Richard III manga exhibition – interview with artist John Aggs

NB: Some of my earliest blogs no longer have their accompanying images but enjoy the copy!

Assuming you’ve not been shying away from any form of news in the past month, you probably heard that a skeleton was recently found in a Leicester car park and DNA tests have finally proved that it is that of English king Richard III. To celebrate this finding, a temporary exhibition has opened celebrating the life of one of the country’s more infamous kings.

All photos taken from the BBC website.

A very unique manga exhibition, ‘Richard III: The Making of the Myth’ exhibiton is running until December this year at the Battle of Bosworth Heritage Centre. The images were created by artist John Aggs for the Leicestershire County Council display and the art is based on both fact and legend of Richard III, from his coronation to the fate of the two princes in the tower.

I came across this exhibition online and obviously had to share it with you on the blog. I caught up with artist John Aggs to ask him about his career and involvement in ‘The Making of the Myth’.

Please introduce yourself!
My name is John Aggs, I’m a cartoonist living in South London. I’ve worked on graphic novels with Phillip Pullman, Robert Muchamore, and had a couple published myself. I’ve worked on animation concept art and many other illustration jobs here and there. I also won Tokyopop’s ‘Rising stars of Manga’ award, many years ago.

How did you get involved in the exhibition?
I got given the job for the exhibition by the great Emma Vieceli. She did the original artwork for the Richard dig in Leicester,but couldn’t do the art for the exhibition because of time constraints. She’s a true “Ricardian” and I believe is working on a whole Richard graphic novel. You can check out Emma’s website here.

Are you a big history nut yourself or is this one of the more ‘unusual’ projects you’ve worked on?
This is definitely one of the weirder projects I’ve worked on. I’ve done historical artwork in the past, for Second World War and US Civil Rights information comics, but I was drawing this as live information was coming in from the site archaeologists. I had a very short deadline to coincide with the big announcement of the discovery, and also had to make changes as bits of information were confirmed. It was much more like a reportage project than a historical one- we just happened to be reporting on breaking news from 500 years ago!

When did you decide you wanted to pursue art professionally?

I graduated from the illustration course at University College Falmouth and was almost immediately picked up by Random House to draw a comic with Philip Pullman. I pretty much fell into my “career”, but drawing comic books doesn’t really have a prescribed path for working professionally. Most artists segway from doodles into professional art.

Do you have a particular style of art or do you like to experiment?
I have particular interests, not an art style per se. I still take a lot of influence from the cyberpunk manga I read in the 90s for my personal work, but to be a successful illustrator you have to be pretty flexible. The main source of good work in the industry is in children’s comics, so sometimes you have to push your other influences onto the back burner. People who don’t know about comics like to call my work “manga-style”, whereas everyone who knows a little more realises that that’s a pretty silly label. I guess I’d say that my work floats somewhere between genres, leeching off influences from Japan and the Franco-Belgian comic styles. That’s still pretty uninformative, I know!

What is your proudest achievement as an artist?
Probably the work I’m doing on the Phoenix Comic. It’s a weekly story comic for kids made entirely in the UK. It’s not exactly Shonen Jump, but it does have continuing stories, week by week, and a whole list of great artists and writers. It’s also independent of major publishers. We need great kids’ story comics in the UK. It’s a tradition that has sadly been forgotten here, so the Phoenix is a great endeavour. You can buy it as an ipad app now also from

What advice can you give to other people who want to pursue a career in art and comics?
To be flexible in your working styles, but also to have a strong idea of the work that you’d like to produce if you had your way. Most (all?) artists and writers have the work that they’re paid to do, and also their pet projects that they’re constantly pitching to publishers. It’s worth remembering that while your goal may be to work on your own epic manga series, you’ll need to take many, many other jobs in order to get your artwork truly up to scratch, and to keep a roof over your head!

I recommend as many of you as possible check out this exhibition before the end of the year, myself included! Don’t forget to check out John’s website for more amazing artwork!

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