Interview with Rock Your Life

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The awesome people over at Greek rock and metal website Rock Your Life contacted me for a chat about Rock In Purgatory. It was a great little interview and I really enjoyed talking about how create comics. If you can read Greek then go check out the interview on their website. For those of you who don’t read Greek, here’s an English version of the full interview.

How did you get started as a comic artist and why?
I have been an illustrator for a few years now, mainly working in comic book style, and had always wanted to get into making actual comics. My problem was that I wasn’t having story ideas that I thought were good enough. My friend Craig Jex (horror script writer and author of the short horror collection Grave Tales) wanted a new type of script project to work on, so we decided to do something together. I had been drawing a lot of gruesome pinup girls images for fun, and we struck upon the idea of giving each girl a murderous back story and creating comic strips about them. This soon became the basis for my debut comic Brutal Bombshells, which Craig wrote and I drew. It was so much fun to create and was the stepping stone I had been looking for to getting myself into comics.

Did you draw your own comics as a kid? At what age did you realize you had a gift for drawing?
I’ve been a comics fan since I was a kid. I used to collect the original Transformers and He-Man comics in the 80’s and then moved onto Batman and Green Lantern as a teenager. I used to draw my favourite characters and attempted my own fan-art versions of short stories based on them. In fact, I created a Batman influenced character to produce my final art exam piece at school.

But it wasn’t until recent years that I really concentrated on illustration and putting my work out there. I guess, as an artist of any kind, you are always your biggest critic, but I decided to just take the plunge and book myself onto some art fairs and conventions. So I suppose I never really considered I had a gift for drawing, more that I challenged the world to say that I didn’t!

Do you remember what your first piece of artwork was?
The first pieces I would consider ‘artwork’ rather than just drawing stuff, was my first proper oil painting. I was a probably about 11 and my dad, who is a painter and a drummer, gave me his old mahogany paint palette when I showed an interest in oil painting. It was a very special thing to be given, not only was it my dad’s, it was an antique, so carried a lot of history. I made me feel like I should take my painting seriously and that certainly showed with a lot of the landscapes and wildlife paintings I did. It’s a far cry from what I do now, but I know my parents still have those old paintings of mine, and that makes me very proud of them.

How did the idea for the deaths of Rock Stars come up?
Ages ago I remember reading a music magazine which had a short comic strip telling the story of Cliff Burton from Metallica’s tragic death. I wasn’t entirely sure how to take it, and I actually felt it was in poor taste despite being respectful to Cliff. The idea stuck with me, and when I was thinking about a follow up to Brutal Bombshells, it came to mind again. When I thought about the amount of urban legends of excess and mayhem that certain bands are said to have got up to, it was very easy to start coming up with slapstick, comedy ideas for how it all could go wrong. So I took cliches and tropes that are well know when someone says ‘rock star’ to you and made them as extreme as possible. The results included a band raising the devil only for the devil to kill them all, hotel rooms being trashed without personal safety being considered, a lothario singer who sleeps with the wrong groupie and a guitarist whose blood vomitting theatrics turn out to be a real internal hemorrhage.

Have you ever thought to transfer real rock stars’ death to the paper?
Not from a biographic point of view, no. The Cliff Burton comic I mentioned didn’t feel right to me, and I wouldn’t want to document the end of a person’s life in such a way. However, I do think it would be hilarious to produce a fictional comic story about a real band! It would be great to work with one of my favourite bands to create a comic about one of them dying a ridiculous death. Dillinger Escape Plan would be good, given their onstage antics. Actually, an entire Andrew WK comic would be amazing! He seems up for stuff like that…maybe I’ll ask him to collaborate on something!

From what I read you have some new comics in the works. Can you give me more details? Will they relate to the world of music?
I have too many comic book ideas, so I have to be careful about what I say I’m working on! Right now I’m preparing Rock In Purgatory for a printed collection, but I’m up for continuing the Rock In Purgatory series beyond this. I have also been planning a sci-fi private detective comic for a while now. It’s called Heads! and is going to have a bit of a Dick Tracy feel but mixed with stuff like Eerie Indiana, Mars Attacks and The X-Files. Originally, I was going to have all of that start out fresh. But considering the amount of characters I have created in Rock In Purgatory, I decided to have a music theme running through it so I can move some of those characters over and do more with them. So HEADZ will have plenty of rock music inspired scenes and storylines too.

Since you combine metal/rock music with comics I would like to know what you think about Dethklok and what you think about real music and comic bands like Gorrilaz.
To be honest, I don’t really know much about Dethklok. A friend mentioned it to me about six months ago and, though it looks fun, it didn’t really hold my interest. However, Gorrilaz, though musically not my thing, was a concept I really liked. There have been some really clever performance pieces from them. The fact that they always make the characters 100% the band is admirable, as I imagine that must be hard to sustain for so long.

I’m probably more influenced by other metal / comics cross overs. Alice Cooper did loads in the 90’s (some better than others) and the recent Kiss series by Dynamite Comics has been worth a read. There’s also a Gwar comic out which I’ve yet to read, but it’s definitely on my pull list.

How easy is for someone who designs comics to make a living only from this?
Easy answer – it isn’t! I would love to be doing this as my only line of work, but sadly it’s not the case. If you can get the attention of a publisher then you are certainly in with a better chance, but even that could be short lived. On the indie comics circuit it can be hard to make much money at all, so you really have to be doing it for the love of creating comics and telling stories. That’s not to say it’s impossible to get somewhere. I know people on the small press scene, like Matt Garvey and Dan Butcher, who do very well and are well respected. There’s also success stories like Chris Wildgoose, who was doing amazing indie work for years and has recently been picked up by DC to illustrate Batgirl. So it can happen. It’s the same as being in a band, I guess. I’m a guitarist and vocalist and have played in bands for years. I’ve had various levels of success, but at the end of the day it’s a combination of doing something that gets you noticed but the right people at the right time. It’s all about putting yourself out there – nobody is going to notice you if you aren’t out there showing off what you can do.

Tell us a bit about your creative process while creating a comic.
With Rock In Purgatory, I create each story using my own version of the Marvel Method. It’s a style that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby used to use, whereby Stan would come up with the concept for an issue of a comic – just the important bits of the story and the type of scenes it should include. Jack would then draw the pages based on his interpretation, and Stan would then write his final script to fit Jack’ art, using that as inspiration for other little nuances of the story. I work alone on Rock In Purgatory, so it’s a little different. I’ll come up with the plan for the story and draw out the panels for it. I’ll then come back to it a few weeks later and see how the art makes me feel. That gives me fresh inspiration to write the script.

I also work on a huge scale for the artwork. Each panel is drawn on an individual A4 sheet (21x29cm). I decided to do this for two reasons. Firstly, it allows me to be more detailed when I want to be, which is particularly useful when doing crowd scenes (Rock In Purgatory has a lot of those!) and getting in detail on stage sets. It also meant I could carry panels around and work anywhere. I actually drew the majority of Rock In Purgatory in my local library and in my favourite coffee house. The downside is when it comes to colouring, which can take ages. Apart from a few attempts at some digital colouring on backgrounds, Rock In Purgatory is drawn and coloured by hand, so the large scale can slow me down. But there’s something quite special about laying panels out on the floor to make up pages and see it in all its massive glory!

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