John Cooper Interview

Recently I came across a superb fanzine called 'Comic Bits', published by the Black Tower Comics Group. It focuses on the work of the UK's much neglected gold and silver age comic creators.

Issue #2 (3.50 inc. p&p) contained an interview with 'Johnny Red' artist , John Cooper, who took over the penciling chores from Joe Colquhoun at the start of 1979 after two years of the strips run in 'Battle'.The interview was conducted by Fanzine editor Terry Hooper, and only the parts relevant to 'JR' are set out below. If you are interested in seeing the full interview, I strongly recommend you buy a copy of the mag - it has plenty of fascinating interviews.

TERRY - Terry Hooper
JOHN - John Cooper

TERRY : There is one -no I tell a lie - two classic John Cooper strips that stick in my mind. The first one has got to be "JOHNNY RED" in 'BATTLE' - and the other one, "ONE-EYED JACK" from 'VALIANT' and 'BATTLE' and later 'EAGLE'. The first got lots of us drawing aircraft and Russian troops and their gear. Before that kids had thought only the British had fought the Germans! In "JOHNNY RED" we weren't seeing Russians as would-be democracy-smashing "commies" (as per the many hundreds of U.S. comics) but as human beings caught up in war. Which of the two is your favourite and were there any problems in drawing either?

JOHN : I loved drawing "JOHNNY RED" ! I could easily let myself go. "ONE EYED JACK" was written by John Wagner - a brilliant writer! I based Jack on Clint Eastwood, one of my favourite actors. I didn't have a problem drawing either one.

TERRY : Oddly enough, along with other artists I'd meet up with, l always thought that Jack was Clint ! It was all there on the page, I guess (though I don't recall Jack singing "I Talk To The Trees"! ).
Now then back in an issue of 2000AD (I can't remember the issue number!) it was decided that "JUDGE DREDD" should temporarily lose his helmet and you used various ingenius ways to keep his face covered. That wasn't your first first "DREDD" was it ?

JOHN : I actually drew the first "JUDGE DREDD" but it was not published until later on because it was thought too violent so I "tamed it down". I went on to draw about twenty "DREDD" stories.

TERRY : Twenty ?! It's been so long since I looked at the early 2000AD's, that 'd quite forgotten (though brother Mike remembered that there were "quite a few Cooper "JUDGE DREDDS" "). I know a couple got very badly coloured and reproduced in the Quality Comics reprints in the late 1980's.
For any "John Cooper Completists" out there, what strips have you worked on ?

JOHN : Ah ."THUNDERBIRDS", "JOE 90", "CAPTAIN SCARLET", " LADY PENELOPE" and "DOCTOR AT SEA", "WURZEL GUMMIDGE", "GRANGE HILL", "DREDGER", "THE GENERAL DIES AT DAWN", "GOALMOUTH" for ROY OF THE ROVERS ; various football strips for D.C. Thompson, "STRIKER" for the SUN (newspaper) and currently "ROY OF THE?" for "PRIVATE EYE" magazine.

TERRY : 0ut of all those which would be your favourite to work on and which your worst ? the worst?

JOHN: "JOHNNY RED" and "JUDGE DREDD"were the most enjoyable. The worst was "DOCTOR AT SEA" and "DIXY OF DOLLYCABS", the latter for MIRABELLE.

TERRY : Artists rarely used to have contact with writers in British comics who tended to be kept quite anonymous, but did you ever meet Tom Tully who wrote "JOHNNY RED" (and many more great comic greats ) ? To what extent did you have contact with people within the industry ?

JOHN : I met Tom Tully quite a few times and John Wagner, but in general I didn't get to meet many writers - we were spread all over the country.

TERRY : What type of gear do you draw with John ?

JOHN : I used to draw with a brush only but later used a Pilot Pen and brush. My pencils were quite rough.

TERRY : Is there anything I've not touched upon that you would like to mention here - any words for the fans ?

JOHN : Yes. I would like to thank all the fans who wrote to the comics I worked on and to myself. It was very encouraging and thank you for your interest.

TERRY : Many thanks John, and if anyone wants to see any more of John's incredible paintings they should look here.

Terry then added these comments on John's work - sentiments that I can only echo....


There can be little doubt that when it comes to action strips in British comics there are few who can match John Cooper! The strip "JOHNNY RED" is, of course, legendary and even the old Swindon based music group 'XTC' referred to the character in the song "SERGEANT ROCK [IS GONNA HELP ME]" in the 1980's. However, show the strip to anyone and ten times out of ten they will choose the one's drawn by Cooper rather than some of those drawn by others trying to copy his style. "ONE EYED JACK" I heard people talking about at comic marts - he was the "DIRTY HARRY" of British comics. No nonsense. No compromise. All action !

So what makes Cooper's artwork so popular and keeps it in your mind? Firstly, it has to be the way the characters are drawn - they seriously do look like they've been through combat or hell ! If you add to this the detail of the war machines/spacecraft and other paraphenalia of Cooper action strips you hit the nail on the head. The war scenes are gritty and not glamorous - but they are so full of detail that you have to sit back and appreciate them over and over. John Cooper strips do not age or follow trends : they are good, solid workmanship.

Cooper is symbolic of the last great years of British comics. Showing the strips to youngsters today you get the same reactions, "cool", "brilliant" and so on. But was there ever a Titan "JOHNNY RED" graphic novel ? No. As a writer I'd love to work with the man but until British publishers get their acts together... Anyway, it's a pity there isn't a JOHN COOPER Fan Club out there!

It is impossible to believe that John Cooper has been dumped on the comic scrap heap.

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