Kent Cartoonist: Gary Northfield
Gary Northfield is a Kent-based cartoonist and writer who has worked on well-loved children’s publications such as the Horrible Histories Magazine and The Beano. Now he has created his own comic book story featuring a gladiator zebra called Julius, and we asked him to tell us a little about how it all began. It really is a story of a dream come true.
“I’ve had a love of comics since I was at least three or four years old; I remember enjoying a Pink Panther annual well before I was able to properly read, figuring out the story just by looking at the pictures. I lapped up any comic I could find – The Beano, Marvel, and Disney – and I drew my own comics and wrote many stories about funny animals or monsters. My mum was particularly supportive, encouraging me to write stories on rainy days during the summer holidays.
“When I left school, I studied for an illustration degree, learning printmaking amongst other things. However, it was tough to find any work in such a crowded market, so I worked in an art shop and my dad’s furniture factory for a few years. But I was never despondent, and in my spare time, I made photocopied comics, which I would then sell to comic shops in London and at comic fairs around the country. It was at these fairs that I met like-minded cartoonists, who also created homemade comics. A group of us discovered that we had the same taste in alternative comics from America and Europe, so we put together our own anthology of strips, which we then took to the big International Comics Festival in Angoulême, France, and to SPX (Small Press Expo) in Washington DC in America.
“It was through one of these like-minded cartoonists, Nick Abadzis, that I got my big breakthrough in 2002 with Horrible Histories Magazine. Nick, who was working as an illustrator and writer on the title, was moving on, and he offered his job to me! Of course, I jumped at the chance. Nick told me it would probably be about six weeks work, but I ended up staying at the publisher, Eaglemoss, as an in-house illustrator for six years! I juggled many magazines during my time there including Horrible Science, Magical World of Roald Dahl, and various other projects in development.
“My big leap in my career came after a year of working on Horrible Histories. Having seen how a fortnightly magazine worked from the inside and how often the designers were scrambling around for new artists to cover their regulars who fell sick or were on holiday, I decided it must be the same at all magazines. The Beano and The Dandy editors were coming to London for a comic fair, so I put a portfolio together of my work, including a short comic strip about a sheep called Derek. The Beano editor, Euan Kerr, loved my sheep story and within three months, my strip was published in The Beano. It was a boyhood dream come true! Every month I would write and draw Derek the Sheep stories, with fantastic editorial assistance from Euan, who helped me learn how to write funny, punchy comic strips.
“My confidence grew and before long I was writing and drawing comics for other magazines, such as National Geographic Kids, The DFC and The Dandy. I even had a book published in 2008 with Bloomsbury, collecting the first 13 Derek the Sheep stories. My editor at Bloomsbury moved to Walker Books and invited me to pitch ideas there too, resulting in the 80-page children’s graphic novel, Teenytinysaurs (2013), about a young gang of dinosaurs.
“My Beano work came to an end after seven years with the introduction of a new editor, but I quickly found work with the brilliant weekly children’s comic, The Phoenix, with a strip called Gary’s Garden, starring all sorts of jolly back garden critters (also available as a book!). And now, 12 years after my big break on Horrible Histories Magazine, I’ve come full circle with my own historical humour series – my first novel with Walker Books – Julius Zebra, all about a zebra who becomes a gladiator in Ancient Rome!”
Gary Northfield’s book, Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans!, is available to buy now.