I am the creator, writer, and artist of The Rainbow Orchid. I've always drawn comics for my own amusement, from as young as I remember. I've worked as a cleaner, fork-lift driver, mushroom farm porter, hotel porter, designer, and multimedia developer before being able to become a self-employed illustrator in about 2002. As a hobby I study the 1878-80 Second Anglo-Afghan War, having appeared on BBC Radio 4's Making History as their 'expert' (in 2004).
Tell us about The Rainbow Orchid.
It's a classic adventure story set in the 1920s, starting off in England before moving to France, then on to Karachi and up the Indus Valley into the lost valleys of the Hindu Kush. The main character is Julius Chancer, a kind of historical researcher, and he ends up promising to help find The Rainbow Orchid, a mythical flower that was last mentioned by the Ancient Greek botanist, Theophraustus. Accompanying him on his trek is Lily Lawrence, silent film star, her publicity agent, Nathaniel Crumpole, and French aerobat, Benoit Tayaut. For as-yet unknown reasons, they are pursued by the dastardly Urkaz Grope and his dark angel, Evelyn Crow.
What inspired you to create Rainbow Orchid?
I started devising the story at the end of 1996 as an antidote to all the dark and gritty 'for mature readers' comics that seemed to be everywhere. I wanted a high adventure story that was okay for kids to read, but with a plot that adults could enjoy too. I just wanted to indulge myself in a comic that I would enjoy. Story-wise I was influenced by the lost world romances of H. Rider Haggard, Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle, while graphically I wanted to use elements of the European Franco-Belgian clear line, as found in books such as Tintin by Hergé and Blake & Mortimer by Edgar P. Jacobs.
What was the first comic book you read?
The earliest I remember was Asterix, sometime in the mid 1970s. It would probably have been Asterix and the Roman Agent - a book I still love.
What's your all-time favorite comic issue or series?
I would have a hard time choosing between Asterix and Tintin. More recently I might choose Trondheim and Sfar's Dungeon series, or maybe Miyazaki's epic Nausicaa.
Who are your favorite artists working today?
Lewis Trondheim would be up there, and also Jason, author of terrific works such as The Left-Bank Gang and I Killed Adolf Hitler. Alan Moore's From Hell is one of my favourite books, and I'm also a big fan of many of the artists who came up through 2000AD in the late 70s and early 80s, such as Kevin O'Neill, Brian Bolland and Bryan Talbot. There's so many good artists around today, many new ones in the independent and small press sector, a list seems almost futile.
You've been working on Rainbow Orchid for several years. When do you think it finally "caught on"?
I think it had several 'moments'. It first appeared in the small press anthology 'BAM!' and got noticed quite quickly, but I was really sure I was onto something people seemed to genuinely like after I self published the first volume (in black and white) and it sold out within a matter of months (mostly at the London Comic Show in 2003). I continued the strip online, putting it into colour, and that started to attract the attention of book publishers, and then things progressed from there. It's been a gradual build-up - which is still ongoing.
What advice would you have for aspiring artists looking to break into the business?
There seems to be so many ways to break in to comics, that I think the underlying truth of the matter just seems to be 'do good work'. Do good work and it will get noticed. Of course you have to work hard to help get it noticed. Don't wait for someone to come along and hand you a contract - make your own comics and put them out there, show what you can do. Comics aren't a well-paid medium, so you have to do it for the love of it, and if that's your reason for doing them, then you'll just want to make comics and get them out there to be read, no matter what. There's no easy way though, you have to put in the hours!
Do you have anything you'd like to tease about vol 2 or 3?
Volume 2 is out on 5th July 2010, but at the moment I'm getting excited about volume 3, which will be out in early 2011. I'm at last writing and drawing scenes that have been in my head for over 12 years, but they still seem fresh and exhilarating to me. This is a story that takes its time, and builds up like the good old classic adventures such as She or King Solomon's Mines, and I believe that makes the actiony bits have more bite, and the ending have more tension. I hope it's a story you can lose yourself in, and each successive volume builds on that. The story ends with number three, by the way.
Anything else that you would like to share?
I feel really lucky to be writing and drawing a comic that my 8, 12 and 14 (and 40) year old self would have loved, and really lucky that my UK publisher, Egmont, took a chance on publishing it. The UK comics scene is very vibrant at its roots (the independent scene) but still struggling a bit to make it into the mainstream. There are not a lot of British graphic novels by British creators and publishers, but there are signs of improvement and it's great to be part of that. Egmont (the UK's biggest children's book publisher) is publishing The Rainbow Orchid, Walker Books and Jonathan Cape are producing some top-quality titles, Blank Slate is pushing the envelope, and The DFC Library from David Fickling/Random House is showcasing some of the UK's best new comics talent - to name just a handful of examples. The UK home-grown comics scene is slowly but surely getting brighter and brighter.