A chat with the idio­syn­cratic tal­ent.

Gra­ham Kib­ble-White meets Paul B. Rainey, the idio­syn­cratic, ar­tic­u­late tal­ent be­hind There’s No Time Like The Present

Comic Heroes - - Contents -

This year Paul B. Rainey turns 50. “I’m part-time in my cur­rent job,” he tells Comic He­roes. “It’s Monday till Wed­nes­day lunchtime – then that’s it, it’s over.” The rest of the week he’s ded­i­cat­ing to cre­at­ing comics. Af­ter a fash­ion. “I find I get up on a Thurs­day and I go, ‘I’ll just pot­ter a bit. I’ll see who’s on The Wright Stuff...’ I don’t re­ally get go­ing un­til the af­ter­noon.”

That work-work bal­ance (“real” work vs comics) is in­dica­tive of many creators, it’s just that few of them will ad­mit to the day-job, prop­a­gat­ing the myth there’s money in the in­dus­try. “Well, there is,” rea­sons Rainey. “But Mark Mil­lar’s got it all.”

Af­ter school, Rainey failed to get into art col­lege (“The night be­fore my in­ter­view, I re­alised I didn’t have a port­fo­lio, so I bor­rowed my sis­ter’s

Smash Hits and did all these pen­cil draw­ings of Howard Jones”), and he has worked in an in­surer’s of­fice, be­hind the till at For­bid­den Planet, as a porter in a de­part­ment store, in a pho­to­graphic stu­dio, at the Abbey Na­tional (two stints: first time around, he en­gi­neered his own fir­ing – which is an­other story), and cur­rently he’s in that eq­ui­table ar­range­ment with the Open Univer­sity.

None of this di­min­ishes Rainey’s achieve­ments. He’s been on the comics scene for 25 years, with his own quirky re­leases (from slice of life to hard sci-fi), a con­tin­u­ing body of work that in­cludes his graphic novel There’s No Time Like The

Present, and his cur­rent on­go­ing strip in Aces Weekly, Why Don’t You Love Me? “This will sound a bit pre­ten­tious, but one of the things about be­ing a man is you need to have a sense of hu­mour re­gard­ing your ex­pec­ta­tions. As a kid, you’re say­ing, ‘I’m go­ing to be a suc­cess­ful comic writer.’ And the re­al­ity is, life is not what you thought it was. But you need to find that funny. If you feel in­fe­rior and in­ad­e­quate be­cause of it, that re­sults in ar­se­hole be­hav­iour.” Does this mean he’s ac­cepted there’s no point giv­ing him­self a hard time about the fact his comics haven’t led to Hol­ly­wood op­tions? “Oh no. I still get livid about it. Some­times I pace the flat, rant­ing at the

walls. But... I’m still a comic cre­ator. It’s just not my liv­ing. That doesn’t in­val­i­date it.” A pause, and then: “Al­though I do of­ten think, if I hadn’t dis­cov­ered comics I might have had a suc­cess­ful ca­reer some­where else.”

Paul B. Rainey (he em­braced the in­clu­sion of his mid­dle ini­tial when the “pea brain” pos­si­bil­i­ties were pointed out to him) en­tered Bri­tish fan­dom in the 1980s, read­ing zines and at­tend­ing con­ven­tions. Tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from Dave Sim’s epic achieve­ment in self­pub­lish­ing, Cere­bus, he launched his own ti­tle in 1995, su­per­hero satire Mem­ory

Man. “My friend knew a printer and I got 200 copies done for £200.”

All started well when Di­a­mond Dis­trib­u­tors agreed to carry the ti­tle. “I was con­vinced I was go­ing to make a liv­ing out of it,” he re­calls. “I thought, ‘I just need to sell X-amount say­ing, ‘We don’t want to carry it any­more’. I was dev­as­tated.”

Al­though Rainey gave up on his hopes for a comic ca­reer, he con­tin­ued to be a fan and took no­tice in 2001, when Phil Hall (“He used to be the as­sis­tant edi­tor of

Comics In­ter­na­tional”) put to­gether PDF mag­a­zine Bor­der­line “with peo­ple he’d met on mes­sage boards”. An­other failed, if valiant, at­tempt to mon­e­tise in­de­pen­dent comics, it nonethe­less brought Rainey back into the fold. “I drew strips for it, tak­ing the piss out of main­stream comics and creators. It was a bit mean-spir­ited if I’m truth­ful, and I’m not proud of a lot of that stuff. But I thought, ‘I’m never go­ing to make it, so I don’t have to be nice.’”

What’s more, “the char­ac­ters who went on to be in There’s No Time Like The Present made their for­ma­tive ap­pear­ances there,

of copies’, and I’d cal­cu­lated that was some­thing like 2,000. Bril­liant! What I got were or­ders of 150 at the most. And then, as you know, in the di­rect comics mar­ket, sales tail off for each sub­se­quent is­sue. By the end, it was about 110, but be­cause of the way print­ing worked I had to get at least 500 done for the unit price. I was haem­or­rhag­ing money, so I de­cided to stop and learn from my ex­pe­ri­ence. Hope­fully.” His next ven­ture, an­thol­ogy ti­tle Love Bomb, de­buted in 1997 and felt of a piece with in­die dar­lings Eight­ball and Hate. “The or­ders were just un­der 400. But is­sue 2’s dropped, and I was still out of pocket. Then I got con­tacted by Di­a­mond I’m a comic cre­ator. It’s just not my liv­ing. That doesn’t in­val­i­date it

be­cause I came up with this story about comic read­ers who were in their 80s. At that time, we were all in our 30s and I felt it was ab­surd we were still into this stuff. This was my at­tempt at satire.”

Even though Bor­der­line ceased pub­li­ca­tion in 2004, it rein­vig­o­rated Rainey, who re­alised that de­spite re­sis­tance to pay­ing for ma­te­rial on the web, it was an ef­fec­tive way to get his stuff out there. “That’s where my modern era of work started,” he says.

“I had a reg­u­lar job, 35 hours a week, so the prag­matic re­al­ity was, I could com­mit to draw­ing one panel a day.” Which is what he did, pub­lish­ing on­line, doc­u­ment­ing dif­fer­ent as­pects of his life. It seemed to work. “I re­alised peo­ple re­mem­bered Mem­ory Man, and I was con­sid­ered part of a small press scene. There was a lot of good­will and sup­port, which was lovely.

“Over a pe­riod of a year or so, I started to see the stats go­ing up. That was cool. Then I com­piled a lot of pan­els to­gether into a 16-page zine – com­pletely self-assem­bled – and went to events and sold more of them than I was ex­pect­ing. Whereas with Mem­ory Man I was think­ing I was go­ing to be quit­ting my day job, with this I was just see­ing how it went. I’ve taken that ap­proach ever since, and I’ve rarely been dis­ap­pointed.”

In 2009, Rainey turned this work into the 112-page Book Of Lists, a funny and de­light­fully blunt se­ries of snap­shots, in which he grouped sim­i­lar-themed pan­els

to pro­duce one or two-page strips un­der head­ings such as Dis­ap­point­ments,

In­ap­pro­pri­ate Things I’ve Said and Note to Self – Stop Act­ing Gay. “I’m for­tu­nate Mil­ton Keynes has a pretty good arts as­so­ci­a­tion called Arts Gate­way MK, who gave me fund­ing to pub­lish the book. So, I had 100 copies printed, and then when they sold, I did an­other 100.”

Aside from dis­cov­er­ing a pub­lish­ing model that worked, Rainey was com­ing into his own cre­atively. Book Of Lists is in­fused with a very sin­gu­lar, very Bri­tish voice: neu­rotic, wring­ing drama out of triv­i­al­i­ties, caus­tic but not un­kind – and ac­ces­si­ble. En­thused, he took a year’s sab­bat­i­cal and em­barked on his big­gest work to date. There’s No Time Like The Present is an in­tense work that reads like it’s from the pres­sure cooker of Rainey’s cre­ative life. “It’s an amal­ga­ma­tion of things I’ve been think­ing about for years. The ad­van­tage of a day job and not hav­ing time to draw is I don’t get the op­por­tu­nity to ex­e­cute all

They will never be happy, never achieve any­thing. That is their life

the ideas I have. It means I don’t hoard them when I do get the chance.”

One el­e­ment of the story is the frac­tious friend­ship shared by three comic fans. “For a long time, I had an idea for a strip about a group of nerds, which I guess is like The Big Bang The­ory, but it pre­dates that.” There’s also a time-travel strand, tourists trav­el­ling via re­ceivers and trans­mit­ters un­til leg­is­la­tion is brought in to shut down the prac­tice, an echo, ad­mits Rainey, of the UK’s then sim­mer­ing un­cer­tain­ties about Europe. Ac­com­pa­ny­ing that new tech­nol­ogy is the “ul­tra­net”, wherein it’s pos­si­ble to ac­cess in­for­ma­tion from the fu­ture. Rainey’s char­ac­ters use it in a bril­liantly facile fash­ion – to down­load up­com­ing episodes of Em­merdale and Doc­tor Who.

50 years later...

But the most ar­rest­ing, and dis­rup­tive, as­pect of the nar­ra­tive is the way it jumps for­ward half-a-cen­tury part­way through the book, re­join­ing the trio in their fi­nal years. “That was so ex­cit­ing to me, be­cause when I was draw­ing it and self­pub­lish­ing (it was orig­i­nally se­ri­alised over 13 is­sues), I knew this was go­ing to hap­pen, and I thought, ‘It’s go­ing to blow ev­ery­one’s minds!’” says Paul, be­fore dead­pan­ning, “al­though It didn’t seem to at the time.”

In de­pict­ing the three in their dotage, squab­bling over in­con­se­quen­tial­i­ties, Rainey says, “I wanted to tell the reader, ‘They’re never go­ing to be happy – they will not achieve any­thing. That is their life’.” A death among them leads to a coda, which in­volves res­ur­rec­tion and a hard-sci-fi jaunt across the far-fu­ture, all in­spired, says Rainey, “by ei­ther some­thing I’d heard late night on Ra­dio 4, or read in the Guardian, about science prov­ing the ex­is­tence of God.

“All of these things had been sep­a­rate ideas, which some­how I melded into a sin­gle nar­ra­tive”.

Hav­ing com­pleted his run, Rainey hoped to ap­proach a pub­lisher about col­lect­ing it as a graphic novel. “But I didn’t know how, so I con­tacted a hand­ful of peo­ple who’d had stuff pub­lished, look­ing for ad­vice.” One of those was Paul Gravett, founder of Es­cape mag­a­zine, who told him he’d love to run it in the Es­cape Books range. “I just went, ‘Yeah, all right then’,” laughs Rainey.

For the col­lected ver­sion, re­leased in 2015, he was asked to add grey tones to the art, and there was also a dis­cus­sion about re­mov­ing one char­ac­ter’s use of the c-word (ul­ti­mately it stayed in). The fin­ished vol­ume, de­signed by Peter Stan­bury, is beau­ti­ful; surely a val­i­da­tion of ev­ery­thing Rainey had hoped to achieve cre­atively? “There was about three years be­tween me sign­ing the con­tract with Es­cape and them pub­lish­ing the book, and I’ve no doubt the process dead­ened the emo­tional re­sponse for me when I even­tu­ally saw the re­sult. It was a good job too, given that I was over­whelmed. With­out that, I think my heart would have burst. But I don’t want it to be my only book”.

His next se­rial, Thun­der Brother: Soap Di­vi­sion, was a wildly imag­i­na­tive and amus­ing fan­tasy in which soap op­eras play out for real in al­ter­na­tive uni­verses, but rep­re­sented some­thing of a cul-de-sac, and fit­tingly the se­ries stalled at is­sue 6 with a cliff-hanger set in a par­ody of Brook­side Close. Rainey reck­ons, “I lived with the idea for too long, and it kind of passed its strik­ing point. If I was do­ing it in the 1990s, it might have had a cul­tural rel­e­vance. But not now.”

While work­ing on his own projects, Rainey had also been sub­mit­ting car­toons to Viz comic. For a very long time. “Around 2013, af­ter 27 years of send­ing them stuff, they went, ‘Yeah, we’ll have this’. I then had a run of about 12 months where I had some­thing in pretty much ev­ery is­sue. I’ve not been so lucky the last cou­ple of years...”

His break­through was 14-Year-Old Stand-Up Co­me­dian, a nu­anced ob­ser­va­tional strip that seems un­like usual Viz fare. Rainey agrees. “I’ve found that when I’ve con­sciously tried to do

Viz- type strips, they’re the ones they tend to re­ject. They re­spond more pos­i­tively to the ones where I’m amus­ing my­self.” Some of his Viz work – plus other short strips – can be found in his self­pub­lished Pope Fran­cis Goes To The Den­tist and Tales to Di­min­ish.

But right now, he’s spend­ing the lat­ter half of ev­ery week on Why Don’t You Love Me?, se­ri­alised in the dig­i­tal an­thol­ogy Aces Weekly. “It’s go­ing to run for 210 pages,” says Rainey, who hopes it will also ap­pear in book form. De­scrib­ing it as the “an­ti­dote to Peanuts”, he tells it from an adult’s point of view, chil­dren’s heads oc­ca­sion­ally jut­ting into the bot­tom of pan­els. The plot fol­lows Mark and Claire, who are un­in­ter­ested in the busi­ness of be­ing par­ents to Charley and Sally, and un­en­gaged by each other too. It’s styled like a Sunday news­pa­per strip, and Rainey says he’s been told not to use any “cat­e­gory A” swear­words. “I’m okay with that, it be­comes a chal­lenge – I’ve just got to find a more cre­ative way to ex­press that this char­ac­ter wants the room to him­self so he can mas­tur­bate.”

Not bad peo­ple, re­ally

“Also, be­cause it’s about neg­li­gent par­ents – or it seems to be – I felt the lan­guage re­stric­tion was help­ful. I don’t think adults would nor­mally swear in front of kids, un­less they’re ut­terly ob­nox­ious and cruel. I wanted these two to kind of be like, ‘That could be me or one of my friends’. They’re not bad peo­ple... It’s sup­posed to be am­bigu­ous.”

“The thing is, when you’re a kid, you think all adults are part of some con­spir­acy. As an adult, you re­alise that no-one has any idea what they’re do­ing, par­tic­u­larly how to man­age kids. That’s all it is. It’s the idea that if I be­came a par­ent, I would find it a bloody night­mare. I would en­joy it, and it would prob­a­bly be the most re­ward­ing thing I’ve ever done... but I’d want the evenings free.”

Just as in There’s No Time..., Rainey prom­ises there will be a huge break in the nar­ra­tive part­way through. “It’s go­ing to be pretty bleak, but it’s not joy­less. Life is full of hu­mour. There are things these char­ac­ters could do to im­prove their sit­u­a­tion, if they chose to be­have dif­fer­ently. They are a bit nar­cis­sis­tic and self-ab­sorbed. Not ev­ery­thing is be­yond their con­trol. I dunno... I’m ram­bling. You can tell I’ve been think­ing about it a lot.”

Maybe it’s that depth of thought that means, de­spite its es­o­teric con­cepts, Rainey’s work has al­ways been ac­ces­si­ble, an easy read. “Comics used to have mass ap­peal, and I think it would be great if I could do some­thing in that spirit,” he ex­plains. But that’s not his sole in­spi­ra­tion – he also cites the episodes of Corona­tion Street he would watch as a kid. “When some­one left the soap back then, they moved out of the street, and it was an in­di­ca­tion they’d been suc­cess­ful in some way, be­cause liv­ing there meant fail­ure. When Elsie Tan­ner went off with her Amer­i­can boyfriend, that was her happy end­ing. The rest of us? We were trapped in Weather­field, not be­ing able to pay our bills and with peo­ple say­ing mean things be­hind our backs.”

Trapped, but in some cases cheer­fully so. “My boss at the Open Univer­sity, who has ap­proved my (I think it’s) ‘ag­ile work­ing’, has said, ‘Yes, you should con­cen­trate on your comics; bril­liant’,” chuck­les Rainey. “But I don’t ex­pect to make any money. I’ll be back full time next year.”

It’s pretty bleak, but it’s not joy­less. Life is full of hu­mour

This page: Mr. Hur is some­times known in France as “the Korean Tezuka”, thanks in part to his Ham­mer Boy, trans­lated soon af­ter it ap­peared in 1990.

The man him­self. Paul B. Rainey, as pho­tographed by Gra­ham Kib­ble-White.

There’s No Time... was a real labour of love, tak­ing seven years to com­plete. Love Bomb was an an­thol­ogy set in the world of Mem­ory Man but not fea­tur­ing him.

... Time travel ex­ists. And yet, it doesn’t seem to have solved real-life prob­lems...

There’s No Time fea­tures or­di­nary char­ac­ters in an ev­ery­day world, with just one dif­fer­ence...

Bad par­ent­ing with a quirky, off-kil­ter and very Bri­tish per­spec­tive.

Just as you sus­pected, all the soaps take place on spe­cially con­structed par­al­lel worlds. Ac­tu­ally, Book Of Lists was a col­lec­tion of Rainey’s on­line “diary” strips. Rainey calls his ’90s book

Mem­ory Man his “post­mod­ern su­per­hero comic”.

Like much of Rainey’s work, a bit ab­sur­dist but thor­oughly grounded in the or­di­nary. Rainey plays an amaz­ing num­ber of vari­a­tions on the theme of teeth and the Pope.

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