Dan Reed was a freelance artist for Marvel UK in the 1980s and worked on some iconic Transformers comics of the era, including the zombie spectacular ‘City of Fear’ – his best TF work in my opinion. This is an interview I did with Dan a few years ago about his time with Transformers.
IT WAS DECEMBER 1988 and Dan Reed, then 28, was a struggling artist living in Paris. It had been an up-and-down couple of years. He had been through a difficult divorce in his native America, and his wife had refused to let him see their daughter – eventually moving to another state without telling him. But things had picked up and Reed was enjoying life in France and the opportunities to travel around Western Europe and indulge his love of painting. He had also landed semi-regular work with Marvel Comics UK – illustrating The Transformers.
Simon Furman had given him the chance to prove himself by doing the artwork for issue 115’s strip, Burning Sky part 1. Furman was pleased and asked Reed to draw several more stories including the Legacy of Unicron, City of Fear, Deadly Games and Space Pirates in 1988. Reed was also invited to attend Marvel’s Christmas party in London and he thought it would be a great stop-over on his way back to America. When it came time to buy a ticket he was faced with the option of Pan Am 103 and a cheaper ticket on Virgin Atlantic. Reed, being an artist of limited means, chose Virgin and while in the air, heard the other plane had exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. Today, in better financial circumstances he reflects sombrely that “being poor sometimes has its advantages”.
Reed was born in Massachusetts on January 26, 1960, and raised in the warmer climates of Miami. He worked for Charlton, Marvel and DC, pursuing his love of comics, while also working seriously on his painting. He attended Miami Dade Community College and discovered art history, becoming entranced with the role the French had played. Reed thought it would be great to go to France and actually live there, and some time later following his divorce and estrangement from his child, he got the chance. The college sent him to Paris and then to the south to paint. It was supposed to be a six week program but Reed thought he had more to learn by getting out there and painting than he could in the classroom and decided to stay.
Fifteen years on he is remarried and back in touch with his daughter (he recently attended her wedding reception in South Dakota). Reed lives 25 miles from New York City and regularly draws crowds to exhibitions of his paintings. He is still involved in comics however, and has ‘self published’ an eight-part series called New World Order and another book called Retro-Dead.
How did you come to be an artist on Transformers?
I was living in Paris, France and found life there very difficult in a financial sense, although I really loved living there in many other ways. Unfortunately to work there you need a special card which was almost impossible to obtain, so I picked up a couple of issues of Indiana Jones that I had done for Marvel US, and hitched a ride with an 18 wheeler over to London. I stepped into the offices of Marvel UK and spoke with Simon Furman. I showed him my comics and asked if he had any work for me. He said yes and handed me the script for Transformers #115 a couple of older issues of the book and some model sheets to go by, and let me know when he needed them by. I told him that I preferred to ink my own work and he agreed.
What was it like working for Marvel UK?
For the most part it was really great! When I turned in #115 Simon seemed to really like it and told me I could work on a regular basis if I wanted to. I told him that I would love to but I wanted to live in Paris. He asked me how I proposed to pull this off. I told him that when I was working for Marvel in the states that I actually lived in Miami and mailed my jobs to New York through Fed Ex, and saw no reason why that arrangement shouldn’t work again. Simon agreed and I went back to Paris.
When I finished the next job however, I thought it would be fun to travel back over to London, so this time I spent the little money I had left and bought a bus ticket. Unfortunately for me when I got to the border control they told me that I couldn’t get into England because I didn’t have enough money on me. They took me to a little room, took my artwork, strip searched me, verbally abused me, and when they returned my artwork the first page of the story was missing. I told them that they stole my art. They told me that was too bad, then they proceeded to handcuff me and throw me in the back of their police car, pushed me to the floor and started to beat me. Then they dragged me onto the ferry back to Paris.
When we got there the French border guard was sitting at his desk reading a newspaper. He asked me what happened… why was I handcuffed with a cop on either side of me. I told him that the British wouldn’t let me in because I didn’t have enough money on me. He asked me what I did. I told him I was an artist. He laughed and said: “You’re an artist… of course you don’t have any money.” He asked me where I lived, I told him Paris, and he said: “hitchhike back”, then went back to reading his paper.
I called Simon when I got back and explained what had happened. I was already a little late on the story, so the pressure to get the job to him was enormous. I spent the entire night up, and managed to re-pencil and ink the first page. So if you ever see a page that looks close to the splash page of Transformers #119, but a little different you’ll know that it was stolen and the person who stole it almost cost me my job at Marvel UK!
There were several artists working on the comic so who decided who would draw which strips?
Simon was in control as far as I knew. At any rate he was the guy that I always talked to.
How long did it take to draw an issue of The Transformers?
I really don’t remember exactly, but I know I was always a little late turning in the jobs. I’m sure I caused more than a few grey hairs on Simon’s head.
Was it tricky to master the look of around 100 or so characters?
Well they gave me character sheets from the movie for each character. I was always trying to find ways to make them look more exciting and got in a little trouble because I would bend the arms and legs of the characters, and would use energy dots to show the transformation scenes. I also got a kick when I got a chance to design a building or a transformer that didn’t exist (They were like Star Trek’s red shirts… sure to die).
You have a distinctive style of drawing. Who influences your work and was there anyone at Transformers whose art you particularly admired?
Thank you very much. It’s nice to know that some people appreciate the work I was doing. Comics wise my influences are so many… C.C. Beck, Kirby, Colan, Palmer, Adams, Kubert, Infantino, Moebius, Frazetta, etc… the list reads like a who’s who of the true greats in comic history. I really liked Geoff Senior’s work… especially the stuff he was doing for a while before I showed up. It was so graphic and clean… very good design sense.
What influence, if any, did you have over story lines as an artist?
I didn’t have much say over the story lines. However I did try to make every page as much fun as I could… after all I’m a real fan of this wonderful medium and try to make my work as cool as the work of the greats that I grew up admiring. I can only hope that I’m succeeding to some degree.
Did Hasbro have much of a say over the comic’s stories or the artwork?
Simon handled that end of it at the Marvel offices. I do know that the character had to look like those character sheets that they gave us.
Is there an issue of Transformers that you worked on that you are particularly proud of? If so, which and why?
There was something in every issue that I found exciting, that got my creative juices flowing, and Simon never really gave me too much interference. I was very free to follow my intuition. My living in Paris probably helped a lot with that aspect of things.
Were you a fan of the comic… and what do you think of the new Dreamwave Transformers titles?
I’m going to have to be honest with you, when I went over to Marvel UK I was hoping to draw the FF or Spidey or Thor… I had never even heard of the Transformers before. I didn’t even see the movie until years later when I returned the states. However it did grow on me, and I like the idea of living metal beings… kind of reminds me of the Voyager theme in the first Star Trek movie.
Did you/do you have much contact with the fans and what kind of feedback did you get about your work?
I really didn’t even know there was a fan network until I stumbled onto your website. When I was doing the book all those years ago I was working in a vacuum fan wise. I thought I was doing some really kick butt work but had no way of knowing if anyone else thought so as well.
Are you surprised how enduring the Transformers franchise has proved to be?
It did seem to me to just be a passing fad at the time…
Finally, what else have you done aside from Transformers… and what does the future hold for Dan Reed?
For Charlton I did the Blue Beetle and The Question, as well as Captain Atom. For DC I did some House Of Mystery stuff, and some D&D books. For Marvel I worked on characters ranging from the Hulk to Captain America, the Punisher, Alpha Flight and others. The fanzine “Comic Book Artist” did an interview with me as well.
I self published a series called New World Order which ran for eight issues, and did another book called Retro-Dead. The basic premise behind New World Order deals with the world of the future where people who live in space stations have evolved into a new species, and look at us as an inferior life form and dominate the planet. The protagonists are a trio of artists in a world where art is banned. It’s a mature readers book and reflects some adult themes. Retro-Dead takes place after a dimensional rift has swept across the planet, physically altering people to revert into the being that lies within their souls. If someone is a blood-sucking vampire by nature, then he actually becomes that in the ‘real’ world. The idea being that the monsters that live among us can no longer hide behind the guise of being human.
Also I’ve been doing some characters that I created for Gary Carlson’s “Big Bang”, the “Great Pyramid” and the “Dimensioneer”. I’m also involved with doing some illustrations for Edgar Rice Burroughs fan magazines including one in the UK. I’ve been painting for many years and have a website you might want to check out…. www.artblazer.com
As far as the future goes, I hope continue painting and creating my own characters.
2 thoughts on “Dan Reed: How being broke saved my life!”
Great interview! I wasn’t a big fan of Dan Reed’s work at the time but, actually, looking back now, it was far more exciting and memorable than some of his contemporaries.
Yes it was a strikingly different style to the other TF artists and as a result there were mixed opinions among the fandom. I think stories like City of Fear with its robotic zombies were absolutely perfect for Dan, and in Deadly Games he was able to demonstrate his creativity with the various weird and wonderful aliens. Glad you enjoyed the interview.