Friday, January 8, 2010

In the Studio with The Sheehan Bros Part 2: Darren Sheehan

Above: A double page spread showcasing the fine artwork of Darren Sheehan from 'The Inhabitants' #2. Copyright the Sheehan Bros 2010.

The studio visit returns for 2010, with a look inside the working space of Darren Sheehan.

Darren is the artist half of the dynamic writer/artist duo the Sheehan Bros (the other half being Kelly, who was featured in the previous studio visit). Together they have collaborated on many fine comics, including 'The Longman' and the recently completed 'The Inhabitants' series.

Now it's over to Darren for the studio tour:

My studio's a little blue room at the front of the house with French doors that open onto the garden. I have a large desk inherited from my lovely partner Fran (sorry about the ink stains, babe).

In one corner is an old shelf that was once used for sorting mail its stuffed with pamphlet comics ('The Ultimates' rub shoulders with 'Love and Rockets', 2 issues of 'Crickets' sit snugly with issue five of 'Half a World Away', 'Planetary' bumps against 'Batman: Year 100', '2000ad', 'Warrior', Comics Journals, loads of NZ comics, rolled up scrolls of interviews with various people: Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Warren Ellis and all my Frank Quietly comics on the top shelf, and pocket size sketchbooks of travel drawings.

The stereo is a gift from my mate Simon Esling, a really great draughtsman, that's one of his drawing tacked to the wall above one by Finn.

Below that sits a pile of sketchbooks and if you pan left and you pass over Fran's old Record collection. God, I wish we had a record player. Husker Du, REM, Pixies. Brains, beauty and a great taste in music. I'm a lucky guy.

A selection of CDs adorn the window sill.

My Computer ( where I spend a lot of time copying Ben 10 and Pokemon for Finn) sits atop a plan chest ex-Auckland Museum(Cheers Steve), where I keep all my finished pages.

There's another book case stuffed with novels by Paul Auster, Cormac McCarthey, Moby Dick (I saw the most beautiful edition in Edinburgh, it had all the Rockwell Kent Illustrations and could have been mine for 180 Quid too!), Michael De Larrabetti's Borriable trilogy (a really great fantasy trilogy, read it if you can find it), Kerouac and other beats, crime books, Hemingway blah, blah, blah. Oh yeah, and my Uke bought for me by my loving family.

Above my desk is a really great Lamp I scored from work. On my desk various tins and boxes filled with pens, pencils, brushes more sketch books here and there.

A smaller set of shelves sits on one end of the desk with Invoice books, Reference folders, more sketchbooks.

Q1: What are you currently working on?

I'm currently working on finishing illustrations for a book project I did last year with author Mike Johnson. It's called 'Travesty': a sci fi noir. Some pages are kind of set out like comic pages, others are just straight images. Titus books are looking to publish it sometime next year. I've felt a bit burned out after finishing 'The Inhabitants', but will look to get back on the comic beast in the new year.

Q2: What are your current drawing tools of preference?

I kinda go over this in question 4.

Q3: Can you describe your average working routine?

My work routine is pretty piecemeal for comics, I just have to grab time where I can around work and family. I dream of having one day in the week where I could just do an 8 hour stretch, but I don't really see that happening in the near future. So till then, I'll just do what I can when I can.

Q4: What is your working process?

I'm pretty old school in my approach, I don't really use the computer except for lettering. I killed my scanner a couple of years ago and never got round to replacing it (D'oh!). When I'm working with Kelly he feeds me chapters, so I'll read over those until I get a feel for the story then start working out thumbnails in my sketchbook. I also make Kelly give me thumbnails, 'cause it helps me get a feel for the shot setups he wants, and probably helps him work out positions of characters in the panels (and I also like his little ballpoint drawings). Once I've got the transitions and flow of the pages worked out, I'll start doing loose gestural pages on A3 photocopy paper with a HB pencil that I'll slowly tighten up over 3-4 pages. Once I'm happy with a page I'll transfer it to Ivory board (which I cut to size from AO size sheets with a steel ruler and blade) using a light box, then start inking.

When I'm inking I'll switch between a brush (Winsor and newton) and a pen (Unipin 0.3, 0.5) and ballpoint pen. I'm a bit funny with inking, I like really black blacks so I can go over a page multiple times. I kind of know when the page is finished when it pops (sorry, kind of hard to explain but it's kind of when all the elements of the page start working together.. I like to think of it like guitar overdubs). Once the inking is done, I do the lettering on a computer, cut them out with a ellipse template and stick them down with PVA and then add it to the pile. Sometimes if a panel isn't right I'll redo it or stick it over the existing one. I also play around with resizing things on the photocopier and chopping them up.

Q5: Do you listen to anything while you work?

Always. There's a quote I like from Peter Bagge, that 'most cartoonists have unhealthy relationships with there record collections', which is something I really subscribe to. I put it down to sharing a room with two brothers growing up and putting music on and escaping into a drawing to have my own space.

I like atmospheric music that can sustain a certain mood so I'll listen to a lot of soundtracks. Some favourites over the last few years are anything by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (note to self: pick up a copy of White Lunar), Chelsea walls by Jeff Tweedy, Wilco by Jeff Tweedy, Loose Fur by Jeff Tweedy, in fact anything by Jeff Tweedy. Dead Man by Neil Young, Brian Enos ambient albums. Went through a big Hold Steady phase when doing the Inhabitants always seem to come back to Greg Dulli (Afghan whigs, Twilight singers Solo). Mezzanine by Massive attack is a really strong album to draw to. Phoenix foundation, Bruce Springsteen, War on Drugs, Radiohead, Earth, The Veils. I recently went through a Jim O'Rourke phase listening to NYCity ghosts a lot. Currently listening to The Acorn and Deerhunter, I could go on...I mean seriously, someone stop me.

Q6: Can you name some of your influences?

Influences...well Kelly is the main influence as he's the writing guy, so what ever ends up on the page is half him and half me. Plus I read all his comics and listened to his records when I was growing up, so he's on me like white on rice. In terms of style there's some early influences I can't shake: Simon Bisley, Dave Mckean, Egon Schiele. I'm pretty big on Frank Quietly, the first comics I read when i got back into them after a gap of a couple of years was Flex Mentallo, I just love his skill as a storyteller and the human details he brings to his work. The way he weights a cloak or captures the mannerism of a character. Magic.

The second would be Al Columbia. The Biologic show did something to my brain so even if he did nothing else, he'd be pretty high in my Pantheon. Sammy Harkham is another favourite (I covert a copy of 'Poor Sailor'). Locally, Tim Kidd is always amazing, again the way he captures all those beautiful details, the crinkles in a pair of jeans, kids toys scattered over a floor, all the odds and ends in a room. Books, clothes, records, cats, Farfisa. It feels like there's a lot of Tim In his work. Other people that inspire me: Martin F Emond, Matt Tait, Tim Malloy, Ben Stenbeck, Jared Lane, Dylan Horrocks, Warren Ellis, Brendan McCarthy, Grant Morrison, Steve Yoewell and Jim Jarmusch. My other brother Chris an amazing Jeweller and one of the most creative people I know, you should see his house, no really, you need to see his house.

Q7: What is your most prized comics related item?

Tim Kidd gave me an original page of his 'Daniel Rabbit' strip when my son Finn was born so that's pretty special, and I got Frank Quietly to do me a sketch of 'King Mob' when he came over for Armageddon a couple of years back. Mint.

Q8: What was your best and worst comics convention experience?

The year Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison came for Armageddon, a friend and I took Morrison out to Piha.
Adi interviewed him for BFM but mysteriously the tape failed, so no record of said interview was ever broadcast. What's weird is Grant said often time recordings of him get lost or don't come out, but I got to spend half a day chatting to the Scottish writer so that was fun. I've got some sketches I did of him on the beach I'll try and dig up, and a Polaroid shot where the definition of his head has faded over time so he looks like an alien and there's a jelly fish on the sand that looks like that silver stuff out of 'The Invisibles'. He was deep in his 'King Mob' phase, so when I first met him it was kinda like a character coming off the page.

On a local note, it was nice meeting Matt Tait at comics on K, as I've always liked his work and we did a swap of artwork so I've got a nice piece of Matt Taits artwork in my collection. I haven't really had a bad experience at a con except for loudness and a soar throat trying to talk to people.

Q9: Do you have a favorite comics adaptation?

I really enjoyed Hellboy 2 and the first Blade movie. Oh yeah, and I quite enjoyed X-men 2 and Batman begins, but It was the first film I'd seen in two years after Finn was born, so it might have just been the spectacle of the thing. Also the comic adaptation of Paul Austers "City of glass" by David Mazzucchelli and Paul Karasik I really like, but that's a book to comic adaptation so I don't know if it counts.

Q10: If I could have dinner with five other people from history they would be..?

I'll just crash Kelly's lunchtime drinks as he didn't invite me.

Q11: If I could make one edit/change to the history of comics it would be...?

I read an interview where Rueban Neilson from 'The Mint Chicks' talked about once wanting to be a comic book artist. As I really dig his artwork for the mint chicks album covers I've wondered what kind of comics he might have made: an antipodean Brendan McCarthy high on Taiyo Matsumoto's 600+ page manga masterpiece 'Tekkonkinkreet: Black & White' I like to think...

Above: Darren and Kelly Sheehan at the 'Comics on K' Exhibition.

Thanks to Darren for sharing his creative space and process, and to Kelly for helping out with the photos!


  1. Great artwork Darren. I like the way you edit your artwork in terms of how much detail you choose to include on a given page. I'm thinking of how your linework becomes sparser as objects recede into the distance, and how you use black to balance a page. There's a great deal of depth to your work that lends a real believabilty to the stories.

  2. Hey Jason, thanks for the kind words, I've enjoyed your work that I've seen in Funtime comicsa really nice sense of design and draughtmenship. When we we're doing the comics I had this idea that the Black wall/wave was so intense that it kind of burnt out details of buildings if someone was looking to the horizon, which was good for me in not having to get to bogged down in detail , it worked for me anyhow. I think the depth is something I've stolen from Frank Quitely.