Jamie Hewlett Talks Gorillaz Part 1

Character Competition, Making Movies & More
Illustrious illustrator, comic book legend, Tank Girl creator, Gorillaz cohort, operatic art director, teenage hero, all round over achiever and thoroughly splendid chap, Jamie Hewlett talks to Clash about his collaborations, shooting videos, not making movies and all that inspires him.

To kick off we chatted about the new character competition on Gorillaz.com, which has recently been optimised to include some great new integration features courtesy of Internet Explorer 9.

The Boogieman, who’s appeared in various formats now appears to be the embodiment of all-evil in the Gorillaz universe, the Evangelist is a direct foil to that. Had you been thinking of introducing him into the mix for some time?

Obviously where you have darkness you have to have a bit of light so it’s always been talked about. But the Boogieman, as he’s now known, is actually the fifth horseman of the apocalypse. His name is Flatulence, he basically brings an evil stink wherever he goes and there is obviously a storyline where he and Murdoc have some sort of past together and maybe a deal was signed and wasn’t honoured and now he’s back to take what’s his. So yes, the Evangelist is the opposite to the Boogieman. Whether or not he will succeed in overthrowing the Boogieman remains to be seen!

Was it your idea to create the canvas painting application which allowed fans to draw the character directly onto the website, or was that driven by the partnership with Internet Explorer?

One of the guys in my studio put it together but yeah, it was created for that reason so it was easier to receive entries and not get tons of post and things. It also allowed the fans to vote on their favourites and therefore it meant that I would end up with a small, top ten to pick my favourite from. It’s a nice way of doing it as it’s voted for by everybody else. Like the X Factor but not as rubbish.

What criteria were you looking for when you were selecting the winner from the finalists? Were people who attempted to draw in a Hewlett style at a disadvantage? Were you looking for something a wee bit different?

To be honest with you, all I had to look at was the final ten, I mean obviously I sat and looked at most of them, there were an awful lot that came through. I couldn’t pick from the main body of entries, I had to pick form the final ten so there were a few that didn’t make it that I thought were pretty cool but out the finalists I chose the guy with the fish bowl head (drawn by Jirouta).

I think he’s good, a little bit left field and perhaps not what people were expecting. I think many people were thinking along the lines of the cowboy type idea which is maybe a little bit too literal a translation.

That’s become the sort of online catchphrase of people saying…’well that’s not how I imagined it’ (laughs) but it would be impossible to have had a competition where somebody came up with a design that I picked that would appeal to absolutely everybody.

It’s an entirely subjective thing.

Exactly.

It’s also been said that you’ve become a bit bored drawing the characters, which I guess is understandable, you’ve been doing it for over a decade. Was that maybe another reason to get the fans involved, to give it a new breath of life so to speak?

Well I didn’t actually say I was bored of drawing the characters, I was misquoted. I was asked that question when we’d just finished doing ‘Demon Days’ and what I said was I was tired, that I needed a break from it. I’m never bored of those characters, I love those characters but I think that album took us four years and when you get to the end of it and you’ve produced this large body of work you do tend to think ‘yeah, I need a bit of a break’ so I said I was tired, not bored. But getting fans involved, well we have a lot of really smart fans, you read some of the correspondence from them and there’s some really intelligent kids out there sending in some great ideas so it was good to get them involved in something and see what they come up with.

To go back to ‘Plastic Beach’ there's no video for the single ‘Rhinestone Eyes’ just a storyboard which is up online (which is great). Was this conscious? Was it a time issue? I know how busy you guys are or were EMI just fed up of paying for your promos?

The storyboard was done for the third video and completed and I’d put together a team of animators and literally on the day we were going to start animating the final video we found out the budgets we had asked for had been refused. Therefore we weren’t going to get the money to make the video and then maybe we were and maybe we weren’t and many discussions were had and basically the record company couldn’t afford to pay for another one of my videos because they’re all quite expensive (laughs). Unfortunately ‘Stylo’ (starring Bruce Willis no less, who gave his services free of charge) ended up being the most expensive video we ever did which was a shame because when I originally came up with it I was convinced it would be the cheapest one. It would just involve a car and some animation but obviously you start having fast cars and stunts then you need to hire out the police and you need to have fire trucks and you need to have stuntmen and ambulance crews so before we knew it, it was extremely expensive! I though ‘oh its fine’ by the time we do the third video they’ll have forgotten. But that’s me not knocking EMI at all because they’ve always given me the money to make these videos and they are really expensive.

I guess, they must be very labour intensive when you have a whole team working on them.

Yeah, I mean there is a recession on and there just wasn’t the money. I powered up the storyboard, made it a bit better than it had been and we put it up like that to tell the next part of the story. Which is a shame because that would have been our sixth video…

Click on the main image above to see Jamie's redrawn character & click HERE here to read part 2 of the interview.



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