Mike Perkins is one of a growing stable of internationally renowned comic book illustrators and writers to settle in our beautiful and creative town, making Shrewsbury the unofficial home of the British comics industry. Arriving earlier in the summer from Florida, Mike is looking forward to the launch of the Shrewsbury Comics Trail at Shrewsbury Library this Saturday (July 24th).
His contribution to the trail is a life-sized artwork at St Mary’s Church, inspired by the tale of showman Robert Cadman, who died using a homemade zip wire from the steeple. Mike’s illustration captures the medieval stained glass ‘Jesse’ window in all its glory. It will be one of nine giant comic artworks on display across the town, telling a story of Shrewsbury written by Judge Dredd creator John Wagner.
“The role of an illustrator is to share a story, which is exactly what the Comics Trail is all about,” Mike said.
Mike is a comics industry giant, having signed contracts with the biggest US household names such as Marvel and DC, with credits including Captain America, Thor, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Judge Dredd, Doctor Strange, The X-Men and many more. Although originally from Wolverhampton, Mike made many trips to Shrewsbury when he was growing up: “Shrewsbury was always where we’d come on bank holidays,” he said. “It’s a wonderful place to live, with great schools and a growing creative hub.”
He anticipates that the change in scenery and Shrewsbury’s historic townscape will inspire many new illustrations: “The town has such a wonderfully creative vibe to it nowadays,” he said. “It has changed dramatically since I was last here. Your artistic choices come back to your environment. One of the reasons why we came back here is because there’s so much to soak in. People have a lot of love for this town!”
Mike has always had a fervent passion for illustration and comic books. From a very young age, he says, drawing was “a physical need”. At school, his passion continued to grow, and he began selling his own anthology comics, along with a Mars bar, to other children in his class, which turned out to be a great business strategy!
He also drew illustrations on his homework with a note to his art teacher asking for help to become a comic artist. With encouragement from his teacher, he went on to Bournville College of Art and an illustration course in Manchester, later switching to a Business course; “I realised I didn’t need to learn how to draw – I could do that already. I needed to learn how to turn it into a business,” he said.
Mike was taken on by the Temple Art Agency in 1993 and began to pick up work in graphic design and illustration, although his core passion was still comics. Then followed a move to Florida, a hub for fellow comic book creators, to sign with the fledgling comic company CrossGen, where he worked with a studio of talented artists and writers on a selection of titles.
A big break came through his connection to comic book writer Paul Birch: “Paul did a lot of proposals and would send them to Marvel UK. He was always recycling paper, so the material he sent had some of my illustrations on the back. When Marvel got back to him, they told Paul they didn’t have any space for his ideas at the moment – but asked, “Who drew the illustrations on the back?”
That’s the tale of how Mike landed a contract with Marvel UK “By being a bit of recycled trash!”
He began work on Marvel’s monthly comic book titles, including Captain America and the critical hit Iron Fist – a job he held for 14 years, never missing a deadline. In this industry, reputation is everything: “There’s always a queue of guys behind you,” he said. “I always try to make things as easy as possible for the inkers, colourists and editors.”
Mike is most proud of illustrating the Marvel Comics adaptation of Stephen King’s 1978 horror classic novel The Stand, a post-apocalyptic vision of a world ravaged by a lethal superflu epidemic: “When working on characters with such massive histories (on flagship titles), it’s difficult to come in and make your mark, but with The Stand I was able to do that,” he explained.
After such a long stretch with Marvel, Mike was ready for a change and could not pass up the chance to work in the DC Universe in 2018! He presented DC Comics with a big wish list of titles he had always wanted to work on – and such is his profile now that his wishes have been granted. He made a splash on the Green Lanterns series before launching Lois Lane with Greg Rucka, who famously relaunched DC’s Wonder Woman series.
Many of Mike’s creations have been adapted into film over the years: “It’s a completely different medium,” he said. “With film, it’s a completely new level of consciousness that’s brought to the public,” he says. “Take Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), for example – that was a huge gamble. When Marvel began developing the film, no one knew who these characters were. But it paid off – we all now know who Rocket Raccoon is!”
Mike is currently on a three-year (renewable) contract with DC, working on projects including Swamp Thing, which he’s enjoying as it allows him to play with textures and organic brushes: “He has such a great history behind him, it allows me to add something of my own to the character and to be part of that legacy.”
Mike still draws by hand, as he loves the feel – using digital illustration tools, he says, would strip the art of some of its soul. We asked Mike whether he allows his own politics to creep onto the paper, or does he aim for the middle ground?
“Historically, comic books have always been quite political. There are some things you have to stand out against. Established characters themselves will always have certain political beliefs. Obviously, it’s somewhat important that your own political beliefs aren’t pushed through the voice of a character if that’s not the belief they would naturally have.”
With Lois Lane, he enjoyed bringing a female character to the fore. Widely known as Superman’s love interest, Lois has many other powerful qualities that Mike wanted to share with the public to help develop her into a more complex, three-dimensional character: “I wanted to give her character the respect she deserves – she knows everybody’s secrets!” he said.
He once pitched a storyline based solely on well-known female characters but was told it wouldn’t sell. Happily, he says, the culture is changing, thanks in part to the popularity of Manga comics with female readers and David Tennant (star of the Doctor Who Titan Comics series)!
“At conventions and in stores, you now see many more families and female readers, Something which DC is really beginning to embrace,” Mike says.
Despite his huge success and many accomplishments, Mike stays firmly grounded. “As an artist, you have to be constantly evolving and progressing with your work because new artists are always coming on the scene.”
The idea for Shrewsbury Comics Trail coincided with Mike’s return from Florida. With so many talented artists residing here, such as Charlie Adlard (Walking Dead) and comic book writer John Wagner (Judge Dredd), it’s a great opportunity to share their incredible skills with the town.
Charlie said: “Hopefully, the trail will show that comics aren’t just for kids – they’re for everyone. The aim is to put Shrewsbury on the map as a comics hub. We’ve probably already got more cartoonists living here per capita than anywhere else, and the list is growing!”
Festival director Shane Chebsey adds: “I’m excited about getting people to engage with the art, bringing people into Shrewsbury to understand the potential of comic art and to understand that it’s not just a printed medium – it can be expressed across the whole of Shrewsbury.”
Don’t miss the chance to see five of the world’s best comic book artists in Shrewsbury this weekend! Their one giant comic book strip will take you on an adventure across our beautiful town. You’re also invited to take selfies with the artwork and post them on Insta or Twitter using #comicstrail2021 – with prizes up for grabs from comicssalopia.com
Join the artists and writers at Shrewsbury Library at 10 am for the big unveiling. The first artwork to be revealed will be by Charlie Adlard in situ at the library. The others are scattered throughout town, so you’ll be able to walk the trail yourselves and collect your selfies! There are also signings, sketching, and kids’ workshops on offer.
For more information about The Shrewsbury Comics Trail Launch Weekend, visit comicssalopia.com