Graphic Novelists Speak!

Wed 05 Aug 2015 by Amy_Rogers

June’s BIG meeting was a graphic novel special. Paul Collicutt spoke first. He has had several graphic novels published and loved reading comic books as a child. Jack Kirby’s The Inhumans and Romance comics, Leo Baxendale’s Bash Street Kids, Dan Dare, and Pete Sutherland’s The Tough of the Track were among his favourites.
Paul got his first professional job at the age of fifteen! He created a comic strip for the Norfolk Guardian that lasted for twenty-six weeks.
Paul often takes photos to use as reference, so many of his friends and colleagues appear in his artwork. Robot City is a four book series of Paul’s that began as a proposal image. His publishers loved the illustration so he created a before and after story around it. He enjoyed writing the series more and more as it progressed. Most of the artwork was hand-drawn and digitally painted.
Murder Mile is Paul’s hand-painted graphic novel about running in 1950’s America. Paul says hand-painting every panel meant he focused on the art more than the story, but it’s a beautiful book. On one London Comic Day he ran almost sixteen miles around London, visiting comic shops, signing books, meeting fans and other artists. Paul has to do a lot of ‘shameless publicity’ for his books and quips that ‘the more stuff you sign, the less they can return!’.
One of Paul’s more unusual jobs was creating Beatfreaks’ company report in the form of a graphic novel.
Paul doesn’t always illustrate his books chronologically as his style changes slightly over time and he wants his comics to have continuity. He creates two graphic novels a year, each comprising around forty-eight pages. Paul says the world of comics is generous, open and inspiring. He works hard but enjoys it.

Our next speaker was Jimmy Pearson. He is better known for graphic novel writing than illustrating, and also creates artwork for rock and metal bands. As a child Jimmy dreamed of working for DC or Marvel Comics. He loved how their artists captured moments of action. He describes graphic novels as ‘the space between novels and the film world’.
From his early teens to the age of thirty, Jimmy was an aspiring comic book artist. He went to lots of comic conventions and received positive feedback. Darkhorse Comics were interested in his Jurassic Nark novel in 1992, but sadly it didn’t get published. When Jimmy moved from Australia to England he met a guy who had worked on films including Star Wars, and he gravitated towards scriptwriting. Jimmy and his friend were in talks with Sony but then his friend discovered he had cancer. As his friend was no longer able to work the script was dropped. This was a low period for Jimmy, who felt flat and demoralized.
Jimmy pursed his comic book career again. His writing was well received and he was paired with an illustrator. He loved the artist’s use of watercolour, which he felt gave things ‘a tactile connection’. He worked on Bayou Arcana – a book with many strong female characters, all illustrated by women and written by men. There are plans for a second book, where the dynamic is flipped. The comic book world is now very inclusive of women.
Jimmy often writes about the pervasive nature of big businesses. He is not too worried about the amount of money he earns and says a part-time job makes things less stressful. He draws and writes what he wants to rather than worrying about markets. Jimmy wants to use art to convey the zeitgeist and current political issues and to make people think.  He has also made a ‘how to draw comic books’ book. Jimmy says that the enthusiasm of the industry ‘drives you towards excellence… Entertainment inspires in a visceral way.’

Hannah Berry spoke next. She believes there are two distinct churches in comics – popular, mainstream art from the likes of Marvel, and alternative art that is often more personal and unique. She says it could be described as ‘Industrial vs Artisan’.
Hannah studied Art and Design in Basingstoke before taking her MA in Communication and Illustration at Brighton University. She says she sneaked comic panels into her projects as often as possible despite the fact that her tutors looked down on comic art. Hannah’s last student project was a graphic novel starring a crime solving, speaking teabag.
After graduating, Hannah worked in admin and worried that she couldn’t sell herself as an illustrator. She sent a graphic novel dummy to Jonathan Cape and was startled to discover they liked it – ‘it seemed absurdly simple’. Within two weeks she was working on the script with an author who had taught on her course. JC weren’t very involved with the editorial process, which left Hannah free to experiment and draw what she liked. This first book – Britten and Brulightly – was published in 2008. As she was ‘something of a novelty’, the publishers threw themselves into publicising the book. When her next book came out there wasn’t as much fuss and she realized she needed to be more shameless about publicity. She went out and met many other artists at comic book events and on social media. She enjoys being a part of the comic book community and it has led to various commissions.
There has recently been a boom in graphic novel publishers and you don’t need an agent to approach them. Hannah thinks that creating suspense in graphic novels is harder than in films as it’s harder to control pace and atmosphere and you have no sound. Hannah loves the medium and says most of her money comes from a publishers advance. In descending order, this is how lucrative her other endeavors are:
2nd - Foreign rights, 3rd – workshops, festivals, talks, 4th – selling books at events, 5th – royalties, DACs, 6th – freelance illustration.
Hannah says the cons of her job are the lack of money and the lack of respect from society – ‘comic books are seen as childish’. The pros include being a ‘vanguard of the new wave’, creative freedom, looser deadlines, more friends and looking younger than most people (due to spending so much time working indoors!). She believes most comic artists do it for the love.
Hannah likes the tactile feeling of working by hand. She says that some self-published artists earn more than published ones and advises everyone to join the Society of Authors. They can come in handy if you encounter problematic publishers. One of her friends had a horror tale after her publishers told her to ‘tear up your contact and we’ll send you a better one’. After the friend did that the publishers simply said ‘Ha-ha, now you’ve got no contract!’.
Hannah hasn’t encountered any sexism and says the split of comic books artist is about fifty-fifty.

Thanks to all our speakers!