October 8, 2010

Interview with Doctor Who artist, Blair Shedd!

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Everyone please welcome artist Blair Shedd to the stand! He’s IDW Publishing’s go-to Doctor Who guy, and all around great indie artist!

ComicAttack: Some of our readers may not be lucky enough to be familiar with your work; could you tell us who you are, and where you’re from.

Blair Shedd: My name is Blair Shedd, and I’m a freelance illustrator. While it’s cool to say “I’m a comic book artist” – and I do say that – I do many and varied things when it comes to art, so it’s a bit more accurate to just say “illustrator.”

I was born in the Philippines but grew up Stateside (with most of my life spent in New England). I’ve had a little formal art training, at the Joe Kubert School, but while I did learn a whole lot there, it was my experience they’re more about refining the talents and skills you brought to the table.

After graduating in ’99, I formed a “studio” on the web, and called it oneGemini (for some boring somewhat pseudo-goth, somewhat emo reasons).  While I’ve had “normal jobs” since then, the whole time I was working on freelance art, with my first major gig as a art department assistant for a national-scale “event marketing” company, where I later became lead concept artist.

I eventually left there, but since have worked as cover artist for a few magazines and novels, children’s book illustrator, sketch card artist for Upper Deck Entertainment, the Rittenhouse Archives, and others, and work-for-hire-artist for many businesses and private individuals, not to mention commissioned artist creating pieces for many individual’s private collections.

I experimented with screenwriting for a couple years, getting as far as semifinals (top 100 out of 5000) in the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. This got me a few meetings in Hollywood about my super-hero-esque script, WAYWARD SON. One of the things I heard a lot at those meetings was “this seems like a comic book – is there a comic it’s based on?” There sorta was, in the sense that I based it on a comic idea I never followed through with.

So I took the idea back home, and started to write and draw the comic. I put out one self-published preview issue of the comic, and realized I missed drawing and working with comics.

Since then I’ve done pinups for a few indie and more mainstream titles, and of course, landed a gig on DOCTOR WHO for IDW Publishing.  I’m now working on illustrating a short story for a zombie anthology comic – more info should be out by New York Comic Con – and doing tons of commissions for many a Doctor Who collector.

CA: Being a long time fan of Doctor Who, how did it feel when
you found out you would be working on the character through IDW?

BS: Absolutely ecstatic.

When I heard that IDW would be publishing Doctor Who comics (this was back in 2008), I picked up the first few issues of the six-art “Agent Provocateur” storyline. I read those and thought, “I’m a huge Doctor Who fan, so maybe I should see if these guys have any upcoming projects I can be a part of.

I did up a sample (based on a script I wrote) and sent to the general IDW mailbox, but didn’t hear anything at first. In the meantime, I had posted a few pieces of fan art on my deviantArt page.  Soon one of those pieces, an image of the (then) Ten Doctors got a little attention on the web, landing a “Daily Deviation” (or featured image of the day) on deviantArt and it also popped up on a few Doctor Who fan sites.

I began working on a second four-page Doctor Who sample (as persistence and dedication is key). At the same time, my fan art caught the attention of one of the Doctor Who colorists for IDW, Charlie Kirchoff. He recommended I send in the new samples, and that he’d try to put in a good word with the editor.

I sent in the second batch of samples, and included Publisher/Editor In Chief Chris Ryallin the email (this is not a recommended step, kids). Chris did get back to me, said he liked what he saw, and gave me the contact info for Denton Tipton, the editor working directly on the Doctor Who books. I began an email dialogue with Denton, and while there was nothing he could give me at the time (late-2008), eventually something did come up, which lead to one of the few emails to make me quietly say – out loud – “woo-hoo.”

CA: I was looking at a picture on your deviantart page that
you drew when you were a little kid; it was of the all the incarnations of the
Doctor up to that point. So exactly how long have you been a fan of
Doctor Who?

BS: I became a fan of Doctor Who from the first time they showed it on TV here, on PBS, back when it was still Vermont ETV in-state.  They started in the mid-80s showing episodes from the late-70s, the first of  the Fourth Doctor’s, Tom Baker’s, run (Tom Baker being of course the longest-serving Doctor on-screen, and arguably most recognized Doctor).

I was immediately hooked by the dark, creepy atmosphere, the wide-eyed, big-toothed hero with his impossibly long scarf, and the fact that his greatest weapon was that, as one villain put it, he was “dangerously clever.” He was an alien, yeah, but at the end of the day, he was constantly saving the world with science and his brain.  I still have fan art I drew at that time.

I stuck with Doctor Who the entire time the showed it on PBS, and joined in again when Fox and the BBC tried to continue the series on network TV in 1996 (an attempt which ultimately failed).

When I heard they had again continued the series in the UK in 2005, I waited eagerly for episodes to start airing here, and they eventually did, on the Sci-Fi/SyFy channel.  Christopher Eccelston was the first Doctor in the new series, the Ninth incarnation of the Doctor, and his darkly-modern, yet classically manic take on the character proved to me this wasn’t a series that’d fail like the late-90s attempt.

Later, David Tennant’s portrayal of the Tenth Doctor would even further blow me away.

CA: The cover you did for issue #9 is my personal favorite, and I understand it sold better than the other cover. Did you think it would sell like it did?

BS: I honestly didn’t give it much thought, but since I knew the shipped one to one, I figured it’d sell about as well as the other.

Paul Grist is not only a comic veteran, but a very talented artist. I got a scan of his pencil sketch for the cover from my editor, so I could avoid doing the same composition. It was similar to what I was thinking of doing, so when I eventually sent thumbnail sketches of the cover (five or so) to my editor, I did my best to avoid my original idea. My editor chose two, but the one I ended up going with was more “me” – forced, exaggerated perspective that tries to interact with (in this case, literally reach towards) the reader.

It was only after I started getting emails and calls from friends and family all over the country saying “I looked for your cover at my local shop, but the only had the other one,” that I started to catch on something was happening with it.

Then, it seemed the majority of the preview and review sites were only running my cover, even though they’d mention “covers by Paul Grist and Blair Shedd.” One reviewer assumed Paul did the entire book, based on the cover (apparently this reviewer wasn’t much of a reader, or big on detail).

CA: You’re not just a great artist you’re a writer too, correct? What have you written to date?

BS: As far as published work, there’s my short story I did for my WAYWARD SON preview comic, and a few other shorts in indie books and anthologies that either fizzled before they got to the printer, or just were only printed in very small batches.

While it doesn’t count as “published,” my screenwriting has gone a few places, those initial meetings for the WAYWARD SON script leading to me working on rewrites of outlines, scripts, and synopsizes for various films. Most of those didn’t go very far, but my take on a fantasy film pitch for a couple of producers impressed them so much, they gave me the project when they abandoned the idea (the budget for the film would’ve been way more than they could’ve wrangled at the time).

I may turn that fantasy film into a comic or prose novel (with illustrations of course) one day as I’m really excited about my work on it.

CA: What suggestions would you have for an aspiring artist?

BS: Nothing that most haven’t heard before; draw every day. Draw more than just muscled-men in tights beating on each other. Draw normal people. Draw animals. Draw trees. Draw a boat on the ocean.

Don’t limit yourself to just comic book line work styles. Draw you grandmother in pencil, in watercolors, acrylics, whatever.

If you’re still in high school, take every art class you can – I did. I took photo classes, pottery classes, sculpting, jewelry making, print making – in addition to drawing, design, and painting classes. You never know when a skill you’ve learned might come in handy.

If you’re in college that isn’t specifically an art school, take what classes you can there.  If they don’t have what you’re looking for, or if you’re not in college, take some community college courses. See if any pro artists (of almost any discipline) are giving courses in your area.

For those already putting comic art portfolios together, ask questions of comic artists at conventions.  Also to those, a BIG mistake I see in a lot of your online portfolios, is that you have a lot of pretty pictures, but no comic book sequential pages. You’re hoping to be a comic book artist, right? That’s like trying to get into the NBA by only showing them you can dunk. They need you to run up and down the court, shoot from the outside, and work with your team as well.

Very few people break in doing only covers and pinups. I’d also venture a guess and say of those, only a tiny percentage can make a living doing just covers and pinups.

You want the work, then do the work.

CA:You graduated from the Kubert School of Cartooning; What was the first thing you worked on after graduation?

BS: The first thing comic-wise was putting together samples for an editor at DC Comics. We went back and forth for a few months, until I finally had a phone interview with him. At that time he basically said “you’re not ready,” and that was the entire conversation (he left/was booted soon after, so…).

It’d be a year or two before I’d then start working as an art department assistant for that “event marketing” company, and another year before I was lead concept illustrator.

While it was ten years from graduation until my first mainstream gig, I believe if I had actually stuck with it and not had my attention wander so much, nor settled for these other similar-field jobs, I would’ve been working professionally in comics within five years of graduation.

CA: What projects are you creating right now, or in the near future?

BS: As far as non-private-commission work, I have that ten-page story in the zombie anthology comic. I’m also working on a promotional poster for the local 24-hour Comic Day event. I’m working on a few other things that I can’t mention quite yet, as they wouldn’t be heavily in the works until next year. I’ve also got feelers out to a few companies, though I’m hoping I’ll have some more solid leads by the end of New York Comic Con.

I also came up with a  fantastic idea for a new comic series the other day.  I ran the idea by a friend who works in the film industry, and while we agreed the basic premise is nothing new (every story that can be told has been told), it’s a new take on it. I may do it up as a screenplay, but we’ll see. It’ll be a much more reality-driven comic, with no superheroes, no science fiction elements. It barely has a hero – the main character is just the protaganist.

I hope to also return to WAYWARD SON someday soon, as there’s a lot of good stuff there, and a very original “twisty” take on what I wrote before.

CA: What your dream comic be to work on; which characters would you like to take a crack at?

BS: I’d love to draw Batman, but my style has drifted away from that, and I’m afraid I’ll be labeled “too cartoony” for books of that nature.

With that said, I’d love to draw Spider-man, be it regular, Ultimate, or even the former “Adventures” version.

I’d also love to have a go at “The Mask.”

CA: Now here is the most important question when it comes to Doctor Who, Which Doctor is your Doctor?

BS: I can narrow my favorite Doctors down to two; Tom Baker (the fourth) because he was the first Doctor I saw on PBS back in the day. If it wasn’t for his performance, and the writing at the time, I might’ve found the show too odd – and when it came down to endless corridor/quarry chases – too boring.  Luckily it wasn’t.

And of course I like David Tennant (the Tenth Doctor) as well, one, because of his performance and much of the writing during his run, and two, because he was the Doctor I drew during my initial IDW run.

CA: When the zombie apocalypse comes, will you be ready?

BA: Yes, and for two reasons. My high school yearbook prediction read something like “becomes a successful artist but has to give it all up after cutting off his right hand admiring his sword collection.” Still have a small sword collection (mostly katanas) so that’ll cut a few zombie heads off.

Also I live in a state where it’s very easy (and legal) to pick up firearms.  I say bring it.

For more from IDW Publishing, click here!

Scott Andrews



  1. Billy

    Super Grover kicks arse!

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Blair Shedd, said: Interview with Doctor Who artist, Blair Shedd!: Blair Shedd: My name is Blair Shedd, and I'm a freelance illustrat… […]

  3. Klaran Warner

    Blair Iam the speech pathologist at Richmond Middle School I will accompany several of the middle school students to your talk at Howe on the 17th. We are trying to make real a script written by one of our club members, a group that started as “anime” and has become”animation” I’m hoping we can talk to you that day but if you are interested in helping us in a more immediate fashion, we have some stipend monies. We hope to make a ‘movie’ this year. we meet Tuesdays after school. We have two fine artists, a couple of actors, and one scriptwriter. We have some teacher support I know very little about making into a movie a student idea about fantasy plot–I’m hoping you can help us. thanks

  4. […] Blair Shedd’s depiction of classic Tom Baker companions Leela and K-9 on Gallifrey (borrowed from Comic Attack’s interview with Blair which you can read here): […]

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