A Conversation With Tom Webster

tom-webster

Even if you’re unfamiliar with the name Tom Webster, you’ll probably know his work if you’re a fan of Big Finish. Tom is one of the most used and popular cover artists for Big Finish’s Doctor Who releases. A true tour-de-force, a gentleman, an improvisational comedian, and a Whovian, Tom Webster seems to constantly top himself with his designs. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask him some questions about Doctor Who, working for Big Finish, and Jon Pertwee’s facial expressions.

What was the first episode of Doctor Who you ever watched?
The first episode I ever watched was The Sea Devils! I was four at the time and it was being shown again on TV. I caught a glimpse of a Sea Devil subduing Jon Pertwee, which caused him to pull the most ridiculous facial expression. I had no idea what was going on, but I was hooked from there!

Who is your Doctor?
I don’t really have a Doctor, as I became obsessed with Doctor Who at a time when the VHS were being released thick and fast. I had the whole history of the show to choose from. I saw Pertwee first and loved him, so maybe that’s the answer. Also, Eccleston as I was hugely excited when the show came back! He was loveable and terrifying in equal measure, and compelling in a similar way to the Fourth Doctor. Tom Baker is my absolute favourite, so there’s another answer!

Who is your favourite companion?
My favourite companion is Ace. I would love to be her mate, make some Nitro-9 together, go for a pint, and play some table tennis in the TARDIS. Ace is awesome and so different to what had come before. She’s exciting and so much more of a well rounded character, not just a vessel for lots of exposition!

If you could have one trip in the TARDIS, where/when would you go and why?
My one trip in the TARDIS would be to 1973 or thereabouts. I’d try and convince the production team to make Carnival of Monsters five episodes long and feature the Doctor and Jo trying to escape the part of the miniscope that contains the Cyberman.
I’d then pop back to 1999 and be in the crowd for the Champions League final!

How do you decide which elements of a story you put on the cover?
I read the script and pick out the most exciting visual elements, all the time thinking about what would make it stick out on the shelf. If there’s a monster, the monster will usually go on the cover. The same applies to spaceships and such. You’ve also got to make sure you represent the story, but not give too much away. It’s gotta draw people in!

On average, how long does it take you to create a cover, from the initial idea to the completed thing?
On average, I’d say it takes about a week. I’ve had some that have been extremely quick, and some which have taken far longer than I’d want, on account of me struggling to get it right. I’m definitely finding myself getting quicker, as I develop a flow of working.

Which cover took the least amount of time to create?
I’d say the individual covers for Doom Coalition were the quickest. They were such exciting stories to visualise and I got carried away!

Which cover took the most time to create?
The Spare Parts vinyl cover was probably the longest. I took my time getting it right and threw lots of detail in. The file was also HUGE, as the format was more than twice the size of the usual CD. I had to buy my computer flowers and chocolates by way of apology after that process.

Having created the covers for the re-releases of The Chimes of Midnight and Spare Parts, which other retro Big Finish stories would you like to redesign a cover for?
Ooh I would absolutely love to tackle Jubilee. Because, well, Jubilee. If you haven’t listened, go listen. Honourable mentions for Whispers of Terror, Dust Breeding and Loups-Garoux!

Would you ever appear in a Big Finish story, if so, what type of character would you like to play?
Ooh I already have. I played Acolyte Farnsworth in The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Volume 3. What an amazing learning curve that was.
I’d love to play a villain if I were to do another one. It’s really challenging to get into their heads, but it is so much fun! Also aliens and weird people because I’m at least one of those.

How did you get involved with Big Finish?
I just made Doctor Who fan art for years and years as a hobby. I was lucky enough to work with one of Big Finish’s designers at the time and he sent a portfolio of mine to David Richardson who was very lovely about it and asked when I could start. That was in 2013, gosh it’s flown by!

What is your greatest achievement?
Oooh I don’t know. Let’s talk in twenty years maybe! Until then I’m just gonna continue being positive and treating people how I’d like to be treated!

Do you have any advice for aspiring graphic designers?
The best advice really would be to stick at it, and practice, practice and practice. Collaborate with like minded people, share resources, give opinions. I really think creative communities are the place to be. Aim to get a body of work together and then be brazen by simply showing it to people. Email people and use social media to your advantage! Twitter’s a great tool for getting your work out there!

Where do you get inspiration for so many different styles of cover?
All sorts of things inspire me when it comes to the style of cover really. Film posters and TV shows are two of the main influences, as I like things to look as modern and exciting as possible. Sometimes I’ll read a script and get into the vibe of it in terms of the era of the show it belongs to. For example, I recently did the cover for the Monthly Range release, Zaltys. It just reminded me so so much of the early 80s, so I knew I wanted to make it look quite retro. It’s also good to be honest to the script, it’s always gotta go back to being inspired by what the writer’s produced.

What can we look forward to you producing in the near future?
Ah you’ll have to wait and see… I’ll be working on the fourth Doom Coalition box set soon, which is always huge fun as it really bridges the gap between Classic and New Who. There’s exciting visual possibilities there!

I’d like to thank Tom again for taking his time to answer these questions; be sure to follow him on Twitter @tomwebsta

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