I tell stories. This is something I’m coming to realise is quite central to who I am and how I work. When I was little, I used to sit with a tape recorder and invent incredibly complicated stories about doomed warriors, dragons and epic struggles against evil. When I was at school, I could already read when I was just two years old, so I’d daydream through lessons and right through school all of my exercise books had drawings and stories where homework was meant to be.
Nothing much has changed. I started making comics by drawing on post-it notes while I was meant to be working in a job that, itself, was watching and listening to people and then re-telling their stories, being other people’s voices in another language and holding on to those little snapshots, those polaroids of other lives I’d have in my hands for those moments.
Whether as wistful as Badger’s story, which is my own moments of loneliness amplified, the pressing darkness of the autobiographical comics I’ve made, the twisted humour of the comics about my mother on drugs or in the little doodles on post-it notes, I want to tell better stories and tell them better than I think I can manage.
Comics seem to be working for me as a medium at the moment; I’m a visual thinker and I think combining text and image in comics gives much greater scope for texture than using simply one or another. An image in a comic can convey a sense of place and mood without spelling it out; a narrative provokes a sense of pathos a single image rarely is able to build.
I’m proud to be a part of the comics scene there is at the moment and I draw so much inspiration from the envy I feel towards the people whose work is tight, witty and has an audience. I’m taken aback by the philosophy evident in Melody Lee’s self-published books; I’m desperate to know how Lizz Lunney manages to put such intense humour and wit into tiny simple line drawings and I’m amazed by Tom Humberstone’s confidence of line and observation of character and setting.
Outside of the small press scene, I’d love to emulate the craft in Nick Abadzis’ Laika, the surreal world in Simone Lia’s Fluffy, the melancholy of Jason’s Hey, Wait… the joy in James Kochalka’s Johnny Boo or the brilliant dialogue in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life. The more I see, the more I read, the more I want to be.
Coming to Camberwell has already caused some tectonic shifts in how I see myself and how I relate to my work. Seeing the lectures has made me realise there is an incredibly strong correlation between work I love and work that has personal significance to its creator. The other epiphany I’ve had is that the more personal a piece of work is, the more it seems to speak to other people, that the closer in you lean to look at something as you make your work, the more universal it becomes.
So, in light of all that, I should probably talk a little bit about what I’m hoping to do during my time at the college. Two years is a long time to spend being amazed, overwhelmed and intimidated by other people’s talents and it’s an awfully long time to spend being jealous, so I’m rather hoping something slightly more useful will come of it than sitting in the studio sighing into my hands about how brilliant everyone else in the world is.
That wouldn’t be terribly useful in helping me to make something of a transition out of selling self-published comics at conventions for no real profit at all into being able to make some work that reaches a wider audience, is commissioned and pays the rent and allows me to spend more time making things to sell at tiny indie comics fairs for no money but a lot of love.
So, my research will be a barely-veiled exercise in obsession with the work I love. The thoughts running around my head are about how people handle darker and more difficult subject matter without descending into torpid self-indulgence or resorting to horrible cliché. All the creators I mention above are agile enough to deftly avoid these pitfalls and I suppose my research is going to be something to do with approaches to telling painful stories with humour, cute characters or other devices that allow for a lightness of touch I’d hope to see in my work sooner or later.
While, obviously, this is an excuse to spend a lot of time reading comics, I hope to cast a wider net and try to work out a toolkit of techniques I can learn to apply to my own work. Not just from comics, but looking a little wider at what it is that lifts work into beautiful melancholia from the quagmire of catharsis or misfired humour or aggression that stops a story from working.
There’s a few things in my work that I’d like to look at tackling during my time on the course that I’m hoping will resolve a little by the time I’m finished. At present, there’s a bit of a gulf between my humorous work and my more introspective work and I’d like to reconcile that polarisation a little bit and be able to use humour as a technique within bleaker emotional landscapes and handle more serious themes in the funnier stuff, so the two approaches to work start to feel more like they’re coming from the same person.
Having a couple of pages in the Solipsistic Pop anthology that’s just come out has made me realise I’ve become very used to working on a fixed page size or working to be seen on screen and that’s meaning I could do with some work on how I use layout and changes in scale to give a bit more dynamic variance to the stories I tell.
Another related area I’d like to improve is how I use speech bubbles and lettering in my comics; I’ve found myself avoiding them partly because I quite like making everything remain a little quiet but partly because I really don’t have the technical skill to get them right and I’d like to eliminate that as an obstacle.
When I left sign language interpreting to concentrate on my creative work I think I threw the baby out with the bathwater a little in trying to focus very hard on making new work and telling new stories and I think I didn’t have the sense of perspective to be able to see the time spent doing that job as incredibly useful and informative when it came to making creative work. All that time spent being other people, being the messenger through whom people conducted some very pivotal moments in their lives means I’ve seen things and said things that most people don’t get to be a party to and I’m realising how much of an asset that has been in terms of building up a sense of empathy and insight and also exposure to so many very interesting stories and people.
In terms of what I’ll actually produce during my time at college, I’d like to keep that slightly open for the time being. I’m quite certain I’ll carry on making short comics and making the web comic about Badger that I’ve been doing this year, but I’m hoping that my approach to making them will develop and my observational drawing will improve to anchor characters within believable settings a little more than they do at the moment.
I’m also thinking about ways to open my work up to new audiences by exploring other ways of making picture-and-text stories, possibly by looking into the idea of making a book for children. This would also encourage me to expand the range of colours I use in my work at the moment, or at least to experiment with bolder colours and then decide if using more washed out, muted colours is actually a conscious decision rather than a force of habit.
Basically, I want to take advantage of the time and the resources at Camberwell to test out, to play and to explore the voices that are emerging in my work and to get more of a sense of how the things I want to express in my work can manifest more clearly in the end product, without the sense that whatever I make will automatically end up on a stall in a comics fair in less time than I have to think.
I want to keep on telling stories, just better stories, better told.