Robin Barnard is one of those creators driven to make for the sake of making. I came across his work via Martin Hand who regularly works with him on the Star Jaws title. I was very pleased when I realized I could read his contributions online and then more pleased when I got to read the zines as they’re fun. There’s a sense of community around them and I’ve found some other great creators by following out from his comics. There’s something ESSENTIALLY fanzine about the whole thing, from the appropriation of style, the mashup of content to the intent to dig into what you enjoy by both celebrating and critiquing it.
I was interested to find out what Robin had to say about his inspirations and influences.
Can you tell us a bit about the first creator whose work you recognised?
That would be John Byrne. The very first comic I got brought, Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly in 1978 reprinted “Star-Lord” the first story by Claremont, Byrne and Austin as a team just before they went over to Uncanny X-Men. And then Byrne seemed to turn up in almost any comic I was reading for the next decade or so. It wasn’t for a while after that until I started appreciating films and then music.
Which creators do you remember first copying?
I traced a Carmine Infantino cover of The Flash when I was about 9. I don’t remember which issue it was, but I remember it was very fluid.
Who was the creator that you first thought ‘I’m going to be as good as you!’?
I have never thought I was as good or going to be as good as anyone (laughs). I never compare anything I have done to anyone else. I have plenty of inspirations, but I never hold my own work in much esteem. I don’t have much of an ego in that area. I have also never consciously been that competitive. I tend to create for the enjoyment of creating as I find that makes it worthwhile. Sometimes I look at a page I have done and think that might be okay, but that’s it really
Which creator or creators do you currently find most inspiring?
At the moment I am enjoying the creative madness of Terry Gilliam. I actually saw “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” in the cinema, which was not easy (it had very few screenings), but it was so worth it. Sometimes a movie comes along, and it just takes me to place I have never seen before, and I just have to experience again and again. It doesn’t happen very often, but Terry’s movies have done that for me at least 3 times (Brazil, and 12 Monkeys are the other two).
Which creators do you most often think about?
It depends on what I am doing. I tend to go through a cycle where I will discover a creator and then want to experience all of their work. If I was just, for example, working on recreating the 1st issue of “The Human Fly’ then I would read all the issues of that series and read about Bill Manto and the real life Human Fly and all of that would all feed into the end result.
Outside of creative works, I tend to think about Ridley Scott, Stanley Kubrick and Terry Gilliam when it comes to movies and music can be anything from R.E.M. all the way to Kylie Minogue and everything in-between.
I always have an eye open to see if I can find something new and tend to be open to try anything and make up my own mind if I like it or not, having said that I have not yet watched “Xanadu” (laughs)
Can you name the first three creative peers that come into your head and tell a little bit about why?
I guess the first one should be Martin Hand. He has been drawing covers for my comics for quite a few years now, he is really great at what he does and he’s much better at it than me. He has also made some great comics.
Next would be David Robertson, who other than myself or Martin has had more material in STAR JAWS than anyone else. David has he is own unique sensibility you always know its David’s work just by looking at it
Last but not least would be Paul Rainey, whose line work is brilliant and his story telling sensibilities again has a great unique voice.
Finally, can you tell us a bit about your recent work and yourself?
For what seems the last umpety ump million years I have been slaving away on STAR JAWS. Which I suppose is basically a spoof comic.
As for myself I prefer my material to speak for me, I don’t consider myself as a person or my actual real opinions any part of my creative process.
What I tend to do is observe a situation and try and put that into a story and try and include all valid points of view and if possible, let the audience make up their own minds as to what to think. But sometimes the material has something very specific to say to me in which case that’s exactly where it goes.
I have recreated and rewritten quite a lot of existing comic material and I work in an entirely different industry to comics.
Almost everything I have ever created is on my website.
Thank you very much for taking the time to fill this out and let us into your mind.
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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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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?
ZC – Impossible to pick one. Some prominent influences recently would include 40s noir films, Mike Mignola, W.T. Frick, and vaporwave. There are ideas everywhere if you’re a curious sort.
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.