Interviews

Life, Death and Irish Comics: An Interview with Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll is a Dublin-based writer and comics creator. He made his start in writing with Irish folklore books, before starting to work in comics. In this interview, ahead of the release of Life & Death from Limit Break Comics, Paul was given questions from his creative partners, Gary Moloney and Gareth Luby. (Side-note: Paul is the editor for this site, and aside from writing about himself in the 3rd person, also suffers from not knowing when to shut up.)

You’ve worked a lot with properties and characters created by others (Meouch, The Wren, Chuck), how different was working on Life & Death to those projects?

The big difference for me was the creative control in the stories at a script level. There was a lot more freedom to play around with ideas in the script when I was working with my own characters. It’s much easier to “kill your darlings” in a script when you don’t have to worry about the artist’s emotional attachment to a character or an idea. (In some cases, the killing is also literal in Life & Death – decisions like that don’t really happen with the likes of Wren unless Jason Browne requests it, or with Frankie unless it’s a target.)

After that, it comes down to finding the right artist for the story. It’s the total reverse of how I’d previously worked on comics. I learned a lot more as I worked on the book – and as Limit Break Comics was coming together – about what I’d look for in a collaborator, which should in theory make the process more fluid next time.

What was it about the stories in Life & Death that meant they had to be told in a comic?

The short, obvious answer is that I needed the art to make the impact for these stories. When I wrote the scripts, there was a real sense of trying not to overwrite everything, to allow the other creators to pace things and make the revelations and twists more apparent in their own ways.

Colour is a big part of that. Blood Bounty and Mourning Coffee rely heavily on reds, while Death and Taxes needed more everyday tones, and Wake the Dead required a change of colours from orange to green – my experiences in writing prose fiction warned me way in advance that that would make for some sloppy, boring writing to get the point across.

You’ve recently taken on the duties of penning The Wren, what drew you to the character and what do you hope to explore in your run?

I was approached by Jason – the artist and original writer for The Wren – to take over the series after our work together on Tomte: The Warrior Elf. It was the first book I’d read from the Irish small press community (aside from work by Anthea West, who I knew way before I knew there were people in Ireland making their own comics!) It’s a fun character to write for and to think up stories about.

I’m very much about returning to the roots of the comic as much as I can. The first season (issues 1-12) built up in a big way. Now that Jack is back in school, in a new home, and knows much more about the superhero society, we have an opportunity to play with his secret identity a bit. Jason has some ideas about how he wants the main plot for the season to go, but otherwise I’ve something of a free reign with characters and where they’ll appear.

There’s obviously a lot of pressure with this; aside from the work of Anthea West, who I’ve known since the days of Bebo, The Wren was the first Irish small press comic I read, and the longest running small press title in the country. I like to think Jason’s faith in me is well-placed. He’ll still be a big part of the plotting process, and he’ll likely have something to say about the direction I take with certain parts of the story, but that’s a safety net for me, and it means I can throw out some crazier ideas with him and see what’s interested in before scripting it.

You colour and letter a lot of your own work, can you explain your approach to those disciplines?

Lettering was the first thing I tried in comics that wasn’t writing, and it came as something of a necessity. Having some understanding of the Adobe suite, I thought, was enough. It’s not a bad start, knowing how to use the programs, but it took some feedback from a few people to really figure out what I was doing wrong. The first Meouch books had been readable, but that’s about it. So I learned as much as I could, and I looked at different ways other letterers worked to see how I could do more than just throw words onto the page.

With the colouring, I started with flatting a couple of short Meouch stories. When myself and Gareth were working on A Knight’s Tail, I wanted to try colouring it myself. Gareth finished off the colours on that one, making it a lot more vibrant and giving it more depth than I’d managed, but I’d at least figured out the palette for the story.

When it came to colouring the stories in Life & Death, I was a little more aware of using colour as a storytelling tool. Colour choices define the world in which a story takes place, and the shifting tones on a page can inform the reader of characters’ emotions and the atmosphere on the page, working in tandem with the artist to make the storytelling pop. I spent the project seeking feedback from Gareth and Gary about colour choices and tones.

It was exhausting, to say the least, trying to balance a day job and a few other responsibilities with the comic work. A big takeaway from it is more confidence and awareness in the additional processes in storytelling when it comes to making comics, which is now etched into the back of my mind any time I start writing something!

Your first prose stories were based on Irish folklore in the 21st century; can you tell us how you approached this adaptation?

Adapting stories always comes with some difficulty. I took some liberties with the way in which some stories were told. The first book, Balor Reborn, takes the story that defines how Balor can be killed and turns it on its head. With everything else that followed, I sought to find something interesting about a creature or a god and make a new story out of it. Irish folklore is wrapped up in Irish history and informed by the introduction of Christianity; the Famine and the notion of sin become as integral to some tales as the blood-ties of the gods and the relationships between different heroes in the old stories.

I try, as hard as I can, to stick to the original story as close as possible, but sometimes liberties have to be taken. Whenever I have doubts, they’re usually cleared up by a friend of mine who has an interest in Irish folklore – who just so happens to read ridiculously fast – so I can clear up whether I’m making something up from scratch or if in bringing the story to the twenty-first century, I’m “allowed” to do what I do.

And, of course, within the books the old stories are real. They’re actual history, lost to the passage of time and hidden in plain sight as just stories.

You have recently launched Limit Break Comics with Gary Moloney and Gareth Luby. How did this come about and what is the idea behind Limit Break Comics? What can we expect?

There’s a bit of a background story to this, going back a few months. I’d been talking to Gary about an idea for a fantasy comic, but didn’t have a name. He’d suggested Limit Break, but it sounded more like an anthology name to me. Nothing really happened after that, until the three of us started speaking about setting up a label together over some drinks. We threw around some names, some of which were cringy, some of which were pompous, and none of which I was sold on.

At some point, the name popped back into the conversation.

By that time, myself and Gary were looking to publish our collections of short stories, so it made sense to have a brand name to trade under. We were both working on some fantasy and sci-fi ideas, which fitted the name, so we mentioned it to Gareth.

The idea behind Limit Break Comics is to provide a voice for storytellers. We have a few other ideas in mind for our online presence, and a few ideas for books in the works. The main thing for us is to be as an open and welcoming as possible. It’s how we all ended up becoming friends in the first place, first with myself and Gareth at the Geek Mart, and then the two of us with Gary at last year’s Small Press Day. We’re all about being supportive of each other and providing honest feedback on comics throughout the production process. It’s allowed us all to learn a lot about comics, and about how to talk to people about them.

There are more exciting things in the works for Limit Break Comics, including the first Meouch stories under the brand. In the meantime, we’re focusing on getting our names out there, on attending some events, and on helping each other grow as storytellers.

You have always been an avid follower and supporter of the small press scene in Ireland. How do you feel the scene has progressed since you first became a follower of it, and who would you feel are the stand out creators/up- and-comers in your eyes?

I properly became aware of the Irish small press scene in 2015. I was in DCU doing a Master’s in Multimedia, and my group for my thesis settled on doing a documentary on comic book culture in Ireland. This meant having to familiarise myself with a few new names. Anthea helped with that, but mostly my knowledge of who’s who came from attending events. The first Small Press Day, and the subsequent Dublin Comic Con, allowed me to talk to more of the indie creators in Ireland.

All of that in mind, it seems like there are a lot more people making comics than there used to be. At the very least, I’m aware of more of them, and of the different roles people assign to themselves. A few things disappeared over the years – Lightning Strike stopped doing their anthologies for a while – and more creators were releasing different sorts of work that 2015-Paul would have loved to talk about for the documentary.

The big change since I started following the scene is the number of people finding professional work. Ireland has an abundance of colourists working professionally, now, and almost as many people who’ve drawn Spider-Man comics. The Comics Lab stopped functioning independently, becoming part of DCAF, and more comic related events have sprouted every year. It means there’s a lot more opportunity to find markets in Ireland, but it does also mean the potential for some overcrowding.

It’s almost impossible, now, to figure out who’s due to make their professional break. I’d like to think that some people – like Hugo Boylan – will have their creator-owned comics reach the wider market. Colourists tend to move into the professional scene more quickly, here, and part of that is likely because of the support network between established pros and the small press creators. Sometimes the idea that everyone in Ireland knows each other is both accurate and helpful. As a community, the comic crowd are consistently dragging each other up.

In your first release on Limit Break, Life & Death, you have written stories focusing on horror or supernatural themes; what draws you to this genre?

I grew up on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is the short answer. When I was in primary school and definitely not supposed to be watching shows like that, I became enthralled. There’s something special about supernatural stories, to me; almost everything about them can be ordinary, until you hit one little detail. Buffy is just a regular teenage girl to most people, but at night she’s the warrior at the Hellmouth. Willow is the school nerd who discovers herself in college; her coming-out story runs parallel with realising her magical potential.

I like taking something ordinary and twisting it. Mourning Coffee and Death and Taxes are just office stories, until their respective twists. My novel, A Death in the Family, is a story about a Millennial getting a new job and things not going as smoothly as he’d anticipated – the fact that the job is that of Grim Reaper is just a matter of genre.

It’s the same with any genre narrative, really. With Life & Death, I needed to identify mystery in regular life. With Meouch, it’s about needing to find little quirks to reality in as funny a way as possible, while The Wren is about needing to see the hero inside normal people. The beauty of writing, whether for comics or for prose, is that it allows us to look at the world through a different coloured lens.

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Interviews

A Year in Small Press: An Interview with Gary Moloney

Gary Moloney is a Cork-native, currently based in Dublin. On Small Press Day, he is due to launch Mixtape, his debut collection of short comics, with Limit Break Comics. .

As a writer, how did you find the process of getting started in comics?

For me that’s where the problem lay, getting started. I’ve always been writing in some shape or form, but I hadn’t written for comics in a long time. I’d talk about it, jot down notes about potential stories, but I’d never get stuck in properly. There was a lot of messing about coming up with excuses not to write, but once I did actually put pen to paper (or more often than not ink in the printer) I got a lot of work done. It’s amazing what a good creative kick up the ass can do, so I have to thank last year’s Small Press Day for that.

The process of learning the craft of comic-making was an interesting one. Most of what I had done before comics was prose work. I had written a comic back in Transition Year as part of a workshop organised by Cork City Library (it’s terrible and with all hope shall never ever again see the light of day), so I knew about the format of scripts etc. As well as that, I used to do quite a bit of comics critique and reviews online, so breaking down why a comic worked or didn’t was nothing new to me, but some of the technique, tools and tricks remained elusive. Luckily, it’s easier to learn this stuff than ever before. This is a subject that has been written on by Scott McCloud, Jim Zub, and many others. So I looked to them and worked from there. Strip Panel Naked was just kicking-off properly and Hass’ breakdowns were of a massive help.

I was lucky as well that just as I finished my first comic project; Lex Iniusta, that a comic storytelling class opened up in the Irish Writer’s Centre with PJ Holden (artist extraordinaire and world’s nicest man). If you have the opportunity to do one of those courses or any workshops of the kind, it is fantastic learning experience. It provided me with the momentum to keep going and I haven’t stopped since.

You’ve worked with a lot of different creators; what’s your process in finding the right person for each story?

Oh man, there are so many factors to consider. I used to write scripts blind and find an artist that suited them later, but I’ve found that to be less rewarding an experience for all involved. It’s just the wrong way to go about it in Small Press and I’ve learned from each subsequent project. Nowadays, I start with a pitch which will include a logline and general outline of a story. I also typically have a first draft of the script prepared. I may have an idea at this point of who I’d like to collaborate with from the people I know through the scene, friends, or from the various online portfolios that get shared about on Twitter from time to time. How do you know if someone is right for a project? Well, you look at the emotional heart of the story and the feeling you are hoping to invoke, look for collaborators who fit with those.

When I find someone I am interested in working with I reach out to them via email, explain who I am if I don’t know them personally and pitch them the story. I keep it succinct and to the point. People don’t need your life story in these initial exploratory emails. I’ll always link to my portfolio so they can see work I have done in the past. You’ve got to be professional about it from the start. If they are interested, I talk with them about the story a bit more, find out what their schedule is like and see what ideas they have. It’s at this point if I have a first draft of the script that I’d send it to them. Meeting up with people to hash out a story over coffee can be very useful if possible. I’ll nearly always do another draft of the script with the person in mind once they are on board.

There is no point in denying it either, you have to look at your budget (if any). You should ideally be paying your collaborators something, even when they are people you are friends with. It may not be a full page-rate, but it should be something. Be open and frank about what you can afford. Your collaborator is going to be your partner for whatever project you are bringing to them and the foundation of a good creative relationship is honesty. You’d be surprised what opportunities can present themselves when you approach someone with a plan. I’ve been lucky to get the chance to work with some of my favourite artists on the scene because of this. Again, it is all about being professional and presenting yourself as such. You are asking people to take time out of their lives to work on a project with you. It’ll take way more time for them to draw your script than it did for you to write it. So be conscious of that fact. You should approach any discussions as to deadlines with the same honesty and frankness.

Ultimately, it may come down to one question. Can you afford to do this story with this artist at this time? Sometimes the answer is going to be no and you’ll have to adjust accordingly. The truth is that it is going to be hard for you as a writer in comics. At the end of the day, you are the project manager. You are going to have to pitch yourself to people. It is rarer that people will come to you looking to collaborate. If it does? Great, you are well on your way, but you’ve got to bare that in mind when approaching potential collaborators. What I say may seem like it just applies to artists, but it goes for colorists and letterers too.

Sample page from Weapons of Mech Destruction

How do you approach the storytelling process throughout the production of the comic?

There’s a process?! Why didn’t anyone tell me? My approach isn’t anything revolutionary, it is all about tweaking as you go. Everything starts in a notebook for me. I just find it easier to hash things out once there is something on a page and I’ve found that hand-written stuff works best for me. It’s easier to break story when it is a tangible thing that you can scribble out or add to in the margins. I start with a premise or character and work from there. At that early stage, I’ll have an idea about the theme of the story and maybe some of the key visuals or pieces of dialogue. The first draft of the outline will be handwritten and include a detailed page-by-page breakdown. This is easier to do with shorter stories. This will be refined once I commit the outline to soft copy. I use that as the basis to begin scripting and edit as I go. Once the first draft is does, I circulate to a few trusted friends for their feedback. I’ll tweak things here and there once an artist is on-board, sharpening the dialogue as the linework comes in so that the lettering draft reflects the linework.

What’s been most helpful to you, as a writer, when working with different creators?

It certainly helps that I’ve gotten on well with all of them. I’ve had the honour of working with some incredible talented people over the last year, much more talented than myself. What I love most about collaborating with them is the passion and creativity they’ve brought to each project. Apart from being delightful to work with, they’ve each taught me something about the craft that I didn’t know before. So what’s been most helpful has been their insight and approach to the medium. Each project has been a masterclass in comics storytelling and my collaborators the greatest of teachers.

You write in several genres. If you could only pick one to write a book under, which would you choose, and would you expand on an existing story you’ve already written?

It would have to be science fiction. It’s a genre that I love precisely because of how broad it is and the storytelling potential that it offers. From space fantasies to high concept narratives, you’d never feel stuck for choice or limited in anyway. All of the short stories that I’ve written are made to be read as standalones rather than backdoor pitches. However, part of the draw for me as a storyteller is building these worlds for your characters to inhabit even for the short amount of time you may spend with them page-wise. A story needs to have a definable world. In my head I have additional stories for some of the characters or worlds featured in Mixtape, and maybe someday those stories will be told, but I am much more interested in exploring and creating new worlds. As Edna Mode said “I never look back darling, it distracts from the now!”.

You’re relatively new to the Irish small press scene; how has it been for you so far?

It’s been phenomenal. This is something that anyone with a passing knowledge of the scene is aware of.  What I love about the Irish comics scene is just how open and inclusive it is. Ask anyone with a passing knowledge of the scene and they will tell you how tight a group it is. Everyone knows everyone (cliché, but no less valid), they all go for drinks together and support each other’s work. They are just really nice bunch and a pleasure to be around. I’ve been lucky to make some really good friends over the last year which has made integrating into the Big Smoke a lot easier.

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

Don’t wait for permission. Shut up, get out there and do it. Indie comics is punk rock, there are no gatekeepers. Find likeminded people and let your voices be heard. I can’t promise you it’ll be easy, but if you want to tell stories in any capacity you’ve got to take that first step.

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

Now that Mixtape is going to be out into the world for everyone to see (screams internally), I have one or two more short projects that I am working on with some killer artists which I should be able to talk about soon. Other than that, I’ll be doing what I have been up until now.  I am going to keep writing and developing ideas, aim at completing some longer projects. Last year at Small Press Day, I set myself the goal of having a book out for this year’s event and I managed that. This year, I’ve set myself another goal, but that would be telling. So I’ll be working towards honing my craft and putting myself in the best position to be able to achieve that.

On the Limit Break Comics side of things, I am going to be working on the Panel Addicts initiative. We have so much talent here in Ireland across the all aspects of the comics creative process. I want to be able to showcase those people and provide a central hub for their work.  Twitter has become the de facto home for the comics crowd to promote their work and over the past year, more and more creatives have been posting short comics/sketches there. A more permanent home is needed to archive this material so that it isn’t forgotten. So we are taking inspiration from the Sketchblogs of yesteryear and putting together a regular blog that will feature comic art and short stories. More importantly, what the blog will provide is a forum for a collective of Irish Small Press creators. We going to start out slowly, but we hope to be able to expand it over the coming months and open up submissions in the near future.

Interviews

Killer Cats and Sketch Cards: An Interview with Gareth Luby

Dublin based artist Gareth Luby started his comic career with Frankie – a killer cat with a penchant for violence and puns. While working on the first story, he was chosen to work on Marvel sketch cards. Just recently, he’s been involved in the launch of Limit Break Comics.

The bare-bones idea behind Meouch was Frankie; what can you tell readers about your inspiration for the character?

Well basically Frankie is based on my cat. When he was a little kitten, I always felt he was plotting my demise. He was a funny kitten. I would imagine what he was thinking as he tore my hands apart playing with me… I had an idea of a kitten who would be the world’s most deadly assassin. Using Frankie’s features, I sketched out the Original Frankie. (Which looks nothing like the Frankie you see today BTW.) I wanted to have a fun character that was not too serious and you could have fun with. That’s Frankie in a nutshell.

How did you approach drawing the first story?

Drawing the first story was intimidating to say the least. I really wanted to get across who Frankie was and also have fun with the story. I had a few things going against me. One, I had never drawn a comic before, and I knew my limitations working in the medium. And two, I was never that confident in my art at this point.

So I sat down with friends who worked on the book and bounced ideas around. I never planned out a single page, I just went for it. I know now that this was a really, really bad way to approach drawing a comic.

Anyway I pieced it all together and we (Gareth and writer, Paul Carroll) got the first Meouch Comic out for Dublin Comic con 2017, and I was happy to say it was very well received.

Frankie recently appeared in a Fantasy anthology. How did you approach the character design in a new settling?

I had bedded down the Frankie design by the time the Anthology opportunity came up. Paul Carroll, who writes all the Frankie stories, thought it would be a great opportunity for Frankie to reach a much wider audience.

Paul wrote a fantasy story that placed Frankie in a medieval setting: knights, kings, and castles etc. It was really fun to work on, I was much more confident in working on this story. I was happier with the character design and more confident in my ability to tell a story visually.

It was great to work Frankie into a Medieval setting. He got armour which was a nod to my favourite comic character, Thanos. He got a massive Buster Sword from Final Fantasy that a cat could not possibly wield (but Frankie does) and he gets to battle the Dark Knight – not Batman but Doggo Shady, Frankie’s nemesis!

So all in all, I was very happy with the story from Paul and my art. Myself and Paul collaborate on the colours for the story, and it looks amazing. But the really good news was that it was immediately accepted for the anthology, so we were really happy that people loved Frankie as much as we did, and felt him worthy to include in their anthology.

Before Meouch was released, you started work on the Marvel Sketch Cards. How did that come about?

The sketch cards came about on the back of my warm up post it note sketches.

I would always do a quick sketch on a post-it note before I did any major art sitting, or just sometimes for fun. I would work on a post-it as a small canvas so I’m not committing to a big piece of work, and it would warm me up for everything: pencils, inks and Copic Marker colours.

I started posting these up on my Instagram, and thought nothing more of it. The more I posted, the more popular they got, and one day I received an email saying that my work was really good and they liked that I got a lot of detail into a small space. The mail went on to say that they were looking for artists to work under the Marvel umbrella on a Sketch Card project. Obviously I thought it was some kind of scam, no way was someone affiliated with Marvel asking me to draw for them, but a few mails back and forth and I agreed to do the work. It was amazing to get that package delivered with all the sketch cards and the Marvel artwork guidelines. It may not a big deal for some but for me at that stage, I was on cloud nine. I had free reign to draw nearly all of the Marvel universe on these, and I went tooth and nail at it. I got all the cards approved and away they went. I never thought much about the completed cards after that but my Mum Googled me one day and found that one of the Deadpool sketch cards I did sold for over $200. I was shocked to think that someone would pay that amount of money for something that I drew. It was an amazing feeling and a serious confidence builder.

I have since worked on an exclusive set of X-men cards with these guys and have recently been given the go ahead by Marvel to share the work I did, so you can see them on my Facebook and Instagram.

What’s your process for working on the cards? How does this vary to your comic work?

I found the hardest part of working on the cards was the absolute limitless amount of characters I had to work with. I did receive a 5-page blacklist of characters that I couldn’t draw due to licensing issues i.e. NO FANTASTIC FOUR at all. But I got to draw most of my favourites and loads of characters I never ever thought of drawing before. I mostly did headshots on the cards due to their size, but I did push my ability on them going for half-body shots to full-body shots on the small trading cards. My most challenging card was in the X-men run when I managed to fit seven characters onto a single card. I was proud of that one and it got a special mention in my approval mail from the guys at Marvel, to quote them “Well done on breaking the mould man.”

So I made it a point to try and challenge myself on this project, not content with the safety of a headshot, but taking the time to see what I could pull out of the bag.

You’re involved with the running of the Geek Mart. What can you tell readers about it?

The Geek Mart started out as a small market run once a month and now quarterly in Dublin. It grew in popularity very quickly. I would like to think the team behind it, being Paul Carroll, Niall Fox and myself, have built a community through the Geek Mart. It gets a lot of interest and word of mouth. We like to give newcomers to the geek community a launch pad for their work, be it crafts, artwork, cosplay or anything they would like to showcase. We are a small event run by geeks for geeks. So if you are looking to break into exhibiting your work but don’t feel you’re ready for the massive Cons, we are always open to new vendors and can be found on Facebook.

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

Just go for it, and never let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. It is really fun to create something original and to see people enjoy it.

Tips I would give is if you’re an artist, draw every day. I can’t stress that enough, because it’s the only way you are going to get better at it. You will never be perfect, even the seasoned professionals still push themselves every day, because there is never a perfect drawing. In my eyes, I can look at a Jim Lee Batman drawing and think, like 99% of the planet, that it is amazing, but I sure Jim will see the errors he made and will always try to improve upon them.

Practice your sequential storytelling. This is a trap I fell down and I only recently discovered I wasted a massive amount of time. If you want to draw superheroes and that’s it, then do that. If you want to draw comics, you will not learn anything from doing this, You need to be drawing storytelling pages, because this is what the people hiring artist to work on comics will look at. You can show them you can draw Captain America, but they need to be able to see that you can draw Cap fighting a horde of Skrulls on an alien planet while trying to get his hands on the Teseract. And that is a totally different skill set.

I have fallen into the whole of drawing Pin-ups and not drawing more comics, and this has hindered my progress as an artist.

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

Following on from what I just said, what’s next for me is practice. I will be drawing Frankie’s first full Meouch comic – Paul Carroll has written a really action packed and funny three-issue arc for Frankie, so I look forward to cutting my teeth on that.

And when I’m not working on Frankie, I will be practicing my sequential Artwork.

I plan to take a year out from doing shows and Conventions and just solidly work on enhancing my skills as a comic artist. Like I said before, I love drawing comics and I want to be able to draw them much better than I can now. This is definitely not going to happen overnight, it won’t even happen over the twelve months I plan to dedicate to it, but I know for a fact that I will be better, and on a more focused road towards my goals.

Interviews

Sci-Fi, Horror, and Breaking into Comics: An Interview with Raymond Roche

Raymond Roche is a writer and comic creator, releasing his books under Two Pugs Publishing. Following on from his debut book Soma: Eden, he released Dem Bones in two parts with artist Fiona Boniwell. During his day job, he works as a civil servant.

Dem Bones is a far-cry from your first book, Soma: Eden; how did it feel jumping from one genre to another?

Much, much easier that you might think. There’s a school of thought that all stories are Western (Cowboys, that is) stories. That’s true up to a point. A writer can tell the same basic story and rework it for a different genre. The Seven Samurai – The Magnificent Seven. I think it works best if the writer can maintain the same theme common to both genres. Soma and Dem Bones look and read radically different, almost as if there are two very opposite Ray Roches at the same keyboard. Maybe there are, who knows. Soma is about grief, Dem Bones about secrets. For me it’s about getting the message across and which genre or taxonomic writing style suits that best. The writing part is easy.

Although… Soma is an emotional journey the reader is fooled into believing will end well and staying in that headspace for months of rewrites isn’t something I’d recommend. Dem Bones is another matter. Dark, horrible storyline, but because I used humour so freely it doesn’t feel dark and after much consultation with my editor, Colin O’Mahoney, we made the decision not to show too much. My favourite panel in Soma is an officer being attacked by the alien creature, while my favourite panel inDem Bones is of an innocent schoolgirl gazing enraptured at a painting in the National Gallery. I felt less constrained with Dem Bones because I was creating the rules of their world as I went along. Soma had to follow certain semi-rigid SciFi rules to be acceptable, mostly science and the mechanics of space travel. Whether we like it or not, certain Hollywood franchises have informed the reader’s psyche and their expectations. For Dem Bones I was creating an alternate Dublin where magic and superpowers are every-day, paradoxically mundane. I felt less that I had to please an audience and more that I was writing these characters for my own enjoyment.

Do you think your day job helped with the writing of the book?

Yes. Without question. Dem Bones began as a writing exercise one lunchtime. I was feeling that Soma was never going to happen and to cheer myself up I started writing funny dialogue. My wife and daughter both had said “For God’s sake, write a comedy next time, please!” I write what I know. A lot of years working on the inside has given me insights into the workings of An Garda Siochana. I took all of that and turned it upside down. The Forensic Lab, The Cold Case Unit, Biggstown Garda Station etc are based on real places and people but seen at a “Dutch angle” because I’m a perverse human being. I don’t write a story if someone else is doing it, and doing it better than I can. Dem Bones is littered with real-world references, but also I satirise events and procedures, people and bureaucracy. It’s up to the reader to decide which is real and which is the alternate Dublin. The people I work with do a tough job and lighten the mood with sometimes dark, inappropriate but oh, so very necessary humour. I hope that shows in the book.

How was your experience with finding a market for the book? Is it something you think you could repeat?

There’s a huge demand for “more of the same” stories, and not just in comics. When I first pitched the concept of a Crime Noir set in an alternate Ireland I included bios of many, many characters and situations so really the Dem Bones world is a “Sandbox” version of Dublin Police. It’s a world where future stories might be anthologies or one shots. I have a lot of them to choose from. Finding a market? Getting the book into shops is a problem. Unless they know you or the comic is mainstream, it’s easy to see why a retailer might be hesitant. They have only so much shelf space. So far, Dem Bones is selling well, through conventions and word of mouth but it helps if the shop-owners push the comic. I’ve sold lots to the Guards, who have heard that there’s a comic about their world. The characters, especially the female detective, have attracted attention. The plan is to do more and hopefully get the right attention. Create a readership one book at a time. As long as the reader wants another one, I’ll write it.  One important factor in selling a book is location. Craft marts or toy oriented meets might not be as successful as a dedicated comic convention. Depending on your skill set and product: Fully mature material will always be a tougher sell than superhero fare.

Compared to most creators in Ireland, you’ve gotten a late start in comics. How do you think that affects the sort of stories you tell?

I stopped reading comics when I was 15. Back then, demand was high but supply sphincter tight. I’m so new to this that I haven’t read some of today’s household names and tend to read trade collections or comics recommended by people in the business. My stories tend to be about an issue or emotion and they are ALL autobiographical. Being late to the party means I bring my own bottle, I suppose. When it comes to the sort of stories I tell, it’s down to the sort I’d like to read or is anyone else doing the same thing? I don’t write superhero stories because I don’t understand them. Superheroes, that is. I get angsty Batman but not floaty cape rippling Superman, The Black Monday Murders but not Nothing-Really-Happened-But-We’re-Having-A-Gigantic-Crossover-Event-Life-Changing-Crisis-on-Six-Earths. Being ancient, I have read a few books, done a thing or two, and see the world differently maybe because I don’t understand Social Media. My stories tend to start in one place and end up somewhere else entirely by design. Hopefully, that makes them unpredictable.

Is there anything about your process that you’d do differently on your next book?

My process is clear. I have a list of genres, characters, events, mashups, themes I want to throw rocks at and I start with a word. I move on to an event, work backwards to the beginning, add plot and jokes later. That’s not going to change. I might try not worrying so much and talking about comics, ad nauseum.

What was the first thing you did when you decided to enter the Irish comic scene?

I made lists. Of everything. You get that, EVERYTHING, I wanted to do. Some are feasible, some not, some too funny to say out loud. Some will need an Ocean’s 11 approach. I’m working through those lists. Top of that list was: Talk to people who were already doing what I wanted to do, Indie comic makers, but more importantly comic fans.

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

Don’t just jump in. Start in something else, get a grounding in art, a portfolio course, creative writing, journalism anything. Take what you learn outside and apply it to storytelling in comics. Start small. Don’t do what I did: A 28 page SciFi one shot? Hell, no. Look for a local creative team and make 1 page or 4 page comics. Get to know people at conventions and retailers, read what’s current, marry an artist. Well, that’s more than 1 tip.

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

My next book is a Horror Western called The Talking Gun. It’s set after the American Civil War and it’s about friendship. Don’t tell anyone, though: It’s hush-hush. Part 2 of Dem Bones is due out (editor’s note: since responding to my question, Dem Bones part 2 has been released – check it out at Small Press Day!) and it should surprise the people who bought Part 1. The next SSDD is about a hostage negotiation situation at a magic sperm bank and is titled “Heist, Heist, Baby.” Besides that, the future is about conventions and talking to people at comic-related events and helping others with my story. If they get something from my experience then that’s a win.

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!

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

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!)

Reviews

Review: Swift

With Thought Bubble’s comic convention on its way this weekend, Aaron Fever (Ship WreckedFrozen WasteArtos) is launching Swift, the latest interpretation of the superhero genre from an Irish writer. The creative team involved gathers a lot of experience and talent in one issue, with line art by George Kambadais, colours by Rebecca Nalty, letters by Hassan Ostmane-Elhaou, and Declan Shalvey as Editor. I was fortunate enough to get a digital copy sent to me by Fever for the sake of this review.

Swift is a classic coming of age story, about a wheelchair bound teenager waking up on the sixteenth birthday to discover he has a superpower, and needing to figure out his place in the world with this sudden change. (That’s all you get out of me on that; aside from a no-spoiler policy, I’m not here to summarise the book for you!)

Compared to other superhero books by small press creators, it makes a delightful change. We’re not given a world-saving hero in Swift, but a real, human boy who just wants to paint. We’re not given a star athlete turned Superman-knock-off, or a team of eclectic Irishness in spandez. Fever uses the genre to tell a story about how a boy finds his place in his family, and in the world.

Kambadais and Nalty perform excellently together, giving us a charming family tale with the spark of Marketing Buzz that the heroes of Swift seem to demand. There’s a lot of movement throughout the comic, with the feel of a montage rippling through the pages, loud splashes of colour making up for the silence of paper (or the whirr of my laptop fan.) With the additional of Ostmane-Elhaou’s letters, the comic guides us through one of the more difficult times in a person’s life (growing up; not all of us go through superhero training at the age of sixteen) with all the excitement of possibility, and the dread of change, blended in a way only comics can achieve.

I adored this book. There are no other words for it. Perhaps it’s the superhero fan in me, or the Young-Adult-obsessed reader that’s yet to give up on the classic coming-of-age narrative, but I didn’t want to stop reading the book once I’d started, and wanted to go back and read it again once I’d finished. It doesn’t bury itself in unnecessary complexity; Swift is an honest story, packed with wit and humour. If you’re fortunate enough to get to Thought Bubble this weekend, this is one for your shopping list.

Article

#ComicsAtDCC 2017

The biggest weekend for Irish comics is here: Dublin Comic Con. Thanks to Declan Shalvey, the hashtag #ComicsAtDCC began on Twitter, making the job of easily identifying what’ll be available that little bit easier. I’ve gathered a bunch of titles here from what I know about and what I could pick up info about online.

All Ages Comics

Going by my own experiences attending Dublin Comic Con in the past, the All-Ages titles are few and far between. I’ve collected the few that I know about here, to make things easier for readers with kids to find something age-appropriate for them.

Fate by Anthea West. Click here for our review.
Freya, Written by Tracy Sayers, Art by Trisha O’Reilly
Wren #13, Written by Paul Carroll and Jason Browne, Art by Jason Browne, Lettered by Phil Roe
Rabbit and Paul Cover
Rabbit and Paul, by Seán Hogan. Click here for our review.

Small Press

The remainder of the Irish small press, as far as I know, is not quite as suitable for children as the above comics. While some titles may be – it’s a judgement call by parents – there are some that might traumatise kids.

The Guards
The Guards, Written by Shane Ormond, Art by Kevin Keane
Chuck, Written by Paul Carroll, Art by Conor Carroll
100-times-cover
100 Times, by Katie Fleming Deluxe Edition launches at Dublin Comic Con with additional material. Click here for our original review.
Brain Fetish Cover
Brain Fetish by Kinga Korska. Click here for our review.
Carrie & Rufus, by Ben Hennessy
The Broker, Written by Wayne Talbot. Massive creative team listed in review
Will Sinister, Written by Hugo Boylan, Art by John Quigley. Check out our review here.
Clone, by Hugo Boylan, Tara Ferguson, Rebecca Reynolds and Kerrie Smith. Check out our review here.
Hoda Machine, by Leeann Hamilton
Red Sands, Written by Ciaran Marcantonio, Art by Cormac Hughes, Colours by Triona Farrell
How to Live With Your Cat, Written by Paul Carroll, Art by Gareth Luby
Meouch, Written by Paul Carroll, Art by Gareth Luby
The Waves That Breaks, by Aaron Lotsy
Frozen Waste, Written by Aaron Fever, Art by Clare Foley
The Fort Night Comic Project, Written by Dave Hendrick, Art by Peter Marry, Colours by Dee Cunniffe
solstice-1-winter-cover
Solstice, Written by Danny McLaughlin, Art by Nathan Donnell. Books 3 launches at Dublin Comic Con. (As far as we are aware!)
project-crossroads-cover
Project Crossroads, Art by Seán Hogan, Stories by Hugo Boylan, JP Jordan and Adlai McCook, Colours by Stephanie Reville and Dearbhla Kelly, Letters by Kerrie Smith, Flats by Louise Fitzpatrick. Check out our review here.
Solo-Q by Jeklly Draws

Special Mentions

Sometimes, writers and artists work on things that aren’t comics. Launching at DCC, or just released this year, are:

Maelstrom, by Paddy Lennon – Book 3 of the Flare Series
A Little Book of the Coen Brothers, a Sketchbook by Brian Burke

A Death in the Family, by Paul Carroll, launched at K-Con earlier this year

Guests

As well as all of that, attendees will also be treated to the presence of a few of Ireland’s greatest comic creators, including Will Sliney, Declan Shalvey, Stephen Mooney, John Cullen, Triona Farrell, and Robert Carey. Anthea West and Leeann Hamilton, whose books can be seen in the list above, are also on the billing.

It’s going to be a busy weekend. There’s a lot to look at it, so many books worth reading, and so many artists and other creators whose work cries out to be picked up.

I’ll be in attendance as a vendor this year, but I had the utmost pleasure of getting to review a lot of the upcoming books for this year’s event. For those who don’t know, I’m Paul Carroll – just breaking into comics, hence the plethora of new books. Because Comix Ireland is a one-man show, you won’t find reviews of anything (or by anyone) I’m involved in (with) here, which includes anything by Gareth Luby, Tracy Sayers, or Jason Browne of Buttonpress. There’s objectivity, and then there’s bias, and the line gets a little bit finer the closer you get to a book. As for every other book on the list, you’ll likely see reviews popping up ahead of other events. I personally can’t wait to see what these amazing creators, and the ones who aren’t on this list, have to offer in the years to come.