Friday, 8 August 2014

WOW! Graphic Novels, Comics & Magazines - Interview with Writer, Illustrator, Cartoon-Creator and Graphic-Novelist Dave Shelton

Dave Shelton is an illustrator and writer, his novel A Boy and a Bear in a Boat was shortlisted for the 2013 Carnegie, to read our review press here. Dave also creates comics, both penning the text and inking the illustrations, his work can be found in the The DFC Comic (forefather of The Phoenix) and as graphic novels published by The David Fickling Library.

What was your favourite children’s book as a child?

This is a question I get asked quite a lot and I really struggle to answer it, I’m afraid. I remember reading quite a lot when I was a child but I don’t remember having any particular favourite book at any stage. I do have fond memories of Dr Seuss books in general though, and The Cat in the Hat in particular. There’s a scene in a Harrison Ford movie (I forget which one) and I was watching it while visiting my parents sometime in my thirties, I think. My dad happened to walk into the room as the Harrison Ford character was reading The Cat in the Hat to his daughter. As he did so, my dad started reciting the words in time with him, still remembering them from when he read it to my brothers and me 25 years or so earlier. So I guess that must have been a favourite with us - one of those “Again! Again!” books.

What was your favourite children’s magazine/comic/annual as a child?

I read a lot of comics and annuals as a child but the one that really turned me into an obsessive was the science fiction comic 2000AD, the home of Judge Dredd, among many other characters. I’d avoided it for the first year or so of it being published but then I read a copy that my dad bought me when I was off school ill (we always got comics and Lucozade when we were ill) and I quite liked it. Then my older brother and I started to get just the occasional copy, and we liked it more and more. Then at some point we started having it delivered weekly by the paperboy, and I saved all the back issues in a big suitcase in my bedroom and read and reread them, and I knew the names of my favourite artists and started trying to draw like them. Then I was off on the slippery slope to eventually (occasionally) writing and drawing comics for a living myself.

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?

I’m not sure what my absolute favourite children’s book is now. I’ve just been one of the judges for the Branford Boase Award, and I loved the book we chose as the winner for that: Infinite Sky, by C J Flood. It’s just so beautifully written. But I still love a good picture book too, so I could easily choose Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back, for instance, because it’s so hilariously funny. Or there are the comics that I love to read to my step daughter, like Tintin (my favourite of those is probably The Black Island) and Asterix (Obelix and Co. is my top choice of those.)

Do you read comics/graphic novels as an adult? If so which is your favourite?

I most certainly do read comics and graphic novels (though I tend just to call all of them comics) as an adult. My earliest memory of reading is of me reading a comic while on holiday at the seaside, and I carried on reading them all through childhood and into adulthood. There was a time when I fell a little out of love with them simply because there didn’t seem to be very much exciting new work coming out (I think this was around the early 2000s) but now it kind of feels like we’re in a ridiculously rich golden age of great and beautiful comics being published all the time, so it’s actually rather hard to keep up with it all. Some of my favourites these days are from Europe. There’s a lot of really lovely work over there only a tiny fraction of which, sadly, has been translated into English. A couple of my favourites that have are: Green Manor, by Fabien Vehlmann and Denis Bodart; and Isaac the Pirate, by Christophe Blain. The UK scene is very vibrant too now though with some wonderful titles coming out from publishers like Selfmade Hero, Blank Slate and Nobrow. Favourites include Rob Davis’s adaptation of Don Quixote, Joe Decie’s work, Jon McNaught, and, oh, loads of others. And of course, specifically for children, there’s The Phoenix, a proper, high quality weekly comic full of original stories by the likes of Gary Northfield, Jamie Smart and the Etherington Brothers. An embarrassment of riches.

What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?

I think children make children’s books so inspirational. Because children tend to be less constricted by any kind of rules about how stories can be told this gives authors a freedom to be a little bolder, take more risks with both the story itself and the way that it’s told. There’s less of a sense that some things just aren’t allowed.

Did you always want to be an illustrator/ comic maker?

I didn’t always want to be an illustrator/comic maker, but I think from about my mid teens I had at least some idea that I’d like to somehow do something involving drawing for my living. So I studied on a couple of illustration courses at college and l started to get some illustration work here and there. Then little by little I drifted toward drawing (and writing) comics and from there I’ve drifted further still into writing and illustrating prose novels for children. But it’s mostly been happy accidents that have got me here rather than any sort of a plan.

When writing and illustrating a comic, does the story or the pictures come first?

I don’t really know which comes first when I make a comic. My process is a bit of a mess. Sometimes I’ll just draw the characters for a while and play around making them do things. Then that might give me some elements that I’ll want to work into the story. Then I might try to work out some sort of overall structure for the story and begin to, really badly, draw the pages in a fast, doodly way, just to work out what happens when and roughly how to tell it, mostly working on the timing of the action and jokes. Then once I’m reasonably happy with that I’ll probably start to draw the pages up properly. But, as I say, it varies a lot. The only thing that stays the same is that it always takes far too long.

How does creating a comic differ from illustrating books?

Comics are harder.

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