Wednesday, 12 March 2008

A Chat With...Sean Azzopardi

Sean Azzopardi is a self-published cartoonist living and working in London. His comics have received positive attention from the likes of Redeye magazine and the Midnight Fiction website. In this interview Sean talks about his DIY ethic, what's good and bad about the small press, and just what's going on comics-wise down at Camden Market.

How did you first get into this small press malarkey?

Around 2001 I had been writing and drawing some material and trying to work out how to make a comic. With some help from Jessica Abel's website, I had it figured eventually. Then, taking advantage of my offices photocopier, I printed my first comic Grey Sky. This was then distributed via a plastic bag at the Bristol Comics Con in 2002.

Which artists/cartoonist do you find particularly inspirational?

Loads. It varies from day to day. At the moment I am reading manga, and Osamu Tezuka is my current favourite.

Twelve Hour Shift seems to have a lot of autobiographical content, but you've decided to make it a fiction with Steve Jones, the main character, almost like another you. Why is that?

Simply that I wanted to put some distance between me and the material, to prevent it spiralling into a self-pitying, whinge fest. When I started Twelve Hour Shift, I was feeling pretty miserable about a lot of things. Developing a story around this would maybe become very boring quickly for the person reading it. If I had a character I could speak through, I thought that it might curb this excess. Quickly the character developed it's own personality and voice, and ran the show. I'm not sure I like Steve Jones, really.

Tell us about your comic Ed.

Ed is an attempt at balance, or trying something different, a light story. Up to the first issue of Ed I had been wallowing in the grim and gritty introspective gutter. I found it difficult to present this to people as it was all a bit miserable. So, I thought about it, about what the life of a cheery character would be like. I looked at my home life and the normal events that surround it, and made this Ed's world. I projected a sort of idealised reality onto him, in the hope that one day this will shape my life. He's a stay at home illustrator, enjoying the day feeling fulfilled.

Will there be a similar collection of Ed mini comics when that series is finished (Sean collected Twelve Hour Shift into a trade paperback recently)?

Yes. I have finished issue 4, and two more issues are scripted and storyboarded. When they are completed, hopefully this year, then I will collect them into a book. I would like to have it ready for the end of this year.

Have you approached any pro' publishers? Any luck there?

No. I don't feel my self-published work is of a standard that a monthly comic demands. I did have a brief experience where I was drawing a book for NBM, but it fell down because I felt I wasn't up to the task. Which was the right decision.

What other projects are you involved with at the mo'?

Two. One with Daniel Merlin Goodbrey And one with Douglas Noble. Two fine writers, who will announce what's happening when it's time, I guess.

What's going down at Camden? How are you involved?

The Camden Comics Stall is great fun. I turn up every two weeks and help sell comics. There is a bit more to it than that, though. There are a lot of ideas floating around, and various individuals choose which of these ideas they think they would like to handle. For instance, we needed a website, so I set that up, but it needed a banner, so Oliver (Lambden) and Phil (Spence) designed that. David (Baillie) decided to design some promo stuff. Then there is Oli who seems to have a very good grasp of promoting stuff.

It is really inspiring, something I have always wanted to be involved in. A group activity that everyone can contribute to, and benefit from, while remaining an individual creative.

What are the good and bad things about the UK's small press scene?

The good things?

The good aspect of the small press is that there is a ready-made platform to launch your work from. The people are very friendly and will help you with any difficulties you have, will publish your work (in anthologies) and review it. The social side of things is excellent. It's a very vibrant, happening environment.

The bad things?

Cheerleading everything in small press. The idea being that all small pressers will benefit from this, which I'm not sure that they will.

I don't see anything bad, but there are a few things that maybe I feel uncomfortable about. I sometimes think that there can be a bit too much self congratulatory back slapping in small press. This can extend to slightly ridiculous claims for the merits and achievements of some publications. This also extends to an industry-in-a-bubble attitude.

Now, I'm sure I will get a good kicking for this, and these are my own views, so there we go. I have been to a lot of UK cons, read a lot of stuff on-line, spoken to a lot of people and the one thing I hear again and again is that we are the industry when it comes to comics in this country. This is quickly followed by a verbal beating up on the big two American comics companies.

This worries me on some level. The output of self-published material has increased over the six years I have been involved in the small press, and due to digital equipment, the full colour comic is no longer expensive or difficult to produce. Distribution is also more sophisticated. These are all good positive developments.

But there is still a healthy percentage of shite produced. And anyway, I believe outside of self publishing, there is a comics industry in the UK. Shouldn't this be embraced in some positive way?

My attitude has maybe come about because of making Twelve Hour Shift. Putting together a book, getting involved in other stuff around publishing, has changed my viewpoint. I am a lot more appreciative of the effort that goes into producing a book. Even a mediocre one. My attitude when I was grappling the office photocopier, for my first issue, and my attitude now, is DIY. But I want it to be fucking brilliant DIY! I don't want the shelves falling down in my house and someone telling me I have done a good job.

What next for Sean A?

Probably hiding from angry self-publishers at Bristol. Just remember, I have curly hair, and go under the pen name Oli.

Go on, recommend some good small press comics for my readers.

Ninja Bunny by Phil Spence, Tales of the Flat, written by Laurence Powell and drawn by Oliver Lambden, who is getting better and better. Anything by David Baillie, who is an excellent writer, but is also a much-improved artist/Illustrator. Oli Smith writes and draws some good stuff, but his upcoming projects, Brick (with Oliver Lambden), Fish, and some unnamed sc-fi epic all show a departure from the autobiograpical stuff, very interesting indeed.

Also Roger Mason, The Goodman brothers (Dave and Arthur), Karen Rubins is producing some good manga work (check out the Best New Manga 2) , and Andy Winter is one to watch too.

Sean Azzopardi, thanks for your time.


Jim Medway said...

nice interview. I like the shelves analogy!

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