Showing posts with label walking to japan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label walking to japan. Show all posts

Monday, June 2, 2014

Ben Hutchings Interview Part One

This is the first part of a belated series of interviews with cartoonists working with Melbourne publisher Milk Shadow Books. If I can manage it they should all run over the course of June.

I first met Ben Hutchings almost a decade ago at a convention in Wellington where the artist's alley consisted of Ben, his esteemed colleague David Blumenstein and myself with a couple friends. It wasn't a great experience for us, it turned out all the hep comic cats in Wellington were attending a New Zealand comics weekend at a pub up the road. I always like talking to Ben, we share a bunch of similar experiences with comics in our formative years and I very much admire his passion for making comics.

MATT EMERY:  What were the first comics you read? What were the comics that inspired you to make your own?

BEN HUTCHINGS: The first comics I read were all the old Whitman and Gold Key ones, who did lots of Disney and Richie Rich, Scooby Doo, all that stuff.

All the comics that used to have the ads for the X-Ray specs, and slim jims, and those bloody genuine flint arrowheads. Oh and ads for selling GRIT magazine. The ads were the most interesting things in them I think.  They made you greedy with all the illustrations of great things you could buy.  All kinds of weird food, practical jokes and toys.  America seemed to have all the coolest stuff. The comic content of all of these was amazingly mediocre. They never made me smile or laugh. I still don't know why people fondly remember Scooby Doo, or any of that Hanna Barbera shite. They were soulless!

I was inspired to make my own comics when I discovered British humour comics. They had a lot more spirit and heart, and even though they were formulaic, I get the feeling they were done by people who cared about what they were doing. They were also strange because they used a lot of British colloquialisms and cultural details like bangers and mash!

Of course I was raised from birth with Tintin comics, but for some reason you never think of them as comics do ya.  But needless to say I adored them, and still do.

EMERY: Where did you grow up? Were comics easily available to you? Where did you typically get them from?

HUTCHINGS: I was born in Moruya, NSW but grew up in Canberra. Every Saturday I'd ride my bike to the local newsagents. Aside from MAD or the Phantom, the selection of comics in newsagents was always erratic, so it was a bit exciting to see what would be there. If I ventured further out on my bike I might find a whole different bunch of titles in some more distant one!  An odd Superman, or some weird Aussie comic, or maybe they'd have three different Archie titles instead of just one. It was always exciting to stumble across a newsagent I'd never been to before, and explore the comic section.

Second hand shops were, and still can be incredible places to discover hidden piles of old, obscure titles. These days they seem to have more comics than before, too. It's fun to scour the foreign sections for cheap manga, Chinese Tintins, Italian Mickey Mouses, or some risque European hard cover comics.

Once I discovered Impact Records in the city, saving up for trips there after school with my mate became my favourite ritual. We'd blow $40 on everything and anything, and as it grew dark outside we'd sit on the floor of the bus on the way home, amongst the legs of public servants, comparing our hauls for the day.

EMERY: Who were the first comic creators that you recognised by name or style?

HUTCHINGS: I reckon I got pretty good at recognising some of the artists who worked on Batman and Justice League in the 90s. I loved Adam Hughes, coz he was really good at clean, appealing faces. They didn't look like the typical rushed sort of thing, and the stories were pretty funny. I could also pick Brian Bolland pretty quickly.  

EMERY: When did you first draw your own comics?

HUTCHINGS: I can't remember when I did my first comic - it must have been when I was 9 or 10. I was already drawing funny pictures but never in a sequential style. I think my first comic was about a legion of superheroes called "Mo".  By Year 6 I had the patience to finish comics that lasted several pages. They were nearly always parodies. I found a big pile of them the other day!  I have one called "Battyman" and I think I called the Joker "The Jokester" or something hilarious like that. It's interesting because I teach children cartooning now, and always remember myself having way more patience and care than they do, but nooooo.

EMERY: Was there a particular project where you felt you had established your own style? I always thought your work had a consistent tone of humour and I wondered if you felt there was a project where you consolidated your craft or style of drawing?

HUTCHINGS: I reckon Lesson Master was the comic that sums up my style!  Very cartoony but with lots of detail.  The people looked a little goofy but the environments and objects were usually pretty accurate. That's the style I feel most comfortable working in, and the most fun. But I never stick with one style and am always figuring out the best way to draw. For example in Iron Bard which I'm doing now, I am pushing the detail way more, and trying to find the perfect mix of funny/realistic to give to the characters.  Even the shading techniques change throughout it coz I can't decide.  On the other hand I'm posting a few webcomics now and then which have a deliberately inaccurate and loose style that I love doing. So really I don't feel like I've consolidated my style of drawing yet, even though I think most people can recognise my art when they see it.

EMERY: A while back you mentioned to me you’d like to attempt projects outside of the humour genre, have you made any progress with this idea?

Not actively working on anything serious yet unless you count rough story outlines and scene thumbnails.  It seems to get pushed back all the time.  I have a number of serious ideas which I think would be great.  Ideas like that are stressful because I know I can do funny joke comics, but I think telling a poignant story will really expose my shortcomings in that area.  They could be hamfisted, or shallow, or derivative or self indulgent or unoriginal without me knowing.  I am not afraid of being insincere with them at least.

EMERY: With Squishface you've established a long running comics studio in Melbourne,  How has having a studio and an environment with several cartoonists/artists impacted on your work? Can you talk about future plans for the studio?

HUTCHINGS: Two years now, which was my original hope. Two years means it has actually made an impression and become a 'thing' people will remember even if it dies. So now we're starting year number three. When you are around other people who are also involved in their own projects, new things always get thrown your way, and being a sort of institution, festivals and events and people always approach us. I started it because I loved having people watch us work when we did Inherent Vice, but I find the public aspect of it very different here. When it's only me here I find I like to shut the door and work away in solitude, but when there's a few of us here I like inviting people in but it's a bit more one-on-one, being a small enclosed room. I find it hard to have one day away from this studio. I always wind my way back. I have no future plans except for this place to survive, but I would like it to have more activity, and to bring in a bit more money from comic sales and art sales. That's about it!!!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Rebecca Clements Interview part three of four

Rebecca Clements interviewed by Chris Beach

Read part one over here.
Read part two over here.

Did living in Japan give you access to anime and manga that you wouldn't otherwise have had the opportunity to see or read in Australia?

Hahaha. Wow. Yes. It's very funny to think about the contrasts between those two times and situations. I grew up when anime was first leaking into Australia, when it was amazing if your town had 10 VHS tapes. What is manga? It's what they yell out before the anime starts. Some of my major social groups were brought together by these shared interests and I guess we were all there while it grew and grew into whatever it is today. We eventually became quite cynical from exposure to so many obsessed anime fans for such a long time.

Japan is a country obsessed by and incredibly accepting of art and comics—with a long and rich history with comics—that values and gives a platform to even the smallest indie cartoonist, and where there's almost no 'comics demographic' to speak of (which might be a bit of an exaggeration, but honestly not much). I mean, you're surrounded by manga everywhere. It's always changing, it's always there. So much of it will never make it out of the country. Thankfully, more and more of it is.

I've long since lost my interest in it, generally—I think the two of us are better off living apart—but I retain a healthy respect for the good stuff and for its spirit, like with anything.

Can you describe your working method?

Often it involves sitting at my computer and drawing on my tablet for 10 hours. Sometimes the same kind of thing only with a piece of paper in front of me. Some of my comics evolve from the scribbled notes I record in my sketchbook whenever an idea strikes me. Some of them are totally spontaneous, drawn on the spot in response to something that makes me laugh (that's the exception to the rule, though).

I probably write about 20 or more scripts or ideas for every comic that actually sees the light of day. With some, they're really detailed and I draw lots of thumbnails for each panel; with others they're just one or two vague words that are enough to trigger the whole idea sitting in my head. More and more, I have occasions where I go straight to inks with barely the roughest and loosest of pencils. Sometimes I'll still need to do 3 layers of pencils to get a particular idea right and I'll work on it for days.

The great thing that has come with experience is having a whole range of approaches, and continually having a better sense of which of them best suits the idea or whatever mood I'm in at the time.

One of the biggest factors for me in being able to make a particular comic is being able to move from one place to another to work on its various stages. Sometimes I'll work on a comic from vague idea to completion in one sitting, but usually I need to leave the house and go to a café to write and think different elements through. I'll even move from room to room to get the inking and colouring done. Sometimes I need silence, or nothing more than the kinds of outside sounds I can completely drown out, but more often than not I rely very heavily on listening to the exact right kind of music to suit the frame of mind I'm either in or want to be in. It sounds silly, but getting that right for me can make an absolute GIANT difference in how I work, or whether I CAN work.

Lately I've been very dependent on watching and listening to video longplays of old video games on YouTube while I work. They put me in a great frame of mind. I get to relive the sounds of a well-loved game while it creates the illusion that I'm being quietly social. It's like having a friend hanging out with me and playing a game, I think it's really neat. Picking the right longplay is just as important as the right music playlist! I'm one of those artists that has a lot of trouble working within rigid conditions. It's a bit crap. I struggle on by with my ways.

In a typical day roughly how much time do you devote to your comics (mulling, writing, drawing, posting)?

I don't really know. I kind of feel like I haven't stopped thinking about them for years now. I mostly don't have weekends or any real days off. I just work most of the time, even if that's just moving about with my life generally to get new ideas, or wandering about like a zombie while trying to grasp all the aspects of a comic in my head. When I'm actually sitting down and drawing (or standing—I have a standing desk too now—it's great!) it can last all of one or two days and sometimes my breaks are only when I'm sleeping or showing or eating and watching Doctor Who.

I do take a break when I need one. If I'm feeling so stuck and dead that I'm not getting anything done, I try to do one or a bunch of things to kick some life back into my brain again, be it watching a movie or going out for a walk, and every now and again I just take a bunch of spontaneous time off to go hang out with a friend and not think about work anymore.

Plus, so much of my work time has nothing to do with making comics. Often things like bookkeeping, packing and sending prints can take up most of a day. Sometimes my balanced routine helps to maintain a creative state of mind, but at other times I have so much of that stuff to do that it can drive me crazy and I begin to lament how little time I have to spend on the art I want to do.

How much of what you draw is done digitally and how much is hand drawn? What tools do you use to make your comics?

I think it's about 50/50. Sometimes I'll go through a digital phase, then I'll suddenly tire of that and want to hand draw everything. Lots of cartoonists I know are like this and I think it keeps things fresh for us. You always get excited to use a particular medium again after a while and find too that you have fresh new ways to approach it.

If I hand draw my comics, I tend to use mechanical pencils (blue or green), then ink with a Kuretake brush pen (the best!) and either colour with Copic markers or paint with watercolour.

Digital comics I do with an amazing and not-so-well-known program called Paint Tool SAI. In fact, I never made digital comics until I discovered that software. It's really perfect for me. I'll do the whole comic in that and maybe some occasional basic image manipulation in Paint Shop Pro 7, which I still love after all these years.

What for you are the advantages of digital artwork as opposed to more traditional methods?

Being able to get that line exactly right. Sometimes you'll catch yourself drawing and undoing a line 20 times to get it right. Sometimes that's ridiculous, but it's really nice to be able to produce a very crisp, tight-looking comic like that. Being able to experiment with colour easily is a big one too. Maybe the thing I value the most these days is being able to easily play with my layout. I think that has the biggest influence on me being able to sometimes get the look or timing just right.

 All images copyright 2012 Rebecca Clements. Interview copyright 2012 Chris Beach

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Walking to Japan Comic Launch

Melbourne Cartoonist Ben Hutchings launches his new comic, Walking To Japan, this Tuesday at the Toff in Town. Walking To Japan is the first of a few projects he has lined up with Milk Shadow Books. I had a quick chat via email with Ben about his new work.

What was the basis behind publishing Walking To Japan in Newspaper format?

We were thinking of alternative sizes. The mini size is too small.  Normal American size is annoying, and A4 is ugly. Then I suddenly remembered and thought that would be a novelty, and great for the detailed panels. It's a 16 page story I think, and the whole comic is 20 pages. There are a few full page panels that I spent one or two days on.   

What else do you have lined up with Milk Shadow Books?

You Stink #10 is underway. I had already posted most of it online though, and I thought that would be disappointing for a lot of people. So I am replacing most of it with new content except for one or two of my favorite stories that people will have read online. The style of most of the strips in #10 is that really loud, ridiculous style with fairly crude drawings. So we are talking about releasing that within the next couple of months. Milk Shadow will also be doing the third Lesson Master reprint, and Handball Heaven too! We even talked about the possibility of doing the second You Stink collection 6-10. How rad would that be, eh?  

What do you have prepared for the Walking To Japan launch party ?

Yeah, the first hour will be just be us selling our comics, and swanning about chatting and being charming to everybody, so turn up on the dot OK? But i wanna recommend people do stay for the bands and burlesque. The reason is that after chattin' comix, we'll be sitting and drawing while the bands play with the lights down and I get such a kick out of drawing stupid drawings for people, especially when they actually look good, ho ho.

Do you think you'll publish in newspaper format again?

Wow, I haven't even seen it yet. Gotta touch it and smell it and inspect the line quality close up. James sounded excited by it on email, and the process of making it was really fun.  Ask me again after the launch!

Walking To Japan preview here.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Inherent Vice: Ben Hutchings

During the Inherent Vice residency at The NGV Studio in Melbourne I spoke briefly with some of the cartoonists. Every day I have visited the NGV Ben Hutchings has been steadfastly chained to his desk with drawing utensil in hand. Ben enlightened me about what he has been up to.

How has the experience of been of working in public as apposed to your normal routine?

It's been really, really, really, excellent fun. I've really loved being distracted by people instead of by the fridge or the TV. I'm sitting here in the corner in front of these gigantic glass windows, where I'm the first thing everyone sees which is a bit weird, but It's great watching all the people walk past and talking to all the people coming in. Also having the other seven guys around is really good, really fun.

Did you have a specific project planned coming into the Inherent Vice residency?

I thought I'd set this time aside to work on this comic I've thought up called 'Walking to Japan'. I thought I'd be able to finish it in the five weeks here. So I've started working on it and It's a bit over half way through so the last week is just going to be a real massive hard slog to get that comic strip finished.

You're a full-time cartoonist?

Yeah I am. I do a strip for Picture Magazine and also just do a lot of freelance and stuff like that. I pretty much draw for a living completely.

The Inherent Vice residency is a curated event, were there any expectations from the artist's taking part?

Hardly any. They just said they'd like us to come in as often as we could and they gave us a little fee so if we could turn down some work and that sort of thing. There were no real expectations. There were plans to make a book at the end of this, a collection of our work, but it's pretty loose.

What got you into comics?

I kicked off with the British stuff like Beano and all that. That kicked it off and then I tried all types of comics, mainly with the style of humour it'd be the British funny comics like Viz and things like that which I just think are really, really funny. Also art styles a lot of black n white art from the seventies, underground stuff like Freak Bros, I picked up heaps of techniques from them and its a bit hard to say where I got techniques from but a bit of Manga I guess. Mostly black and white comics from the seventies and eighties I s'pose.

Do you have a favourite part of the comic making process?

Sketching out the thumbnails is the best bit, when you're writing out the comic.

Ben mentioned Milk Shadow Books will be publishing issue #10 of You Stink and I Don't, his long running one man humour anthology. Along with the Cartoonist/Animator David Blumenstein, Ben also hosts the hilarious podcast Comic Book Funny.