In late 2010 comics artist and lecturer Dan Berry took a 'snapshot' of the British comics scene and interviewed a wide variety of UK comics creators. As this interview is no longer available online (except at the Internet Archive) it is now hosted here for posterity.
During the hiatus in which Christmas and New Year occurred, I was ill twice, extremely busy and extremely lazy all at the same time. My apologies for this, but what better way to get back into the swing of things than with the fantastic Garen Ewing ...
Can you introduce yourself? What is your background?
My name is Garen Ewing and I'm the writer and illustrator of The Rainbow Orchid, an adventure comic being published in three parts by Egmont in the UK and by Silvester Strips in the Netherlands. Before that it was self-published and then became a web comic for a couple of years. I have been self-publishing various things since 1985, and working as a self-employed illustrator full-time since about 2002.
What drew you to comics?
My mum bought them for me when I was very young to keep me occupied during some long hospital stays. The other things she gave me were paper and pencils, and the result, perhaps inevitably, was that I made my own comics. I think my love of the medium is the same today as it was then - once you've glanced at the first panel on the first page of a comic strip, you can't help but be instantly drawn into the story. It's a unique and fully immersive reading experience that fabulously engages both halves of the brain. Getting lost in a comic is one of the best things you can do!
Who do you count as your influences?
Storywise I love the classic adventure writers, H. Rider Haggard, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne etc. Graphically I lean heavily towards the European ligne-claire: Hergé, Edgar P. Jacobs, Floc'h, Yves Chaland, a touch of Roger Leloup perhaps, and more recently a bit of Tezuka and Miyazaki too. My biggest heroes, if you like, are film directors, all auteurs - Akira Kurosawa, Charlie Chaplin, Woody Allen, David Lean. I don't mind admitting I'm pretty heavily influenced - I want to play in all of their parks!
Can you describe your working process?
I like a well-structured story, so after plotting I'll rough out the script by hand at the same time as thumbnailing the page. Then I'll type the script up (most recently using Scrivener), rewriting here and there as I go. Next I'll pencil a rough version of the page on A4 which I'll also letter (I do the lettering on the computer having created my own hand-lettering font). For the finished drawing I take a pencil to a piece of A3 bristol board and then ink it with a dip pen (Hunt 107 nib). I scan it into the computer at 600dpi and then colour it with Photoshop - very simple mostly flat colours as the pages are quite busy and I like a clean graphical look. I transfer the lettering from the A4 roughs to the colour master and create the speech balloons, and that's pretty much it.
What does your workspace/studio look like?
My workspace in 2011
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I'm halfway through drawing The Rainbow Orchid part 3, which will complete the story. I started the story in 1997 and the majority of volumes 1 and 2 were completed several years ago (though it was only published last year), so it's nice that volume 3 will present some much more up-to-date artwork at last.
What are your ambitions for the future?
I love my family of characters so I want to create more stories for them. Some of them will be as books and some will be on the web. I'd like to do at least three big Julius Chancer adventures (my main character), of which The Rainbow Orchid is the first. I want to sell lots of books!
What advice would you give to an aspiring amateur cartoonist?
Comics can be a lot of hard work and long hours, so make sure you work on something you enjoy. Don't expect to get rich with comics (though never rule it out!), but at the same time value your own work, and that does include giving it financial value. Don't write stories you think other people want to read, write stories that interest you - your audience will find you (though you have to get your work out there) and they'll be true to your work if they detect your heart in it. Always do the best you can, and pay attention to the details, because they matter. Avoid jealousy, embrace generosity, and do some exercise! Finally, I'd say everyone has their own path, so some or all of the above may not be applicable, and anyway - what do I know?
What do you think of the health of the UK comics scene at the moment, and what do you think it can do better?
The UK comics scene is nice and lively at the moment, bubbling away with a sense of anticipation. There have never been so many talented creators doing such a diverse range of quality work and publishing it with such good production values - so that's indicative of a very healthy scene, I'd say. And it's been quite a few years since so many comic creators could actually make a living, or at least a partial living, from the comics publishing industry in their own country. But if you look at the book industry, it's not quite there. If you look at UK-based publishers putting out original content graphic novels and comics by UK-based creators, there still aren't that many (shops are largely dominated by classic reprints, imports and literary adaptations - all of which I read and love, by the way!), though the industry is slowly expanding.
In the UK, comics are still not a widely accepted medium (again, it's better than it has been) - bookshops don't always know what to do with them, so there are distribution, stock and placement issues to overcome. I know if the books are given a chance, if they're visible, they sell, but it's the visibility part that can be a problem. So that's what I think the comics scene can do better - get comics out to the public and promote the medium on its own merits (I worry a little sometimes about shouting too loudly about how comics can 'get kids reading', as while that is true, and an excellent thing, it can also sometimes reinforce the idea that comics are for slow learners, or a childish stepping stone to 'proper books'). Having said that, getting comics into schools is vital! Actually, pretty much all the comics people I know are doing these things, and more, and a lot of self-publishers seem to be making great strides to break out of the comics world and into the mainstream reading culture. I've seen the enthusiasm for comics first hand in the past year at a whole range of big literary festivals, having been booked for talks at Hay, Edinburgh, Cheltenham and Bath, as well as many smaller events. So we just need to keep on and up and out of the goldfish bowl - it's good.
Where is the best place to buy your work?
Various random Waterstones across the country stock The Rainbow Orchid, though it's rather patchy. Foyles in London are good and also a few comics shops - for instance, Travelling Man in Leeds, Plan B in Glasgow, Gosh in London, Nostalgia & Comics in Birmingham and a smattering of other independent bookshops all over the place. Amazon, The Book Depository and Forbidden Planet all sell it online, and I sell signed and sketched-in editions from my own website (www.rainboworchid.co.uk).