Take a slice of ultracool modernism, add a dash of black poem blues, serve it up with a spicy side of neo noir, and you’ll have experienced a taste of the Literary Smorgasbord’s flavoursome writers. This week, there’s a new treat in store as I interview the Smorgasbord’s first graphic novelist, Richmond Clements.
Hi Rich, apologies for the over-stretched metaphor in the introduction (I couldn’t help myself) and thanks for agreeing to take part in the Literary Smorgasbord. You’re the first graphic novelist to appear and I’m really looking forward to the interview.
Thank you for asking!
We’ll get the ball rolling with one of my favourites: Rich, what were you like at school?
Probably an annoying little smart-mouthed arsehole, if adult me is anything to go by… Quiet, nerdy and walking the fine line between academic and being very very lazy.
Heh, pretty harsh on yourself, Rich.
I’m interested in the process of creating a graphic novel; how do you present your idea to an illustrator or publisher?
I suppose the short, glib answer is: it depends.
For example, my first graphic novel (GN), Turning Tiger, started off years before I wrote it. I had this image in my head – riffing on an iconic Winnie the Pooh image by E.A. Shepherd – of Piglet and Pooh walking away, their back to the viewer – only my mind had a young girl and a giant robot. This hung about my head for years and years and then one day something clicked, and I figured out what the link between the girl and the robot was – and the book just unfurled, in almost the entire plot, from there.
Other times, I’ve had an idea for a book – Pirates of the Lost World for example – and thought that I’d really love to work with artist Conor Boyle. So I pitched it to Conor, and happily, he felt the same.
Other than the way you approached Conor, how else do you go about finding an artist to work with, and how much influence do you have on the style used?
Sometimes you’ll strike up a friendship with an artist and you’ll find yourself in synch and will work together easily. But a great deal of the time, it depends on the publisher – some publishers will match you up with an artist – sometimes you’ll not even know the artist until it’s in print.
I’ve been pretty lucky though, in that in almost all my projects, the artist and I have pitched the project as a team. On the occasions where I haven’t picked the artist, it’s been from a publisher who knows me and has selected an artist they know I’ve already worked with and have a good relationship with.
As for influence on the style – that’s an excellent question. Sometimes I’ll go after an artist because I like their style, and vice-versa . For example, the story I co-created for Strip magazine, Black Dragon, with artist Nick Dyer: Nick excels in drawing kinetic action scenes, so every time he drew something amazing, I felt pushed to create an action scene even bigger for him to get his teeth into.
Besides your own, what are your favourite graphic novels?
It changes from time to time, but if I had to pick one, it would be From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. Forget the atrocious movie adaption. While the book is, on the surface, a Jack the Ripper story, it is more of a treatise on the 20th Century and the birth of tabloid journalism.
I’m not a big fan of superhero books, but Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All Star Superman is simply exquisite. Superman is a more complex and interesting character than most people give him credit for, and in this book, Morrison unpicks and examines just what makes him ‘Super’… and it’s not the fact he has unlimited strength and can fly.
What has been your best writing moment so far?
Probably when I got the comps of my first GN, Turning Tiger. If you think New Book Smell is good, it’s even better when it’s the smell of a book you wrote.
What are you working on right now?
Now that is a big question. I’m the kind of writer who works on half a dozen or more things at once. The two main things at the moment are writing a script for a computer game – it’s the first one I’ve worked on, but it’s a very interesting process – and a GN project with artist Paul Bolger, which we’ve been developing for a while. Most of the script is nailed down, so we just need to find some time for Paul to start drawing.
I’m also writing for and helping to edit a GN inspired by the Pearl Jam album No Code.
Hopefully, we’ll see my choose-your-own-adventure book Napoleon Stone and the Army of Set later in the year. This is based in the Unseen Shadows universe, created by writer Barry Nugent. I also have a GN in the same universe – The Chimera Factor – which is being drawn at the moment by the brilliant artist Peter Woods.
And there’s the ongoing work of publishing our regular comics at FutureQuake Press.
That sounds like an amazing amount of work. I’m not sure where the being very, very lazy fits in.
What advice would you give to the young Richmond Clements?
Any advice for aspiring graphic novelists?
Well, to start with, it’s the same advice you’d give to any writer: write.
But I’d also say that you should get out to conventions and meet other creators and publishers. My first graphic novel was pitched at 4am in a hotel bar at a convention, for example.
There’s also a huge small press community out there. You can find a book there and get your work published. You’ll not be paid, or you’ll be paid very little, but you’ll garner some experience. And sometimes you’ll get noticed. I’m co-editor and publisher of the range of comics at FutureQuake Press. There, we’re had loads of writers and artists who have went on to fortune and glory and a successful career. Folks like Michael Carroll, Al Ewing, Cullen Bunn and more were published by us before they went on to bigger and better things.
In fact, John Wagner (co-creator of Judge Dredd with artist Carlos Ezquerra) saw the work of artist Dan Cornwell in one of our books and picked him for his new comic Rok of the Reds.
Another thing you can do is an obvious route: make your own comics. No, really. All you need is paper, a photocopier and a stapler. What’s that? You can’t draw? Well, that’s where the afore mentioned conventions come in – go to one and meet artists. Make your comics and give them away, or get yourself a table and sell them – either way, though, you’ll get your name out there!
A few quick questions to finish with.
Okay, but these will have more than one answer…
Use of Weapons, The Wasp Factory, Weaveworld, The Dark Tower series.
Iain Banks, Stephen King, Harry Harrison, John Wagner, Alan Moore, Clive Barker, H.P. Lovecraft
Pretty much anything apart from mushrooms and shellfish (I don’t want to eat anything that looks like phlegm).
Thanks for the image, Rich. Film?
Jaws, The Wicker Man, Star Wars, Room, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Goodfellas, The Big Lebowski…and so on…
I probably draw more inspiration from music and musicians than I do from other writers.
Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle, Kate Bush. Brian Fallon, John Grant, Courtney Barnett, Drive-by Truckers, David Bowie, Chris Cornell, Pearl Jam…
Computer games: Red Dead Redemption, Overwatch, Lego Star Wars. Board Games: Mansions of Madness, X-Wing, Zombies!!!
Thanks for taking part in the Literary Smorgasbord, Rich, it’s been a pleasure talking to you.
Thank you for having me!
To find out more, follow Rich on Twitter.
Photograph of Richard Clements by Ewan Birse.