The Suitcase, as seen on the Blank Slate website.
Today we unleash our mini-interview with Dan Berry from Thought Bubble. Dan’s work is a big favourite here at the blog, and we’re eager for the release of his upcoming book, The Suitcase, which combines his trademark spontaneous and dynamic cartooning with a wry look at the day-to-day lives on imagined neighbours . For those unfamiliar with Dan, as well as being a mainstay of the small press scene in the UK, he teaches the Illustration for Graphic Novels degree at the North Wales School of Art and Design was instrumental in the organisation of this year’s British Comic Awards.
On being a battle-hardened UK convention veteran:
This year, I’ve been called a veteran a few times. It’s probably true now… probably? It makes me feel old. That word “veteran” makes me feel like I should be getting an obituary prepared.
On the importance of Festivals:
Festivals are super important. The only other time you get comics artists together is that if theres an event, which will usually happen in London… and not all artists are from London, of course! The only other time we get together to talk is on Twitter. Twitter’s really, really useful as it’s the way comic artists get to connect these days but you never really get the tone of voice or any happy serendipity happening.The opportunity to meet your public and get face to face with other artists and just have a drink go out for pizza at a festival is incredible – and a real privilege .
On his upcoming The Suitcase for Blank Slate:
It’s three interwoven stories of ordinary boring life. I think there’s an awful lot of craziness that happens within those spaces. The idea came from us moving house and never speaking to our neighbours at all. You know them as “the BMW woman” or “the man who mows the lawn with his shirt off” – you create characters from these little things and imagined lives for them. Those imagined narratives really fascinate me: “oh, what’s shirtless man doing today? He’s locked himself in the shed, what’s he doing in there?” I got the idea from speaking to friends, about these half-heard urban legends. A friend of a friend’s brother’s friend’s nan had had something stolen from her on a bus. So the first story in this trio is written basically as they told me. All the stories in the book have a root of truth in them, although I have embellished and gone over the top for the sake of a good story here and there. It’s 50 pages, it’s full colour. I had a suspected brain haemorrhage half way through drawing it, so there’s a section of a book that when I read it, all I can think about is “Oh, I was in hospital thinking I was going to die.”. That said, I think it’s the best comic I’ve done.
On which of his comics was selling the best at the festival:
Cat Island. I did it in Angouleme in January, at the 24 Hour Comic event that Lewis Trondheim runs. It was an excellent experience, I got to work in at the Maison des Auteurs alongside people – people I freely admit are better than me – like Lorenzo Chiavini, Boulet, Nathan Schreiber and Sarah Glidden. I get an awful lot out of seeing how other people work. It fills me full of fire and makes me want to do better. The comic is half autobiographical, half flight of fancy. It’s about a family with a new baby and a cat that’s jealous. The father and the cat have a kind of rivalry. It was a visceral reaction to everyday circumstance: we’d just had a baby, Calvin, at the time and he just kept crying. We didn’t sleep, we didn’t do anything apart from hush a baby for three months. So that’s where the book came from: the awful, shameful pains of parenthood that nobody tells you about!
Cat Island, available to purchase on Dan Berry’s website.
On whether or not a festival like Angouleme could take place in the UK in future:
I think we could have an Angouleme but I think people have got to want it. The scale of the festival and the motivatiosn are very different from what we have here. As industry left the Angouleme, the town went into a period of decline in the 70s, so the Ministry of Arts and the Ministry of Education clubbed together and decided the place would become a cultural hub. Now, Angouleme is a very commercial venture and a quarter of a million people come to this small town over the course of this weekend, which is incredible. And these aren’t comic fans as we know it, these are just people - it’s a book festival and that’s how people see it. We have this argument in the UK a lot, “are comics an art form, do we see them as an art form?”. That’s the wrong argument. Yes, they’re an artform. Yes, they’re a medium in themselves but television doesn’t go “hmmm… we should have less of this Jeremy Kyle styff and more of this The Wire stuff!”. Well, maybe they do – but no one seems to care and it all comes out and all gets consumed and there’s an audience for everything. But in the UK we tend to polarise comics into “it should be this or it should be that” and its absolute nonsense. Frankly, it’s bollocks: we need more of everything for everyone. That’s how we’ll get something that’s the scale of Angouleme by continuing to grow comics and expanding it to engage ordinary people.
On comics in the UK being in “a period of blossoming growth”:
When I started making comics, the small press was characterised by wheteher or not you had a long-arm stapler and access to a photocopier – which I believe makes you a publisher. Now, you’ve got Marc Ellerby printing up his Ellerbisms in a 260 page hardback luxury exition he’s paid for himself and completely selling out of it and turning an enormous profit. If you’d said that to someone in 2008 when I first stated doing shows they would have thought you were a joker. Things are on the up and up and technology has made printing more available, easier to engage with and cheaper too. People have more motivation now and they are starting to become much more ambitious with the scale and the scope of their comics. It’s an exciting time.
An exciting time, indeed! Many thanks to Dan for taking some time away from selling his work at the festival to talk to us. Be sure to visit back with us next week for more thoughts from Thought Bubble.