Interviews

Street Art and Going Solo: An Interview with Hugh Madden

Hugh Madden is a comic creator and street artist. His work includes The Duck and the Duchess and Madame Moustache, as well as commissioned art around the streets of Dublin.
You work alone on your comics; is this a conscious choice, or are you just waiting for the right collaborator? 
I work alone mainly because I started out knowing nobody who wrote/drew comics so I had no-one to collaborate with. And over the years, I’ve developed a way of writing and drawing that is very interlinked and also completely allover the place and nothing (including dialogue, plot, faces) is finalised until I’ve inked it. And even then I’ve tippexed out entire panels and thrown out pages. I like the freedom to be able to change everything around on a whim and I could only imagine how frustrating it would be to work with someone like me. I like the IDEA of collaborating with someone (Goscinny and Uderzo always made it look good! (see attached)) but I suspect it wouldn’t work and we’d both end up frustrated.
How do you decide which ideas to work with if you’re working solo?
Usually it takes me a day or two of playing around to figure out whether an idea is just a flash in the pan or if I can make something out of it. It’s usually starts off something like “What if A did X?” and then I work out who A is, what A looks like, the style I want to draw A in, what is X? All those things can fluctuate wildly. Depending on the character I’d do research on how they dress, where they’d live, develop other characters for them to interact with, work out who is in A’s way, are they a simple villain or more complex? And often the idea will just fall flat. Sometimes it’s because the plot won’t work, or the setting is wrong, or the characters don’t connect with the plot once they have been developed or much more likely it’s just something derivative and it takes you a while to realise that. When that happens I just put them away, hoping that someday the right plot for the characters will come along or vice versa.
But even when everything seems fine in my head, when the characters, plot etc meld perfectly, it can end up going off the rails. Sometimes the characters develop on the page differently from how you thought they would and then you are no longer able to corral them along to the ending. Other times you just get stuck and can’t figure out how to get from page 5 to page 7. When that happens, I just put it aside for a few days in the hope of being able to look at it with fresh eyes.
But the best test is always when I ask myself, are you interested enough in these ideas/characters to waste time making this comic? And if the answer is yes, then I go for it!!​

What’s your production process like? Do you script the whole book first, or do you make it up as you go along?
As I’ve said, my production process is a mess. I generally know how and where the book is going to end but if the book evolves I’m not wedded to it. Often the biggest hurdle is figuring out how the comic starts. I generally squash character design, page lay out, thumbnails and script onto the one page, so one page of dialogue can be scattered over several pages of doodles. I usually go back and number the dialogue so that I know what panel I want it to be in but that is more of a guideline. Anything can change on the page. Normally I have a solid idea and layout concept in my head for 4-5 pages at a time and by the time I’ve finished pencilling those pages, I know what to do with the next batch of 4-5 pages.  I don’t wait until I’ve finished pencilling the comic to ink a page. I usually start inking early once I am convinced that the page is ready. (And partially so that I stop worrying about whether it will ever be ready)
Your art has popped up along the streets of Dublin; how did that come about? Do you think it’s beneficial to experiment with art like that? 
This is part of the Dublin Canvas project (www.dublincanvas.com) I saw a poster in relation to it when the project was still in its beta testing stage and kept an eye out until it was looking for more submissions. I applied and one of my submissions got chosen and I have applied every year since. Both my comics and my street art tie in to Irish history and folklore and I think that working on a different scale and with different tools keeps me from getting bored in one medium. And I always find that experimenting sparks inspiration.
You’ve been getting involved in the Irish comic scene more and more; have you faced any barriers to entry? 
The only difficulty I had with getting into the comic scene here is finding out about it. Often the only way I hear about an event/market/festival is when I am told about it by people at a different event/market/festival. The actual applications are usually straightforward it’s the finding out that is difficult.When young people stop by my stall and talk about how they want to get into comics, I  tell them about the different events I attend and how they can apply for them too and they often seem surprised at how easy it is to get a table.

How have you found the process of finding an audience for your work? 
Finding an audience is without doubt one of the more difficult parts of comics and always the thing I think about after I’ve made the comic (ie too late!) I’m always struggling to find an audience but I think/hope that if the art is good enough the audience will eventually find you. It’s important to keep putting your stuff out there on facebook/instagram/twitter where ever you can but going to markets etc is a really good way to find out who your audience is. Because you will always be surprised at who makes a real connection with your comics and it feels great when they do. But I have about 100 followers on twitter so take all my advice with a LARGE grain of salt!!
What’s your one tip for people wanting to make a start in comics? 
Just do it. Don’t hang around waiting for the right day or the right pen or the right atmosphere. Just sit down and force it out of you. Make it short and self contained but do it! Because your first comic is not going to be good. I know that mine wasn’t! And the sooner you finish your bad first comic, you can do your better second comic and your even better third comic and so on and so on.  You won’t get better sitting on your hands or day dreaming.
My second “one tip” is to sign up for a table at one of the markets because that way you have a deadline to get your comic finished by and there is no greater inspiration than the knowledge that you need to make something/anything!! to put on your table!
What’s next for you in the world of comics? 
What’s next for me is to finish inking my second “Madame Moustache” comic, I have a children’s comic about Vikings that I have to finish and I have about 30+ pages of a graphic novel I would like to continue. And of course I have that drawer full of unfulfilled characters and unfinished plots  to get through!
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