DYLAN HORROCKS ANSWERS 15 QUESTIONS WITH JULINDA MORROW
I am an unabashed fan of Dylan Horrocks. I appreciate how he can transition from an alt-comics narrative to a mainstream work-for-hire mentality without letting the quality of his work suffer.
It can be argued that many artists leave their personal impression on their work. The art with which I became acquainted before having met the artist gave me a preview of his personality. That impression of a direct line to the person holding the pen is one of the many ingredients of Dylan’s work that distinguishes him. Simple, uncluttered art is yet another mark of distinction, as well as an ink line that has continually matured over the years.
Pickle, Hicksville, Atlas, and his online serial Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen are just a few of the gems from Dylan Horrocks’ library awaiting a voracious reader to discover.
A gallery of Dylan’s simple yet elegant art follows this interview.
Julinda Morrow: What path led you to comics and sequential art?
Dylan Horrocks: My dad loves comics, so I grew up in a household full of good comics from all over the world. I fell in love with them before I could read, and so my Dad was always bringing interesting comics home for me to look at. I spent much of my childhood immersed in Tintin, Carl Barks’ Donald Duck, Peanuts, and British comics like Battle Picture Weekly and 2000AD.
Another of my dad’s big interests was film, and he taught New Zealand’s first university course dedicated to film. So I also grew up watching a lot of movies of all kinds, which fed into my sense of what comics could be, as well as what they already were.
So you can probably blame my dad, really.
JM: What schooling or training did you receive?
DH: Very little. At high school, art was always my worst subject, in terms of grades. I barely scraped through. But I had English teachers who were very supportive of my obsession with comics, and at university I did a BA in English. I spent much of my time at university, however, drawing comics for the student newspaper and playing role-playing games. I was a terrible student.
JM: Who, in your opinion, are the pioneers of sequential art?
DH: Lordy. Well, there are plenty. These days, when I’m teaching I tend to cite Rodolphe Töpffer as the pioneer of modern comics. But that all depends on how you define “comics” or “sequential art”, and that’s more a matter of preference than any kind of objective measure. I have my own personal pantheon of artists who shaped my own love for comics, including Hergé, Charles Schulz, Robert Crumb, Tove Jansson, Carl Barks and many others who came to prominence in the 1980a – the Hernandez Bros., Dave Sim, Chester Brown, Seth, Dan Clowes, Art Spiegelman and the RAW magazine group; British cartoonists like Ed Pinsent, Chris Reynolds, Glenn Dakin. Also various European artists like Chantal Montellier, Jacques Tardi, Yves Chaland, and the New Zealander Barry Linton. In a way, comics has been constantly reinventing itself for generations so even young artists today feel like pioneers to me.
JM: How do you define sequential art?
But seriously: I don’t have a definition for sequential art or, for that matter, for “comics”. I wrote an essay some years ago on the slippery matter of definitions, which was a response to Scott McCloud’s definition in Understanding Comics. It’s still online if anyone is bored enough to read it:http://www.hicksville.co.nz/Inventing%20Comics.htm
JM: Do you find that sequential art provides you with near-limitless possibilities for storytelling or do you experience it as constraining?
DH: I suppose there are constraints (there’s no soundtrack, like there is in film, for example). But I don’t find myself conscious of them most of the time. My main experience of comics is of limitless possibilities –limited, at least, only by my own ability to sit down and write and draw for hours on end. It’s different than writing prose (which I also do), but only in the way that drawing with a pencil is different than painting with a brush. That is: doing it is a different experience and that tends to be reflected in the work I produce. But I guess I experience those differences more as interesting – and even pleasurable – rather than constraining.
JM: What qualities or resources do you believe are most important for a sequential storyteller to have?
DH: It helps to enjoy the physical process of drawing and writing. If doing either bores or annoys you, that’s a problem because that’s what making comics is all about. In my opinion, enjoying writing and drawing is more important than having an innate natural talent for either. If you do it enough, and with sufficient dedication and passion, you’ll probably develop something like an interesting and expressive voice even if it starts out clunky and awkward.
JM: How do you approach your work process?
DH: I usually write first, and I spend a lot of time on that. Usually, my process on any given story goes something like this: Daydreaming/thinking > writing (alternating between scripting and planning and revision) > thumbnails/roughs > pencils > inking > scanning and colouring. Along the way there’s a lot of rewriting, redrawing, and also noodling around in my sketchbook (which sometimes changes details and the overall plan for the story).
JM: How many hours a day do you work? Are you uniformly productive on any given day or more productive on some days than others?
DH: God, no. I wish I were uniformly productive, but I’m not. The hardest thing is to get into the swing of things. Getting started can feel like butting up against a brick wall. But once I’m in the groove, I can be very productive and not want to stop. I have to, of course, at the end of the day, because I have kids and a wife and a life beyond the drawing board – Which may be why I’m not as productive as I’d like…
JM: Was it a struggle, at the start of your career, to find work and make ends meet?
DH: It still is, really. I spend a lot of time doing bits and pieces of paid work: teaching, illustrations, book covers, school visits & guest lectures, magazine articles, etc. In a sense, that stuff is my day job, and it takes up a lot of time and energy. I enjoy it all, though, and it feeds into my actual comics work. But it’s still hard to find time to just solidly work on my comics for days on end.
JM: What has been your most valuable professional experience?
DH: Every time I finish a page or tell a story that makes me feel really good, that’s the most valuable thing. I love getting emails from total strangers who tell me Hicksville changed their life, but the best thing of all is when I make something new.
JM: What inspires or informs you creatively?
DH: I get a lot from reading (especially non-fiction), watching movies, and listening to music. Also from chatting with friends, meeting strangers, watching the world unfold around us all. I don’t devour as much art or writing or film as many of my friends do – I just never seem to have the time. But often I get inspired by imagining what those films and books and comics I haven’t seen or read might be like.
JM: What is your position on digital comics? Are they a good thing or a bad thing?
DH: They’re just a thing. There are some amazing, wonderful possibilities they present, and I’m very excited by the way the Internet spreads art and ideas so quickly and freely and widely. I love paper comics and I love digital comics. To me, digital media opens up new possibilities and opportunities, both professionally and creatively. It’s just more stuff we can do and play with, which is great. I don’t really care what it means for the industry, to be honest. My focus isn’t on the business of comics, but on having fun and making art.
JM: If you were to make any changes to the industry or the market what changes would you make?
DH: If the big commercial superhero publishers withered and died I honestly wouldn’t mind one bit. Obviously, I’d be sorry for the freelancers and editors who depend on them for an income but surely there are better ways we could earn a living and use our skills and labour? The relentless focus on corporate-owned intellectual property depresses me and poisons the industry, in my humble opinion. I’ve worked for those guys in the past, and while it was good for the bank balance, it didn’t make me happy. I know some people love superheroes and want to play with Batman and the X-Men, and good on them. I just wish they could do all that outside the strange perverse IP prison that is the modern American corporate comics industry.
If I were emperor of the universe, I’d close DC & Marvel down and put most of their “properties” (i.e. all those characters created in the 1930s and 40s) into the public domain. Then everyone could play with them to their hearts’ content.
I’d also give truckloads of money to all those aging freelancers who DC & Marvel have exploited and discarded over the years.
Otherwise, just carry on doing what you’re doing, people…
JM: If you could apprentice under any artist at any time in history and anywhere in the world who would it be?
DH: Oh! That’s a really good question. Hell, I don’t know. Can I only choose one?
Maybe Robert Crumb. Or Roy Crane. Or George Herriman. Or Tove Jansson…
I’ll be pondering that one for months…
JM: What, in the future, would you like to accomplish creatively?
DH: Finish the next damn book. And then the next one. And the next one – ad infinitum.