Sunday, June 22, 2014

Tim Molloy Interview Part One

My first encounter with Tim Molloy was at an Auckland Armageddon convention in the early 00's. In those days artist's alley was bundled into the foyer of the Aotea Centre and tables were free (!).  I was tabling next to Tim and friends and I recall them throwing things around the room and generally terrorising other cartoonists in the vicinity. The second day I saw one of the guests from Babylon 5 come over and hang with Tim and his pals. He'd been out with them the night before. Wow! I thought, these crazy comics guys hang out with tv stars!

On the last day I traded Tim my minicomic for an early Mr Unpronounceable comic which had the same disturbing surrealism of his recent work in a still developing roughly hewn art style. There's a period of New Zealand cartoonists from the
self-publishing boom of the '90's and early '00's that have kept their hand in the comics game,  of which I'd regard Tim and I'm glad to see his work reaching a wider audience in the last couple years through Melbourne publisher Milk Shadow Books.

What were the first comics you read? What were the comics that inspired you to make your own?
It would have been Tintin,  Asterix that kinda thing. Disney comics.. . Got into superhero stuff later,  then 2000ad Etc... Calvin and Hobbes... I was making comics very young. These probably had a hand in that...  I got into Milk and Cheese later . I started doing a mash up/ rip off of them and Calvin and Hobbes called Nasty Neville and Mr Weasel. When I discovered local stuff,  local creators I've Andy Conlan,  Wade Shotter,  Corn Stone,  knuckles,  you know,  James James... I dived right in with Poot,  Ninja Sheep,  Drunken Otter...

What are some of the influences from outside of the world of comics?
I draw inspiration from all quarters. I've actually spent a lot more time imbibing novels, audiobooks, cinema and fine art than I have spent reading comics... Earliest memory of art would be pulling a Dali book down off the shelf and having my 5 year old mind blown. I have a very active dream life also. I've always had a sense of 'the other' and explores that realm as best I can through experiments in lucid dreaming, readings into the Occult and in the past, psychedelics. Life itself is an inspiration... a turn of phrase, the way light might be streaming in through a strange window, a half glimpsed person down an evening alley... It's all good!

How do you find balance between working in various art mediums? to the best of my knowledge you create comics, paintings, sculpture and music, does any one art form take precedent?
I kind of tend to gravitate towards one thing or another at any given time. I'm just coming out of a heavy comics period (1 or 2 pages a day) and going into some traditional art territory. Whatever is most important at any given time is what I tend to concentrate on. Working out whats important can be the hard thing sometimes... In the end though, comics will probably win out. Here's hoping I never have to make a choice to stick to any one thing! Music is serious fun, and the only team sport I have ever taken part in. My band Plague Doctor explores a lot of the same themes I do in my work, but you can dance to it.

What led to you moving from New Zealand to Australia?
I am an economic refugee. I came by plane though, so thankfully I was not locked up indefinitely in a detention center.

Can you talk a bit about the comics/art community in New Zealand when you lived there.
My journey started with me going to those early 'Iconz' conventions (Is that what they were called?) I ran into the likes of Willi Saunders, Wade Shotter, Andy Conlan, Karl Wills. Loved the irreverent, DIY aesthetic. When I came across the work of James James, and then met him in person, I started getting my work out there. That was 1997? My last year of High School. Those were fun days. Comics and music and art and poetry were all in the same place in those days. I imagine they still are. K Rd was where it was at.

James and I were the youngest, and (sometimes) the most badly behaved participants at 'Poetry Live' at Alleluyah in St Kevins Arcade. Hanging around at Corn Stones house, playing Sooth, reading comics, smoking Beedies and drinking the cheapest booze available. Met a whole cast of weirdos and geniuses through that scene. Everybody knew everybody else and the yearly con at the Aotea Centre (sometimes a trip down to Wellington!) was a good chance to get drunk, hassle B-Grade Science Fiction celebrities and unload some photocopied comics on an unsuspecting public. 

It was a very welcoming, vibrant space to develop and grow as an artist, but not without it's share of drama and beef! We played a lot of music, UMX (The Uncle Marty Experience) was our first band (after 'The Tools of Waste' we made a tape called 'The Resin Sessions') and we terrorized audiences with the help of Uncle Marty, our aged patriarch - may he rest in peace.

I became good friends with Ben Stenbeck, The Sheehan Brothers and some of the other people on the 'weird' end of the spectrum. Drew a lot of inspiration and encouragement there. I hung around at Auckland Uni, got a lot of comics into Craccum, drank at Shadows, smoked in Albert park, studied animation on Queen St. Cheap rent, magic mushrooms, cask wine, The Kiss And Make Up Club, St Kevin's Arcade, inky fingers, good people, late nights and lots of fun parties...

Damn! I'm getting all nostalgic now! I could sit here, peering through the mist of time all day, but these are the first impressions that leap out of the gloom at me.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Sir Gordon Edward George Minhinnick (13 June 1902 – 19 February 1992)

Sir Gordon Edward George Minhinnick was born today in 1902. With a career spanning over sixty years, receiving an OBE in 1950 and Knighthood in 1976, Minhinnick could be considered one of New Zealand's most beloved cartoonists.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Ben Hutchings Interview Part One

This is the first part of a belated series of interviews with cartoonists working with Melbourne publisher Milk Shadow Books. If I can manage it they should all run over the course of June.

I first met Ben Hutchings almost a decade ago at a convention in Wellington where the artist's alley consisted of Ben, his esteemed colleague David Blumenstein and myself with a couple friends. It wasn't a great experience for us, it turned out all the hep comic cats in Wellington were attending a New Zealand comics weekend at a pub up the road. I always like talking to Ben, we share a bunch of similar experiences with comics in our formative years and I very much admire his passion for making comics.

MATT EMERY:  What were the first comics you read? What were the comics that inspired you to make your own?

BEN HUTCHINGS: The first comics I read were all the old Whitman and Gold Key ones, who did lots of Disney and Richie Rich, Scooby Doo, all that stuff.

All the comics that used to have the ads for the X-Ray specs, and slim jims, and those bloody genuine flint arrowheads. Oh and ads for selling GRIT magazine. The ads were the most interesting things in them I think.  They made you greedy with all the illustrations of great things you could buy.  All kinds of weird food, practical jokes and toys.  America seemed to have all the coolest stuff. The comic content of all of these was amazingly mediocre. They never made me smile or laugh. I still don't know why people fondly remember Scooby Doo, or any of that Hanna Barbera shite. They were soulless!

I was inspired to make my own comics when I discovered British humour comics. They had a lot more spirit and heart, and even though they were formulaic, I get the feeling they were done by people who cared about what they were doing. They were also strange because they used a lot of British colloquialisms and cultural details like bangers and mash!

Of course I was raised from birth with Tintin comics, but for some reason you never think of them as comics do ya.  But needless to say I adored them, and still do.

EMERY: Where did you grow up? Were comics easily available to you? Where did you typically get them from?

HUTCHINGS: I was born in Moruya, NSW but grew up in Canberra. Every Saturday I'd ride my bike to the local newsagents. Aside from MAD or the Phantom, the selection of comics in newsagents was always erratic, so it was a bit exciting to see what would be there. If I ventured further out on my bike I might find a whole different bunch of titles in some more distant one!  An odd Superman, or some weird Aussie comic, or maybe they'd have three different Archie titles instead of just one. It was always exciting to stumble across a newsagent I'd never been to before, and explore the comic section.

Second hand shops were, and still can be incredible places to discover hidden piles of old, obscure titles. These days they seem to have more comics than before, too. It's fun to scour the foreign sections for cheap manga, Chinese Tintins, Italian Mickey Mouses, or some risque European hard cover comics.

Once I discovered Impact Records in the city, saving up for trips there after school with my mate became my favourite ritual. We'd blow $40 on everything and anything, and as it grew dark outside we'd sit on the floor of the bus on the way home, amongst the legs of public servants, comparing our hauls for the day.

EMERY: Who were the first comic creators that you recognised by name or style?

HUTCHINGS: I reckon I got pretty good at recognising some of the artists who worked on Batman and Justice League in the 90s. I loved Adam Hughes, coz he was really good at clean, appealing faces. They didn't look like the typical rushed sort of thing, and the stories were pretty funny. I could also pick Brian Bolland pretty quickly.  

EMERY: When did you first draw your own comics?

HUTCHINGS: I can't remember when I did my first comic - it must have been when I was 9 or 10. I was already drawing funny pictures but never in a sequential style. I think my first comic was about a legion of superheroes called "Mo".  By Year 6 I had the patience to finish comics that lasted several pages. They were nearly always parodies. I found a big pile of them the other day!  I have one called "Battyman" and I think I called the Joker "The Jokester" or something hilarious like that. It's interesting because I teach children cartooning now, and always remember myself having way more patience and care than they do, but nooooo.

EMERY: Was there a particular project where you felt you had established your own style? I always thought your work had a consistent tone of humour and I wondered if you felt there was a project where you consolidated your craft or style of drawing?

HUTCHINGS: I reckon Lesson Master was the comic that sums up my style!  Very cartoony but with lots of detail.  The people looked a little goofy but the environments and objects were usually pretty accurate. That's the style I feel most comfortable working in, and the most fun. But I never stick with one style and am always figuring out the best way to draw. For example in Iron Bard which I'm doing now, I am pushing the detail way more, and trying to find the perfect mix of funny/realistic to give to the characters.  Even the shading techniques change throughout it coz I can't decide.  On the other hand I'm posting a few webcomics now and then which have a deliberately inaccurate and loose style that I love doing. So really I don't feel like I've consolidated my style of drawing yet, even though I think most people can recognise my art when they see it.

EMERY: A while back you mentioned to me you’d like to attempt projects outside of the humour genre, have you made any progress with this idea?

Not actively working on anything serious yet unless you count rough story outlines and scene thumbnails.  It seems to get pushed back all the time.  I have a number of serious ideas which I think would be great.  Ideas like that are stressful because I know I can do funny joke comics, but I think telling a poignant story will really expose my shortcomings in that area.  They could be hamfisted, or shallow, or derivative or self indulgent or unoriginal without me knowing.  I am not afraid of being insincere with them at least.

EMERY: With Squishface you've established a long running comics studio in Melbourne,  How has having a studio and an environment with several cartoonists/artists impacted on your work? Can you talk about future plans for the studio?

HUTCHINGS: Two years now, which was my original hope. Two years means it has actually made an impression and become a 'thing' people will remember even if it dies. So now we're starting year number three. When you are around other people who are also involved in their own projects, new things always get thrown your way, and being a sort of institution, festivals and events and people always approach us. I started it because I loved having people watch us work when we did Inherent Vice, but I find the public aspect of it very different here. When it's only me here I find I like to shut the door and work away in solitude, but when there's a few of us here I like inviting people in but it's a bit more one-on-one, being a small enclosed room. I find it hard to have one day away from this studio. I always wind my way back. I have no future plans except for this place to survive, but I would like it to have more activity, and to bring in a bit more money from comic sales and art sales. That's about it!!!

Small Press Expo 2014

It's three and a half months away but Pikitia Press are very excited to be returning to SPX this year!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Matthew Kelly Interview Part Two

Almost three months ago I ran the first part of an interview with Matt Kelly, New Zealand cartoonist behind Kiwiman. Things have slowed down a little around the Pikitia Citadel so I can now present you the concluding Matt Kelly interview part two.

Read Matt Kelly Interview Part One.

Did you make comics before Kiwiman? I think I recall you being active on the BRD at least several years ago.
Two very different things there: being active on the brd; and making comics. And two very different experiences. I made two minicomics before embarking on Kiwiman. They were each made in order to attend Armageddon comic expos, back when they were transitioning from a fairly healthy boutique show (with a NZ comics 'alley') to the monstrous and successful comic-con impersonator that it is nowadays. 

The first comic I made was the most successful in all senses: it was made on time, it was a large 24 page story, it was funny (says me) but not really about something, and it looked okay as a finished piece. It is called Not the New Losers: Mr Trigger goes on Holiday, and is based on James James's mini comic The New Losers, itself loosely based on Jack Kirby's The Losers.

The production process was ridiculous, I drew each panel on separate rectangles of scrap paper with bic pens of differing colours. I pasted these down to an a3 page. I felt that I had to do this in order not to take it seriously and therefore to get it done at all. It worked but it meant that the reproduction was a challenge. In having it printed I was lucky enough to get a really great woman do the job (I never got her name). her first effort was not good enough though, and although she had printed the entire run of 50 or however many it was (probably not that many) I had to get her to redo it as it was reproduced too light to read. Considering the crap state of the originals she really made the second run incredibly good. 

The receptionist at the photocopier's was a bit odd, a pudgy white late forties type with tightly curled permed hair. She said she liked comics and would read my book, I found her bedside manner a bit weird but tried to be nice and left it at that. Anyway, a few days later I got a call early one morning on my way to work and this weird lady tried to tell me that the management didn't want me to come back to them for more photocopying because she found the book offensive. I barely realized who she was at the time of her call and it lent a surreal feeling to the day. 

The second minicomic I produced was called “Welcome to Planet Pollywood” and is a curious, shorter piece that I don't really understand. I guess it has a vague story structure but it is not very satisfying. I may have been using brush and ink on that book a little, but I thing it mostly would have been pigment pens. The reception these comics got was purely negligible. In an apparent state of temporary insanity I gave away most of the first ('not the new losers')comics to other nz comickers at the convention without even getting much swapsies back. I think I was just excited to be there. I did make a few sales and A few people have told me it is funny and that is gratifying.

Whereas the BRD (Black River Digital message group) was actually a bit more like that phone call from the photocopy receptionist. At first I probably broke a lot of protocols, this was the first online community I'd ever joined. There was a poster who seemed to try to undermine things I said quite a lot at the beginning which I found confusing and not all that nice. After a while though things seemed to settle into a kind of pattern where there would occasionally arise some topic of heat, most typically either a conversation about starting yet another anthology comic and how it should be done and all that, or else a flame war of bitter childish hurtful rivalry. This is actually not a totally fair representation of the BRD, there were some very vital and riveting conversations not always about but usually about comics, and there were a lot of interesting people. 

The best posts were newbies informing us all (time and time again) of their great original plan to make a comic themselves and then approach their local dairy to stock it, thereby creating, single handed, a new zealand comics industry. It was hard to respond to these people without being cynical, but somehow it was much harder not to respond. Just telling them that it was a good idea and to go on and do it never seemed to get them very far. In the end I developed a kind of form letter response explaining that there were local anthologies they could submit to, that making comics is hard graft but worth it, and that their enthusiasm was commendable (at least that's what I think I said now).

When the BRD was good it was very good, but it was a bit of a nonstarter in other ways. I think it would have been (and perhaps still could be) better for the members to have founded a webcomic anthology so that the comments thread had something productive to bud from. A platform for all the newbies to jump in straight away, and the same platform for the jam-like comic ideas to have been instantly started off without any further organisation than starting a new comic thread. Hindsight's 20/20.

To be fair the brd is quite old and probably predated most user friendly comics blog interfaces. In fact I can remember the red letter day when LarsCawley announced that we could post images (a definite plus for a comics community).

Actually Simon adams, Nic Sando, David Bradbury and I did set off doing a comic-jam as a result of our membership at BRD. We emailed each other the pages (off BRD) and it went on for a fair while, it was quite a cool way to make a comic. It may have been brought to an end a bit too abruptly though, and that might be why it has never seen print or posting (to my knowledge) anywhere.

Kiwiman is one of the few indigenous New Zealand superhero characters, New Zealand cartoonists typically pursue other genres, can you talk about the genesis of Kiwiman and what interests you about the superhero genre?
KIWIMAN GENESIS: ORIGIN ISSUE - Simon Adams and I were working at the same call centre for a while and so we had a bit of time to talk about comics. Simon, I think, broached the subject of a New Zealand comics Universe and what that would look like. Also we discussed the fact that no one had really produced a large New Zealand super hero continuity, that we knew of.
After making a few enthusiastic but probably deeply incomplete lists of NZ characters (including Ches and Dale the cheese cockies who are not strictly speaking comic characters) we gravitated towards a New Zealand Super Hero Universe. We made lists and sketches of characters, and this occupied us for a bit. Kiwiman came from this period of research.

I drew up a ridiculous super hero that was a national self-deprecation. However the concept seemed to have some innate worth, partly in terms of a kitsch value, but mostly in terms of addressing important ecological concerns. The super hero genre per se leaves me pretty un-entertained. Some of the art in S.H. books is good, but rarely am I impressed or distracted enough by the story to keep reading. For example I tried to read 'Hush' (a Batman “story arc” with art by Jim Lee and story by someone I found too boring to even remember their name) and I just couldn't sustain a complete read. I find the concept of North American superhero comics as a playbox of toylike characters that a writer is allowed to borrow and play with does not encourage interesting or believable characterisation.

Super heroes may be an adventure genre but if there's no real people with real emotions and lives to be risked it all plays like a carbon copy of itself over and over again with ill defined motives for everyone concerned. Also a lot of the dialogue is empty of human contact or reads wooden like bad actors. That puts me off too.

I'd like to mention 'the Mawpawk' by Laurence Clark and Kevin Jenkinson here, which I think was a very well made comic. I was aware of this character before making Kiwiman, but I wasn't thinking of the Mawpawk at the time and it was not a direct inspiration. However, they share a lot of genre's; Super Hero, comedy, political satire and caricatures.
Anyway with Kiwiman and the other characters from that “universe” it's not a direct result of wanting to make superhero comics. The only reason that there are any Kiwiman comics is because I have a lot of comics I want to make and I felt I had to choose one project to get on with and dedicate some time to instead of bouncing round several ideas whenever the inspiration hit and never achieving any final results.

Kiwiman won out because I had just discovered the Maui's Dolphin and wanted to do something to help them. Maui's Dolphin are a subspecies of the Hector's Dolphin that live off the West Coast of New Zealand. There are estimated to be only fifty left. At the time I wrote and drew the first Kiwiman story the estimate was about one hundred Maui's Dolphins. I wanted to raise awareness of the problems the Maui's Dolphin's are having.

Using my concern as motivation helped me to overcome a lot of problems, mainly my lack of confidence and skill, and motivated me in getting out a really sustained effort.
The original comics were serialised in Auckland anthology comic New Ground published by Jeremy Bishop, owner of Arkham City Comics. From that effort I started the webcomic which has kept me working on comics through tough times.