Category Archives: Comics/Graphic Novels

Meet Kathleen Jennings….

I’m expanding my series featuring fantastic authors to include fantastically creative people across the different mediums, which is why I’ve invited the World Fantasy nominee Kathleen Jennings who is both a writer and an artist to drop by. 

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: In 2009 you won the Inaugural Kris Hembury Encouragement Emerging Writers and Artists Award. Kris attended one of the EnVisions (a mentoring workshop for writers) and worked on the Fantastic Qld committee as well as serving as president for the Vision Writers group. He had such a dry sense of humour. As an emerging writer and artist how did winning this award impact on you?

Kris was a friend, and so it was quite emotional and a huge honour – that’s the personal impact. As a writer and artist, the impact was in realising that what I did was in some way seen by other people. Both writing and art can be (to varying extents) highly subjective pursuits, and realising that it isn’t all happening only in my own head is like opening a window and getting fresh air. I think that sort of combined shout of “we see you!” and “come on in, the water’s fine!” from people further out is a big gift more experienced people can give to those just starting. And one of the best compliments I can give the SF writing scene in Australia is that I have always found them very warm, tolerant and encouraging to awkward and easily startled beginners.

Q: Kathleen has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award in the Art section. When you were a child did you ever think you’d be nominated for the World fantasy Art Award and do your parents finally believe you’re a ‘real’ artist now?

I never even dreamed about it! I recall planning to be an author, or a champion poultry-breeder, or something like that.

As for my parents, they always thought of me as a real writer, so I think the art just required a slight readjustment. I suspect they are slightly disappointed that now they just get to show their friends copies of my pictures, instead of holding them down and reading high-school essays to them. They are recovering gracefully, and fantasy art is sometimes more generally socially acceptable than fantasy writing, but I suspect they’d really like to see my art on a book with my name on it.

Q: Your short stories have appeared in ‘Antipodean SF, the Shadow Box anthology, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #41 and #52,  After the RainLight Touch Paper Stand Clear and a comic in Candlewick Press’ Steampunk!.’ You were the president of the Vision writers group  in 2009, 2010 and 2011. How useful is belonging to a group for the development of a writer?

I found it very useful – it’s another of those things which teaches a distinction between subjective and objective assessment of my work. It took me out of my own head (and writhing self-referential angst) and taught me how to write better, how to be dispassionate about editing (this lesson hasn’t entirely taken yet), how to put my work out there and receive comment on it, and also how to tell the difference between genuine constructive criticism and the personal taste of the reader. But more importantly, it was the beginning of a great many friendships and personal and professional connections, as all the people grew up and out and graduated into new stages of their careers, new pursuits and interests, sharing dreams and ideas and projects. I remember Catherynne Valente wrote a beautiful review of Midnight in Paris, and said of the dream it shows of the literary/artistic scene in 1920s Paris, that as writers “this is what we are meant to get instead of health insurance!”. And it is, but we also get to build it fresh each time for ourselves.

Jason Nahrung

Q: You have done covers and illustrations for Small Beer Press, Subterranean Press, Fablecroft Press, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Ticonderoga Publications, Odyssey Press and the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild as well as individual commissions. Can you walk us through how someone would approach you to commission work?

It starts with an email or a twitter message, although sometimes there have been oblique advance hints given at a convention or over coffee. I panic (either from surprise or scheduling) then say yes, give a quote (once there’s enough information) and get the brief. This includes dimensions, details of style, particular limitations, directions the publisher/client would like to go in and the date. The date is very important! “As soon as possible” is not a date, it is a shifting target on the far side of other dates (this is a public service announcement, in case I forget to ask for one: everyone is happier with dates!). There is a varying degree of freedom – anything from “whatever you want” to “precisely these scenes”. For covers, I do like some idea of preference or at least direction. It helps to narrow my focus and the restrictions give more scope for creativity. Also, the cover is for marketing as well as decoration, and it’s good to know what the publisher’s thoughts are in that direction. Good art direction is invaluable. Then I read the manuscript (although once or twice this hasn’t been an option), weep, angst, do several thumbnail sketches, send them for approval and – sometimes after some back-and-forth (usually by email, rarely and delightfully over coffee) – get started on the final sketch which will develop into the final artwork.

 

Q: I used to work as a graphic artist illustrating children’s books and write. I eventually found the answer to the question: Was I an artist who wrote, or a writer who drew? (See Kathleen’s sketch books). Which do you see yourself as? And do you think it matters?

I see myself as a storyteller (or at least, a lover of stories) who works in words and pictures. My favourite works in all media (art, writing, music, architecture, landscape gardening…) either tell, suggest or provide scope for a story. When I write, I sometimes plot in pictures. When I draw, I try to get a story in there (at least in my mind) – something beyond the purely ornamental. Oddly, although I enjoy comics, I prefer heavily illustrated prose at present – possibly due to circumstances surrounding the last comic work I did (mild heat stroke at one end and floods at the other)! Perhaps the illustrated novel gives more scope for imagination in the space between words and text? I have not analysed this yet.

I do find it difficult to do both, but this is purely because of time constraints (I have a day job, and there are more art deadlines). The writing gets done but I am learning that I have to be much more structured to make the editing happen. But it is happening!

Art and writing complement each other well. It’s nice to be able to switch when I get plunged into creative despair in one area. But I also harbour the hope that the rise of ebooks will somehow elevate the importance of beautifully produced hard-copy books, with elegant design, typography, illustrations, initial capitals and endpapers.

Also, it’s beautiful to be able to interact with my favourite writers as an artist, and my favourite artists as a writer, because that’s pretty much the only way I’m able to string two words together in their presence.

 

 

Q: You have said your influences are Brett, Leyendecker and Sender. I love Leyendecker’s work. (He did the Arrow Shirt adverts and many covers for American Weekly). Eg. Having struggled to make ends meet as an illustrator, this picture is one of my Leyendecker favourites:

Of course, Leyendecker was highly successful and made a good living from his art. But that was back in the day when the American Weekly needed painted covers. (It was also back in the day when a short story writer could make a living as a writer). What is it about Leyendecker’s art that appeals to you?

Truthfully, it’s the hard edge he gives to paintings of soft curls. I had a book of fairytales when I was little, and the illustrations had a similar amazing richness – the “Cinderella” was the three-ball version, each dress was more beautiful and gold-embroidered than the last, but mostly I remember the angular painting of the hair, and the square toes of the stepsisters’ satin shoes. When I discovered Leyendecker, I fell in love with him for that. I also love the visible brush-strokes in sleek pictures, the combination of intense drama with dignity, and the sense that if he took himself seriously it wasn’t in a dull way – there’s this edge either of humour or superciliousness in the most elegant pictures which (for all the formal poses and decorative arrangements) adds tension and therefore an element of story to his pictures.

 

Q: You have done a series of cartoons with Daleks as the central theme (these were shortlisted for a Ditmar). Why Daleks?

They are simple and implacable, which makes them wonderful recurring villains: predictable, consistent, unstoppable. But – well, I never thought I’d draw a connection between Leyendecker and the Daleks! – there is a note in their voices that isn’t robotic. It isn’t “you will be assimilated”, it isn’t unvarying. There’s a rising note of anxiety to it, panic, real hatred. Inside those shells are these neurotic balls of intense, obsessive emotion. It creates that same Leyendecker tension between the presentation and underlying feeling. So – I’m a fan of Daleks.

As for the use of Daleks in the game (it was nearly, and may one day be, ducks) – I like parlour games, word games, lying-around-and-being-silly games, so tossing the Daleks (who didn’t do anything to deserve it) into a series of unlikely scenarios amused me vastly.

The rest of the game is an excuse to muse about books I love, or tropes in genre, or memories of reading around the table when I was growing up.

 

Q: Your art has been shortlisted for a Ditmar and won the Ditmar Award for: ‘Finishing School” in Steampunk!: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories’. Do you have a favourite amongst your covers or illustrations and if so, why?

Generally, the second-last one. The last one is a victim of temporary trauma-induced amnesia, the current one is just traumatic and I’ve learned so much in doing each cover that I get a little eye-twitch looking at some of the earlier ones! My favourite parts of covers are usually anything new I was allowed to get away with, and the back.

Among the covers, my current favourite is probably the cover for Subterranean Press’ 10th anniversary edition of Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen. I was very excited to be asked to draw it because I’m a big fan of Kelly’s writing (although I tend to write very fragmented stories after I’ve been reading hers – the structure of “Kindling” in Light Touch Paper Stand Clearwas a victim of speed-reading Stranger Things Happen for this cover), and then to be allowed to get away with a two-tone, wallpaper/toile effect that I’d been wanting to try! Also, there’s a lightness to the linework which I’m always working to achieve in finished work instead of just in sketches, and I’m still fond of the peacocks on the back cover. And I love the typography (which isn’t my doing!). It’s very gratifying to have good typography put with your art – I have a theory that good typography can save bad art, but good art can’t necessarily lift bad typography.

I’m still recovering from the trauma of Midnight and Moonshine, but I am very happy with how (under duress!) it developed the style which Small Beer Press and Sofia Samatar made me discover for A Stranger in Olondria. I learned a lot doing the cover for Olondria, and still view it through a filter of “if I were to do it again I’d…”, but there are parts of it of which I am excessively fond – certain squiggles of colour, the light through a window, the subject matter.

 

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy (in books) is a bit of a boy’s club. I’ve come across quite a bit of talk on the blogs recently about female comic artists and writers, and their lack of representation in large companies like DC (where the money is). Have you come across this in your professional life?

I haven’t directly. However, professionally I’ve been raised by writers, which in terms of my illustrations is basically like being raised by wolves. Also, although I’m very aware of the tensions in the comics worlds, I came into comics through short story anthologies so haven’t strayed into that scene. A lot of the women whose work I like are in the illustrative/graphic scene and there appears to be a lot of support and collaboration without regard to gender, so perhaps it is less gendered there? Also, with the fantasy side of illustration the delicate, elegant, beautiful and decorative is highly prized. You’d think something described with those words could easily be segregated into “women’s work” but isn’t at all (think Charles Vess!) and that’s wonderful. And even the sentimental end of that spectrum has a lot of men working in it so there doesn’t seem to be that danger of being “women’s art”. But again, I’m working mostly from printed evidence. I’ll be able to report further once I know more about that community.

 

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer/artist change your expectations when you approach their work?

I’m aware that I have held some of the prejudices I referred to in the answer above! I suspect these are hold-overs from some experiences in the writing scene. So I’m usually trying to hold these at bay, not get exasperated by sentimentality or chain mail bikinis as a knee-jerk reaction, or be thrilled at discovering a harder edge in a picture drawn by a woman, or sensible clothing in pictures drawn by a man. I draw sentimental pictures! I have drawn chain mail bikinis! And my favourite things – beauty anchored by fleshy reality or a low rumble of tension, ugliness liberated by common sense or incredible observation – appear in my favourite pictures by my favourite artists, and are usually fairly evenly gender-distributed.

 

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

 I don’t think about this much! My father discouraged my sister and I from saying “I wish”, because it meant we weren’t happy with the way things were. And if we said we weren’t happy, well then obviously something should be done about that. Which led to some interesting home alterations. However! although I’m fascinated by much of the past, it’s usually the inconvenient parts, and I’m a big fan of modern medicine, amenities and so forth (I get this from my mother, who refused to go camping as it was primitive enough at the house).

So where would I go? I think I already mentioned Midnight in Paris? But oh! I don’t know. Probably not the future (which is odd, because I always like to be very well prepared for upcoming adventures). So – yes – probably that threshold age of the 1920s, when the world was just becoming recognisably ours, and was damaged and new and leggy, hopeless, hopeful, decadent, rebuilding, pragmatic but still with an eye for beauty, taking to the skies. As for where – England for Sayers, or Melbourne for Lindsays, or anywhere with an active literary/artistic community.

Or else just an evening (last weekend, or the last convention, or home, or some recent café) full of conversation and pen-and-paper games, songs, plotting, coffee, cupcakes, genre snark, story-telling, cider, word origins and drawing on serviettes.

 

Give-away Question: How should words and pictures work together?

 

Give-away: A little ink drawing of a famous quote with a word replaced by “duck” (artist retains right of veto/negotiation on quote, because I don’t have time to draw 14 ducks again – you don’t realise how many ducks that is until you have to draw them, but it is a lot of ducks).

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Follow Kathleen on Twitter: @tanaudel

See Kathleen’s Blog

See Kathleen’s sketchbooks

 

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Comics/Graphic Novels, creativity, Fandom, Fun Stuff, Gender Issues, Inspiring Art

Meet Queenie Chan…

I’m expanding my series featuring fantastic authors to include fantastically creative people across the different mediums, which is why I’ve invited the talented Queenie Chan to drop by.

There are links to give-aways sprinkled throughout the interview.  

Q: In the Eighties I lived in Melbourne and knew a bunch of comic artists. One of the things I noticed was that they would be obsessed with art work, the look, the over-all layout of the page, but story would fall by the wayside. On your website you say: ‘After all, the essence of manga is not so much the art, but the story-telling, themes and pacing. These three are what you should concentrate on when trying to tell a story — any story, not just manga.’ Have you always been fascinated by story? Did your parents read to you? When you saw a movie, did you imagine what happened to the characters afterwards?

Oh, that sounds real interesting! You sound like you met a lot of interesting people when you lived in Melbourne (I must say, I did too when I lived there for a year). Anyway, you’re right about the many different camps of people who read graphic novels – some are all about the art, others are all about the story, while yet more believe in a combination of both. Personally, I’ve always felt that story is more important than art – a story can’t be expressed properly if the art is inadequate, but I also have seen a lot of well-drawn manga/comics that are dull and boring despite beautiful, realistic renderings. I still feel that to work in any storytelling medium (which comics is), your first duty is to engage the reader’s attention in whatever the purpose of the medium is for, so if it’s comics, it should be story.

So yes, I’ve always been more fascinated by story, and as you said, I like to imagine the continuation of stories after they’ve “officially” finished. My parents encouraged me to read as a child, but they never read to me much (neither read fiction, to be honest), and so I got my fix from a variety of different sources – books, movies, TV series, cartoons, manga and video games. Even as a child, I was always writing fan-fiction in my head based on my favourite TV shows.

Q: You say you plot the story, concentrating on the beginning and end and often let the middle take care of itself. And that: ‘In longer stories … there is time to set the characters free in the world you’ve created, and watching them interact with each other and with the environment. If your characters are well-constructed, then they would behave accordingly, and sometimes in ways completely unexpected to you.’ At this stage are you still brainstorming the story flow in a sentence or two, or do you actually start to draw and find the characters doing unexpected things?

Since I’m a comic book writer/artist, the way I work is quite different to prose authors. I’m not saying I’m representative of comic book writers or artists in general, but most people who work in the comic medium are often constrained by the number of pages available. So in my case, the first thing I do when brainstorming is to figure out how many pages a story can be, because if a story becomes too long, it may be impossible to draw (since it will be impossible to finish).

With prose, you can always add paragraphs or sentences and rewrite things if you want, but unfortunately with comics, once you’ve set something down on paper, it can be very hard to change. You can’t add an extra two panels to page 26 of your page 170 book (so far) if you want to – it will mess up the panel flows for the rest of the book. Because of this, my brainstorming usually involves writing down what happens on page 1, then what happens on page 2, and continuing by making a page-by-page summary of what happens on each page.

This part isn’t hard, but sticking to it isn’t always easy. Things always change when you go from prose to images, so you have to accommodate having to insert extra pages in when you start drawing the comic. Other times you’ll have to shorten scenes or extend them, so these days, I always make sure I have a good “feel” of the story in my head before I draw anything. As I said, the longer your story, the more freedom you have in letting your characters have their character moments. You may find a scene play out different as you draw it than you originally imagined, but the overall arc of the story shouldn’t deviate from the plan too much.

Q: You say you consider yourself:  ‘… a Citizen of The World.’ You were born in Hong Kong and came to Australia when you were six. Did you live in a multicultural suburb where you mixed with people from a lot of different backgrounds or was this interest in other societies just something that you uncovered as you came across books and movies from other cultures?

I grew up in a very multi-cultural suburb alright – I went to school with all sorts of interesting people and it was always lovely to learn about other cultures! I was always very interested in travelling, and not necessarily to other Anglophone cultures. As a child, I wanted to go to Africa, to the Middle East and to India, because I thought of these places as exotic, and with a long history.

I think being a history buff helps a lot too. I read a fair amount about Ancient History, and it’s always been a kind of dream for me to visit those historic places that I’ve read so much about.

Q: You say: ‘The reason why I’m so interested in interlocking story threads has a lot to do with my interest in human nature, sociology and anthropology. One of the things I find infinitely fascinating about genre-based story-telling in general is the environment the story is set in, and how that influences the character’s morals, values and actions.’ This is where I come from when writing my own books. I like to put my characters in situations that make them confront what they believe. You’ve made me want to run out and buy some of your books now. Was there a particular writer/movie director/artist whose mastery of character and setting made you think, Wow, that is what I’d like to do, but in my own way?

Ah, nice to know we share that point-of-view in common! I think fantasy can get a bad rep amongst some circles, because people tend to think they know what fantasy is without having read any of it (D&D, girls in metal bikinis swinging swords at orcs). The truth is, fantasy is just anything that isn’t set in this world, but set in a different world; a world which has social conventions similar to our own. What better way is there to explore human nature, without all the political, racial, cultural and historical baggage that each one of us accumulates in this world, just by virtue of living in it? As you said, putting your characters in situations that make them confront their beliefs is what people in this world do every day, just as they do in the worlds you create in your novels.

As for people who have inspired me… there’s been far too many to list. I can point out one man in particular who set me on my path – Tezuka Osamu, the creator of Astro Boy. He was a thoroughly-entertaining manga artist, but also a great humanist, and I encountered his series Black Jack at a particular time in my life (I was 15) which left a deep impression on me. Black Jack is about a rogue doctor who charges exorbitant fees for his services, but he’s also a very good doctor who understands that some people have illnesses that have nothing to do with the physical. The ethical questions that crop up in that manga is quite interesting.

Q: From reading the blurb about The Dreaming it seems to have the feel of the movie Picnic at Hanging Rock, which had a lyrical dreamlike quality about it, and to also be a modern take on the Gothic Romance Literature. Are these two sources which might have influenced you subconsciously as you were creating this story?

Picnic at Hanging Rock was definitely the biggest inspiration for The Dreaming, and you’re right about the gothic literature influences. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier was the other big influence, as were movies like Rosemary’s Baby. The visual aspect was quite important for me (namely the way the school looked), but I think I wanted to create a more modern, “haunted-school” take on the whole Picnic at Hanging Rock mythos, so the story ended up bearing hardly any resemblance to any of these three books/movies. Which is a good thing. Even if you can name all your influences, it’s a pleasure to know that what you created is unique in its own way.

By the way, I have the first 2 volumes (of 3) of The Dreaming online as a free webcomic.

Q: Your chapter dividers in The Dreaming remind me a little of the black & white work of Arthur Rackham and perhaps Art Nouveau (Mucha). Do you have heaps of books on art?

Actually, I don’t have many artbooks, especially compared to other comic book artists. I’m not really big on art at all. As I mentioned before, I’m more interested in story-telling than I am in art, so people are often aghast when it turns out that I haven’t heard of [insert name of famous illustrator here]. It’s assumed that all people who draw must be big fans of the art world, but unfortunately… I’m not.

I really do like Mucha’s art style, though it wasn’t something I’ve discovered until recently. And while I love what I’ve seen of Arthur Rackham’s artwork (google images, yay!), I actually think that the chapter divider art for “The Dreaming” looks more like some of Gustav Klimt’s line artwork (that I randomly saw in a book somewhere). I must say that I wasn’t influenced by any particular artist when I drew those chapter dividers – Klimt’s work was something I encountered afterwards.

Q: With the Odd Thomas Series (stories originally by Dean Koontz), did Koontz see your work and ask you to illustrate his stories, or were the pair of you matched up by his/your publisher? (Reading your blog post about it, I see it was a little bit of both). So I’ll come up with another question. How is the movie project going?

I believe we were matched up by our publisher Del Rey, though ofcourse, Dean has to like my work to begin with. I’m not sure what work he has seen of mine before we started working together, but we’ve had a good working relationship thus far, and it would be an honour if we did more books together. As of now, there’s three Odd Thomas books (In Odd We Trust, Odd Is On Our Side, and House of Odd), and I’m happy with how things are.

I believe the movie for Odd Thomas has been completed, and is looking for distribution. I don’t really know much about it, I’m afraid, since this is a project that is driven mostly by Dean. When it comes out, I’m sure all the Odd Thomas fans will run out to see it!

Q: A while ago at Supanova Kylie Chan pulled out some of your artwork and showed me. She’s so proud of the work you’re doing on Small Shen. Were you already one of Kylie’s readers? How did the two of you connect?

(Update Small Shen isi finished!)

Kylie approached me at GenCon a few years ago, and introduced herself and her novels. I didn’t really know of her or her work beforehand, but it was rare to see Chinese Fantasy be so successful, so I took an interest in her work. When I contacted Kylie, it turns out that she had a prequel to her series called Small Shen, and wanted to do something “graphic-novelly” with it. Since I relish the chance to draw some Chinese-style fantasy artwork, I decided to take on the project. That was how it all got off the ground!

It’s been fun working on this project, and I’m nearing the end. This has been a special book, because this is a book that mixes prose with comics, and is not a straight-forward graphic novel. It’s experimental, but so far it’s working out quite well, so I look forward to it coming out in Xmas 2012 from Harper Collins.

Here’s an interview Oz Comic Con did with Queenie about her Small Shen project with fantasy author, Kylie Chan (no relation), among other things.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=x7qNQ2ryrds]

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy (in books) is a bit of a boy’s club. I’ve come across quite a bit of talk on the blogs recently about female comic artists and writers, and their lack of representation in large companies like DC. Have you come across this in your professional life?

I think this perception exists throughout a lot of pop culture. Even when talking about books, there’s a perception that sci-fi, horror, crime, thriller, literary, etc are all male-dominated. The only thing that is seen as exclusively female is probably chic-lit or romance – but even then, these books are packaged in such a female-oriented way that any chance of them appealing to a male audience is pretty much dead due to the deluge of pink covers. Meanwhile, there are a large number of successful female authors working across the genres, and there always has been.

Things are pretty much the same in the comics industry. While it’s true that companies like DC and Marvel dominate (and they are largely male-oriented), there are many female comic book artists out there who don’t work in superheroes, and are just doing their own thing. I’m one of them.

It’s true that there are a lot of assumptions being made by people outside the industry, though, and even inside the industry. Many comics industry blogs tend to cover only superheroes, and hardly any other kind of comic. If you’re going to focus on one small part of the comics industry, then yes, you’re going to get a skewed perception of gender.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer/artist change your expectations when you approach their work?

No, it doesn’t. I think a good writer is a good writer, and I don’t think the gender of the writer has any effect on the final work. Male and female writers may be interested in different things, or approach things from other angles, but a good story told well is exactly that, and all that’s left is accounting for differing tastes.

I think things are a little different for artists though. If you’re talking about artists who are paired up with writers, then it rests on the skill of the artist to tell the writer’s story effectively, and sometimes they don’t do that. However, that’s got nothing to do with gender though – it’s more to do with what genre that artist is used to working in. If an artist is flexible, they ought to know how to adapt themselves to different genres. If they don’t, and they believe that one-art-style-fits-all… then it can get a little awkward.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

Ah, that’s a hard question. My answer can change each time someone asks me that question, depending on what I’m into at that particular point in time. Previously I said just after the meteor that destroyed the dinosaurs hit, so I can see the terrible global destruction that it must have caused (but I would probably die very quickly from it). But as of now, I may just take the easy route and travel to Ancient Egypt to watch them build the Pyramids and raise the Obelisk. I have a theory as to how they raised the Obelisk, and am wondering whether it checks out with history.


Queenie’s Blog.

Catch up with Queenie on Facebook 

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Comics/Graphic Novels, Conferences and Conventions, Conventions, creativity, Gender Issues, Genre, Publishing Industry, Story Arc, Tips for Developing Artists, Writers Working Across Mediums

Meet Rob Kaay…

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented Rob Kaay to drop by.

Look out for the give-away at the end of the post.

Q: You’ve worked as a professional musician. (Rob was signed with Columbia records in his twenties and was based in New York and Melbourne. He had an epiphany when he turned thirty, returned to Perth and started working on Silverbirch his dark urban fantasy novel). Rather than approach a traditional publisher, you went straight to self publishing. I know many traditionally published writers are re-releasing their backlists by self publishing. What was your reasoning behind taking the self publishing route?

A: As soon as I finished my first draft of Silverbirch, I sent out twenty query letters, with the first three chapters attached, to some of the biggest publishing companies and agents in the world.  I aimed high.  One of the bigger firms got back to me with an interest to see more of the novel once I had completed the second draft.  It gave me great motivation to work on the book some more.  The only problem was, once I completed the second draft, I could see the possibility of the company liking the book and maybe picking it up.  A scenario flashed before my eyes that resembled what had happened to my band in the music industry, our music being picked up by a major label.  A system controlling how, when and why my work was released.  That whole situation; where a massive corporation was in total control of my artistic expression, left a sour taste in my mouth and caused me to want to work solo from that point forward.  I was reluctant to hop on that merry-go-round again, so I didn’t bother sending the second draft.  I released Silverbirch; A Tear in the Fabric of the Night Sky myself and plan on doing that with all my music and books in the future.

With the upcoming sequel, Silverbirch; Fall of the Epicenter, I am currently editing the third draft and have no plans on showing publishers or agents.  I don’t care how many copies I sell, I have written the sequel exclusively for those people who have found and enjoyed the first book.

Q: While you were on the road touring your wrote two journals about this experience. (See here). About one of them you say ‘this is what it’s really like being in a band’. Are these journals the sort of thing you don’t want your mother to read?

Actually, they’re both about what it’s really like being in a band.  I didn’t write the journals about one specific band though.  I created characters based on a number of different people in a number of bands I’ve been in and/or supported.  The character of Robkaay however is heavily based around myself.

I deliberately wrote the books in a journal type format to give kids who are thinking of dedicating their life to being in a touring rock band an up close and personal spectrum of exactly what is involved.  From what it’s really like to take drugs, sleep with groupies and be drunk for weeks on end.  In reality, it’s a lot different than how cool it sounds.  There are dark moments when my character talks from inside a depression and can’t believe he has sacrificed a beautiful relationship for the sake of a small piece of delusional unattainable fame.

As for the second part of your question . . . normally, if you’re in a rock band and you write about what it’s really like, you don’t want your mother to read it.  However, in my case, my mum was the editor!  Every few chapters she would ring me and ask, “Is this a character you are writing or did this really happen?!”

Q: From doing these author interviews I know that about 75% of writers are aural – they play music while they write, some even go so far as to make up lay lists of certain types of music to get them into the zone for a particular book. (The other 25% are visual and make up folders of photos). As a musician you have a soundtrack that goes with Silverbirch (available here). Is this because the music and the story are so intertwined that you can’t imagine producing one without producing the other?

While writing Silverbirch, sometimes I listen to my own instrumental music, but mostly I listen to other bands.  I listen to lots of Trent Reznor’s instrumental stuff like Ghosts I-IV, the Fight Club soundtrack, Moby’s free instrumental music, instrumental Crosses . . . anything really, as long as it’s cool and dark . . . just as long as there are no vocals.  Vocals distract me. (Rob is giving away a free EP to accompany Silverbirch).

Q: Regarding your premise for Silverbirch you said: ‘I’ve always been interested in what causes people to do crazy things when they’re not in control of themselves, like when they’re drunk, on drugs, angry or sleep deprived. Obviously in a touring rock band, I saw a lot of people doing crazy things they couldn’t remember, so I decided to create a race of people called Silvers who were influencing our decisions. That’s pretty much how Silverbirch; A Tear in the Fabric of the Night Sky was born.’ Did you research psychology to help you with the building of the Silvers’ society?

Nope.  I’m just writing fantastical ideas as I see them in my mind.

Q: You are working on a sequel to Silverbirch. ‘I specifically went travelling last year to the Lake District and London in England and Jordan in the Middle-East and Egypt and visited the Mayan Ruins in Mexico to write the sequel. I learned as much as I could about what the Egyptians and Mayans believed and wrote most of the next Silverbirch on the road.’ What do you look for when you travel like this? Are you going to specific places to set story elements, or are you looking for the feel of the place?

With Egypt, Jordan and Mexico, I wanted to learn more about ancient civilizations and marvel at what they accomplished and wonder at how.  Some of the things these ancient civilizations knew and could build between 3000 and 6000 years ago blows your mind.  Especially when you’re there, seeing how they made everything happen without mechanical engineering or steel.  How the hell did they pile 4-tonne slabs of stone on top of each other to form the Pyramids of Giza, fifty stories high, without steel cranes?  It’s still a mystery.  Also, what happened to the ancient Egyptians as a race of people and what is the true meaning behind their hieroglyphics?

When I travel to places with as much history as this, I like to immerse myself in the environment and allow my imagination to ask me all sorts of questions that most people would deem as weird.  It helps to unlock story ideas and pathways in my wild imagination.

With other places, like London and Grasmere in England . . . I talked my girlfriend into specifically visiting London because I wanted to write about Nudge storming the BBC Studios.  With Grasmere, I heard they had an abundance of silver birch trees.  The BBC Studios and the town of Grasmere have become key locations in the next book.  I find that I can’t write about a place properly and make it believable unless I’ve physically been there.

Q: The art for Silverbirch is particularly nice. Are you also an artist, or did you hire a freelancer to produce this artwork?

I know, I like to do everything I on my own!  But no, I am super crap at drawing.  If you asked me to draw you a stick figure of a man with shoes on, I’m sure it would come off looking more like a twisted tree with roots sunk in two ugly pots.

Ken Taylor from Melbourne illustrated the ‘young Nudge holding the mushroom‘ graphic for A Tear in the Fabric of the Night Sky.  Dan Mumford from London illustrated the ‘female reptilian from Venus‘ graphic for the upcoming novel, Fall of the Epicenter.

Q: With your background in music, do you plan to do more cross-platform releases or ‘enhanced’ e-books in future?

As a musician and author, I am seriously looking to explore greater ways to tell a story in the future.  For now, other than releasing my stories in written form, I am also creating podcasts, writing most of the music myself.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

 I don’t think there is a difference just because a male or female writer has written something.  I think the difference comes from how different we all are as general Humans in the way we see the world.  How different we are all individually brought up in various environments with vast belief systems.  Everyone has something to say, regardless of gender.  If it’s interesting enough, lots of people will want to read the writing.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Not at all.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

First up I would dial in the year 3000 B.C. to Egypt.  I want to see how they built the pyramids!  Second, I would dial in 3000.  I want to see how technology advances in the future.  I want to know what will become of the people of Earth and whether Humans are still the dominant species!

Giveaway Question: If you could go back stage and mingle with any band in the last 60 years, which band would it be and why?

(Rob is offering a paperback edition of Silverbirch; A Tear in the Fabric of the Night Sky and two signed limited edition bookmarks and stickers to a randomly selected winner!)

Catch up with Rob on Shelfari

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Follow Rob on Twitter @robkaay

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Gold Coast Literati Event

If you live in South East Queensland and you love books and writing, the Gold Coast Literati Event will be held the weekend of the 24, 25th of May, 2012.

For more information see here.

Who is is for? Readers of all genres (spec Fic and mystery among them).

Who will be there? Myself, Marianne de Pierres, Trent Jamieson, Louise Cusack, Kylie Chan, Queenie Chan and many more.

What will be happening? Workshops, panels, talks and general celebration of books and writing!

So rock up, have some fun and say Hi!

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Winner Tom Taylor ‘The Deep’ Give-away!

Tom says:

So many good answers! I love Mexican thumb wrestler El Thumbo and ‘buying different gloves’ was absolutely perfect. However, it’s impossible to ignore the effort of Ray. More comments should involve poetry.
So, Ray, a signed copy of The Deep will be swimming your way!
Thanks for reading, everyone. And thanks for having me, Rowena.

Ray, if you email I’ll pass your details along to Tom.

rowena(at)corydaniells.(dot)com

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Meet James Maxey…

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented James Maxey to drop by. (Further disclaimer, James and I are both published by Solaris).

Look out for the give-away at the end of the post.

Q: Your series is called Dragon Age and the books are called Bitterwood, Dragonseed and Dragonforce. Your new series is called Dragon Apocalypse and the first book is GreatShadow- who is a ‘primal dragon of fire, an elemental evil whose malign intelligence spies upon mankind through every candle flame, waiting to devour any careless victim he can claim’. Can we take it from this that you really like dragons? 

The first thing you should know is that dragons are constantly stalking me in my bedroom. (See the photos of the shadow dragons I’ve attached. I swear these are not photoshopped.) Since they have yet to devour me, I assume they’re instead whispering subliminal messages in my ears filling me with urges to write about them.

As an author, I’m fascinated with dragons for their mythic impact. I think humans are hardwired to be on the lookout for dragons. If you think about it, we evolved from small monkey-like creatures who had strong evolutionary pressure to watch out for big snakes, big cats, and big birds. Blend these animals together, and you get a dragon. Dragons provide a path into the deep and primal instincts of readers. The small mammals inside us feel compelled to keep their eyes fixed on these ultra-predators.

Q: In an interview on Shimmer you said:  ‘My books feature dragons as the oppressive rulers of humanity, and Burke is a rebel who hates dragons.  Anza is his only child, and, while he might have wanted a son, he’s decided to turn his daughter into a dragon-killing machine.  After I decided that Anza had been trained since she could walk to be a fighter, I wrote a battle scene where she kills someone in complete silence.  It was then that the character revealed to me that she never talked; she’d been mute since birth.  I had to go back and rewrite all the scenes where she spoke, which was a pain, but completely worth the effort.  With a lot of my best characters, I don’t so much design them as discover them.’ From this I take it you are not a plotter so much as a pantser? (Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. ie. they let the story take them where it and the characters want to go).

I normally go into a book with some sort of broad outline, but outlining only helps me think about the big plot points and the most obvious character motivations. So, in Greatshadow, when I’m thinking on the outline level, Infidel’s motivation for wanting to slay the dragon Greatshadow is so that she can steal his treasure and have enough wealth to retire from her life as a mercenary and live the rest of her days in peace. That sort of straight-forward, big picture motivation is all I need to start writing. But, if I only wrote down the big picture stuff, I’d have a book about 20 pages long. So, I’ve got to fill in each scene with detail and dialogue, and the more the characters talk, the more they evolve, and I’m able to start drilling down deeper and deeper into what really, really motivates them. To the degree that I’m a pantser, it’s because I’m willing to toss out my outlined plot points and let the characters go where they want to go as my knowledge of them increases. Sometimes I wind up back exactly where the plot required them to be (for instance, Infidel still has a climatic scene where it all comes down to her facing off against the dragon). But, other times, my plot does a 180 turn as the character rejects my master plans and tells me what they really want to do, and I wing it and charge blindly into terra incognita.

Q: Do you think that writers are in a unique position to explore and process the major experiences of their life through their writing?

Hmm. I don’t know about unique. Certainly an actor or musician or artist would have similar opportunities to channel their emotion into their chosen careers. But, an accountant or a mall security guard… maybe not so much.

I process a lot of pain through my writing. Greatshadow is dedicated to my best friend Greg Hungerford, who passed away two years ago. The novel is narrated by a ghost named Stagger, who is sort of a wastrel poet intellectual who looks back on his too-short life with a mix of fondness, cynicism, and black humor. Anyone who knew Greg will probably recognize a bit of him in Stagger. But, my writing isn’t informed only by loss. Greatshadow is also a love story; Stagger is secretly in love with his best friend, a butt-kicking female mercenary named Infidel. They spend almost all their time together, but Stagger is so addicted to her friendship he’s terrified of telling her of his romantic feelings, worried he’ll drive her away. As I was writing this, I happened to have a female friend who I spent a great deal of time with. Her name was Cheryl, and we liked to get together and go for hikes, but early on we’d decided that we weren’t dating and were just friends. This opened up a whole new level of conversation between us, as I wasn’t trying to impress her, so I was a bit less guarded. The more time I spent with her, the more I realized she was perfect for me, only now I was stuck. I enjoyed spending time with her so much that I was terrified that if I told her I loved her, she’d skedaddle. So, we were “just friends” for about three years. As I was writing Greatshadow with its “friends in love” plot, I kept thinking, “What if Cheryl reads this and thinks it’s about her?” Which eventually forced me to ask, “Is this about her?” Suddenly the book sounded very much like a secret message to tell myself that I really needed to man up and tell her how I felt. I did , learned she felt the same way, and we were married on 11-11-11.

Q: On a completely different note your book Nobody Gets the Girl is a superhero story. This looks like a heap of fun. Were you the sort of little boy who crept away to read comic books in a cubbyhouse?

What do you mean, little boy? I still sneak away to read comic books. I’m a hard core superhero junkie. I’ve followed up Nobody with a novel from the villain’s perspective called Burn Baby Burn. And, the not so secret secret about Greatshadow is that it’s a superhero novel as well. All the main characters have superpowers. Infidel is super strong and invulnerable, Lord Tower flies and wears indestructible armor made of prayer, the Truthspeaker can edit reality with his words, and Menagerie can shapeshift into any of the animals that are shown in his head-to-toe tattoos. The book is kind of X-men meets Tolkien, supermen verus dragons. It’s an unapologetic orgy of geekiness.

 Q: You seem to be very keen on music (See Favourite Albums I discovered in 2011). Are you also a musician?

I wish! Alas, somehow my fingers are capable of banging out a hundred words a minute on a QWERTY keyboard, yet completely unable to master five strings on a guitar. My voice has a vocal range of three notes, which only takes me so far when I’m singing. But, my tastes in music are strongly related to my literary urges. I’m drawn toward singer songwriters who confess all, like the Mountain Goats, and to dazzling, daring lyrical juggling acts like the Decemberists. Melody is important, but for good lyrics I’ll devour any musical style or genre.

Q: I notice you have several books up on Smashwords. Are you experimenting with self publishing? What have you learned from this?

With the exception of Burn Baby Burn, all my e-books are traditionally published books where I’d either never sold the e-rights or else they’d reverted back to me. Self-publishing e-books is a headache. All the major e-book outlets have completely different format requirement for listing your work, and you don’t really appreciate such subtle elements of cover art as the font choice until you’ve had to design your own covers.

However, the rewards are definitely worth it. Amazon has completely upended the whole career path for authors by offering 70% royalties on self-published e-books paid monthly. I’ve published four novels through traditional publishers, with three more under contract, and for the most part these have earned me more money than e-books… so far. But, traditional publishing usually only brings you two paychecks a year, and you’re in the dark on sales all the time. When you self publish an ebook, you get most sales data in real time. I not only know how many books I’ve sold this month, I can tell you how many I’ve sold this hour. I know when and how much I’ll get paid for each book sold, and usually get paid about a week early. It’s pretty amazing, and I think that any author with a back catalogue of existing books is foolish if they don’t self-publish it.

The big question is whether or not it makes sense to pursue self-publishing and ignore the more traditional path. Right now, I’m not quite willing to make that leap. I still get a thrill out of walking into a bookstore and seeing my books on the shelf. And, while ebook royalties are wonderful, the reality is that ebooks reach a smaller pool of readers right now than traditional books. So, if you want to be read widely and get broad bookstore distribution, selling your work to a traditional publisher is currently the best path to that end. But, this is changing rapidly. Getting your books into bookstores might not be as valuable ten years from now, since there might not be very many bookstores left. Readers who insist on paper books will probably persist for decades, but they will increasingly become like audiophiles who insist on only listening to music on LPs when everyone around them is streaming songs through their phones.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

I assume you are talking about epic fantasy? Because I would argue that the fantasy shelves of most bookstores are dominated by female writers, mostly writing urban fantasy. At most conventions I go to, the mix of male to female writers seems to be pretty well balanced. As for a difference in the writing, I don’t think I can point to any difference in male and female writing that isn’t completely masked by the variations between individual authors. I don’t think an average reader could read one of Gail Z. Martin’s novels and one of my books and come away thinking they were written by the same writer. But, the same is true of me and any male fantasy author as well.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Not really. I suppose that there might be certain sub-genres where I might make an assumption on the likely gender of the writer; i.e., if I was told a book was military science fiction, I might assume the writer was male, and if I was told the book was a bodice-ripper romance, I might guess that the writer was female. But, for the most part, the gender of the author is just not a factor at all when I’m deciding what book to read next.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

How is this fun? If genuinely presented with this choice, it would torment me. Should I spend time with loved ones I’ve lost? Should I go back to my younger self and offer advice on what stocks to buy? Could I settle some big question once and for all, like whether Shakespeare wrote his own plays or if there really was a historical Jesus? Should I go to the Library in Alexandria before it burns and scoop us as many scrolls as humanly possible? What did dinosaurs really look like? What was Gobekli Tepe really used for? Could I come back with a dodo? A Tasmanian tiger? A snap shot of Cleopatra? Could I find out where the %#@$! Genghis Khan was buried?

I would forever be haunted by the ghosts of the choices I didn’t make.

Take this burden away from me. I do not have the strength to bear it.

Giveaway Question: 

Which superpower would you rather have: Flight, invisibility, mind-reading, or regeneration? And, as a follow up, which of these powers do you think science is likely to bring to you via a wearable device in the next twenty years?

I’ll award a copy of Greatshadow to the most interesting answer.

 

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Meet Douglas Holgate…

I’m expanding my series featuring fantastic authors to include fantastically creative people across the different mediums, which is why I’ve invited the talented Douglas Holgate to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: We met at Supanova and hung out at the cocktail party. Do you get to many of the Supanovas? Is it fun to mix with other illustrators and talk shop?

Doug with Skye, one of the Amazing Supanova Team

I’ve been to Supanova on the east coast fairly consistently over the last 3 or 4 years. I’ve yet to make the trek to Perth but I’m keen (and not just because I’ve never been to Perth).

Absolutely one of the best parts of the shows is mixing with peers, it’s always great to catch up, especially with people out of state and while the internet keeps us all up to date on what we’re up to it’s not a substitute for a drink and chat. I’ve found of late though I actually really like meeting and talking shop with people NOT doing what I’m doing…but working in similar creative fields. I had a ball talking to all the writers just recently at the Brisbane show (where we met), and came away with different perspectives, work ethics and ideas around publishing and the like.

Q: Back in the 80s when I was working as an illustrator in Melbourne we used to have to make appointments with the art directors of publishing houses, lug our folios in and be interviewed in hope that they’d send us work. Now artists have pages on all sorts of sites, as well as their own blog sites, to promote their artwork. (eg. The Loop. Illustrators Australia). Do you still have to do the ‘meet and greet’ with art directors or is it all done over the internet now?

I was saying to someone the other week that I have no idea how I’d work if I didn’t have a scanner, a computer and email. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to navigate the creative process via the postal system. I do a lot of work for the US market so predominantly I work exclusively with them via the likes of email and sometimes skype. Local clients I do like to try and get a face to face with at some point. It’s nice to put a face and a voice to a name.

As for approaching clients for potential work, when I first started freelancing about 10 years ago it was still a phone call to the AD and physical hard copies of my folio sent to them if they were keen to see it. Now though…it’s pretty much all email and the internet. Which I think is good for ease of breaching that inner sanctum (It makes it less intimidating), and promotion wise you can have global reach instantly. But there is still something about even just talking to someone on the phone and a physical copy of your work in that person’s hands which can’t be replaced (Though I am a bit of a sucker for beautiful printed objects).

Q: You illustrated the Zack Proton (genuine intergalactic hero) books. Was this a chance to let your ‘inner kid’ loose? And how did you hook up with the writer, Brian Anderson, (I see he lives in Austen, Texas)?

I have such a soft spot for Zack proton. Not just a ridiculous, over the top, irreverent and just plain FUN series but also my first big time published work in the US.

All set up through my agent. The way it works is a publisher has a project, they approach my agent and ask if I’m free to work on the series and if I’d like to…and then I (always) say yes.

I then will back and forth with the publishers art director, receive a manuscript, any art direction they’re keen on, cover concepts, internal illustrations etc.

It’s very very rare that I’ll actually talk to the writer at all, especially during the process of putting the books together. This seems to be standard in the industry, which is a bit of a shame…but I can understand it from the publisher’s perspective, they want control of the books and don’t want creative decisions made without being in the loop.

I did however end up after the series was published getting in touch with Brian and we’ve stayed in touch every since, which is great!

Q: You worked on The Amazing Joy Buzzards from Image Comics, which is about an adventure rock-and-roll band. Look like lots of fun. When you work on a project like this how closely do you collaborate with the writer? Are there really tight deadlines?

I sort of already answered this one, but there are always exceptions to the rule. For original material I’m generating with writers to pitch, or self publish then absolutely it’s a complete collaboration.

Of course every writer is different and in some cases they’re happy to let me go away and work on the visual design of these things with minimal guidance. Others I’ve worked with have a strong vision and want to see it realised, from character design and aesthetic through to direction of what is happening specifically in a given scene. Writers like Alan Moore (whom I’ve not worked with) are notoriously specific about their art direction that in some cases almost becomes a novel in itself.

I do like a middle ground though. And there is nothing quite like brainstorming, back and forthing with someone and creating worlds and plots and characters from scratch.

For things like Joy Buzzards there was already an established universe that I was coming in to play around in. So the main characters and the like had pretty much already been fully realised. Which isn’t to say I didn’t have any creative input, it’s just a different challenge to say something original with someone else’s characters.

Q: And you worked on Super Chicken Nugget boy. When you were doing your Post Graduate Degree in Illustration at the University of Newcastle did you think you’d end up drawing animated chicken nuggets? LOL Do you have a personal project that you are madly working on in your spare time?

Haha! YES! Well…sort of. Maybe not chicken nuggets, but certainly I was aiming my sights on comics and material for kids and younger readers. There was a small group of us who were constantly getting in strife with the lecturers for pushing our project work in the comic book, cartooning direction. We were repeatedly told there was no future in it. Ironically I’m pretty sure we’re the only ones from our graduating class now working fulltime as artists and designers.

And I’ve got a list as long as eternity of personal projects. It’s one of the things that frustrates me some about what I do. IT TAKES SO LONG! If only I could snap my fingers, get that thing that’s gnawing at the back of my head DONE and then move onto the next thing. OH…and be paid a gazillion dollars for it…that would seriously not only make me happy but the world!

But yes. Right now I’ve got a couple of things in the works that I’m really excited about. The main one taking up all my time (When I get it) is an all ages graphic novel with a fantastic local Melbourne (though she’s been swanning about the streets of New York for the last 12 months) kids comic writer, Jen Breach.

Q: On Twitter we were talking about fantasy movies we loved like Mystery Men. “We struck down evil with the mighty sword of teamwork and the hammer of not bickering.” What were your biggest influences when you were growing up?

Oh, you mean the list of things that never seems to end? It’s funny, it’s only in the last couple of years since I’ve had a little boy that I’m rediscovering things that I used to love and adore as a kid…and I realise are a direct influence on what I’m doing right now. They’re obviously always in the back of your head, consciously or unconsciously, but tracking down vintage copies of Richard Scarry’s busy town series to introduce to him, looking at them and having this epiphany that he is a major influence is pretty wild. I spent some formative years in the UK and was obsessed with weekly kids comics magazines like Beano and Dennis The Menace. A lot of annuals like Eagle. Was a big fan of Roald Dahl and CS Lewis. And long form comics wise I was reading things like Asterix, Tintin and Lucky Luke a long time before I discovered American comics. Herge and Uderzo definitely are the two seminal influences though. Relatively strict realism of form with a cartoon sensibility inhabiting that world.

Q: If you could go back and give that starry-eyed kid advice, what would it be?

Get serious sooner. YOU’RE WASTING TIME!

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy (in books) is a bit of a boy’s club. I’ve come across quite a bit of talk on the blogs recently about female comic artists and writers, and their lack of representation in large companies like DC. Have you come across this in your professional life?

Not really no. I’d argue that illustration is actually a pretty even spread, in my experience anyway. There are as many female illustrators (if not more) whom I know and love working fulltime and being consistently published by major publishers. Also the majority of art directors I’ve worked with at the major US and Australian publishers have been women.

I’m a little torn on the issue of women in comics. On one hand I think that It’s pretty well established that there is indeed a boys club at the upper echelons of the likes of the major publishers, and obviously being a man I have no idea what that boys club mentality would be like to breach being a female creator. Not to mention the weird curtain wall of fandom thing you have to scale before even making your way to the keep.

But I also think that now is probably the best time in the history of comics for women. I can name you dozens who might not be published by the likes of DC or Marvel but they’re making original comics that are above and beyond in creativity, aesthetic, storytelling and vision than any run of the mill churned out monthly.

The push by established book publishers such as Random House and Scholastic into graphic novels, Independent comics publishers like IDW, First Second and Adhouse, the rise and rise of webcomics, artist sites like Deviant Art, Concept Art and the growing tendency for a lot of animators dipping their toes into comics making are all being driven by some incredible amazingly talented female cartoonists. I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.

This can’t help but change attitudes eventually at the dinosaurs. You know…if working on spiderman is something that you really want to do.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer/artist change your expectations when you approach their work?

No not at all. If it’s well written, drawn, crafted and published I’m all over it. You know…I read my first babysitters club a few years ago and LOVED it, all because it was adapted by one of my favourite cartoonists (Raina Telgemeier) into a brilliant graphic novel.

There are as many male creators I like and don’t like as female. And none of that is based on gender it’s just about the work they create.

I don’t go into a movie or a novel thinking “oh it’s directed or written by a woman therefore it’s going to be formula X.”

Certainly there are directors and writers and creators who work in specific genres so you’re going to consume that material based on that. But that has little to do with gender and more to do with the genre’s I appreciate.

I think if a creator is specifically broaching topics of gender or social acceptance or struggle and it’s a key part of their approach or the material they’re producing then absolutely you view that work with that in mind. And that’s probably why you’re reading or watching it in the first place.

At the end of the day it should be about creating the best material you can, and letting your story speak for itself regardless of gender.

The best work always will.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

Rowena, this isn’t the fun question, this is the HARD question! I’m a pretty mad history buff…can I go EVERYWHERE?!

God…just one?

I love pre history…but I’m not sure I’d want to get eaten by a giant mosquito (It’s not the dino’s you’ve got to watch out for).

Adore American history…from Revolution, The Westward push to Civil war to Cold War and modern politics.

I’m doing a lot of reading and playing around with  Gallo/Romano Britain at the moment for a project. So I’m a little obsessed with that. And Roman history in particular…so maybe Ancient Rome?

Do I really want to gad about in tartan and blue body paint screaming murder at Roman legionaries in their incredibly well drilled formations? Yes…probably. So I think I’ll go there. But only if I can use the time machine again to scoot to medieval England for lunch, then shoot to Aztec south America for a couple of days and then over to Ancient China for tea and then take a break on a circumnavigation of the globe with Magellan, back in time for dinner with Caravaggio.

(And then wake up in WWII occupied France.)

To win a copy of Zinc Alloy and Super Chicken Nugget Boy here’s the give-away Question:

 What was your favourite comic book character when you were growing up?

 

Follow Doug on Twitter: @douglasbot

See Doug’s Blog

My folio is here – http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/sets/72157627375431276/with/3265305994/

But some of my favourite (read, newer) images are at these links -

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/5830416545/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/6304341159/in/photostream

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/5239949004/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/5308333564/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/4673721219/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/4884587173/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/2208125088/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/3265305994/in/set-72157627375431276

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Children's Books, Collaboration, Comics/Graphic Novels, Conferences and Conventions, Conventions, creativity, Fantasy books, Fun Stuff, Gender Issues, Genre, Inspiring Art, Movies & TV Shows, Tips for Developing Artists

Meet Tom Taylor …

I’m expanding my series featuring fantastic authors to include fantastically creative people across the different mediums, which is why I’ve invited the talented Tom Taylor to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

I usually put a photo right here, but I couldn’t resist this:

Artist Harrison Chua draws comicbook writer Tom Taylor

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCDGPRKdn8A]

Q: Not only do you write for comics, but you’re also an ‘award-winning playwright who has written for radio, musicals, film, magazines, satirical news and sketch comedy. (For a full list of Tom’s works see here). Tell me, did you sit there doodling in your school books while daydreaming about what you’d do one day? Did your teachers encourage you, or tell you no-one ever makes any money from writing? Did you ever dream you’d see your work performed in the Sydney Opera House?

Yes, I absolutely spent all of high school doodling in books, especially in Geography, where I just drew and drew… in-between sleeping. My geography teacher wasn’t very engaging. He’d probably have far less-kind things to say about me.
Outside of the arts, the education system was never really my friend. I did have a few teachers who encouraged me, and one in particular who used to let me leave class and do creative writing up a tree.

No, I can’t say I ever thought my work would be on at the Sydney Opera House or at the Edinburgh Festival. However, being involved in theatre from the age of 12, and in a singing group before that, I probably thought I’d have a better chance of having something on at the Opera House than to be writing in a galaxy far, far away.

Q: I’ve interviewed authors who write books for Star Wars, Star Gate, Doctor Who etc. And many of them start out as fans, so it is no trouble for them to immerse themselves in the world. You’re currently writing for Star WarsBlood Ties with Chris Scalf, Invasion with Colin Wilson published by Dark Horse Comics, with more on the way. Looks like you are thoroughly immersed! Is there a huge ‘bible’ of information you have to refer to? Do you get to add to this ‘bible’ as you develop your stories?

Absolutely. Star Wars canon is immense. On top of the movies, you have the cartoons, computer games, short stories, role playing games, novels, and more, and almost everything that is created becomes canon. So yes, all creators need a bible and I think everybody becomes fast email friends with a man known as Leland Chee, Lucasfilm’s keeper of continuity.  He’ll be called on a lot in the next year as I work on the next instalment of Star Wars: Blood Ties ‘Boba Fett is Dead’ and some other Star Wars work.

Q: You also write your own original material. The Deep: Here be Dragons has just come out from Gestalt Publishing, art work by James Brouwer. In a review on Broken Frontier Kris Bather says: ‘Comedy in this artform can always be tricky, but the pair know what they’re doing and elicit the most laughs out of each comedic moment, thanks to great pacing, expressions, and dialogue’. Comedy can be challenging. Did you have to work at developing your relationship with artist James Brouwer, or did the two of you just click?

I’ve written a lot of comedy over the years – musicals, sketch comedy, and plays, including for the Comedy Festival, and generally I don’t really have to think about, or analyze, if something is funny. With James, I found a guy who also just gets it, and just as importantly, is a fantastic storyteller. I used to direct theatre back in the day, and for me the characters on the page need to react appropriately to situations, and need to react to whatever people are saying, just like actors. There are some fantastic artists in professional comics who think that 22 pages of some dark superhero, switching between the same two expressions tells a story. James isn’t one of those guys. James puts so much character and life into the Nekton family (The main characters of The Deep). No character stands around blank-faced while someone else is talking. Every page he sends me has me smiling. So yes, James and I did just click. And, thanks to that click, The Deep is the most joyous comic I’ve been a part of. Seriously, get this book for Christmas, for yourself and for your children. It will fill your heart with rainbows. It will fill your heart with exactly six rainbows. Any more than that and your arteries would begin to clog with rainbows and that would end messily… but probably very colourfully.

Q: Rombies (written by Tom Taylor, illustrated by Skye Ogden, Colours by Mikiko Ponczeck) is a historical paranormal tale set in ancient Rome. What inspired you to set a story in ancient Rome? Have you always been fascinated by its history?

Skye Ogden inspired me. Honestly, this was originally his idea. I just ran with it, and I’m very glad I did. Gestalt actually asked me to write this very early on in our working relationship and I said no.  I’m not a massive horror fan and I wasn’t sure this was the project for me. The night after I said no, I had a dream about Gladiators fighting zombie lions beneath the Coliseum. I called them the very next morning to say yes. I wanted to see Zombie Lions come to un-life. We made that happen. Where we plan to go next is epic.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=9eVw0wPd7vI#]

Q: Example (written by Tom Taylor, Illustrated by Colin Wilson) is being made into a short film. Newsarama said: ‘This book should be used in writing classes everywhere, and should be the primary example (no pun intended) for aspiring comic writers to reference when trying to learn how to write dramatic and compelling dialogue.’   This is quite an accolade for any work, let alone a graphic novel. (I see it is an adaption of your award-winning play Example. I always tell my kids a play needs to be really well written because it has to hold the audience with the power of the premise, characterisation and dialogue – no special effects).  Do you do a lot of train travel? Do you listen in to people’s conversations or does it all spring from some deep dark part of your psyche?

The Example was written in the wake of the London Bombing. And it was these events, along with a typically appalling, fear-mongering ad for A Current Affair, which inspired the play. The government in Australia at the time was pushing the ‘Be alert, not alarmed’ slogan and that was also driving me insane. A lot of my writing is a vehicle for vent – an outlet for outrage. Almost all of my short plays stem from this.

On the surface, The Example is a story about a man, a woman and their reactions to an abandoned briefcase on a railway platform. Below the surface, it’s an exploration of terror and racism. It’s essentially a prejudice versus preservation story. And it’s just been optioned and filmed.  Yay!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1KCYq11GHY&feature=player_embedded]

Q: Flinch is a collection of stories including Shaun Tan, Justin Randall, James Barclay, Terry Dowling and yourself among others. The stories all revolve around each person’s interpretation of the word ‘flinch’. One of your stories White Dove 111 is about a colonist ship leaving a dying earth. This looks like an SF mystery from the description. Did you grow up reading Science Fiction?

I did read a lot of sci-fi, but I was far more into Fantasy. White Dove III was another great excuse to work with the man, Colin Wilson.  I also wrote another short story in Flinch called 96,000m, illustrated by Tom Bonin, which was my first published underwater story. It was the first time I’d publicly shown my fascination for all things underwater and squid-like.  Although, that story was a far cry from the joyous all-ages adventure of The Deep: Here Be Dragons. 96000m is pretty disturbing. If you like disturbed, or are disturbed, you’ll probably like 96000m.

 

Q: You are working for DC comics (Green Lantern and Sinestro). Is this one of your childhood dreams to write in the DC universe?

Yes. So many times, yes.

I grew up with DC comics. I loved all of these characters as a kid and never stopped loving them (except outwardly when I was a teenager). Superman is my absolute hero and writing him is one of my ultimate goals. I’m really proud of The Brainiac/Sinestro Corp War which is the story I’ve just written in DCUO Legends #16 and #17 and I was very lucky to get to work with a great artist like Bruno Redondo (another guy who, like James, just gets it). I’ve written something else unannounced, and I’m also still staggered I got to write The Authority for a year. The Authority was the super team that made me realise that superhero comics could also serve as an outlet for outrage.

Q: Looking at your published works you have been amazingly productive. In an interview on HYPERLINK SciFiBlock you say: ‘Like any work, there are times when it’s a hard slog and things get very hard, but then you just have to pick up the nearest blunt object, smash yourself in the face, and remind yourself that you’re writing Jedi and superheroes for a living.’ Do you have a work routine that helps you meet these deadlines?

I’d like to say I have a routine but, really, I have kids, including a baby who doesn’t sleep very well, and that throws all routines out. My only real routine is that I stay up very late to write. The rest of the world needs to be asleep before I can do my best work. The Example was written one night between 1am and 5am. I started writing this very interview at 2am, it’s now 4.27am… and the baby’s already been up twice.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy (in books) is a bit of a boy’s club. I’ve come across quite a bit of talk on the blogs recently about female comic artists and writers, and their lack of representation in large companies like DC. Have you come across this in your professional life?

I have heard this, and I do know this was an issue for DC in the announcement of the New 52, one they’re trying very hard to rectify. I think mainstream superhero comics have the perception of being a boys club, but the comics medium absolutely isn’t.

This year alone, I’ve worked with four female artists on eight different projects, which is possibly more female creators than some of the majors are working with.

I’m not sure superheroes have the same appeal for women. And I’d argue that they are often narrowly written and illustrated with men in mind. For every brilliantly written and lovingly illustrated superhero book like Secret Six by Gail Simone and (Australia’s own) Nicola Scott, there is a book with a scantily clad superheroine tearing her clothing while scratching the face of… probably another scantily clad woman who is tearing her clothing.

But outside of the Superhero genre, there are a lot of women telling brilliant stories.

Keep an eye out for Believe, which is set to be published soon, to see the incredible work of Emily Smith (and two other huge unannounced things we’re doing together). On top of Rombies, Mikiko Ponczek has just handed in the last pages of a 22 page story she has illustrated and coloured. I can’t wait for that one to be announced. It’s a script I’m very happy with and Miki has just smashed it.
Kate Moon has already finished the story Poppins which will be included in Brief Cases (whenever that comes out) and I have a small, but very cool story coming out with someone else who must remain nameless for now. She knows who she is. Hi, you!

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer/artist change your expectations when you approach their work?

Nope. I never really think about it. And, when I do, I actually tend to get genders wrong.

Sorry, Robin Hobb.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

I think it’s ridiculous that a time-machine company needs to take bookings. You can be anywhere and anywhen! Why do you need me at the time-machine depot at 9.30am?? It’s a disgrace!

Having gotten over my rant, and glared at the Time Machine operator who apparently couldn’t come to my house at 12, I would take a trip a very long way back.

I hypothesized earlier tonight that a pterodactyl may have eaten a missing link which would have caused humans to have one extra thumb. I would go back in time and ride that Pterodactyl into a live volcano before it ate our three-thumbed ancestor, thereby making all of us fifty percent more opposable.

You’re welcome.

Give-away Question:

For your chance to win a copy of The Deep: Here Be Dragons, and the six rainbows in your heart that come with it, answer this question.

If you had three thumbs, what would you do differently?

 

 

Follow Tom on Twitter:  @TomTaylorMade

See Tom’s Blog

Catch up with Tom on Facebook

 

 

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Filed under Australian Artists, Book Giveaway, Book trailers, Characterisation, Collaboration, Comics/Graphic Novels, Covers, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Gender Issues, Genre, Indy Press, Inspiring Art, Movies & TV Shows, Nourish the Writer, Writers Working Across Mediums

Meet Les Petersen …

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented Les Petersen to drop by.

Look out for the give-away at the end of the post.

Q: Your web page doesn’t have a bio. I tried to find a bio for you on Wikipedia. The closest I came was your numerous  listings as cover artist of various books. Next I looked up your listing on Linked in. This is about as brief as a bio gets ‘self employed illustrator and scriptwriter’. I know you live in Canberra, are married and have a son. Are you being deliberately mysterious or is a bio just something you haven’t gotten around to doing?

Not so much ‘haven’t got around to it’, rather I don’t really see the need for it. I know I’m not good at self promotion, but again there’s no need for me to promote myself at present. I have a steady income and so throwing myself to the lions (both fans and clients) wouldn’t necessarily be healthy. Maybe I’m a little bit private, as well, rather than being mysterious. But just for your info, I come from a large family of talented musicians and film makers, but I’m the one who wants to draw the pictures. My wife and son are my own world of wonder.

Michael Whelan's Cover

Q: Where did you go to study art (if you did study formally)? What artists inspired you to dedicate yourself to this calling, to the speculative fiction genre specifically?

Blame Michael Whelan. Short answer but it packs a punch. I saw a cover of his (Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Princess of Mars) way back in the 70’s, and loved it. Tried to paint like that, but I don’t have Michael Whelan’s sense of colour. That drove me to follow up on art as a course of study and I did 6 years at a couple of art schools. BUT I didn’t end up painting, rather I ended up print making for other artists because that paid a few bills. I learnt then that you can get trapped into professions you don’t enjoy by not sticking to your guns. Eventually I was lucky enough to get work as an illustrator and things turned around. But I would have wasted about 10 years doing something I didn’t really enjoy as much as I had hoped to. And artists can be suck picky, fernickety people with egos as big as houses.

Q: You have done at least 40 covers for speculative fiction books, magazines and anthologies (see ISFDB list here). This data base only goes up to 2009. In the book cover section of your web page there are 13 recent covers and it looked like only two of these were from the end of the ISFDB list, so you must have done more covers recently.  Do you have a couple of favourites and if so, why?

Shadow Queen by Deborah Kalin

Yes, the database is a little out – I am pushing 100 covers now. Many of the missing ones are for ebooks or self-publishing clients. That area of publishing is growing all the time and is now the mainstay of my illustration work.

As to favourites, I think Shadow Queen for Deborah Kalin  and Myrren’s Gift for Fiona McIntosh.

Myren's Gift by Fiona McIntosh

Both these really pushed me for design and the colour work started to get where I was trying to go, and the task of painting them was extremely enjoyable. Both began as scribbles on a piece of paper and expanded out to a full spread. Myrren’s Gift book design was also shortlisted for the 2005 APA Book Design Awards, which made everyone happy. It was my first cover to break the US market.

Q: I see you did the cover for Isobelle Carmody’s The Stone Key. I love this cover.  Did you do the whole series? They have a wonderful feel. Could you describe for us the consultation process that went into the design of these covers and then the actual physical process involved in constructing the covers?

In truth, I can’t take credit for these covers. Cathy Larsen, the lead designer from Penguin is responsible for the design of this series; I added some of the backgrounds and a bit of jewellery etc, but Cathy’s ‘touch’ is what makes it so successful.

As to the process: Cathy sent through a design brief, which lays out what is needed for the cover. I then worked my magic on the backgrounds and she incorporated that component into the design, changing things to suit the finished product. Interestingly, the most difficult part of the process is to get sign-off from the marketing team at Penguin (it’s the same at any publishers – they are trying to get a perfect product, after all). The design team can ask for change after change, to the point it kills a product’s freshness and drives designers and illustrators batty. Note how I call the book a ‘product’. That’s exactly what we have to keep in mind when working on a cover – we are selling the author and the story and the packaging must evoke the power of the writing. It can be tricky, but that’s what makes in an interesting profession.

Q: Back in 2001 you did the cover for Trudi Canavan’s best selling book The Magician’s Guild. The new covers for Trudi’s books are very different. (They were produced in the UK). Cover styles are constantly evolving what do you think of the current ‘look’ for fantasy covers?

The short answer is ‘fashions change’. I think a cover has a life of about three years before it’s considered in need of a renovation. And there are regional differences – something marketable in Aus or the US is definitely not ok in the UK, and vice versa – so each area produces their own covers. What is frustrating about the process is every now and then you see your cover design ‘utilised’ by another illustrator working outside Australia, probably because they have been asked to adapt what you have provided. But you live with it because the contracts are fairly flexible and the remuneration is ok.

The other side of the coin is that illustrator’s change. Many new skills are need and we’re ‘updated’ as new illustrators come through. That’s life. We move on to other projects, other genres, other lives, really. I’ve been fortunate to have work trickle in, though the nature of it is different. I spent some time doing computer games, and that’s a whole new board game – a production line kind of work ethic is needed, with its own challenges and deadlines.

UK cover of Trudi's book

One influence worth noting on illustration is the influence of computer games, and special effects from movies. They’ve really shaken up our skill sets and many publishers expect you to have that kind of vision for their covers. Interestingly, the response to it has been a reliance on photo-manipulation and 3D modelling, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.

And finally, there’s a wealth of talent out there. Now we can get illustrators from around the world working in our ‘patch of dirt’. I’m amazed at some of the Asian illustrators that are around – that’s skill to die for. Sometimes when I see their artworks, I feel like a fake, or a hack. Young, talented, and their currency isn’t as strong as ours – they’ve got everything going for them.

 

Q: You were one of the Exhibiting Guest Artists are Conflux in 2006. Did you come to fandom as a fan, or did you come to it after you became a professional artist?

I came along as a professional artist. Though I love the genre, and especially Terry Pratchett’s humorous take on it (my Fav author of all time), I wouldn’t put myself down as a genre ‘fan’, because I read so widely and have a few other interests. I go along to see the authors and some of the people I know, but that’s about the extent of my participation. Sorry. Mind you, if I had a fan base…nah, I’d probably die of embarrassment.

And 2006!  You realise that’s five years ago already. Sigh. What good have I done since then? No, that’s a rhetorical statement.

Q: In 1998 you were shortlisted for the George Turner $10,000 Fiction Prize for your novel Supplejack. Are you still writing? I see you’ve had several short story sales. What have you done with this book?

Supplejack sits in the archives of my computer, still unpublished. I’ve written five novels since then, all of which exist in the archives, probably because I don’t self manage well. I’m glad to say that I still write, but have moved onto scriptwriting, and have produced six full length screenplays and about twenty shorts – and you guessed it, all in the archives of my computer, though I have produced and filmed one of the shorts myself, and two of the full length and one of the shorts have been optioned by productions companies. Those of course have been shelved though because of the global financial meltdown (or whatever the current term is being bandied about).I still hold out hope.

Q: On your web page you have the stills from some animations. Are you animations up on You Tube? (I looked but couldn’t find them). Do you have a secret project which you are going to unveil to the world? If so, what is it?

Yes, I’m working on a secret project, but if I tell you what it is, it won’t be a secret.

OH OK, SINCE YOU INSIST.

I’m working on a 17 minute short ‘The Weatherman’s Gift’, which is part puppetry, part 2D animation, part 3D animation. It’s based on a short script I wrote, which was in turn based on a really crappy animatic/animation I did the Parallel Lines Film Competition in 2010. I really entered that competition to test a few animation techniques and I quite liked the story concept and the feel of the work, in the end. So decided I’ll have a try building it into something magical.

The plan is I will be making a music video first, based on the theme song my brother wrote so I can learn a few puppetry techniques, and then (using the skills I learn) produce the final 17 minute version.

At this stage I’m building the background mattes and puppets, and finishing the storyboards. I’ve been warned by Jonathan Nix not to do the final product until the animatic for the final version is exactly as I want it to be, and I’m taking that advice seriously.

Q: Also on your web page you have some character designs. Are these from your animations or for something else entirely?  

Something else entirely.

 

Q: And then you have your Gallery Pieces, which you say you do to keep your skills ticking over.  What programs have you been playing with to develop your skills?

Over the last five years, I work almost entirely from pencil sketches, utilising Poser for figure maquettes and Photoshop for production final work, but recently I’ve moved to using Vue for landscapes and I’ve been looking at a lot of film editing software, as well as 2D animation packages. I’m ok with some 3D packages, and have gotten familiar with particle system generating software to round out animation effects, but there’s still so much that interests me. I’ll probably be fiddling with all these packages till I go blind. But I always, always, always have the base work of a concept drawing to go from. It’s the cornerstone of the craft, I believe.

Q: There are also the matt paintings. This makes me think they are back grounds for animations. What have you been doing with these matt paintings?

Three of these are backgrounds for the short film I produced (Treasure) the others are for a Star Wars fan film by a New Zealand company (which incidentally did very well in a competition judged by George Lucas) as well as a background for The Weatherman music video animation. More will be added as I complete them.

Q: What advice would you give an aspiring artist just starting out?

  • Take a deep breath.
  • Work your butt off.
  • Keep a drawing pad handy and use it frequently.
  • Get thicker skin on your ego because you’ll get battered and bruised.
  • Don’t concentrate on just one genre.
  • Marketing people are GODS and can destroy in an instant what you’ve slaved for weeks over so give them what they ask for as well as something you’d be proud to put in a portfolio if they knock it back.
  • Continue building your skill sets.
  • Stay current.
  • Watch what your competitors are doing, not so you rival them but so you get a sense where the market is going (very important).
  • You won’t get rich doing this job.
  • Small jobs and charity jobs can bring paying clients your way, and give you a chance to flex your creativity.
  • Read every word of the brief and watch your image dimensions/ratios.
  • Leave yourself time to do the fiddly bits ‘cause the details make the work sing.
  •  If you’re using photo manipulation, watch the colour matches, the resolution of the originals and the moiré pattern.
  • Black is a colour too (that will cause a stir!). But printers have problems with it so check with your publisher.
  • Contracts get signed but the details are quite often ignored. If you REALLY need to bark about something in the contract, do so and stick to your guns and ask for the contract to be changed before you start the work. BUT be warned, you’ll probably find work hard to get from that publisher if you’re asking too much.
  • Good faith is worth more than a contract, and most publishers work well with good faith. But a contract trumps good faith in a court of law.
  • Be EXTREMELY flexible and forgiving.
  • Work your butt off.

Oh, and one last thing – many people – and that includes authors and designers – “see” images in their mind’s eye in three dimensions so you’ll find they expect to see front and back of objects, as well as all the minute detail, all at the same time – so when you get to the nitty gritty don’t stress. Do your best and learn to smile and mutter under your breath at the same time.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy (in books) is a bit of a boy’s club. I’ve come across quite a bit of talk on the blogs recently about female comic artists and writers, and their lack of representation in large companies like DC. You have illustrated for magazines and done covers. As an artist do you think there is a difference in the way males and females are portrayed on speculative fiction book covers?

Isn’t that two questions? Such as ‘why aren’t there more female illustrators represented by…?’, or ‘why is there a lot more male illustrators?’ or something like that, and then ‘do I think there’s a difference etc?’

If you want an answer that covers both sides of the coin, blame the publishers and their marketing teams. We illustrators do as we are briefed to and it’s up to the publishers to hire the illustrators to do the work. The old ‘scantily clad woman in a battle bikini’ was something that appealed to the masses way back in the 60s etc, so the marketing teams wanted that, but tastes have changed. Now they want strong female role models and men without shirts, or sparkling teenage vampires and werewolves that look like Adonis. Tastes change. There’s no systemic movement to produce work that denigrates any one particular gender or limits them to the backyard studios. Everyone has to find their way through the morass, and skill and a great deal of luck gets you through.

I don’t know if there’s a majority of males in the illustration profession. Both sexes are capable of the skill sets required and most of the students going through art school with me were female, but few of them did anything with that skill. They turned to other professions – usually within management, actually.

All my ‘bosses’ in publishing, with one exception, have been women. I don’t see a gender bias against women in Australia. Also, I like to believe I was fortunate enough to get a job as an illustrator not because I was a male but rather because I’d put a bit of effort into learning the skill, then had a stroke of luck when I put an image on a webpage that Trudi Canavan saw and followed up on. In other words, the skill ‘spoke’ and I was willing enough to sell my soul to get the work that came from that.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer/artist change your expectations when you approach their work?

No. Out of all the covers I’ve done, with about five exceptions, the authors I have created covers for have all been female. There are very subtle differences in writer’s voice that you pick up on (please don’t ask for examples) and overall women can write family situations a bit better, and men write action better, but that’s probably some reflection on past expectations that boys will play with soldiers and girls with dolls or some such rubbish– and we know that is not necessarily the truth.  However, having said that, in the wash authors are fairly similar and they are usually supportive of your efforts. Some even surprise you and change their work to suit your illustration.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

I thought long and hard about this and decided ( as all of you would have no doubt done instantaneously) that this question shouldn’t be answered seriously. If it was, and I said I wanted to go back into the past, it’d be too much about past regrets. If I went into the future, I’d be dialing up the expectation and a type of voyeuristic adventuring. So instead, I’ll strap on frivolity and elect to go sideways, into another dimension, to see if I was ever answered this question with a decent answer instead of all this waffle. Then I’d head over to Dixie’s house and she can explain all that stuff about birds and bees again. Lots of miming. Very interesting conversation. Especially as I don’t know anyone named Dixie. And never will, probably.

Giveaway Question:

A free custom ebook cover illustration. Quest ion: Who was Dixie and what did she tell me about the birds and bees, and how did that affect me for the rest of my life?

 

Les says he’s happy to talk illustration with others if they want to email him through his web page. (If you google him, don’t get Les mixed up with Leslie Petersen a ‘fine artist’).

Contact Les on Linkedin.

 

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Awards, Book Giveaway, Comics/Graphic Novels, Conferences and Conventions, Covers, creativity, E-books, Fantasy books, Fun Stuff, Gender Issues, Genre, Inspiring Art, Script Writing, Tips for Developing Artists

Meet Jo Anderton …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the talented debut novelist Jo Anderton to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: You entered the 2008 Orbit/QWC Manuscript Development competition and your book was among the 10 selected for further development. This must have been a wonderful opportunity. Can you tell us a little about the experience?

The Orbit/QWC Manuscript Development program was absolutely amazing. The opportunity to meet a publisher from Orbit and get face-to-face feedback on my book was invaluable. We also got to spend a week in beautiful sunny Queensland, doing nothing but working on those novels, under the mentorship of the generous and wise Marianne de Pierres. The ten other writers were a great bunch, and we’ve kept in touch since. They’re like a support group and a cheering squad all in one! We even gave ourselves a name, we are the Orbiteers!

Even though I had the flu at the time and couldn’t quite make it to all the activities (sadly I did some lying in bed feeling sorry for myself while my fellow Orbiteers were learning and networking and being generally fabulous) it was still a defining experience for me. The book I took to the program didn’t end up selling, but the experience I gained, the things I learned and the people I met truly helped Debris get to where it is today.

Q: You have since gone on to sell this book, Debris, plus the sequel, Suited, to Angry Robot. Congratulations! Editor Marc Gascione says: ‘With the ever-increasing popularity of Japanese and Korean anime, manga and computer games, it’s been surprising that there hasn’t been more SF and fantasy showing its influence. Debris’s mix of SF and fantasy themes, exotic future-medieval settings, Dune-esque warring factions, and a fabulous kick-ass heroine is exactly the sort of on-trend science fiction Angry Robot was set up to publish. We’re damned pleased to have Jo on board.’ Are you a manga fan? Did you realise you were writing cutting edge SF?

Thank you! It’s still very exciting! And sometimes I find it hard to believe it’s real.

I’m a big fan of manga and anime, as well as video games. All three are definitely influences on Debris. Manga like Fullmetal Alchemist, anime like Planets, and pretty much every Japanese RPG I’ve ever played! I particularly love the mix of magic and technology in games like the Final Fantasy series.

I certainly didn’t set out to write cutting edge anything. I mean, I wanted to write something that felt different, but fun was always more important than different! I also wanted to play with that combination of magic and technology, and create a world where the lines between them are blurred.

 Q: Your debut novel Debris is described as ‘far future, where science is indistinguishable from magic’ and also as your ‘own unique vision of steampunk’. (For sample chapters see here).  Have you finished the second book and, if so, what project are you working on next?

It’s been really interesting seeing how other people describe the world in Debris. While it’s definitely got some steampunk elements, it’s also kind of futuristic and a little dystopian. As I was writing it I was quite firmly convinced it was fantasy, just a different kind of fantasy. I guess I’m seeing now that it’s a little bit of everything.

Yes indeed, the second book is finished. At the moment I’m working on something completely different! I call it a ‘post-apocalyptic romantic comedy, set in Sydney of the not too distant future, with ghosts’. It’s a world of fun!

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

In the way they write? Not that I’ve noticed. A lot of blokes have influenced my addiction to genre. My Dad read Tolkien to me, I loved his old E.E. Doc Smith and Theodore Sturgeon, and I’ll never forget the day I found my first David Eddings book in the local library. But so did Julian May, and Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Katharine Kerr, and then Sara Douglass and Jennifer Fallon, and more! I’m still finding new addictions.

As I type this I’m trying to think what the differences might be? I wouldn’t say one is more bloodthirsty than the other. I don’t think one gender does more romance, or better romance. Or more politics, or better politics. Isn’t it interesting that those are the first ‘differences’ that occurred to me? Bloodthirstyness, romance, and politics.

But is there a difference in the way their books are marketed? And discussed? And awarded? I reckon that’s where the important differences lie.

It's a thrill the first time you see your book out there in the real world sitting on a bookshop shelf.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Ah no. I’d say my expectations are based more on the blurb on the back, the publisher (yes, I actually notice publishers and imprints! But that could be due to my day job), the endorsement quotes, recommendations from friends, stuff I’ve read on the internet… Cover image (I’m a sucker for a good cover, I can’t help it). The usual!

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

Into the future, definitely. I’d like it to be a Gene Roddenberry type future, with space travel, and exploration. I’m not so sure it would be. But I want to know how future generations will look back on us, what we did, what we could have done, and the kind of planet we bequeathed them.

Give-away Question:

One of the things I love about those Japanese RPGs is there’s always a bigger baddie. The evil-doers you think are the baddies aren’t the real deal, there’s always an ultimate enemy you don’t know about, usually hiding in plain sight. So, for the giveaway prize, who is your favourite ultimate baddie?

 

 Follow Jo on Twitter:  @joanneanderton

Catch up with Jo on GoodReads

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Free fiction from Jo.

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Comics/Graphic Novels, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Genre, Movies & TV Shows, SF Books, Steampunk