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Hailing from Newcastle, Mike McKone has spent over two decades as an artist in comics. At age 19, he was hired by DC Comics to provide art for Justice League International, and since then he has provided stellar art on titles such as Teen Titans, 52, Amazing Spider-Man and the “Avengers – Endless Wartime” original graphic novel written by Warren Ellis. I caught up with McKone at Kansas City Comic Con to chat about how he improves his art, and why he’d like to draw less Deadpool.
Jeremy Radick: Mike, going all the way back, how did you start as an artist, were you a comic fan first, and that got you into drawing, or was it the other way around?
McKone: I did read comics when I was a kid. I read Marvel comics mainly with a touch of 2000 AD in there as well. I was nineteen when I started drawing for DC, so I didn’t really have a…well, I had a real job for about a year. But I went from being a kid who loved comics to a kid who was drawing comics, basically.
JR: What did you do to get good enough to be drawing for DC at nineteen, was it a lot of practice up until then?
McKone: I had practiced, a lot. I was kind of obsessive. But I don’t think I was that good. It’s just this was 1988, ’89, the comics industry was booming. They literally had a shortage of people drawing their comics. They couldn’t find enough people to do it. And I guess English creators were kind of in vogue at the time, so DC would send emissaries over to find the next Alan Davis or the next Brian Bolland. I was given an inventory script from the Justice League, and I drew it, and the next week Kevin Maguire quit the book. So they had no choice but to publish mine! I was in, and that was it (laughs).
JR: You’ve been working for twenty-seven years or so. How do you keep improving your art? What’s your favorite way to challenge yourself?
McKone: Well, about three, maybe two and a half years ago, I stopped drawing interiors because I thought I was kind of repeating myself, I wasn’t having too much fun anymore. So I started just drawing covers, and that really allows me to spend a lot more time on each piece. So I’m spending three or four days on a cover, as opposed to a day on a page on an interior page. So I think my drawing has improved quite a bit. But really it’s, I look at my friends, who I’m jealous of, and want to be as good as they are. And every once in while I have to remind myself that I’m very lucky. I don’t have to have a real job. I just drink coffee and doodle, all day, basically.
JR: So the bulk of your work has been for DC and Marvel, would you be interested in doing any creator-owned work?
McKone: I’d love to, I’d love to. It’s really just finding the time to do it. I’ve been procrastinating about it for years but never gotten around to it. And I should have done it this year, but I’ve drawn a lot of covers, so it’s really hard to get any kind of momentum. I keep writing, I keep chipping away at creator-owned things, and I think I might just find an artist to draw it (laughs).
JR: Now that you’re working on covers, you probably get a wide variety of characters that you can draw. Is there a certain character from DC or Marvel that you’ve never drawn that you’ve always wanted to draw?
McKone: Ooh, I don’t know if I haven’t drawn anyone. There’s plenty of people that I would love to draw again. I’m a child of the 70s, so I like Black Panther and the Inhumans. Deathlok. I’ve never drawn Deathlok, actually, that would be fun! With DC, it’s the Kirby characters. I’d like to draw less Deadpool.
JR: I think a lot of artists would say the same thing on that!
McKone: (Laughing) It pays the bills, but…
JR: Not the most visually interesting, right?
McKone: Not really, not really! Yeah, but maybe that’s on me. Because other artists seem to find interesting things to do with him. Maybe it’s just me, my own deficiency!
JR: Last question. What’s the number way the comics industry has changed since you started?
McKone: Probably distribution. When I started you could still walk into a grocery store, or a news agent or a railway station and buy a comic book off the stands. Now you have to have a pull list, you have to go to a convention, or online, so comics are much more difficult to find for people who are unfamiliar with comics. Keith Griffen used to say you have to get kids by the time they’re ten, otherwise you’re not going to get them at all. Now they kind of, almost, have to be older than ten to get to a place to buy comics. And they’re kind of expensive. Probably that. I think it’s a shame because comics seem to be incredibly popular now. I mean comic characters, because of the movies, and I just think we would be a much more healthy industry if we could actually get comics to the people who want to buy them. It seems simple, but..(laughs)…
If you see Mike McKone at a convention, get him to draw you a Deathlok and make his day. And lay off the Deadpools, would ya?