An Interview with the editor of Look-In
In the mid-1980s, Shaqui Le Vesconte corresponded with editors from IPC, D C Thomson and the editor of the Junior TVTimes magazine Look-In as part of research on a thesis on comics and their production. While the questions posed are not specific to any of the Gerry Anderson strips, they are published here for the first time to give readers a broad overview and insight into how a comic or magazine is put together.
In his letter, Colin Shelbourn writes: 'To judge from your questions, you already seem to have quite a bit of knowledge about picture strips, and I hope that my replies will be helpful for your thesis.'
These answers are dated 6 January 1984:
Could you possibly summarise the process by which a comic strip is developed from an idea to the actual printing and publication?
Colin Shelbourn: It varies too much to be able to summarise alternative methods but on Look-In itself:
The idea is usually an existing television series etc, and a well-trodden path of production is followed: brief writer, select artist and brief him/her, receive first episode, make any alterations we think necessary (sometimes the artwork is returned to the artist) then get it lettered, then approved by owners of copyright characters (sometimes major revisions at this stage).
How exactly does a story come about? Presumably they are either commissioned or ideas are submitted?
CS: In Look-In's case, stories are conceived by a (freelance) writer to guidelines and character descriptions from us - usually based on an existing television series or pop group.
How are the comic strips which are adapted from television series negotiated?
CS: Usually quite simple, with Look-In and the series licensor or agent agreeing on a certain payment from Look-In per week, for a certain number of weeks - usually 13 weeks or 26 weeks.
Is there a British version of the American Comics Code, which censors the degree of violence, sex and swearing in children's literature?
CS: No. 'Good taste' is supposed to prevail (!), and there's the Press Council to vet any complaints. In Look-In's case, we're eventually answerable to the IBA (Independent Broadcasting Authority), overseeing body of ITV companies.
What does the job of editor entail? I imagine him/her to be in a role similar to that of a producer of a television series - the person who decides the overall look of the comic, and who commissions all the people who will work on it.
CS: Yes, broadly. Different editors doing different jobs in different companies have different approaches to the work, and levels of responsibility. On Look-In, several people below me are charged with the responsibility for particular aspects of a strip - progress chasing, correcting, obtaining approval, etc.
What is the average budget of Look-In?
CS: If you mean creative/editorial budget, approximately £3,000 per week.
Does the editor ever add to the concept of a storyline, or its artistic representation?
Has there ever been a situation where you have been unable to obtain the comic strip rights of a television series for Look-In? If so, what was the reason for this?
CS: Yes. CHiPs (US bike cops series): the English licensor agent hadn't cleared rights with the USA principals, so we had to stop after two weeks. We later started afresh with no problems.
Roland Rat - due to be published elsewhere.
The Muppets - the copyright holders wouldn't sanction strip of any sort at that time.
Probably others too, but can't call them to mind at present.
How do you get to know about writers and artists apart from professional contacts? Do artists present their portfolios to you? On a similar subject, what sort of 'portfolio' would a potential strip writer present?
CS: Word of mouth, personal recommendation, agents or artists visiting. Also spotting work in print in other publications then tracking down artist/writer: not always very easy!
Yes, artists submit samples or portfolios. Ditto writers, who submit either drawn-up stories, or simply typewritten scripts.
Do writers work on more than one story at a time?
CS: Yes. One writer at present does 5 stories (10 pages) per week for Look-In, as well as many other strips for other publishers, and one-off features, books etc.
On average, how many pages of artwork does an artist produce each week?
CS: It varies enormously: some devote a whole week to two pages, others can handle six or eight or ten pages.
How much interrelationship is there between the writer and the artist? How much free rein does an artist have over the presentation of a comic strip?
CS: As much as each wants: artists often phone writers to chat over particular points. On other publications (not Look-In, which is all television derived) the artist and writer might create a strip together from scratch.
The artist has fairly free rein within the script and within overall editorial guidelines. Other publishers are much stricter, especially D.C. Thomson in Dundee.
Do artists have to submit a rough visualisation of each installment before it is drawn full size?
CS: No, not to Look-In. Sometimes to other publishers. It's occasionally necessary when seeking approval at start of a new strip.
What size is the actual page of a comic strip drawn?
CS: It varies. But usually for Look-In, strips are drawn one and a half or two times larger than printed.
Are artists given photographs of characters and hardware from television series automatically, or do these have to be obtained separately?
CS: We give artists these references, which we've researched from various sources. Some artists supplement these with their own videotapes of series, etc.
In America, the artist and the colourist are usually different people. Is this also true in the production of Look-In? If so, do the artists have any say on how their work should be coloured?
CS: No, all colouring is done by the artist onto the same board as drawing - not overlays like in the USA.
I believe the majority of writers and artists are freelance. Are there any in-house writers or artists among your staff - people who are employed for specific creative purposes (or emergencies!)?
CS: No, not on Look-In, which is more 'magazine-y' than other comics. IPC and D C Thomson do have such people.
Has there ever been an incident when a letterer has put a speech bubble coming from the wrong person. etc? Does the letterer have a guide to the characters of a story to prevent this from happening?
CS: Yes, too often! usually we spot this at checking stage, but errors sometimes end up in print. The letterer has scripts to work from, but not usually a separate character guide.
In America, I believe all comics are in colour, whereas in Britain (because of printing costs) it is reserved to the covers and centrepieces, and in Look-In the balance is roughly half and half. Do you think that British comics benefit or suffer because of this?
CS: Neither. I think buyers accept mostly mono as the norm for the moment - until someone produces an all-colour one, then expectations would change. Interestingly, nearly all comics for very young children are colour throughout.
The covers of Look-In were originally photographic. What was the reason for returning to photographs after the brilliant artwork covers by Arnaldo Putzu and others?
CS: At the time we made the change (Autumn '81), Look-In was very pop-orientated, and we felt that paintings of pop people were not as good as photos of them - the change to paintings back in the early 70's was at a time when far more covers were television or film subjects, less 'pretty'! The present cover format enables us to use photos or illustrations (though there have only been a handful of the latter).
How long before the publication date is the actual printed comic ready?
CS: Approximately ten days to a fortnight.
And how long before printing is all the material ready?
CS: Approximately three to four weeks.
After the thesis was completed, a copy was sent to Colin Shelbourn as, by his own admission: '...I'd be very interested indeed in seeing it, as not much work like this has been done before on the world of picture strips.' The 'business' side of the thesis dealt with, Shaqui asked more questions about some of the people behind Look-In, such as writers Angus Allan, and artists Mike Noble and 'Gray' (who was at the time drawing the Bucks Fizz strip). Colin had these additional points, in his follow-up letter dated 30 April 1984:
Thanks for your letter and the copy of your thesis. I must say I found it very interesting reading indeed, and appreciated the thoroughness and careful organisation of it.
Just to keep the record straight, I can make a few comments about some of the contents. You're right in thinking Angus Allan worked on TV21 (he tells me he was Script Editor), and he certainly is the writer who works on most of the scripts in Look-In.
Apart from the very early years, Look-In hasn't used very many writers other than him, but I can recall Geoffrey Cowan, R A G Clarke, Dick O'Neill and Alan Fennell.
Mike Noble, whom you consider our 'best artist' was absent for those few months you mention while preparing the Robin Of Sherwood strip which first appeared in last week's issue. Interestingly, he draws this only in black and white, and the colouring is done by Arthur Ranson: we've never worked in this way on a strip before, but I think it has turned out very impressively.
The artist 'Gray' is in fact a pair of artists: a husband-and-wife team, Maureen and Gordon from Dunoon, Scotland, who until recently had a lot of work appearing in D C Thomson's Tops (aka TV Tops).
I certainly acknowledge that we have a few older teenage readers, but our target audience is fairly and squarely 8 to 13 year olds, concentrating paticularly on 10 and 11 year olds.
Finally, I wish the public at large shared your enthusiasm for comic production. Unfortunately, it doesn't...
The Gerry Anderson Complete Comic History would like to thank Colin Shelbourn for this interview.
Any comments or notes about this interview, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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