Every week, 2000 AD brings you the galaxy’s greatest artwork and 2000 AD Covers Uncovered takes you behind-the-scenes with the headline artists responsible for our top cover art.

But this week, there’s more than just 2000 AD – this week, we have the publication of the Battle of Britain Special with a web exclusive cover by Keith Burns.

The Battle of Britain Special features the return of classic strips, Rat Pack and El Mestizo, alongside all-new strips capturing the spirit of the original Battle. Inside you’ll find work from Alex de Campi, Garth Ennis, Alan Hebden, Rob Williams, Simon Coleby, Glenn Fabry, PJ Holden, Tom Paterson, and many, many more.

It’s a must-have collection of the best war strips in decades and it’s out on 16 September from the Treasury of British Comics!

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The cover for the stunning web-exclusive Battle Special is from comics and aviation artist Keith Burns, who also features inside on the Rat Pack strip with Garth Ennis. He first broke into comics in 2007 but he’s also garnered acclaim with his painted aviation art, joining the Guild of Aviation Artists, exhibited at the RAF Club in London, and is currently incredibly busy in that particular field. However, he’s always glad to take time out to return to comics, something he still loves and, as he says, something that’s helped his aviation art to become as good as it is.

Right then, over to Keith Burns for the making of this cover!

I started in comics and that’s where I learnt everything I use in painting. Working in black and white made me concentrate on tone and recession. Working in brush and ink improved my brush work for painting immensely and also makes you describe everything clearly, you can’t really suggest things with inks the way you can with painting which makes it much more difficult.

There’s no better training than comics for figuring out composition, you have to compose thousands of panels and as you go you figure out what makes them look interesting. Completely unique to comics is the fact that you have to lead the readers eye from panel to panel through the page, you don’t have to do this in paintings or single illustrations, yes, you have to lead the eye around the image but not out to the next image or wonder about how it will fit in the whole page full of other images. Then there’s capturing the physical movement and kinetic energy which again I figured out in comics. In comics you have to draw the most amazing made up scenes and make them look convincing.

Aircraft have to look like they’re flying and that takes time to figure out, again I figured this out in comics first by making them look like they weren’t flying. Finally, I always cram some storytelling into my paintings, this is the most important aspect in comics in my opinion and the part I find the most enjoyable. Compared to comics I find painting a doddle and am lucky to be able to still do both. Comics are easily the toughest art job out there.

I was delighted to be asked to produce a cover for the Battle of Britain Special… as a fan of Battle and Rebellion.

I usually start off with a few thumbnails that are gibberish to anyone but me

Once I have two or three ideas I’ll photograph model kits of the relevant aircraft outside in daylight. Having somehow ended up doing WW2 aviation a lot it makes sense to have a library of models that I can use over and over for reference.

Jobs always come up requiring models I haven’t yet built and so the 3D library is always growing I only have one model of each aircraft so when I need multiply types I have to keep moving them and photographing them within the same scene which is laborious and easy to muck up.

Putting all those photos of model kits together to get to a final image to pencil –
just one of many that Burns made for this cover!

Once I’ve photographed the models I’ll put the photo’s together in photoshop. This is also time consuming and sometimes requires re-photographing the models if they don’t sit together correctly, it’s very easy ruin the whole image with one aircraft that looks like it’s not obeying the laws of physics even if it’s tumbling out of the sky.

I’ll then use these images to pencil a rough that is readable to others.

Three different cover roughs from Keith to send to Battle boss, editor Keith Richardson

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Once Editor Keith has made the choice of which pencil rough is to be used, I set about a couple of small colours studies.

Burns’ colour studies for the cover of the Battle of Britain Special

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After all that process, the painting is the most enjoyable part and the more you put into the early stages the easier the painting is. I wanted to keep the colours bright and mad like the Air Ace and Battle colours as opposed to realistic. I ended up doing a larger than usual cover size painting for the fun of it.

And that’s it – although, as always, that explanation – ‘the painting is the most enjoyable part’, rather plays down the absolute brilliance of what it is Burns has managed to do. Going from those pencil roughs and colour roughs to the final, published work of art – he makes it all sound so wonderfully simple, yet we know it’s far from it!

Thanks so much to Keith Burns for chatting to us about this stunning web-exclusive cover to the Battle of Britain Special. You can also find his comic work inside on Rat Pack, written by Garth Ennis – it’s a classic tale of the worst of the British Army!

Be sure to follow Keith on Twitter and check out some absolutely superb examples of his aviation art at keithburns.co.uk.

And don’t miss out on the greatest Battle action in 30 years when the Battle of Britain Special is released on 16 September!

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