The Art of William Simpson
The renowned comic book artist exhibits storyboards and conceptual art from the Game of Thrones series at W5
It’s fair to say that one of the biggest worldwide television success stories over the past few years has been HBO’s Game of Thrones, the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning series mostly filmed in Titanic Studios, Belfast, as well as in various locations throughout Northern Ireland.
Not only has GoT (as it is affectionately known amongst its legions of diehard fans) already generated an estimated £65m for the Northern Irish economy, it has also provided training and employment for the country's growing number of film and television industry professionals.
Northern Irish comic book artist William Simpson has also been involved in the ongoing production. His conceptual art and storyboard work on GoT – as well as for stoner fantasy Your Highness and the Bill Murray-fronted City of Ember, big-budget Hollywood features both filmed in Northern Ireland – is now being celebrated in an exhibition at the W5 science and discovery centre at the Odyssey Arena until April 28.
From Prehen, a small townland near Derry~Londonderry, Simpson first made his mark illustrating classic comic books Warrior and 2000AD in the mid-1980s, including a highly praised stint drawing Judge Dredd. He went on to work for both DC Comics and Marvel Comics, drawing fan favourites Transformers, Batman and Hellblazer among many others, as well as co-creating cult favourite, Vamps.
Simpson ran the Northern Irish animation company Rogue Rocket with his brother Ken before moving into cinema, finding storyboard work and creating conceptual art for directors such as Neil Jordan (Breakfast on Pluto) and Sir Richard Attenborough (Closing the Ring).
Conceptual artwork is essential on any movie in the fantasy genre, and Simpson's paintings and drawings focus on costumes, props and locations as they should be seen on screen. Storyboarding, on the other hand is, as Simpson himself calls it, 'the comic strip of the story'. The storyboard artist works closely with the director(s) to develop a visual representation of the script, and may have the freedom to suggest ideas for shots and sequences themselves.
This exhibition is full of wonderful examples of both disciplines. From intricate designs of vehicles made from junk for City of Ember to thrilling storyboard sequences from GoT – as well as concept drawings and paintings of swords, armour and three-eyed ravens – there are treats in store for fans of fantasy and of fine art.
What comes across most in piece after piece is the pure joy that the artist obviously derives from his work. Simpson's drawings – particularly those for Your Highness – exude a playful, almost childlike delight in the art of creation.
There is a palpable sense of fun about this exhibition which is only heightened by the unusual setting – yet it somehow seems apt that while the big kids survey Simpson's magical artworks, the little kids shoot steam smoke rings into the air and learn about the equally interesting world of science and engineering.
Next up for Simpson is another exhibition, featuring more original work, at the 2D Comic Festival in Derry~Londonderry's Verbal Arts Centre from May 30 to June 1, followed by a showcase in London and a new comic book work entitled VMT, a vampire strip.
Simpson is also also developing and co-scripting a low budget feature to be shot on location in his favourite Belfast coffee shop. Needless to say, he’ll be storyboarding it himself. For those interested in taking some of his work home, signed, limited edition prints are available W5 and via Simpson's Facebook fan page.