Stewart McKenny’s drawing on experience
Mark Gamtcheff spoke to Stewart McKenny, one of Australia’s most prolifically published comic book artists, about his work and his visit to Oz Comic-Con in Adelaide.
Stewart currently pencils DC Super Friends – an all ages comic that introduces Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash and Aquaman to a new generation. His other credits include contributions to Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures, Marvel’s Captain America and Star Wars Tales for Dark Horse.
Mark Gamtcheff: Thanks for coming to Adelaide for Oz Comic-Con! Have you visited Adelaide before?
Stewart McKenny: Thanks for having me! Really excited to be here! Yes. I have been to Adelaide once before – last year for a convention! I’m very lucky to know a few members of the Adelaide 501st and the Adelaide Costumers’ Guild – all really lovely people who take great care of me while I’m down here! So I’m really happy to be back!
Mark Gamtcheff: A lot of your work, what I’ve seen anyway, is pretty light-hearted and humorous in style. Is that a reflection of your own character?
Stewart McKenny: Actually, I’m a fairly serious person on the surface, but my humour is very juvenile! I don’t think I’ve ever really grown up in that regard – I was always the kid at school who scribbled cartoons all over my assignments and other classmate’s books when they weren’t looking! I was just lucky to have teachers that tolerated it – or I didn’t get caught!
Mark Gamtcheff: You seem very versatile. You can adjust your illustration style to suit the established ‘look’ of a series (like Clone Wars for instance). How do you keep ‘on style’ when you’re working?
Stewart McKenny: Yeah, it’s funny actually – I don’t know if I really have a particular style since I’ve done so many different styles of the years from really cartoony to realistic! But it’s really important for me to be flexible because the fans of those series, be it ‘Clone Wars’ or ‘Batman: The Brave and the Bold’ expect a certain look and my job, as an artist, is to deliver that!
In terms of maintaining a style – my strategy has always been to spend at least a week or two before I begin any new project immersing myself in that particular ‘universe’ – I really like to do research like that. Watching ‘Batman: The Brave and the Bold’ episodes, doing sketches, turnarounds, and that sort of thing! It’s a lot of fun actually!
Mark Gamtcheff: Tell me a bit more about your graphic design. What sort of work do you do? Does it allow for much real creativity. Or do you get that mainly from your comics work?
Stewart McKenny: Yeah, my professional background is actually in graphic design – that’s what I’ve done for most of my working life, and I still work a couple of days at the Courier Mail up in Brisbane. I wouldn’t say it’s as creative as doing comic books but it’s still a lot of fun, and does keep me grounded. i.e. it always reminds me that I have to keep clients happy (which, in the comic world, is the reader and my editors) and to always meet tight deadlines!
Mark Gamtcheff: Who are the classic comic artists, and the ones working today, who inspire you?
Stewart McKenny: Oh, too many to mention! I’ve always had a soft spot for Marc Silvestri since he drew the first comic I ever bought – ‘Uncanny X-Men’ #249 I believe! But, other than that I like what I call the more ‘stylistic’ artists like Adam Hughes, Chris Bachelo, Joe Madureira, Mike Mignola – guys like that!
Mark Gamtcheff: When working on DC Super Friends you have to tie in with a Mattel toy line and the DC Universe, but you seem to get to have some fun with it too. Sounds like a great arrangement!
Stewart McKenny: I was really lucky with that DC Super Friends to have a very understanding editor and tolerant writer to work with! Very early on in that series I decided to play up a bit and put all sorts of naughty stuff in the backgrounds – like Leprechauns spewing everywhere or villains disco dancing! Sometimes I would get away with it, and sometimes the editor would say, ‘Oi! Take that out!’ But, generally speaking, the editor was very accepting, and the writer started tailoring scripts for me to put all that fun stuff in! So we all had a lot of fun with it – and all the kids, parents and the people doing reviews seemed to like it!
Mark Gamtcheff: What about your own characters and storylines. Do you have anything you’re working on? Is that something you have planned for the future? A secret project maybe?
Stewart McKenny: Well, I’ve just signed on for a new project but I can’t say too much about it since it hasn’t been solicited yet. But it will be a kid-friendly title and it’s going to be super cute!
In terms of working on my own characters – well, that’s a really hard one. I do have my own storylines/ideas I’d love to see come to life, but, for the time being, I’ve been having too much fun playing with characters I’m a huge, huge fan of myself – like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, General Grevious, Boba Fett, Green Lantern, Flash etc. So we’ll see what the future holds.
Stewart McKenny: Well, I try to attend at least one US convention a year, be it the San Diego Comic Con, or the New York Comic Con, but I go more to touch base with editors and other artists and writers, rather than have a table or booth! It’s a lot of fun though – the American conventions are just so huge – I believe San Diego Comic Con gets like 100,000 people through the door every day! It’s amazing!
No real funny stories to tell unfortunately – I just love the spectacle of them with all the amazing people in costume and all the toys! Oh, did I mention I have a really bad toy habit, and these conventions are FULL OF TOYS! Rows and rows of toys! So it’s really hard for me to focus and try and do work there!
Mark Gamtcheff: Will people be able to buy your artwork at Oz Comic-Con?
Stewart McKenny: Absolutely! I’ll have comic books, prints, original artwork and stuff like that! I’m lucky enough to have a lot of cool people who e-mail and facebook me with what they want me to draw – so I’ll have a few new pieces based on those recommendations this weekend!
Mark Gamtcheff: What else are you getting up to in Adelaide?
Stewart McKenny: Unfortunately it’s a really quick trip – I fly back out first thing Monday morning to get back to work. Which is a real shame as I’d love to see more of the city – maybe even drag my partner Wendy to a few local comic book stores too! Hopefully next time I visit I can spend a bit more time – do you have any suggestions of what might be cool?
Mark Gamtcheff: Well, if you’re into wine, we have lots of great wine regions on our doorstep. Then there’s Kangaroo Island which is a great place to visit, with great coastlines, bushwalking in the National Parks, sea lions, lots of wildlife. You could spend two or three days there.
Stewart McKenny: That sounds great! So. will you be coming to Oz Comic-Con this weekend?
Mark Gamtcheff: Definitely!
Stewart McKenny: See you there!
Come along to Oz Comic-Con in Adelaide and meet Stewart McKenny and the other special guests. Check the schedules to see when he and other guest are appearing.
Adelaide’s first installment of Australia’s top fan event is this weekend, Saturday 31 March and Sunday 1 April at the Goyder Pavillion, Wayville Showgrounds… a feast of pop-culture in the spirit of other Comic-Con events around the world.
Tickets are available for purchase on the door, and
adult tickets come with free entry for one child under 12.
Also see our other posts about Oz-Comic-Con in Adelaide:
Great guests for Oz Comic-Con in Adelaide
Gigi Edgley says “Adelaide, watch out!” Oz Comic-Con’s coming