Kendal Calling: An Interview with Australian Comics Creator Bruce Mutard

LICAF 2017 - Bruce Mutard

We’re just days away from this year’s Lakes International Comic Art Festival and we have another interview with one of many guests from across the globe – Bruce Mutard, an inspirational comics creator from Australia. A previous guest, this year brings a “caravan” of some of the best and up-and-coming artists and writers from down under with him.

Bruce’s books include The Sacrifice, The Silence, A Mind of Love and The Bunker. He has also had short comics stories in Overland, Meanjin, The Australian Book Review and Tango among others. He publishes other creators’ comics under his own imprint, Fabliaux.

A PhD candidate at Edith Cowan University researching comics from a visual arts perspective entitled Comics Without Borders has presented papers, workshops, and artist talks at RMIT, Edith Cowan University, University of Melbourne, Monash University, University of South Australia, Oxford University, Loughborough University and University of Arts, London, LICAF, ICAF, Comics Forum and Transitions among others.

He is also working on his latest graphic novels, Bully Me and The Dust Of Life.

downthetubes: What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?

Bruce Mutard: Currently a graphic novel called Bully Me, an autobiographical tale about being bullied a lot when young, and the effect it had on my life thereafter, including suffering an eating disorder. Ideally this will come out next year through a French and UK publisher (tbc).

downthetubes: Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?

Bruce Mutard - The Silence - Cover

Bruce: Tough question, but if I have to make it one book, then it’s The Silence, as I think I achieved a greater balance of word and image in that work than any other. This is predicated on my belief comics are best when the image does the bulk of the work of conveying content, especially through formal mechanisms. That and the ending, which appears to have impressed or puzzled readers in equal measure; exactly what I wanted. To buy: online through Amazon or Book Depository if you’re in the UK, otherwise off my own site at www.fabliaux.com.au, but international shipping is murderous.

Of course, I will have copies at LICAF ready to sign, so count that as an incentive to come along…

Art from The Silence by Bruce Mutard
Art from The Silence by Bruce Mutard

downthetubes: How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)

Bruce: No set plan. Up early and to do what needs to be done. I am doing two jobs: the creative work above, but also studying a PhD in comics, trying to understand them better by analysing them as a visual art, not literature. The result will be a comic about comics.

So, Tuesday to Friday, I work on my PhD, and the rest of the time on my other books when not working on the Caravan of Comics and other comics community activities.

Available at the Festival - Post Traumatic by Bruce Mutard
Available at the Festival – Post Traumatic by Bruce Mutard

downthetubes: What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?

Bruce: I get to tell stories, period.

downthetubes: And the worst?

Bruce: Nearly impossible to make a living at it these days, even if you do have book publishers, good reviews and international rights sales. You have to have another source of income, which will inevitably take from your comics making, but there is not much to be done about that.

Hint: marry someone with a highly paid career who also completely respects and believes in what you do. The odds of finding such a partner are small, but still better than making a living off your work alone.

downthetubes: What most distracts you from getting your work done?

Bruce: Aside from when I want to be so distracted, or have things that must be done, nothing much.

downthetubes: Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?

Bruce: In terms of getting work out there, it’s incredibly easy with self-publishing to the internet and being able to run off digitally printed copies of your work at low cost. The hard part is getting noticed, and that means marketing yourself hard and over time in a self-effacing way, putting in the miles travelling to conventions, festivals and even local fairs.

On the other hand, the number of potential publishers that will publish comics has increased thanks to the book trade industry entering the market (it was all comics publishers only when I started), but it’s still very hard to get a deal. There are no short cuts to ‘success’ and never were any.

The Sacrifice by Bruce Mutard

downthetubes: Have you ever been to the Lake District before and if so what did you think of it? If you haven’t, what are you expecting?

Bruce: Yes, twice and I love the place. It is extraordinarily beautiful in any season, and the towns picture-postcard. It was what I expected from what I’d seen on the tube.

downthetubes: Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?

Bruce: Chris Ware, if only to talk about telling stories with pictures, the thinking process he uses to map out his stories and the ability to think outside the box in terms of publishing. I have actually met Chris twice briefly, but never had a chance to sit down and have an extended conversation with him.

downthetubes: How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?

Bruce: In a word – exposure. This refers to question five above, wherein comics festivals give you a chance to put your work on the table to sell to punters, to meet and network with other creators who will be the biggest evangelists of your work if they really like it.

As alluded to earlier, it is too hard to be noticed on the internet, whereas physical presence is less likely to be ignored as people generally like to meet creative people. Smile and engage with them; you might make a customer and even a friend.

A Mind of Love by Bruce Mutard

downthetubes: What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?

Bruce: Best to work out what it is you want to do and then aim for it. That is, if your goal is to pencil or ink for the major comics companies, work on your comics pages with their characters, proving you know how to tell stories visually, then make sure you can do it efficiently, delivering on time. Go to conventions, attend portfolio sessions, listen to the professional advice and act on it. Attentiveness will be noticed.

Or, if you want to write and draw an indie-style auto-bio story, then just do it, with the view it might be self-published or aim for a publisher who tends to look fondly at that sort of content. In short, if you’re looking to become a comics professional, then talent will get you only part of the way, but professional attitude and aptitude is needed to get you the whole way. If you’re full of yourself and think you’re so hot the industry owes it to you to publish you, then start the path to self-destruction now and save everyone grief. Persistence will generally pay off, but don’t count on it.

There is no short cut but a lot of time and hard work.

downthetubes: What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?

Bruce: Becoming Unbecoming by Una (Myriad Editions). Not only a powerful and revelatory insight into what it is to be a woman today (and the past 40 years), framed by their sex and sexuality in male dictated terms, but also brilliantly constructed formally, using layout and visual metaphor to convey complex emotions and inner states visually across the spreads. Should be readily available in good UK comic shops, bookstores and the big online retailers.

downthetubes: Bruce, thanks very much for your time and we look forward to seeing you in Kendal.

BRUCE MUTARD ONLINE

• Web: brucemutard.com.au | Shop: fabliaux.com.au
• Twitter: @BruceMutard
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• Book your tickets for this year’s Lakes International Comic Art Festival here. This year’s events programme includes live draws, masterclasses, interactive talks and a chance to get up close to the best comic creators in the world! 

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John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a “freelance comics operative”, currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY.

John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor.

He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY.

Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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