Owen John­son

The writer tells us why the semi-au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal ap­proach is the best one to take.

Comic Heroes - - Contents -

Owen John­son is one of the most pro­lific cre­ators work­ing on the UK in­die scene. He’s al­ways push­ing the en­ve­lope on what’s ex­pected of comics. Re­cently, he’s fo­cus on two projects; Reel Love and Beast Wagon. The first is a semi-au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal look at his love of film, the sec­ond is a zo­o­log­i­cal black com­edy. I talked to him about comics, cin­ema, cre­ativ­ity and what’s next.

What led you to comics?

I’ve al­ways been re­cep­tive to vis­ual sto­ry­telling. Most of the chil­dren’s books I grew up read­ing were il­lus­trated. Where The Wild Things

Are by Sen­dak, Not Now Bernard by David McKee, We’re Go­ing On

A Bear Hunt by Rosen and Ox­en­bury. As a child I as­sumed Quentin Blake as re­spon­si­ble as Roald Dahl for Fan­tas­tic Mr. Fox and The BFG. The whole vault of Dis­ney an­i­ma­tion and around that time my grandma got Car­toon Net­work. Satur­day morn­ing car­toons were re­ally com­ing into their own with clas­sics like the

Bat­man An­i­mated Se­ries and Thun­der­cats, along with the less su­per­hero-ori­ented fare like Hey

Arnold and Dex­ter’s Lab. I played a lot of video games and watched Ray Har­ry­hausen movies. Around this time The Beano was the first comic I read, it just be­came a part of the fab­ric of your life.

And what led you to start cre­at­ing your own comics?

I had some anger/be­hav­iour prob­lems as a lad un­til I changed schools and met a kid who drew comics of his own. It was a rev­e­la­tion. Gave me a real chan­nel for my en­ergy. We made a pi­rate comic vis­ually styled af­ter The

Bash Street Kids. Things got se­ri­ous when I reached gram­mar school in Cum­bria. I started vis­it­ing cons up in Scot­land, which has such a won­der­ful, sup­port­ive comics com­mu­nity. I was work­ing on

Rookie and Myth Mobs – black and white mini-comics about vi­o­lent su­per­heroes and Greek gods as de­pres­sion-era gang­sters. All hor­ri­bly de­riv­a­tive and the art traced from Jim Lee and who­ever was big in capes comics at the time. I sold those mini-comics in the school can­teen at lunch. Con­vinc­ing peo­ple to buy a new is­sue in­stead of a ba­con sand­wich. Not a great deal has changed if I’m per­fectly hon­est.

Tell us about Reel Love.

Reel Love is my de­but graphic novel. It’s about a young boy who forms a re­la­tion­ship with his lo­cal cin­ema and fol­lows his dreams of be­com­ing a fa­mous film direc­tor. Told in three acts, each takes place over a Bri­tish sum­mer and chronicles the tri­umphs and heart­breaks of be­ing young, and be­ing ob­sessed with the movies. It’s semi-au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal but with fan­tasy flour­ishes. Reel Love is also let­tered by my long-time col­lab­o­ra­tor Colin Bell, and is now fund­ing with Un­bound.

What were the chal­lenges in de­pict­ing cin­ema on the page?

Iron­i­cally, there is far less re­quired to make a comic (pen and pa­per) than the hun­dreds re­quired to make a pro­fes­sional look­ing film. Film is built on the con­cept and gov­erned by time, whereas comics are built on the func­tion of phys­i­cal space. You can never repli­cate film on the comic page, you’re miss­ing sound and move­ment. But I’m not try­ing to make a comic about how cin­ema phys­i­cally works, but psy­cho­log­i­cally and imag­i­na­tively works. What I can do, through my char­ac­ters, is ex­press how I felt, my ex­pe­ri­ence of this rit­ual com­mu­nal ex­pe­ri­ence. I think that’s all you can ever do.

In Reel Love you fol­low your love of film evolv­ing as the story goes on. Is that con­tin­ued?

Of course! The nar­ra­tive voice of

‘cin­ema’ that runs through the story is a big part of that. The first chap­ter is about fall­ing in love with the medium. The teenage years chart the dis­il­lu­sion­ment and re­jec­tion. The fi­nal chap­ter is about com­ing home again. It was in­ten­tional to have the film fan­tasies be­come less marked as the char­ac­ter gets older. The movies be­come ab­sorbed, in­te­grated into the way he views the world.

Tell us about your artis­tic process.

A con­stant state of anx­i­ety! Ev­ery­thing goes in a project unique note­book: sketches, di­a­logue, ideas. This looks like the di­ary of a so­ciopath. I’ll then write a script as I would for an artist, only panel de­scrip­tions are less spe­cific to give me room to move on art. I’ll also over-write that ini­tial riot draft. Peo­ple I trust will read the script while I’m work­ing lay­outs and be­tween their opin­ions and my own I’ll shave off a chunk. Then I hit the pen­cils. For me pen­cils and inks are the most fun but also the place things are li­able to change the most. I work en­tirely tra­di­tion­ally with Bris­tol board, black ink and an army of ragged brushes (I don’t even print blue-line). There is no rhyme or rea­son at all. What­ever works. I like to im­pro­vise in the ink­ing stage to find in­ter­est­ing textures.

Tell us a lit­tle about Beast Wagon.

Beast Wagon is a spec­u­la­tive fic­tion com­edy/hor­ror five-is­sue minis­eries about rev­o­lu­tion­ary zoo an­i­mals. I like to de­scribe it as apoc­a­lyp­tic kitchen sink drama.

How does your ap­proach change work­ing with a team?

They’re very dif­fer­ent. There’s an in­ti­macy and hon­esty to work­ing solo. It re­ally is your guts on the dance-floor stuff. But I adore col­lab­o­rat­ing with oth­ers and cre­at­ing some­thing greater than you could ac­com­plish on your own. It’s more a tango; an alchemy of styles and in­flu­ences.

What at­tracted you to that genre?

It all came out of the char­ac­ters and what they were go­ing through, as well as our ex­pe­ri­ences vis­it­ing the zoo on a re­search trip. Any­one who has read my stuff knows I try and make comics you can read if you’ve never read comics. They’re teth­ered to the his­tory of the medium, the dis­pos­able trash art­form, while try­ing to chew that up and spit it out as some­thing con­tem­po­rary.

Ray­gun Roads was about 70s head­comics through the lens of aus­ter­ity Bri­tain. Beast Wagon was the R-rated Ken Rus­sell HBO TV show your par­ents stopped you watch­ing.

You’ve used crowd­fund­ing, what’s your ex­pe­ri­ence with it?

They are both very dif­fer­ent. Kick­starter is all about the sprint, and tar­get­ing at a core comics au­di­ence, all around the world. Un­bound is more of a marathon, and look­ing out­side the reg­u­lar comics read­er­ship into the book trade. The pro­duc­tion val­ues of the sub­scriber copies are go­ing to be nuts. Re­ally beau­ti­ful ob­jects. If we’re suc­cess­ful in fund­ing, Un­bound dis­trib­utes the book in book­stores, which is pretty ex­cit­ing and some­thing Kick­starter doesn’t of­fer. Both have stretched my skills in very dif­fer­ent ar­eas. I love that! I re­main con­vinced crowd­fund­ing, when done right and cre­ators de­liver on a work­able model, is the fu­ture of pub­lish­ing.

Is there a sin­gle piece of ad­vice for step­ping to crowd­fund­ing?

Build an au­di­ence first. Hon­our the com­mu­nity you’re a part of (you’re noth­ing with­out them). Think in in­ven­tive ways about in­cen­tives and con­sider ways re­tail­ers can sup­port you. Do as much work be­fore­hand as pos­si­ble, and pre­pare your­self to work your arse off on an emo­tional roller­coaster.

What’s next for you?

I’ve got my hands full en­sur­ing Reel

Love gets funded. I’m talk­ing to cin­e­mas about do­ing be­spoke posters, Q&As, screen­ings and such. Col­lab­o­rat­ing with uni­ver­si­ties and arts or­gan­i­sa­tions about cre­at­ing graphic nov­els, crowd­fund­ing, and turn­ing your pas­sion into a pro­fes­sion (I’ve been on both sides of the ta­ble – mar­ket­ing, as well as cre­at­ing books – which is pretty unique). Try­ing to widen the reach of the medium I love so much.

Reel Love is fund­ing now at un­bound.com/books/reel-love. You can fol­low him @Owen_John­son.

Be­low: Along with Reel Love, John­son is busy with Beast­Wagon

Above: John­son stands by crowd­fund­ing as the best way to pub­lish his comics

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.