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Avengers Artland
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Avengers Artland
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The Thunder Child: Art

Ian Duerden, creator of Avengers Artland
Interview by Caroline Miniscule
All artwork © Ian Duerden

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Visit Avengers Artland and you'll be plunged into Avengerland, where nothing is ever as it seems. Ian Duerden creates graphics of pure brilliancy...it looks like Emma and Steed are virtually walking right off the page...not to mention such stalwarts as Mother, Dr. Keel, Cathy Gale, Tara King and Purdey.

Duerden is constantly adding new and gorgeous content to the site. The latest is desktops available for download - the classic "Steed and Emma on a chessboard" and "Steed and Emma through the champagne glass."

http://artland.theavengers.tv/index.html

Ian Duerden writes:
I was bought up in the rural flat lands of north Lincolnshire on the bleak East Coast of Britain. All the villages around us ended in 'thorpe' or 'toft' which means Viking settlement. Recent and Middle history seems to have bypassed Lincolnshire and from the tenth century onwards the county seems to have shirred away from civil wars, industrial revolutions and technological advances. But the land is steeped in deep history. There's 11th century Norman churches in every village; Viking Berserkers landed their longboats on the open defenceless dunes and Romans built the Fosse Way. In the fields around us flint axes and spearheads from the stone age were often bought to the surface by the churning of the plough blades.
This was certainly the first serious impression of my childhood; we were children in an ancient world. It was because of this rural setting that television in the 1960s played such an important part. It gave us a view of 'elsewhere'. For me it gave an alternative to the past???m science fiction in the future. I began to soak up Outer Limits, Out of this World, and the Twilight Zone. A new door had been opened.

On the other hand my father watched thrillers.

It was a Saturday night when I sat with him to watch a new series on the commercial channel. It was a replacement toNo Hiding Place (my father's favourite programme) and therefore not entirely welcome. In the first episode one of the lead characters (or so I had thought her to be) was shot dead. A very sinister character arrived somewhere after the first break and I was convinced he was the villain. He had an ordinary name, John Steed, and was a bit of a mystery. With the main character, Doctor Keel, they hunted down the killers, and The Avengers was born. It was never my programme while Keel and later Cathy Gale partnered Steed, but I watched it to keep my father company.

Then one Saturday, after a long break, it returned but this time on film and with a new assistant, Emma Peel. "The Town of No Return" changed everything. I fell in love with Diana Rigg and from then on it was my series. Things were never the same again.

My other interest beside television was drawing.

I remember discovering I had a talent for drawing gradually. In my first year at Primary school my teacher said we must have had a lovely garden because all I'd draw were flowers. I don't think we did, it was just that I could draw flowers better than anything else. When I looked at the other children's drawings of houses I wondered why they drew the windows in the very corners of the building.


"Legacy"

Then came one memorable day. The previous week a lad had bought in a book on badgers. Our teacher, a spinster called Miss Lee, told us to draw some badgers. Everyone started drawing except me. I wanted to see the badgers again, I needed reference. I cried so much I ruined the picture of my last drawing in my sketchbook. Miss Lee, normally a kind lady, said I was being ridiculous and she tore the soaking picture out and told me to get on drawing. I looked from one side to the other at children clutching pencils in fists and scribbling on their pages. None looked like any animal I'd seen but I realised she wasn't expecting an accurate drawing, she would be happy with any scribble I did. Well, I could do that. But from that moment on I knew I was different in my outlook to art. A badger isn't just an animal with fur. It's reflecting direct and ambient light. It's movement and life. Neither is it independent of its surroundings; the same badger in a shaded wood will look different in open meadows.

Eventually it became obvious to everyone that I would be an artist. Brooke Bond, (famous for tea from Ceylon) had an annual educational award which our school took part in. Every year I won first prize in my age group for art. It became a way of life. People stopped congratulating me, they just expected it. My father had been in the Royal Air Force and was then in administration and had no real interest in art. My three older sisters took their little brother?|s interest in painting as just part of my general character. The awards were books which I would often bring home, put them on the bookshelf and not bother to tell the family. They must have meant something to me because when most of my childhood books have gone I still have these with faded certificates gummed in the fly pages.


"The Sisterhood"
At the age of ten my schoolteacher sent one of my paintings to a BBC television show, Adrian Hill's Sketch Club. My eldest sister watched that particular week's show with me but got bored half way through, deciding my work hadn't achieved a showing. I remained to see my picture win 'Painting of the Week'. I raced in to tell my parents but it was clear they didn't really believe me but went along with me to cheer up what they thought was a disappointment. The following day in school everyone was congratulating me and it was the main topic of the day. I went home but kept my mouth shut.
Saturday came and so did a big envelope with British Broadcasting Corporation printed on it. My mother handed it to me with an apology. It was my certificate. I still have it to this day.

Well, that was the end of my hopes to be a journalist and writer. From then on it was expected I'd go to art school. I did toy with the idea of pleasing my dad and joining the RAF but he died when I was sixteen so I took the easy option and began five years of college, two on a Foundation Course at a local School of Art and three studying 3D design.

The head of the Art School had taught John Hurt ten years previously and told me he had advised Hurt not to go into acting, he would have no future in it. He advised me to become a writer. In the many, many hours in the Life Class he taught me that all we see is just light, light reflected from objects, light creating shadows, light absorbed into surfaces.

In Design School another brilliant artist and designer taught me to approach every new project as a fresh challenge. When the class was designing an exhibition stand he came around to me and asked why I had a central feature in it. I said because all exhibitions are designed with one tall feature to display the company's logo, and everyone else in the class was using one. "Think different," he said. "Don't do it because it has been done before. I'm vetoing you from using one. The world has enough designers, if you can't think different then piss off, we don't need one more." I was so angry I went away and came up with an idea of wedge shaped walls all pointing into the centre of the stand and each wall carrying the company's logo on it's edge. I was really quite pleased with it. I walked into Keith's office and threw it on the desk. He puffed on his pipe, looking at it for a long time, no expression. Then he sat back, looked at me and gave a huge grin. I grinned back. Neither of us had to say anything.

Keith also gave me my first real design job. A local school for physically handicapped children approached the Design Studies asking for ideas to make a challenging playground scheme. It was the last months of our course and I complained one day that while I was working on it the other students were putting up their final show. As always Keith didn?|t mince his words. "You'll have time to put your show up but which is more important at this moment - a certificate to say you are a designer or a real job to prove you are a designer? Now here's my final lesson to you- Shut up complaining and finish the design job, Designer!"

"The Sisterhood"

I left college and within two weeks was in my first design job. Ever since it has been design studios, advertising agencies, architectural visualisers.

Over the years I've become more of an illustrator than designer. My first book cover was for A Hawk at War by Bryan Perrett. My most lasting project is probably eighteen illustrated tourist plinths displayed all over mid-Wales. A long the way I've done work for S4C (TV), Laura Ashley, Nuclear Electrics, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, National Trust, Halifax plc and the 14th/20th King's Hussars.

So now we come full circle. The Avengers came out on video and then DVD. And I revisited the past.


"The Sisterhood"
What I didn't have was my childhood comics of The Avengers, the black and white single pages from TV Comic. Somehow, in an idle moment I played with the idea of a banner, a caption strip introducing "The Return of the Avengers". And it all grew from that. Thirty odd pages to date, estimated one hundred and thirty illustrated frames. The title 21st Century Avengers was mentioned and because there was already an Avengers Illustrated site I used it as a site title. The 21st century repositioning never really felt comfortable and at the new site, Avenger ArtLand, I?|ve placed the stories firmly back into the 1960s, somewhere towards the end of the black and white Emma episodes.
What I didn't have was my childhood comics of The Avengers, the black and white single pages from TV Comic. Somehow, in an idle moment I played with the idea of a banner, a caption strip introducing "The Return of the Avengers". And it all grew from that. Thirty odd pages to date, estimated one hundred and thirty illustrated frames. The title 21st Century Avengers was mentioned and because there was already an Avengers Illustrated site I used it as a site title. The 21st century repositioning never really felt comfortable and at the new site, Avenger ArtLand, I?|ve placed the stories firmly back into the 1960s, somewhere towards the end of the black and white Emma episodes.

Originally, when Jan Garfield was guiding me the story was going to be more character driven as the series had been. When Jan had other commitments the little boy in me let the Cybernauts take over and break everything up. Unrestrained I would have probably pitted them against tanks and fighter planes but reason took over. It was fun to link two major episodes from the fourth season and weave them into a new conflict. I enjoyed adding a lot of injokes, often happening in the background of the frame.

The weak elements were the costumes. As was pointed out by someone that should know, Steed's suit was not a good cut. Emma had to spend a lot of the story still wearing her rubber swimming suit because I'm am not a fashion designer. Expert help arrived in time for the second story and Emma's costume in "Legacy", simple and easy to illustrate, fits into the 1960s era.

In "Legacy", the second story, my interest in prehistory has launched an even more outrageous enemy, this time a three thousand-year-old entity. Many of the early Avengers episodes were set in East Anglia and as this is quite close to where I live now I have set this story in the fens and salt marshes, not far from the sea.

In "Sisterhood" the adventure took place over twenty-four hours and I was careful to place the sun in the correct position as the story progressed. In "Legacy" the weather is more important. A thunderstorm, important to the story's plot, is gradually developing, the blue sky clouding over.

At the beginning of the story I knew how it would conclude. The difficult part is holding back the eagerness to illustrate the final, dramatic pages, or let slip too soon the vulnerability that will enable Steed to defeat the foe.

As my commercial work must have priority the Avengers Strip has to be fitted into my leisure time. On average I complete half to a full page a week. Over the years I don?|t think my style has changed but my speed has increased. Back in the late eighties a page of similar work could well have taken me ten to fourteen days to complete.

"Legacy Unbound"

And the next story? "13th Legion" [Now "Legacy Unbound"] is set in Northumbria. I was on holiday there in 1987 visiting the extensive Roman remains and the greys and cool blues of the magnificent landscape gave me the urge to illustrate it's historic past. Once again my fascination with early history will supply the villains. I just have to plan a plot line where the teenage Tara King does not meet up with Steed but still plays an important part in the story.

It is eighteen months since I began the Avenger strips. I guess there will come a time when I will be attracted towards another subject. However, at the moment, I'm keen to see what other adventures Steed and Emma will become involved in - against diabolical masterminds. Yesterday isn't over yet.


All illustrations in this article copyright Ian Duerden and reproduced with permission.
This article, in different form, first appeared in the webzine, Three Dimensional Diffusion.

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