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Rob Jackson Interview
gulagcomics
Rob Jackson is one of the most prolific and diverse creators working in the British comics small press scene. His body of work covers everything from autobiography to horror, to detective fiction. I've decided to focus this interview primarily on his fantasy genre work, particularly Bog Wizards, Great Deeds Against the Dead and The Gods Must Be Bastards. First off though, we'll start with a quick chat about the British small press, and Rob's experience of it over the years.


How aware were you of underground comics in the UK when you began? Did you find your way into the small press/mini-comics network, or did it find you?

I had never heard of underground comics in the UK. I started off by reading lots of Robert Crumb's Zap comics that I found in a small shop in Liverpool and manga that I had gotten into by watching anime. Then I went to a comic mart at Sacha's hotel in Manchester looking for some manga and met Colin from Accent UK and Shane Chebsey who were selling their small press comics. I thought I'd try and do some too so I did my 'Train to Shanghai' comic. Once I'd done that I went to the Bristol Comics Festival to try and sell it and sent copies out to get some reviews.

How important are conventions to what you do? Would you care to go into detail about some of your best and worst experiences at them?

Conventions are great to meet other cartoonists as it can be a lonely business otherwise, just drawing on my own. My worst convention was MCM Manchester last year as I only sold one comic all day and no one seemed interested in my stuff at all. My favourite bits at conventions are normally the drinking and talking afterwards as selling the comics can get very stressful.

You've published anthology comics featuring the work of other creators, and also contributed to the work of anthologies released released by others. Do you feel part of a coherent scene in alternative comics in the UK?

Not so much at the moment as I haven't been to any shows since Leeds Thoughtbubble in November so I haven't seen anyone.

On Bog Wizards...

Bog Wizards is a pretty silly, light hearted fantasy story. Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind it?

I just started drawing it on page one without planning it out. I was inspired by reading the 'Dungeon' books by Lewis Trondheim, Joann Sfar and others.

Was it planned as a two issue comic from the start?

No, just a one off.

The artwork in issue 2 of Bog Wizards is much more intricate and realised (I'm thinking especially of the single panel pages 12 and 13). Did the second issue take much longer to produce?

It took about the same length of time as I did one page a day but I spent more time on each page. I drew those two comics at A4 instead of my usual A3 so they were quicker.

On Great Deeds Against the Dead...

For me, Great Deeds... features your best plotting to date. The story thread weaves together towards quite a satisfying and unexpected conclusion. I get the impression your skills as a writer had evolved quite a bit by this point. Would you agree?

Thanks! I like the way the story turned out. I was at work in an office at the time so I would write out the plot a few pages ahead of where I was drawing, when I should have been working.

I particularly enjoy the aspects of Great Deeds... narrative which are ambiguous. Despite multiple re-readings, I'm still a bit perplexed by the 'Colonial Amusements...' section that ends issue one, and also the dream of pylons that Alex speaks of at the start of issue two. Would you mind going in to this a bit for me?

The Colonial Amusement story is about a walk me and my brother went on along the river in Lancaster, I took a lot of photos and used them to do the drawings. It was a nice walk really without any fighting. Most of the graffiti was real and I wanted to use that in the story. In the second issue I made that story be a weird and confusing dream that Alex has just woken up from.

Where on earth did you find the idea for the Timmy character?

The Timmy character is based on a novelty gumball machine I saw in the street in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Apparently there is also one in Whitby. I took a photo of it as it was a very strange and creepy looking thing. I imagined it as a sort of evil Pinnochio.

On The Gods Must Be Bastards...

The Gods Must Be Bastards seems to take place in alternate version of our own world, one where religion has triumphed over science. Were you trying to make a comment on our culture with this? If so, what?

I wasn't really trying to say anything. I like the idea of books written about alternate worlds. In that one the gods are real, and they are kind of like the gods of ancient Greece, petty and vindictive.

The Gods Must Be Bastards features some beautiful, fluid naval battle scenes. To me, they're the high point of your drawing to date. Are there any aspects of your drawing you're still unhappy with? If so, what would you like to change?

I'd like to be able to draw people better. In my new comic about my family history (which should come out this year) I had to draw a lot of the things I have always hated drawing before, like horses, animals and vehicles and I think that has made me a better drawer. My drawings of horses still amuse me though.

Though it makes some quite serious points about religion and science, The Gods... has quite a daft, absurdist plotline. What made you take this stance with the narrative, were you ever tempted to take a more serious approach?

I could have made it a lot darker but I like putting jokes in every so often.

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