When I was drawing up the list of illustrators I was keen to talk to, Greg Broadmore was one of the first names I wrote down. To be honest, I didn’t think I had much of a shot getting an interview since this project is still in its early phases. When he replied and said that he was keen, I lost my shit (luckily no one else was around).
I caught up with Greg a couple of weeks ago and found him to be an awesome, funny, sincere and humble man (also immensely talented). Greg is well known for his work at Weta Workshops on the movies King Kong and District 9 and developing the Dr Grordbort’s empire of comic books and replica ray guns. I was keen to hear from Greg a bit more about how he got started out as an illustrator, as I had read his main focus in his early twenties was playing in punk and metal bands and I wanted to find out more about how his art fitted into this picture.
What have you been up to recently?
I was over in Europe about a month ago. Dylan Horrocks, a brilliant New Zealand comics artist, invited me and a whole bunch of New Zealand comic artists over for the Treviso Comic Book Festival. I was there with Ben Stenbeck, Rufus Dayglo, Roger Langridge, Colin Wilson and Chris Slane. The event was set over the entire town, with places selling comics, signing events and exhibits dotted around the various galleries.
After Treviso I wandered my way up through Europe with my partner to Switzerland to meet a strange and interesting friend of mine, Andre Kuenzy. He’s an amazing artist and a bit of an intriguing character. He creates comics, shorts films and for lack of a better word, ‘inhabits’ a character called ‘the Blueman’.
We then went to Frankfurt [for the Book Fair]. Frankfurt was huge. They had a really good turnout, the venue looked cool and it was really exciting. I was there for the full week, and still would have seen only 5 percent of the whole show. There are event buildings five times the size of the equivalent that you’d get in New Zealand that I never got the chance to walk into. Someone told me they had done some calculation, that if you could walk the entire fair, giving due attention to every booth and all the books, it would take you something like seven years to walk the entire thing. No idea if that’s true but I can easily believe it.
Also you can’t just go there and buy books. You can go there and look at books but it’s a trade show. It’s like a candy store where you can’t eat any of the candy.
Sweet. So jumping back to your early days, whereabouts did you grow up?
I grew up in the town of Whakatane. I left there when I was about 18 and wanted to go somewhere with a comics shop.
It is an amazing town with really lovely people. It’s got great weather and right next to Ohope beach. It’s big enough to have had a video arcade, which was influential on my life. Actually, later on it had a few, including a Wizards, which was pretty flash. One of my favourite places was out the back of a fish ‘n’ chip shop on the main road and that was real ghetto. On a Thursday you could pay $3 and play all the games you wanted. That was the best.
Video games were just these big possibility spaces and you only had this brief little window with them. Now it’s totally different and not for the better or worse. Now you get a game and you can totally live in it, which is fantastic and it’s what I always wanted as a kid.
How did you find school in general?
I wasn’t really particularly interested. I wasn’t bad at school and I got by ok. But I didn’t like being in the environment of school itself. Having to do what the teachers told you to do and competing in the social hierarchy. I didn’t enjoy that side. I dreaded going to school most of the time.
By the time I was at high school I was a bit more tolerant, but by then I would wag all the time as I lived next door to high school. So I could just go outside, jump across the fence and be back at my house.
I kind of regret it now a little bit. There are certain things at school that I wished I’d focused on more because now that I’m older, I am very much about knowledge and learning about the world. You have your whole life to learn these things, but it’s like “Shit, I could have paid attention at the time. That could be some handy information”.
I took technical drawing in third form because that sounded cool. I was into drawing so I thought I should really learn that. After one week I’m thinking “Oh god! This sucks! I hate it! I don’t want anything to do with it”. And so I never took it after my first term. And now in retrospect it’s like “Oh shit, I wish I had done technical drawing as there is so much I could have learned from it”. This is probably why perspective and me are not best friends.
So when did you start getting into music?
Before high school, I’d always dreamed of playing music but never did. I didn’t have any ability and didn’t have access to any instruments. That being said, my Mum and Dad did buy a guitar for me and my brother to play. We suffered through one lesson before we realized we didn’t have the gumption to stick with it. I wanted to go straight from having no ability to being a rock star.
When I was about 17, a friend of mine, Bryan Jacobson introduced me to metal bands and punk bands and I just started rapidly absorbing all the punk rock that I possibly could. I then realised from talking with some friends who had played music at school, that they played this type of music in a band. I was asked “Do you want to play?” and I’m like “Sure” because I listened to some of the music and I thought “I think I might be able to do that”. I picked up a bass, and gave it a twang, and I thought, “Yeah, I think I could play something like The Misfits or The Dead Kennedys”. Actually there is no way I could play anything like The Dead Kennedys, but at the time it was a revelation to me. I only have to do this basic kind of stuff and it sounds awesome. It’s all about the distortion, the sound, the energy and the intent and that sort of liberated me from the feeling that I needed to know something technical or have some sort level of skill or talent.
Punk has one of the most liberating mindsets in arts. The punk attitude of “Fuck, it doesn’t matter if you don’t think you know how to do something. Just do it”. You can spend most of your life feeling like you need some sort of technical expertise or wisdom to do something. I now realise it’s not about that, but your inclination to do it.
You’re largely self-taught as an artist. Have you ever looked at doing some courses or study?
I tried to. When I left high school I applied for Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland but they wouldn’t have me.
During that year I thought “Shit, well I’ll apply for this basic kind of art course at Waiariki”. The course was called Preparatory Studies on Commercial Design, so it’s basically telling you to get ready, to get a job. It taught some bone carving, sign writing and screen-printing. That was all very useful in a sense but it was really just a way for me to spend a year cause I was confused about what the fuck I was actually doing. I met some nice people there and that was easily the best thing about it.
My main focus at this time was music. The course was just something to do. I was the person who wanted to paint comic book style things and fantastical things, so being at a place where I did bone carving and sign writing was not what I really needed to be doing. After that, I heard that the fine arts and design school in Whanganui was really good and applied.
They turned me down too, but just before the course started, a couple people dropped out so they called me up and I took a place. At the start it worked out really well. They had this dilapidated house away from the campus where they pushed some of the artists, and for some lucky reason, I got put in there. At the start it was the best thing ever. There’s no one else around but these other amazing artists, who are great people and I just get to do what I want to do. That was perfect. All I need is inspiration around me and I’ll do it.
That lasted for a couple of months, and now the tutors came along and were “Right. We’re pulling you back from there and we want you to come over to the main course”. I was pissed off. Everything from that point on was “Draw still lifes. Draw landscapes. Do some basic fricking sketching exercise”. That was of no interest or value to me as an artist. I realized this sucks and was so intense about the stuff I liked and wanted to do, I couldn’t handle it and had to leave after three months. I felt very guilty because my Dad paid money up front to get me into the course and I’m like “Nah, I’m out”. Teenagers eh? Dicks.
So I tried to teach myself art via the normal institutional methods and it never really worked for me. It’s not in my nature anyway. If I want to learn something, I’ll seek out how to do it myself or figure it out through trial and error. I am always wary of anyone teaching you anything unless it’s purely technical, especially in art as I think it’s more fun if you learn it yourself. I don’t mean to talk down the idea of learning from people who clearly have talent and can pass that on, cause I know lots of people who can absorb it that way. It just doesn’t work for me.
I was lucky enough to not start a student loan, so I’ve never had to pay one back. I just owe my parents I guess, and maybe the New Zealand government for a looooot of dole. I lived off that dole for 7 years and at the cheapest level. At the start I would have been getting $100 a week to live on. You learn to live cheap.
Man, so how did you make ends meet with that?
So that’s $20 groceries, getting some spaghetti and beans. $30–$70 on rent – what you try to do is find the cheapest place possible in town to live and split it amongst as many people as possible. We would find the shittiest cheapest place in town and shove as many of our friends in there as possible. Finally bills, power etc… and whatever is leftover is for beer. That’s the way to do it because the less rent you had to pay, the more beer you could buy.
We got the cheapest beer we could find. The one we used to get was called Bighorn. I don’t remember what it tasted like; I assume now that it tasted like water with beer mixed into it.
So after trying out a couple of courses and deciding that wasn’t for you, you became more focused on making music?
I sort of side tracked into music because I loved it so much. The band that I played in the most was Ghidrah, with my friends, Christian Pearce and Brian Holloway. I’d been hanging out with those guys and we were into the same stuff. We saw all the music around us that was supposedly punk rock but it didn’t have the intensity or the raw energy that we thought was punk rock. We all had this common ground of Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat and Black Flag. So we wanted to create a band that didn’t sound like them but had the same level of rawness and intensity.
Before that I was ‘working’ up in Auckland in a little music store in St Kevin’s Arcade and right across from there was a placed called Space Your Face. It was run by Steve Hodge, who would later start Illicit Clothing with Martin Emond. Steve sold stoner posters and bongs and stuff like that and I hung out with him, playing hacky, smoking… substances.
When I was living back in Hamilton, I heard about Steve working with this guy Martin Emond. At this point, Martin Emond was this amazing figure to me: “Holy shit. How does he do what he does? He is such an incredible artist and so prolific”. And I find out that Steve knows him and is going down to Wellington to visit him. So I went down with him, and met Martin and Simon Morse. It opened my eyes to making comic books and artwork. I realized “Shit, I should really start doing more of this”. I realized that making music was never going to pay my rent and I knew that from the start. I thought I might be able to eke out some extra cash from doing freelance art jobs.
That life change was all triggered by those guys and later, inspired by them I did the comic [Killer Robots will Smash the World] with the guys from The Package. It was very much a flight of fancy and getting to satisfy my own creative whims. I’d waited for years throughout my creative life for someone who could write stories for me and I could bring those stories to life. I had never really met that person so I thought, “Fuck it, I’ll just write and draw it myself”. In fact I won’t even have a story. It will just be these insane catastrophes of violence that will happen with all the ingredients that I enjoy like robots, dinosaurs and tanks.
The stuff I write now has a bit more rhyme and reason to it, but not always. Usually it’s just an excuse to draw the things I want to draw.
So during your 20s while on the dole, did you do any other work to supplement your income? Did the band make any money?
I never managed to make any cash on the side. A band costs you money cause you have to save up all the money to buy the equipment. With Ghidrah we toured a lot. We would go between Auckland and Wellington and a few places in between, but we never made any money out of that. You might get enough to pay for your petrol if you’re lucky. So I never made a cent from that. That didn’t matter though as the joy was in playing the music.
I ended up getting fired from the dole because I lost my temper and swore at my caseworker. I was on the dole for seven years and after that long you tend to get a case worker whose whole job seemingly is to make your life shit and force you to do something you don’t want to do. I had to report in every week and they made me do all kinds of strange jobs. Finally in the end I had to work in the same compound as my caseworker. I had to see her every day. That’s as shit as it gets.
I won’t get into the whole story, but I got mad at something she said and I lost my temper, which was really stupid and swore at her and had a bit of a tirade. At the end of that I realised “Oh shit, now I’m fired from the dole”. She said “Get your stuff and go. You’re out of here”. At that point you have a stand down period from the dole, so I just had to start selling everything I owned like my musical instruments that I’d scrimped and saved for, or pleaded to my parents for. Poor white boy. Ha!
At the same time we decided to move to Wellington. I had to give up my dreams (well it felt like giving up) and got a job at a video game store. It was a good job but it felt very much like I was giving up. When I was unemployed I was incredibly productive making albums and comics. I just had no understanding how I could turn that into anything where I could make a living out of it.
I had resigned myself to the fact I was never going to make a living out of it and that was fine. But when I finally got a job, it was a kind of defeat. It was realising “This is what I am going to do now. I’m not going to have time to do my art and I have to do this job”. But it was also during this time I started doing more freelance artwork.
How did the freelance work start?
When I first moved to Wellington, I drew a Moa standing next to a Punga – very kiwi. I drew a couple of other things that probably weren’t very suitable, but I put them into a folio and took them into a place called Learning Media where they promptly ignored it. Then randomly about a year later, I got a call from one of the editors there, “Do you want to try this job?” I was “Yes, of course I do!” I think it was about a Samoan dad and his son. The dad was describing how these giant rocks were these giant rock men, and all I remember is that they went sliding down a hill at the end.
I did that story and a bunch of other work – 30 books in all. I’m very grateful for the work, but it was not particularly gratifying. It wasn’t the stuff I wanted to be doing, but I was paid and met good people which got me thinking that maybe I could do some kind of commercial art. That wasn’t really much more appealing than working in a video game store, cause it was not the kind of art I wanted to make. Nevertheless at least I am using this skill I have. It also taught me about deadlines, working diligently and working with a client.
So what happened next?
So I was doing a little bit of freelancing alongside working at the games store. I saved up enough money so I could stay unpaid for three months. It was just enough to pay rent, bills and groceries. During that time I did Killer Robots will Smash the World. I knew I had three months till the money dried up, so I needed to work relentlessly on that. In a way, that book almost became my portfolio for Weta.
The Lord of the Rings came out, but I was not expecting that The Lord of the Rings would be ‘fucking incredible’. That first film was “Wow, holy shit!” and then it dawns on you that, “Oh yeah. They made this here in Wellington. How the fuck did they do that?” That was the moment I realised “I’ve got to send a folio into Weta”. They were about to start King Kong and Evangelion, which fell through in the end. My folio had dinosaurs and robots. Right time. Right place. I was very lucky.
How was the applying and getting into Weta process?
I sent in a folio and I got a letter back to come in and meet Richard Taylor [Creative Director of Weta Workshop]. Richard must have shown the folio to some of the team there at Weta. Two of the guys working there, Warren Mahy and Ben Wootten, were both from Whakatane where I grew up. I knew Ben from playing Dungeons & Dragons with him when I was 14 years old. Also Tania Rodger, Richard’s partner, is from near Whakatane as well. There was that nice serendipity. Those other guys I guess put in a good word for me.
I went in and had an interview and a walk around the workshop. Near the end of the interview I was either stupid or arrogant enough to say “So when do I start?” I think Richard chuckled and said, “We’ll see what we can do”, and 2–3 weeks later I started. Once I was in I was like “You can’t let me out! I’m not going! You’ll have to tear me out with a crow bar”.
That was like being thrown from the frying pan into the fire. I knew what I could do, but suddenly your whole game had to be lifted cause you’re in amongst incredibly talented people who think through what they do at the most intense level. There was a lot to learn and I had to raise my skills really quickly.
The first thing I was doing was Evangelion, working on a mood board. We were also working on a television show that never happened, which was a real shame. It was a really cool idea about cryptozoology. Not long after that, I started working on Narnia and King Kong.
When did you start trying out sculpting?
Almost straight away. Richard Taylor is an amazing sculptor and made it apparent early on that you should learn sculpting. He encouraged me to learn because if you can sculpt there’s a whole other arena of things you can do. Something that people don’t realise about the workshop is that it goes up and down over time with the kinds of work on offer. So if you’re a specialist in one area, when the work ebbs you can be totally left out to dry. The more adaptable you can be, the better.
I think the first thing I made was a T-Rex bust. Funnily enough the last thing I would have sculpted before Weta would have been a plasticine T-Rex when I was 8 years old in church with my grandmother. I think that Gino Acevedo still has it somewhere. I don’t think it was too bad really. That said I haven’t seen it in 5 years. I might see it now and throw up slightly. Nevertheless, I ended up using those skills on King Kong and Narnia.
I don’t tend to sculpt so much anymore cause when I need sculpture done, I rely on people who are masters at it. I go back to Jamie Beswarick who’s one of the greatest sculptors I know. Max Patte is another friend who is an incredible sculptor and there are plenty of others. When I need something done, I turn to them cause they can do it so much better than I could ever dream.
The Third Book in the Dr Grordbort series, Triumph, is out now. Greg thinks it’s neat so you should go and buy it and learn where Kuiper Cola, the sola system’s most refreshing beverage, comes from. Also from November 28th 2012 – January 26th 2013 you can visit the Dr Gordbort Exceptional Exhibition at 48-50 Cuba St, Wellington featuring artwork and sculpture from the Dr Gordbort universe.