Auckland Arts Festival: Taking out the trash

By Stephen Jewell

British artist and Gorillaz animator Rufus Dayglo has a special relationship with New Zealand, he tells Stephen Jewell.

Rufus Dayglo's cover graphic for Judge Dredd "megazine''. Photo / Supplied
Rufus Dayglo's cover graphic for Judge Dredd "megazine''. Photo / Supplied

He may have lived just briefly in Wellington with his family when he was a teenager, but New Zealand has an important place in British comic artist Rufus Dayglo's heart.

Having cut his teeth on locally produced mini-comic Pistake in the early 90s, alongside like-minded creators like Simon Morse and David Tulloch, Dayglo - now based in Hackney in London - has since forged an impressive career for himself, regularly contributing to sci-fi weekly 2000AD before relaunching Tank Girl with its original writer, Alan Martin.

"I've always had an affinity with New Zealand," he says. "I'm not a New Zealander as such, but I arrived there when I was young and still trying to find my feet. I was very lucky to find this tight-knit group of friends who were in punk bands and stuff like that. It was like this strange little place that I suddenly went to and it was leaving it that forced me to step up my game.

"I could have stayed in New Zealand and sort of trundled along. But it gave me a different kind of perspective, having met these New Zealand artists and seen their peculiar ways of doing things."

Dayglo first met Tulloch, who at the time worked at now-defunct Wellington comic book shop VMS, after stumbling upon a copy of Desperate Ink, the local anthology title he contributed to.

"David also had a part-time job at a print company, which he used to photocopy his fanzines," recalls Dayglo, who was then introduced to Morse.

"We all became best friends and started doing Pistake together. We ended up putting out a dozen issues, which wasn't a bad effort as we had no money, so we did it for nothing. Simon and I lived in a warehouse together and we had only had one desk, so I would sit on the left-hand side and he would sit on the right. We'd sit there drinking coffee and eating bananas, which was the cheapest thing we could find to eat, and we'd do a comic."

It was through Morse that Dayglo got to know the late Martin Emond, who blazed a trail internationally for Kiwi comic-book artists in the early 90s with his work on high-profile titles such as White Trash and Lobo, before forming clothing company Illicit Streetwear in 1996.

"Marty was like a professional because he was collaborating with people like Glen Danzig and doing stuff for DC, which was insanely good," says Dayglo. "We got on so well with him that he ended up moving down to Wellington to share a studio with us. I feel very lucky that he was there as he was like a big brother to us. He steered us and encouraged us, and he certainly encouraged me to come back to London and get on with it."

After shifting back to Britain in the late 90s, Dayglo was employed as an animator on films including Space Jam and on music videos for cartoon pop band Gorillaz, the brainchild of Blur frontman Damon Albarn and original Tank Girl artist Jamie Hewlett.

He first crossed paths with Hewlett's former partner-in-crime Alan Martin after buying some of the author's unpublished scripts on an internet auction site.

Having drifted away from comic books after the disastrous failure of the 1995 Tank Girl movie, Martin was working in a pub before Dayglo persuaded him to pen another adventure of the anarchic punk warrior, first pairing him up with Australian artist Ashley Wood before stepping into the breach.

"I'd grown up on Mad magazine and 2000AD, which is exactly what Jamie Hewlett had done, so we were kind of ripping off the same people," he laughs. "Alan liked what I was doing better than what Ashley had done and we ended up really hitting it off."

The four-part Tank Girl: The Gifting was published in 2007 and since then the pair have teamed up on many one-shots and five more mini-series, culminating in 2011's Bad Wind Rising. At first he was reluctant to take on such a well-loved mantle, but Dayglo quickly made the character his own.

"At first I thought I was going to be crucified for it because it was a bit like joining your favourite band," he says. "But fortunately it had been over a decade since Tank Girl's last appearance, so we ended up with a whole new readership.

"Instead of all the old fans, we had all these new fans that had grown up on the film. We had all these kids contacting us to say, 'You're doing a comic book of our favourite film!' That annoyed Alan but it was perfect for me, because as far as they were concerned I wasn't the replacement, I was the guy who drew Tank Girl."

Although he has now departed Tank Girl, Dayglo admits there is a similar vibe to his forthcoming new series Solid Gold Death Mask, which was partly inspired by his recent trip here.

"I was doing the roughs for it when I was in Auckland visiting my parents," he says. "I was going for walks at Blockhouse Bay, where I'd climb the cliffs and photograph them. So there's inadvertently a lot of New Zealand scenery in the book because that's where I was when I was working on it."

He is also pleased to be included in Nga Pakiwaituhi, a retrospective of New Zealand comic art that will offer a local contrast to German exhibition Comics, Manga & Co, as part of the Auckland Arts Festival.

"I was really honoured to be asked to be a part of it as I feel a kinship with other New Zealand artists like Ant Sang, Chris Slane and Roger Langridge," says Dayglo, who admits to being pleasantly surprised by the scale of his success.

"Certainly 20 years ago when I was sitting on the floor of Comics Compulsion stapling together fanzines, our biggest hope was that maybe we'd get to do a one-off Future Shock in 2000AD one day."

"But now I'm helping design all the Judge Dredd toys and they call me up whenever they need something done, because I know quite a lot about 2000AD.

"So I've gone from a young kid who was a fan to now being someone who has input into it."

Auckland Arts Festival

Who: British graphic artist Rufus Dayglo, in Nga Pakiwaituhi
Where and when: St Paul St Gallery, AUT University, March 1 to April 12

- NZ Herald

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