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.