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24 January 2020

David 'Slainé' Pugh interviewed

When I heard that comics artist (and now, writer - but more on that later) David 'Slainé, Dan Dare' Pugh was going to be back in the UK in May for his inaugural trip to the Lawless comics convention I jumped on the chance to get in touch with him for a catch-up... 

Is this the first time in a long time you've been to a comics convention or is it the first time you've ever been a guest at a comics convention?
I attended several conventions from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties; I particularly enjoyed the Glasgow conventions as everyone was very friendly. However the American guests and those still working on 2000AD were the stars of the shows. I was drawing for Boys’ Adventure, so very few children came and when they did it was usually their mother who asked for a sketch. 

I did several Games Workshop Golden Demon conventions where I could sell my Obvious Tactics pages, I was only given 10% of the art sales but even though I was doing the selling I never received any of the promised money. One highlight of a Birmingham show was Patti Boulaye, the singer, actress and artist buying a page from me saying she loved by female assassin and would like to write a ballet around her. On the downside a dad came over to look at my work saying, ‘I always wanted to be a comic strip artist, I’m glad I didn’t though; I decided to be a musician and get a life.’ It was at that point that I began wondering if comics were really what I wanted to be doing. That was twenty years ago and I don’t think I went to another convention after that; I wasn’t enjoying the drawing anymore. All the creativity for me was in doing the ten minute 3”x 2” thumbnail sketch, the rest was two days of craftsmanship. 

I found I was taking more and more time out of the business to go travelling in India and Africa. In 2009 I spent two months as a volunteer graphic designer and computer art teacher in the Tibetan refugee community in Dharamsala, India. I fell in love with these brave young people who had mostly walked across the Himalayas in winter to escape Chinese oppression. I found that I was getting the buzz from this work more than from the day job. I was working as colourist and 3D background artist on the Daily Mirror’s Scorer strip, simply for the monthly pay cheque, when it was axed I knew it was time for me to quit the comics business forever, I handed the house keys to artist Jon Haward and returned to Dharamsala. Five months later my Indian visa expired so I spent three months in Nepal travelling west to east across the country. I’ve been pretty much travelling ever since collecting the colours to paint my novel DHARMA SUTRA.

from the United Kingdom Comic Art Convention (UKCAC) 1987

For anyone who can't get to Bristol to meet you, where else could they see you in 2020? I think you have a bit of a world tour planned!
I’m only back in the UK for two weeks and I’ll probably be doing some long postponed repairs to my house in Wales. Anyone can come and visit if they PM me on Facebook, we have two spare bedrooms. I’m not planning on any UK signings or readings but if anyone with a bookshop is reading please get in touch. 

I’m flying to New York May 21st for just three nights and I’ve written to several Lower East Side bookstores who I thought might be interested in a reading from DHARMA SUTRA but not one has replied. I expect they get approached every day by authors and the New Yorkers I used to know weren’t the most sensitive people I’ve met’ But Hey! I’ve not been back there for forty years so I’m not qualified to comment and with Walt Disney owning Times Square I’m expecting the city to have a different atmosphere than those gritty days in the late seventies. 

It’s my daughter, Esme’s 40th birthday on May 25th so I’ll be in Dallas, Texas with my son, Sam to help her celebrate and to catch up with the granddaughters. I’m hoping to do a reading in Deep Ellum but nothing’s fixed. From Dallas Sam and I are planning to head to Taos, New Mexico and again I hope to find some stores across the state to do some readings. Depending on whether I get any invites and the money doesn’t run out Sam and I will go to the West Coast as I’ll be flying back to Thailand from Los Angeles and there’s a couple of friends I’d like to catch up with.

You're quite active on Facebook, which of your strips do people talk to you about the most?
It’s always Slaine, particularly because of the messy and abrupt way I left the strip. After Tomb of Terror I took a two week trip to Sri Lanka, there were very few tourists in 1986 because of the civil war. I was in a taxi going to the airport when I spotted a man in a white suit dragging a suitcase through the streets of Colombo, maybe it was the BBC’s Mark Tully! Time stopped for me as I looked through the back window and I said to myself, “I want to be that man.” I couldn’t get his image out of my head and on the plane ride back to London for the first time I pondered if drawing comics was what I really wanted to do. I was expecting to find the Sky Chariots script on the doormat when I got back but nothing was there. 

The following weekend I was a guest at a Birmingham comics convention, I was sat on the same dining table as Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons who were excitedly passing around photocopies of Watchmen and Killing Joke, on seeing these I decided that yes, there were still a lot of territories for me to cross in comics.  Sitting alone at the far end of table was Mike McMahon looking burnt out and not speaking to anyone, I felt very uncomfortable as I had replaced him on Slaine. It was then that Karma struck me a similar blow, Mike Collins came over to introduce himself. I’d not met him before so I asked him what he was doing, ‘I’m drawing Slaine!’ he replied and that was how I found out I was off the strip. Pat Mills apologised much later about this and even put the apology in print but I never truly recovered from the pain and I knew how wretched Mike McMahon must have been feeling.

from the United Kingdom Comic Art Convention (UKCAC) 1986

Just before Christmas you sold (for charity) quite a lot of your original Slainé artwork, is that all gone now? Do you have any left?

Every last scrap of my Slaine work has gone including any thumbnails I had. The only Bus Fare project I have left is here in Si Thep, I’d met a brother and sister when I lived in Pattaya. There is little work in Si Thep so they had taken the seven hour bus ride to find work but longed to go home. Bus Fare was founded by me in February 2011 in response to the cancellation of the Scorer football strip, my last regular work. I had been doing some hard travelling for many years and had been helping out the good friends I met in India, Africa & Nepal.  The time had come for me to turn my little philanthropic gestures into something more dynamic. The charity Bus Fare was set up to help refugees and migrant workers visit their families, either separated by political or economic necessity.  It also provided some pocket money to compensate for loss of wages, while they were travelling. 

All the artwork I sold went to help bring a little happiness to many people. Unfortunately in 2015 in West Africa I ran into the man who was the number one inspiration for DHARMA SUTRA’S villain, Bob Jatta. He expressed interest in expanding the small homestay project we had tried to set up. He had suggested we went 50/50 on researching a slightly more upmarket approach, as the only couple who had signed up couldn’t face sleeping in a mud brick house. While looking for local hotels, he forcibly marched us to an ATM machine in a Senegalese border town and over a three day period emptied the Nationwide account I’d set up for Bus Fare, which at the time had £1,500 in it. After that I never returned to Africa and had to scale down my plans to this one land rehabilitation project I have here. 

Just refreshing the soil for planting took two deliveries of earth at £500 and there are ongoing house repair and building projects but at least the brother and sister are back home looking after their mother. In the time I’ve known the family the oldest brother and sister have died following years of poverty related illness, in the oldest brother’s case it was from years of continual alcohol abuse. A daily wage here is as low as £6.30 for labouring in the sun and a half bottle of strong rice whisky costs 75 pence and many find it more tempting to buy the whiskey than eat food. It puts working conditions here in Thailand in sharp contrast to the £7.70 an hour minimum wage in the UK.

Do you expect to be able to bring any of your other original artwork with you to Lawless?
I only have twenty-three LONER pages left but many DAN DARE full colour artworks, that people may be interested to see and to purchase. I think I’ve brought all my Facebook Fan Page albums up to date, if anyone would like to look at them. I still need ongoing funds for my project here in Thailand and I hoping to remain here for some time.

I understand you've retired from drawing now to allow you focus on your writing - for anyone who's not come across your written work before what can you tell us about it? Will you have copies of your book(s) for sale?

I have some signed limited edition DHARMA SUTRA novels in gold foil cover, twenty-five numbered paperbacks and ten numbered hardbacks. I’ve sold a few and given some away to people who have supported the novel. For those who haven’t come across my endless promoting on Facebook, here’s a brief summary. The novel is semi-autobiographical; disillusioned comic strip artist Jeffrey Dharma and Remus Jallow, a Gambian palm tapper are in India on a search for Cosmic Love. In West Africa Jeffrey’s wife, Sylvia clashes over a land claim with Bob Jatta a sexually dysfunctional people trafficker and drug lord and results in a bloody conflict, when a Botswana hitman falls in love with Sylvia and leads her in battle against Jatta. Jeffrey and Remus eventually find the woman who helps them on the path to sexual enlightenment and the truth of creation. The two are guided by a charismatic ageless man who they think may be the real Jesus.

You can buy the book on ebay here

DHARMA SUTRA draws on my own travel journals and the later Indian sequences were written on location in Orissa, India over a three month period in 2017. I’ve travelled in many parts of Africa and India and most of the characters in DHARMA SUTRA are drawn on real people I have met. This is especially so when it comes to the Remus Jallow character, I’ve changed his name but my meeting with him in West Africa at Christmas 2001 did change the course of my life. The idea for the book first came to me when I met an Indian sadhu in Pushkar, Rajasthan in 2004, he could have been the twin of my Gambian friend. A moment of enlightenment in the Jagannath temple on Puri beach, December 2011 brought me a new perception and led to the creation of my alter ego, Jeffrey Dharma. DHARMA SUTRA covers many ‘What if?’ moments of my own life, beginning with, ‘What if my father had taken up a challenge to ride the Wall of Death in 1957?’ and ‘What if my wife and I had bought the Crocs Apartment block in Bakau, the Gambia, which we had a notion to purchase?’ Also what would have life been like for my Gambian friend had he really become an Indian sadhu?

You seem mainly to live in Thailand now, what English beer would you most like people to buy you at Lawless?

I have a retirement visa here in Thailand with no immediate plans to return to the UK permanently but I really do miss a good real ale. If anyone’s buying could I have a Fullers ESB, a lovely malty bitter which I can get it in Bangkok if I take a five hour bus ride, curiously it’s one of those rare beers that can taste better in a bottle, probably because it’s 5.9ABV and the cask 5.5ABV. I’m happy to drink any strong ale, McEwan’s Champion comes in at a 7.3ABV or any of their delightful heavy Scottish ales, maybe one of the reasons I found the Glasgow conventions so appealing.   

...and cheers to you David - thanks for taking the time to be interviewed 

1 comment:

  1. Always fantastic to hear if your wonderful work helping others David. I'm really looking forward to seeing you at Lawless.