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Dean Ormston: From the Devil to Superheroes

Updated: Jan 24, 2020

Dean Ormston has been illustrating comic book since 1990 when he landed a gig on JUDGE DREDD MAGAZINE. He continued to do work over at 2000 AD before working at DC/Vertigo.

While at Vertigo, Dean worked on titles such as SANDMAN, BOOKS OF MAGIC and THE EATERS. Perhaps the book he's best known for would be LUCIFER, with Mike Carey. Dean's dark and ominous style was perfect for the estranged ruler of Hell. The book has been well regarded since it's creation and continues to bring in new fans each year.

For the past few years, Dean has been working with Jeff Lemire on BLACK HAMMER over at Dark Horse. The book isn't your typical superhero book, it's better. The series is an homage/love letter to the entire superhero genre and is the best superhero comic not published by the Big Two. The series won in Eisner Award in 2017 for Best New Series and continues to be one of the best books out right now. BLACK HAMMER recently got optioned for a TV series, which I'm sure all Black Hammer fans can hardly wait for.

Dean is currently working on more BLACK HAMMER as well as other projects yet to be announced.

COMIC LOUNGE: When did you first break into comics?

DEAN ORMSTON: It was around 1990, I was working in a comic book shop in Sheffield and in my spare time I used to draw sample pages and adverts for this and other shops. We had quite a few guest signings at the shop and two in particular helped launch my career, first was Dave Mckean and Neil Gaiman who liked my artwork, they gave me a lot of encouragement and helped pave the way to contacts at 2000ad and then JUSTICE LEAGUE artist Kevin Maguire said, if I could get to New York he would take me to publishers DC and Marvel to show my work. Within the year I was in New York visiting Marvel and Dc where i managed to pick up a few tryout scripts including a Spider-Man short which was published in MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS.

COMIC LOUNGE: Who were some of your inspirations when you were younger?

DO: Very early on I was really inspired by a lot of the artists working on the Warren horror comics, such as Angelo Torres, Al McWilliams, Al Williamson, Jose Ortiz, Alex Toth, Gene Colan, i was obsessed with Colan art on TOMB OF DRACULA, and Jack Kirby's art on FANTASTIC FOUR, THOR and HULK.

COMIC LOUNGE: You've done a lot of work with Vertigo, most notably on LUCIFER. What was that experience like, adding to the SANDMAN myhtos?

DO: I was very lucky to work with really great writers at Vertigo and working with Mike Carey on LUCIFER was so much fun. I had done a 7 page segment on SANDMAN at short notice after Glyn Dillon had injured his arm and struggled to finish the issue, but the more regular gig on LUCIFER helped shape my career and help me learn to focus on storytelling. I was in quite early on the run of LUCIFER, issue 4 I think, and at that point neither Vertigo or Mike would have known how well the series would be received, in fact I loosely based the character sketches of Elaine Belloc on Vertigo editior Shelly Bond, and her friend Mona on my wife Fiona, and although i never imagined Elaine would go on to be a reoccurring character in Lucifer, it's great to add to the world of Sandman.

COMIC LOUNGE: What were some memorable moments on your Vertigo work?

DO: It's really hard to point to one or two moments. I had so many memorable times at Vertigo but I guess working with and becoming friends with Steve Seagle and Shelly Bond, working with long time friend and collaborator Si Spencer, THE EATERS with Peter Milligan, my teeny tiny input on SANDMAN, meeting Jeff Lemire, and the DC party's in New York drinking pints of White Russian with Duncan Fegredo (well I know I was).

COMIC LOUNGE: You have been workin with Jeff Lemire on BLACK HAMMER. How has this experience differed from past projects? How much input do you have on designs?

DO: BLACK HAMMER allows for much more freedom to create and work without the limitations of a set of established boundaries, DC and Marvel have such a long history and set way of doing things, and it works. But my guess is they would more than likely have rejected Black Hammer especially with me onboard as artist. Jeff had tried to get me working on titles at DC such as ANIMAL MAN and his answer was 'he's not a superhero artist' and to be honest that is true, but I hope that is why BH works so well.

So we get the freedom to create from the ground up, but it took a while for me to adjust. It wasn't until I couldn't work for 6 months and Jeff flatly refused the editors request to hand over art duties to another artist, that the reality of 'creator owned' dawned upon me, for the first time in 25 years I had sway over a book. Many years before we started work on BLACK HAMMER, Jeff already had some idea of how he wanted the main core characters to look, and my early versions took elements of his sketches as a launch point but tailored to my way of drawing. All the other characters and settings pretty much happen when I start to draw a page.

On a few occasions some of the characters who were only intended to appear on one flashback page or even just a single panel such as Cthu-Lou, Doc Frankenstein, Doc Star went on to be major characters in the BH world and had i known this at the time I think I would have put a lot more work into the overall design, and they did need slight updating when they re-appeared.

COMIC LOUNGE: The series has been somewhat of a love letter to superheroes and the industry as a whole. Have you added any character ideas to the story?

DO: Not so much. Jeff has always been so far ahead of me with his scripts it would be hard to add something extra. But, as mentioned earlier, there are little accidental bits of inspiration where Jeff sees something in a character drawing that he can expand upon.

COMIC LOUNGE: You must be excited that the book is being adapted for television. What was tour initial reaction when you heard the news?

DO: With Legendary as well, that is HUGE but it's still a bit surreal, and to be honest i don't want to get too excited at this point it would be too much of a distraction.

COMIC LOUNGE: Are there any other projects you're working on that you can talk about?

DO: I can say it will be with Jeff, but we'll keep it quiet for now

COMIC LOUNGE: What would be a dream project for you?

DO: A horror book with Jeff. Also, I would love to work with Mike Mignola, we have talked but our schedules have got in the way so far, and I guess I've always loved the idea of doing a Batman book, I'm an old Goth at heart.

COMIC LOUNGE: What has being an artist meant to you?

DO: Very frustrating, but wouldn't change it for the world.

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