Some Comicsby Stephen Collins is out NOW (!!!) and we had the chance to catch up with the man himself.
What was the first comic you wrote?
Oh now you’re asking - I seem to recall entering a Blue Peter comics competition with a strip about a mouse who inflates his fist with air so that he can punch a cat really hard in the face. It didn’t even get shortlisted - it lost out to some typically sappy Blue Peter thing about the Earth getting all sad because it’s got pollution in its hair. I think I’d rather misjudged the nice Blue Peter tone. I just went straight in there with the whole ‘extreme animal violence’ thing, and it turned out that wasn’t really their bag.
The first proper attempt at a comic I made was called Albert Ross the Albatross (see what I did there), about an Albatross who jailbreaks all his animal friends from the zoo. I think I must have been about 10 or 11 when I made it, at the height of my Asterix obsession. A plot hole immediately presented itself when I realised that no humane zoo would actually keep an albatross in captivity. My mum says she still has the comic. Albert never got to free his friends of course, as his story stopped about 3 pages in. It was intended to be this huge, full-length comic album. I was definitely as misguidedly ambitious then as I still am, in terms of getting out of my depth with these too-large projects.
Who are your comic heroes and influences?
My earliest influences were Gary Larson and Goscinny-era Asterix. I distinctly remember reading Larson’s Prehistory of the Far Side and thinking, “Hey, I could do that”.
My most significant influence in recent times has been Chris Ware. Just the novelistic scope and the complexity of his stuff, and the way in which his stories could only be comics, not films or novels or poems - simply because their narrative structures and techniques are entirely new, pretty much invented by Ware as far as I can tell, for the purpose of making comics alone. Jimmy Corrigan is one of the few works of art which I can honestly say has changed my life in a tangible way. I was an illustrator before I read that book, and now I’m a cartoonist, for better or worse. ‘Genius’ is an overused term, especially in the arts, but Ware is one of the few who actually deserve it.
I have loads of other influences as well - mostly modern North American cartoonists like Dan Clowes, Alison Bechdel, Seth, Charles Burns, Michael Deforge. I also get very fired up by pretty much everything that Nobrow put out.
What was the last comic you read?
(In A Sense) Lost and Found by Roman Muradov. An incredible piece of work, wholly original and stunningly beautiful. There’s another recent influence.
What helps you write?
I’ve actually just started using this app called Write Or Die which literally deletes your words in front of you if you stop writing for too long. I’m finding that very helpful because I can easily start over-thinking things while I’m writing scripts, and I’ve got so much actual prose to write for my next graphic novel before I can even start drawing it that this app is already helping me get through it faster. It’s a very ugly and strange app, but I’d recommend it to anyone who writes as slowly as I do.
I’m always scripting things with one eye on how it’ll look visually as well, so once I start blobbing sentences around the pages design, then that helps me edit the writing also. Designing your words around a page comic form is an interesting way to get your head round how things will read. You’re literally ‘designing’ the experience for the reader, and I’d recommend that even to prose writers, as a conceptual exercise.
Have you ever run into an old schoolfriend who was, in fact, an anteater?
No, but the comic in the book to which you’re referring is called I Met That Danny Clark From School The Other Day, He’s An Anteater Now, and I did know a guy at school named Danny Clark. The kid in the comic even looks a bit like I remember him. But it’s not about the real Danny in any way at all - it’s just quite a normal name, so it worked well with this extraordinary situation the comic describes.
Stephen Collins is a cartoonist and illustrator. His first book, The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil, was published by Jonathan Cape in 2013. Praised by the likes of Raymond Briggs and described as ‘a future classic’ by the Observer, it became the first graphic novel to be shortlisted for Waterstone’s Book of the Year and won the Edinburgh Festival’s inaugural 9th Art Award.
Stephen previously won the Jonathan Cape / Observer Graphic Short Story Prize. His work has appeared in many publications worldwide, and he contributes regular comics to the Guardian Weekend and Prospect magazine. He lives near Hertford with his wife and son.