ZL – Hi both of you, thanx for agreeing to this interview about your new comic Malty Heave! Rob, I understand you’ll be launching it at Portsmouth Comic Con.
Where will people be able to find you in Portsmouth, do you have table details yet, will you be tabling both days?
RW – I’ll be on Table 6 in Comic City 4 at the Portsmouth con. I hope people can find me as I think the event is going to be even bigger this year, and it was big (and busy) last year.
ZL – Phil I believe you’re going to be at Ace Comics in Colchester for Free Comic Book day to launch it, as well as doing sketches? Pretty jealous for those people in Colchester, I’ll tell you! Before diving into details about the comic, I thought it would be interesting to get some background about how it came about.
I was wondering how long you’ve known each other and what led up to you two producing this comic together? I’m guessing you both agreed a theme and didn’t stumble upon one by accident, so I was wondering how specific that theme was and what went into agreeing content to publish together?
RW – Phil and I have known each other for about five years. I used to live in Maidstone in Kent, where Phil has lived for many years, and we met not long before I moved away (only to Ashford, which is also in Kent). We have kept in touch and met up a few times since then, and we have also done a few local comic events together. The last time we met up, a few weeks ago, we were talking about how things like Heavy Metal magazine and Epic Illustrated used to be available in newsagents (I had been chatting to Andy Oliver from Broken Frontier about the same topic on Twitter a few days earlier, which probably led to the chat me and Phil had). Then, the next time we talked, I said I wished I had something new to sell at the Portsmouth Comic Con and Phil got back to me and suggested we do a comic together, twelve pages each, inspired by Heavy Metal magazine. I was quite intimidated by the thought of doing a comic with Phil to start with, particularly as we only had about two weeks to write and draw the whole thing, but I think we both enjoyed doing it and we are both pleased with the finished comic. We each created our own strips separately and showed them to each other when they were done (or more or less done in my case, as Phil finished his first and needed to see what I had done to design the cover) but we did tell each other roughly what our strips were about after we’d come up with some stories. The cover was Phil’s idea. He did his part first and then sent it to me to draw my characters in and add the logo, etc.
ZL – I’m deeply impressed you two could make these stories in two weeks, they’re very accomplished full stop; considering the turnaround time, even more so. Rob, your cartooning and character design really impressed me, they’re beautiful and solid forms and there’s a lot of details included in your work, how much actual time went into drawing and how much to writing? Do you layout, thumbnail or pencil a work like this?
RW – I can’t believe we did this in just a couple of weeks either. It’s amazing what you can do when you’ve got a tight deadline. It may have been a day or two over a fortnight, but it took me a few days just to come up with a script I was happy with and the actual drawing / putting all the files together was done in under a fortnight.
I wrote a script for Rank Bottom, which took a few days. I knew more or less what I wanted to do right away, and I had a beginning and an end, but it took me a while to work out what was going in the middle. I did do very rough thumbnails, just to work out what was going on what page, and then I just threw myself into drawing it and one panel at a time. I used to do quite detailed pencils and then felt like I ruined them when I inked them, but since I’ve gone digital my pencils have become very rough and I spend more time on my inking. I even draw some stuff straight down in ink, which I can do, because it doesn’t matter too much if I make mistakes. I letter it one page at a time, as I go, and tend to re-write bits of dialogue / add in new jokes as I do.
ZL – Phil, just because I can’t believe it’s possible, I’m also going to ask you about the fact that you made this comic in a two-week period, which seems amazingly quick considering the quality of the work!
PE – After suggesting to Rob that we create a comic together in two weeks I had a sudden panic attack, but I’m really pleased that we pulled it off and have created something decent, which we hope people will enjoy.
When I suggested this comic to Rob I had no idea what I was going to draw apart from that it’d feature robots and that I’d be working to a one panel per page format. Once I had the opening line the story, such as it is, developed from there and I only changed one caption along the way. I really enjoyed the freedom of drawing large panels (which were drawn same size A4). The pencils were very loose and most of the details came at the inking stage and I had fun playing around with different textures and styles. I’ve always enjoyed sketching and wanted to keep that same spontaneity with my story.
I should also mention how much I enjoyed drawing the cover and working with Rob on it. I drew my parts first, which I scanned and sent to Rob who drew his bits on the computer, which is his preferred way of drawing.
ZL – Rob, I don’t really know anything about your comics work so I wondered if you could give some details about how many years have you been working at making comics, did you start as a kid and come back, are there many years of work to dig into?
RW – I started reading comics as a kid, always wanted to draw comics, and self-published my first comic, Crisp Biscuit, in 1991, when I was 22, but in the 20 years after that I only published another handful of comics. I had very little self-confidence, was very slow, and had no idea who would ever read or publish my work, so there were quite a few long periods of time where I just wasn’t drawing at all. For a few years in my mid-20s, I just focused on writing, which boosted my confidence in that department, but I still felt like I was just bluffing it with my art. I didn’t draw much at all in my 30s and had pretty much given up on ever drawing comics again, but for some reason, in my early-40s, I got back into it again, was a lot more patient and focused than I had been before, and I stuck with it. I was 50 in February and I feel like I’m just getting going. I think the things that made the biggest difference to me this time were social media, which I hated to start with but it meant that I could connect with fellow creators and potential readers in a way that I’d never been able to before (at least I knew that someone would see my strips on Facebook), the way that printing comics became more affordable, and most importantly, getting into digital art. I bought a drawing tablet and a copy of Manga Studio a few years ago and the first thing I drew digitally was my book. Before that, I was always changing my mind about what tools to use for inking, always thought my pencils looked much better than my finished art and going digital has really improved my art and boosted my confidence in my drawing.
ZL – I’ve been sounding off a fair bit about how there aren’t any venues to get comics out there in front of people’s eyes, are you concerned that UK comics is becoming something of an Ouroboros constantly eating itself? What’s drawn you to attend Portsmouth Comic Con?
PE – There are far more comic conventions in the UK now than there were when I first started. More than one a week so there should be more venues to sell comics, especially independent ones but these conventions seem more interested in having tables selling merchandise and having “the 3rd actor who played the 2nd Storm-trooper who gets shot before he makes through the hole in the wall in The Empire Strikes Back but was later replaced by a CGI Storm-trooper in subsequent versions” signing photos at £30 a time. I know that not all conventions are the same and Portsmouth is an exception but the cost of tables, travel and possibly accommodation makes it difficult for creators to attend and make any money selling their comics.
RW – I think I’ve always been worried that there aren’t enough venues out there for cartoonists. In some ways, things are better for people like me right now than they have been for years, because at least there is a graphic novel market and a chance that I could get another GN published and into bookshops, but that is hardly a path to riches (or even a minimum wage).
ZL – I know we’ve talked about how tricky getting work out to new people can be and I’m a bit prone to talking about how things are a bit ‘best of times, worst of times’ so I was wondering, when were the worst of times and the best of times for you?
PE – I think my best times have been and gone but you never know!
ZL – Phil, you’ve been around the UK small press and zine scene as well as working in professional comics and I’m wondering how the current scene feels in comparison to, say, the early/ mid 80’s and you were in Gag! and there were companies like Harrier, Trident and Valkyrie? Do you still feel like there’s a scene and do you feel part of that scene?
PE – I’m not really part of the comic scene these days, probably because I stopped going to comic conventions and meeting anybody. It was some years before I plucked up the courage to contact Rob even though he was living a short bus journey from me in Maidstone. Rob’s younger than me and was more familiar with the scene that developed after Harrier, Escape etc but we shared a similar interest in a certain type of comics.
ZL – Rob, I’ve seen the advert for your comic, Back, Crack & Sack (& Brain), but I was wondering what else you’ll be bringing to Portsmouth and what else of yours is out there to be found?
RW – I will probably bring copies of most of my old comics to Portsmouth (although there are some I have run out of now) but will mainly be focusing on Malty Heave, my book, and a couple of issues of a comic I drew called Department of the Peculiar. DOTP is a superhero / sci-fi comic (sort of) written by Rol Hirst, and the first two issues were drawn and published just before I went digital and got distracted by my book but me and Rol are working on a 48-page special right now, which will hopefully be coloured by Phil, and we intend to Kickstart that in the summer. I have a table at the Lakes festival this year and I definitely want it out by then
ZL – Apart from your work on Department of the Obscure, which I know you’ll be working on with Phil and writer Rol Hirst, whose name I recognise as a reviewer from Comics International, (yes I’m old enough), but apart from that, what projects have you both got coming up?
RW – Everyone seems to know Rol from Comics International. Phil’s friend Reuben knows him from CI, too, but I didn’t make contact with him until quite some time after that. Department of the Peculiar is my main project at the moment, and I’m still not quite half way through drawing it, but I have an idea for another graphic novel I would like to start after that, unless I end up getting distracted by something else. I would at least like to put a few chapters together and see if I can find a publisher / maybe even get an Arts Council grant. I also drew a story for Aces Weekly last year and I would like to do more with the characters who appeared in that story (Love Her Madly) and maybe build that up into a graphic novel.
ZL – Would you like to work together again, or even with a larger group of people on another anthology?
RW – I would love to work with Phil again. We enjoyed doing this comic and have since talked a bit about the possibility of doing more with Malty Heave, but with a different theme next time. I think Phil already has an idea for a story, and I’ve had an idea for something myself in the last couple of days.
PE – Malty Heave is our first project together and we’re already talking about a second issue which we think will have a horror theme (it may surprise people that I’ve always been a huge fan of Berni Wrightson and the work he did for Warren magazines in the 70’s)
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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019
Emma Graveling – instagram
ZL – I was interested by the fact that most of the stories in the anthology were about female protagonists and made the connection that the artwork was also drawn by women artists, was this a conscious decision or did it just come about organically?
AW – Much of the media that influenced me growing up had strong female protagonists, Buffy, Tomb Raider, Terminator and I think this has ended up being reflected in the work I produce. More often than not I tend to write female protagonists and this anthology is no different. The choice to have only women artists wasn’t something I had decided from the start it was more something that occurred naturally as the anthology progressed. Kat, Sammy and Emma I all knew personally before starting the anthology. Kat I had originally worked with on Tails of Mystery and in its early stages this anthology contained a Tails of Mystery story but I felt it didn’t fit the tone but I still wanted to have Kat contribute to the story so wrote something that I thought her art style would complement nicely.
Sammy, I had wanted to work with for a while and Sprouting was an idea that she came up with in its earliest form and we fleshed out together with me writing it and her illustrating. Emma’s work I had seen previously and thought it’d be a great fit for the kind of story I was planning with Finders Keepers. From there I realised that the artists were all women and thought why not just stick with that and see how it goes. It wasn’t hard to find extremely talented women artists, Michelle I met at a convention, one of the MCM’s I believe, and Emily I was a fan of from her work on The Wilds and I had seen her posting on twitter about looking for cover work. And with that I had all the artists I needed.
ZL – I’m always interested in how a writer works with the artists on a story, so I was wondering whether the approach varied between each artist or whether there it varied between each story?
AW– So for some of the stories I wrote them specifically for the artists. With these I tended to write a little less detail leaving the artist to make decisions about placement or character look. The way the main character of Sprouting looks for example is all down to Sammy. I trusted in her design and she delivered fantastically. For Hanging in the Darkness the script was pretty sparse with much of the exact dialogue coming post art because I wanted the short to act as two stories within one, having worked with Kat before as well I was happy to leave a lot of it to her and the choice to have much of the final panels only lit by candlelight was her idea. Whereas with A Witch’s Penance I hadn’t worked with Michelle before, so I wanted to make sure I gave her as much as possible to work with and she absolutely smashed it. Some of my favourite things in that story are things that Michelle came up with without any direction from me at all.
For Finders Keepers I finished the story and just handed that over to Emma and asked her what she would be interested in illustrating to sit alongside it. I think the only illustration I requested was the final one. And then for the cover, which was completed before any of the interiors I gave Emily a brief synopsis of the stories within and she designed a few covers initially with us both agreeing the one that went on to become the actual cover our favourite. So, with each artist I took a different approach but the one thing I made sure not to do was restrain any of them.
ZL – What are your plans for the anthology and the stories in it, will A Witches’ Penance going to be ongoing, will there be further issues of the anthology sooner or later and will they feature the same artists or are you interested in finding new artists?
AW – I have a couple more anthologies planned for the future but the stories within Sprouting & Other Tales of the Curious will not be continued. I wanted to portray that these stories all resided within a bigger world around them and that there was maybe more to each of them if you looked but the stories are themselves complete. A Witch’s Penance is the most open ended of the four stories, but I wanted it to reflect the world it was in and the characters it contained where nothing is ever finished for them and the world keeps moving even if they aren’t around.
ZL – You also write Tails of Mystery with artist Kat Willot, are there any plans for this title or any new titles planned?
AW – Yes, I’m currently working on the script for issue 3 and once that’s all done Kat will start illustrating the pages. Tails of Mystery is going to be a 4 issue complete mini-series so as of writing this we’re half way though the series. Within the first issue of Tails of Mystery we also featured a small back-up fantasy story titled World Weary centred on a Gnome barbarian and a Half-Orc monster hunter and we may also be working on some more stories for those characters in the future.
Tails of Mystery issue 1 cover
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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019
Emma Graveling – instagram
I enjoyed reading this. There are some interesting subtexts to chew over and some skilled pacing and design. I really love that cover a lot!
The ongoing serial A Witch’s Penance had me interested to follow it. It was certainly my favourite story.
As an anthology, it felt consistent and well balanced. It mixed up approaches to story telling and left me thinking about some of its themes. It’s a solidly created anthology with some interesting and more personal moments. Essentially, it delivered a good read and I was left thinking.
This is an anthology mixing prose and comics works. It uses a traditional ‘horror story with a twist’ format that, when I’m looking at it, seems well handled. Nothing comes from left field in terms of the twists. It manages the foreshadowing and punchlines well.
Now that probably sounds cold coming from me and that’s really a matter of my reading of the work. ‘Horror story with a twist ending’ is low on my list of likes unfortunately. However, there’s a bit more at work in these stories than just that format. Maybe I’m reading more in there, maybe I’m not, but I’m going to come back to both Sprouting and Hanging in the Darkness to get into my thoughts about what they made me think about.
First, I want to discuss Finders Keepers, the prose story, then go onto A Witch’s Penance.
Finders Keepers is a fine prose story but, for me, didn’t move me too much. It’s paced well, it develops it’s plot well, it builds its tension well. But that’s it, which is not a complaint or a method of damning anything, it’s a recognition that I don’t really get into these stories. The prose is clear, avoiding being purple and that’s to its benefit. I guess the only thing I wonder is what it’s trying to tell me or talk about? I hate saying that, because I hate anytime when someone says, ‘it was done well, but…’ because that’s just an awful snipe. Things have a right to exist the way the are without having to meet my sense of meaningful.
Unpicking my thoughts really does just bring me back to the fact that the style of story is not one I am personally invested in, with the other stories I feel like there’s enough extra there to dig hooks into me, where this one feels like a nice pot boiler without much to say for itself outside of being well executed. If you like stories with twist endings, it’s well made for you.
I like the illustrations style for the story. It reminds me of a Ladybird books and that matches the tones of the story and age of the characters well. They also given some very lively acting, giving a good sense of personality and action.
A Witch’s Penance, the only ongoing story in the book, and the other two tales gave me much more of an idea that there’s something at work under the surface. I picked A Witch’s Penance out from the other two for a reason though. This story, at the moment, seems to have less of a theme and have more of a plot. Unlike the others, this is not a ‘twist at the end’ plot. This is very much a ‘revenge doubled’ plot. By which I mean, a mysterious figure with a past seems to be revenging something, but exacting this revenge sets up an excuse for the antagonist to also seek revenge. The circle of revenge is spinning and pulling in unwitting victims all around.
It’s not the plot, or even the characters that interest me as much as the approach to storytelling. Here, it’s very much that delivery which makes it my favourite in the anthology. The pacing and rhyming between panels is handled poetically. It’s got that bouncy rhythm of doggerel verse. Plain, driving, seemingly simple but incredibly effective at dragging you along. To mix my metaphors. It’s a catchy pop chorus, very simple structure delivering something immediate and accessible and hiding some very clever production techniques underneath it all.
This piece comes into its own in the chase through the wood, with panel layout and the positioning of figures (and a tree!) creating rhythm, leading to comparisons between characters circumstances, if that makes sense? To pick that apart, I get a lovely, punchy sense of action happening. It’s tense here, because there’s a sense of the figures moving around each other, of proximity and the level of danger and luck involved in trying to escape and how thin the line between success and failure will be. The end delivers a couple of cliff-hangers that set the future wheels in motion and maintain that sense of things happening and matters to learn.
It’s difficult to know how the layout was decided, where writer and artist begin and end, but I would say that the layout and characterisation achieved in the woodland scene by Michelle Marham impressed me and I thought delivered the tightest storytelling in the anthology. Whoever worked it out, did a good job, but the delivery sells it well.
As mentioned, Hanging in The Darkness and Sprouting gave me a sense of subtext in the work. Each has a nice little plot. For both, the artwork is a little rough in places in terms of anatomy and expressing emotion but paces itself well. It adds atmosphere and I like the colouring on Hanging in The Darkness most of all, I’m not sure whether there was a single colourist, or if each artist did their own. As no colourist is named, it seems likely that each artist did their own work.
Hanging in The Darkness seems to me to be a study in the slow eroding of memory and the chill and dread that comes with the loss of that memory and, as such, the art is very much telling a separate story to the text. It’s atmospheric but lacks a bite of good character work to it. The art has a hard task as it’s there depicting a story that’s less engaging than the text, which gets to delve into and explore the deeper psychological content of the piece. The art is there to deliver the chills, which it does very nicely, but I can’t quite work out what point that was serving other than as a plot device.
Sprouting on the other hand has art that is very much in sync with the writing, adding layer to the words and working together to deliver additional depth to the plot. Where Hanging in The Darkness played with loss of identity and personality, Sprouting is dealing with a sense of dysmorphia and the ability to come to a safe space where we accept our form and ourselves. Where we find friends that accept us for who we are and, through that, a place in the world.
I very much feel like this idea needed more space to develop a sense of the person, to make them meaningful, for my tastes a story dealing with such themes needs to get me to see the lead as a person rather than delivering plot beats. I think the limit of the space and the scope of the storyline conspired against it making its message deeper and more meaningful by affecting me emotionally. It ended up delivering something polemical rather than persuasive or personal.
They’re both good ideas though, ways of dealing with their subjects that I thought were quite effective concepts, interesting ways to explore those concepts and personify the psychological physically.
I do feel like there was room for these two stories to breathe more and get down to the bone. It’s a bit grisly here, you can feel it roll around as you’re chewing over the idea. To be clearer, and I can’t second guess creators, but to me these seem like strong ideas that either space or time didn’t allow for a full resolution to. I didn’t come away with a sure image of what the creator was trying to say about these things, or whether they were meant more as hooks to hang a good story on. That may be on me, and that may indeed have been the intent here all along, but to me it felt like there was room to go deeper and more personal in these stories, to commit to an opinion. They had interesting things to bring up and interesting ways of personifying the abstract, I just wanted to know more about what they personally felt about these subjects, because I think there’s an interesting set of voices here.
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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019
Disclosure – I am currently working with Zeno Carta on an anthology planned to release in June.
ZL – Your work is, so far, all black and white linework, would you like to see your work coloured?
ZC – I’ve been focusing for now on the rhythm of black and white because, while colour can do a lot, it can also easily overwhelm. Black and white is all most comics need to do their work, and I find that, when done well, black and white is actually clearer and more appealing. It’s hard to match good black and white design for pure impact.
That said, my most recent comic as of writing, “Warehouse (nsfw)” uses limited colour to do what black and white can’t.
I think that many comics treat colour almost like an afterthought, but colour has its own rhythms to consider–otherwise you lose the focus that black and white line art often has on its own. At the very least you need to know the colour wheel and basic pleasing palettes like dual and split complimentary.
ZL – Do you remember the first time?
ZC – No idea when I first liked something, but the comics I read as a kid were mostly Tintin and Peanuts. I pretty much believe that Herge and Schulz can teach you most of what you need to know about comics, before learning on your own. Learning comics is mostly practice–more of a craft than book-learning–but Tintin and Peanuts make a pretty good foundation.
Going back to those comics now, I think you can still see a sort of spark that explains why everyone knows them. I mean, it’s no fluke that they’re still popular, while the vast majority of comics never make it out of the basement. They have something to say, but know how to say it in a way that feels like a real experience.
ZL – Given an unlimited budget and all the time in the world what would you create and where or how would you send it into the world?
ZC – Given unlimited time and resources and time, I’m sure I would start a whole bunch of crazy projects and never finish any of them. There’s far more creativity in restriction and discipline than there is in unlimited resources.
Restriction, both in time and money (and even in skill) forces you to think of new ways of doing things. If you’ve got to draw a page that’s supposed to be an intricate city scene but you’ve only got a few hours left, you’re going to have to figure out some different way of doing things that might actually end up being better from a design or story perspective, while still taking less time. In other words, restriction forces you to experiment.
This isn’t an excuse for laziness in comics, but rather what I mean is that, when given unlimited freedom, there’s nothing to spur you to change bad habits and discover new ways of doing things. (This the is the reason I tend to stick to a grid. I’ve got to box myself in or else I lose all sense.)
ZL – I’m new to your work but have dug through your website and really love what I see. How long have you been drawing comics and what was the impetus to start putting them online?
ZC – I made comics as a kid but only came back recently. Right now I’m just sort of seeing what people might be interested in.
Or in more modern terms: In order to reach #success you must #motivate and #extricate your thoughts #fromdepressiontoinvention to #testthemarket and #findyourself today in this web of internet tubes that create a mirror on our life and demand our attention at every moment but take us even farther from the nature which would make us #happy, which is why you could do with a monthly #successquotes postcard (from my Patreon) with a custom sketch to help you out of the trap.
ZL – What is the most important influence on your current work?
I really liked those “influence maps” from a few years ago (basically ancient in internet time) because they revealed how far away influences can be even for people who have stuck with a similar style their whole career.
Or in other words, once when I was a teenager I was out in an old flat-bottomed aluminum boat. The water was really low that year, and a shoal that had never been a problem before suddenly looked way too close to the surface. I was still running fine, but instead of skimming the surface I decided to slow down. The boat lowered just enough that the propeller crunched where it shouldn’t, which snapped the shearing pins. And being the idiot I was at 15, I hadn’t replaced the spare shearing pins after tangling with some lily pads in a marsh the previous fall. I had to prop the motor and paddle a mile home, meaning that when I got there I had to eat moose instead of venison.
Disclosure – I am working with Ed on a small zine with no set publication date as yet
ZL – You have a very idiosyncratic and personal style to your comics, but one very situated within the history of UK comics, how did you arrive at your style and how satisfied are you with it?
JES – When I started drawing with a view to doing it seriously, I did that thing most people do which is drawing in a way you think is how you’re meant to draw. In my case, to start with, that style was newspaper editorial cartoons, somewhere between Steve Bell and Ralph Steadman because that was what I wanted to do out of university. Probably (Gerald) Scarfe was in there too, but he is such an egregious old wind-bag, I’m less keen to admit to being fan. I then tried to simplify my style when I started doing small press comics, trying to be like Tom Gauld (who I still love). Then I thought I’d try and go ultra-realistic like Brian Bolland or Arthur Ranson and do a long form gothic Frankenstein story (currently unfinished and mouldering in my parent’s attic). Anyway, the best piece of advice I ever heard was from a Chanel 4 fly-on-the-wall documentary about a kid trying to become a graffiti artist and the guy coaching him was having a go at him for not drawing enough. You should be drawing all the time, draw anything, develop your style. So I tried to focus on just draw things ‘wrong’ until I found out what the wrong drawings were trying to tell me. So that’s sort of it. Also, I creep in Kevin O’Neil and Mike McMahon’s house at the dead of night and suck bits of their brain out with a straw. Did I mention I have Michael Moorcock’s head in jar?
ZL – Do you remember the first time?
JES – I really loved the Beano like most kids growing up. I also really enjoyed Adam West era Batman and the cartoon at the start of the show which I think got me hooked on cartoon violence. He-Man is lurking in Blade of Arozone, which is hardly surprising. Akira blew the back of my head off when I bought the first volume when I was a teenager after seeing the film on BBC 2. A big thing I am channelling at the moment is the Warhammer art of people like Ian Miller, Paul Bonner, Kev ‘Goblinmaster’ Adams and John Blanche, which I was obsessively into as a kid. I was actually more into Warhammer than comics growing up!
ZL – Do you yearn to work in colour?
JES – Working in black and white was originally a practical choice because I was printing comics on a photocopier in Kinko’s (RIP) and I knew colour would cost more. I’m not averse to colour, but I really like that feeling of black, inky comics, so I will be monochrome for a while certainly.
ZL – You are gifted the opportunity to set up a new museum showcasing all of the creators who have influenced you from birth to now. The first show is called ‘First, Formative and Now’ who do you pick and why?
JES – Growing up in the 90’s there happened to be a lot of documentaries about underground comics, so I remember Robert Crumb being the first example of a guy being vaguely ‘rock and roll’ but not being a musician but instead doing something I could do (since I was no good at music). Formative is definitely Simon Bisley, who I tried to emulate as a teen-ager (with zero success). Current is a long list, but in terms of style, energy and imagination (not to mention jaw-dropping work ethic) I’m a big fan of Hyena Hell. On reflection, that’s the exhibition that taste forgot, isn’t it?
ZL – You’re due to release the second issue of your comic ‘The Blade of Arozone’, how well has the first issue done and how different are you feelings now compared to when you released the first one?
JES – I’m pretty buoyant at the moment – I’ve had some really good feed-back and some great support, especially from Tom Oldham of Breakdown Press and Gosh Comics. I’m mainly glad to have gone from being a guy who used to make small press comics a decade ago to a guy who makes small press comics again. I also really want to tell this story, so the fact there is a willing audience is excellent. The alternative was handing out pamphlets about Death Priests and Elderkin on the streets. There’s always that to fall back on, of course.
all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.
content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019
This is one comic I found on Instagram. It was genuinely a comic I bought simply because of the art (there’s a but later, I need to get the art out of my system first!). The art is fantastic in all ways, this being a fantasy comic and all.
First, just a huge shout out for how awesome the cover is. Brilliant and beautiful and simple. Gold ink on a black background. Already setting the mood before you even open the comic.
The art inside is just as beautiful; noodled, line rich, DENSE. Everything looks like it’s been hewn from rocks and cragged masses, whether landscape, creature or person. But most of all, it’s very, VERY British adventure weekly in all the ways I love. Yes, you can point to artists whose style I’m reminded of, characters that remind me of Jim Baikie’s ‘Skizz’ and the whole of Ian Gibson, particularly ‘Halo Jones’. It reminds me of the density of Jesus Blasco certainly and you wouldn’t be wrong thinking about ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ by Kev O’Neill. But most of all what it reminds me of is that idiosyncratic, characterful approach to art they all had. Every artist making that work interesting, approaching it like any subject is worthy of being serious, even if it’s throw away.
This is not some sum of parts though, not some mash of influences, this is a world made from whole cloth. That pattern might feature a colour of Michael Moorcock, a swirl of post apocolyptica, but those are just that, the colours, a bit of patterning. They’re not the whole design, the bigger picture is much bigger. As I say, everything is hewn from the same rock and it’s a mountain I’d say.
What I love about this is how good this is. Its skilful and thought about and integrated to do the one thing you want a story to do, get you interested in what’s going on and who it’s happening to. However much it’s hewn from stone, this comic doesn’t care about being ground breaking, it doesn’t want you to praise the creator’s skill either. It wants you to enjoy the story it’s going to tell you and it puts a whole lot of effort into delivering that.
All this detail filling up pages. Fluid organic lines, straight hatching, spotted blacks. It could be a mess, indistinct and impossible to pick apart. But it’s never like the work loses focus. You know where everyone is, every group feels like a mob or a mass where they need to. The motion feels swift or sedate, you know the pace it’s happening. The character designs are purposeful, revealing, they show you the nature of the person. Not by making bad guys grotesque, and good beautiful, remember they’re all hewn from stone. They’re all grotesque here in a way; lumpen, fluid, warped; but the nature of the person shows through in line, a graceful line showing a graceful nature and stance, body language that can be read and understood. This is good character design, good draughtsmanship, skill and ability turning in a story that can be read as fluidly as it’s drawn.
This is great cartooning in the hands of a thoughtful practitioner. You’ll see melodramatic poses, but they’ll not feel out of place, they’re the tone of the work not the nature of the artist, if that makes sense. Put another way, there’s no artist making great pin-up poses to signify a point where you SHOULD feel a certain way. The artist delivers art that makes you understand, that holds your hand into the emotions of those in the story, even if those emotions are of a grand nature. That grand nature is the character’s.
The story is, again, a beautiful pattern. It’s clever, its genre for sure. It knows its genre and the history behind it. You could call on Elric as a predecessor, and Conan. You might think of Grimjaw if you know of it and all those ‘magic came back to the world when science died’ books – ‘Sword of Shannara’ is what I think of when I think of any of these things, maybe you’ll think of ‘Adventure Time’. But it’s most definitely none of those things. It’s funny and intentionally so. It gross and intentionally so. It’s pompous and intentionally so. Those are its strengths – it’s not trying to make you believe this is like reality. Its hewing its own reality from the crags and rocks filling its world. You’re meant to get in there and enjoy this world, not by the power of how much like reality it is, not by copying tropes and hoping they’ll trigger your learnt behaviours, but by the power of the story telling, the power of the art. The sense of just feeling like this is someone who knows what they’re doing and they’re going to do it with skill and with fun and deliver some fine entertainment along the way.
Let’s be clear here, so far, we are seeing fun entertainment, there’s no depth of commentary on the real world. This is imagination at work creating a new cloth, a new pattern that looks fine and feels fine and is beautiful in how it flows and because of all of that, it makes you feel good, feel like you just want to wrap yourself up in it and stay there all day.