he certainly had this very democratic idea. He would often say to me, 'you could have done this, but this person has been sending in work...' and so on. He was quite democratic, and a very nice guy, but had this very gruff persona in a way. Quite rough and ready. Not at all sophisticated as you might expect, but he just had a touch, a great ability. Judging from the time I was in the pub with him and Gil Page, one of the main people at Fleetway (the publishers), I think Alan was a frustrated thriller writer. He would quite liked to have been a novelist, if he applied himself to it. He had a foot in several camps - he obviously loved artists and artwork, but he was also very au fait with production, and after the Thunderbirds magazines folded, his last job before he became ill and died was as a production manager. Did you realise when the Thunderbirds magazine had folded, Alan took out a franchise and started doing one himself?
Shaqui: Was that the one which lasted eight issues? (Thunderbirds Are Go!)
Andrew Skilleter: I'm surprised it lasted that long. I don't know if I even saw more than a few. (Copies of Thunderbirds Are Go! are produced) This was what he did. Leaf Publishing, which was the name of his own company. I don't think I saw more than one issue of this...
Shaqui: It wasn't that well distributed. I struggled to get the last few, and only knew about it as it was advertised in the last Fleetway issue.
Andrew Skilleter: I don't suppose it would matter telling the story but did you know it was all a sad ending, by the fact it finished so quickly?
Shaqui: The last issues were undated, which is always a bad sign.
Andrew Skilleter: I was in contact with Alan quite a bit. Did he use one or two of my images in the magazine? He did use one, and he kept saying 'I'm going to pay you for this'. He came down, the only time he actually visited me rather than me visiting him, as he was dealing with this print place - he'd do a bit of business and then go fishing or something. He was saying when you launch a new magazine, you don't know unfortunately for some issues what the real true sales figures are like. This was what he was worried about, he didn't know where he was (with it), and it was looking a bit dicey, so I said 'look, forget about paying me for this - it doesn't matter'. He was really quite down, and later he said 'I've lost all the money I made during those years editing Thunderbirds The Comic'. So I should think each issue must have cost him three or four thousand pounds. I think he lost twenty grand. I feel really sad for him because he really believed in it, and he wanted to carry on with it, but it had had its time.
Shaqui: I was wondering why Alan Fennell launched it, when presumably the Fleetway edition was stopped because of, presumably, declining sales?
Andrew Skilleter: It was probably the idea, which is often the case in any business, that the big people can't make something work, but an individual with flair can. I think he felt that was it. It was just that it was being neglected, perhaps it wasn't going the way he wanted, and he thought he could make it work himself. I think it was very sad really, as he had given so much, and he had to quit and take a job. I don't think it ruined him - far from it - as at the very end of his life he was settled for retirement. I found out about the illness and everything when I was out of touch with him, and it wasn't until after he died that I found he had also lost his wife. It was a terrible time for him, a very sad end, as he was a very good hearted guy. He looked after his artists, and they're worth a lot, people like that. Particularly nowadays.
Shaqui: How did the ideas for the Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90 comic covers come about?
Andrew Skilleter: The way Alan would work, and I can't really imagine how the first cover came about - whether I was angling for them, and I'm sure I was all the time - was he would say 'give me a page of postage stamp compositions'. Sort of little squares, and I remember doing this, and just come up with an idea. So I'd give him an idea for Joe 90, Stingray, Thunderbirds, and he'd suddenly come along and say 'go ahead with number three'. I'm sure, perhaps for the first cover I did, I might have done a rough or something. But generally he'd leave it open.
At this point, the artwork for the cover of issue 6 of the Joe 90 comic, appears.
Andrew Skilleter: Oh yes, Joe 90! I don't think I ever got that issue. Yes, this tied in because there are reprinted strips, and interestingly enough this is full circle, because with the current Thunderbirds I'm doing, the covers tie-in with the strip story, so it has to be the right artwork to go with a scene from that. With Joe 90, what I found was rather nice was it was a Keith Watson strip. Terribly, terribly butchered by colourists. Also it was the weakest point of Keith's career, to be honest. I don't think he enjoyed doing Joe 90. With this, Alan would have been very specific about what he wanted - I mean, it's not an obvious choice for a cover, a bulldozer and a load of mud. I mean you'd much rather do that (and indicates a more dynamic Stingray cover). It is a strange cover, isn't it? Bizarre. Is it not a scene from the actual strip?
Kim: The bulldozer is right - were you shown the strip?
Andrew Skilleter: Yes, Alan would have sent a pretty bad photostat or something. I never seemed to get good ones!
Kim: But even then, looking at the strip, you've had to add a lot of detail not in the original?
Andrew Skilleter: I may have even got reference... because when in doubt, I may have got reference of something similar and used that. Or I may just have gone into the minutae of Keith's work and plucked out the detail. The rubble is my own invention (laughs).
The artwork for the cover of the first issue of Joe 90 is next.
Andrew Skilleter: Ah yes, I'm proud of that. I'm actually proud of my covers, because what I wanted to do was bring some of the TV gloss that I had done with Doctor Who, to the Anderson covers. There were some nice covers, but I do think some were dated. It was a TV programme, so a bit of gloss, a bit of polish, which is what I'm known for I suppose, was quite refreshing. I just tried to do good covers, which would catch the eye, that would say 'great, I want to look inside this magazine'.
Shaqui: When the comics merged, you'd obviously had covers which crossed series?
Andrew Skilleter: That was a shame in a way, as it was no longer a dedicated Thunderbirds cover or whatever. It was a bit frustrating. I was pleased with that one. (at the same time as comparing issue covers with the original art, Andrew spots one that isn't his) This is Graham's, isn't it? Graham is so brilliant. He's got a gouache technique - I gave up mine, but he's carried on with it. There was an event called Odyssey last year, an Arthur C. Clarke thing at Taunton, and Graham and I did a Two Ronnies thing (laughs)! We both sat there, in front of - not a huge public but there seemed so few people there - and I ended up doing a conservational talk with some Anderson work, and I deferred to him quite a lot because I felt he was the expert, even though we were talking quite broadly - it wasn't just Anderson. It worked very well, as he's quite shy but can be quite funny at times. I would sometimes say I made this machine up for a Thunderbirds story, and I'm quite convinced it would never fly, and he'd say 'probably not!' (see further up the interview to see what Andrew was actually referring to). He knows his Anderson backwards and inside-out.
But I feel my flashier approach made good covers. Looking back at them, because I know they were done with great energy, and not laboured - I put as much time into them as I could - it was a particular period of time when I was on top of it all, and I'm really quite proud of most of them. Maybe a bit frustrated that Alan didn't feel he could give me more but then again I was doing the Thunderbirds story, so he couldn't.
Shaqui: Most of your covers were actually after The Complete Thunderbirds Story was finished, in issue 79.
Andrew Skilleter: Ah, that's interesting, and perhaps answers my question. I've got issue 70 here, and The Thunderbirds Story is still running - part 36. You see, one thing you never got from Alan was feedback, and I must have had conversations with him but I often wonder how much he tailored his story as he went on. Inevitably, when you have a writer and artist working together, I'm sure they have an effect on each other. And I wonder whether he saw I could do a nice set-piece for a spread, and tailor the story for a big impact, because it was always changing its format all the time - sometimes a single page, sometimes a spread, or both! And how much was it driven by budget, because Alan must have had one for each issue presumably.
Shaqui: How much input would you have had to each layout, as initially it was a series of vignettes, then towards the end we have more of a strip format?
Andrew Skilleter: I think it was down to Alan, but the actual layouts I was left to do myself - I made them as interesting as possible. These (the latter parts, which are often a spread of two pages) are quite a good example, I feel reasonably happy with those - it's got a lot of drama, a reasonable amount of polish and finish, and I enjoyed doing them. I like sequential work and pictures. There's something about them that is quite different from doing a single cover. Where Alan would have a real input in was on special spreads, where he wanted plans or photographs. That's when he'd be a bit more specific about what it's got to be, and perhaps give me a bit more reference if it was to do with the shuttle. Certainly anything like this, where you have an unmarked prototype of Thunderbird 1 for instance, that would all come from Alan - it would be in the script. Unfortunately all the scripts went back, so I don't have any.
Shaqui: How much direction would you have been given, besides the script and captions?
Andrew Skilleter: I don't think it was Alan's nature to say or do any more than he had to. I think, for reasons of pure pragmatism, he trusted the artists, or it was his way of saying this is what he had to do. Because it was a freelance situation - he wasn't actually an employee of Fleetway - he was a freelance consultant editor, and he would go into the office once a week. He had a young woman - working in-house there - who would do all the design on computer, and this was the first time I came across computer composition, and I remember thinking 'oh, that's my cover scanned in there'. As far as I could see he may have been doing other work at the same time. He was certainly putting one or two special things together. I had some dinosaur work for a project which had collapsed, and he took that on and worked with a spin-off company - Ravette? - and they published the dinosaur book which included all the artwork I had done. We just agreed a fee and it went into that project. So he was looking around to see what he could do. But I think he was just so busy that he missed the opportunity with The Thunderbirds Story. If he had moved very fast, and planned to do it before it finished in the magazine, or say I had been - as I am now - more computer literate with digital art, I might have initiated something and said, 'look, I can do an element of the reformatting', and we could have done it together. That's how I saw it happening actually, as a team thing, because he was the writer/creator, and I was the artist, and so I thought it was a shame it wasn't done. I think it was time... Alan didn't really have the time to concentrate on it, because I kept reminding him of it.
Shaqui: I was wondering if it was because by the time it had finished, the marketability of Thunderbirds was in decline? It only finished about ten issues before the magazine folded.
Andrew Skilleter: Did it? This is why it's a difficult perspective to get. But it did change my situation, for two years, as I hadn't really done this kind of work before, with a fortnightly cycle - it was all one-offs. So suddenly I had this cycle and just as suddenly, it stopped!
I enjoyed doing most of the Anderson work, I really did. It was a shame when it all ended. That's the only trouble with magazines - it just suddenly ends and that's it. I never thought I'd revisit it.
Research can be a funny thing - turning up things in places you never expect - and before the interview, we were loaned some 1970s Judy annuals. And by chance, in them were a series of strip biographies of personalities like The Goodies and (below, from 1978) Cilla Black. The 'marbling' style was quite distinctive, leading us to speculate this was the early work of Andrew Skilleter, pre-Doctor Who...
Guilty as charged, I'm afraid. I should deny it of course. But I commend you on being able to suss the style! Marbling is the dead right expression. It was a brief period when I wondered if I might pursue strip illustration. and was looking for any work opportunities. It wasn't really me - I had a passion for strips but not the flare or drawing skills to do them well! - but I reckon I must have done quite a lot of them. There was this annual work, including some non-personality strip or spot illustrations, plus pop-group bio-strips for comics in black and white line. I can't imagine why I got this type of work as I wanted action stuff, and again it required likenesses! I recall the colour was not well reproduced.
I think I did a reasonable job, especially given the money and the sheer number of likenesses! They sent me photo references, which I had to return of course. This will amuse you - it still does me! - the main editor had the wonderful name of Stanley Stamper! Sounds like a character out of the Beano - perhaps it was all a wind up!
I can recall Showaddywaddy; definitely the Rubettes - all that 70s kitsch... (I was into Prog Rock!) I did Roger Whitaker (ask your grandparents!) and the editor wrote to me to say they had written to the comic congratulating me et al on it!
Shaqui: Going back a bit, did Alan Fennell know you had previously done comic strips before? (see box-out above).
Andrew Skilleter: Oh no, I don't think so. That's kind of the secret you've unearthed! Ten years ago I wouldn't have admitted to it but now I don't care (laughs). I did quite well considering... I must have had all these photographs sent to me.
Shaqui: Especially when you have likenesses of several actors in one strip...
Andrew Skilleter: Oh, it's everybody. It's ridiculous, isn't it. I think I did a really good job of that one actually (The Goodies). It's like nothing else... it's just thrown at you.
Shaqui: And you think you did some of the weeklies as well?
Andrew Skilleter: Oh yes, I did some pulps. That's what I started with, and from those I must have got the annual work. They often gave the annual work to people who weren't their regulars. They had their favourite artists, and then it would be a question of others being given annual work and odd strips to do. Pity I haven't got the artwork for this now, as The Goodies is such a cult thing I could probably flog it.
Shaqui: D.C. Thomson do keep all their art...
Andrew Skilleter: But you wouldn't get it back. Keith Watson did work for Thomson for a while. Some of it was quite good actually, for the big format ones, which opened like a broadsheet. That was the wilderness years for him, after Thunderbirds had finished, before he found the Dutch publishers with a football strip. I think it was so sad he ended up doing a football strip but he didn't think so. It was a waste of talent though. If ever anyone needed a patron it was Keith. Like Don Lawrence and Storm, which reinvented him. He needed someone like that, to say 'we've got this fantastic science-fiction thing for you', but you must do this and this - in other words, interfere a bit and make sure he did his best work. Don had got into a rut, churning out The Trigan Empire, which was total formula, and they came along and said 'look at these great Spanish and Italian artists', and it just changed his work - took him up to another level. Keith was fairly ambivalent about his work, I think he was quite happy to be lazy. He felt guilty about it but he wasn't very ambitious.
Shaqui: Keith Watson did a new Thunderbirds strip, but do you know if he coloured his reprints?
Andrew Skilleter: I don't know how they got rid of the black and white halftone... you can just see traces of it. Knowing his work backwards, I would say it was someone who vaguely knew his work, or was just simply being influenced by his black and white artwork, and was making a little more effort than the usual person. It is better than some of it but it's not Keith's - I'd put money on it. I was also in touch with Keith then, and he never mentioned it.
Cover for Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons: Indestructible (below left)
Andrew Skilleter: I was really pleased to do this cover, because it was the first time my name and Ron Embleton's name had been put together, so I was really pleased about that. In fact, in things like this there's always a bit of Ron's technique coming through. You can see it in Graham's as well. If you look at it, that's not too dissimiliar from Graham's and it all comes from Ron Embleton.
Shaqui: Do you ever feel the printed version, no matter how good, never does justice to the colour? This is so colourful compared to the printed cover, which has grayed out a bit.
Andrew Skilleter: I have trouble with my own work on my own computer here. My monitor is not calibrated, and I have trouble getting true colours and it can drive you mad but I try not to worry about it too much. I'm sure I did at the time, but historically I don't. I just think 'oh it's quite a nice smart cover', and people get used to seeing what they see. Very, very few people get to see an original, and only one person can own it (laughs).
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, cover for issue 14 (above centre)
Andrew Skilleter: That was a set piece. I'd try and always do lots of bleed, because they'd crop it. Then they could choose what area they want to use, as I didn't do these to a layout. I just left an approximation of space, as I didn't know what they were going to do.
Shaqui: You didn't get any art direction regarding captions or text?
Andrew Skilleter: No, not at all with that era. Now of course I know pretty well exactly what's going on.
Stingray the Comic, cover for issue 9 (above right)
Shaqui: Was that a homage to the cover of the first issue of TV Century 21?
Andrew Skilleter: I quite like doing Stingray, I've got a lot of affection for it. There's a charm about it. Well I would certainly look at TV21 and my collection of bits and pieces, so any reference would have got into these pictures, but I can't remember where that came from. But if I saw a good reference I would but them together and reinvent them.
Shaqui: This is also marked 'Holiday Special' (which it was reprinted in).
Andrew Skilleter: Alan would give me a cover number, and I would write it on (the art board) but he would sometimes change his mind. Sometimes it was left blank and Alan would add it.
Andrew Skilleter: Keith Watson told me this story... was there a Joe 90 comic in the late sixties, and was it run by another outfit - not Alan and TV21? I can only recall it as he told me.
Shaqui: For a period it was handled by Martspress, and Leonard Matthews.
Andrew Skilleter: Ah yes, Leonard Matthews. His name crops up cross-referenced all over the place, but he's dead now. I just remember this story that Keith told me, about him being contacted by this bunch of people who didn't seem to know what they were doing. And it was involving the Joe 90 strip. I understand they were in some grotty office, probably in London, and they had this comic to put together. They were in this terrible panic about everything because they hadn't got any scripts, or the scripts they had were terrible, and Keith offered to write them himself. So as I understood it, whatever artwork Keith did for Joe 90 at that time were also written by him. The interesting thing is Keith should have been a writer. He is the sort of guy who I think could have written, and probably should have written, for his own work, because he was dogged by unsuitable scriptwriters. In other words he could have done a much better job as he could have written to his strengths.
The Cloudbase spread for the Merlin Sticker Album (below left)
Andrew Skilleter: I look at this, and I have to say I'm not sure I could paint that now. I really, really doubt it. It was a one-off object, and I wanted to make a real impact with it, so I thought I want to make it really good, and really accurate. I think it's very different from Graham's but it's a very tight, almost technical painting of Cloudbase. For a Cloudbase fan, I suppose it would be fantastic for a fan to have an original like that, properly framed up. That was a strange project, the Merlin album. I think Graham did most of it, didn't he?
Shaqui: Would you have had any indication of where the stickers go?
Andrew Skilleter: I think I must have done.
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, cover for issue 7 (above right)
Andrew Skilleter: I think it's a bit overpainted - I think I got in trouble with his face maybe. It was nice to just get a vision of something, and just execute it, rather than someone coming back and saying 'no, don't like that - do it the other way round'. (laughs)
Shaqui: With licensed material like this, would you have been given much reference?
Andrew Skilleter: I don't think I got much reference ever from Alan. I was just left to my own devices - I just madly got everything I could. I bought everything I could, asked people for pictures - I just got in touch with all these people who had photos, postcards... and also anything I had in the archive
Shaqui: Would you have used video for reference (as it is iconic of Black's appearance in the opening titles)?
Andrew Skilleter: No, I didn't do that actually. I had enough of that with Doctor Who! It was too long-winded.
Illustration: The cover of Redan's Captain Scarlet Collector's Edition No.3. If you're wondering why the badge on Scarlet's cap is the wrong way round, that's because the original had him looking to the right, out of the cover (usually considered a design faux pas). Redan simply flipped Scarlet's head, but forgot about the Spectrum symbol...
Andrew Skilleter (on the subject of this cover): I knew about Photoshop and digital stuff but still hadn't got my own equipment so it was getting increasingly frustrating because it gets mentioned all the time. I knew for years I wanted to do it but it was taking the plunge. I could have done that for them. The strange thing is, I would have thought I'd have given them a rough. I cannot believe I would have gone ahead blind. That's probably why they didn't come back to me about it, because they must have let it through, as for a new magazine I can't believe they wouldn't have asked for a rough.
Discussion of the earlier Redan Collector's Editions leads to his current work on the covers.
Andrew Skilleter: What happened was a gradual evolution. That one (issue 60) wasn't mine at all. I work considerably behind what appears in print, so this quite threw me, as this is my first one (issue 61). By absolute fluke, they got in touch with me about doing this line feature inside, the mission, which wasn't really my sort of thing at all. It was a package and it was going to be monthly, and they considerably bumped up the fee from what they were doing originally, which was terrible, so I don't think I could have taken it at that anyway. So I was involved with that. But out of the blue, she suddenly came to me and said there had been a lot of discussion about the covers, which had been very strip-style, and they wanted something that looked a bit more like artwork, which was interesting considering the way things had gone - I had lost most of the cover work to more computerised stuff. So I thought that was what they wanted, something more conventional, so I did this pretty well as a straight-forward painting, and it seemed to go down alright, although looking back at it now it looks a bit primitive to me. But it was very hard work getting back to it. It wasn't like the old days.
Shaqui: You mentioned Redan were specific in their briefs about covers?
Andrew Skilleter: Oh yes, they supply you with a complete cover layout and then you know exactly where to fit everything. You've got to supply a rough including that layout so they know exactly, and they'll even suggest you move the craft over, or it's not at quite the right angle, so there can be a lot of input. But what I did the very first time was I did the artwork very small, smaller than A4 so it fitted on my scanner - I don't usually need anything bigger. So I scanned it myself - the first time I'd scanned my own art - and had to upload it to their FTP site, and then they access it from there. So they don't receive any art - nothing.
But then it evolved. As I got on with it, I started to use more a mix of real and digital art, but then they came to me again, saying the covers were getting a bit samey. It wasn't so much a personal criticism, but it was just something they were searching for. They wanted more of a 3D look, almost more of a digital look perhaps - it was conflicting messages really. I did my very first cover, which hasn't come out yet (issue 70 - see below), that was done 100% digitally recently. So there's no conventional art on it at all.
Shaqui: So would that cover (issue 68 - left) been done digitally?
Andrew Skilleter: Again, the bulk of that would be done airbrush - the hardware. Then I do a separate background. Maybe a separate sea, and all put together in Photoshop. And then they started to introduce - and I had to do my own - what they call 'arted lettering', so I had to learn how to RUMBLE! and ZOOOOM! (laughs). I suddenly felt I was doing more and more for this fee, as I had to do a line version of it. Interestingly, I've just noticed I did that 'ZOOM' (left, for issue 68) with a bright yellow inside, and they obviously decided to take it out. They still haven't sent me my copies, so I've only just noticed that. It's now an increasingly becoming an exercise in digital, because there's no point, given what they're asking, in doing it any other way. And it's quicker.
Shaqui: I did wonder about the difference in technique - airbrush is usually 'softer' whereas this is 'sharper'?
Andrew Skilleter: That is airbrush but digitally enhanced, with highlights. They wanted it more 3D, and I thought that was very 3D. It's always difficult to grasp other people's perceptions of what you do, and what they mean when they say things in words - if they give you an image and say,' this is the sort of look we want', you can understand it. If they say words, 'more 3D', 'shinier'... what does it actually mean? Because that image is quite shiny, more 3D. I quite like that one actually, but she didn't.
The point I was going to make, which you won't be aware of it yet, is that basically Graham Bleathman and myself are the only artists left on it now. (This was at the time of the interview in August 2005 - Graham Bleathman's last original cross-section was published in January 2006) I lost the missions as they're reprinting them. Lee Sullivan has lost the strip, which is a big blow for him - I don't know how much he was getting but it's a big chunk to lose. I haven't lost nearly as much but I still lost quite a bit from losing the missions.
Shaqui: Was that because of an editorial change?
Andrew Skilleter: Well if you look back at the history of comics, it's usually - which is why I asked Frevisse about sales - the sign of a death knell. It's an old joke, particularly with big people like Fleetway, they'd get a couple of titles, merge them, then you knew you could start digging the hole and it wouldn't be long! So when a magazine like this had its heart ripped out... As a young children's magazine, I think it's incredibly good and creative. It's high quality, it's got lots to do in it, but suddenly to reprint strips after two years?
Shaqui: It actually started in late 2000, so it's been running for close to five years now?
Andrew Skilleter: Ah, it's Frevisse - she's only been with it for two years. She couldn't have started it then. There was Donna Wickers, and I had some dialogue with her, at the time I was doing the Scarlet covers. I think she must have made a note on a file somewhere, which is why I got this mission work, which led to the covers, which is the more important work. But it's still hard work, these covers - I do feel under pressure on them.
Illustration: Andrew Skilleter's first wholly digital artwork for Redan, for issue 70 of the Thunderbirds magazine.
Andrew Skilleter: But it's quite a shock, because when she came to me and said, 'how do you feel about somebody else taking over your missions?', and I was quite defensive about it because I'd worked quite hard on it, to build them up. I put quite a lot into it, and I didn't really want anyone else taking it over. But I didn't realise... she said, 'the other artist has lost the strip' or something, and I didn't know what she was talking about - she worded it in a way I couldn't understand what she meant. It was only later I realised she meant Lee, and they'd stopped the strip. They're just going to reprint them, reprint the missions, but it makes more sense now I know it's been going that long. (A while after the interview, Andrew emailed us to say, 'Re issue 70... the reprints of the Missions have begun. That's NOT my art! Makes me realise how much I was putting into mine. So issue 69 was my last mission - ever. It was actually a surprise - I looked at the art and thought someone had changed mine for a moment - then the penny dropped.)
Shaqui: Surely Redan wouldn't continue to publish if they were losing sales, and money?
Andrew Skilleter: If the circulation is the same, there can be only one reason - and that is... I must be careful what I say! (laughs) I thought the reason they did it is because they were folding the magazine because the circulation had fallen, or doing this - reprinting. So if the circulation is the same, it is an odd decision but it must represent a big saving each month.
Shaqui: Graham Bleathman had mentioned trying to get the covers himself...
Andrew Skilleter: It is difficult with covers. It probably would have hacked him off that I got them, but they obviously wanted a glossy, airbrushy look and I didn't pitch for them.
Shaqui: It did surprise him, having been turned down, that Redan suddenly adopted full colour covers.
Andrew Skilleter: They came to me, and they didn't say 'this is the budget for the cover'. They gave me a guide, but they said, 'how much do you want to do it?'. So I thought about it and said how much I wanted, rather than how much they wanted to pay, and they went 'phew! Okay...'. It wasn't a huge amount but it was something just about viable. For a decent fee, rather than something scraping by. So I don't think the fee was the issue.
Frevisse said, 'it's for young children, simple images, primary colours, in-your-face art'. Something she uses is the expression 'images that pop' - now this is a new one to me! But you can see where she is coming from in a way. And I don't think that would fit Graham, who is very detailed and meticulous. Now I try to be meticulous in accuracy, but he's almost like a portrait artist - but with machines! It's incredibly good art but it's just not the style they want for the covers.
Illustration: A short time after the interview, Andrew Skilleter was kind enough to send us an example of the kind of brief he is given by Redan, with the logo and other text already in position. This was for issue 76, which went on sale in March 2006, but which Andrew was working on in December 2005.
Shaqui: You've mentioned Frevisse previously... that would be...?
Andrew Skilleter: This would be my editor, who recently relinquished the role, Frevisse Dearsley-Hitchcock. And she's been in New York for the last six months. It's the new technology! It does seem bizarre and incredible, but she does two American Redan titles as well, working all hours, but she decided to give Thunderbirds up... but I've been assured I'm continuing with the covers. The new editor starts on Monday, but having said that, Frevisse has commissioned me for the next cover. It will be interesting to see if there's a change in emphasis again. Frevisse did love her Thunderbirds magazine, she really did, but what you might not realise is that circulation is just more or less flatlining - it remains about the same whichever period you look at. I don't often talk to her - it's all by email - but because she was quitting I had a little chat with her to sign off, and I asked her. I said, I'm amazed it's still going. I said, I can't understand it because you've got 5 to 7 years who presumably came in on the re-runs of Thunderbirds and things like that, a buzz about 2 or 3 years ago. There's been a movie but that's something else, and I thought, as soon as these kids... they've only got about 1 or 2 years and their tastes will change - they'll into something else. I thought, that's it - you've just got a little window of opportunity, and there won't be any new ones coming up. But she said 'it just keeps carrying on'.
And at this time (September 2006), the Thunderbirds magazine is still carrying on - albeit bi-monthly - but the magazine is now all reprint material. Andrew has informed us that the cover of issue 82, due out in October, is his last cover commission for Redan.
As mentioned in the interview, Andrew Skilleter still has virtually all of his original cover artworks for the Fleetway Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90 comics, as well as pages and the spreads for The Complete Thunderbirds Story, and welcomes serious enquiries about purchasing these.
Andrew Skilleter has his own website, and also welcomes commissions for work, at www.andrewskilleter.com
Contact Andrew at email@example.com or write:
7 Churchfield Road,
Dorset BH15 2QL.
Andrew Skilleter - Gerry Anderson Work
The Reconstruction of Thunderbird 5 (Thunderbirds The Comic, issues 26, 1992) , colour.
The Complete Thunderbirds Story (Thunderbirds The Comic, issues 35 to 42, 46 to 79, 1993-94) , colour.
The Hood (Thunderbirds issue 65, 1994) colour
Thunderbird 1 and MSV (The New Thunderbirds issue 70, 1994) colour
Scott Tracy and Angel Interceptor (The New Thunderbirds issue 73, 1994) colour
FAB 1 and SPJ (The New Thunderbirds issue 77, 1994) colour
Thunderbird 2 (The New Thunderbirds issue 84, 1994) colour
Cloudbase and Angels (The New Thunderbirds issue 87, 1994) colour
Thunderbird 1 and Lady Penelope (The New Thunderbirds issue 88, 1994) colour
Stingray and Terror Fish (Stingray issue 9, 1993) colour
Stingray (Stingray issue 12, 1993) colour
Terror Fish (Stingray Monthly issue 8, 1993) colour
SPV (Captain Scarlet issue 2, 1993) colour
Captain Black (Captain Scarlet issue 7, 1994) colour
Captain Scarlet (Captain Scarlet issue 11, 1994) colour
Captain Scarlet (Captain Scarlet issue 14, 1994) colour
Joe 90 and Jet Air Car (Joe 90 issue 1, 1994) colour
Joe 90 and Bulldozer (Joe 90 issue 6, 1994) colour
Captain Scarlet and MSV (Captain Scarlet Collector's Edition issue 1, 2001) colour
*NB - This was a composite of Scarlet from issue 14 of Captain Scarlet, and the MSV illustration for the cover of the Merlin Sticker Album.
Captain Scarlet and Spectrum Helicopter (Captain Scarlet Collector's Edition issue 2, 2001) colour
Captain Scarlet and Angels (Captain Scarlet Collector's Edition issue 1, 2001) colour
Mission Files (Thunderbirds issues 51 to 69, 2004 - 2005) b/w illustrations
Thunderbird 2 (Thunderbirds issue 61, 2004) colour
Thunderbird 4 (Thunderbirds issue 62, 2005) colour
Scott and Thunderbird 1 (Thunderbirds issue 63, 2005) colour
Virgil and Thunderbird 2 (Thunderbirds issue 64, 2005) colour
Alan and Thunderbird 3 (Thunderbirds issue 65, 2005) colour
Scott and Thunderbird 1 (Thunderbirds issue 66, 2005) colour
The Hood and Thunderbird 2 (Thunderbirds issue 67, 2005) colour
Alan and Thunderbird 3 (Thunderbirds issue 68, 2005) colour
Thunderbird 2 lowering pod (Thunderbirds issue 69, 2005) colour
Thunderbird 1 over iceburg (Thunderbirds issue 70, 2005) colour
Thunderbird 2 over volcano (Thunderbirds issue 71, 2005) colour
Thunderbird 3 (Thunderbirds issue 72, 2005) colour
Thunderbird 2 with Mega Muncher (Thunderbirds issue 73, 2005) colour
Thunderbird 1 with the Hood (Thunderbirds issue 74, 2006) colour
Thunderbird 3 with space plane (Thunderbirds issue 75, 2006) colour
Thunderbirds 1 & 2 with Jet (Thunderbirds issue 76, 2006) colour
Thunderbirds 1 & 2 (Thunderbirds issue 77, 2006) colour
Thunderbird 2 (Thunderbirds issue 78, 2006) colour
Thunderbird 1 (Thunderbirds issue 79, 2006) colour
Thunderbird 2 and Mole (Thunderbirds issue 80, 2006) colour
Thunderbird 4 and Squid (Thunderbirds issue 81, 2006) colour
Thunderbird 1 Lift Off and Thunderbird 2 (Thunderbirds issue 82, 2006) colour
Captain Scarlet - Indestructible (Ravette Graphic Album, 1993) colour cover
Supermarionation Sticker Album (Thunderbirds issue 66 & 67, 1994) colour cover
Captain Scarlet Sticker Album (Merlin, 1993) colour cover & colour spreads
The Gerry Anderson Complete Comic History would like to thank Andrew Skilleter for his time and enthusiasm for the interview.
The Gerry Anderson Complete Comic History would also like to thank:
Michelle Le Vesconte
- for her loan of the annuals mentioned in this feature.
Version 1.1 - 01.09.06
Any comments or notes about any of the strips, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
All text © The Gerry Anderson Complete Comic History, and its respective writers, and may not be reproduced without permission.
All images © their respective copyright holders