Inspiration for children's illustrators isn't limited to children's publishing. Continuing our series on treasured bookshelf titles that have had a profound impact on illustrator members, Patrick Miller steps into the world of science-fiction to remember the seminal weekly comic 2000AD.

While looking at all of the books on my bookshelves for this article, the memories that emerged gave me a shortlist brimming full of inspiration; dozens of children’s books that inspire me, recent and vintage, and triple the number of illustrators that I’ve discovered and am dumb-struck by. But I kept coming back to a fact that meant I had to diverge a little from the remit of this article.

The title of ‘An illustrated book without which…’ goes to 2000AD, undoubtably the UK’s most influential comic. Hence the divergence — there isn’t one convenient volume, but 40 years of weekly stories and illustrated awe. And that’s part of the joy of comics (not graphic novels - comics) that sequential, episodic drip-feed.

Without comics I wouldn’t have drawn so much as a kid, and without 2000AD I’m certain that my illustration voice would not go to the same quiet emotions that it does. I certainly wouldn’t have the same goal in my illustration — to tell a rip-roaring story through the emotions of a character we love to love or loathe. So if there’s a thread that runs through my life leading me to this point today as an aspiring illustrator, 2000AD marks the casting on.

John Higgins cover for Prog 471 (1986), featuring Ike Nobel, the exploding man. Ike Nobel was this issue’s Judge Dredd story antagonist, but as so many Judge Dredd stories, the lines between tragic antagonists and the heartless protagonist made for a thought provoking illustration like this.
As a kid I don’t think I was passionate about books as escape. The books I was excited about came from the village library in Caister-on-Sea that my mum worked part-time in — and it's thanks to my bit of that library that I read all the Asterix and Tintin’s. Well, all those available to me in Caister, in the 70’s. They were all awesome and I love them deeply to this day. But I don’t, and never have, owned one.

That said, with their incredible adventures and adult locations and characters, Asterix and Tintin kept me reading them alongside weekly funnies like Whizzer and Chips and Buster, and the more sophisticated 2000AD. An anarchic mix of sci-fi and epic fantasy starring incredible characters created by great writers and jaw-dropping illustrators including Alan Moore and Jamie Hewlett.

Jesus Redondo, 1982. Nemesis The Warlock. Revolutionary, freedom-fighter, terrorist. He’s riding a griffin wielding a lance into battle against human religious zealots who want to ethnically cleanse the universe.
Simon Bisley, 1989. Page from Sláine, in Prog 630. Sláine is a fantasy character that draws on Irish and Celtic myth, especially the legendary hero Cúchulainn, whose fearsome strength, guile, courage and ability to warp his body in a ‘warp spasm’ that Sláine shares. Real myths brought to life, with astonishing accuracy and humility. But it wasn’t all fighting, as this tender page of dialogue shows. Lovely storytelling.
2000AD launched in the late 70’s, around the same time as other comics for older children were finding success in a market where girls’ comics usually outsold those for boys. Tammy had sales of 250,000 copies a week, unthinkable nowadays, compared to 2000AD’s 220,000. As a legacy of that level of popularity, many of 2000AD’s characters have survived and thrived for well over 30 years; some all 40 and continue to gain deeper relevance in the widestream.

John Higgins, 1986. Another panel from the Ike Nobel story, another in a long line of 2000AD  stories that force the reader to not just question the authority of an authority figure, but to question the authority of a system, of government. As much great sci-fi does, Judge Dredd and his home, Mega City One, have always been perfectly analogous of the flaws and wonder within our current state of mind and society.
2000AD gave me in the 80’s the confidence to talk about comics as being as valid as any other medium. For me, this might be best illustrated through The Ballad of Halo Jones, a sci-fi saga following a young 50th Century woman across the universe through crappy jobs, war, love and beyond them all.

Ian Gibson, 1986, The Ballad of Halo Jones. Halo Jones herself, in Prog 463. Always reflective and beautifully observed. Ian Gibson is the only artist of Halo Jones, as the great Alan Moore was the only writer. The ‘check your spigot’ sign is just one instance where they built Halo’s world in minute and often funny details, but to expansive effect.
It’s a true epic, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Ian Gibson from 1984 to 1986. But for legal issues, they would have carried on for another 6 years, taking Halo to old age. What an amazing character she would have become.

Ian Gibson, 1986, The Ballad of Halo Jones was always told from a woman’s perspective - and I mean woman, not girl’s. Halo in a literally pointless war where none of the soldiers - all women - know what they’re doing or why, but the trauma is real. As a teenage boy I wasn’t just learning that girls can kick ass as much as boys - 2000AD was never that dull. No one and nothing else was saying half as much.
Despite her being an incredibly strong woman, my memories of Halo are so much deeper — of sadness, confusion, regret, grief, joy, fear and courage. For me they’re visual memories — borne of how Ian Gibson inked her with such tremendous empathy. If I could just get 10% there.

Judge Dredd even, on the surface a stereotype on steroids, a literal metaphor of justice itself, impassive, unemotional, has had the benefit of 40 years of complexity developed in and around him, enabling him to have dozens of artists render him and his world in their own ways, teasing out parts of Dredd’s character and the Dredd universe in their dozens of ways. It means I can drop in to Dredd at any point, and my version of him can be as much mine as he is seminal artist Brian Bolland’s, and remain 100% Dredd.

Now, as I’m often listening to art directors, publishers and agents on the ingredients for stand-out illustration, I hear the common refrain ‘appealling characters’. My go-to reference point will always be 2000AD. From the lightest of souls to the darkest, if ever I’m stuck on seeing a character from every angle I go back to the yellowed, spongey soft newsprint downstairs and see how it’s done.

Ian Gibson, 1986, The Ballad of Halo Jones. This speaks for itself.

Do you have a book on your shelf that motivated your development as a children's illustrator? We love to showcase members' inspirations, so get in touch!! It can be memorable illustrated fiction or non-fiction, biography or any other illustrated work that led you to the path of children's books.

*Header illustration: Cam Kennedy, 1984. A classic 2000AD Judge Dredd cover for Prog (or ‘issue’ for the uninitiated) 463 published in 1986. Kennedy’s chunky, high-contrast inking style is perfect 2000AD in the pre-colour issue era.)

Patrick Miller is an illustrator living and working in London. Last year he was one of our Featured Illustrators, and stands on the SCBWI Illustration Committee working on Undiscovered Voices, Conference 2017 and the BI illustrator e-newsletters.
Represented by Andlyn
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  1. Really enjoyed reading this, Patrick. I think there's a lot of crossover between comics and children's illustrated books, and we should be open to taking inspiration from anywhere.

  2. Wonderful stuff, good call Patrick.


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