An Interview with Irish Comic Creator Paddy Brown

First off, Paddy is a Hell of a nice guy! Secondly, he gives an IMPRESSIVE interview!

You can visit his site here: http://paddybrown.co.uk

Read on to find out more about the Belfast Cartoonist….

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JOHN:

Paddy, let's get the ball rolling...What's your background? Where do you live currently? And WHY comics?

And why make comics about Irish stories as opposed to science fiction, superheroes, crime or any other genre?
 
PADDY:
I grew up protestant in Northern Ireland, in a liberal, middle-class family that didn't have anything to do with loyalism or the Orange Order or anything like that. I've lived most of my life in Belfast, in the east of the city, which is mainly protestant. Still there.
 
As for comics, I do other things as well, music, family history and so on, and I have a day job, but comics is a compulsion, an itch I need to scratch. Don't really know why. But I spent about ten years avoiding making comics and trying to make my way in the worlds of work and home ownership and generally being respectable, and got very depressed. It was drawing "Ness" that got me out of that.
 
I've done other genres - in the mid-90s I did a six-part science fiction minicomic series called "A Virtual Circle", a short detective comic, "Tamara Knight in the Liaison Affair" (which is on the website) and some slice-of-life stuff. But I find I can't really take genre seriously. In Tamara Knight I used the form of the detective story as a game, to write myself into a hole and then figure out how to get out of it. In A Virtual Circle the science fiction setup was a macguffin that allowed me to write about religion and being the odd one out and how computers were inserting themselves into even trivial aspects of our lives. A friend and I once tried to do a superhero comic, and we did our level best to do it straight but it came out as a camp parody anyway.
 
At one point I had the thought of doing a comic set in the British dark ages, based on the notion that there might have been a historical Arthur. I wanted to go back before the romance, before the myth-making, to a post-colonial civil war setting, and see what kind of story I could make of that. I wanted to do something in the past where the past felt like the present for the characters, where you could feel the grass beneath your feet, not some kind of distant, misty fantasy world. There was a lot of material, but it wasn't really coming together. Then I picked up a copy of Thomas Kinsella's translation of the Táin in a second hand bookshop, and I knew I'd found my material. It had a lot of the stuff I wanted to write about in the Arthur material, but was funnier and had better, more vivid characters.
 
A lot of the appeal, also, was that it was not only Irish, it was specifically northern. When you grow up with my background, you tend to think of yourself as not Irish (it's those folks south of the border who are Irish - we're Northern Irish, which is totally different), but when I went away to study in England, I came to realise how ridiculous that is. I may not be a citizen of the Republic of Ireland, but I was born and live on the island of Ireland, and the fact that there are two states doesn't stop me being Irish. But it's hard to connect with your Irishness without feeling like you're changing sides and abandoning your own people. The Ulster Cycle, the group of stories that the Táin is part of, allowed me to do that.
 
Being a northerner also allows me to come at the story fresh. Since I've been involved in the Irish comics scene, I've discovered that in the Republic everybody's read the sanitised kids' versions of these stories in school, but up north we don't know anything about them, so I've been able to go back to the original texts and find my own way through it.
 
I made a couple of false starts at the Cattle Raid over a period of several years, while I haunted university libraries collecting stories from hundred-year-old linguistics journals. Even learned a bit of Old Irish so I could study the text. But after I'd done "Ness" as a warm-up, I thought I was ready to do it properly. Five years and over 200 pages later, the end is in sight. I've probably got another year or so. Starting to have hints of ideas as to what I'm going to do when it's finished.
 
JOHN:
You mention "avoiding making" comics for 10 years: WHY? Is the art form not respected in Ireland? 
 
PADDY:

It was complicated. Partly, my life was a bit of a shambles at the time and I needed to get my act together, make my own living, get my own place, and I'm glad I did that. Partly I was fighting against being a nerd - a losing battle I'm afraid. I wouldn't know cool if it jumped up and slapped me. And partly it was a loss of confidence in my own abilities. I made occasional attempts for a while, but never got anything finished, or even much more than half-started, because I thought it was all crap.
 

Back then, certainly, there wasn't much respect for comics. It was a small, nerdy subculture. I was aware of a handful of other people in Ireland making comics - Malachy Coney and Sean Doran in Belfast, Andy Luke in Bangor, Emmett Smith in Galway - but most of the people I sold or exchanged mini-comics with were in Britain, and air travel was more expensive then so I rarely got to meet them (I have a couple of Facebook friends from back then that I've never met in real life). And I was agonisingly shy and didn't mix well. When you feel that isolated, it's hard to sustain the belief that what you're doing is worthwhile.
 
JOHN:
Actually, what is the art form like there? Is it approached in the American style or the French/Spanish/Italian style? Or is it more like British comics? 
And what do the Irish bring to comics? What makes Irish comics different?
 
PADDY:

I think we're still struggling towards an identity. There's a definite Irish comics scene now - shows like the 2D Festival in Derry have really brought people together and put us in touch with each other across the island. It's such a small place, but until 2D started in 2007 we were all isolated from each other. There are a lot of people working in different styles. There are people like Declan Shalvey, Stephen Mooney and Will Sliney who work in American styles for mainstream American publishers. PJ Holden is more British influenced - he has 2000AD running in his veins. Phil Barrett is a semi-autobiographical cartoonist who wouldn't look out of place at Drawn & Quarterly, Paddy Lynch is another autobiographer but more in the British Eddie Campbell/Glenn Dakin vein. There are people like Leeann Hamilton and Anna Fitzpatrick who come from manga, Ann Harrison who comes from traditional hand-drawn animation, John Robbins whose influences I think are mainly literary, and others from fine art, zine-making and book art. Some of us draw on Irish history and storytelling traditions, others set their comics in contemporary Ireland, and the O'Brien Press, a big educational book publisher in Dublin, has a series of very handsome historical graphical novels. But otherwise it's eclectic and there's not much to unify it other than geographical proximity.
 

Which is cool. This is the age of the internet and there are no borders any more. Writers and artists can team up across continents and create work in international styles. But I think in time a distinctive identity may emerge. There may already be one that I can't see because I'm part of it. But one of my aims as the chief compiler of the Irish Comics Wiki is to give us our own context, our own roots, influences we can bring into our work that are distinctively Irish - for example, illustrator and stained glass artist Harry Clarke, or 19th century political cartoonists like John Fergus O'Hea and Thomas Fitzpatrick whose line and figurework were more robust and more modern than the British Punch tradition, that a comic artist could do worse than draw on.
 
JOHN:
What were you're early experiences with comics that made making them "an itch you need to scratch"?
 
PADDY:
I blame my grandfather, Alec Magill. He was a comics fan of sorts - he used to subscribe to the Sunday Post, a Scottish newspaper, just for the strip cartoons "The Broons" and "Oor Wullie", both originally drawn by the great Dudley D. Watkins (and still continuing by other hands). My dad got a job in England so we moved there for a few years when I was small, and Granda sent us comics every week in the post: the Beano, the Beezer and the Buster, three British kids' humour comics, for me and my two brothers. When I was about six or seven I discovered Tintin in the local library - I remember they had a model of the rocket from Destination Moon, with shelves built in with all the books on them - and I devoured them. I also remember having one of Leo Baxendale's Willy the Kid annuals (here's a web page with some scans from it), which was just insane. There were Marvel reprints in the newsagents, strange landscape format things with bits of several Marvel comics reprinted in black and white, sometimes with a single colour overlay - I remember reading The Inhumans and bring a bit scared by it. I've always loved drawing, and I'm told - I don't remember this myself - that once a school art lesson was devoted to drawing comic strips, because they couldn't get me to do anything else.
 
We came back to Belfast when I was seven, and I remember me and my cousin David Cousley, who's a bit older and a much better artist than me, making our own comics - figuring out how they were stapled together, folding paper to make our own, and filling them with daft rip-offs of humour and super-hero comics. 2000AD was launched about then, and David had all the early issues - I started getting it myself after a while, and it was wonderful. Massimo Belardinelli's Dan Dare and Kevin O'Neill's Nemesis the Warlock gave me chills, and it had a subversive streak that made me feel I was sneaking something past my parents, that if they knew what I was reading they wouldn't let me anymore. I was just the right age to appreciate the science fiction stuff that was big at that time - Star Wars, Tom Baker's Doctor Who, 2000AD, and a couple of years later, The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I didn't stand a chance.
 
I lost interest somewhere in my early teens. For the usual reasons, although the whole "discovering girls" thing was always a bit fraught. Like I said, I was horribly shy. I went to the same school as Garth Ennis, and I remember he used to draw this improvised comic strip in his exercise books called "Sith Ifrica", full of bad taste humour and violence, but when he and his mates were all wearing yellow smiley badges with blood splashes on them I had no idea that was from Watchmen. Not long after leaving school, I ran into Garth in Easons, the main newsagent in Belfast city centre, and he showed me the latest issue of Crisis with Troubled Souls in it, obviously very proud. I was impressed, but I didn't buy it. It was only when I saw him on TV, when I was student in Nottingham, promoting the collected edition, that I was prompted to buy it. It turned out Nottingham was very well stocked with comic shops, and the timing again gave me no chance. This was 1988 or '89, so there was so much to get excited about - Watchmen and V for Vendetta were available in collected editions, and there was wonderful new stuff like Big Numbers, The Sandman, Hellblazer, the Last American, The Bogie Man, The Light and Darkness War, Love and Rockets, Why I Hate Saturn, Cages. And I started looking at 2000AD again - John Ridgway was drawing this fantastic spooky futuristic western called The Dead Man, which had a twist ending that completely blindsided me, and I was hooked again.
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Thanks for Paddy for giving such in-depth answers to my questions! Again, give his work a read here: http://paddybrown.co.uk

 

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Tags: Belfast, Brown, Cattle, Comics, Cooley, Ireland, Irish, Northern, Paddy, Process, More…Raid, The, of

Comment by Gerry Regan on September 26, 2014 at 10:32am

John, just noticed this interview now -- that's how much we've grown since the relaunch 18 months ago. Hope you do another one with colleagues. We'll be delighted to go all out promoting them.

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