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Minterviews 2012 – Paul Duffield by thoughtbubblefestival

Hey Gang!

Thought Bubble 2012 is approaching at a constant rate: we’re working on time acceleration technology, but, ironically, it’s slow going, so in the meantime, why not scroll down for a fresh minterview, or check out the website for our updated guest list and exhibitor pages!

We’ve also just released details of this year’s official hotel for the festival, including exclusive prices (from £89 per night) for attendees staying the weekend. The Leeds Marriott is a lovely hotel, and is sure to fill up fast, so book soon to avoid disappointment!

Onwards to minterviews!

Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence. And we’ve got nowhere else to go. The ex-wife took the whole damn planet in the divorce. So to pass the time until interstellar travel is a reality, we’ve been chatting with a few comics creators and writing down the results! Minterviews!

The format’s the same each week – five standard questions are asked to every contributor, and then five special follow-ups are derived from their answers to the initial batch of questions, so ten in total, a mini-interview, a Minterview. Hopefully it’ll make for some nice informal conversations about the funny books we know and love from those who make them.

This week we spoke to the excellent Paul Duffield illustrator on epic free-to-air webcomic FreakAngels, whose self-penned work Signal is an excellent read, and whose latest project The Firelight Isle looks set to be a good ‘un. Have a read of our conversation after the jump!

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TB: Hi, Paul to begin can you give us an idea of how you got started in comics? Did you get a big break, or was it more gradual?

A bit of both I suppose! I think I got a quick break in that I was able to make a living from comics straight out of University thanks to some prize cash that I got from winning the International Manga & Anime Festival and the Rising Stars of Manga award whilst still at Uni, but I’d also been drawing webcomics for years before that too! After that it still took a good amount of work to raise my profile enough and get to a place where job offers came with the regularity needed to make a proper living from comics.

It’s a hard question to answer properly though, since it’s hard to tell from my perspective what has been due to luck and what has been due to hard work. It’s also a contentious issue when it gets discussed, since it’s inevitable that anyone who has experienced success will be keen to attribute it to their own efforts, and anyone who has experienced failure will be keen to attribute it to external circumstances (unless they’re a bit masochistic).

I think there’s a large proponent of “right-place-right-time” in any successfully started career, but on the other hand I believe strongly that people make their own luck – something that despite being a bit of a trite saying is actually backed up by psychological research (Richard Wiseman has written quite a bit about that. Whatever the flaws in my work, I can say for sure that I’ve never lacked confidence, which has meant that I’ve rarely shied away from a challenge, missed a potential opportunity, let failure preoccupy me for too long, or believed that I was incapable of achieving something.

TB: Do you think this attitude towards your own work is why the projects you’ve been a part of recently are so varied? Everything from an epic webcomic with Warren Ellis, to a crowd-funded creator-owned graphic novel, and through to contributing to The Phoenix, you don’t seem content to plow the same furrow for long.

Possibly! I’ve always been a bit creatively restless, flicking from project to project and discipline to discipline. Freakangels is the longest time I’ve ever spent doing just one thing. It may also be that I’ve got a wide ranging taste when it comes to what sort of work I like to read and watch myself. I don’t think there’s a single subject on earth that wouldn’t be fascinating to read about if it was communicated by a skilled storyteller with a passion for the subject.

There’s a huge amount that interests me, so I suppose that means there’s a huge amount I’d love to be able to do, and very little that turns me off just because of the subject (although ironically, muscle-men with constantly bared teeth and veins in their necks is usually one of those things).

TB: What’s your proudest moment, in comics or otherwise, to date?

I think that probably has to go to winning The Rising Stars of Manga competition. It would be easy to play down how it felt – in hindsight Tokyopop are just one company among many (and one with which I and other people have had some bitter experiences), and I’m used to working with editors and talking to publishers now, but at the time, I’d only ever drawn comics out of personal interest.

The idea of doing it professionally was like a wild dream for me, and at that time the internet wasn’t full of easy ways to get in contact with professionals, so I had no sense of connection to the industry whatsoever. So, when I got the call about winning the competition it was really something special – to know my work had been chosen from hundreds of other entries, to have an editor from America calling me personally and talking with me about my work, to know that a comic I’d drawn would be published! That’s a feeling I hope I don’t lose sight of in the future.

TB: So, what were you considering as a career before that point, if comics had been, say, more of a hobby?

I’ve considered a number of different careers at different times in my life. For a while it was something related to physics and astronomy, then it was graphic design, then illustration, then comics, then animation, then back to comics again. I think depending on how my life had gone I might have ended up in any of those areas, and I’m still deeply interested in all of them.

The thing that continually attracts me to comics though is how many different disciplines it encompasses – there’s concept design, graphic design, illustration, observational drawing, storytelling, typography, elements of animation and storyboarding – it’s all in there, so it keeps me continually interested and throws up new challenges all the time.

Having wanted to do so many different things, and having tried a good number of them, I’m certain that comics is a truly unique medium – the most versatile form of storytelling that it’s possible for one person (or a very small team) to work on, and complete a substantial story in reasonable time.

TB: And do you have any formal artistic training, or did your illustrative ability develop out of a general interest to tell stories?

Both at the same time! I’ve been interested in drawing and storytelling since a tiny age, and consequently I made it a major goal of my education from as early as possible (something that was helped by having supportive and creative parents). I chose art at GCSE, A-Level and Foundation, and then went on to do a BA in animation/illustration at Kingston University. It’s been a hard thing to balance though – there hasn’t always been an easy avenue within my education to pursue the sort of art that I’ve been interested in. Whether at the time that was fantasy art or manga and anime, or comics in general, I tended to encounter resistance from at least some of my teachers/tutors. So whilst I took a more classical “arty” route through education, I always drew and wrote in my spare time too, and applied the lessons I learned in both areas to my work.

TB: Do you enjoy attending conventions and other events like Thought Bubble?

Absolutely! I’ve been a convention addict ever since I attended my first anime convention when I was 16. I’ve never quite been able to recapture the amazing buzz that that first convention gave me though – it was so unlike anything I’d experienced, being surrounded by other fans, getting a chance to watch fan-subbed animation way before it was released on video (video!), being able to buy actual imported merchandise from Japan. From that point I attended every convention I could manage, and quickly found out about comics conventions too.

It’s amazing thinking about the scale that conventions have reached now – from my first (a few hundred people in a couple of rooms of a Novotel), to something like The MCM Expo (tens of thousands in a giant convention hall). In a way, I’ve become numb to everything that once excited me about that type of convention – I’ve seen all the toys and merchandise over and over again, I can legally stream new anime straight to my computer, and there are dozens of stalls selling the same things at every convention every year. I’m sure all the teenagers going to their first Expo feel just as amazed as I did that first time (if not more) and it’s fantastic that they’ve got such a huge scene to get into, but that’s something I can only ever enjoy via nostalgia now.

I get my up-to-date kicks instead from the amazing and welcoming community of artists that you find at British conventions, and the huge amount of incredible self published stuff out there – something that was an exception rather than a rule at my first few conventions. Shows like Thought Bubble, or the Comic Village at MCM have such a lovely crowd of comic artists, and there are so many new self published pieces to check out every convention that it actually gets a bit overwhelming! Especially if you throw in exhibiting to the mix as well – which is its own pleasure!

With new cons like Super Comic Con and Kapow aiming to bring the celebrity-centric American Con experience to England, I hope that the creator-centric cons where publishers and self-publishers share the same space continue to grow and thrive – I personally find picking up a new comic and being surprised by a creator I’ve never heard of much more exciting than waiting for hours in a queue for a celebrity scribble (although I’ve done my fair share of that too)!

TB: Do you think conventions are still an important part of the comics industry then, influencing future generations of comics creators and customers?

Absolutely, they’re a fantastic place to meet other creators and publishers socially, which is a great help when seeking jobs or being mentioned at the right place and the right time. It does however shift the focus onto networking and social skills as a large element of the qualifications needed to find jobs in comics, and means that your manners and levels of exuberance can make just as much of an impact as your actual work – but to a certain extent that’s true of any freelancing job. A lot of organisational skills are required to find jobs and maintain your own business, and getting to know the right people is invaluable. A good convention with a good range of guests turns that from a chore into a pleasure, and my experience from attending conventions is that the current generation of creators and organisers are almost without exception warm and welcoming people.

In terms of customers, I think conventions that invite publishers and self-publishers alike help to blur the line between fans and creators. If you attend a convention like that as a fan, you get to see a range of skills and talk to people with a diverse range of experiences – maybe as a consequence, a fan who has dabbled in art or writing might even come away with the idea that it would be fun to try for themselves.

TB: Which comics are you enjoying at the moment, any all-time favourites?

I’m really enjoying Yotsuba and Twin Spica at the moment – they’re actually the only ongoing comics I’m buying right now, although I’m sure there’s loads I’m missing out on. Yotsuba is hilarious and has this fantastic sense of wonder at even the most mundane things that you experience vicariously through the main character. Twin Spica at first seems to be a simple story aimed at kids about a child who wants to grow up to be an astronaut. As it goes on though, there’s a strong theme of losing the simplicity and intensity of childhood dreams in adulthood, and the sacrifices and compromises that the adult characters have made cut a stark contrast with the simple passions of the younger characters. It’s a much more complex piece that it first appears and it has a habit of moving me close to tears quite often!

My all-time favs include Black Hole and Blankets (which probably need no intro), but there’s also a lovely piece by Jiro Taniguchi called The Walking Man which has always been a favourite comic of mine. To hear it described, it might be the most boring comic on earth – it’s literally just about a man walking from place to place – but the careful observation, wit and depth with which it’s all executed makes it a fantastic read. It’s also a comic which intrigued me long before it was ever available in English. A good decade or so ago there was an exhibition of art from Japanese comics (Manga: Short Comics from Modern Japan) that toured the UK, which I went to when it was in Southampton. Part of the exhibition was a short sequence from The Walking Man, and it so captivated me that I kept on coming back to it again and again. Later I found the same book referred to in Paul Gravette’s Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics, as well as another book called Manga: Masters of the Art, but at that time it hadn’t actually been published in England! I remember despairing that it would never be translated, but when it finally came out it was every bit as captivating as those first pages that I saw in the exhibition. It was also one of the first comics I’d encountered that didn’t have a fantastical plot or setting, and it taught me a lot about how subtle story telling can be, and how a story doesn’t necessarily need narration or dialogue to unfold.

TB: In your own work you appear to take influence from a variety of sources, your comic Signal, for example, referencing Carl Sagan and SETI, what are your key interests when it comes to storytelling?

I think that it’s everything and anything interesting really. I don’t limit my influences to a particular genre or medium – I read books, comics, manga (which I think of as a sort of fluid subsection of comics), listen to audiobooks, play videogames, watch films and animation, listen to music from a range of different genres and time periods. I also don’t just limit my interest to storytelling, but take a lot of influence from non-fiction sources. I’m fascinated by science in general, especially physics and astronomy, I love reading about neurology, the study of consciousness, anthropology, history, sociology – like I mentioned before, nothing’s dull if it’s presented right (provided you don’t dismiss it or underestimate your own ability to understand it).

Unfortunately, if you have the wrong teacher or the wrong class, full time education can have the perverse effect of shutting people down to disciplines which are rich with insight and knowledge about the world around them. I was lucky enough to have a really good range of teachers and parents who encouraged me to learn, so since leaving university, I’ve developed a passion for seeking knowledge on my own time. Because of that I’m drawn to public figures like Carl Sagan, who believed that a good and inspiring education is the key to emancipation – not just from poor circumstance, but also from your own potential for prejudice and ignorance.

So, when I think about what I want to stories I read and create to capture, it’s not just a moment’s drama and excitement, it’s a sense of wonder, of complexity or subtlety. I believe that although we have just one life each, we can all live many extra lives through fiction, the arts and the sciences. The quality and relevance of those extra lives we take on is an extremely important thing that shapes us and our views, so when I’m working on a comic or on any creative narrative, I’ve got all of this in mind!

TB: Finally, thought bubbles or caption boxes?

Depends if your character is narrating the story or not! I’d normally do thought bubbles for incidental thoughts, caption boxes for narration. Or sometimes something else entirely for both – as long as the visual device makes sense and is used consistently!

***

Many thanks to Paul for taking the time to talk to us, you can do the same if you come to this year’s Thought Bubble!

There’ll be another minterview with one of this year’s festival guests up on Monday, check back then to see who we talked to!


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