Arthur Ranson (2004)
|Born||Arthur James Ranson
|Various for Look-in,
Anderson: Psi Division
Arthur James Ranson (born 1939) is an English comic book illustrator, known for his work on Look-in, Anderson: Psi Division, Button Man and Mazeworld. His work on Cassandra Anderson has been called "photo-realistic".
Born in 1939, Ranson's childhood and formative years included access to the influences of art and artists in a mixture of British and American comics, including "[The] Beano, Knockout, [The] Dandy, Film Fun, Wizard, Hotspur..., The Eagle with Frank Hampson setting new standards. Wayne Boring's Superman, C.C. Beck's Captain Marvel," and others (including, "[l]ater, John Buscema's Silver Surfer and his Conan, Jack Kirby's Thor"). He says that Hampson in particular was an early influence, but that
Finding Al Williamson's work changed my approach because he did not do comic book drawings but just drew well using his own natural line. He replaced Frank Hampson for me as a spur when I started drawing.
Ranson attended the South West Essex Technical College and School of Art in Walthamstow, Essex, where he studied painting and printmaking. Trained initially as an "apprentice stamp and banknote designer" in the 1960s, learning "to translate photographs into watercolour... [i]n stamp size." A "rare ability at the time," he would later use this skill as a "selling point" when pursuing a career "as an illustrator in advertising and publishing."
After a period of time as a "[l]ettering artist for a cardboard box manufacturer", followed by teaching work, he says he "[r]an away to London." After some time in menial jobs, Ranson gained experience as a "[g]eneral patcher-up and filler-in at [a] commercial art studio," where he was encouraged to become a freelance artist by, he recalls
[a] visiting commercial artist who said if I went freelance with him he could give me lots of work. I did, he didn't. Then I really became freelance.
Ranson has a son, Jonas, who is also an artist, and daughter, Cassandra.
Ranson first brought the precise techniques he had evolved through his apprenticeship to the UK TV comic Look-in, working first on portrait covers, and later alongside other major comics artists such as John M. Burns, Martin Asbury, Harry North, Colin Wyatt, John Bolton, Jim Baikie, Phil Gascoine, Barry Mitchell, and Bill Titcombe.
After some time drawing "funnies", Ranson drew on his skill in translating pictures across mediums (generally using a Grant Projector, which "projects an image up onto a glass plate, on which one places tracing paper"), and brought his talents to bear for Look-in by creating strips based on such popular TV series as Sapphire and Steel and Danger Mouse, all written by Angus Allan. Since these works were based on specific TV shows, he says that "it seemed important that the characters looked as much like the actors as possible", and thus "used the methods I knew" to achieve the accurate likenesses that typify his work.
Ranson also produced a series of comic-strip biographies of well-known music stars and bands, including ABBA (1977), Elvis Presley (1981), The Beatles (1981-2), Haircut One Hundred (1983) and The Sex Pistols (1983). Most biographical articles on Ranson date his Beatles work to "the 1960s," but Ranson himself dispels this myth by stating that the "first auto-biographical [sic] strip I did was ABBA." In fact that work was done in 1981.
Ranson recalls that Look-in editor Colin Shelbourne was convinced to allow Allan and Ranson to "retain... the copyright" to their Elvis and Beatles strips, which had the unfortunate side-effect of delaying complete publication, since such deals were largely unheard of. Ranson says:
When he realised, I believe the marketing director was not happy about that and scrapped the plans to bring it out complete. Publishers Ehapa of Stuttgart did in 1995, and Like of Helsinki in 1996.
Ranson describes Shelbourne as "an adventurous editor," who went the extra mile and even allowed the writer and artist to "go to Liverpool for research" for the Beatles strip.
Sapphire & Steel
Ranson's best-known work for Look-in consisted largely of adaptations of two strips based upon totally different British television programmes. The first of these was a strip based on P. J. Hammond's Sapphire & Steel, which Ranson was "the first and only one to draw" between 1979 and 1981. Scripted by Angus Allan (almost Look-ins sole writer, according to Ranson), Ranson barely recalls drawing the strip, but does remember that
[i]t was in a Sapphire & Steel script that for the first time I drew a frame that spread right across the page. I had never seen it done before and there were doubts expressed about it by [editor] Colin [Shelbourne]."
Ranson was denied the chance to meet Sapphire & Steel star Joanna Lumley by being absent when she visited the offices. He recalls that, unfortunately, while "[s]he was kind enough to offer to meet me and pose for more photo-reference," "[s]omeone told her that no, that would not be necessary. Stupid sods."
Ranson's other famous strip for Look-in was Danger Mouse, an unlikely children's cartoon hero based - loosely - on the Patrick McGoohan TV series Danger Man, created in cartoon mouse form by Cosgrove Hall and voiced on TV by David Jason. Ranson says that he "did enjoy it at the time," and was awarded not only the "Good Grief Oh Crikey" Award from Cosgrove Hall ("The award is a painted model of Dangermouse in heroic pose with a nervous Penfold peering from behind him"), but also received an award from the Society of Strip Illustration for his work on the strip.
Between 1977 and 1990, Ranson also produced strips based on such TV properties as Worzel Gummidge, Michael Bentine's Potty Time, Duckula (another Cosgrove Hall character whose comics adventures began in Look-in, but also spun off into its own title), The Bionic Woman and The A-Team, and others. He also produced comic strips based on the TV adaptations of Richmal Crompton's "Just William" novels, Buck Rogers and the film Logan's Run.
Aside from his Look-in and (later) 2000AD comics work, Ranson also produced illustrations for Fiesta and some "[a]dvertising work through an agent, [including] some All-Bran adverts." He produced some assorted work for various other IPC magazines in addition to 2000AD, and was glad of the "more challenging" work to be found in comics, branding himself "too sensitive a plant to get on in advertising despite the high fees."
Ranson stresses the influence of his peers - particularly Brian Bolland - on his own evolution as an artist, moving from being burdoned by the "British way of drawing adventure comics... dependable, professional, craftsmanlike and worthy," to seeing and being influenced by work that "looked as though [the artist, particularly Bolland] really cared about it."
Ranson stresses the importance of artist Brian Bolland, saying that
By seeming to invest more of himself than just his time Brian made the profession attractive to artists who wanted to be more than just journeymen. He, and the people he influenced to be original, influenced me.
In 1989, Ranson followed in Bolland—and others'—footsteps, and moved to major British sci-fi comic 2000 AD, where he has remained ever since, with rare forays into the world of American comics, including Batman and the X-Men. He counts himself lucky that this career path has, in his decades-long comics career seen him work primarily with just three writers.
The universe has been kind to me: Angus Allen, John Wagner and Alan Grant. 99.99% of the work has been with these writers. Inventive, professional, prolific, original, idiosyncratic and inventive writers who know how comic strip works.
Judge Anderson: Psi Division
Ranson's first work for 2000 AD was a one-off Judge Dredd story "Dungeon Master" by John Wagner. It was followed by the ten-part Anderson: Psi Division - "Triad" storyline, which started in Prog #635 (15 July, 1989). David Bishop, in the 2000 AD history volume Thrill Power Overload says that Ranson's
Over the next fifteen years, Ranson drew a dozen more serials featuring Judge Anderson, working with writer Alan Grant, who says that since their first collaboration
I've always felt Arthur was the perfect Anderson artist... Some of her best stories were the ones he and I collaborated on. Arthur told each story in a way few others could.
Asked about the changes Anderson had undergone during his 15-years working on her stories, Ranson believed that she had indeed changed
and not just her hairstyle, which has altered at least four times just in my drawing... It seems to me she is not less idealistic so much as less hopeful, she expects less. ...I had thought that Cassandra had become less cheeky, less likely to make jokes, but that was probably lack of opportunity [in various storylines].
Ranson admits to feeling "quite possessive of her", and considers her "the most human of any comic hero I am aware of, and [one who] deals with some of the knottier problems of being human – morality, mortality, meaning." He is especially fond of working on stories in which Anderson is "aware of" her age (of "being between forty and fifty years old") while still "retain[ing her] likeness and... glamour."
In 1990, 2000AD stalwarts Kevin O'Neill, Pat Mills, John Wagner, Alan Grant and Mike McMahon were invited by Geoff Fry to begin work on a publication for Neptune Distribution. Neptune had acquired premiere British fanzine Fantasy Advertiser in 1988, and sold-out an issue featuring Mills & O'Neill's Marshal Law, prompting the move towards creating a line of comics spearheaded by that character.
Having formed an imprint - Apocalypse Ltd - the publish the new anthology title, Pat Mills found himself de facto editor of the in-preparation title, now called Toxic!. Amid some turmoil, the initial five creators began to splinter, with Wagner in particular feeling that his "style, the way I write, had itself been deemed un-Toxic!" The strip he had spent some time working on was vetoed by Mills, who felt that it was "far too close to 2000 AD in style." It eventually fell to the new editor - Dan Abnett, head-hunted from Marvel UK - to inform Wagner. He recalls that "[b]y that stage Arthur Ranson had drawn an awful lot of it."
In the spring of 1992, as part of a promotion called "the Mega-Blast," Button Man was resurrected and launched in Prog 780. Ultra-violent and one of the first non-science fictional strips to appear in the comic's 15-year history, Button Man was one of the very few creator-owned strips to appear in 2000 AD. Then-editor Steve MacManus sums it up by saying
Quality wise, it fit very well in the comic... Subject wise it wasn't a great fit. If you consider 2000 AD's premise was future fantasy. Then again, the weekly had the confidence to carry a story that was the exception to the rule.
Ranson says that:
I really got into but was conscious of making an effort to make it more earthbound. It was a good story and I did not want it to be just another piece of comic book casual violence.
The first Button Man serial was collected in 1994 by Kitchen Sink Press, and again by Rebellion in 2003. Ranson remembers that he "[made] a small change to the end of Button Man," but praises Wagner's storytelling abilities, for being "self-contained. Complete in themselves, neat, compact and satisfying, solid." A second story followed in 1994, and the third made its debut "after an absence of six years" in 2001. Writer John Wagner candidly stated that he believes "My writing and Arthur's art were patchier on the third series, but I believe the plot was the best of the three."
In 2007, Wagner wrote a fourth series, as well pursuing prospects for a big screen adaptation of the series.
Other comics work
In 1997, Ranson provided the artwork for a one-shot prestige-format single issue for DC Comics, Batman/Phantom Stranger. Written by one of Ranson's frequent collaborators, Alan Grant (a mainstay at 2000 AD, and also a major contributor to the Batman mythos), the story saw the two characters team-up to "solve the mystery of a missing civilization." Grant and Ranson had previously produced "an outline of a Phantom Stranger story [Ranson] wanted to draw," but were rebuffed. Indeed, Ranson recalls that Grant was asked to write in Batman/Phantom Stranger a Stranger who "must do nothing spooky."
He worked on a number of X-Men-related comics for Marvel. However, he says that he does not "believe my style suits superheros [sic]," and did not enjoy working from scripts written by American writers who, he felt must have "watched too much television as children," peppering their scripts with TV/film terminology and tropes.
Due to his use of photographs as reference materials, Ranson has included cameos of friends, colleagues and family in several of his stories. Examples include:
- Angus P Allan: The Look-in writer and Ranson collaborator on (particularly) Sapphire & Steel and Dangermouse, recalls being included in an episode of Sapphire & Steel - "One of the strips featured the 'ghost' of a French naval lieutenant of Bonaparte's time, and Arthur included drawings of me."
- Sue and Alan Grant: Ranson included their faces in Anderson: Psi Division - "Satan"...
- Arthur Ranson: ...Ranson also included his "own head... in the pile of corpses that Satan imagines," in the same story.
- Dez Skinn: Appeared in Button Man.
- Peter Hogan: Appeared in Button Man.
- Edward Berridge: Appeared in Anderson, Psi - "Half Life" 
Comics work includes:
- Sapphire & Steel (in Look-In, 1979)
- Anderson: Psi Division (with Alan Grant):
- "Triad" (in 2000 AD #635-644, 1989)
- Shamballa (June 2008, 224 pages, Rebellion, ISBN 978-1-905437-67-2):
- "Shamballa" (in 2000 AD #700-711, 1990)
- "Reasons to Be Cheerful" (in Judge Dredd Megazine vol. 2 #10, 1992)
- "The Witch?" (in Judge Dredd Megazine vol. 2 #14, 1992)
- "Jesus Syndrome" (in Judge Dredd Megazine vol.2 #22-24, 1993)
- "Satan" (in Judge Dredd Megazine vol. 3 #1-7, 1995)
- "The Protest" (in Judge Dredd Megazine vol. 3 #14, 1996)
- "R*Evolution" (in 2000 AD #1263-1272, 2001)
- "Half-Life" (in Judge Dredd Megazine #214-217, 2004)
- "WMD " (in Judge Dredd Megazine #221-226, 2004)
- "Lock-in " (in Judge Dredd Megazine #227-230, 2005)
- "City Of Dead" (in Judge Dredd Megazine #231-236, 2005)
- "Lucid" (in Judge Dredd Megazine #238-241, 2005)
- "Fellow Travellers" (with Andrew Cartmel, in Doctor Who Magazine #164-166, 1990)
- Button Man (with John Wagner):
- "Book I: The Killing Game" (in 2000 AD #780-791, 1992, tpb, 88 pages, Kitchen Sink Press, May 1994, ISBN 0-87816-276-3, Rebellion, hardcover, August 2003, ISBN 1-904265-05-7, softcover, January 2007, ISBN 1-905437-19-6)
- "Book II: The Confession of Harry Exton" (in 2000 AD #904-919, 1994, tpb, 112 pages, Rebellion, August 2003, ISBN 1-905437-70-6)
- "Book III: Killer Killer" (in 2000 AD prog 2001 & #1223-1233, 2001)
- Mazeworld (with Alan Grant, tpb, 192 pages, Rebellion, November 2011, ISBN 1-907992-48-0):
- "Book One" (in 2000 AD #1014-1023, 1996)
- "Book Two" (in 2000 AD #1101-1110, 1998)
- "Book Three" (in 2000 AD #1151-1160, 1999)
- Batman/Phantom Stranger (with Alan Grant, one-shot, DC Comics, 1997)
- X-Factor (with Jeff Jensen, 4-issue mini-series, Marvel Comics, 2002)
- X-Treme X-Posé (with Chris Claremont, 2-issue mini-series, Marvel Comics, 2003)
- Soldier X #9-10 (with Karl Bollers, Marvel Comics, 2003)
- Mackay, James (September 4, 2004). "Arthur Ranson Interview". 2000 AD Review. Archived from the original on 23 July 2008. Retrieved September 3, 2008.
- Jerry Bails' "Who's Who of American Comic Books 1928-1999": Arthur Ranson. Accessed September 3, 2008
- Published January 14, 1978. Reprinted in 2007 by Prion Books in Look-in: The best of Look-in * Junior TVTimes * The Seventies (Prion, 2007) (ISBN ISBN 978-1-85375-622-1), pp. 98-99
- Arthur Ranson at Lambiek'x Comiclopedia. Accessed September 3, 2008
- ABBA not existing before the 1970s clearly indicates that Ranson was not drawing the Beatles a decade earlier..
- Confirmed by the artist himself 28 September 2008.
- Ranson continues: "Now it is common enough but I have wondered if I was the first to use it." While considerably earlier examples can easily be found in US comics, and it is unlikely that Ranson was the first to produce such an illustration, it is not unlikely that such innovation was considerably less-heard-of in the more restrictive UK comics scene of the time.
- Look-in: The best of Look-in * Junior TVTimes * The Seventies (Prion, 2007) (ISBN ISBN 978-1-85375-622-1)
- Cosgrove Hall characters in comics. Accessed September 4, 2008
- Buck Rogers in the 25th Century strip archive at the "Look-in Archive". Accessed September 5, 2008
- 2000AD Art-Droids (Progs #1-1100 + Megazines Vol 1/1 - Vol 3/50) compiled by Julia Hayden: Arthur Ranson. Accessed September 4, 2008
- Bishop (2007), p. 128
- Bishop (2007), pp. 142-143
- Bishop (2007), pp. 144
- Bishop (2007), pp. 153-154
- Bishop (2007), pp. 216-217
- 'Batman/Phantom Stranger' at the Grand Comics Database . Accessed September 2, 2008