another pop up peek + maisie interview me about comics

Exciting! I got an e-mail last night from Chiahui Liao, one of the three Central Saint Martins art students who are working to make Saturday’s Pop Up COMICS BIG-TOP OF AWESOME look, well, AWESOME. And it looks like they’re doing a great job!

They’ve hit a bit of a hitch, their paint hasn’t arrived yet, but Chiahui with Isa Caruncho and Maddy Rita Faye are doing their best to do everything else in the meantime, and their paint for the main set should arrive this morning. Here’s one of the three Story Wheels that you visitors will be able to spin to get story-starting ideas for your comic. This is the Setting Wheel… will your story be set on an airplane? In a haunted house? In London? A prehistoric swamp? Of course, you can come up with your own idea, but we’ll have some fun ones on offer to get you started.

Only two days left, are you coming along this Saturday to make comics with us, and take part in the rest of the festival, that’s sure to be amazing? I’ve been looking at some of the stuff Candy Gourlay has in store for her Filipino-style FIESTA – bamboo dancers are the latest treat I’ve spotted! – and it looks amazing. Pop Up Festival details here. I’ve just been making name tags for the amazing team we’ll have on site. Click here to find out about them and see the day’s schedule.

Quite late last night, I answered some interview questions for my friend Maisie, who’s passionate about comics and doing a project on them for school. I thought I’d attach my answers here, in case you want a peek. And I’ll weave in a comic Maisie made about her visit to the studio I share with Gary Northfield and Lauren O’Farrell.

Maisie Jones interviews Sarah McIntyre about making comics

Maisie: What inspired you to become a comic artist?

I read loads of comics when I was a kid, but then stopped reading them for awhile when I moved to England, because I thought they were mostly just superhero comics, and I didn’t like most of those so much. But then when I went to art college, a fellow student, Ellen Lindner, encouraged me to start my own LiveJournal blog to post my artwork. I started seeing what other people were posting, and a lot of them did both illustration and comics, and it was very inspiring to see that their comics were about all sorts of things, not just superheroes. It was also helpful for me to see that comics didn’t always have to be funny, because the idea of doing a funny comic every day, like I saw in the American newspapers, seemed a bit too daunting. I didn’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t think of a punchline. It was a relief to find out that comics could be sad, too, or just stories, not always jokes.

When you were younger what was your fave comic?

Calvin and Hobbes! It ran every day in The Seattle Times newspaper, in black and white, and in colour on Sundays.

Maisie and her sister, Molly, visit the Fleece Station studio

How did you come up with the idea for Vern and Lettuce?

I was very bored one Christmas and everyone was watching endless telly, so I started making clay animals in the kitchen. I made this sheep that I really liked, and when I was offered the chance to do a comic strip, I featured that sheep in my first comic. Then, when the comic (The DFC, now The Phoenix Comic) wanted me to do more, I thought that I could come up with more stories if Vern had a friend. I was going to set it in the countryside, and Vern was going to live in a caravan. But a friend showed me a book called Fix-it-Duck by Jez Alborough that had a sheep in the very same kind of caravan I’d drawn for Vern. I thought, oh, no! I had dinner that evening at the flat of some friends who lived in Peckham, right on the top floor of the tallest tower block. And I was standing all the balcony admiring the view, when I suddenly realised it would be much funnier to have animals living in a London tower block, bumping into each other and having neighbour disputes and making friends from floor to floor. And Peckham Rye park wasn’t far away, so that became part of the story as Pickle Rye Park.

What would your advice be to someone that wanted to be a comic artist?

Make lots and lots of comics. Try out new things, new techniques, new ways of drawing, new ways of telling stories. Keep a sketchbook. Don’t just draw figures and faces, keep coming up with stories, too. And try making little books, where the story goes from beginning to end. Finishing a story is such good practice; a lot of people start stories but tail off halfway through. Once you’ve finished the story, make it into a book, photocopy it, and start sharing it with other people. Get a blog where you post what you’re working on at the moment, and put your blog address (or website address) somewhere on your comic, so if people want to find out more about you, they’ll know where on the Internet to look. You can start a web comic without having to pay any money, just start posting strips once a day, once a week, or whenever you can. Read lots of comics, and think about why you like the ones you like, and why you don’t like others. Read lots of other books (not just comics) and watch movies, and think about the different ways people tell stories in them.

One of the people we’re bringing in to help at the Pop Up Festival is Zoom Rockman, who’s 11 years old, but has been publishing a web comic for several years and prints and sells his comic. I admire him because most kids think they have to wait until they grow up to become a professional, but he’s already well into the business, and will be ahead of the game when he’s grown up.

Where do you work? (I already know the answer to that but i think it would interest other people!)

I work in an old police station in Deptford (complete with cells!) with two other artists: Gary Northfield, who’s working on a graphic novel for Walker Books, called Teenytinysaurs (which will come out next year), and drawing comics for The Phoenix Comic and National Geographic Kids Magazine. Lauren O’Farrell (aka Deadly Knitshade) does graffiti knitting and has two books out, Stitch London and Knit the City. She runs Stitch London and has well over 10,000 people in the knitting group!

Maisie meets the toilet ghost who lives in the ladies’ cell block

Do you work with other comic artists?

Yes, I work near Gary (our desks are about five feet apart), and right now I’m working on a picture book (not a comic) with my comics colleague David O’Connell. David’s also helping me manage the part of this weekend’s Pop Up Festival that I’m curating, the Comics Big-Top of Awesome. It’s a festival-within-a-festival, and we’re getting lots of comics artists to help kids and teenagers make their own comics from start to finish. I also worked with Philip Reeve (Goblins, Mortal Engines, Here Lies Arthur) to make a one-off four-page comic strip for The Phoenix Comic. We co-wrote it, he drew it and I coloured it and we’ve finally turned it in.

How did you become a comic artist?

I came to it through making picture books. Many of the design elements are the same, so people were surprised when I was able to make decent comics without years and years of practice. Of course I’d had years of practice, but it was making picture books. I really got into the swing of things by making travel comics when I went on holiday, and little comics for my blog.

What’s the best thing about being a comic artist?

Storytelling is so much fun! Comics is such a great way to bring words and pictures together to tell stories, I love how they flow around each other. It’s mind-blowing to be able to create my own characters and then build a world around them. And I like making comics with friends, it’s fun to mess around doing comics jams with each other.

Bubble tea at Deptford’s Panda Panda cafe

What’s the worst thing about being a comic artist?

Right now in Britain, the pay for comics is not good. My friend Emma Vieceli once said to me that you have to have so many skills – drawing, writing, typography, design, publicity, computer skills – but you get paid far less than someone who works in a field that uses just one of these skills. It can also be lonely if you don’t make an effort to go out and mix with other people in the comics community or don’t live in a big city. And if you’re drawing all day on a computer and don’t take care about your posture, your computer set-up and how long you spend doing the same movements, you can get RSI and back problems, and that can bring your career to a grinding halt, or at least make it very difficult.

If I could be a comic character I’d be Dennis the Menace. If you could be any comic character who would you be?

I’d quite like to be the main character in The Arrival by Shaun Tan, getting to see a completely new world for the first time, exploring it and learning how to live in it.

Will Vern and Lettuce have any more appearances?

Yes! I’ve signed a deal to make a picture book about them. But because of the way production schedules work, it won’t come out for several years. I would love to do a second Vern and Lettuce comic book, but each page took me so long (very often four days for one page!) that I don’t think I can make enough money doing it to support myself. I’ll make a few more picture books and illustrated chapter books, and then have a think about it. Maybe things will change in Britain, comics will get even more popular, and its creators will get paid more. I’m very fond of the characters, it’s almost like they’re alive, and I still think, ‘Oh, Vern would love this’, or ‘I know just what Lettuce would say about that.’

And I keep finding myself making comics just for the love of it, like my three pages for NELSON, or a six-page comic I recently did for the second issue of the ink+PAPER anthology comic. Those are both comics for adults, with adult themes, but I’d love to take the time to make more comics for all ages.

I hope to hear from you soon and look forward to your answers. I hope we can come and see you again one day and have bubble tea at Panda Panda.
lots of love, Maisie xxx

Yes, I hope you can come for bubble tea, too! Be sure to bring along some of your comics, I’d love to see what you’ve been working on. Best wishes and good luck with your project, Sarah x

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