With Titan Comics’ Doctor Who: The Seventh Doctor coming to bookshelves in November, Blogtor Who sat down with Jessica Martin – star of the The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, comic book artist and singer.
Jessica Martin is a woman of many talents, and almost as many connections to the world of Doctor Who. She first appeared in 1988’s The Greatest Show in the Galaxy as the Vulpanian werewolf Mags and returned to voice Queen Elizabeth II for David Tennant’s 2007 Christmas episode of Doctor Who: Voyage of the Damned. She is an accomplished author and artist for her own range of comics and graphic novels that celebrate Hollywood’s golden age so it is appropriate that she’s returned to Doctor Who as one of Titan Comics’ creative forces in the Doctor Who: The Seventh Doctor mini-series.
With the trade paperback edition of Doctor Who: The Seventh Doctor including Martin’s back up strip, Hill of Beans, arriving in bookshops on November 14th, Blogtor Who took the opportunity to chat with Ms. Martin.
BW: So, you’re back in the Doctor Who fold again after first being Mags in The Greatest Show in The Galaxy and then coming back to voice the Queen in Voyage of the Damned. How did the collaboration with Titan occur?
JM: I was on first visit to Gallifrey One … which is the large Doctor Who Los Angeles convention. I was invited over there, because of the comic work I was doing with the colourists, Charlie Kirchhoff and Mark Buckingham.
“It was a double whammy for Titan“
JM: Both Charlie and Mark are huge Doctor Who fans. But Charlie saw my name on some of the work he was colouring and asked whether I was the Jessica Martin that played Mags back in the day? So then he said “Have you ever been to Los Angeles for the Doctor Who cons?” No. So he put the words in the air, and I got to that con. So that’s 2015, and at that convention I met lots of Doctor Who writers, creators, and one of the people I met was Richard Dinnick, who as you know writes comics for Doctor Who.
Fast forward a year, and Mike came up with the genius idea of both of us pitching back the idea to Titan. He already knew they were bringing back the Seventh Doctor, and he thought it’d be a great story to have Mags return in a spin off. So he pitched the idea to Titan’s editor. Had he done that at a different time, you know when they weren’t really that interested in … It was all the other Doctors, it probably wouldn’t have landed, but they went for his storyline. And he also suggested that I illustrate comics.” Titan jumped on it. It was a double whammy for them. Not only did they get a new Mags story, but they also got the actress who played Mags, me , to illustrate it. was all very meta.
“We’re living in a larger than life world so you’ve got a huge amount of material for political satire.”
JM: So this was quite a long time ago, but it was mooted and we couldn’t talk about it cause it wasn’t official, and then wham suddenly this year, I’m at the Gallifrey convention again, and Titan unveiled the fact that they were going to do the Seventh Doctor series, and I was there exhibiting as a Doctor Who actress, but they were also able to bring me into the Titan fold “Hello she’s doing her own character”. Which is a first for not only a Doctor Who character, but any actor playing a pop culture hero has never illustrated their own character before.
BW: Hill of Beans is quite politically satirical with its ‘Shift-Right’ villains. Given your history with Spitting Image [Martin was a regular voice actor on the classic 80s TV show and played Edwina Currie, Princess Diana and others] and with Shirleymander [Gregory Evans’ play in which Martin played real-life corrupt politician Shirley Porter), is that political satire something you actively look for in projects?
JM: No, I am political with the small ‘p’. I’m all about the human story. My world view is very much my world view. It’s terrible. I should be much more well informed, but I always seem to end up in these kind of zeitgeist-y relevant, big stories. That’s not to say that I’m wishy washy. I have my beliefs but I’m not an activist. I don’t use my art and creativity as a platform. But, we’re living in a world with larger than life characters so you’ve got a huge amount of material for political satire.
“It was really important to me to capture the Sylvester gaze.”
JM: Its preposterous and its true. You don’t need to add anything. Just lay it straight down the line, and that’s where I fit in. With Spitting Image, that was a bit over the top some for me. I have got a comedic slant to me, but I really view myself as a character actress. So I was looking for a part that I could play a character with the idiosyncrasy but accurately. Not acting broadly. There are many layers to a character and throughout my career I’ve morphed and shifted to another role to another while keep a bit of the past with me. So, it’s just great.
BW: I didn’t expect that ending to Hill of Beans. Is there a sequel, possibly?
JM: I heard last week, that all the issues are sold out, bar one variant cover of issue 3. It’s quite incredible how popular it’s been.
So fingers crossed for a sequel.
BW: A lot of your work, like Vivacity [Martin’s graphic biography of Gone with the Wind star Vivian Leigh] for instance, features the likenesses of real life people. Is there an additional pressure when its people you know, like Sylvester and Sophie, and you know you’re going to meet them afterwards?
JM: I suppose there is, but that wasn’t on my mind because we had such a tight deadline to get the comics done. All I was thinking about was, can I get this done so that no one will be disappointed? Also, my style is my style. And I do like drawing the characters. It was really important to me to capture the Sylvester gaze, as I call it.
“Perhaps I’m an old soul.”
BW: From the books that you’ve written, focusing on characters like Leigh and like Clara Bow, you seem to have a great love and affection for that golden age of Hollywood. Where does that come from?
JM: Who knows? It’s interesting, because in my memoir there’s a scene where I’m walking with my mum around the age of five on my way to my primary school. It was a big private school with a primary and senior section. I remember pointing out to my mom and saying “why am I wearing this uniform? I want to wear that uniform!” I was pointing to a couple of girls who looked like they’d walked straight out of a Girl Annual.
Mummy said “Jessica, those are senior girls, and those uniforms are like something out of the 1930s”. I was always drawn to old fashioned things. When I was watching television, there were programs like Ready, Steady, Go and Thunderbirds on when I was a child, but I loved the old movies came on. I just sat up and watched. So, perhaps I’m an old soul. I definitely love that aesthetic and I love the stories of that time.
“We don’t always want realism. We want escapism.”
JM: I have a graphic novel, Elsie Harris Picture Palace, which is set in the 1930s film industry. What always fascinates me about those movies was their look. They have this fascinating quality. Partially because they were in black and white, but also because the way the special effects were done. They are like a fairytale book come to life. The models and matte paintings were filmed by the cameras that gave them this otherworldly look. … Its great you have CGI. It creates realism. But we have realism walking out the door. We don’t always want realism. We want escapism mixed with a potential that it could be real.
I’m half Irish, on my mother’s side. I have the love of story that I think it’s a Celtic thing. The love theme, the mystical, the enigmatic and mythology. It’s timeless.
BW: Your style is very classical. It’s delicate in comparison to the muscularity of a lot of comic books. Do you take any inspiration from other comic book artists or do you mainly look outside for influences?
“I can’t get away from my style. It’s my thing.”
JM: Doctor Who was probably outside of my comfort zone. At the moment I’m doing my own life story as a graphic memoir – Life Drawing: A Life Under Lights. It’s been really interesting having a look at the scans of my work in minute detail. So when comparing that work to my Doctor Who panels, the Doctor Who ones were much darker. Obviously I’d gone for a more definite kind of comic style.
I was an impressionist, so I’m used to looking to emulate other people to express myself. When I first began drawing the comics there were so many people to idolise. “Oh my God I want to draw like them, I want it to look like them.” I always end up doing something that is a little bit of the person I’m aspiring to, but a lot of it is just me. I can’t get away from my style. It is my thing.
BW: Is it a very different experience doing something as personal as an autobiography compared to a biography of someone else?
“I’d love to see a shop like Waterstones but full of graphic novels.”
JM: My approach to both types of work is to stress the narrative art. I’m approaching my own life story almost like I’m looking at myself from the outside. I’m telling the story. There’s a dramatic arc and I have to cut out extraneous detail that only would relate to me and interest me. I have to think about the audience sot that the story is interesting. Obviously I feel a lot more expansive and expressive doing my own story, not only is it my own story.
I’m part of the indie art area. Some people call it small press. Indie is probably Image and SelfMadeHero. My life story will be published by Unbound, who are known for working with pros. The hope is that they will bring my graphic novels into bookshelves. I’d love to see a shop like Waterstones, but full of graphic novels. It would have every single division you have in a Waterstones, but with pictures.
BW: I have to bring up your Seventh Doctor episodes – The Greatest Show on The Galaxy. One thing that really struck me is that the cast of people are so positive. And not just about the story, but about the experience of making it. There are endless stories about the bus drives down to location, where the cast were singing Anthony Newley songs and getting TP McKenna to record a rap.
It sounds like it was a very special, unique experience. Was it unusual or is that just how generally you find filming?
“It was just a lovely moment in time.”
JM: I guess it was unusual. And when I compare it to other stories filming Doctor Who that I have heard from Gallifrey One, I can now appreciate the uniqueness of it. But at the time, it just came naturally. We just kind of fell in with each other. Sophie and I were the same age, born a few days apart, And we had similar life experiences. We’d both fallen into acting and had been very luckily in our careers. We both had degrees in Drama and we had gone to vocational acting schools. So, we had all these points of connection.
And Sylvester and T.P had so much in common. They were of the same age and although their paths hadn’t crossed, they knew the same people. It was a really happy, cool experience. And JNT, he saw me as Judy Garland. He didn’t say that woman can do a werewolf. He just wanted me. He loved my work. I felt like there was no “oh God, you’re on trial here you better do this right”, we all felt like this is where we were meant to be.
Much to my surprise, we are all together over the same episode these years later. I never had any expectation that they would turn into a legacy as such. People say “oh God, did you think that you and Ace could’ve carried on your adventure?” I never thought about it. At the time it was just a lovely moment in time, and it was a job.
“‘I just love this, I want to be part of this world'”
BW: Finally, your Doctor Who characters show up in various cosplays of the series. What do you make of the rise of cosplay?
JM: It’s wonderful. It’s great. A very liberating thing. I’m in theatre, and people come and see our show but unless its The Rock Horror Show, they rarely come dress up. Cosplay is a way for fans to participate in the story. I can relate to that, because that’s why I was often drawing movie stars because it was my way of “oh my God, I just love this, I want to be part of this world, I want to carry on the flavour”. So, why not?
BW: Thank you
JM: You’re welcome.
BlogtorWho would like to thank Jessica Martin for her generosity with her time, as well as Olivia Fahy and the PR team at Dublin Comic Con for facilitating the interview.
Doctor Who: The Seventh Doctor, featuring Martin and Dinnick’s Hill of Beans will be collected by Titan Comics as a trade paperback, out the 14th of November. Full details are available at the Titan Comics website here
Doctor Who: The Seventh Doctor – Operation Volcano
An unknown alien intelligence in orbit around the Earth. Astronauts under attack. A terrifying, mysterious landing in the Australian interior. The future of the world itself at stake. Counter Measures activated.
And the Seventh Doctor and Ace slap bang in the middle of it all! This is OPERATION VOLCANO!
This brand new comic adventure features the Seventh Doctor and Ace, as played by Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, from the writers of the fan favourite episode Remembrance of the Daleks, which celebrates it’s 30th anniversary in 2018 – Andrew Cartmel and Ben Aaronovitch (Rivers of London)!
Whether you’re a long-time fan of the Seventh Doctor, or you’ve yet to have the pleasure, this accessible, big-budget movie extravaganza welcomes everyone with an all-new epic!
Includes a back-up comic written by Richard Dinnick (Twelfth Doctor) with art by Jessica Martin (Doctor Who actress).