Monday, March 15, 2010

In the studio with Toby Morris

Above: A portrait of musician Kirsty Stegwazi by Toby Morris, from his series '200 People I Used To Know'. Copyright Toby Morris 2010.

This week we take a look inside the studio of cartoonist/designer Toby Morris.
Formerly of Wellington, Toby was one of the most prolific local comics creators of the new century. His distinctive clear-line art style combined with a strong sense of graphic design, made his books instantly recognisable. During this period he produced many comics including: 'Can't Find Jacob', 'Chicken is Champ', 'Dreamboat Dreamboat' and the lego/pirates mash-up 'Pirate Technics'. He was also the editor of the well-received early 2000's NZ comics anthology 'Officer Pup', which featured comics and reviews from a line-up of New Zealand's finest comics talent. As a designer, he's also produced some striking gig posters that you can check out HERE.

Above: An October entry from Toby Morris' 2009 Comics Diary. Copyright Toby Morris 2010.

Currently based in Amsterdam, Toby is keeping an active online profile, with his comics blog XTOTL. In 2009 he started an (almost) daily cartoon blog, focusing on his daily life and experiences, producing an impressive 331 pages! Covering everything from the smallest daily observation to encounters with crazy europeans, it's all there captured in ink. The combined year is an impressive body of work, and well worth a read.
Toby's new project for this year is equally ambitious: '200 People I Used To Know', I'll leave the details of this one to Toby to explain, as we take a trip inside his studio...

Q1: What are you currently working on?

My main personal project at the moment is called '200 People I Used To Know'. It's not really strictly comics - each one is a portrait of someone I remember and a little story underneath. I want to get better at portraiture, using colour, and also writing which has inspired the form the project has taken. It's a training exercise in some ways, but I hope people are cool with following it as it evolves and as I learn.

Q2: What are your drawing tools of preference?

I'm still using the same pens I've used for the last 10 years or so - staedtler pigment liners. I love those pens, they're perfect. I've swapped weights a few times - I used to use the 0.3, then last year I switched down to the 0.1 and then this year I jumped back up to the 0.5 because I want to force myself to become clearer and more economical with my lines - 'less lines, communicating more' is the goal at the moment. So my standard set-up these days is a 2B pencil and an 0.5 Staedtler pigment liner. I was sponsored by Staedtler for a while, it was cool, I felt like a pro skater or something.

The other big change recently is I'm also trying to crack the best way of using colour for me. For years I've felt like its a big weak point for me and I've sort of been avoiding it but now I'm facing it head on and trying things out. I've been painting one of the portraits each week with basic acrylics which has been tough but already I can feel myself getting better and coming to a way of working that fits with my line style/feel.

At work I have a sweet set-up - nice grunty machine with two screens and a nice big wacom tablet and a good lightbox so I'm kind of spoiled there, I love the tablet. When I do computer colouring (which I'm still doing on other projects) the tablet makes things a lot easier.

Q3: Can you describe your average working routine?

My '200 People' project has to fit around my work life. I'm an early riser so I usually draw at home for an hour or so before work most days. I draw or paint with a coffee and toast, it's a good productive, positive way to start each day. When I get to work I'll scan and touch up my pic and post it on my blog. Then I start thinking about the next person to draw/write about. If I'm not too busy I draw in the evenings too.

Q4: What is your working process?

With this project, and my last one, it's for my blog so it's pretty important to keep it regular. I can't spend too much time redrawing things over and over or over-thinking things - it's teaching me to work fast and clear and to the point. I'll usually have a fairly clear idea of what I want the drawing to contain/convey and I'll draw a couple of really rough scribbles to get the composition right. Then I'll do pencils on an A5 page. If it's a black and white page I'll ink straight onto that page with pen and erase the pencils. For the colour ones I'll put the pencils on the lightbox and paint over the top onto a new sheet using the pencils as a guide and then do the linework over the paint.

Q5: Do you listen to anything while you work?

When I'm working in the mornings I like to have the telly on in the background - usually the BBC breakfast show or the news on the sports channel. If I really need to concentrate I'll put metal on my headphones - High on Fire, The Sword, Mastodon. Metal helps me focus. Other times I put on movies in the background - don't watch them, barely even listen. I just like the background noise I guess.

Q6: Can you name some of your influences?

Herge. Miyazaki. Mobieus. Dylan Horrocks. Tove Jansson. Jaime Hernandez. Kochalka. Lego. Computer games. Charles Burns. Bruce Springsteen. I've been in Norway a bit recently and I've been really inspired by the sculptor Vigeland. There is a big park full of his work in Oslo, it's pretty mind-blowing.

Q7: What is your most prized comics related item?

Hmmm... I'm not really much of a collector. Back in NZ I have an original page from Hicksville that Dylan gave me for my birthday one year that he stayed at my house during a convention. That thing is beautiful, it's from the sequence where Grace is returning to her old garden which I think is one of my favourite scenes in any comic. That's a treasure.

Above: A portrait of infamous NZ cartoonist James James by Toby Morris, from his series '200 People I Used To Know'. Copyright Toby Morris 2010.

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

Ha! I think my favourite memory I wrote about recently on my blog. Those days in general were awesome, there was a good crew around then, lots of good friends all on a similar page. I've been away from NZ for a while now so I haven't been to a convention forever.

Worst memories... hmm... just that general feeling of dejection you get when you're hungover and tired and idiot brat kids pick up your book, flick through it for a few seconds, scoff or roll their eyes or make some dismissive comment and wander off. Pretty demoralising.

Q9: Do you have a favorite comics adaptation?

Maybe Persepolis? Most adaptions I try to treat like a whole separate thing from the original, otherwise I get mad. But with Persepolis I loved it how faithful they stayed to the original look and feel and pacing of the book, it really worked. For a long time I always dreamed about someone making the Locas stories from Love and Rockets into a film, but now I hope they don't, they'll butcher it.

Oh! I also love the 90's Adventures of Batman animated show - the art deco, 30s noir/minimal style one, that thing was incredible, I like that better than any Batman comic or movie.

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

Rasputin, Grace Kelly, Herge, Hunter S Thompson and Muhammad Ali in his prime. Assuming Rasputin and Herge can magically speak english. (Could Herge speak english?).

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

OK, that's a fun question. Maybe I'd make Herge get some balls, say screw you to the Nazis and refuse to work with them. Instead he flees to the hills, joins the resistance, creates an incredibly inspiring and subversive comic that skewers the german moral and inspires the resistance and the allies to end the war early.

Thanks to Toby Morris for the look inside his working space, and be sure to check out his website for more on his projects and updates!



  1. A new'in the studio'! Yay! And with Toby Morris too! Double yay!

  2. Toby you lucky bastard, a page from the garden sequence AND that L&R print. Two of my favourite things also...Tear It Up, Terry Down!