Charlie Adlard is more often connected with the comic book world of zombie horror after a 16-year career drawing The Walking Dead, the post-apocalyptic comic which spawned a hit TV show.
His contribution to the cult series made the Shrewsbury artist a titan of the comic book industry and saw him serve as Comics Laureate for a time. We caught up with him in his stunning, purpose-built art studio, perched high above the river, filled with cool Lego builds, a recording studio and an eclectic art collection.
In recent years, former Shrewsbury School pupil (1979-1984) Charlie has been fortunate enough to be able to pursue passion projects when the whim takes him – and the upcoming exhibition ‘LIFE’ at The Hive is one of these.
On show and available for sale will be a stunning collection of works ranging from five-minute pen and ink drawings to gorgeous, digitally remastered sketches in colour on various vibrant backgrounds.
Also available to buy will be signed copies of Charlie’s accompanying coffee table hardback book ‘LIFE’, published in collaboration with the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. The book was due to be launched in 2019, but Covid put a dampener on things. Charlie is delighted to be now holding a local launch in his home town at The Hive creative arts venue, of which he is a patron.
The human form and Charlie are well acquainted – he’s drawn thousands of figures in his professional career. But drawing from life, rather than from memory, is a muscle he enjoys flexing.
“I was lucky enough to enjoy Life Drawing classes doing Art A’Level at Shrewsbury School,” he said. “They had quite a progressive art department directed by Phil Woolley. He really saw the value in stuff like that.”
There wasn’t much time for life drawing once Charlie began working as a professional comic artist, turning out 22 pages a month. A few years ago, he and a friend, the comic artist Dan Berry, went along to The Hive life drawing sessions, and Charlie began to take it quite seriously, attending every Tuesday night for a few years: “I thought I might get a book out of it,” Charlie said. “I’m someone who has to have a focus!”
“There’s nothing more exciting than the human figure to draw. The flesh is so interesting to draw, especially if the model isn’t ‘perfect’. The more blemishes, the better! The only thing I didn’t like was tattoos, as they get in the way.
“My approach was quite different from a lot of the people there. I wasn’t so interested in actually studying the figure. I have spent the best part of my life working out the human figure. Working out the minutiae of the human form is one of the most essential parts of what I do.
“For me, the interest was in experimenting with different technical equipment I don’t normally use. The hardest part was drawing what I saw rather than what I imagined.
“I could look at a model and think that doesn’t look right, I’ll do my own version. I had to be strict with myself. I never got tired of it; even if I had been working in my studio for six to eight hours, I would still look forward to life drawing in the evening. I really enjoyed it – as they say, a change is as good as a rest.”
The drawings are all quick sketches: “We never had more than a 20-minute pose,” Charlie reveals. “A lot were only five-minute poses. That doesn’t give you time to think; you just have to go for it. I love that kind of mark-making. You look, you draw, if it works then, brilliant, if it doesn’t you do another one. I wish I could be that loose professionally. There’s so much life in them.
“Drawing professionally brings a lot of mental conflict. You’re always thinking, ‘Is this worth the money they are paying me?’ I tend to tense up instantly and get obsessed with detail. There are so many factors at play. It’s ultimately quite unsatisfying. When you are drawing for fun, you aren’t worried about the end result.
“Obviously, 99% of my drawing is professional, and I love doing it. But it’s nice to come out of that mindset. This is the only thing I have done in the last 30 years that is just for fun.”
The front cover of ‘LIFE’ is a five-minute sketch of a naked woman – it’s brilliantly dynamic; you can sense the energy in his pen, as though he’s barely lifted it from the paper: “I like the boldness of pen and ink,” Charlie explains. “I love being able to tell the story in one line as opposed to 20. I think it’s a skill every artist should have. I thought if I could define that model by one beautiful line, then I would. We’re lucky to have a brilliant shop, Write Here, in town (on Shrewsbury High Street) where I can buy some really beautiful pens locally.”
For the coloured sketches, Charlie used his iPad and the Procreate program: “It’s still art; it’s just another technique. Sometimes, it was nice just to turn up with an iPad instead of a bag full of gear.”
Charlie admits the book is ‘total vanity publishing’: “I don’t imagine I’ll sell bucket loads of copies. My zombie fan base isn’t likely to pick it up! What I do professionally is very different.
“But it’s been a good release. It’s been nice to have a goal rather than just amassing a pile of drawings. I’m really pleased with how it’s turned out. I can look through them and still think they’re quite good.
“I have a friend who just publishes exclusively for himself. I get that. I just wanted a collection of my own stuff to put on a shelf and have it there!”
Following Charlie’s mega Drawn of the Dead exhibition at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery in 2019, this exhibition promises to be a little more intimate, with a chance to meet the creator himself at the launch on November 15.
“It’s been nice to do something smaller at The Hive, which really shows what they are all about,” Charlie said.
As for his other projects, Charlie has just finished six issues of Damn Them All for BOOM!! It’s a return to horror drawing for him, about demon hunting and the occult in contemporary London, and is proving very popular: “They’ve already said they want a second series,” Charlie reveals. He’s also working on a French comic Altamont, due to be published in April, which is set around the time of the 1969 infamous Rolling Stones festival of the same name (and the well-regarded Gimme Shelter documentary) but tells a dark story of a group of teenagers at the festival, which descends into despair and chaos. The comic is set to be launched at Le Cabaret Vert rock festival in August and will be published by Glénat; it’s a personal project, described by Charlie as ‘very colourful and psychedelic’ and is the only comic book he has ever coloured, although he is also working on the occasional coloured variant cover for The Walking Dead. Finally, he’s collaborating on Heretic with Scottish comic book writer Robbie Morrison, featuring a real-life character from the Spanish Inquisition era in a supernatural setting.
“Everything I do is creator-owned,” Charlie explains. “I would never do anything that isn’t creator-owned. I am lucky enough to be able to afford to. I’ve been spoiled by The Walking Dead – that was 16 years of owning our own stuff.”
And it is lucky for us that Charlie is able to indulge himself and share these passion projects with the wider world!
All are welcome to Charlie’s launch evening in The Hive’s Gallery from 6pm on Tuesday, November 15th, where Charlie will also be signing copies of his book ‘LIFE’. The exhibition is on until December 8th, and entry is free. You can also see his Life Drawing portfolio.