Tom Barton’s work has graced the pages of two Oneshi Press anthologies, first in #03 as the artist behind the post-apocalyptic beauty and devastation of “Scripture,” written by Brendan Rowe. Then, he created the awesome cover of #04 (featured above), and was featured in an artist spotlight within that anthology’s pages. Clearly, he’s one of our favorites. We spoke with him about his past, his present, his preferences, and his postulations.
Tell us a bit about yourself, Tom! What’s your background, and how did you end up creating work for Oneshi Press?
Like most artists in this line of work, I’ve always been very arty. It’s only really in the last 5 years that I feel like I’ve truly been able to express myself as up until university, a lot of the education I was doing had nothing to do with my future career plans. I would do fine art classes at secondary school (high school) and try to do comic stuff for my projects (painting super heroes with oil paints, for example, which was a bit strange).
When I applied to university I didn’t get accepted onto the course I was aiming for and was offered a place on an art foundation course for 1 year. I was annoyed for a while because the year I eventually got onto a 3 year course, the tuition fees tripled. But the foundation course really helped transition from secondary school teaching as I made my first comic that I named “Bloodshot.” It was pretty bad, but it was about a guy who got addicted to injecting himself with adrenaline and then beating people up.
When I finally got onto my 3-year Illustration course I continued trying to make comics, and each year they got longer until I created a story with a friend of mine [that] we called “Stubble,” which took the zombie apocalypse scenario and replaced the zombies with massive hulking beasts that were sort of like cavemen. After I graduated, I wondered aimlessly for about 2 years, doing freelance work wherever I could, and eventually one of my old course mates put me in contact with the writer [whom] I did “Scripture” with in OPQA#3.
Who are your comics heroes? Who inspires you?
I don’t know as many comic artist names as I should, but over the years I’ve definitely been drawn to a few in particular because the [of] way they make me feel when I look at their work. Those guys are Joe Madureira, Chris Bachalo, Jim Cheung and Humberto Ramos. If you look at those guys and compare them to the average comic book on the shelves, they stand out (in a bad way for some people) but I’ve always admired how different they are, from a skillful point of view.
I spent ages researching them and reading their books and get to the root of what it was they were focusing on in terms of style. Joe Mad’s stuff, for example, is just so expressive and dynamic. He makes big guys look huge and small guys look tiny and dexterous. Bachalo, on the other hand, has this crazy ability to draw something [or] someone completely cartoonishly and yet make them look lifelike. I also just love how much solid black he uses.
But yeah, those guys are my inspiration, although I’m constantly looking at other artists and trying to add to that list. Iban Coello (Venomverse) for example made it onto the list quite recently as well as Nick Bradshaw.
What are you currently reading, listening to and watching?
Right now I’m trying to read “Steampunk: Manimatron” which is one of Chris Bachalo’s pet projects. I got it for Christmas and was super looking forward to seeing him let loose but so far it’s been a pretty slow read and although it’s pretty, the story hasn’t really gripped me. Last month I read the “Rumble” series volumes 1-3, which I got through in about 4 days. THAT is a great series and I highly recommend it. A warrior god trapped in the body of a scarecrow, wielding swords and fighting monsters in the modern day…enough said.
Next up is “Luther Strode” and the only reason I haven’t got stuck into that one yet is that I’m saving it as I have some travelling coming up and am going to have a lot of time to kill. This makes me look like I read a lot but I really don’t, I watch loads of tv/films and recently went on an anime binge and watched all of the “Death Note” series.
Who’s your favorite comic book hero/heroine? Villain? Morally ambiguous anti-hero?
I’m not sure I could pick a favourite super hero, I’ve always found it really difficult to put someone on that pedestal because I usually go see a MCU film and suddenly get obsessed with whoever was in it. But to name a few, Hulk, Wolverine and Colossus. I feel like Wolverine is my spirit animal sometimes; some of kids in the years below me at secondary school actually called me that. Venom is my favourite anti-hero, I think. Seeing him evolve over the last few years has been really interesting. I’m a big fan of Agent Venom and, although I think he looks cool in “Space Knight Venom,” I haven’t checked that out. They’re all fairly beefy/visceral guys which probably explains a lot of what I draw.
What other work have you done, aside from “Scripture” and the cover of Anthology #04? Where can readers find it?
Well as I mentioned, I did a personal project called “Stubble.” Unfortunately I never actually did anything with that. I loved it and put my heart and soul into it but now I just have about 50 copies of it sitting under my bed gathering dust. If you want one, get in touch! I’d love to pitch it to Image Comics one day and do it right; I think it needs a bit of re-imagining and consolidating to make it more cohesive and give it new life, but it’s definitely different. Unfortunately it’s not online (something I should probably look into), but you can see a trailer for it that I did as part of my course here.
What are some other projects you’re working on now?
Right now I’m working for Riot Games on a web comic series that revolves around one of “League of Legends” champions, Olaf. It’s not out yet but I’m hoping the wait won’t be too much longer because I’m working on the second season now and I’m itching for people to see it. But when it’s out, you’ll be able to see it on the League of Legends community section of their site. The way I got this gig was actually pretty interesting and it might be of interest to anyone who is currently frustrated or on the verge of giving up on a career in comics.
Basically, for a while I decided I wanted to get into character design and work at a games company, be employed, security, all the good stuff. I applied to Riot Games in Hong Kong and spent 6 months doing concept art for them on the champion called Dr. Mundo (basically a purple Hulk). It began to get a bit ridiculous as I wasn’t getting paid and eventually they told me I didn’t get the job, which wasn’t really what I’d wanted to hear.
So once it was okay, I started posting the work I’d done in those 6 months onto my instagram and tumblr pages until one day I got an email from a Riot Games employee in California. He hadn’t heard of me from the guys in Hong Kong, he’d just seen one of my posts and got in touch. It was so bizarre and came out of nowhere, but it really taught me the importance of soldiering on. If you keep going and doing what you do best, other’s will notice and then it’s only a matter of time.
How do you make your work immersive and progressive (the Oneshi Press themes)?
When it came to making “Scripture,” the theme and everything was all credit to Brendan’s writing. He came up with something that was short and different. I couldn’t really compare it to anything I’d seen previously, which was what caught my eye. I think that’s what you have to aim for in comics more so now than ever before. Whenever I’m trying to come up with something I try and compare it to stuff and see how it fares. I don’t want to step on anyone else’s toes and although I’m sure I do all the time, it’s important to try. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Break things down to their most basic components and work out in as few words as possible what it is you’re trying to say, and then build on it. I don’t get to flex those muscles on my current project as much, as it’s mainly “fight porn,” pitting one well-known guy against another so fans can get excited by the worlds colliding. But take Marvel, for example: X-Men was invented as a way of telling a story about racism without using races, so they created the mutants. Spider-Man was about a nerdy teenager, etc. Relatability is key.
What does the world need that comics, or art more generally, can provide?
That’s a tough one, and I don’t think I really have an answer. I’m not sure that comics will ever be as popular as they were back in the golden age, technology changing and new generations being more and more accustomed to looking at screens isn’t going to go away. For a while, there seemed to be a motion comic trend where comics were ever-so-slightly animated to make them more immersive and digital-friendly, but most people I know who love comics like to hold and own the books.
I think the best that comics can do is to just stay relevant. I mean, there’s probably some great stories you could could make that loosely relate to Brexit here in the UK, or Trump’s election, without mentioning either. They’re deeply divisive issues and it gets people thinking. Giving more power to creators is definitely a step in the right direction, and we’re seeing that with publishers such as Image Comics. In the long run I think that can only be a good thing, but attracting wider audiences will always be easiest when making the transition to film, which the MCU is proving. I bet there’s a tonne of people who have bought their first comics as a result of those films. As I said, it’s a tough one.
Who are you dying to collaborate with?
Aha, probably Joe Mad, but if he’s doing the art then what would be the point of me being there! I don’t know the names of that many writers, really, but I’ve always thought Mark Millar would be cool to work with, though I don’t think my art style would suit his story telling, necessarily.
Where can our readers find you online?
I’m on Facebook, iInstagram and tumblr, mainly with instagram probably being my base. I will post pretty much everything I do on instagram, as it’s so quick and easy to do. But for bigger things, like the reveal of projects I’ve kept quiet about, I’ll usually go more in-depth on the likes of Facebook and tumblr. I do have a website, but I haven’t updated it in years, so it’s probably something I need to get back to at some point.
While you’re here, grab a copy of Oneshi Press Anthology #03—featuring “Scripture” by Brendan Rowe and Tom Barton—or a copy of Oneshi Press Anthology #04, featuring Tom Barton’s gorgeous cover art and artist spotlight!