Justin Hill - His Part in my Rise to Fame!*

(* All right, not really fame, but slightly less obscure obscurity.)

When I started this blog (nearly two years ago) one of the things I planned to use it for was to write about some of the artists and authors who had influenced me.  But of course the people who influence us most are our families and friends, and often meeting new friends can open our eyes and ears and minds to things which we had never noticed before.  So it's high time I did a blog post about my friend Justin Hill.  I met Justin when we started together at St Luke's Primary School back in 1971, and he probably had as much of an influence as anyone on the World of Reeve.

Justin only lived a few streets away from me, but I don't recall us being particularly friendly until we were both nine or ten.  I can't even remember what it was that first drew us together, although it may well have been drawing; we were both keen would-be cartoonists, and I can remember poring over Asterix books with him as well as playing with Action Men and riding around Queen's park on our bikes (Justin had a Raleigh Chopper, the quintessential 1970s bike, stylish but unstable...).  When we were twelve Justin's mum and dad moved to Ovingdean, a village on the outskirts of Brighton, and we ended up going to different secondary schools; Justin to Longhill, me to Stanley Deason. (Stanley Deason has since closed down: Googling it just now, I noticed that the picture book author & illustrator Emily Gravett also went there, a few years after me.  You can imagine how delighted I was to learn that I'm not even the most successful author to come out of Stanley Deason.)

Anyway, that's the point when I suppose Justin and I might have lost touch, because I've always been wretchedly bad at keeping up with absent friends.  Luckily Justin wasn't, and we stayed in contact right through our secondary school years.  I didn't see much of him in term time, but in the school holidays he would often to come to stay at my house for a few days, or I'd go to his place in Ovingdean, from where we could take long rambly walks up over the Downs to Rottingdean and the sea.  I was making little low-budget movies by then, and Justin was a reliable and daring stunt-man (all those years spent tumbling off the back of a Chopper having inured him to physical pain). We were quite different types, because Justin's image was developing along these sorts of lines...

...while mine was always more like this...

(only not so sporty).  Somehow, however, we got along very well, and I remember staying up long into the night doing drawings and paintings, and trying to imitate the work of illustrators and comic book artists we admired.  Justin's musical tastes were always way ahead of mine (he went on to become a musician, playing guitar and keyboards in various different bands over the years) and he introduced me to a lot of music.  Typically, I'd go to his house and he'd say, "You have to hear to this!" and put on something that I'd think sounded like a dreadful racket... but after a couple of listens I'd secretly start to quite like it, and within a few weeks I'd be off to buy my own copy from the second-hand record shop in Sydney Street. This happened with Blondie, and then a little later with David Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (And I still remember watching the video for Ashes to Ashes for the first time on the big TV in Justin's living room: it felt like seeing the future arrive).

 There must have been loads more: Kate Bush, OMD, Adam and the Ants, Mozart  - Justin was nothing if not eclectic, although I never managed to follow him very far down the heavy metal/prog rock road: I'm afraid the Ian Gillan Band and Marillion still sound like a dreadful racket to me, although thanks to Justin's patient explanations I do know how clever all the big guitar solos are.  (Years later I swiped the name of one of Gillan's albums - Clear Air Turbulence, with the big stripey Chris Foss spaceship on the front - for an airship in Predator's Gold).

In return for all this musical education I guess I led Justin to a few things, too: naturally I dragged him off to see Excalibur (on the day of Charles and Diana's wedding, I remember), and when I got an invitation to go and meet my illustration hero Brian Froud at the flat in Hampstead where he was living while he designed Labyrinth, it was Justin I took with me to offer moral support and prevent a complete fan-boy meltdown.  I think I was also the first of us to discover the Pre-Raphaelites, although it was Justin who noticed that Rottingdean Church had stained glass windows by Sir Edward Burne-Jones.  I remember us making a sort of pilgrimage there together to look at them one beautiful October evening in autumn half term.  Justin went back recently and took some photos...

I was also was a big fan of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy back when it was still just a radio programme, and when the records eventually came out (available only at the scary, cave-like Virgin shop on Queen's Road) we spent hours listening to them.  Here's Justin rocking the Zaphod Beeblebrox look in my back garden, circa 1980...

...and here we are doing some sort of hilarious Monty Python tribute on Combestone Tor, the year I came on holiday to Devon with Justin and his parents. (It's one of the very few pictures that exists of me as a teenager - I was acne-ridden and camera-shy).

That was in 1982, and that autumn we ended up together again for a bit at Varndean Sixth Form College.  After that we went to different art colleges, and saw each other less and less (my fault - I'm bad at keeping at touch, remember?) although at some stage a couple of my drawings were used as posters for Justin's band, and a few years later I prevailed on Justin and his friend Jon Van Doorn to do the score for a movie I'd made, Tupilek (which I must see about digitising and putting on YouTube one day).

After that we drifted right apart for a while, until he e-mailed me a few years ago to say that he was living in Thailand, where he's married to the lovely Bim, taking spectacular photographs, and still drawing cartoons - both drawings and photos pop up on mugs, T-Shirts and greeting cards at his Zazzle stores.  Some of them, I'm pleased to see, still feature Wilf, a big-nosed character who Justin first started drawing when we were still at school together. ..

The autumn before last Justin was in Devon again with his parents, and they came to visit us here at Bonehill: it was quite touching to see him teaching Sam to draw Wilfs of his own. Here we all are outside the back door on the day they left...

...and here I am with Justin in Brighton, a couple of weeks ago.

 I hope we'll stay in touch for at least another forty years.

NB: The guitar god photo I've used above isn't actually of Justin: it's an image by Catch 2232 from Wikipedia.   Fotherington-Thomas (He sa, Hello Flowers! Hello Trees! he is uterly wet & a wede) is one of the great Ronald Searle's illustrations from the Molesworth books.