I probably would not have met David Roach if not for a mishap during the summer of 2014. I was travelling in the UK and planned to be in London in July during the London Film and Comic Con, the massive show that was held at Earls Court 2. I contacted the con before travelling and asked if it was necessary to buy a ticket online – would they sell out? They assured me they surely would not as they never had in the past, and that I could easily buy my ticket in person. Lo and behold, I got there and the lines were insane. Apparently, the appearances of Stan Lee, Carrie Fisher, and other high profile guests had brought out fans in droves. All I could do was stand in line like everyone else.
The line took forever. Stuck there for hours and hours, we began chatting to whomever stood beside us. A fun, young man called Rudi Laas stood beside me and we struck up a camraderie. I wasn’t exactly old myself (being in my late thirties at the time) but Rudi definitely had more youthful energy. I’m not exactly sure what he came to see, but I had brought a piece of comic art and wished to trade it. He stood in line for his friends who couldn’t be bothered to show up early. At one point, Rudi left and bought a six pack of Foster’s lager which he brought back and shared. It made the process of standing for hours just that much more bearable. Whenever I hear the line ‘sipping Foster’s in the shade’ in Warren Zevon’s song Mr. Bad Example, I think of Rudi and his Foster’s. At some point, Rudi’s friends showed up and joined us and we all talked. It must have dawned upon us that we were never going to get into the convention.
At some point, Rudi went off to find the bathroom, presumably to relieve himself of the Foster’s we’d been “sipping.” I chatted with Rudi’s friends, waiting for him to come back. Time passed and he didn’t return. We texted him and there was no answer. We texted him again. Finally, either I or one of his friends got a text asking us to come to the bathroom. We had no idea why. Had he passed out and needed help? Well, by this time, the convention was drawing towards the end of the day and it was certain we weren’t going to get in so we went to go meet Rudi by the bathroom. We found it in an adjacent building, separate from the main convention. Rudi had discovered some sort of hallway that connected to the other side of the bathroom. This hallway led to a large and empty convention hangar that we had to cross without being noticed. And then, on the other side of this massive empty space, was a stairway that led into an annex where the comic book artists were housed.
For some reason, the con put all the film and TV stars in the main pavilion and cloistered the comic book creators in a side venue. It was a stroke of luck! The place, albeit busy, was not mobbed and I could walk around the tables and talk to veterans like David Lloyd and Howard Chaykin and Alan Davis. The page I had brought to trade was the splash page to the short story ‘The Sweet Science.’ The painted art was by Mike Zeck and Phil Zimelman from the Clive Barker’s Hellraiser anthology. Zeck and Zimelman are more famous for their collaborations around The Punisher Limited Series and other Punisher covers from the eighties so the Hellraiser comes a little after that. I was determined to trade this for some new art and was a little saddened that most of the art dealers were tabled in the main pavilion.
There was only one comic art dealer in the annex where I stood and he wasn’t friendly. I walked around looking at artists’ work and somehow stumbled upon David Roach’s table. His work drew me because of its technical skill and attractiveness. On impulse, I asked David if he’d trade me some of his art for the Zeck/Zimmelman splash. He said that my page wasn’t his usual cup of tea but he liked the colours and if I couldn’t make a trade with the art dealers in the main pavilion who’d probably be very interested in my page, I could come back to him. I couldn’t very well tell him that we’d snuck in (I did mention it years later), so I eventually looped back and he traded me not one, but two pages of his for mine. I think he sensed how frustrated I was, and his act was one of pure generosity.
This story says much about David. First of all, he’s a very kind chap. Those of us who know him and follow his Facebook posts (without fail, every evening, he spotlights artists whose work he admires) love what he does. Despite the beauty of his own work, David humbly claims he’s not well known or very successful. Perhaps more than his art, David is known for his numerous books covering comic art. He’s that rare breed of comics artist that is equal parts artist, consummate scholar, and unflagging fan. His wells of knowledge about comics run very deep but he also posts about various fine artists (both older and contemporary, European as well as International) and pulp paperback painters, not to mention ad illustrators and poster designers.
David’s primary object of study is the female form. This may sound like a gilded way of saying his interests are pervy but if this is true, it’s expressed in the most cultured way possible. A look at the large life studies he’s been producing over the last few years will stop you in your tracks. This is not some comics artist who exaggerates body proportions and has learned to draw by copying the work of Frank Frazetta and John Buscema. This is a man who applies himself very seriously to that which he finds fascinating and beautiful. This is probably why David is more associated with Judge Anderson stories than Judge Dredd ones. This is from one of his more recent Judge Anderson pages:
When David generously allowed me to take two pages from his portfolio in trade, I picked a Dredd page and an Anderson page. The Dredd page was in colour (you’re seeing it below through a plastic overlay, I’m afraid) and larger than the average American comics page. The Anderson page was even larger than the Dredd. The Anderson page was rendered in black and white, using glorious wash, and I am embarrassed to say that I traded it away a couple of years later. I try to trade art instead of just buying more, although that’s getting harder now. However, I felt appropriately guilty about the trade and when I visited David’s home in Cardiff during 2017 to interview him, I made sure to buy another Anderson page from him (that’s the one below). In both these pages, you can see that though he draws Dredd and the other male characters with competence, there’s kind of a glow around the women he draws. This is true even of the older wraith tormenting Judge Anderson, I think.
When I visited David at his home, he pulled out art he himself had collected, files of back issues of obscure British titles, American comics he loved, art he’d drawn, and art belonging to various high profile British artists that had been sent to him for a show he was organizing. He pulled out an amazing V for Vendetta page that David Lloyd had sent him and various striking 2000 AD Dave Gibbons pages that had been loaned. He discussed their attractive properties. He explained that many British pages are centered around one panel that is especially striking and powerful. This panel pulls the page together. British art, in my opinion, also tends to be more painterly or photorealistic, using panels that are frozen in comparison with their American counterparts.
David saying (when we originally met in that sequestered annex) that the Zeck/Zimelman page was not his usual cup of tea speaks to some of our differences in taste. I’ve grown up with quite a fondness for the American sense of movement, juxtaposition of panels, and comics storytelling that leads to the dynamism of the likes of Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, and Frank Miller – that sort of thing. The properties focused on in Scott McCloud‘s Understanding Comics. Although David has many favourite artists who have contributed to DC and Marvel’s (as well as other American comics’) legacies, he also loves the Brits and the Filipino artists and the Europeans, especially Spanish artists in the style of those who drew for Warren’s Vampirella. His own art is influenced by his predisposition towards them. But for all the artists we disagree upon, we share a common love and awe for masters such as Brian Bolland and Jaime Hernandez and Moebius. Anyone who can call upon Brian Bolland to draw a cover for their book, as Brian has done for David’s Masters of British Comic Art, is very rich indeed.
David’s had stints working for DC and Dark Horse and Panini and Topps and other comic companies but spends much of his time drawing involved, elaborate commissions that draw upon his life drawing skills. Many of them feature female characters rendered in lush pencil and ink strokes. I’ll post his Medusa and Death below. As I’ve gotten older, it’s not the meetings with really famous creators that stick with me. It’s the people who are kind and allow you to connect. Once in a while I’ll stumble across a page of David’s online that is listed for sale and point it out to him. He’ll almost invariably say it’s overpriced and that no one will pay five hundred or six hundred pounds for one of his Dredd pages. I’d like to see time prove him wrong in this regard.
I feel very grateful to know David, and to have accessed his knowledge and generosity. I’m sure it’s the same for all his other fans and friends. For a while, I jokingly referred to him as my ‘comic art guru’ because when I was unsure of whether to buy comic pages that were a bit beyond my means, or if I was unsure about the worthiness of a page, I would ask his opinion. His response usually proved correct, given time and feeling. Recently, he drew a picture of Alan Moore for me but I’ll try and save that for another column focusing on portraits of Moore. David’s knowledge and affection for the history and craft of comics are infectious and I’ll look forward to hopefully seeing him again in person. Some distant time when we can all travel safely again.