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The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world Interview-Dave-Howarth-Nov-2011

INTERVIEW - Dave Howarth, Heroes of Rock cartoonist

By Shane Pinnegar


G’day Dave and thanks for talking with The Rockpit.


The pleasure is all mine Shane. The wonders of the Web eh? This is why I love Facebook and the Net, connecting with like-minded people worldwide at the drop of a hat is a wonderful thing don’t you think?


Absolutely - your work is fantastic - what is your art background?

Thanks for that, I appreciate it. Art is all I’ve ever done really. I’ve dabbled at football and cricket until I reached a certain age (and weight) but was only really any good at art, truth be known.

I was brought up on a crappy estate and went to a really rough arsed school in Sheffield where you had to be either handy with your fists or able to talk and joke your way out of bother. I excelled at the latter, being a sworn pacifist and coward. My mother used to work in advertising agency accounts departments so I used to often see the artists there at work and fell in love with the whole atmosphere in the studios. I decided very early I wanted to be a ‘commercial artist’ as it was called then (70s). Like most kids I loved my comics like Beano and Beezer, and later Warlord and the 2nd World War based comics (as many seemed to be then). Basically, I started caricaturing the teachers as a way of taking the mickey without actually saying anything and thus getting into more bother than necessary. As Art was the only lessons I ever put effort into, my options on leaving school in 1980 were limited at best. Luckily my art teacher, Miss Vaughn, pointed me to the local Art College. I did a full 4 years worth of diplomas and exams in graphic design and illustration. It was an unusual career course to choose where I came from but we all ended up alright in the end.

While at college I developed the cartooning side of my ‘skills’ as a way of finishing projects in the quickest possible time, thus allowing more time in the pub! I was once dragged out of the pub near college and hauled in front of the Course Leader, known as The Prince of Darkness. He tore a strip off me in ear shot of the less boozy students amongst us and then behind his closed office door, told me I had come top of that particular module and should think about pursuing illustration as a career.

In the years since I left college in 1984, I’ve worked in every arm of the design business really. Publicity departments for factories that made brass plumbing fixtures, bathtubs and even sewage pipes would you believe? I’ve worked in Ad agencies, design houses and huge faceless printing facilities, doing everything from visualising with Magic markers to pre-press film planning. All the time though I freelanced doing cartoons and caricatures. Eventually I plucked up the courage to go it on my own in 1999 and set up a partnership initially, which became just me in 2006. Though I still need to do more general graphic design work, my real love is the illustration side of things. It’s scary at times but I
can’t imagine working for anyone else now.


Do you need to like a band in order to draw a cool caricature of them?

It helps I suppose as I like to get some character into the pictures with little clues like, for instance, the way Brian Johnson is forever fiddling with his flat cap, stuff like that. Little things that fans pick up on and add to the likeness (assuming I achieve it). I often get people saying stuff like ‘it’s good but I
think you’ll find Angus didn’t wear his maroon schoolboy uniform in that particular era’.. you know how anal we rock fans can be haha. Obviously bands like AC/DC and of course Kiss are a God-send for cartoonists. Getting a likeness of dullards like Springsteen or Neil Young (both of who I love by the way) is much more of a challenge, but I suppose more satisfying to get right.


Saying that though, I’m nothing if not a prostitute when it comes to what I’ll draw for money. So much so, in fact, that I’ve just done Take That. I’ll draw anything within reason as long as someone wants to pay me for it. I’m not very good at drawing horses though... or bikes for some reason, so a combination of both would stretch any abilities I might have to the limit.

No biker horses from you then! What medium do you prefer to work in?


Well I would have to say I’m very old school with a grudgingly ‘modern’ angle haha. Obviously much, if not all, of the work in the graphic design field is Mac based so I’ve had to embrace that as much as I have to. My caricatures and cartoon illustrations usually begin as pencil sketches, they couldn’t start any other way really. Once approved, or I’m happy with it, I produce line artwork with good old black ink on paper. From there I scan and vectorise the image, which basically gives me editable linework on screen. Many artists use Wacom technology where by you draw directly on screen but I’ve just never been comfortable with that technique. I then like to get old fashioned flat colours so I use Freehand MX (again old school) or Illustrator or some such programme to colour up my work. It works for me and, for now, sort of defines my style so I’m happy. Photoshop acts more like air-brushing and that’s not the style I’m after. I’m definitely a pen, ink and paper man though.


I believe you do custom work as well - can you tell us how that works?

That’s right. Like I say, I have my own business so I work to briefs on a daily basis. If someone was to want a custom cartoon doing, say of themselves for instance, I like to work from photos. I ask people to send a few recent smiley photos and a description of what they want to see happening. The more people tell me the better the likeness I find, little clues like their hobbies, pets etc. You’d be amazed how many times people have sent me photos of the ‘victim’ and once I’ve done the rough they say stuff like ‘‘It looks a bit like him but his hair is different now and he has a beard these days’’. If it’s for more commercial purposes then I can work to more specific and in-depth briefs.


Where can rock fans view and buy your work from?

I’ve found Facebook to be a fantastic tool for showing my work. I’ve a couple of pages on FB. First of all look me up - Dave Howarth (Sheffield) - and then there’s ‘Heroes of Rock! Caricatures’ and, for more general work ‘Cartoons by Howarth’.

As for buying them, I’m currently looking into a PayPal facility as I get more interest from further a field so to speak. But I’ve sold stuff to USA, Canada and continental Europe so if you contact me we can soon sort something out. I’m very approachable haha.

You can also contact me via my website which is

What are your personal favourite bands, Dave?

That’s a tough one. So so many over the years. I’ve been seriously buying and listening to heavy rock since about 1978ish I would say when, as a 14 year old, I discovered AC/DC at a mates drunken party. He had ‘If You Want Blood’ on at full blast and was duck walking and headbanging around his front room with the arm off the record deck (remember that?) so it repeated the first side for ages. I saw the
cover and thought.. this is for me. Other bands I picked up on around that time, sometimes based on the album cover alone (guess who? haha).. like Kiss, Nazareth, UFO, Sabbath and Judas Priest. They’ve all stuck with me over the years. As a teenager and in my young twenties in the 80s I got big on bands like Van Halen and Aerosmith as well.


My first gig was a doozy, it was AC/DC on the Back In Black tour in 1980. It remains my favourite gig to this day and I’ve seen hundreds over 30+ years. I’ve loved live music ever since and there’s nothing better than seeing up and coming bands in a small club. There are so many good young bands coming through now as well so I like to support them too.

I think some of the older acts are bringing out their last yahoo, if you will, before they retire so there’s been some cracking albums from the likes of Alice Cooper and Chickenfoot recently. I also await the ‘holy grail’.. the new Van Halen album! I’ll believe when I see it, but I hope it’s as good as I want it to be.

If pushed I’d say AC/DC.. Kiss.. Van Halen.. Black Sabbath...

What’s next for “Heroes of Rock” - a book, album covers, tour posters?

I’m really not sure to be honest Shane. Whether they’re worth a book or not, who knows? It’s early days. It started as a one off commission for someone and grew from that.

I would love to do album covers. I’ve done a couple already for a local (to Sheffield) up and coming heavy metal band called Crimes of Passion. Their first was a self-financed affair but the recent second album ‘2 Die For’ was backed by a label and thus I got more time to work on it. The lead singer and lyricist is a huge sci-fi and comic fan, so he likes to tell a story. The CD covers ended up as retro style comic books which suited my style down to the ground. They’re currently on tour around Europe with Mike Tramp and then Saxon, so my work is getting a wider audience, which is great for us both. In fact Biff from Saxon is a bit of a mentor for COP and he’s critiqued my work as well.. not always favourably if I’m honest, but in the most part he’s liked it. So I’m not averse to constructive criticism, especially from someone I hold in high esteem like Mr Bifford. I’ve also done tour posters for various bands. I’d love to do more though.. Which ex-art student wouldn’t?!

Is there any artist who you feel a bit intimidated to tackle?

Probably Biff given his reaction to other stuff I’ve done haha. Actually he’d be quite a good subject, given that he’s such a huge character. I don’t know that I’d shy away from drawing anyone really. Like I said previously, some bands are walking cartoons anyway so expect Motley Crue and Ozzy and the like anytime now from me. I can’t imagine Thom Yorke from Radiohead would be much fun to draw.. the boring git.

Finally Dave - what, for you, is the meaning of life?

The meaning of life? It’s 42 isn’t it? [Laughs] For me, it has to be (on a sickly but very true note) loving my family, my wife and kids. Seeing my daughter and son getting on with their adult lives.

On a less sickly note it has to be beer and belly laughs with my lifelong mates.. music of all kinds (but 97% would have to be rock music) means so much to me, I can’t play a note but can’t function without it at all times. I’m never happier than stood in a pub or club, beer in hand watching a great band with a load of mates laughing until we can’t anymore. And if Sheffield Wednesday can win occasionally.. but you can’t have everything.


On a more spiritual level, I find my peace sat on a beach (preferably St Ives in Cornwall) looking at and listening to waves breaking. In a nutshell - Good friends, good loving, music, beer, sausage, mash, peas, gravy and a cup of tea!