04 March, 2009

Interview: Paul Grist

Paul Grist's The Eternal Warrior

Paul Grist is certainly best known for his self-published ground-breaking police-procedural, Kane, and for his homage to the superhero genre, Jack Staff. With his new comic, The Eternal Warrior, Grist brings his minimalist graphic style online. OK Erok conducted a Q&A with Paul about how his visual style has developed.

Your layout seems very spacious compared to conventional comics layout. For example, there are only three ‘panels’ in some of your Eternal Warrior (and Kane) pages. You've said before that you were influenced by Frank Miller's Daredevil, in terms of storytelling and structure. Can you elaborate on this and your 'philosophy' of storytelling?

“The storytelling in The Eternal Warrior is different to what I've done in previous comics (Kane and Jack Staff), where I've tended to use the page as a single unit. With Eternal Warrior I'm trying to speed up the production process and I'm using double pages as a single unit, so what I might have got on a single page previously, is spread over two. This gives more space to the layouts.

Paul Grist's layoutWhat I'm doing is trying to get away from a traditional approach to the comic page - so not using the usual panel boxes, but trying to let the pictures define the shape and layout on the page. It's a different way of working - and I think a different way of reading - to what I've done before, which I think is in keeping with the type of story I’m telling.

I'm trying to do something that is very much a comic, where words and visuals work together. The page with the silhouette and the legend of Leonard - which is not something I've really done before - will be the approach I take for The Eternal Warrior. It's a different to what I'm doing with Jack Staff, which is different to what I did with Kane.”

In looking at contemporary comics, your work is very distinctive. Do you consider yourself a stylist, in any sense? How do you place style, in terms of importance? Do you think there any kinds of comics that you could not/would not adapt to?

“Each story needs a different approach. I think my ‘style’ is distinctive, without being the same regardless of the story. I'm trying to work my way through different story genres - humour, crime, superhero and now fantasy (for want of a better word) - eventually I'll find something I'm good at!”

Do you undergo a long creative gestation period before you start work or do you feel your way into a story as you write/draw it? How did the idea for the Eternal Warrior come about?

I have had the idea of doing a Big Cosmic Comic rolling round my head for a while now. I did some pages, left them for a few weeks, then came back and redid them - basically I was just running on the spot! - but posting the pages forces me to move forward.”

In terms of your process, as a cartoonist, you seem to place emphasis on speed. Why is this? Has your process changed - or do you see it changing (through technological or any other means) - so that you can work faster? Can you describe your creative process from a to z, in terms of composing pages and pacing stories?

“The speed thing is just a discipline - ideally I would like to be doing something like The Eternal Warrior as a bimonthly companion title to Jack Staff - but I need to prove to myself that I can do it.

The composition/pacing, as well as the writing, is all done on the page - it's all part of the same thing, after all - which I think is the best way to go for a writer/artist. I don't write a script which I then draw - as the artist I wouldn't want to tie myself down like that.

Usually I start with an idea - perhaps an image or a scene - which I then draw/script. As I work I think how about how this scenario could develop and a story evolves. One way to describe it would be ‘organic’; another way would be ‘chaotic!’

Working like this led to occasions (on Kane and Jack Staff) when what I thought was going to be the beginning of a story became the end, so I worked backwards to reach my starting point! The Eternal Warrior is more linear than Jack Staff and Kane - so I’m not that disorganised, yet! - but I'm only seven pages into it. There's plenty of time!

It works for me, but I wouldn't advise it for anyone else.”

How do you feel about self-publishing nowadays? Do you see it as a necessary evil or a creative choice? The advent of print-on-demand and the internet have lowered the barrier to self-publishing. And there seems to be a natural flow from webcomics to paperback collections. Do you see yourself publishing an Eternal Warrior trade paperback, for example, at the end of its run or will you seek a publisher for it? Have you come across any self-published comics in recent years that have really impressed you?

“I do plan on printing The Eternal Warrior at some point - either as a back-up strip in Jack Staff or as a comic in it's own right - but the facebook group/blog is more an exercise to get me to actually finish pages, rather than coming back to them periodically and starting over!

The internet and print-on-demand allow you to get your work seen, but to make money from it you have to work with the comics distribution set up. The distribution system, for all its faults, allows people to publish their own work and (because it is based on firm sales) know before printing how much (if any) money they will make, so it's a fairly low risk financial proposition.

I don't think self-publishing is as easy as it was a few years ago - there are more hoops to jump through with Diamond - but I still see it as a viable option to being published by a 'proper' publisher.

Favourite self-published titles at the moment are Glamourpuss by Dave Sim and Rasl by Jeff Smith, but they're not the newest kids on the block!”