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3am Interview

TG: I'm from Aberdeen and I work as an illustrator and cartoonist. I studied illustration at Edinburgh College of Art and then at the Royal College of Art and I've been drawing and publishing comics for about some years now. I was always drawing, quite obsessively, right from the start, always doodling in my school books and things like that. I remember my teacher gave me a specific jotter, a blank one, because I'd fill up the margins of my other jotters so much that she thought it was pointless to stop me so she gave me a whole jotter just for doodling. I always wanted to go to Art School. I didn't know that you could make a living drawing cartoons. I thought you had to be a graphic designer or something or an architect. But when I got there I found out that you could just do cartoons for a living.

That was it. Once I'd started. I always wanted to tell stories with pictures - I liked Asterix and things like that. I was into British comics rather than DC and Marvel. I used to get Battle and 2000AD and things like that. I never got into the American stuff. I think it's because our local shop - I lived in the middle of nowhere - it had only 2000AD and things like that. I kind of bypassed superhero comics and things like that. Obviously, I'm as aware of them as anyone else but I never got into them. Judge Dread was the only one. Two guys wrote 2000AD almost single handedly for a while and they were both Scots. In the cities of 2000AD they had an underworld that was layered over and that is like in Edinburgh where they had the plague and they built over the old city.

3AM: This is what Ian Rankin writes about doesn't he?

TG: Yes. I know about this stuff now but then I didn't. Maybe it was just one of the things that struck me about the stories. People do say that my work has a dry, dark, windblown Scottishness about it so maybe there's some truth in making an Edinburgh connection. I don't know.

3AM: What happened after college then?

TG: When I left college I wasn't sure what to do and I got offered a place to do an MA at the Royal College of Art. I was taught there by a guy called Andrei Klamovsky and he produced a book with no words - it wasn't a comic - it was a book and he and some other tutors encouraged me to do a comic. This was a couple of years ago. So I did this book, Guardians of the Kingdom, and before that I did a book called First which I did with a fellow student. It was only at the Royal College that I decided to stop thinking about making a comic and just do it. So I did these two books there. First I did with Simone Lia - we did half the book each. She was a student with me there. We did another one called Second. The next one is Third.

3AM: Pushing out the boat for imaginative titles! I can see what people mean about the dry humour!

TG: She does children's books for a living. Her stuff has a more children's book feel to it whereas mine are more Edward Gorey-like.

3AM: You're a fan?

TG: Yes. I more or less stole his style for my stuff. I like his dark humour. There's a little bit of camp-ness in Gorey that I'm not sure mine has but I think his work is beautiful. And the idea that he's making these lovely little books so beautifully, and making them into something that people wanted to own was something that Simone and I were trying to take on. We didn't want them to be art books, that would be taking them a little too far, but we wanted them to be nice objects. I think a lot of small press comics get left behind because they look a bit shitty on the outside. Once you get inside they're fine but I think you have to do a little bit of marketing. Also we did a bit of graphic design and illustration so we're influenced by that. We printed 180, 200, something like that. We did it on an ordinary printer. The covers we did on an old letter press machine. We stapled it all ourselves.

3AM: Not very high tech!

TG: Well, all the work we did through the computer but I think it's quite important to use the computer to make things work but not to overuse it. We use Macs. It's all drawn by hand and then scanned in, cleaned up and finished on the computer.

3AM: How long does it take?

TG: I never do it full time. I just potter away on it when I've got time away from my other work. It probably takes three or four months. Then a hectic month of production things.

3AM: Do you have an audience/readership in mind whilst you're working or does that come later.

TG: I'm really interested in the packaging of things and I'm quite interested in paper size and paper stock and things like that. Simone is less interested in that. I'm more anal about this stuff! When we were at college we got a grant from the Deutsche Bank, oddly to set up this company Cabanon Press. This one was printed by a proper printer in an edition of a thousand instead of 200 before. We'd left college and we had this money from the bank. So that was the start of our press. We have a web site.

3AM: You can't live off this stuff presumably.

TG: No, we make very little money off this. Which is good really because if I was making comics for a living I think I would have to make more compromises in the work. I work as an illustrator most of the time. I really enjoy it as much as doing the comics but you have to fit in with what your client wants so it's quite nice in the comics to do what we want to do. We'd like to make money through it but it's not the best way to do it.

3AM: You're based in London now? Is that because the work's down here?

TG: I like it here. I'll probably move away to the countryside some time but at the moment I'm happy to live here.

3AM: You're working with this other artist, Simone. Is there a community of comic artists working down here?

TG: Yes, there's quite a lot of people who do comics and are quite into it. The people who are doing the project here at the ICA are part of the group. They're all people I've met, one of whom was at the Edinburgh College of Art with me - Matt - others I've met through him. And we were just talking about doing a collection.

We did one, called Sentence, where each of the artists did a story but they were only allowed to use one sentence throughout. It's partly so that it's easy to translate so it will sell all over Europe but also it's a little bit of a restriction that will sew the whole work together. Some people will use the sentence over and over again and some might use it just once and in mine it's just a description of a sound the robot makes. It's what a Neanderthal might imagine a robotic sound to sound like. Through this we met Paul Gravett who organised the ICA event here. All the people are doing the wall installation which is on in here.

3AM: You've a pretty dark imagination. Is it your personality? Where does it come from?

TG: I suppose there's something downbeat about my work. I don't think of myself as a very downbeat person, I'm quite happy. So I suppose I get it out in the work. There is dark humour I suppose in laughing at people but I don't know where it comes from.

3AM: Is this a good time for comic work and the work you're trying to do?

TG: It's all going pretty well. I haven't got anything to compare it with. One of the things that encouraged me to get on with things was the success of Jimmy Corrigan. It came out in parts and I did manage to buy each part as they came out and I did think he managed to do each part perfectly. The craftsmanship, being arty without being too arty. I thought after that that there was no point in me hanging around.

3AM: You like 'Closer' by Geoffry Brown?

TG: Yes I do. I just bought it. There's a lot of good stuff out now. I think there's always been a certain amount. But it's easier now because of the internet to find out who is doing comics. In Britain there's which is a small press web site which is how I know some of these people. And I have a web site so if I put my web site on the back of a comic anyone who buys the comic can then go to my website and see everything that I've done. In the past you had to write off for a catalogue, you couldn't be arsed, you just didn't do it. Now you can see any work even if you can't be bothered to get it. And I think that meant that people demand a little more from their comic shops. There's a lot of interesting things happening - there's a lot of rubbish as well - but there is a lot of interesting things happening. The small press thing is having a bit of a resurgence in Britain at the moment.

3AM: Do you connect at all with an older generation of comic writers? People like Alan Moore working out of Northampton knocking out his stuff?

TG: He's not relevant to me. To almost everyone else I know he's very relevant. I missed out on all of that. I've bought 'Watchmen' and 'From Hell' and they are good but if you didn't read them at the time 'Watchmen' seems a little dated almost. I've got a really odd knowledge of comics. I have the things I really like but I don't have a complete knowledge of things. I think he's a big inspiration for a lot of people.

3AM: You seem to have things in common with Tim Burton.

TG: I like anyone like him and Gorey who can do atmosphere. Hopefully one day I'll get good at plots but my books at the moment have rather weird plots. The thing that really interests me at the moment is atmosphere. I think everything I've done has been about atmosphere and Burton's like that too I think. I suppose he has writers who do the story and he does the atmosphere. I do like people who when you read their books you feel as if you are going into that world. 'Jimmy Corrigan' had that - it was a horrible world but it draws you in there. There's another one I really like - by a guy in New York called Ben Catshore who does a comic strip called Juliet Nipple Real Estate Photographer which is about a man shuffling around New York. It has a perfect New York atmosphere - drab, Jewish humour atmosphere and it's things like that that I am inspired by. Tim Burton is excellent.

3AM: You work for Time Out and you're an illustrator?

TG: I did a comic strip for Time Out. I did 'Guardians of the Kingdom' which was about two guys guarding a wall. Nothing ever happens. It rains. They get bored. The wall is a bit abstract - it could be Hadrian's Wall, it could be The Great Wall Of China - but it came from a friend who is Greek. He had to do three years military service and basically peeled potatoes and lived in a mountain for a while, did really boring things. It's partly about that. I always wanted to be a soldier when little. And it's about something that you always imagine is exciting and grand and in reality it is quite dull. After that Time Out asked me to do a comic strip for them. They wanted it to be about sick people. I had the feeling that they wanted it to be a hip London thing. It's about two guys who are quite similar to the two guys from Guardians of the Kingdom who are walking to a city along a road. For a year they walked along the road and nothing really happened. It was quite a challenge to do that every week for a year. Some people thought it was the worse comic strip since… well, the worst ever in fact! Someone wrote a letter saying this and it was printed in Time Out on the letters page!

3AM: It's all very Beckett-like.

TG: Well I hadn't read any Beckett up to then - I'd seen 'Krapp's Last Tape' at the theatre and someone said it had a Beckett like quality. And then I read 'Waiting for Godot' and I thought it was hilarious. I couldn't believe that anyone could not find it funny. In fact it's probably more funny and more happens than in my comic strip. I loved it and was quite inspired by reading it. Nothing happened but people were being quite busy. I did a comic strip about two people on a little island - in my stuff things are a bit slow whereas in Beckett there's slapstick. I liked the fact that he said that he'd be quite happy to have his work performed by robots. I think it's nice that I can write words and there are no inflections on them at all. You have to be very careful what you write in comics but people bring their own inflections to the words. If it were a play or a film actors have to interpret but in comic work I really like the flatness.

3AM: Ever thought of doing a Beckett comic?

TG: I thought it might be quite fun but I don't think you can. I don't think his estate let's anyone do stuff like that. I don't hunt things out, I don't research things. If I like it it'll come out in the comics. So I was quite interested in space for a while and photographs of guys on the moon. I was looking at al that and decided to do some comics on astronauts and things. Things go into the comics because I want them to and then the comics come out as I want them to come out.

3AM: So what do we look forward to?

TG: Simone and I have a deal with Bloomsbury and they're republishing First and Second as little hard-backed books. That's coming out soon. It's called Both!

3AM: Are, there you go again with those titles! I'm going to call this interview…

TG: Interview! Actually, it was a friend's idea to call the book Both. I didn't think of that. Mind you, think about the title 'Guardians of the Kingdom'. I went right over the top with that one!

3AM: That's your concept album. What else influences you?

TG: Just about anything. When I was in Edinburgh at college I was trying to be angsty. I was trying very hard and I couldn't do it. I failed miserably to be serious and deep. So then I stopped trying and started doing silly things with a modicum of seriousness. In fact the depth came in a bit because I wasn't trying so hard. I listened to Tom Waits and Nick Cave. When I listen to Waits now there's so much humour in it but back then I didn't hear the humour. Now I realise he's just having a laugh. So what am I saying? I really like Tom Waits. I think he's a genius. I love going to movies to see just about anything. I think Terry Gilliam is a genius. His films were just about right. Brazil was good. I like his slightly crap cobbled together future. I think my stuff has that crap cobbled together feel. Nothing is grand. It's all quite crap - but it's not so bad. It's quite optimistic. The comic I did with this Neanderthal guy - there's a point where he sees this robotic camera and they meet and then go away and the Neanderthal is trying to figure out what it means but he can't quite understand what happened there. That was influenced by William Golding's The Inheritors which is about the last of the Neanderthals being killed by cro-magnum man. And that is an incredibly sad book because the main characters can't understand what's happening to him. And I suppose that interest in how you might see something and understand something is what interests me.

3AM: Were you always interested in trying to work things out for yourself?

TG: Yes. I liked making models of things. I make models of things in the comics just for myself really. I don't know why. The thing with comics is that it doesn't have to look like it does in the real world but it has to work on its own level. So I didn't do any research about the guys living on the wall but I thought very carefully about how they would make a cup of tea. How would they get water? A fire. A Bucket. It was about creating a whole new world but it was important that it had a kind of logic. You take a stupid idea but then you are very serious about it. So in Two there are these two wrestlers who have a bit of time to kill before their next wrestling match and they're in a new town because they're on a wrestling tour or whatever. So apart from them being wrestlers they do everything that I would do in that situation.

3AM: How much of these little characters are you?

TG: A bit too much. I'm trying to start writing about other things. Like women, for example. It's very difficult. I think they're all me, that's the problem. I need to improve. I need to do more varied interesting characters. I did a comic strip recently which was called 'Cat, Bear and Ghost' about a cat, bear and a ghost who were all friends - it was kind of a little children's book - but I was quite proud of the fact that I managed to get three characters into that rather than just two! But it's true, I do want to stop ploughing the same trough or furrow or whatever you say! I think it's important to start trying a bit harder with the characters rather than them just being me, which is what there at the moment.

3AM: The Bloomsbury deal could bring about expectations that Tom Gould will have to produce a big fat book like Jimmy Corrigan say.

TG: I look at Jimmy Corrigan and I felt sad that I knew that I'd never do anything as good as that ever. You read about Chris Ware and he says he's suicidally depressed when he's not working. I'm not capable of putting that amount of work, I'm not psyched up enough to do something like that. Maybe one day. But he really puts so much effort into his work I get a feeling that he doesn't do a lot else. I like to be finished by six o'clock and get into the pub. It makes me happier. I'd rather do that. I guess it's a different type of work. And also I don't have a huge attention span. So that's why everything I do is episodic so I can finish that and feel happy about it. But then again Jimmy Corrigan appeared in bits and was originally a weekly comic strip so maybe one day.

3AM: Does Maus and Sacco's 'Palestine', issue driven stuff interest you?

TG: No it doesn't. I'm interested in those things but not to do as work. I guess I'm interested in ordinariness. I like writing about ordinary things. But I like drawing epic things. So I end up doing things about astronauts bickering on the moon! I could never do an epic journey or anything like that, or if I did it would come down to ordinary things.

3AM: No 'Lord of The Rings' type thing then?

TG: No. Although I do like the Lord of the Rings films. They are fantastic to look at but for me they fail when they do all the elfish language. Fine in that world I suppose but I'd be embarrassed to write anything that I'd be embarrassed to say. That's how I write. I think - would I do that? I suppose I might have to change but at the moment that's how I do it.

3AM: The Bloomsbury deal is going to make you a bigger name.

TG: Hopefully yes. When you see what's happened to Edward Gorey, Steven Appleby, Glen Baxter… I'm getting into Baxter now but I wasn't before. I remember reading Appleby when I was in school 'Small Bird Singing'… I liked it. It's good to get a bigger audience for our work and the boring thing about doing comics is distribution - you finish making the thing look beautiful, it's all set to go and then you end up walking round London begging people to put it into their shops.

3AM: Where do you take them to?

TG: With 'Second' we took it to just the shops we liked because some of the shops that took the first one were just pains in the neck. And through the web site and those shops we liked we sold pretty well. We sold out a thousand of 'Second.' The nice thing about Bloomsbury is that they do all the distribution and stuff. It'll be out in November.

3AM: Will it be going out to America? Have you done stuff for America? Europe?

TG: Simone and I have both done a comic for an American collection about robots. I've been to Europe and visited the big comic festival on the South West of France which is fantastic. I went there last year and they have a huge market in France for comics and they produce so many you get ten great comics a year whereas here you might get one. There's a lot of rubbish too but because there's so much you get more good stuff. They really respect comics over there. They have some sort of regulatory thing over there where they put art into boxes - it's the ninth art form or something. It was added with architecture and something else - and cinema at a certain point - and so it is respected. It means you do get some rather worthy Victor Hugo comics and you think hmmm!

3AM: And the sex comics and Manga…

TG: Yes. I was never into Manga but I'm trying harder these days and there is some good stuff. It's very odd. You can't help but think that the Japanese are mad. I tried to learn Japanese whilst at the Royal College of Art because I had to find out whether they were mad. You kind of think that the whole nation can't be mad but all the evidence suggests that they are.

3AM: This is going to go down a storm for our readers in Tokyo!

TG: When I was at college I did a poster that read from top to bottom all the way down. Because of that I got hired by a Japanese fashion company to design some t-shirts. Basically, I drew comic strips and they put them on handkerchiefs and t-shirts. It was such a different attitude over there. I never thought about fashion I just did comic strips. But a few months later they would send me these garments.

3AM: Have you a sense of your audience?

TG: Yes. It's nice really. I think that's the good thing about e-mail. They type an e-mail casually to say they like it. It's really nice. I love it. Comic people feel quite close to their readership, especially the small press ones. One of the reasons I did comics was instead of saying to my friends - comics aren't shit you should read one some time - I was able to say - this is my comic, have a look!


Tom Gauld is an illustrator and comic book artist working in London. His published books are Guardians of the Kingdom and 3 Very Small Comics. His strip 'Move to the City' runs weekly in Time Out London.

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