Beyond Watchmen & Judge Dredd: The Art Of John Higgins (book review).

If you thought John Higgins was only a colourist, famed only for the ‘Watchmen’, then this book, ‘Beyond Watchmen & Judge Dredd: The Art Of John Higgins’ should remedy that. In the UK, there is less specialisation as there is in America for comicbook art and it’s only when careers get established that some speciality appears.

Higgins was involved in book art and had only done a Judge Dredd Annual’s cover colour in the comicbooks but it brought him to the attention of Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore when they were developing ‘Watchmen’. The rest is history as he adopts a secondary colour palate for the famed series.

From the start, Higgins explains that this book is less about his own background which he gives and more with explaining his knowledge he has learnt over the years. So you get a prep talk on the problems of breaking into the industry when he started compared to now at the start. You also get a few lessons in creating colours.

I should point out that Higgins does actually cover (sic) both ‘Watchmen’ and ‘Judge Dredd’ in large chapters explaining the process and technique in getting what you saw in the final pages. The trick with the ‘Watchmen’, when I first read it years ago was the colour affect the mood of the panel but it’s a subliminal trick, it was supposed to get your emotions not your intellect. If you thought about it, then you were thinking too much. Having it explained here is like a master class in not taking the colours of real reality literally. After all, if something happened outside now, short of a major disaster, the main colours wouldn’t change. In a comicbook panel, they would to enforce the impact. This applies whether you use real paint or have gone digital.

(c) John Higgins 2017

A lot the examples Higgins cites, I certainly remember, including ‘Psst! Magazine’. I forgot Higgins painted the original Dark Horse ‘The Thing From Another World’ mini-series. I still have my copies in the attic. Seeing all the covers here should make you go out and get your own copies. I’m not entirely sure if I agree with him and Tolstoy that there are only two basic plots when I’ve logged some non-repeatable 119 plots right now.

Seeing Higgins describing the problems he had with adapting to digital painting with the primitive computers at the time should show you how lucky we are today. These days, the bigger concern is how to increase the size of RAM in a laptop than its actual cost. If you’re learning digital art, then there are some lessons here, including not making too big a painting file, although I do think that depends on how many layers you create.

Razorback (c) John Higgins 2017

Higgins explains how he got his self-owned project ‘Razorjack’ off the ground and the problems of doing everything himself. A constant reminder of fulfilling deadlines on time is also essential. I hope those of you taking an interest in joining this kind of work pay heed to his philosophy of doubling the time and cost when approached for a project because it’s a lot easier to be talked down in charges than raising them. Even so, if editors know this, it must feel like a game of poker in finding a fee both sides are happy with.

The final chapter again returns to techniques. I never knew about using wrapping tape around finger joints to stop pressure pain from holding a pen before but useful if you have arthritis. Not sure if I fancy damaging my skin but it might be worth looking into some silicon rubber tubing to wrap around the pen or pencil if you have that problem.

(c) John Higgins 2017

Have I said anything about the art itself? This book is loaded with John Higgins art, clearly illustrating (sic) he draws as well as colours. It’s rather interesting looking at his early material and seeing how much he has developed over his lifetime. A lot of the series he’s worked on is still available so makes this book a suitable taster as well for what you want to pick out. If you’re after art tips then the pointers here will serve you whether you’re amateur or pro. A worthwhile experience.

GF Willmetts

April 2017

(pub: Liverpool University Press. 276 page illustrated softcover. Price: £20.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78694-027-8)

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