Interviews

Horror in Watercolour: An Interview with Clare Foley

Clare Foley is an artist and illustrator based in Dublin. She works in watercolours, creating a unique style in the Irish comic scene.

What made you choose watercolours as a medium through which to work?

This is a question I get a lot. Truthfully, the watercolour was an accidental find. When I was initially searching for how to draw my first comic, La Grande Breteche, I tried a lot of different media and drawing styles. I was in college and we were constantly being drilled about developing a style. I didn’t have a particularly well defined style or even a favourite media. I found that the watercolour produced a really moody image, and so I stuck with that for the first book. I sort of fell in love with it in the process of drawing that book. People seemed to react well to the style, so I stuck with it for other projects, and it ended up becoming what I’m known for! I know that answer isn’t particularly meaningful, but a happy accident can be how you find something that works.

You’ve done a lot of horror work; do you ever envisage working in other genres?

It seems that I keep being approached for horror comics! I get a sense that this is because it suits the watercolour style. Once your work in a particular genre gets out there, you get offered similar work.

I think my strength as an artist is mood and atmosphere, and those are some of the same ingredients for good horror. Certainly a lot of the media I consume (and a lot of my favourite books, films, comics and other inspirations) have a somewhat heavy dark atmosphere to them, though are not necessarily horror genre. I would be perfectly happy to work on a comedy or a kids story, but it seems for now I’m destined to do a bit more spooky work…

How do you think your style might work with different types of stories?

I work in a highly stylized way, so there are some limits of course. I’d love to work on some other genres, they would provide a much greater challenge for me. I have something extremely whimsical in the works for much later, and I’m really looking forward to working on something much more irreverent and colourful.

Your first book was an adaptation of an older work; how was that process for you?

Adaptation is an interesting process. I chose someone who was long dead and therefore well outside copyright so I could really mess around with the story and make it my own. I took a lot of liberties with the story and I’m sure Balzac is spinning in his grave. Adaptation at a distance, as I did, is a great way to really play with a story and bend it to its absolute limit without stepping any toes (hopefully!).

Page 1 from Last Stop, written by Gary Moloney, Lettered by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou

You’ve worked with a lot of writers over the past year; what’s your process for working with other creators?

Continuing on from above, I had to learn how to work with other creators after adaptation. Working with writers is a totally different experience, and very rewarding. It’s exciting to try and bring someone’s vision to life while offering your own unique direction, emphasis and aesthetic to it. I love seeing how two different artists can take the same script and produce such different work. The people I’ve worked with have all been fantastic collaborators, and have taught me different ways of brainstorming and creating together. (Most recently @jp_jordan, @m_gearoid & @writeranonymous)

If you were starting from scratch, would you do anything differently?

I don’t think so. At the end of each comic I always look back and think “I would have done so much differently if I was beginning now” but that’s just showing that you’ve grown and learned from the experience. I think overall I don’t regret any choice I’ve made in terms of the stories I’ve worked on or anything else. It’s been great.

What’s your one tip for people wanting to make a start in comics?

Stop talking about it and start doing it. Everyone has ideas. They’re only worth a damn if you try them and you follow through.

What’s next for you in the world of comics?

I’ve got two stories coming out at an event shortly, featured in different anthologies. I’ve got a new project just confirmed yesterday which I’m really excited to be involved with, and hopefully two other release announcements shortly. Sorry to be vague, just keep your eyes peeled!

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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!
Interviews

Dustbunnies and Horror: An Interview with Anthea West

Anthea West is the Dublin based creator of Fate, an all-ages fantasy story that began in print and turned to the web. As well as Fate, she’s released The Earthbound God – a fantasy graphic novel – and Sleep Tight – a short collection of horror comics.

Anthea West

You’ve been working on Fate for a long time now. Did you always plan on releasing it as a webcomic?

Short story: Yes. Long story: The plan was to release it as an issue series until chapter 3 and then start releasing it was a web series along with the issues. However, I soon realise, after chapter 2, that printing and selling issues were a handful and pretty expensive over time. I went back and tweak a few things in the original chapters, coloured them and placed them on the web while discontinuing the issues. I enjoy selling graphic novels far more than issues anyway.

If you were to start again now, would you do anything differently?

I would have changed some plot things, very minor things that no one else would have noticed except me most likely. I would give myself more time between chapters to not only write and layout pages but to get a month’s worth of pages completed. A buffer is a webcomics best friend as the old saying goes.

Your Kickstarter last year was fully paid on the first day. What do you think helped with that?

I think it was a good mixture between being involved with the Irish comic community for years beforehand, having already built a small audience for Fate since 2015 and I had recently joined a webcomic collective called Ink Drop Café some months before the Kickstarter. They are such a wonderful and welcoming group and they helped a lot with the advertising of the KS over the month. They were also there to give a lot of moral support and advice and I’m super indebted to them.   

What would you advise to other creators looking to Kickstart a book?

Build your audience first. Advertise what you’re creating long before the Kickstarter. Get your name out there, let people know who you are and sort of things you are creating. Remember that Kickstarter is a platform, not a guarantee of success. You’re only going to get as much as you put in.

Sleep TightAs well as all-ages fantasy, you’ve also worked on horror. What made you work in a different genre?

I’ve always enjoyed horror. Not so much as getting spooked in the middle of the night but that’s a given when you consume the scary stuff. I had always wanted to make some horror comics, I use to write a lot of horror in my teenage years but I just never really got around to it. The final push was when the 100th person told me I could never do horror or “serious” stories because of the style of my artwork.  Let say, spite can be a wonderful motivator.

If you could only work in one genre, and you had to choose between all-ages fantasy like Fate, or horror like Sleep Tight, which would you choose?

Fantasy, no question. It’s a bit of a cheat answer as fantasy spills over into other genres easily such as horror and adventure while still being fantasy. Besides, my horrors are all shorts, fantasy tends to be where my long-form story ideas live. I have a lot of long-form stories planned for the future.

What’s your one tip for people wanting to make a start in comics?

Just start making comics. Don’t worry about perfection, or about being good. Good will come later. Right now just hop in and learn. Start with short stories, work up to issue-length stories and if you want to, move onto graphic novel length. Making comics and sharing them online or IRL is getting into comics.

What’s next for you in the world of comics?

More Fate certainly. That should be returning after its long break in June. This summer or next September I’ll be releasing another, longer, horror anthology called Interloper, so keep an eye out for that. My patrons over on Patreon get previews and sneak peeks into that every week. I’m also near the end of writing my all-ages graphic novel, Ash Tree, a story where a young girl called Aisling is shrunk and forced on an adventure with a hyperactive fox and has to learn, very quickly, how to be brave.

Interviews

Superheroes in Dublin: An Interview with Jason Browne

In 2007, Jason Browne was part of the creative team that launched Buttonpress Publications, with its flagship title The Wren. Set in Dublin, and featuring a team of superheroes known as the Flying Column, The Wren is Ireland’s longest running small press comic. It’s an all-ages story about heroism and trying to find your place among people who knew your parents better than you ever could, while trying to figure out how to balance life as a superhero with school. In a rare moment when Jason isn’t working on The Wren or any of Buttonpress’s other books in the series – ArtosThimble and Stoat – he’s been working on a graphic novel that’s set for release later this year: Cahoots.

The Wren is the longest running Irish small press comic; do you think there’s anything special about the book that has let you keep it going all these years?

Yes, perseverance! In an industry that is mainly an adult medium nowadays, deciding to work in an all ages could be shooting yourself in the foot. But! I went with heart instead of head when deciding to go for it.

What made you decide to introduce new characters like Artos, Thimble and Stoat?

Hibernia had become such a rich environment. We had spent a lot of time building the background to the world and there was such a diverse choice of avenues leading to other great stories. They needed telling.

Running four comics at once, how much guidance do you give your writers for their stories to keep them tied together?

So, I know the characters pretty much inside out before even starting the first panel. For example, with Stoat. Ciaran Marcantonio and myself had initially a totally different idea for the character but then the lightbulb moment. I enlightened Ciaran to the idea and he was totally on board with it. It is then fleshing out story, plot, characters and environments. Once we were happy, the drawing began.

I always have a basic plot idea for as to where I want to go with a character. Writers are very clever and adaptable people and so they take my plot and weave their magic.

Each of the current characters are based in different areas of Hibernia and so story crossovers are not usually a problem unless purposely intertwined (see War of Fal!!)

How did it feel giving up some of the creative process to other writers?

YAY! But seriously, a collaborative project is what fires my creative engines and so love it.

You’re one of only a few all-ages creators in Ireland; what made you want to release a book like that when Ireland was still developing its small press scene? Have the younger readers made it more worthwhile?

So, to create all ages books, is to like all ages books. It’s my favourite genre in comics and literature. Also, cartoons being my favourite visual media.

If you take the Incredibles, Boom Studios Power Rangers series and Harry Potter. All generally considered all ages and initially aimed at a young audience, yet adored also by adults. I am one of those adorees! (is that a word?) Luckily readers of all ages read our books and get what we are doing with such a diverse cast of characters, relationships and settings. I remember a comic podcast reviewing the Wren issue 2 and thought “Superheroes in an Ireland doesn’t work!”. We are now on issue 13 of said book and so my advice is believe in your story, writer, and characters, and they will deliver. It is still mind blowing to think that people of all ages, await your next issues. That and getting to fulfil a passion, make it all worthwhile.

What can you tell people about Cahoots, which you’ve been teasing bit-by-bit online?

NOTHING! Muhwa ha! (Editor’s note: this is about as clear an answer anyone will ever from Jason on this one until he’s ready to release it!)

What’s your one tip for people wanting to make a start in comics?

Don’t do it for fame or money. If that is your initial goal, go on X Factor if you can sing or buy scratch cards to get on de telly. It’s an art form and so like all art forms, it has its ups and downs. If someone spends time writing a script for me to draw, I want to deliver the best I can to compliment the words and in doing so, creating a little piece of magic, i.e “We made a comic book!”

If your passionate about the medium, go for it but it takes work (that dreaded word!), like everything else.

Aside from Cahoots, what’s next for you in the world of comics?

Buttonpress is heading to the U.S! So, we are lucky enough already to be on sale in so many countries, including the U.S but this will be our first comic con there. Baltimore Comic Con 2018 is our destination and will be sitting and chatting with giants in the comic book world, so no pressure…eep!

War of Fal makes its debut later this year, we will be in Dublin this year for Small Press Day, and lots more but will be announced later in the year (Wink!)