A new character can sit on the sidelines being developed in a piecemeal fashion via the contributions of a number of different writers and artists. Because it is generally possible for a writer to produce a script quicker than an artist can visualise it, most new characters tend to originate from writers. However an artist's visual interpretation of the writer's concept invariably involves the introduction of innovations which may stimulate the writer, editor or other writers to imagine the character differently and modify the original concept. Furthermore, the process of designing strips can lead artists to develop original character/story ideas themselves.

The essentially collaborative nature of the system is such that although it accommodates the enthusiastic vision of individual creators, it tends to promote the evolution of a character beyond a single vision. The brevity and frequency of the stories (be they complete or episodic) permits different approaches to be tried and helps to avoid boredom setting in for reader and creator alike.

Pressure of work means that the panel sequences and imagery are written as directions in a script so that it will still work effectively even if only illustrated directly as instructed. In practice however, the interpretation of experienced artists leads to far more of a creative exchange between the two. Experienced writers and artists understand each side of the equation perfectly well and know how to bring out the best in each other to, hopefully, achieve a seamless conjunction of word and imagery. They aim to achieve a symbiotic relationship of word and picture. Mainstream professionals focus on skilful genre manipulation and are more interested in creating a popular hit than in formal innovation. They tend to be fans of the pulp tradition and that is the aesthetic which informs their work.

Commercial constraints

Since production budgets assigned to titles tend to reflect their market share, the creative process is decidedly driven by commercial constraints. In the case of comics, budgets tend to be lower because the market for them in this country is dominated by a youthful readership, smaller in size than the adult one for magazines and with less spending power.

Historically, the cheap production methods common to mainstream British comics (typically line illustration with spot colour on pulp paper dominated until about the mid 1980's) helped to keep the cover price down. Particularly since the 1980's though, with the advent of computerisation in the printing industry, it has been possible to produce cost-effective titles to much higher production values, and 2000 AD today is full colour and glossy.

Inevitably the cover price has risen, but so has the spending power of the average reader. Today's youth is exposed to a glut of sophisticated visuals from competing media such as computer games, film and videos. Comics have attempted to match these to meet the higher visual expectations of the modern reader be they young newcomers or older established fans. In both cases, they expect their favourite comics to keep apace with the advances in production values visible in the world of comics generally.

From both the publisher's and the artist's point of view, this situation has obvious technical ramifications. Publishers have always favoured paying an artist by the page because this is less expensive than an hourly rate - and more productive since it forces the artist to produce more. The rapid linear style common to most comic book artists facilitates quicker page production.

Since the dawn of comics in the late 19th century, a simple line based style, drawn oversized and photographically reduced to make the plates which will result in the printed page, has been the most effective way to produce graphic clarity on pulp paper. Most of the artwork in this exhibition is of this type since it dates from the late 1970's to mid 1980's before the advent of digital printing technology became widespread and revolutionised commercial printing production.

Artists' rights

Historically, artists have been quite ruthlessly exploited by publishers keeping the page rate as low as possible and claiming ownership of creative content. Since the 1970's artists' creative rights have improved though, with popular artists being able to charge high fees.

Although the page-rate is now better than it was, it remains a problem for another reason. Whereas full colour painted artwork used to be limited to covers or key spreads where a special impact was required to draw readers, today's digital technology makes it possible for full colour painted artwork to be used throughout and the artist is no longer restricted to a linear style. However, such work is far more time-consuming to produce. The editor may have to wait a week, a month, or even longer for a full colour five page spread to be completed, depending on the artist. Consequently such work may prove financially insufficiently rewarding for the artist to justify the effort involved. And yet it continues to appear because, at the end of the day, comic book artists are fundamentally driven by enthusiasm for the medium.

Few artists working today are able to make a living by working in comics alone. Most do additional work in other areas such as computer game development, film production, animation, and other areas of commercial production. Free-lancing, always important to comic book artists, is now even more so.

With the rise of the fan market in the 1970's (established earliest and most strongly in the U.S.), certain artists assumed star status. The leverage this gave them with publishers led to more lucrative contracts which, when worked out on an individual basis, may have included the yielding of royalty percentages and also greater creative autonomy - including ownership of artwork. As time went on U.S. publishers were pressured into recognising greater creator rights generally, so that by the 1980's more and more original artwork emerged for sale on the fan network via individual artists and dealers.

Collecting original artwork

This sub-market developed to the point where institutional collecting began and prices for certain classic examples of work by key exponents escalated beyond the pocket of the average fan.

In Britain this phenomenon has lagged behind. Here, comics remain underrated by the arts establishment generally, although that perception is gradually changing. Major publishers continue to totally disregard the cultural merit of the work, seeing it simply in terms of an archive of material to cannibalise via re-print projects which constitute relatively modest commercial value. As such, often little archival care may be taken over it. The scarcity of classic early period 2000 AD material is partly due to flooding which occurred at IPC/Fleetway, for example.

Furthermore, the issue of creator rights was never properly addressed here as it was in the U.S. When British artists left to pursue more lucrative American contracts, British publishers did not think it worth matching the American offers. Instead, they concentrated on finding new talent to fill the gaps. Consequently, artists did not tend to retain ownership rights of the material and far less of it was able to find its way onto the British fan market. What little did, frequently went to U.S. buyers who have a much more highly developed sense of the value of this material.

British collectors are few and far between and tend to be older fans or dealers in comic book related material. The work comprising this exhibition has been skimmed from a private collection falling into the first category.

Rufus Dayglo is a professional animator, life-long fan of comic book art and an avid reader of 2000 AD from its start. He began collecting out of admiration for the artwork and the artists behind it - many of whom are personal friends. His collecting focuses mainly on early period 2000 AD partly because it is his favourite, but also because he is concerned to save key examples of what survives before it disappears into foreign collections.

This historic early-period 2000 AD artwork is much sought after by American collectors. The reason why Brian Bolland is not represented in this exhibition, for example, is that, never a prolific artist, his work is scarcer than most and greatly prized in America where it fetches a high price - beyond the means of most British collectors.

Interestingly, in the year 2000, IPC sold ownership of 2000 AD to Rebellion, a young computer games company which counts amongst its directors, old fans of the comic. Indications are that they are bringing fans' values to bear on the title, which may also impact favourably on the collectors' market.

The National Art Library

The National Art Library collects comics as part of its mission to provide a key reference source recording the formal development and publishing history of all aspects of the visual arts.