Howard Hardiman Interview
This interview has taken a little while to get to us, it was intended to run oh I don’t know, maybe six months ago or so, but I’m just glad it is here now!
1 / Can you introduce yourself? What is your background?
Why, are you interviewing people you don’t know? How very promiscuous of you, Dan. What will the gossip columns say? I don’t know how to introduce myself without it sounding like I’m writing a personals
advert or an escort advert, which in itself probably says quite a lot about me.
Me, well, background-wise, I grew up in a lovely suburban household on the cusp of Surrey and London and I think everyone in that hinterland goes one way or the other, either going out to tractor shows and
country fairs every weekend or borrowing their mum’s car to visit their friend down the road and instead driving up into London to get into as much trouble as possible. I’ll let you work out which type I was.
I studied in Norwich, where most of Norwich seemed to study me because it seemed like they’d never seen a tall skinny boy with bright red hair before. I was a long way from London. I somehow wound up studying Cultural Studies with a view to doing poetry and photography, then I did my dissertation on moral philosophy around cosmology and quantum physics and became a sign language interpreter instead when I graduated.
Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time pretending to be other people for that job, travelled about a little bit, got back to London, had more adventures, got into and out of more trouble than I think I can begin to describe and through a series of mishaps am now back in South London, back at art school and still getting into trouble.
2 / What drew you to comics?
When I was little, I used to read Transformers, but I remember best the issue 100 story “Distant Thunder” about Optimus Prime having a little emo moment in that alternate reality place he was in while all the other marketing ploys were time-travelling about and taking his place in the timeline. I think it was mostly because I wanted him to be my dad or something.
Oh, and I think everyone knows I had a major crush on Panthero.
I stopped buying comics for a while when I was trying to be ‘ard in my teenage years, which I think meant buying Choose Your Own Adventure books instead for a while, then got back into them in a big way with Sandman and when a mate who worked at Random House sent me a copy of Shutterbug Follies I was properly blown away. Then I picked up People I Know at a Christmas Fete and it was fate.
I started doodling on post-it notes and putting them on Flickr, then I started drawing a Badger wandering around in Brockley and then I realised how badly I’d fucked up my arms from interpreting and had to stop working and suddenly the little badger became a lot more real and someone suggested putting it together as a book, so I sort of thought I’d give it a go. I’m a bit of a knob really, for not thinking properly about how to tell stories or anything like that, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot more seriously lately.
But what drew me to comics? I dunno, there’s something nostalgic and fresh about them at the same time, and something that’s really personal about the way you read those stories. I think Nick Abadzis’ Laika made me cry almost as much as Dancer in the Dark did, and I saw that just after being a witness in a murder trial, so I probably wasn’t crying for the film.
3 / Who do you count as your influences?
When I was interpreting more, I worked for lots of art galleries, interpreting gallery tours, so I spent loads of time with paintings and photography and I think that’s really bled into the stuff I love to think about, especially with The Lengths, where Caravaggio and Mapplethorpe are as conspicuous as Frank Millar in how the story looks, but there’s probably a chunk of some of the theatre stuff I love in there as well, with a bit of Sarah Kane’s timeline madness going in as well. I don’t think I’m going to be nearly as horrible to
the characters as she was, though, I think that would be really difficult to manage.
Comics-wise, though, in more mainstream comics, I compulsively buy the BPRD trades, The Walking Dead, loved the Catwoman reboot until they had to shoehorn in the crossover events, but I’m a bit bad because I tend to look more at the characters and the stories rather than remember who the artist and writer was, which is a cardinal sin in comics. I tend to like most stuff from Ed Brubaker, though, looking at my shelf. Stuff where sad things happen to cute things will also win lots of points with me, too, which is possibly why Laika and Fluffy are constant favourites.
4 / Can you describe your working process?
A bit chaotic, to be honest. For Badger, it’s a bit more straightforward. I’ve drawn him often enough that I’ve got a pretty solid mental construct of him and I know what he does, so I can pose him without needing to work too hard on preparatory sketches. What I’m doing with his story now, though, is that I’m not planning on making another book, I’m just making a web comic of moments in his life, so I’m drawing, painting or making the pictures on whatever I want to use, and I’m loving having given myself that freedom to play and experiment. It also keeps me from thinking about how to sell a book and just makes me concentrate on making pictures and little sequences I like and am fond of.
In terms of working process, though, it’s mostly a case of taking lots of photos of streets in Brockley when I take a walk around Hilly Fields or wherever myself just to give myself prompts, then getting too excited in art supplies shops and wasting hours and lots of money on buying things to make pictures on and then hoping I can sell them at the end of it, but ultimately I’m not too fussed about it.
For The Lengths, though, it’s a bit more complicated. The story was based on quite extensive research interviews with male escorts that I re-worked and spent years working on until I’d got a set of characters
and back-stories I was happy with and then I got the storyline together and put together the story arc and script. There’s a lot of location research — again, my iPhone is really handy for taking snaps - then loads of figure drawing to get the poses right and then, and this is the bit that took longer than I thought, fashion research for the characters. I got a friend of mine to sit with me and help to dress the characters, based around their build, age, income and personality so I know where they shop and what they’re likely to be
It’s kind of sad that I’ve learned so much about high-tops for Eddie for this.
Layout thumbnails are done next, and they’re kept really simple to stop me from losing too much time and sanity on this stage, just matchstick men and blocks to work out if there’s room to tell the story how I want to tell it and if there’s breathing room around the images.
Next step’s preparatory sketches if I need to introduce something I’ve not drawn before, or if it’s a scene I’m okay with, I do warm-up sketches in my sketchbook of something I just think is fun to keep myself from going mad.
Then I draw by hand, and I think it’s important for the story that it’s done this way, onto Bristol Board, doing outlines in feint blue, then in 2h pencil to build up the detail in the image and then I ink with calligraphy pen, technical pen, brush pen and marker pen for the bigger areas of black.
The pages are scanned in and then I use photoshop to smooth out the black areas and to make any corrections I want to make at this stage - there’s usually quite a few — then I put them into the InDesign file
for the comic to build it all together. Once it’s all in, I get a friend who’s better than me at typography to help check over the InDesign file before it goes to print and then I have a long chat with the printer about paper, mood and feel and all that to check we’re on the same wavelength.
Then I have a little cry.
5 / What does your workspace/studio look like?
Right now, I’m about to move into a new studio, in the back yard of the Old Police Station in Deptford, where from the window of the tiny little metal box I’ll be in I can look up to where better comic artists than I work in The Fleece Station and I can dream of the day where I can be as good as them.
Once I’m moved in, though, there’ll be a desk and a lot of gay porn, pictures of dogs, art books and things like that. I’ll send you a picture once I’m in, I promise.
6 / How do you earn a living?
I did think about prostitution for a bit, but I can’t be bothered with hitting refresh on that many websites all day to tout for trade. Now I get some money from comics and some from doing bits of sign language
interpreting, the occasional bit of work with art galleries and, hilariously, some modelling.
7 / What are you working on at the moment?
Badger and The Lengths are the main things I’m working on right now, but I’m also doing an MA at Camberwell in Illustration and I’m tinkering away at writing a new comic that’s a collaborative project
and thus top secret for the time being. I’m thinking of trying to do some other arty things when I can find the time, but the main thing is to get The Lengths sorted and to get ahead with that.
8 / What are your ambitions for the future?
Get a dog.
9 / What advice would you give to an aspiring amateur cartoonist?
Hmm, I wholeheartedly approve of the general advice to make the comics you love to read, but I think there’s also a lot or mileage in looking outside of comics for things to bring into the mix. Read, watch and listen voraciously and think about what you can pull together into your work to make a new mix with a flavour that’s your own.
The other bit of advice is: watch your back.
Not: other artists will pull you down — if anything, they’re the people who will catch you every single time you feel yourself falling. What I mean is more physically — if your body fucks up, you can have all the skill in the world, but if your hands are painful claws, your comics will fall apart. Get a decent chair and a drawing space that protects your spine and hands and eyes and you’ll go a lot further than hunching over yourself to burn your spine apart. As much as you obsess about getting the right pen or invest in a decent computer, look after the most important tools, which is your body, eh?
You’ve been warned.
Also, I’m not sure there’s any such thing as amateurs. You just make stuff you love making, some of us get to sell it, some just love making it. We’d all still be doing it anyway, whether or not the was money in it, I’m pretty sure.
10 / What do you think of the health of the UK comics scene at the moment, and what do you think it can do better?
I think it’s good — there’s enough talent in the UK scene at the moment that it’s intimidating enough to make me want to constantly look at what other people are producing and I’m always impressed and I’m always learning from everyone else as they’re developing. We don’t have TCAF or anything quite on that scale, and we’re not organised into the kinds of distros and cartels that you see coming up when there’s that kind of critical mass achieved, but I don’t think we’re far off when you see the visitor numbers at places like the Comics Village at MCM expo, Kapow! or Thought Bubble and when you see how many of our number are having the choice to make the switch over to big publishers elsewhere. I think, if anything, what we’re not doing well enough is realising quite how far we’ve developed as a community and we’re only slowly starting to wave flags in the mainstream about the wicked stuff we’re involved in and we’re all just tentatively beginning to have a bit more faith in ourselves, but I think that’s coming. I’m seeing there are so many choices ahead of people at the moment it’s a bit baffling knowing which path to choose, but that’s a real luxury problem to be faced with to have too many choices for how to set out a career when you think of how limited options seem to have been in the past.
11 / Where is the best place to buy your work?
The Lengths is available through your local comic shop — if they’ve sold out, they can order it in (see the growing faith I’m trying to cultivate!) or you can get it through www.thelengths.com or http://cutebutsad.bigcartel.com which also has some Badger stuff, older comics (although some have sold out, so I guess it’s not just the shops!) and I’ll be putting The Lengths issue 2 up soon. If those things scare you, you can stalk me at conventions and in the street and whichever bin you see me scavenging in.
Thanks very much Howard! Please take some time to click the links, buy some books and follow Howard on twitter.