The countdown has begun to this year’s Lakes International Comic Art Festival in October (13th – 15th). We continue our “Kendal Calling” interviews with METAPHROG, Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers, whose incredible work straddles children’s and adults’ comics with a surreal style which has won them many awards and much acclaim.
Together, John and Sandra have been creating comics and graphic novels since 1996. John is from Scotland and studied engineering and science, gaining three degrees, including a PhD in Electronic and Electrical Engineering in a branch of Opto-Electronics involving micro-machining. Sandra is from France and has a degree in Arts and Letters. In 1994, she moved to Scotland. That same year, John returned from working in the Netherlands. Their meeting was a catalyst, and within a few months, they created Metaphrog.
Their Louis series has received several prestigious award nominations including three for the Eisner Awards (the Oscars of comics), critical acclaim worldwide, and has attracted praise in publications as diverse as Publishers Weekly, The School Librarian, Art Review, and The Comics Journal, to name a few.
The winners of The Sunday Herald Scottish Culture Awards 2016 for Best Visual Artist, they tirelessly promote the medium of comics and their own work, travelling to deliver talks and workshops, and have spoken at prestigious venues such as The Glasgow School of Art, Gordonstoun school, The National Library of Scotland, The Edinburgh International Book Festival, Aye Write! and international schools and festivals around the world.
They are Patrons of Reading at Northfield Academy from 2013 until 2017, the first graphic novelists to fill such a role, and were Writers in Residence at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2015.
downthetubes: What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?
METAPHROG: At the moment we’ve been very busy working on the promotion of The Little Mermaid. The promotional work included a North American tour, talks at Gosh! and The Guardian and a launch at Waterstones on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow. We’re currently also working on a new fairy tale adaptation for Papercutz, but it’s still a bit of a secret just now.
downthetubes: Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
METAPHROG: That’s a difficult question to answer! In many ways we are proudest of our latest book: The Little Mermaid. People can get it at their local comic shop or book shop, and of course on amazon. There’s a trailer on YouTube too if people want to see a sample of the art.
downthetubes: How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
METAPHROG: We generally get up at 7.00am and then work until about 7.00pm and most of the day is creative work. It’s impossible to plan things completely but important to be busy. Ideas tend to come much more freely when you’re working on something. Part of the day also involves dealing with essential administrative work, emails, promo and so forth. We also travel regularly for public appearances and author visits.
downthetubes: What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
METAPHROG: We are very lucky to both really love comics and working on something you love is great! The best thing? Probably: the freedom to be creative.
downthetubes: And the worst?
METAPHROG: It’s hard to say. It takes a long time to make a graphic novel which is probably why so few people do it.
downthetubes: What most distracts you from getting your work done?
METAPHROG: Because we work together we are quite supportive of each other when it comes to being focussed on creative work. The biggest distraction to creative work is promo work. When we were travelling to support the release of the new book we had a great time and it was possible to note down and sketch ideas but it was impossible to get to work on producing pages.
downthetubes: Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
METAPHROG: We don’t imagine it has ever been easy. In some ways more information is accessible but then more people have access. There are certainly more outlets, more platforms and that is a good thing, but also means more competition for people’s attention.
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?
METAPHROG: We love going to The Lakes, it is a wonderful, family-friendly festival, based on the Angoulême model. We love that it’s focussed on graphic novels and not on superhero comics, and that it’s spread throughout and integrated into the town of Kendal. It’s not just stalls, but also talks, workshops and exhibitions, which makes the festival really vibrant and worth going to as a visitor.
downthetubes: Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
METAPHROG: We have been very lucky to meet artists like Ben Katchor and interview people like Chris Ware and Joe Sacco over the years – we even had the pleasure of meeting Moebius and his wife at Angoulême one year.
downthetubes: How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?
METAPHROG: As well as being a space for meeting other artists and creators, festivals are a platform for showcasing new work and getting feedback.
downtetubes: What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
METAPHROG: Listen to advice and be persistent.
downthetubes: What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
METAPHROG: We both really enjoyed My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris and people can get it from shops as it’s published by Fantagraphics.
downthetubes: John, Sandra, thank you very much for your time and we look forward to catching up again in Kendal.
Book Your Festival Tickets Now!
• 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!
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.