Every year, in the countdown to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival, we bring you a series of interviews with guests at the event. This “Festival Focus” for 2018 is Mark Stafford, co-creator of the Cherubs! graphic novel with Bryan Talbot, who also collaborated with David Hine on a British Comic Award-nominated adaptation of Victor Hugo’s The Man Who Laughs.
He is the longstanding cartoonist-in-residence at The Cartoon Museum, London.
His latest graphic novel, Lip Hook, is written by fellow Festival guest David Hine and published by SelfMadeHero, will launch at the Festival.
Mark, what are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?
Mark Stafford: I’ve just finished Lip Hook, another collaboration with David Hine, from SelfMadeHero which will debut at the Lakes. And we’ve got one page to add to the last, tenth, chapter of “The Bad Bad Place“, which will be come out in the Meanwhile anthology from Soaring Penguin.
Other than that I’ve got a cover to do for a mate and… nothing else, which is worrying. Need to get busy creating all the stuff I couldn’t do whilst Lip Hook took over my life
Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Mark: I think The Man Who Laughs is up there, our adaptation of the Hugo novel, that’s the first big project I took on where the visual storytellling was mine. And it worked, people love that book. I’m very happy with Lip Hook, where me and David have created our own weird English world, I’d have gleefully rendered another twenty, forty pages of that village and those characters, but lord knows when anyone would have seen it. Both are available from SelfMadeHero.
Most of the work I’m proudest of as a solo creator has been in anthologies, Save Our Souls, Moose Kid Comics and the like. I loved working on my contribution to the Golden Thread Project earlier this year where I went to town adapting an old folk song to the page, it was great to collaborate with the poet Ravi Thornton on HOAX: Psychosis Blues a few years back, and I did a 22 page Korean love story for the British Council last year that I think is a bit special. Need to get that into print over here…
How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Mark: Well, at the moment I’m waking up in the late afternoon, when I make my first cup of tea and properly begin the process of procrastination. Eight hours and seven cups later I actually get near a drawing board and realise I can’t draw and never could.
Two hours after that things improve a bit and, if I’m lucky I can get in a solid two-three hours of having the feeling that I might know what I’m doing. This seems to last until about six or seven in the morning when bleariness takes hold. It’s not always like this. Sometimes its worse.
What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
Mark: The (relative) freedom. It’s a wonderful art form and, for the most part you’re free to do what you want with it, the entry point is cheap and there are so many areas left unexplored. It still feels wide open. The variety of comics on offer has gotten so much better in the last twenty odd years.
I like collaborating with people and creating things I wouldn’t have done on my own. This gig has got me working with actors, poets and puppeteers, it’s flown me places and introduced me to some very entertaining company.
Also, most cartoonists, and the people in their world are a fine and interesting bunch, in my experience. It’s probably the money. My limited exposure to the worlds of music and film has convinced me that the greater the possible financial rewards of the medium, the greater the preponderance of absolute arseholes within it. I don’t think anyone I know could afford a cocaine habit and a Bugatti Divo. This is probably a blessing.
And the worst?
Mark: Well, as a flipside to the above, the lack of regular money, or certainty of employment, can get pretty stressful. People often seem delighted that you can draw, and at the same time baffled because they assumed that it was all done with computer these days. Few potential clients seem to realise how much work they’re asking for, and the pay follows suit.
People assuming you give a toss about superheroes can get annoying. And, following from that I occasionally get bummed out by the paucity of vision displayed by a lot of the comics world, a whole lot of creators, commentators, publishers and retailers seem to be happy with books that endlessly repeat formulas that were tired when they were children, and seem incapable of thinking outside those boxes. There are still so many fantastic comics that aren’t on the shelves.
What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Mark: Bloody questionnaires. And Youtube videos of giant squid.
Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
Mark: Both. It’s very easy to put stuff on the web, and it’s pretty easy to self publish, or hook up with a group that are doing so, but that also means it’s very, very easy to get lost in the sea of material. There aren’t that many meaningful platforms that are seen by a wide audience these days, which isn’t just a problem for young creators…
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?
Mark: No I have not, and I am mainly familiar with the area through the works of Ken Russell. I am therefore expecting half-clothed composers and giant worms. Exciting
Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Mark: Aaargh, maybe Jose Munoz? Because he’s extraordinary? Actually whenever I’ve met my inky heroes (Moebius, Francois Boucq, Dan Clowes and so on) I’ve generally been too flustered or self conscious to say much.
The one guy I managed to properly chat to was Jaime Hernandez, whom I admire beyond reason, and who was bloody lovely.
How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?
Mark: By putting everyone together and plying them with booze. Seriously, l think there’s a tendency for creators to toil away in their little spaces and completely lose sight of the big picture. Any big event that reminds us of what’s out there and where things are going and gets us chatting to other creators from other places can only be a good thing.
Also, embarrassing footage of drunken publishers is an easy path to blackmail/employment.
What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Mark: You can only learn to create comics by creating comics. So create comics. Don’t get too precious. Learn from your mistakes. Press on and make pages. Learn to tell stories and print those stories and put them into people’s hands.
People remember stuff they can hold and read, so make it count. And make sure you’ve printed your contacts clearly, you doofus.
What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Mark: It’s mainly books these days, so I bloody love the two big compilations of Carlos Sampayo and Jose Munoz’s Alack Sinner stories (The Age of Innocence and The Age of Discontentment) that IDW have put out. Likewise the Junji Ito collections (Tomie, Uzumaki and Gyo and others) that Viz produced.
I like Josh Simmons work from Fantagraphics, who are also putting out a collection of Alberto Breccia‘s Mort Cinder strips that I fancy the pants off. All should be available from your local inkporium.
Mark, thank you very much for your time and we look forward to seeing you in Kendal.
• The Lakes International Comic Art Festival will be back in Kendal 12th – 14th October 2018. Tickets for the Festival are on sale now from: www.comicartfestival.com