Tuesday, October 13, 2009

In the Studio with The Sheehan Bros Part 1

Above: 'The Inhabitants' promotional poster by Darren Sheehan. Copyright the Sheehan Bros 2009.

The studio visit is back this month with a difference: this time we'll be looking at comics creation from a writer's point of view. We'll take a look inside the working space (and mind) of Kelly Sheehan: the writing half of the Sheehan Bros, who with his artist brother Darren, have created many comics together including 'The Longman' and the recently completed series 'The Inhabitants'. Both Sheehan Bros will be on hand this weekend at the 'Comics On K' Comics Weekend at The High Seas promoting the finished set of 'The Inhabitants' series.

So before you buy their comics, let's take a look inside Kelly's studio space:

Above: Kelly's home workstation.

Above: Kelly's notebooks.

KELLY SHEEHAN: These tatty notebooks and the memory stick are things which I would grab first, (after my family), in the advent of a house fire. For me they represent work. Both already done (the big blue book) and what I have planned in the future (the small black book, a gift from Anthony Ellison). I'm not as disciplined as I should be with recording ideas, but I do it enough that they are a useful source of inspiration If I get stuck. I'm amazed how often I look through them, and what I come across is new to me - "wow", I think, "I'm pleased I wrote that down." My memory is shit. The memory stick is for work in progress. I find it difficult to write, so the idea of loosing anything is terrifying. I keep all ongoing projects in about three different places-just in case.

This bookcase was a wedding gift to me from my wife. I try to only fill it with what really matters to me. I think a lot of the books and comics that are on those shelves are totems. Objects with strong juju. I have them next to where I work and part of me probally hopes that they induce some sort of magic or inspiration.

The centre shelving unit is all Moore. There's a Graffti Watchmen and the first volume of the collected From Hell scripts (with a cool cover painted by Alan Moore and a killer introduction by him) and Iain Sinclairs City of Disaperances with Moores wonderful novella Disapearingabout Steve Moore (no relation) and all his performance CDs (two of them with cover designs by Darren) and a couple of interview books with the man himself and loads of other bits and pieces. It also has TLEG absolute editions which our two year old loves. He's obssessed by Edward Hyde-"mon-STA, mon-STA, mon-STA". He dosen't get to see all of it, of course. Seamus also loves Lynda Barry's, What It Is.

The upper right hand section has mainly childrens novels. I try and only buy the editions that I read when I was that age. I'll be very pleased when I locate a hardback of The Dark is Rising with a cover by Michael Heslop. Also in here are books by Alan Garner, Dianna Wynne Jones and Joan Aiken.

Above this is a box of NZ comics, which is not as full as it should be. There are things I could of got years ago that I negelected and now I'm kicking myself.

Q1: What are you currently working on?

KS: Currently finishing the bits and pieces needed to do when printing up comics.

In terms of writing, the next project is a anthology entitled Behemoth. it stems from having worked on one project for so long (the Inhabitants took about six or seven years). Ideas build up and get put to one side and you want to try something different. I'm keen on doing some non-fiction pieces We've got one thats almost finished, its about Alan Moore and Big Numbers.I have an idea for another longer piece. I have also recently started work on a text piece entitled Sorrow, (it will illustrated by Darren). It's a children's fantasy inspired by Susan Cooper, Joan Aiken, Dianna Wynne Jones, Alan Garner and Philip Pullman. Hopefully it will be like none of them. There's also a couple of short pieces, a Long Man story called Half-a-beast, and an Inhabitants one off with the working title of Avant garage(-in a room of ones own).

Q2: What are your current drawing tools of preference?

I have no drawing tools.

Or do I? Actually, now I think of it, Darren makes me do thumbnails of everything. I usually do these in my workbook and then transfer miniature versions onto the scripts i give him. Basically I use any old pen or pencil lying around and spend a lot of time rubbing them out and starting again. Here's a picture of one....

Q3: Can you describe your average working routine?

My routine changes all of the time. So, can I call it a routine? Sometimes I work reguarly, sometimes i don't.

I don't think that I manage my time very well. Often there is a lot of time just spent thinking about what happens next, but not doing the work required to find out. In the end its only by putting words on paper that you make progress.
After years I think that I finally like writing, as opposed to liking having written. My goal now is to write regularly, even if it is only an hour per day.

Q4: What is your working process?

The way I work is varied. Sometimes I write everything out long hand, or i work on the computer, or i start with thumbnails and notes and build from there. Often I will write a condensed piece and then break it up into panels and images will suggest themselves during this process. Whatever I do, Darren will take the script and the crude thumbnails that come with it and do his own breakdowns. Often these are different from my ideas, more visually sophisticated and often longer. I hardly ever disagree with his ideas. If I do I will talk with him. But Darren has final say over images, and I do over words.

In terms of story structure, I don't start with outlines or a synopsis, but progress from one page to the next. If I'm lucky a whole hunk of story will present itself and I won't have to work blind. If I'm not lucky then I will have to work panel to panel.

I'd love to be able to 'edit' whatever I'm working on. Cut pieces out and add others, after seeing the initial images. Alas, it's not really possible at the moment.

Q5: Do you listen to anything while you work?

Again, this changes. sometimes I do, sometimes I don't.

Mostly I listen to moody, quiet stuff-Tricky, SJD, Dimmer, muted Miles Davies. Not so much anything that is demanding, (demanding in a LOUD way.) Or busy-like hip-hop. I've sat down in noisy, distracting environments (old Brazil cafe, the library where I work) and written or advanced difficult parts of stories. But, at other times, I need quiet, and nothing else will do.

Q6: Can you name some of your influences?

Influences...In terms of work and how I approach it, years ago I read in interview with Alan Moore in the Comics Journal. He talked about being influenced by Brian Eno, and how Eno said, creativity was a process that needed to be worked at and persevered with. 99% persperation, 1% inspiration, I guess. That alway stuck with me, (it was years after reading that before i finally made anything).

The Long Man was strongly influenced by Bredan McCarthy, Frank Woodring's Frank and Mike Mignola's Hellboy. All attempts to create a 'private mythology'. To create worlds that have their own private logic and rules.
Also, Tim Molloy.Tim's work has inspired me to return to the Long Man. I love the way he reworks and adds further layers to what he has already created. All Tim's work seems to feed the City of the Ever Open Eye-the posters, the short strips, the longer pieces. All populating it with the macabre and the strange and the perverse and the scary. Tim is the bomb.

Inhabitants-mainly Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell's Zenith. Its the perfect pop superhero strip. Lean, action packed, exciting and slightly odd. Warren Ellis' short and longish essays on comics and their possibilities. I also wanted the strip to have the drifting, aimless quality of Jim Jarmusch's Deadman, (something I think we got, but I'm slightly dissatisfied with now-be careful what you wish for).

Others-Susan Cooper, Adam Curtis, Erroll Morris, David Thomson, William Gibson, Tim Winton, Ken Kesey, 2000ad-the Galaxy's Greatest Comic, Bryan Tolbot, Michael Herr (Dispatches is probably my favorite book), Janet Malcom, Joss Whedon, Robert Stone (maybe it's Dog Soliders), Maurice Gee, Alan Garner, Lynda Barry, Tim Kidd, David Milch, Margaret Mahy. I say influences, but really they are are artists and craftspeople that I am simply in awe of.

My wife Sinead and her garden-see first influence.

Q7: What is your most prized comics related item?

All my Tim Kidd comics. I reread them constantly. One day they will be a collection of paper ribbons, but I won't throw them out.

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

Worst-gushing to a very lovely Walter Simonson about his Thor run. I think that he would of preferred to have heard about something more recent, (they are killer issues though).
Best-drinking with Eddie Campbell and Tony Gibson (founder of Gothem Comics), after Bill's Friday night drinks before the convention. I still miss Tony a lot.

Q9: Do you have a favorite comics adaptation?

Certainly not V for Vendetta or Watchmen.
The first Hellboy I think. Its fun.

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

Um, historic figures? Don't know. But I would like to have another midweek afternoon pub session with Anthony Ellison, Timothy Kidd, Ben Stenbeck, Tim Molloy and James, James.

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

That Jack Kirby could finish the New Gods.
Particularly that he could finish it without the interference and harassment that he seems to have endured during that run at DC. His vision that the New Gods be collected into books, and was a story that had a beginning, middle and end, was years ahead of its time in the United States, (if not in Europe and Japan). Had he managed to realize those ideas, it may have changed the industries own perceptions of what the medium was capable of and accelerated development of the mainstream comics industry.

Or, that Alan Moore actually did his proposed Fantagraphics anthology title: Dodgem Logic. Or is it just me that longed to read Convention Tension?

- Thanks to Kelly Sheehan for sharing his working insights and showing off his bookshelf!(damn you for having all those out-of-print Bill Sienkiewicz books!).

For more updates on 'The Inhabitants' and the Sheehan Bros, you can check out their blog. As I mentioned earlier, they will be guests at 'Comics On K' at The High Seas this weekend (17-18th of October) they will be selling copies of the new issue #4 as well as complete sets of the series if you want it all in one bundle! There will also be an auction of original artwork on Sunday afternoon, so if you like what you see in the book, here's your chance to buy some of Darren's original artwork!
If you don't live in Auckland or near a comic shop, you can also buy 'The Inhabitants' on TradeMe. They'll also be attending the Armageddon Expo this coming Labour Weekend (24-26th of October), so if you like well-crafted, mind-bending comics you have good reason to should seek out the Sheehan Bros this month!


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