zine love is all about talking to people about their art to encourage others to see how easy it is to create.
We love digging into the personal histories of those that inspire us, especially when those histories can open a wider world out to us to delve into and discover new things to excite and inspire us. So, we thought we could start up a feature where we asked creators what their earliest inspirations were, both in their chosen fields and in art in general and what continues to inspire them. I think of it as a bit like Mass Observation, but for the small press, an oral record of personal histories outside of the accepted norms of history.
We may even, if we get enough responses, start doing silly charts about the biggest influences, who knows!
With that in mind we thought it would be fun to reach out to some creators we know and admire and get the ball rolling – we’re going to start with a two-fer from the team bringing Department of the Peculiar – Goes Pop to Kickstarter RIGHT NOW
First up – we’re going to talk to Rol Hirst, tomorrow will be Robert Wells. If you’re my age and from the UK comic collecting scene, you’re likely to remember Rol Hirst as a reviewer in the truly excellent Comics International. A reviewer who ended his run by taking up writing comics! Rol along with a reviewer called Francis Barbieri (which I desperately hope I’ve spelled correctly) were the two that most aligned with my tastes in comics and had a nice pithy touch to their work.
It’s good to know that Rol Is still working and making – and particularly nice to see that dry humour continues in the comics he creates – check out some free downloads of the comic here and back it here.
Buy some of Rol (and collaborators) comics here in digital or physical form
Rol also regularly posts about music on his site My Top Ten
Over to you Rol – tell us a bit about yourself and your tastes
Can you tell us a bit about the first creator whose work you recognised?
In comics it was probably John Byrne. I started reading comics around the time he took over the Fantastic Four and I was a huge fan of his art and back-to-basics storytelling for years. Back in my letter-hacking days, he even started to recognise me as a fan, one time sending me a signed copy of a novel he’d written. I felt like I stabbed him in the back a bit years later when he took over the writing and art on Amazing Spider-Man and I was reviewing in Comics International at the time… but I stand by those reviews, his work on Spider-Man was atrocious. Shames, because most of his work up to (and even after) that point still stands up well today.
In general, it would be Stephen King. Even though he often struggles with an ending (don’t we all?) and lately is far too comfortable falling back on familiar tropes, his narrative voice always fascinates and entertains. He has been a constant companion.
Which creators do you remember first copying?
That’d probably be Byrne as well. The first comic strip I created was called Sharpshift, and I ripped off quite a bit of his Alpha Flight run in that… and because I couldn’t draw for toffee (and hasn’t yet started conning gullible artist folk into drawing my mad ramblings for free), I pretty much traced all my figures from old Byrne comics.
That’s for comics at least, outside of that it would be Roger Hargreaves. I spent ages drawing my own Mr. Men books when I was a kid.
Who was the creator that you first thought ‘I’m going to be as good as you!’?
I’m not going to answer that question, but I hope I can explain why. Throughout my time reading comics – particularly once I started writing them myself – I could pretty much divide professional writers into two camps: those I knew I’d never be as good as (probably most of them, to be honest) and those I knew I was better than (and if you knew me, you’d know self-confidence is not my forte) and I couldn’t ever explain how they’d got where they were. There are a couple of particularly high-profile creators who have made millions from comics that I know I can write a better story than any day of the week… but I’m not going to name them, because they might be a favourite of somebody reading this, and everyone’s entitled to their opinion.
That’s the same for everything, really.
Which creator or creators do you currently find most inspiring?
In comics, it’s probably Rob (Wells). If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t even be writing comics anymore, since I’d pretty much left them behind 6 or 7 years ago. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have him drawing Department of the Peculiar. That has inspired me to start writing again.
I admire Vince Gilligan as a writer. The character, pacing and detail in Breaking Bad & Better Call Saul puts everything else in its shadow.
Which creators do you most often think about?
What, in some kind of pervy way? I always thought Walt Simonson had a very fine beard.
Seriously though, there’s only one answer to this question: Stan Lee. Without him, my life would be lacking in so many ways.
Bruce Springsteen would be my answer outside of comics. A different kind of storytelling, but always there for me.
Can you name the first three creative peers that come into your head and tell a little bit about why?
Rob, obviously. Nige Lowrey, who was the main artist on my first long-running comic, The Jock, and really should have become a superstar but missed the boat like so many of us. And then probably Davey Metcalfe, who I’ve known as long as Nige, and who has been a constant collaborator on various projects over the years, and always goes above and beyond to help out. After that, I could go on and on…
Finally, can you tell us a bit about your recent work and yourself?
I’m Rol Hirst, a writer and English teacher whose previous comics include The Jock (which ran for more than 30 issues in the ’90s), PJANG and Too Much Sex and Violence. I live in Huddersfield with my partner, Louise, and son, Sam. I like music, scones and too much coffee.
Thank you very much for taking the time to fill this out and let us into your mind.
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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020