KEITH PAGE: The Graphic Bryant and May & Others

Written by Ayo Onatade

Keith Page is a UK comic artist and has been a full-time artist for over twenty-years. His distinctive artwork can be seen in Commando, working on features, covers, and picture stories – including the famous Ramsey's Raiders series.

The Casebook of Bryant & May is a unique cross between a 1950’s/60’s Annual and a graphic novel, and came about by a combination of happy coincidences.  I chanced upon the first novel of the series, Full Dark House quite by accident when I noticed the striking cover design and was immediately intrigued.  I instantly loved the characters, the London settings, and the humour.  Reading some more in the series, I discovered that the author Christopher Fowler was also a considerable comics enthusiast.  I had an idea that the stories could be successfully translated into the graphic novel format, but I also knew that it was extremely difficult to interest publishers in this country, in such a different project.  Nevertheless, I drew some character portraits and emailed them off to Chris.  He liked the sketches certainly, but it was a couple of years before the time was right to devise a Bryant and May comic.  This was quite a tricky job, helped by the fact that we both knew London well, seemed to have read all the same books and grew up in London a few miles apart at more or less the same time. 

The London of this book is not quite the real present-day one.  Although every street scene is real (I have the photos to prove it), some details hawk back to the 1950’s.  London buses are still pre-Routemaster RT”s, policemen still wear tunics and old men in long raincoats still walk the streets of Soho.  Also, some of the subsidiary characters look rather like Ealing Comedy stars.  A graphic novel can be the next best thing to a making a film (without the expense).  I have also worked with other authors on adapting crime fiction.  We know “Claude Izner”, the two Parisian bouquiniste sisters who write the series of novels set in the late 1800’s, featuring their Anglo-French hero Victor Legris.  They’re full of period details.  I’ve also come up with some preliminary drawings for Jean-François Parot’s Chatelet Apprentice which is a series set in pre-revolutionary Paris, and there are a few pages of Henning Mankell’s first Inspector Wallander’s first adventure The Faceless Killers.

Unfortunately none of these have reached print yet.  Getting some things published is a long and arduous process.  All these authors, however, have been keen to see their written word transformed into pictures.  Most comic artists seem inspired by American comics, with their production-line system of penciller, inker, colourist etc.  I don’t like this approach at all, preferring to produce the whole thing myself.  (I’ve had good pieces of artwork spoiled by badly -placed lettering, for example).  Continental artists influence much of my work.  One of my favourites is Jacques Tardi who has adapted several of the Nestor Burma novels of Leo Malet.  These are set in the 1950’s and minutely detailed with correct period content.  I was probably attracted to this series because I’ve always liked Simenon’s Maigret novels.  Tardi’s work probably convinced me that Bryant and May could work.

Apart from my normal everyday work (Commando Comics), I’ve worked on a number of projects with the talented Dublin writer Stephen Walsh.  Another comics enthusiast, he is also a screenwriter and thus has a superb visual imagination.  We’ve had a couple of books published; The Iron Moon, a ‘steampunk’ fantasy, and London Calling set in 1950’s London (surprise!).  These two have different publishers but feature the same character: Charlotte Corday, a French secret agent who seems able to appear in any setting.  There is a sequel coming out in a month or so entitled Squadron of the Screaming Damned, and a follow up to this, which I’ve just completed, called Buz-bomb Follies of 1569.  Yes, this does have an explanation, but you have to read the story.  Coming out later this year we have something I’m particularly pleased with, called Paint it Black, for a number of reasons.  It’s the story of Paraffin Jack MacNab of the Scotland Yard Vampire Squad, also known as “V-Cars”.  Set in a 1950’s Soho (again!), which I’ve researched quite thoroughly it has a very different tone to Stephen’s other stories, and includes characters like Tony Hancock, Francis Bacon, and Thomas De Quincey.  We’re also working on a trilogy based on the legendary ancient Irish warrior Chuchulainn, and there’s a story, which is a mixture of Dickens and Alice in Wonderland, too.  Oh, and Belwether and Mahaffy, a detective story set in wartime Dublin.  All this sounds a bit mad, and probably is.  But comics have always been a funny way to earn a living. 

Stop Press: Chris and I are just starting to think about a sequel to the Casebook of Bryant & May.  The characters will stay as they are, but the story will be much darker.  A full 80 pages of Fowler - style creepiness.  Can’t wait to get started!

Scroll down to see a collection of fantastic illustrations provided by Keith.








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