Glyn Dillon Interview Pt 2
This interview catches up with Glyn Dillon about a year and a half after I originally interviewed him. The original interview was from a set of stock questions I was asking a lot of artists at the time, but with this interview I was interested in speaking further with Glyn about his approach to working on a large project, his creative process and his thoughts on the Nao of Brown now that it is finished.
Can you explain where the Nao of Brown came from?
It bubbled up over a period of time but there were a few short days when a lot fell into place. Originally I wanted it was to be something for an anthology I was planning to put together, so I approached Alan Martin with my very rough idea for something called ‘2013’ or ‘1320’ (I can’t remember) to see if he would help me write it. Anyway, he was pretty busy was Tank Girl commitments at the time, so things kept cropping up in my mind, new ideas etc, until I felt I had enough to go it alone. It had changed drastically from what I had originally proposed to Alan, so he gave me my blessing and I forged on, solo.
There were quite a few serendipitous moments that happened early on in the process, which really fuelled the fire and then I had a 2–3 day burst where I pretty much wrote the synopsis for the entire story. Of course there were massive chunks missing and lots has been discarded since, but I was really surprised at how quickly it presented itself.
The short answer to your question — The ‘Ideasphere’.
I’m finding with my own work that I have to keep reminding myself to trust the ‘me from the past’ who wrote the script or drew the roughs. Do you find a similar thing with your work? How rigidly do you stick to your planning?
Because Nao was such a long form project, I decided the only way I could write it, was to do it in a screenplay format. It’s what I was used to getting in terms of storyboarding, but also I just wanted to get that first draft done as quickly as possible. I don’t really consider myself a writer (having never had anything published that was more than a few pages in Deadline)… I had written a screenplay but that remains on the shelf as a first draft.
With Nao, I was nervous, the whole thing felt so BIG and unwieldy at first, I knew I’d feel better if I could just get that first draft done quickly. Then like everyone always says, it got easier from there on in — it’s just editing. I had a three month deadline to deliver the finished script, six drafts later it was done. The seventh draft was done in the lettering process. Being able to move word balloons and caption boxes around, or lose them altogether, was great fun. Now I can’t imagine going back to working with a separate writer, unless he/she would be willing to give me the freedom to re-edit things at that stage.
So yeah, I had to trust my ‘me from the past’ because there just wasn’t the luxury of time not to. Once the script was finished I had to get cracking on thumb-nailing it. But having said that, a lot of changes were made along the way and right up to the very last minute too.
You said that seeing the Hellboy film helped you fall in love with the idea of drawing comics again. How do you feel about drawing comics now that you’ve finished the book?
I think it’s safe to say I still feel the same way, in fact I love the medium even more now. Once I started in earnest, I felt the need to catch up a bit with what’s been going on in the world of comics/graphic novels. I’d neglected it for so long so there was a lot of catching up to do. I even got a reading list of Manga titles to read from the artist Tonci Zonjic. I’d loved Katsuhiro Otomo’s artwork from the late eighties when I first saw it, I read Domu and some of AKIRA but once I started Nao I finally bought and read the entire AKIRA series, all in a week, mid blowing, and it also made me feel much better about tackling a 200 page GN.
I would happily do comics full time, but unless Nao becomes a HUGE success, I have to go back to storyboarding. I have two kids and I like living in London too much — and making comics doesn’t really cover that, financially.
Nao was a real labour of love, and a massive learning curve. I miscalculated how long it would take me to draw a page because I was just going by my storyboarding speed, which is much quicker. So now any further books I do I will have a much better idea of how long it takes and will be able to negotiate deals accordingly. I must say though, I’ve loved working with everyone at SMH, they’ve been fantastic in every way and very understanding when I had to rearrange the original deadline. They’ve also had me thoroughly involved in the entire production and marketing of the book, the design, everything — so the whole book, as an object, is exactly how I wanted it to be. They’ve been wonderful for that.
It’s just the time that it takes. Until the audience is big enough to provide a decent living wage, I’ll have to combine the two. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not miserable about it, I feel very lucky that SMH gave me the opportunity to do the book and I also feel lucky that storyboarding pays enough to allow me not to have a full time job (well, just.)
Comics are great! I just wish more of the world thought so.
I do think there’s a definite upsurge in the world of comics both in terms of quality, interest and recognition. Some great new British publishers that just weren’t around the last time I was involved in comics. Everyone got snapped up by DC in those days, cos they paid well. Now it almost seems like we could be on the cusp of a new golden age. The small press scene, which I didn’t know anything about until starting on Nao is alive with some great talent. I’m excited for the comics medium as a whole, but I think it’s yet to reach it’s full potential.
What is it that you think that comics in Britain need to continue this upsurge?
A change in attitude, education… people just don’t know what’s available, when they hear ‘comics’ they think Beano & Dandy, there’s nothing wrong with those comics but what I mean is, comics is thought of a a medium for kids, something of an in between from kids picture books, to ‘proper’ prose reading.
I’ve working on some of the parents at my son’s school, there’s one or two who are in the know already but most have no idea. I leant one of the SMH Sherlock Holmes books to one of the Dad’s there, both he and his wife read it and his wife said, something along the lines of “It was great because it felt like I’d taken in some quality literature, but at the same time it didn’t take as long to read.”
I’m not sure that 35–45 yr old parents is where the market is gonna make it’s money, but if more people of that age knew about it, who knows. They’ll be the ones who pay for it in the old fashioned way, rather than downloading it for free though. I dunno, to continue the upsurge, I suppose we just need to keep producing quality work that appeals to a mainstream audience and by mainstream I don’t mean ‘comics mainstream’ ie superheros. I mean proper mainstream. People who buy books.
The fact that we’ve got a few great independent publishers seemingly flourishing at the moment, gives me hope. And shops like GOSH! Page45, Dave’s Comics etc etc Shops that try and push that real mainstream side of things, they should all be supported. I wasn’t able to go to ELCAF this year but by all the accounts I read, it sounded great, again something to be optimistic about.
So do you have any plans for another book?
Weeeell, right now I can’t even think about it. I’m still taking strong pain killers everyday. For the last 5–6 months of working on the book I worked crazy hours, 9am till 3am, seven days a week, I only stopped to eat and put my boys to bed. Before that and pretty much from the start I’d been working six days a week. A lot of this is due to the fact I thought I’d be able to draw two pages a day, when it got to the reality, I was only getting one done. By the end I was painting two pages a day.
Again I don’t want to sound negative, this was just down to not knowing how long it would take when I started. But once you start you have to meet the deadline… and if you can’t meet that deadline, then you have to give enough fore-warning and then definitely meet the next one.
So I ended up with an unforgiving schedule, but at no point did I hate doing the work, I loved doing the book… but I did hate the fact that I hadn’t been able to work out a better schedule from the off. But it was no ones fault. My poor wife was very supportive and sometimes understandably frustrated. I missed out on a lot of stuff with my family, so it’s really nice to be hanging out with them again.
Then about two weeks after finishing the book I ended up in hospital for five days with four of my discs bulging and certain areas of my body going numb and everyone got a bit worried for a while. I’ve always had a vulnerable back and this wasn’t the first bad episode on this book but it was by far the worst.
At the moment I’m still having trouble sitting at my desk for too long. So as much as I’d love to do another book, the reality is, I have to concentrate on getting better physically and also getting in some well paid jobs that don’t demand my body as well as my soul.
There are some things bubbling up but I don’t think there’ll be any big graphic novel coming soon.
We’ll see. I’m a sucker for punishment.
Did you have a target audience in mind when you were writing the book? What are your thoughts on writing for a specific audience?
I did actually, just one person. And then after I’d been going at it for a while I read this quote from John Steinbeck… which made me feel all clever for working that out on my own.
“Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.”
Has this one person seen the book? How much weight do you put on their reaction?