Darryl Cunningham Interview
Next up to be interviewed is Darryl Cunningham. Darryl really shouldn’t need any introduction whatsoever. Drop whatever else it is that you are doing and pay Darryl your undivided rapt attention.
1 / Can you introduce yourself?
I’m an artist/writer of comic strips. I’ve been involved on and off with the UK small press comic scene since the late 1980s. I have a background working in mental health. I started my training to be a mental health nurse, but had to leave the course, because I began to suffer from my own mental health issues (depression/anxiety). My graphic novel Psychiatric Tales is based on my experiences both working as a carer, and as a sufferer. Psychiatric Tales was published in the UK by Blank Slate this year, and will be out in the US and Canada in February 2011 from Bloomsbury. There will also be an Italian edition of the book out in the Summer from Coconino Press.
2 / What drew you to comics?
Reading a comic feels very like dreaming to me. The combination of words and pictures can be extremely powerful. Often by the time you’ve decided not to read a comic, you’ve read half of it. The medium creeps in under the radar, in an invisible, effortless way. It is a perfect way to tell stories and to get complex ideas across. I’ve always loved drawing, so using that skill in order to tell stories came very natural to me. When I look back at my failure to be a mental health nurse, I see now that part of the problem lay in the fact that I wasn’t doing anything creative. To not do the thing you feel you’re good at and enjoy doing, whatever that may be, can be injurious to a person’s mental health. It’s nothing mystical. I had a talent I wasn’t using and this made me feel bad about myself, when I knew I could have done so much more.
3 / Who do you count as your influences?
Early influences include Beano/Dandy, and then later Marvel/DC. I’m influenced by both the powerhouse widescreen dynamism of Jack Kirby and the intimate scratchy confessional strips of Eddy Campbell, and everything inbetween. I’m at the older end of the group of people currently working in the UK comic book scene, so I’m no longer able to say with much certainty what is influencing me, as I’ve read, seen, experienced, so much in my 50 years on this planet.
4 / Can you describe your working process?
The writing comes first. I’ll often write the text/dialogue out in a notebook in order to get an idea of how many pages it’ll cover. Then I’ll draw up the pages in pencil on an A4 sheet of paper. This done, I’ll ink and then scan these pages into photoshop, where the colour work is added. My lettering is actually a computer font made from my own handwriting. This is an excellent way of getting consistent-looking lettering. There’s plenty of web-based font generators online that you can use to do this, like yourfonts.com. Clarity is everything where comics are concerned, and this is especially true online. The easier it is for people to read your work, the better. If you make reading your comic hard, then folk will just click away to somewhere else.
5 / What does your workspace/studio look like?
Nothing very inspiring. A desk in a bedroom, but this bedroom has a great view. It looks out down the valley towards the town, with Haworth on one side and Ilkley Moor on the other. Most days I can see steam trains on the preserved railway chugging up to Haworth and Oxenhope. It’s the line on which the Jenny Agutter version of The Railway Children was shot. Sadly, when I look out of the window, I can’t see Jenny Agutter.
6 / What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on my next book for Blank Slate, Uncle Bob Adventures. This is an all ages book in which Uncle Bob, a 150 year old man, tells his two great, great, great nieces, tales of his extraordinary life. There’s a jungle tale, a Western, a Victorian crime story, and so on. One tale tells of his adventure at the Earth’s Core, while another explains how he met the Frankenstein monster. All this and lots, lots, more.
7 / What are your ambitions for the future?
At the moment, I’m still working in health care in order to make ends meet, doing occasional agency work at a local old people’s home. What I want is to gain enough of an international profile so that I can write comics for a living. I’m slowly getting there. I’m already at a point where I don’t really have to go to publishers anymore. They come to me. You may say, what a lucky sod, and perhaps that’s true, but I’ve spent thirty years grafting away under the poverty line. It’s about bleeding time, frankly!
8 / What advice would you give to an aspiring amateur cartoonist?
Draw every day. Draw blue whales, mountains, fridges, frogs, astronauts, deep sea divers, doorknobs, and anything and everything. It’ll all come in handy. Use Google images for reference. Draw strips on subjects that interest you. Make sure people other than just comic book folk see your work. We need to pitch to the wider world.
9 / What do you think of the health of the UK comics scene at the moment, and what do you think it can do better?
It’s a healthy scene. There’s a positive buzz around, despite the economic difficulties we’re in. It’s much easier now to get interest from media and publishers than it was even a few years ago. Very quietly, a generational change has taken place in big publishing. The editor I work with at Bloomsbury US, who runs the graphic novel side there, told me that she’d got interested in comics when younger after reading Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and other DC/Vertigo titles. This told me that there’d been a huge shift, because not that long ago, you’d have been hard pressed to find anyone in publishing who’d read a comic book. Younger people have come into both publishing and the media, who are much more aware of the possibilities of the comic book form, than the older generation who came before them. This is a genuine lasting change, I think, that isn’t going to fade away. The UK small press scene needs to take advantage of this. We need to have a bigger profile internationally than we do now. Are people in other countries even aware we have such a vibrant scene in the UK? I don’t think they are and we have to fix that.
10 / Where is the best place to buy your work?
You can buy my work from Forbidden Planet, Gosh Comics, Page 45 in Nottingham, direct from Blank Slate, or Amazon if you must. There’s a ton of stuff available to read free online at my blog. Why not go there now?
Thanks Darryl! You certainly should go and have a look at Darryl’s site — there is lots and lots for you to read. Go now! Just like everyone else, Darryl is on Twitter. Go and say hello!