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INTERVIEW: Artist Simon Jacob on Armoured Gideon and 2000ad

Updated: Mar 29


Former 2000ad artist and Armoured Gideon illustrator Simon Jacob.
Former 2000ad art droid Simon Jacob

SIMON Jacob has made peace with his artistic style and is ready to make his comics comeback. The Hindsight Hut sat down with the former 2000ad artist to discuss his much-loved creation, Armoured Gideon, and discover how he’s planning to end a 24-year hiatus on his terms.


Background


Collaborating with writer John Tomlinson, Jacob was one half of the creative team behind Armoured Gideon, which smashed its way into the hearts of 2000ad readers in 1990. Mixing comedy and fantasy, it focuses on grizzled war photographer, Frank Weitz, who collides with the strip’s titular antagonist. Gideon is a 20-foot-tall robot exorcist who stops demons escaping intra-dimensional void The Edge with lethal force, while bellowing his catchphrase: “Annihilate!”



Handed his big break by Marvel UK, the artist first collaborated with Tomlinson on comedy strip The Secret Artist. By the late 80s, he’d realised a personal ambition to work for 2000ad and was drawing Future Shocks and Strontium Dogs one-shots, while also juggling work for Derby City Council. Opportunity knocked when editors Richard Burton and Alan McKenzie reunited him with Tomlinson for his first major series – Armoured Gideon.


“The first series of Armoured Gideon was John’s concept, although the look was very much mine,” said Simon.


“I remember John talking about an indie comic at the time called Concrete, which featured this large golem-like lumpy figure. The idea was to do something around that aesthetic and do something not cool.”


Going full Gideon


The first series ran from prog 671 to 681 in black and white and was a hit. Gideon’s original design exemplifies Simon’s unique style: combining fantasy flair and industrial heft. He wanted to create “something big and clunky, very mechanical – not exactly steam punk but primitive looking.” The industrial look was accentuated by countless panels covering the robot’s body and his imposing jaw.

“Gideon is quite architectural,” he observed. “His jaw came from a reference by Frank in the strip to the Great Wall of China, which I took very literally and added lots of crenelations.


Armoured Gideon confronts Frank Weitz in 2000ad Prog 840.
Showdown: Gideon confronts Frank.

“Honestly, I just sat down and drew him; the first version had a slightly smaller head, but what you see in the first comic is pretty much the version I first drew. The body is the same and it just came out like that, from where I’ve no idea.”


Simon cites Godzilla as an influence on the strip’s eponymous robot, who like the kaiju is a destructive force of nature – sometimes heroic or threatening: “I always imagined a movie version of Armoured Gideon with a guy in a suit rampaging and causing chaos. The parallel with Godzilla was always present in my mind.”


Alderfen Hawker arrives in Armoured Gideon in Prog 834.
Warrior Alderfen Hawker was one of the character's from Simon Jacob's Disenchantment story, who made the leap to Armoured Gideon in volume two.

Volume Two arrived in 1993 (progs 828-840) in colour and boasted a tighter and more epic story arc compared to its predecessor. Jacob and Tomlinson collaborated closely in the build-up, with the former including several characters from Disenchantment, a fantasy story he had previously created for Marvel. The colour format inspired Simon who “threw everything I had got at it – I was airbrushing, adding loads of colours and lots of detail.”


By then, he had taken the plunge to become a full-time artist, recalling: “I had built up a little cash fund to get me through the quiet days and I thought ‘sod it, let’s go for it’.”


A huge fantasy fan, he relished the challenge of drawing volume two, commenting: There’s a couple of big splashes of The Edge coming into London that I really enjoyed doing just because it was an opportunity to do big fantasy illustration.”


Demons invade London in Armoured Gideon - 2000ad prog 839.
Simon produced stunning splashes of demon hordes swarming into London in volume two.

Influences


Growing up he loved the art of Neal Adams, Frank Frazetta, Bernie Wrightson, Barry Windsor-Smith, Brian Bolland and Mike McMahon. Meanwhile, early 20th Century fairy story illustrators Edmund Dulac and Arthur Rackham were also major influences on his style.


As a child, he fell in love with fantasy, describing the Lord of the Rings books as “life changing.” Simon shared this passion with Tomlinson, who had also penned Marvel’s acclaimed Knights of Pendragon. Bonding over a love of Terry Pratchett, the duo poured the same affection for fantasy into Gideon, but with a difference:


“In 2000ad there was scope to be more violent,” said Simon. “The kids liked it, but I couldn’t help taking off the rougher edges. Most of the uber-violence was meted out on demons! It is a fine balance between making it too silly and too violent and overall, we got it just about right.”


Did they intentionally make fun of fantasy, or did it happen naturally? “Probably naturally,” admitted the artist. “It’s my inclination and John’s as well. Gideon was never designed to be a pastiche or parody; it was supposed to be an adventure story about a guy who can see monsters and a giant robot.”


Actor James Wood in the movie Salvador alongside Frank Weitz from 2000ad
James Woods in Salvador (left) was the inspiration for Frank's look.

Injecting vital melancholy into the strip’s chaos was Frank. Originally smart-suited, the artist redesigned him after being directed to James Woods’ photographer in the movie Salvador. “Despite the humour and the gags, Gideon did have a melancholy to it. Frank was a great character,” he added.


New Direction

By 1995 Gideon’s annihilating days were done after Tomlinson left 2000ad. Simon continued to draw for the comic but by the late 90s he had become disillusioned and started to focus on his other passion – music. After a stint in a Birmingham music store as a second job, he began a new direction at Fender Guitars.


He said: “Those days of living in the Midlands and drawing for 2000ad was hard because it was a very solitary occupation. Any contact was a fax or occasional phone call and it’s a funny way to make a living. It’s much better now, you’re a Zoom call away.


“I was quite hard on myself, I wasn’t getting to where I wanted to be and something came along that had more potential, so I took a different path. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had stuck at it.”


But the desire to draw never left and has been rekindled by advancements in computer art technology. “I can get the level of finish I like without messing around with paint. There’s something great about original art but it’s laborious.”



Edmund Dulac's artwork influenced Simon Jacob.
Arthur Rackham's artwork was an influence on Simon Jacob.

After 24 years, he’s stepping back from working full-time and has been busy creating a new four issue project called Witchmaze. Fans who follow Simon on Twitter or Instagram have already been treated to images from the series. Plans are also afoot for Simon to share a table with creator and long time Robert Crumb collaborator Michael Panteli at several comic conventions this year.


“I am certainly going to self-publish a few things because I like the control,” he enthused. “I have written, drawn and am currently lettering a four-book series. Once it’s done, I will decide if it’s published.”


Over the years, he’s also talked openly about his frustration with his distinctive style, which lends itself to fantasy. How does he feel about it now?


Frank Weitz embedded with US soldiers in Vietnam in Armoured Gideon - prog 895.
Frank Weitz in Vietnam.

He said: “I am much more at ease with what I am doing now than I was. In the past, I was trying to get to a certain place and would get frustrated. These days, because I am my own master and doing my own stuff, I have reached a level of zen. I am at peace with myself.”


It’s no coincidence that the artwork he’s most proud of is from Gideon’s final story – Trading Places – which featured Frank’s traumatic Vietnam experiences: “That was good fun, it was such a contrast to the magic craziness.”


In the intervening 27 years since finishing, Gideon has made just one reappearance in 2000ad in 2018. Rebellion has only republished the first series – although Simon would love to see more reprinted. Despite that, it has stayed with a generation of readers, much to his delight: “Gideon is the one thing that keeps coming back and people really liked it because it was different, a bit crazy and memorable. When you think about all the strips that have been in 2000ad over the years it’s remarkable to me that people remember it.”

 

Other articles on The Hindsight Hut

Strange Day: Murder, Mayhem and Memories

 

Useful Links


Armoured Gideon's Wiki page:


Albion British Comics Database


Last Geek in Space - John Tomlimson interview


The ABCs of 2000ad - Armoured Gideon


2000ad Lockdown Tapes - interview with Simon Jacob


Armoured Gideon character profile

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