It's a pleasure to feature digital artist and comic colourist, Junior Tomlin. I've been tracking Junior's fab work and interviewed him ahead of his latest exhibition, AFROFUTURES. This has its preview on 2nd November and runs till the 23rd of the month at Zenubian, 136 Hither Green Lane, Lewisham, SE13 6QA.
I wonder if you could describe a bit about your childhood and early formative experiences?
I was born in 1960 and grew up in Ladbroke Grove. I have two sisters and a brother. My parents were Jamaican. They came to England in 1958. My father worked for British Rail in Euston and he was a shunter. Mum was a cleaner but was also creative in her own way. I remember going to work with her in the 70’s to help her clean the offices in Baker Street.
I went to my local junior school on Oxford Gardens and then to Christopher Wren in White City. After secondary, I went on to do a foundation course at Byam Shaw School of Art in Notting hill. After a year, I did three years at Goldsmiths studying graphic design.
I was a keen collector of comics as a child in the 1970s (sadly having lost that collection). I had no dreams then about being an artist. I wonder when the bug got you?
The drawing bug started when I was young, 8 or nine. I was one of the children that didn’t have a lot of paper or pencils; but I did had a favourite pencil that was purple. I watched Lost in Space and that sparked my interest in robots.
I love comics. The first one I bought was the mighty Thor and I still have this. I think looking back, that I am a lover of mythology. At school we used to draw the Marvel characters and being the best artist in the class, the other kids asked me to draw for them. Years later, one of my old school friends thanked me for helping him in his artwork.
I still have all my comics. I have heard the universal story of mum throwing out their sons budding comic collection when they were out on a school trip.
Where did you work and who, what and where was the London Cartoon Workshop, that I've heard about?
The London Cartoon Workshop started in the offices of One Step which was in a building in Old Oak near the station. It was set up to teach sequential art i.e. comics. We had tutors from the comic book industry. I worked as an airbrush tutor and we made a comic entitled Silicon Fish. Maximum mention to David Lloyd and Amalia who were the core heart of the workshop. It moved years later to Kensal Road.
I later went on to work for various companies such as John Brown Jr. Publishing, Titan and Panini - famous for producing football stickers and licensed to produce Marvel comics in the UK. I worked as a digital colourist for them with credits including Action Man, Transformers Armada, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Judge Dredd and numerous pocket book covers.
The rave scene and the film industry were an important part of your development. Please tell us more about this period in your life and art.
The rave period in my art development started when I was at the offices of Kickin Records. At the time, I was designing record covers for dance music. There I met a rave promoter looking to put on his first rave called Raveworld. From this, I did some of the best remembered and iconic images associated with dance and rave music. I created images that have inspired many to create art and to explore their artistic talents and become DJ's. I was given the tag "the Salvador Dali of Rave".
My first endeavour in film was when I got a job on Nightbreed, a Clive Barker horror Film. I was a creature technician and my task was designing and creating masks to be used in the film. Years later, I worked for AMG effects where I was employed as a texture map artist. The job was designing and putting textures onto 3D objects.
How has your style changed from analogue to digital techniques and what can we expect to see in your latest exhibition?
Moving from analog to digital wasn’t hard for me. The three things I had was a computer, the right programmes and a digital tablet to draw on. My style hasn’t changed much. The ideas start with pencil and paper and when the design is good enough, I would scan it and start the magic. I use a mix of Sci-Fi fantasy and some images have a social political narrative.
The current theme of my exhibition is Afrofuturism. Images to make you think and a feast for your soul. My work is as colourful as African fabric.
As a footnote, do you mind if I ask you what it means to live in North Kensington and the impact of the fire at Grenfell Tower. The loss of 72 lives, has really affected us. I saw that you posted a powerful cruciform image in response to this.
North Kensington means home to me. It’s where I’m strongest artistically and spiritually and where my ideas for art come from talking to friends. The neighbour hood is forever changing. I thought that the community was on the wane, but as a result of Grenfell it has been made stronger.
With Grenfell I ask myself: why? There is no one answer. It’s multi layered. Grenfell was a draining episode and I felt I had to help. I volunteered. I wanted to make a difference.
I just put this graphic image together. This was a hard time for me and my family. A month before Grenfell my mum passed and being a volunteer helped me take my mind from clearing mums flat.
And just to end on a more upbeat note. I like to dress rather formally and I take my hat off to Junior, who is a smart dude and what was that WW2 aviation hat, I once saw you wearing?
Hahahahaha! The hat. I love hats and so did my dad. The WW2 one? I went into the antique retro shop on Portobello: saw it, loved it and bought it.
Hats should make us laugh! Anything else that tickles your funny bone? And any advice to budding artists?
What makes me laugh is slap stick, good stand up comedy and the genius of Monty Python and Dave Allen.
Remember to believe in your art. Don’t let it get you down. Create, produce and get your art out there. You are awesome and the next piece of art you do will be better than the last one.
Photos and art work kindly reproduced by Junior Tomlin.