Simon Parr, graphic designer

 11 March 2013

Simon is Head of Design on the comic 2000AD and at Rebellion Publishing, who also publish sci-fi/horror fiction.

Simon designs book covers, comic layouts, and other print media.
Simon designs book covers, comic layouts, and other print media.

Hometown?

I live in Alcester in Warwickshire, but work in Oxford.

What job do you do?

I'm Head of Design at Rebellion Publishing. We produce comics, including 2000AD, and genre novels, mostly horror and sci-fi.

We've got several imprints: Abaddon Books, Solaris Books, and Ravenstone Books, our young adult line.

How did you get started in design?

I worked my way up. I didn't go to university. I left school immediately and got a job in an accounts department.

I'd wanted to be an artist, but at school I'd been advised to think about being a designer. That said, they didn't really give me a lot more to go on than that!

"If someone's been drawn with an eyepatch on the wrong side, I flip the image round so the comic is consistent."

I realised going straight into work had been a mistake, so I took some evening classes in Computer Arts and Desktop Publishing.

I got a job off the back of those courses, scanning and editing images for hobby magazines. I did work for things like 'Sewing World', and in the process, learned the basics of software like Photoshop.

After a while I was promoted to a design job, and then I got a job as a junior designer for 2000AD.

I started out working on one weekly and one monthly magazine. Then the company took on graphic novels and other publishing, such as text novels. Eventually I was promoted to Head of Design. 

What qualifications do you have?

I have A levels in Art and Design, English Literature, General Studies and Geometrical and Mechanical Drawing. That last A level got me thinking about design more seriously.

After that I did my evening courses, which were run by City and Guilds.

That said, I do regret not going to university.

What do you at work?

I design the layouts for 2000AD, and now and again I do the cover art. I've done lettering and colouring, too, but generally this is done by freelancers.

For producing a comic, the process goes something like this: 

Creating the comic

  • The artists on the comic get a script from the writers.
  • They produce and send back the images, and then a letterer sorts out the speech balloons.
  • I work on the end stage of that process. My job is to make corrections and move anything that's in the wrong place. 

Editing images

Sometimes I need to do a bit of image editing. I handle so much artwork, I've had to get used to fiddling with it myself.

  • A letterer will sometimes want to put some text onto an image of a computer screen an artist has drawn. I might stretch the text so that it fits realistically onto the screen.
  • If someone's holding a gun in the wrong hand when you turn the page, or their eyepatch has been accidentally swapped to the wrong side of their face, I need to pick up the error and flip the image on that panel so the story is consistent.
  • Occasionally this will also involves some slight redrawing or retouching of the art. 

Laying out the cover art

  • I work with the editor to create the artist's brief for the cover art, or do it myself.
  • I lay out the cover text, design the logos, and add any other logos to the comic wherever they are needed.
  • At the end of the process, I make sure all final files for the assembled comic are sent to the printer. 

The process is similar for books:

  • I work out the cover brief for the artist, but I also work out the spine width, and the size the physical book needs to be.
  • I will then lay out the cover, including any slogans. On a horror novel, you'll often have a 'shoutline' to lay out after the title, like 'They waded in... and they never came back!' And of course, on the back of the novel, you've got a blurb. 

Other things I do include:

  • Designing our catalogues.
  • Designing our merchandising, which includes T-shirts, mugs, and so on. I've done 2000AD ranges, which are aimed at fans of the comic, and branded items for the company.
  • Helping make our novels print-ready. The way the text inside is laid out is often down to me. 

What's the best thing about your job?

I work on everything. I really like getting to work on such a variety of things. 

And the worst thing about the job? 

I've got quite a small team and at least two deadlines per week.

On a horror novel, there's often a 'shoutline' after the title: 'They waded in... and they never came back!'

The first thing we come up with is often the thing we go with, and if I'm not quite satisfied with something, I've often got to push on with it. Our brand identity is very focused, but I've got to work fast.

A lot of people will produce four or five options for a product, but often I don't have that luxury of time. That said, if we had a bigger team I wouldn't get such a range of stuff to work on, and I really enjoy that.

How do I get into design?

  1. Don't be afraid to start small
    You'll be surprised by what you don't know, so put the time in. Scanning images for 'Sewing World' magazine might not have been my dream job, but getting the basic skills of design is important.
  2. Learn to use some image software
    At Rebellion I'm in charge of making sure everyone else knows how to use InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Quark. It's always useful to have a go at these if you get the chance. 
  3. Set yourself projects 
     If you're interested in print media, start your own magazine, or mock one up. Give yourself an end product to aim for. Make a website. Make things happen. 
  4. Keep your interests broad
    I like fine art and painting, which has little to do with my current work, but it does feed into it. You don't have to give these things up to focus on design. 
  5. Think creatively and for yourself
    When we recruit, I'm often sent CVs and portfolios, which is great, but out of every 20 people who send them in, over half of them usually have the same layout, down to the way the designs are laid out. It might look good, but no one really stands out.
    My CV for 2000AD was presented as a comic strip. I'd like to think it'd be slightly better now if I did it again, but it got the attention I wanted. Be yourself.

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