Carl Critchlow is a British artist who has spent the past few decades carving a barbaric path through the fantasy and science-fiction genre. Over the years, his unique style has helped shape numerous fantastical worlds; from Judge Dredd to Magic: The Gathering, but his most enduring creation has always been the hulking neanderthal Thrud The Barbarian. Recently, Titan Comics released the first volume of Thrud The Barbarian‘s adventures, collected for the first time.
Mr. Critchlow generously took some time to sit down and answer some questions for us about not only Thrud The Barbarian, but his career, his influences, and the things he’s a fan of.
Project Fandom: I’d like to start all the way back in art college; that’s when an assignment from Bryan Talbot resulted in the creation of Thrud The Barbarian. I’m sure you studied art history, and what I would really like to know is: Was your artistic style influenced by any classic artists, namely those of the Italian Renaissance or the Dutch Golden Age? Or would you say your influences were largely relative contemporaries like Frank Frazetta, Mark Schultz, Val Semeiks, and/or others?
Carl Critchlow: Frazetta was a huge influence when I was at college, as well as people like Jeff Jones and Berni Wrightson – there was a lot of that sort of stuff around then. I only got interested in comics via Bryan’s influence and didn’t know much about mainstream comic artists at the time.
PF: When I read the dialogue in Thrud The Barbarian, and particularly how you play it against your art, I can’t help but be reminded of Monty Python.Was/is Monty Python an influence in your writing and comedic sensibilities? Who would you say influences your writing?
CC: I’m flattered by your comparison! I suppose I did enjoy the Python films at the time I created Thrud and when the original strip was running in White Dwarf, especially Terry Gilliam’s individual work – I think ‘Jabberwocky‘ and ‘The Time Bandits‘ were particular favourites. As for the comics, writing is something I do too little of to have particular influences – I just flail around until I find something potentially funny. Much as I love fantasy and Conan in particular, the ridiculous never seems too far away!
PF: When Thrud the Barbarian ended its White Dwarf run in 1988, did you resign yourself, then, to the idea that you may never work with the character again? Or did you always have a feeling you would eventually have a chance to return to the character?
CC: The character was always popular, but the monthly single page format was becoming a limiting factor towards the end of its run. I did think there might be room to expand on things if the opportunity ever arose and hoped I might get the chance to do so.
PF: In the past decade, since you first self-published the return of Thrud The Barbarian, have you found that the title has grown in popularity? I ask because, with the popularity of television shows like Adventure Time or The Venture Brothers (and many others), there seems to be a surge in the popularity of surreal or absurdist humor, so I imagine Thrud The Barbarian should be meeting its most receptive audience, right now.
CC: To be honest that’s a difficult one to answer, back in the 1980s I think White Dwarf had a circulation of something like 20,000 a month and Thrud won the reader’s poll for most popular feature three times in a row. Nowadays, although fantasy and science fiction are more popular generally, the downside of this (especially when self publishing) is getting noticed when there’s so much other stuff about. Thrud has a potential advantage in that some readers might recognise the name from the old White Dwarf strips but that really only applies in the UK, it will be very interesting to see what difference the backing of a mainstream publisher like Titan can do to spread the word!
PF: Along the same lines of the previous question, has there ever been any interest (from yourself or from others toward you) in trying to bring Thrud The Barbarian to television or film? Maybe a video game? I lean toward animation because a) I’m a fan of animation and b) I think a lot of the charm of the title comes from your artistic style, and it would be very difficult to translate that to a live-action film.
CC: I’d love to see an animated Thrud in one form or another, and it’s definitely something I’d like to get involved with if the opportunity arose. There have been a few tentative enquiries over the years but nothing that’s ever amounted to anything, but if the new collection reaches a wider audience who knows?
PF: Beyond Thrud the Barbarian, you’ve also done a lot of work with 2000AD, namely for Judge Dredd. Your art for the Dredd/Batman crossover The Ultimate Riddle is great; your comic violence mixed with the gritty street realism of Batman reminded me of Dick Tracy, for some reason, but I digress. 2000AD (and its publishers IPC/Fleetway/Rebellion) is very receptive to fantasy and surreal titles (I’m not sure somewhere like DC or Marvel would have even given a title like Lobster Random a chance). You’ve done work for several publishers/titles (DC and 2000AD, for example); have you found that your art is more fitted for particular publishers (or self-publishing)? Not that you prefer one over the other, but just in terms of how comfortable you’re able to do your work.
CC: At the moment I think my work is more suited to 2000AD or self-publishing, not because of the subject matter but because of the deadlines involved. I feel more comfortable (and seem to get better results) doing everything myself, which means I’m not really quick enough for a regular US monthly. It’s unlikely to happen, but I think my ideal match would be working in the European system of one 48 page album a year – that sounds more like my pace rather than 22 pages a month!
PF: Who are some current comic artists whose work you enjoy? Are there any comic titles you read on a regular basis?
CC: I’m afraid it’s a while since I went in a comic shop I’m ashamed to say, so I don’t have any regular reads at the moment, but some of my top all time artists include Mike McMahon, Mike Mignola, Duncan Fegredo, Moebius, Jamie Hewlett, Masamune Shirow and Sergio Toppi. I recently picked up a copy of ‘Blacksad – A Silent Hell‘ with incredible artwork by Juanjo Guarnido which is a current favourite.
PF: Ever since 1983, when Thrud The Barbarian was first published in White Dwarf, a gaming magazine, and through your work with titles such as Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, and World of Warcraft; you’ve been involved, in some way, in several major gaming universes. What I would like to know is: Are you a gamer?
CC: Again, I have to confess I’m not – my day job means I spend little enough time in the real world as it is, so I’ve always tried to avoid mixing business with pleasure – I have to get some fresh air and light sometimes 😉
PF: At Project Fandom, we are all about fans and being fans; outside of comics and gaming, of what else are you a fan? Television shows (Game of Thrones?), movies, etc.
CC: I don’t really get much time to watch TV at the moment to be honest, and I don’t have Sky so haven’t been able to catch Game of Thrones, but I enjoyed other HBO shows that appeared on terrestrial TV such as The Sopranos, The Wire and as a Seinfeld fan, Curb Your Enthusiasm. I don’t get to see too many films either at the moment, but I enjoyed Dredd (which was the last film I saw at the cinema) – and I do like an Akira Kurosawa Samurai film.
PF: Thank you for giving us some time, Mr. Critchlow. I’d just like to finish by asking: What are you currently working on?
CC: No problem, I’m actually working on a couple of private commissions at the moment, but I’m due to start on a 2000AD related project next month which I’m quite excited about – it’s very early days, so I don’t want to say too much more than that just yet.
You can see more artwork by Carl Critchlow at carlcritchlow.com. The first volume of Thrud the Barbarian is available now, and I can’t wait to find out what Mr. Critchlow is working on with 2000AD; whatever it is, it’s sure to be distinctly Critchlow.