Monday, 7 January 2008

Because I wanted to talk to...Stuart Kolakovic (Part Two)

Why did you first start making comics?

Whilst studying at Kingston Uni, I got so bored with the illustration briefs. It just made me want to stop drawing altogether. Some of the projects were so dull. Looking back I can understand why they sometimes gave us such harsh, boring briefs, because that's exactly the sort of stuff you'd have to do as an actual illustrator.

Anyway, at the end of each year we'd get a term to set ourselves a brief. I'd always be so excited being able to do whatever I wanted, which was always in the form of a comic.
The first year I found this old derelict burnt-out pub in Surbiton, except it was still full of furniture and really important documents and suitcases of photos. I guess because I grew up breaking into old warehouses to skate in, I didn't worry about getting busted by the cops (I even went to the trouble of making a fake ‘24 hour security’ stencil, which I sprayed all over the building to keep unwanted taggers and tramps out while I was working in there!).

I started this really long stupid story that was definitely inspired by McKean's experimental work. It was my dire attempt at being really raw, off the wall and conceptual, and ended up being four books long, which I somehow completed in three months. At the time I was really excited by the physical idea of comics, that they don't just have to be pages in a book, but physical things that can be taken out or played with to construct a narrative. Like, I had one chapter that wasn't bound, but in a box, and if you placed the pages in a particular order it made up a giant image, much like a jigsaw.

By the next time I got the chance to set my own brief, I had come full circle and found nothing more exciting than the restrictions of pages in a book.
In my second year none of my tutors were particularly keen on the idea of comics and I was becoming increasingly disappointed at the amount of students who just couldn't even figure out how to read them. Luckily, I was saved by Dr. Leo de Freitas, the UK's only Illustration historian and, coincidentally, a close friend of McKeans, and he really encouraged me to continue making comics.

My first real mini comic, A Prince Such As I, which is extremely cringeworthy, didn't fare much better with my tutors at uni. Even though I was selling them in shops, galleries and posting them to Holland, Japan, Quimby's, I remember my tutor not even opening it when it came to the end of the project where we had to show the rest of the course what we'd worked on. I also remember getting a lot of stick from some people in the small press scene for being too gimmicky (the comic was about a loner obsessed with Elvis and came inside a mock record sleeve) and for the comic being a blatant rip off of McKean's style, which it kind of was.

Anyway, a copy found it's way to Dan Franklin at Jonathan Cape and he asked me to go show him some more of my work, which was really encouraging, but at the same time was a sudden reality check. It made me realise that no matter how much I love comics, they're never going to pay my bills: the amount of time and effort they take to make is ridiculous, and I suddenly started to take straightforward editorial illustration more seriously, which is a good job because that's how I'm making my living. But if I could give any advice to students at university, it is to rip off the facilities whilst you're there as much as you can. Me and a friend, Andrew Walter, rinsed a free photocopier and the screen printing studios to the max just so we could put out a few mini comics that we could never fit into uni projects.

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