Thought Bubble 2018 runs 17th – 23rd September!

Howard Hardiman Minterview by thoughtbubblefestival

Hey you guys! Super special minterview time! Hold your shocked gasps until the end, please. This week we’re talking to Howard Hardiman (now an honourary Friend of Thought Bubble)  the excellent creator behind cutebutsad, whose latest comic project – The Lengths – is looking like it could be something very special indeed. In his own words it “will tell the story of Eddie, a young man who moves to London to art school, but in his quest to find himself, he finds Nelson, a muscled prostitute who he becomes infatuated with and follows into a world of drugs and vice and then his quest for absolution once he finds that it’s a life he’s not cut out for.” Powerful stuff, and from the previews alone the artwork looks gorgeous.

For more of Howard’s work I suggest checking out his website, and he’s on twitter too, but without much further ado, here’s the chat we had...

To start off, do you think you could give us an idea of how you first got into sequential art?

I don’t even know if I’m entirely sure what that means, really. When I was growing up, once I’d stopped wanting to be an astronaut, a mother, a vet or Spider-Man, I wanted to be a writer, then a poet, then while I was at art school I started getting into photography alongside writing poetry. I toyed with both, getting a few things published but never being happy, having a few exhibitions of photography, never quite being happy with those either, then I started doodling on post-it notes while I was at work and drawing very bad pictures of animals saying slightly random things. From that, I wound up selling a zine and some post-it notes in picture frames at the UK Web Comics Thing a few years back, then Badger sort of appeared and I suppose that’s a sort of skewed potted history of me. There wasn’t a moment when I thought, “Yes! Comics!” and I think I still spend more time looking at other kinds of art than comics, to the point where I feel a bit lost when other comics artists are talking about things they’ve read – I still feel like I’ve got a lot of catching up to do because of all the time I’ve spent looking at and reading other stuff, but get me on my favourite artists and writers and I’ll bore you to death with my geekdom.

So, in amongst the ‘other stuff”, is there any work that you’d consider an influence on your own output?

Well, I worked at the National Gallery on and off for a for a few years and I think now that I’ve spent the last year doing the MA in Illustration at Camberwell and taking a lot more time on drawing and composition, the influence that painting’s had on my visual language is starting to come through, so I’ve been finding myself going back to look at how Caravaggio used light and how how painters like Titian and Reubens use composition. I’m not for a moment saying I’ve got an ounce of their talent, but it’s really inspiring to have that resource available. I’m also a massive fan of the way some artists can create a sense of mood or spirituality through tone, like Rotkho or Van Gogh – the exhibition of Van Gogh and his Letters at the Royal Academy this year was amazing, particularly because they had lots of pages from his sketchbooks and it really gave you a sense of how he thought and there’s a slightly self-indulgent part of me that wondered if some of these artists might have found their way into comics if they were working now.

Um, other stuff. I love Klimt for texture, and I’m not ashamed to say I got a bit emotional when I saw his paintings first-hand in Vienna a few years back. I’m also a bit of a fan of Mapplethorpe’s photography, not just because there’s a lot of beautiful men in it, but because of how incredibly he uses light to lift subjects into a timeless place and I’ve been looking at a lot of that lately, too. That said, for The Lengths, I’ve been looking at a lot of photos of naked men, like Joe Oppedisano’s work, because it’s a territory I’m delving into there.

I’m still a big fan of poetry and I think there’s an influence there that endures, whether it’s Plath or Hughes (when he’s introspective) or the acrobatics of Gerard Manley Hopkins or the beautiful intellect of someone like Miroslav Holub, there’s something about the craft of poetry that still holds huge appeal to me and it’s something I think I will return to.

Books wise, I’ve been really excited by Scarlett Thomas this last year since Anna Petterson got me reading The End of Mr Y, and that book’s raised my expectations of what storytelling’s capable of weaving into itself, but I’d also have to say I’m a bit of a fan of slightly intellectually arrogant philosophical novels as a general rule, so I still go back to Hermann Hesse as one of the best of that genre.

I’ve also been reading The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker over the last year, which tells you an awful lot about how stories are constructed and what they’re for, archetypically, and that’s surprised me that it’s made me intrigued rather than horribly depressed.

Oh, I’m also a huge fan of stuff about science and I get far too excited about quantum physics and astronomy, but I can’t quite say that’s really filtered through into my comics, apart from a line in Polaroids from Other Lives, but who knows what might come in somewhere down the line?

That wound up being a bit of a list, didn’t it? I think the basic thing is that I’m excited by loads of things and I think the beauty of comics is that it’s a very malleable medium, so there’s, at least theoretically, room for all of these influences to worm their way in, so it’s a perfect place for someone who’s a bit of a synaesthete like me to be dotting around from place to place, falling in love with lots of things at once.

Do you think there’s an expectation that a ‘comic’ creator should be a font of geek knowledge – that the production of sequential art goes hand-in-hand with being a ‘nerd’?

Well.  I think there’s a stereotype that comics fans are introverts with no sense of a world outside of comics, which is really being exploded as the audience expands and becomes more literate and I think we’re living in a culture that’s increasingly visually literate and consumes an incredible amount of coded visual information all the time, so it stands to reason that we consume comics in a very complex manner. I think it’s only reasonable, then, that if you’re creating comics then you’re someone who’s also a bit immersed in the same way of thinking so that you’re giving the reader something that will stimulate them.

I know that I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been able to share things with an audience right from the start with what I’ve been making, but that’s also meant that I’ve been learning in public a bit and as I say, there’s times when I’m aware that that makes me quite exposed because there’s so many people who know so much more about comics than I do, but that’s brilliant when people are so generous with what they know, I really can’t take it as criticism; I can’t be blamed for not knowing what I don’t know.

That’s not quite what you were asking, though, was it? Are comics people nerds? I don’t think so; I think there’s such a diversity of work being produced and a diversity in the audience drawn to the work that perhaps wasn’t there when the only comics you’d be exposed to would be superhero comics or newspaper strips that it’s less true than before to say that it’s a niche thing to like comics. I think the DIY Zine scene and the art books scene has brought a lot into the world of comics, just as the mainstream success of stuff like Watchmen has at the other end of the market.

Still, I only read Watchmen quite recently; I hadn’t liked the way the colours were printed and that had put me off, so I was late to the game on that one, but I don’t think I mind that much knowing that I don’t actually know the names of all the alien princesses in alternative Marvel universes. I think there’s room for all that and more.

I’m impressed when there’s people whose entire lives seems to revolve around comics, and the collectors and cosplayers scared me at first and now just amaze me. I just hope no-one’s too offended when I don’t know who that wig and codpiece combo’s meant to make you.

You’re appearing at this year’s Thought Bubble, what will you be bringing to the convention?

Well, I’ll have the two Badger books and some of the artwork from the first book for sale and some of the short comics I’ve made over the last couple of years, but this last year I’ve had my head down to do a lot of development work on a new comic, The Lengths, which is my first foray into “proper” comics storytelling with words and a long story and panels and things, rather than the wordless tales for Badger or the graphic poems I made for Polaroids From Other Lives. The Lengths is based around interviews I did with men selling sex to men in London, so it’s quite a heavy subject and it’s one I want to do justice to, so I’m hoping to have something to show from it in time for Thought Bubble, but it’s slow progress, so if it’s not done in time, then we might just have to cope…

What inspired you to take on the – presumably quite dark – subject matter of prostitution in comic form, as opposed to, say, just publishing the interviews?

At first, when I did the interviews, I’d thought they were going to end up forming a play, and I got as far as having meetings with artistic directors at theatres about putting it into development, but it wasn’t feeling like the right medium for the material and I didn’t want to go ahead with it. I wrote a couple of articles around it, about attitudes that escorts have towards HIV, and I was quite pleased with those, but they were a different beast to telling a story, so I just kept the material for a couple of years until I didn’t have such a strong sense of being able to remember the people attached to each interview so I was able to approach it again as a story rather than as an account of real people’s lives.

I think there’s something really personal about comics that you don’t get from other media, so it seemed like the right way to do it, and making the characters dogs has a symbolic importance in the story as well as making it a more anonymous experience for the reader and for the people whose lives I’m talking about in the story. There’s still a lot of real events that will be in the comic, but it’s now much more of a story rather than an account and I’d like to hope that making it a bit more symbolic and emotional means that more people will be able to relate to what’s in it.

I would still like to use the interviews, but perhaps I’ll save them up for when the collected edition comes out and use a few of the transcripts then. There’s some really moving, funny and chilling things that came out in those chats and some of the guys I met through that process I’m still friends with now, so I’m hoping they’ll like the way the comic ends up.

Is Badger finished now, or might we see his inquisitive little face again?

Oh, Badger will be back, but I think he’s very much connected to a particular mood for me and he pops out when I don’t really expect him to, so we’ll have to see when he comes out.

Do you enjoy attending events like Thought Bubble?

No, Thought Bubble is rubbish and all the organisers are mean. Ha, seriously? Yes, although I’m not sure how many events I could say are “like Thought Bubble” – it’s got such a good atmosphere and the crowd is really engaged with the comics and the artists there, it’s seriously one of my favourite events on the comics calendar of the year.

That said, the slumber party that Timothy Winchester, Lizz Lunney and Philippa Rice had at Caption will live in infamy.

Well, we can be quite mean sometimes. Do you think the UK general public’s ‘acceptance’ of comics in the mainstream has increased over the last few years?

I’d like to think so – I’ve only been making comics for the last few years, so I can’t really comment with any authority about any difficult wilderness years before then, but it’s been a very supportive couple of years for me and I’m really happy with how it’s been going. Obviously, I’d love to see a situation where we had more of us able to make a living out of making the work we love and I’d like to see Marc Ellerby being more stalked than Jordan and Tom Humberstone (see, I can get his name right sometimes!) nodding sagely on Newsnight, but let’s see, eh?

Thought bubbles or caption boxes?

Actually, in The Lengths, I’m kind of going for neither, so the narration sort of floats in the background. I don’t know if that counts as captioning, if it’s a thought bubble the shape of the sky, or a caption box that’s the window of a District Line train.

Hmm, that wasn’t terrifically good at answering the question, was it?


Thanks to Howard for taking the time to talk to use, we’re really looking forward to seeing the finished copies of The Lengths, and hope you out there in the interwebs are too.

In Thought Bubble news – we’ve finalised the programme for this year’s festival, completed the brochure designs and will be officially announcing the full line-up of events very soon. Sunday’s workshops and masterclasses in particular are looking very strong, and Thursday and Friday’s academic conferences should be a fascinating insight into the more ‘serious’ side of comics.

Fresh minterview next week, just a few to go now in the run-up to Thought Bubble 2010, don’t forget to enter our comic competition, the deadline for submissions is Monday 18th October!

– Clark


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