I’ve known of Simon Gane a lot longer than I’ve known him. We moved in the same small-press circles, attending the Caption convention, the Oxford mini-comics gathering, where I’d see him propping up the bar. I’ve always liked his artwork, he can draw a good punk, and anti-establishment tortoise. What really grabbed my notice was the way he drew women in a short strip for Chris Butler (someone really should reprint Killer Fly), about two girls facing a homicidal teddy bear. That was cute. But I never considered myself a writer at that point (and some may not now), and so I admired him across a crowded zine section, rather than introduce myself. Then, one day, I was hanging out at John (Hitman) McCrea’s house, where our respective children were causing havoc, and admired a postcard-sized piece of original art hanging on John’s wall (he also has kick-booty Don Heck Iron Man page which is lovely in the flesh). It was by Simon and we both expressed our admiration for his work. From then on I was determined to track Simon down, gather him into my vise-like half-nelson, and force him to collaborate with me.
AW: Who are you, where are you from, where are you going?
SG: My name is Simon, I’m from England and I’m going to be answering questions posed by celebrated graphic novelist Andi Watson, who’s works include Little Star, Slow News Day, Breakfast After Noon and the newly released Clubbing – the third title from DC’s new Minx imprint aimed at teenage girls and sensitive men.
AW: And which one of those are you? Art school. I understand you attended the Chelsea college of art? What did you study, what kind of work were you doing then, was it really full of Sloany girls marking time until they married a hedge fund manager?
SG: Yeah, I went there, think they’ve recently moved from the Kings Road though. It was the college Dirk Bogarde dropped out of, which I think trumps my own failure at the place. The students weren’t poncy to be honest but the art championed there sure was. I woulda been better off heading straight for the post office and cutting out the middle man. I painted mainly, influenced by mid-20th century artists like Dubuffet – who I credit as a source for some of the Paris splash pages, thinking about it retrospectively. About mid-way through I got more into zines and back into comics – who knows if it was a result of being surrounded by inscrutable concept art or just coincidence – so I traded in my canvas allowance for a generous photocopy/xerox card.
AW: But art school doesn’t necessarily have to a good experience to be a useful part of your artistic development, as we kind of show with Juliet’s experience in the book.
How did you sink from “fine” art to the low depths of comics? Did the Punk DIY thing inform your development.
SG: I reckon that should read “rising to comics from the low depths of fine art”. As long as modern art continues to be an exclusive club for the pretentious and rich rather than a communicative medium, it deserves the derision and general lack of interest it gets from normal people. Besides, comics are superior because they’re easier to put in your back pocket than a pickled shark is. I’d been interested in comics before – largely Tintin, but also Marvel and DC titles and drew them for fun in my spare time. Discovering Tardi renewed my passion for them, I had a few crappy strips lying around called Arnie the Anarchist and a friend suggested we do a fanzine to include them. I was into punk bands anyway, but doing the zine acted as catalyst for becoming involved in the whole DIY scene. In terms of comics, punk was indeed important, it gave me reason to draw them. But I’m not sure it helped as much in my development as a cartoonist specifically. I might be being too hard on my work, but I don’t think so. What I mean is, my strips then were formuliac, not really requiring me to forward my story-telling in the way your projects of the same era did. I’m pretty envious, but full of admiration too.
AW: But the up side was the DIY ethic got you off your bottom and got you involved. I’ve always felt that, for all the downsides, the “anyone can join in” aspect of punk is a great, liberating thing. Just getting started is the important thing. What kind of mini-comics did you do after choosing this reckless course of action?
SG: Whilst you were doing graphic novels? Um, I did one about a dude who drinks radioactive cider to gain state-smashing strength. Ones with talking tortoises in etc!
AW: That’s funny. I can’t imagine many American comics featuring state-smashing cider. That you included cider marks you out as something special, in my book. I don’t know why your state-smashing tortoises didn’t become a licensing sensation on par with TMNT.
Why comics? What’s so special about them for you?
SG: As a cartoonist the answer might be something depressing like, “Cuz if you ain’t holding a pencil it’s gonna have to be a broom”. As a fan you get double for your money, don’t you? Story and art, though naturally neither can be seperated without diminishing the whole. But just visually a page of comics is more appealing to me than most stand-alone illustrations. One thing I love about being a fan is that there’s lots out there. For instance I recently got into Eduardo Risso – all his pages are good and there are thousands of them. Or if you see a Joann Sfar panel for the first time and you love it, you’ve just hit gold. I’d be more interested to hear what’s kept you compelled to create them as consistently as you have, as someone with a grip on both disciplines.
AW: I suppose I get enthused about a story and I want to tell it. It so happens I like using words and pictures, so I’m in comics by default. I dislike most things surrounding comics, the industry, the politics, the personalities, the incessant nonsense, looking through Previews brings me out in a rash, but when I sit down at the board it’s just me, my ideas, and the paper. That’s the part I love and I’d do it forever if I could afford to. It’s such a difficult medium to get a handle on that it’s hard to be bored, it’s never easy, it’s always a challenge. Some might consider Paris to be a bit of a departure for you, why did you want to do a love story?
SG: It didn’t have to be a love story, it just had to be by you. I’m glad it was a romance however, because such a story requires the
subtleties I can’t script but that you do so beautifully. Comics are perfect for lingering pauses or little glances, moments captured in time for as long as the reader feels they should be, points of a story that can be revisited without losing your place etc. Realism in comics comes when the reader empathizes with the characters and situations, it doesn’t come with photo-realistic artwork, which is why I hoped the more graphic style of Paris would still work within a more nuanced story.
AW: You pulled it off and no mistake. The last pages of the story are spot on. You nailed it. In the wrong hands it would have fallen flat but you brought it to life. Inspirations? We both like Degas.
SG: And Ingres, whom we both admire, whose works appear in Paris. I like how and where you weaved them into the story. And there’s the Winged Victory sculpture, we both loved that and it turns out that it sums up the book’s themes perfectly! It could have been the cover for the trade but I think people need to have read the story in order to see how it ties in so beautifully. All the cartoonists and artists I love are far too many to list. You’ve gotta be a fan to be a cartoonist though, it’s too labor-intensive a job to do un-inspired, it’s probably best to think of it as a full-time hobby, I try to.
AW: Yeah, full-time hobby sums it up. The punk thing has always been a part of your work but you’re no one-trick pony. Tell me about your work with Ian Lynam, Darryl Cunnigham, Chris Butler and others.
SG: The trouble with doing something for Chris Butler was that you were always in Chris Hogg’s shadow – man he could draw. I did a crime book with Darryl, a monster comic with All Flee! with Gav Burrows for Top Shelf and I hooked up with Ian because we were both doing zines. He got a job in a copy shop – he’s no mug that fella – and therefore we were able to do quite a bit together, if you catch my drift. Lately I’ve drawn quite a few adaptations such as an H.P. Lovecraft story. Paris has been my dream collaboration though, that’s not to do down others, but I think it’s for self-explanatory reasons. Your script took me somewhere I wanted to go.
AW: I love your take on Lovecraft and how it’s still your style but you add a fevered twist to it with the ink work. I remember you snorting at my admiration for Metallica’s Master of Puppets with the Lovecraft allusions and then you’re the one drawing a great Shadow over Innsmouth. So you’ve done a love story, horror, action, monsters, humour, funny animal, adaptation…a pretty impressive spectrum of material for someone who’s very self-deprecating about his body of work.
Your favourite parts of Paris?
SG: Her bubbly personality.
AW: Have you been watching those Carry On films again?
No one draws a street scene better than you. In my dreams I can’t capture a boulevard as well as you. Do you use much reference for these pages, are you a bit of an architectural boffin? Living in Bath, there’re no shortage of lovely buildings, has that influenced you in anyway.
SG: I did use a lot of reference, yeah, largely photographs of the era. Given I’m not a 1950′s Parisian I had little choice. I think it worked in my favour in some ways because I wanted the street scenes to have an air of familiarity about them, the atmosphere as a whole, infact. The intention was to create a romanticised version of the city, the Paris of English-language movies like Funny Face. A mythical one as if seen through rose-tinted glasses suited the story better. It doesn’t matter if certain references (I’d prefer to call them homages!) aren’t picked up really, as they served their purpose by fueling my passion for the story and enabling me to get it done in the first place. I wanted the background characters – the passers-by, the cafe dwellers and so on – to look like they had their own potential stories in order to convey the bustle of a city and as a useful contrast to the more insular, self-absorbed love story.
Spectacular monuments don’t do much for me, I wouldn’t miss Buckingham Palace.
AW: Ah, Buck Palace is one of those building that’s had too many face lifts to have any personality left. Tell me about your work on Vinyl Underground. It’s a bit saucy, innit?
SG: It is in places, Andi! Researching those bits play havoc with my schedule. It’s a Vertigo monthly debuting in October. It’s written by Si Spencer, the covers are by Sean Phillips and the art is by me and Cameron Stewart. It’s set in London and features an ad-hoc group of self-appointed detectives who become embroiled in occult-tinged crimes with a strong supporting cast of mobsters and so on. It’s scary, glamorous, fun, dark and articulate. That doesn’t really do it justice, but I’m not sure what I can divulge because of spoilers (never used that term before). I’ve just started the second arc (never used that before either) and it’s hard to draw! I’m working in a more realistic style than usual and it’s made me realize how warped my own has become, I think it’s having a constructive effect on my drawing and story-telling, but that’s for the terrifying readers of Newsarama to judge.
Simon has an art blog here.
Read about the Paris collection released in August here.
*PARIS collection/SLG/$10.99/JUN073208/released August
Paris is published by the fine people at: http://www.slavelabor.com/