Stripped was the 2013 Edinburgh International Book Festival’s major comics strand which featured many talks and workshops with comics creators both British and from overseas. Stripped had its own blog which featured book reviews, previews of events and post event reports as well as links to video interviews with the guests and some full length video or audio recordings of the 1 hour talks. Not all the event reports made it onto the Stripped blog before it stopped being updated and so downthetubes is taking the opportunity to run some of them here.
British creators Hannah Berry and Gareth Brookes were interviewed by writer and editor David Bishop for a talk on what Stripped described as their ‘Modern Gothic Graphic Novels’.
This thematic pairing of ‘horror’ creators was always going to be an interesting event. While Hannah Berry has only two books to her name, 2008’s Britten And Brülightly and 2012’s Adamtine, she is a familiar face within comic circles and had appeared at the Edinburgh International Book Festival before on a panel discussion with Alan Grant and Bryan Talbot in 2008. While he had done small press publications, Gareth Brookes’ first book, The Black Project, had yet to be officially published when the talk took place although pre-publication copies were available to buy in the BookFest bookshop. Hannah’s Adamtine tells of four people at night on a train that all have a secret to hide while Gareth’s The Black Project is the story of Richard who creates ‘girlfriends’ out of household objects.
Chairman David Bishop began by asking if either of then thought of their work by the BookFest term of ‘modern gothic graphic novels’. Hannah’s reply was “Yes-ish”, that she had never thought of her work as gothic but that it does have a darker edge while Gareth was not really sure that BookFest meant by gothic. He described his unusual book, which tells its story through linocut relief printing and embroidery, as a craft comic that used old crafts with the modern twist of combining them with Photoshop and that he would therefore describe himself as a “hyper-modern luddite.”
Hannah had always written and illustrated her own stories and when doing illustration at university the one thing missing from her portfolio was comic strip so, despite the university’s dismissiveness of it, she went ahead and included it. After that she sent letters and samples of her work to DC Vertigo and Jonathon Cape and it was Cape that came back to her and said yes – “it was disgustingly simple.” Gareth meantime had done fine art at university which he did not consider himself successful at. Whilst there he did an artistically simple ‘stickman’ comic because he had lost confidence in his own artwork and to his surprise everyone liked it. He had even left the United Kingdom to go traveling when he got his book deal with Myriad Editions and ended up doing much of the book while he was in Australia and New Zealand.
The Black Project took Gareth around four and a half years. During part of that time he was working in a packaging job that he hated and he able to put his anger at the job into the book. Looking back at the length of time he was working on it he now thinks that linocut and embroidery was perhaps a bad idea however the most of the work was actually done over a period of six months in New Zealand when he had no internet access to distract him. Both of Hannah’s books took two to three years and during part of that time she was working in administration for the Probation Service which helped inform her attitude to crime and offenders which fed into her work.
Gareth had originally written his story before he thought of doing it as a comic and, while he found it difficult to turn that original version of The Black Project into a graphic novel, he now understands what he needs to do and is considering a wordless comic as his next project. Hannah, because of what she described as her “unnecessarily convoluted plots”, needs to write the entire book before starting the artwork. Having then begun her preliminary art she will go back and change the script as she feels necessary and likes to add layers to the stories by adding obscure references into her scripts.
As for their next projects Gareth is reluctant to start another long project but likes the idea of doing a science-fiction story or alternatively more suburban horror. Hannah is already working on her third graphic novel for Cape which she described as a socio-political satire about a pop star. This one may finally have a few jokes and she has even written some gangsta rap for it which she was not prepared to even attempt on the BookFest stage.
Both creators were finally asked about what lessons they had learned and if they had any tips. Gareth advised the audience to do small press first, that while it is a hard schooling it is a good way to learn. Hannah admitted that she felt a bit of a fraud for not having done small press but that the best thing is to actually do something rather than just think about doing something. At the moment she sees that publishers are open-minded and not necessarily tied to one theme or type of publication so her advice was “do it now – right now!”
There are more details of Hannah Berry’s work at her website where you can download a PDF copy of the first pages of Adamtine for free: hannahberry.co.uk
There are more details of Gareth Brookes’ work at his website: appallingnonsense.co.uk