Wednesday, August 21, 2013

My Top Cartoonists #1 – Chris Reynolds and His World of Mauretania - PART THREE/INTERVIEW

(Please see Part One of this series here, and Part Two here.)
My Chris Reynolds Interview:

Amazingly, it was back in May when I conducted the first chunk of this interview.  As Mr. Reynolds lives in England and I do not, and I am poor, the interview(s) was conducted via e-mail on a few separate occasions (as I came up with more questions and he was nice enough to answer them).  I want to thank Chris Reynolds for taking the time and putting in the thought to answer these questions and for being patient with me in general, as it took me quite a while to complete this project.  Also, additional thanks to Mr. Reynolds for making such distinctive and enjoyable comics over the years!

Comic Book Evangelist: How long have you been doing comics?

Chris Reynolds: Since 1985.

CBE: What inspired you to start doing them?

CR: Paul Harvey started Mauretania Comics and asked me to do some strips.

CBE: Who are some of your influences in terms of comics, art, and literature?

CR: Comics: Batman, Beano, UK “Smash,” June and School Friend, Commando, Air War Picture Stories.
Art: Giorgio di Chirico, Edward Hopper.
Literature: Enid Blyton, Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler, Fredric Brown, Cordwainer Smith.
TV: Doctor Who, Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos,” Harry O, most 1970’s US detective shows.

CBE: What or whom inspired the creation of your characters, such as Monitor, Jimmy, Robert, and Rosa? Are they based upon or influenced by other literary or pop culture beings?

CR: Monitor’s overall shape came from a character called “Billy the Cat” in the Beano comic, Rosa was Debbie Harry, and Marilyn came from Annie Lennox.
Robert Rebor was originally an adult, a kind of “man of mystery,” in a novel I began in 1974, but then I did a couple of “as a child” stories about him.  (This was before I did comics - a lot of my characters began life in short text stories of about 3 to 5 lines which I did before I ever began doing comics.)

(Above image is of "Billy the Cat," a character whose look influenced that of Reynolds' Monitor.)

CBE: Why does Monitor always wear his space suit?

CR: The same reason most comics characters rarely change their outfits – so that you immediately know it’s him.  Rosa always wears her beanie for that reason too.

CBE: What are you “getting at” with your comics?  Are you telling stories, do you think, or creating a mood, or perhaps trying to create something akin to a poem or other type of art?

CR: I didn’t know what I was getting at until Seth wrote his brilliant essay about me.  Then it all became clear.  And, yes, the most important thing to me is about creating a mood.

CBE: I notice that many of the comics seem to be vague or oblique, so the characters seem to know what’s going on, while the readers have only some of the information for understanding.  I’m wondering – is this intended?

CR: Good question.  It is intended.  Perhaps the reader gets the best “feel” when they have to use the pattern-recognition part of their mind to fill-in parts of the story for themselves, or have to try and make their own associations about it.

CBE: I noticed re-reading some stories that there are lots of “shots” of buildings and landscapes, and also a kind of longing for the past or a sense that things now are decaying (or even “bombed out” in some stories).  Is there a reason those things seem to pervade a lot of your stories?

CR: I think I just feel at home among old buildings that have gone and have wild flowers growing among them. There was certainly a lot of this kind of place around when I was growing up in Wales and the English Midlands in the 1960’s and 70’s. Exciting places to play. Rare now, they are all tidied-up or built-on. (Just across the road from where I live here in Bournemouth there is one last derelict plot with long grasses waving in the wind and insects among the old concrete slabs, but only yesterday they started putting up the fence ready for the new flats building there!)

CBE: So, do your stories come about organically, or does it require a lot of pre-planning?

CR: Organically.  I usually have no idea what these people are up to either.  My first proper story in what has become my well-known drawing style, “Monitor’s Human Reward,” came in a dream. I dreamed that I was reading this really interesting comic.  I wished I could write a comic story as great as that.  And then I woke up.  And imagine my joy five minutes later when I realized that it actually was me who had written it!

CBE: How do you create your comics?  Do you write any kind of script first?

CR: Always a script first, then I plan which parts of the script go into which panels, I fit it into 9-panel pages by expansion or compression, then start on the actual artwork, panel outlines, then text, then balloons, than the images, which have usually evolved in my mind while I’ve been doing the other stuff.

CBE: Do the stories come out pretty much as they are in final form, or do you have some process for creating them (for example, removing parts that are too expository)?

CR: Sometimes some things have to come out – but this is for all kinds of reasons.  Very late editing.  “The Dial” lost twelve pages even after I’d got as far as drawing it, “Monitor’s Human Reward” didn’t even have an ending until after I’d started drawing it – I dreamed that two nights later.  “The Small Mines” had a whole page inserted after I’d originally completed it.

CBE: With the art – it has a unique, heavily inked look … what tools do you use?  Any special pencils, pens, brushes, or markers?  Is it ordinary paper or something like Bristol board?  When you color, do you use computer programs?

CR: Nothing unusual here, except in my most very recent stories where I’m using animation studio techniques and assembling my panels from pre-drawn components. (No stories are actually animated.)  For penciling and inking I use ordinary cartridge or even typing paper, cheap pens and Indian ink with brush.  But as I am now constructing my images from individual elements, these original sheets feel rather disposable because so much work goes on after scanning that I don’t think they can actually be referred to as “original artwork.”  I scan, convert to vector graphics, and combine, export as raster graphics again, and make quite a lot of changes before a panel is actually complete.

CBE: Just wondering a bit about the current process you have for art making.  I’ve done a little work with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, but I am not entirely clear on what you meant by using “pre-drawn elements” for your comics now ... do you draw pics of your characters in various poses, and maybe some backgrounds, and then go back and combine them in various ways when you’ve come up with a story (in other words, you don’t draw new artwork when you’ve got a new story, you just find ways to re-purpose old art, almost like having a series of stamps you can use to create new visuals?).  I am just unclear on how that process works.

CR: I now use pre-drawn characters and backgrounds (extending the sets of images where necessary for each story). I have these as vector graphics (as from Adobe Illustrator) and export them as a series of layers into Photoshop, then flatten and color, add captions and balloons. (This is my new way of working - to speed things up - all the old black and white strips are straight artwork drawn on A3 cartridge paper.)

CBE: What sparked your move to online/Kindle-style comics?

CR: It was just a new outlet for doing comics, and my comics in particular seemed the right length, the right format (same-sized, vertical rectangle panels), and they wouldn’t have too big a filesize for readers to download, nor be too short for 99c pricing.

CBE: Are you going to keep those new works exclusively online, or do you hope or plan to release print versions of them?

CR: The original artwork of my new stories is suitable for printing and I still count my panels in multiples of nine, to enable print versions. My friend Jerome LeGlatin is trying strenuously to find me a French publisher for a collection and Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury are planning an English collection, edited by Seth.

CBE: Do you think doing your works in color and online changes anything about how the stories come across?

CR: At first on Kindle I stuck to monochrome as the devices were monochrome, but as color devices seemed to become more and more popular I went to color. (Also I stopped putting the stories exclusively on Kindle and added “Smashwords” versions. Smashwords acts as a wholesaler for Sony, Apple, Nook, etc, and I’m glad I did these because it enables a greater distribution.)
Color has been interesting for me, particularly in “The Beginning of Empires” where I used “fauvist” non-representational colors (not on the Amazon version which is mono), and in “Planet 4” where I went for a bleached, washed-out look, that becomes richer as the story develops.

CBE: Do you prefer working in short story format, or do you plan to create any longer works again?

CR: Short stories are where I settle happiest, but I like to try new things - always - so I’d probably love to do a longer one again - and another film.

CBE: I know you work in some other media (painting, film) – what are some of the particular gratifications you get only from the comics format/mode?

CR: I learned that a film runs at a constant speed, so the “reader” is stuck with that speed. And this means that a film has to be “told” in a certain way to work properly, and film-making is a highly developed art and so those ways are well-known. But when I made the Mauretania Comics film I found that it wasn’t a form that I could use to put across the feelings that I wanted to put across, so... better luck next time.
And at present I’m uneasy about doing paintings. Something about the way a painting is an “object”, but I’m still thinking about it. I like to sell prints rather than originals.

CBE: Do you have some vision for where you’re going with the world of your comics?

CR: It’s like stepping stones. I just do one at a time. The story comes first, then I decide which of my cast of characters will be best for it, as if they’re sitting there in some kind of imaginary green room.

CBE: Finally, in Seth’s article for The Comics Journal (from 2005, I think?), he seemed to think you’d stopped cartooning/making comics.  I had also thought that until fairly recently - maybe a couple of years ago, I think.  Did you have a hiatus from making comics, and, if so, why?  What did you do instead?

CR: I did stop cartooning for a long while. I think I stopped in about 1986 when I decided that making films might be easier. How naïve! So I made that Mauretania film Hunters of the Sun. It took ages and was really expensive and most of the work was in administration and planning. Not much percentage of creativity at all. So then I tried “novels”, but I had reckoned without how much the visuals in a comic carry the story and it was like learning a whole new grammar and, well, who needs all that stuff when I’d rather be doing comics anyway.  (What I really want is a slave artist who’ll draw my comics exactly the way I want them.)

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