A year or two back cartoonist/Faction editor Damon Keen turned me onto James Squires' sublime webcomic Moonbeard. I really like James' absurd wonky and sometimes heartfelt humour which is a special thing amongst the glut of humourless parody crowding for our attention on the Internet.
I asked James a few questions about his work via email.
What got you interested in comics? What got you into making comics?
As a young impressionable child I was gifted some boxes of old comic strip collections, mostly Garfield, Footrot flats, Bogor, Tintin. I assume it was this that got me into drawing comics in the first place because all my very first comics were blatant rip-offs of the above, but eventually I started doing my own thing, more or less. I think it was a couple of old Michael Leunig books—his first two collections—that first got me interested in what a comic could be, because up until that point I'd only really seen newspaper comics and Tintin. I drew a pretty bleak strip Fishing for Orphans for the Canterbury Uni mag Canta for a few years while studying, and have been making silly comics ever since.
Were there other cartoonists contributing to Canta during your study years? Were you drawing a weekly strip?
There were a few during the years I drew for Canta. When I started my comics were messy ink things with a muddy mix of ink wash and watercolour crayon, and I totally forget his name but Canta already had a pretty polished cartoonist to make me look bad (I was). Nearer the end I was joined by surreal cartoonist Michael Leung (not to be confused with Leunig) who had a great unique style. Fun times.
Fishing for Orphans was more or less weekly, usually drawn at 3am the night it was due. I think the comic received slightly more fan mail than hate mail, so there's that.
Why do you make so many comics about cats?
There's not that many, but the ones that feature cats seem to do much better online than any others (turns out The Internet likes cats). I have a cat called Ted Danson who often hangs out around my desk while I'm drawing, so that probably contributes.
Are you involved with a comics community or scene in Wellington?
No but I should be. I bet it's wonderful.
What is the most enjoyable part of the comic making process for you?
I also really enjoy the initial concept phase, when you don't know an idea is terrible yet and you're approaching it with a giddy enthusiasm before you realize it has nowhere to go (unless it does).
I also enjoy playing around with structure and pacing. The comics I make are at their core single page "gag" comics, except usually without gags to speak of, so it's important I (try to) nail the pacing and beats to sell a concept and make a short comic feel complete. I'll often finish a comic ending with a gag or a punch and be left wanting, so I like to take from the beginning and add to the end until I'm left with sort of an anti-comic: something that starts with a punch, or a twist, and then dwells on what happens afterwards (or what doesn't). When I say "play around with structure and pacing" I may mean "take a half-baked concept and butcher it until I think it reads well."
What are some comics you've enjoyed reading recently?
My New Year's resolution was to read more comics, so I'm in the process of stocking up and very open to recommendations. Have been re-reading through Jason's work, which I am in love with: The Living and the Dead, Werewolves of Montpellier. Jim Woodring is amazing. Regularly reading and enjoying a whole lot of webcomics, off the top of my head: Matt Bors, Tom Gauld, Extra Ordinary, Anne Emond. Moth City. Am also regularly reading and enjoying Wellingtonian Die Popular's stuff and Aucklandite Eddie Monotone's work totally deserves more fans. I read far too many online comics because my bookcase is all the way over there.
Any plans to put Moonbeard in print?
Definitely. WATCH THIS SPACE