In our first ‘Spotlight on’ Midlands based comic creating machine Matthew Craig (pictures right) shares his thoughts on the comic making process along with some honest advice. You can buy Matthew’s comics via Comicsy for 50p each (pdf digital downloads). Buy the set for £3 and get a free print comic!
1. When did you first decide that you wanted to create your own comics?
I’d done a few little comics as a kid or spotty teenager (on the Commodore Amiga! Deluxe Paint 2 Represent!). All through University and into my first job, I had occasional thoughts about trying a short strip, but despite enjoying a broad range of comics, I didn’t really twig that I could make my own until I was a failing PhD student. At a particularly low ebb, I started doodling pictures of my childhood pet dog, which I turned into terrible four-panel strips. By the time I was hoofed out of University two months later, I was well on my way to fame, fortune and massive self-delusion.
2. Who has had the biggest influence on you outside the comics industry, and how did they affect your life?
I’ve always been lucky when it came to friends, family and teachers. They believed in me and listened to my rambling self-deprecating anecdotes, which is where I developed my early writing style. I wouldn’t be here without the above and beyond support of my Mum and Dad, though. I have to succeed at this, if only to reward their insane faith.
3. Who has had the biggest influence on your comics career, and how has that person changed your work?
I’m not sure there’s any one person I can single out. The editor of Sonic The Comic told me that my name would look good on the front of a book. I guess I’m trying to strike an earnest balance between the absurd and the grounded, so there’s a rather predictable list of names to go with that: Stan Lee/Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams.
In terms of people to learn from or look up to, it’s important to make an honest appraisal of your own ambitions and capabilities, and learn from the broadest possible range of people – whether they’re peers or not, whether you enjoy their work or not. I admire the freedom and dedication to novelty of certain indie/crossover creators, and the ability of others to create a strong and attractive personal brand. Still others I admire for their ability to churn out material, while others I envy for their ability to more successfully plough a similar furrow to mime.
4. What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
Sleep. I’ve taken to watching DVDs with my night-owl Mother as well – classic Who, original Trek and so on.
5. Describe your typical work routine.
Writing – lots of notes, mental and otherwise. Write out a plot, type it up. Scripty-script, done. Rewrite on the fly. Lots of Adamesque procrastination. Lots of Parkeresque guilt and self-recrimination.
Drawing – working in a digital paint program from a loose plot/dialogue document. I ended up wrecking my drawing hand though, as I would get into a bit of a fugue state while drawing, desperate to get the story finished and into people’s hands as fast as possible. I’d miss meals!
6. What tools do you use to create comics and what makes them the ‘right tools’ for you?
Writing – OpenOffice/WordPad (often with in-built Voice Recognition software, which is most obstreperous, let me tell yarg).
Drawing – biro/printer paper, then cheap graphics tablet/The GiMP paint program. Now mouse/GiMP, occasionally paper/pen/left hand.
7. What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?
Nice drawing, clever dialogue, a finished product, people coming back for more. Being able to read my own work and forget that I wrote it. Drawing a woman that doesn’t look like a navvie in an Alice band.
8. What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career – in or out of comics – and why?
Telling stories about my dog. He’s been gone a while, but this way, we get to keep playing. His stories are the only ones I don’t harbour ambitions for beyond self-publishing, which means I can enjoy them for their own sake. Much healthier.
Finally getting a strip published by a firm like Markosia last year was a personal triumph. The anthology Bayou Arcana was a long time coming, but great to be a part of. Getting to work in a new genre, with new people, and in a book that makes it onto Amazon and Comixology? Makes you glad to be in Comics. Similarly, the Disconnected anthology I wrote for was ace, and I got to make some great new comics pals.
The most frustrating aspect of making Comics, however, is being unable to draw them. The practicalities of people needing to eat and pay rent means that without a publisher or big pools win, your ability to find artists (and thereby your ability to participate) is severely restricted. If I hadn’t ruined my hands, I might have been quite happy to draw everything and anything I could think of. But sadly, that’s not to be. I want to do so much more with the characters I have already created, while moving on to new stories and new genres, but most of the time, I just feel hobbled.
(I’m always looking for artists to work with, by the way, on webcomics such as Bostin Heroes, anthology comics and shorter strips)
9. What’s the best piece of comics advice you’ve ever heard?
Writers write. You’re not a writer until you’ve finished something. (picked that up from http://youtu.be/mBPu8NrKhJI
– YouTube have blocked part 2, but the rest is essential viewing)
The bottom right-hand corner of the page is important. Give the reader a reason to turn the page, even if it’s just to finish a sentence.
Put your email address, Skype or whatever at the top of every page of script: keep the lines of communication open at all times if you’re working with others. Don’t flake out without explanation – especially on something where people might hope to get paid someday.
Be prepared to autopsy the comics you read and write – whether you enjoy them or not – to work out what makes them work/not work.
These are mine:
Response singles are bullshit. Write your comic, not the other half of an imaginary conversation. Nobody cares about your ersatz-Superman, or how The Authority made you angry.
Write around or away from your heroes – we’ve already got a Warren Ellis/Brian Bendis/Alan Moore, so we don’t need another.
Don’t read the comments. Whether someone commends you or condemns you, your response should be the same: say either nothing or “thank you very much,” then get back to work.
Dress smartly for comic shows, whether you’re behind the table or wandering around with a portfolio.
Garth Merenghi is Ultimate Truth.
10. Time to get philosophical: What’s the most important ‘big idea’ that you’ve learned in life – in or out of comics – and why is it important?
Look after your health. Eat right, exercise, sleep. There’s nothing more important than that.
You can buy Matthew’s comics via Comicsy for 50p each (pdf digital downloads). Buy the set for £3 and get a free print comic!