Since the Cons have been put off for the time being and my trip to London rescheduled, I’ve decided to write about someone I got to know because of going to con. I met Paul Maitland a few years back, at MCM Comic Con in London. He is mates with my best friend, Kris Kobus, and one of the founders of a Sci-Fi based costume group (which we’ll go into a little later in this article) to which my buddy is a member. My friend and I went to the Fox pub across from the London Excel Centre to have a pint and chat. Paul and some of the other members of the UKCM were already there, and we joined them. I was introduced to Paul and he bought me a drink – a shandy (half beer, half lemonade) – and we all chatted about various geeky things and my being from the States. Little did I know at the time that I would remain in contact with Paul and follow his growth as a “geekdom” artist.
(Kobus on the left, Maitland on the right)
Let me introduce you to my friend, and artist, Paul Maitland.
March 14, 1978, should have been a joyous day; it was Sir Michael Caine’s 45th birthday, but in Greenwich, South London, something more sinister happened…Paul Maitland was born [cue ominous theme music]. Ever since Paul could hold a crayon, Paul would draw. It got to a point where Paul’s parents found it was cheaper to paint his bedroom with chalkboard paint and let him go nuts than keep buying paper. Like most 80’s kids, Paul was left in the capable arms of the best babysitter of the time: the TV. Paul was fascinated by movies, especially science fiction. This was also the era of the video store. Every Friday, Paul’s parents would take him to the little video store in Laindon, Essex, and allowed him to pick out two films for the weekend. He would spend ages walking the aisles of the store, mesmerized by the posters and cover art of the movies. Even though he didn’t know their names, this is where Paul was exposed to the art of artists such as Frank Frazetta (cover: Fire and Ice), Boris Vallejo (cover: National Lampoon’s European Vacation), Drew Struzan (cover: The Thing, Back to the Future, Indiana Jones) and more.
At school, Paul was naturally attracted to art. It was the one class he was never late for. His art teacher, Mrs. Robinson, taught Paul to remain humble in his artwork.
Paul reminisces about those days: “There was a standing rule in my art class: never compliment Paul. At the time, I thought it was unfair as I worked really hard on a project and would get marked down for even the smallest mistake, or using black, or making things look too much like Giger’s Alien, which was also a running joke in my class. But, in retrospect, Mrs. Robinson was trying to make me go that extra mile, helping me to improve. It kinda backfired a bit, I phoned in some of my work after a while. But these days, I did learn the lesson and always try to do better.”
After school, Paul went on to study Animation at the North East Wales Institute of Higher Education. In truth, Paul was a terrible student, he didn’t have the patience for Animation. He didn’t graduate.
In Paul’s own words: “The course wasn’t great, but it was definitely me who dropped the ball. This course was all old school animation, so lots of drawing, painting cel… it was boring, tedious and just not for me. I do regret not graduating, I felt quite ashamed seeing all my friends getting their diplomas and there I was, stocking shelves in a dead end job. That was an important lesson – you have to put in the effort.”
Then, his art took a back seat. Paul was teaching himself web design, eventually starting his own business in 2006, Bay12 Design. It was around that time that Paul started going to conventions, local christy conventions with the group The ExeWing Fundraisers. Even his business name was a reference to one of his favourite movies: Aliens. Which in part was a homage to Al Matthews (Sgt. Apone in Aliens) who he had met at a convention in Leicester.
Paul says: “Al Matthews, now there was a character. That guy could drink. Me and my friend Bruce Smith were tasked with keeping him company at the hotel; being huge Aliens nerds, we jumped at the chance. I think we poured him back into his room at 4 a.m. We got up at 8 a.m. the next day, and there he was at the breakfast table, coffee in one hand, beaming a huge smile. He was fine; it was me and Bruce who were hungover to all hell”.
(The troublemakers, Bruce and Paul)
2006 was also a notable year because of the creation of the United Kingdom Colonial Marines (UKCM). The UKCM was a costume/cosplay group based on the Alien franchise.
In Paul’s words: “Well, the UKCM came about in a bit of retaliation. Me and friend Bruce were members of an online forum, and the idea came about for an Aliens themed convention. Suddenly the board was flooded by members of another costume group who started laying down all these draconian rules. Well, me and Bruce weren’t having that, so we formed the UKCM and said: Sorry, we have our own rules now, so jog on.”
What started as a joke though, the UKCM took off. It became a close knit group of friends who travelled conventions in the UK, Europe and the US.
“I’ll admit I’m proud of the UKCM, it made lifelong friends of people who wouldn’t have met each other normally. All of my closest friends are from the UKCM; I dread to think what my life would have been like without them. One of the things that stood out to me was when a member of the group pulled me aside one day. He told me that he had been going through a messy divorce and it was the group that helped him keep it together. It’s things like that make it worthwhile.”
In fact, the UKCM shaped one of the most important decisions in Paul’s life when the group went to DragonCon in Atlanta in 2008. That’s where Paul met his future wife Amy. They started dating in 2009, and 4 years later, he moved to the United States.
(Amy and Paul)
“It was hard, leaving the country you grew up in, all the friends you’ve known, your family. Thankfully, I moved to a country that spoke the same language and the Internet makes keeping in touch with people so much easier. There are times I get homesick, especially New Year’s Eve. To me, it’s not right without the chimes of Big Ben. But, would I have it any other way? No, not at all.”
(The UKCM sanctioned wedding)
But it was this move that rekindled Paul’s art. The US Immigration process is a slow one even in the best-case scenario. Paul spent 14 months unable to work, drive, or have a bank account. So, he filled his time with housework, cooking, and art.
“There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t paint or draw on. Paper, canvases, clothes, furniture. If the cat had stayed still long enough, I probably would have painted it too.”
Paul managed to get a job with the Governor’s office in Georgia, so art again took a backseat until one Christmas when he started watching the Joy of Painting. Paul had always heard the name Bob Ross, but had never actually watched the show.
(Paul’s sketch of Bob Ross)
“So after watching the show, I turned to Amy who had been asking me what I wanted for Christmas, so I said a 2 inch brush and some liquid white. I started following along with the episodes, knocking out paintings. Then I thought: what else can I do?”
Paul started posting his art on Instagram and Facebook, commissions trickled in. Even though Amy kept telling Paul he needed to start doing conventions as an artist, Paul was resistant. He said he couldn’t understand why people would want his art on their walls. It would take an intervention to give Paul that push to doing art at conventions. That push came in November 2017, when Paul and Amy attended a convention in Knoxville, TN. They had originally gone to see the cast of Aliens, but Paul came across one of his art inspirations: artist James Hance, the man behind the Wookie the Chew illustrations.
“I had followed James Hance online for about 4 years at that point. The guy is truly an incredible talent. I totally fanboyed at the convention when I got to meet him. I didn’t realise he was a Brit as well, so we started talking about what it was like being a Brit in the US. He then told me he followed me on instagram, loved my work, and asked where my table was. I said I didn’t do art tables at shows. He then laid down a challenge saying I had to have a table at the next Knoxville show. All I could hear was Amy laughing and saying ‘I told you so!’ behind me.”
Now the gauntlet had been thrown down, Paul started producing art at a pace. Learning new techniques from artists such as Drew Struzan, Jeff Miracola to name a few. Out of the blue, Dutch Cummings, who had known Paul for a while but never knew he was an artist, invited him to take part in the Columbus Toy and Comic Book Show. Paul scrambled together some prints, filled up a sketchbook and February 2018, Paul finally had a table at a show.
(Paul and his artwork at con)
“It was weird, people were buying my stuff, I mean actual money for stuff I did. They even called me an ‘artist’. That freaked me out to be honest. Even now, two years down the road, calling myself an artist still feels alien to me.”
Since then, Paul has continued to go to shows, work on art and improve. “I do enjoy the community, artists really do pull together and help each other out, share, learn from each other; it’s a great feeling to be a part of that community. Like any community, there’s drama, but not so much with the artists.”
“I really enjoy doing conventions, they are like my vacations. They are hard work at times, and you do have shows where you barely make cover costs, but I just can’t get enough of interacting with people. You get some great stories and feel good moments that make it worthwhile. You sometimes get things that blindside you too. For example, one show, a guy comes up, it’s his first ever convention, and he walks away with the biggest painting I had with me, with a grin from ear to ear.”
More of Paul’s Art:
Bill Paxton, from Aliens
The Creature from the Black Lagoon
Book cover by Paul Maitland
The ever-popular Harley Quinn
The one and only Shatner
Everyone’s favorite…Pickle Rick!
Paul likes to pay it forward to others as much as possible, sharing what he knows and giving advice to others. The two things he tells other artists: push yourself and remain humble. “I see quite a few artists who tend to remain in their comfort zone. I totally understand why. When you get something down to the point you do it well, why venture out? But, as the saying goes: nothing ventured, nothing gained, and you could be missing out on a media, subject, etc., that you could excel in and take your work to even higher levels. It ties into being humble too. Going around shouting you’re the greatest rubs people up the wrong way, plus your work won’t evolve either if you think everything you do is perfect. Always remember, there’s always more you can do”.
I’ll end with a few more pieces of his art, all from Star Wars. Enjoy.
If you are jonesing for some con photos and such, check out last years spring MCM Expo here