The title of this post comes from an old image, an ironically unfinished title page for a comic I started to fumble around with two and a half (maybe more) decades ago. It shows a character, once again looking not unlike myself, opening mail, whilst leaning back on a chair near a drawing board. The comic would have no doubt been about the punk/rock band I’d fleshed out some stories for back then. Stories that involved time travel, science fiction, “robots and religion” (with that particular outing called, very cleverly “Cross References”) as outlined in a vague list like manifesto by myself and my old friend Andrew Segal, at a table, in our student digs in Norwich all those years ago… the weekend I wrote those first words, I sat and fleshed out and illustrated a bunch of disjointed and unconnected panels and splash pages outlining the romantically hopeless members of a band called Toxic Shock… a crass notion, that resulted in the title Toxic Shopping, as the book would really focus on the mundane stuff the band, to often be abbreviated to just “Toxic”, would be shown doing, including of course, “shopping”. All no doubt inspired by pouring through a friends copies (then later, my own) of the works of Los Bros. Hernandez.
The scrappy hand drawn Title/logo I’d considered for “Toxic Shopping”. My gods, look at that thick Tippex/whiteout… aah, those crazy pre digital days.
The art/thumbnails above include my first finished/complete comics story too. A “Toxic Shopping” elseworlds outing that was really a bit of fun exploring my love of Mœbius, you can find the pages for that online over on my old DeviantArt profile, here – https://www.deviantart.com/hesir/art/A-Mobius-Strip-1-of-8-7270461
This wasn’t my first outing as a “comics creator”. I’d not finished (indeed, barely started) other comics before this, and would go on to stubbornly unfinish many other comics projects in the future (sincere apologies to those of you out there nodding at this bit, I really am genuinely sorry).
Anyway, I recently found a page of some very early art in some old artwork portfolio sleeves from my art school years whilst sorting out detritus still unpacked from an house move sometime ago. If I remember right it featured a kid with a chainsaw for a head (I believe called “chainsaw-head”) who had escaped a mad politician’s sideline as a serial killer who made bizarre sculptures of his victims in an old warehouse. The art veered from one style to another, weakly emulating whichever artist I wanted to be that week, and if I also recall correctly (and I’m sure I do), ultimately based around the lyrics of a Sundays track, if you can believe that?
This image above , I remember, was inked, laying on the the floor of my student flat, sometime back in 1992, I guess? It doubtlessly owes a lot to those A4, Mignola Dracula tie-in comics they brought out… there were other pages for this story, some fully painted (man I wish I had some photos of those still), others mixed media as I absorbed work by McKean, McKeever, Seinkiewicz and others…
If it helps, this is me back then, I clearly had no idea about anything.
It’s strange to think, that those early notions of a story about a band, would eventually turn into the Cthulhiad after going through various transitions and central character refocuses, including being rewritten as prose, and even retooled as screenplay notes and script, one small section of this would even eventually get performed as a script in hand play by performers from Middlechild Theatre here in Hull, at a Scratch Theatre event in the embryonic arts quarter that was in Humber Street, that was surreal.
Various early “Toxic Shopping” artwork, including notes and rambling written descriptions of cults and organisations from the “Cross References” episodes of Toxic Shopping that I had planned. There seems to be an abundance of this stuff, drawn variously in sketchbooks, A4 or A3 loose sheafs of paper, fastened together in plastic pockets etc. Much more than I remembered.
These stories didn’t seem to fully know what they wanted to be, but I carried them around as I took other art & design related jobs, eventually starting to travel into Europe with work, then drifting from design job to design job around the South East. The writing would eventually evolve into a series of short prose pieces. Stories that I would first post on the (now sadly defunct) BBC Writing website, a site through which I would get to share my love of writing and storytelling with my sister Jane, getting closer to her before she passed away). After that I began to post my work to DeviantArt’s prose section, and I started to draw together a set of stories that would form some of the mythology and atmosphere behind my current comics. Follow the link and you’ll even find the prose version of The Indian Fighter, the first comic I fully finished and printed, taking it to Thought Bubble around a decade ago now.
From there my sketchbooks started to fill up with other snippets and panels and page layouts for more Cthulhiad stories.
(Click to see the full images) Some of the elements in the sketchbook pages above found there way, in one form or another, into Some Rough Beast(s).
I was talking to a friend and fellow comics creator recently, I suppose trying to pin down the point/relevance of what my comics are about. And I’m broadly speaking about my own personal comics here, The Cthulhiad, and maybe to some extent the museum/heritage comics I write and draw. Thinking about when I’m asked directly what my books are about, or when I’m pitching them to passers by at comics events, I often simplify my response to “They’re about monster hunters, and some of the monsters that hunt back”, or “Lovecraftian Tentacles, this book is talky, this one is more fighty”, “Occult Detectives, Secret Societies, Myths and, yes, Monsters” etc. But that’s not what they are really about, at least not to me.
I think, weirdly, just like those early books. They were an attempt to write about my life. I guess all writers do that to some extent. But I can’t help noticing, beyond the obvious likeness of the books lead character to various incarnations of my own physical self (in terms of practical reference use, I am my own cheapest model after all), that the books now seem to have become weird, cryptic reliquaries for autobiographical snippets, past experiences, current thoughts and obsessions, places, environments. One of the last pieces of The Cthulhiad I self published, Some Rough Beast(s), going as far as to take the lead character back to his home town, which is with out a doubt clearly and unashamedly my own home town. It’s name is right there, written on the town sign, and it’s primary features are drawn right there in the panels. My comics aren’t about the relationships between people, they’re not even really that plot driven, as they seem to focus more on things. Things, objects, that become repositories or externalised manifestations of memories or ideas. Whether those memories belong to people, organisations or something “other”. All usually left for someone to decode, one of the characters along with the reader who gets to look of their shoulder as they unpick thieve cryptic palimpsests.
“But what about all the goddamn monsters?”, well, maybe they are cyphers for something else, something I haven’t quite figured out yet… I mean I like monsters. Both in a visceral, in thoughtful way a kid likes monsters. I grew up reading books on Greek myths and just laying there on the floor surrounded by picture books filled with images of the various (alleged) heroes, Perseus, Bellerophon, Theseus… but it was the creatures they fought that really did it. The Chimera, Medusa and the other gorgon sisters, Stheno and Eurayale, and the Minotaur, then came the Conan books, and then Frazetta, and don’t even get me started on Clash of the Titans (I was a late starter to cinema, we just didn’t have the money when I was growing up, so seeing that at the pictures turned my head completely). Conan would be my first introduction to Lovecraftian creatures and atmosphere of course, then the short stories themselves followed by the books of letters between those various pulp authors, and the subsequent disappoint,ent and wrangling dog conscience to separate the work from the author. But as I’ve clearly stated above… can you fully do that. I don’t know?.
Anyway… I suppose the point of this nostalgic (?) ramble, is maybe there’s something to be learnt from these mostly unfinished things, these part made comics projects… the word “monster” suggests “a lesson” or demonstration after all.
I remember reading something by Scott McCloud, in which he mentioned a man called Henry Darger, now considered a classic example of the outsider Artist, but in the interview a cautionary tale of sorts, about telling stories that go on and on, never finished and never becoming things that can be experienced by others.
So I guess what I’m suggesting is. Finish something. Make it. Give it a cover. Print it, or post it somewhere online. Allow people to get at it, for free or for money. So it doesn’t just become…