Saturday, 29 December 2007

Because I wanted to talk to...David Baillie (Part One)

David Baillie is a talented cartoonist living and working in Mile End in London. He's also an illustrator, writes comics journalism and is currently busy with various personal writing projects. I spoke to him about the realities of life as a working artist and writer, his work for the Judge Dredd Megazine and flogging his wares down Camden (no, really).

NB: Examples of David's mini-comics can be found online at his website.

David, please tell us about yourself.

Let's see... For those who haven't met me, I look a bit like a young Paul Newman. Perhaps a little meaner ‘round the eyes. I was born in Scotland some thirty years ago and spent my youth reading comics and hunting haggis. I moved to London to see where the haggis (plural of haggis) go when we send them south of the border. I'm still not sure. I also make comics (writing and drawing) and do a bit of designing. On a good month this pays the rent. Otherwise I hunt haggis on the mean streets of the East End of London.

Most self-published cartoonists make comics in their spare time. You decided to go freelance as an illustrator and make comics as part of that. What made you take 'the leap' considering you had a stable job (arguably an easy life)?

It was an easy enough decision. I hate the idea of wasting my time on Earth - we don't get that much of it! The job I had was actually great - it paid well, I toiled alongside some really nice people, the work was usually interesting and my desk overlooked the river Thames. But if they hadn't been paying me, I wouldn't have been there. I'd have been at home making comics. So that’s what I should be doing. Oh and I hate commuting.

What advice would you give the you that started making comics three years ago?

Don't be so shy! It took me far too long to approach publishers and present myself as a potential freelancer. I spent the first year timidly sending things in, and almost apologising for doing so. I still don't think I'm quite there, but I'm getting better at it. If you look at the people that 'break in' quickly (and not just in comics, but any creative field) they tend to be bold and self-confident. Like Worzel Gummidge, I think any new freelancer has to have that head ready to stick on. Even if they replace it with their shy head after they've written their cover letter or made that phone call. Oh, and I'd also tell my three-years-in-the-past self to learn how to draw hands properly. Sheesh.

Which are your favourite comics, small press or otherwise?

That's a tough one. I love Chris Ware. The last Acme Novelty Library I read - The Annual Report to Investors - was breathtaking. He takes the grammar of comics and bends it to whatever shape best fits his story. Mike Carey's Crossing Midnight is a great read, and I hope it's doing well enough to continue because I need to know how it all turns out. I used to be a Vertigo junkie, but the only other title I read from them now is Y The Last Man. Oh and 100 Bullets, although I've lost track of what's going on and might have to go back to the start. I still read 2000AD every week, and it's mostly really good. My favourite comic ever is Hewligan's Haircut (which was in progs 700 and up). Well actually joint favourite. Alex Robinson's Box Office Poison gets a gold medal too. I also really like Dan Hipp's stuff. When I read the online preview of Gyakushu I was green and gooey with envy.

In terms of the small press I voraciously read anything by my friends. Oli Smith's autobiographical meanderings are always thought provoking (I really liked a recent one he did about a night time stroll with his girlfriend). Douglas Noble's Strip For Me is the Bergman of the indie scene. Daniel Merlin Goodbrey's stuff never fails to entertain. His new web- strip is really fun. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Tales from the Flat is the Watchmen of the UK small press. Or maybe even Cerebus without the misogyny. When complete it will be a 100-issue odyssey charting the lives and loves of the flat dwellers, and when read in one sitting will induce Spiritual Enlightenment. Anything by Gary Northfield. And Sean Azzopardi. And Bridgeen Gillespie. Also - Monkeys Might Puke is a must-read. But don't come crying to me later if it upsets you. Actually come to think of it, it wasn't that tough a question...

(Go to Part Two)

Because I wanted to talk to...David Baillie (Part Two)

Please tell us about your Meg' column.

My chance to do a monthly Judge Dredd Megazine column came about when you jumped ship to spend more time writing your in-depth analyses of talent that no longer speaks to 2000AD. When the editor, Matt Smith, emailed me and asked if I'd be interested I was over the moon, and spent the first week writing thousands of words of complete waffle. I had originally planned an over the top Grant Morrison circa 1990-esque diary column, full of tongue in cheek references to my lavish life style, comics-groupies and the rock star merry-go-round existence of an indie comics creator. Unfortunately it's difficult to squeeze that into 400 words a month and still have something resembling useful information there too. I think the compromise works.

The column, and the small press section as a whole (NB: the small press section consisted of David's column about life as an indie comic creator and a strip taken from the UK small press comics scene), will be taking a rest over the winter months. The gap is being filled by one of those comics that happened in the '90s when the Marvel and DC universes collided and they published hybrid titles. It's one of my favourites though, and I'm really looking forward to reading it again. Amalgam... The Amalgam Universe. That's what it was called. Anyway they merged Z List Marvel hero Night Thrasher with the John Wagner / Carlos Ezquerra, Worzel Gummidge-alike DC character Bob The Galactic Bum. Yeah - Bob the Galactic Night Bum Thrasher. My favourite ever anti-hero. Meg readers are gonna love it.

Which of your comics are you proudest of and why?

None of them. It's hard to look back at my old stuff without dwelling on all the things I would do 'better' now. Unfortunately my favourite stuff from this year's batch of work is sitting in failed pitch files and screenplays that no one is ever likely to read. I'm adamant that next year will be different.

You seem to genre-skip a lot. Is this a conscious choice or just a tactic to fend off boredom?

I was very conscious that quitting the 'career' was as much to do with escaping the soul-destroying monotony of the day-to-day grind as it was about wanting to write fantasy zombie sci-fi comics. What would be the point of quitting a job in which I had to do the same stuff every day, to then write and draw comics…That were all about the same stuff. Every day. Of course I shot myself in the foot because now I have an illustration portfolio where every piece is in a different style and I don't have any two comics that even 'feel' the same, so editors and art directors do tend to look at my stuff and say something like 'I don't get it...What is it you actually do?' Fuck 'em. I like eating Pot Noodles.

What's in the pipeline for you next?

Well, I'm sure you're sick of hearing about my big plans. But... I really want to get round to putting together this book I've been thinking about all year, which is a triptych of one act stage plays. The book would contain the scripts along with comics’ adaptations. They can be read as comics or performed as plays. It seemed like a great idea at the time and I definitely will get around to it. I'm working on a stalled comics project called Electron City. Which is sci-fi. And uses vector graphics. I also have a strip in the new Sci Fi anthology Hybrid, which has some huge names attached, that I don't think I'm allowed to mention yet. And I've just started work on an educational graphic novel for Cambridge Technique that will be used as a revision aide for GCSE students. On top of that I have 39 more instalments of my Belly Button Bubble Chronicles weekly web comic (which is on the front page of my website) to go. Future episodes will divulge in gory detail my physical, mental and financial collapse. And you'll find out why my bellybutton talks.

(Go to Part Three)

Because I wanted to talk to...David Baillie (Part Three)

You don't just make comics. Please tell us something about your other projects.

I pole dance.

No, really I do.


What do you mean then?


Yeah, it's funny - I was calling myself a writer/artist for years before anyone took me seriously. On a whim I plopped 'designer' alongside the other two job descriptions, and five minutes later the world was battering down my door. I'm currently the features and cover designer on Comics International. I also have a portfolio of clients that harass me on a daily basis (but also pay my rent some months, so I'm not complaining) for web design, logo design, document design.

Everything except interior design, but I doubt that's far off.

As much as possible I'm trying to take on projects that help develop the skills I want to use in my comics work.

My illustration work has taken off this year too, with my client filofax not exactly bulging but healthily overweight.

Listen to me... Filofax.

I, of course, mean bit-of-paper-folded-in-four.

What's all this about Camden Market? Has it been a success? Who else is involved? Whose idea was it?

I think we both know who's responsible! Young Oli Smith came up with the idea when he saw someone else (the Brodie's Law guys) doing exactly the same thing. His 'I'll have some of that for myself!' attitude will serve him well in the cutthroat comics industry that he's determined to penetrate after he leaves primary school.

So, every weekend a co-op of indie creators have been gathering at Camden Lock to sell our wares to the general public and it's been a monumental success. I think a few of us were getting jaded with the bog standard comics convention where you get the same faces showing up biannually... I mean they're great faces, but it's depressing being so painfully aware that everyone has aged six months since the last time you saw them. It's like when strobe lights come on in a nightclub and if you blink you experience discreet static moments instead of continuous time. Like really bad time travel.

And we sell loads. And loads. And loads. Of comics. And the public love us.
I'm hoping that when word gets out we can expand to two or three stalls. Or ten!

I think the scene has been crying out for a proper regular outlet like this. After all, if independent creators can actually make a bit of money from their self-publishing instead of optimistically hoping to break even at Birmingham or Bristol or somewhere else beginning with a 'B', then they can devote more time to actual comic creation without going hungry.

Another interesting side effect is that already we're talking about escaping this mindset of aiming to produce a new piece of work for one of the 'tent pole' cons. Sean Azzopardi's hoping to get something new out every 4 or 5 weeks.

And it's fun. We have a great time. Someone's always hungover (have you met Karrie Fransman? She makes great soul searching, life-affirming comics), someone's usually surrounded by jail-bait rabid fans (that would be Oli, who's too young to be jailed and so doesn't care), someone's frequently found foisting his books on hot goth girls (that would be Phil Spence of Ninja Bunny fame) and someone is always at the artists corner of the table drawing like a demon. That's most likely to be mad-genius Oliver Lamden of Tales From The Flat / Curtis Terrorist fame.

I'm not sure why we call it Artists Corner actually... It's the middle of the table.

David Baillie, thanks for your time. For more on David and his comics, please visit his website.