Graphic Scenes, Part Two: Blasting Off
New Zealand has a tiny but thriving graphic novel scene. Probably our best-known artist and writer is Auckland-born Dylan Horrocks, who published Hicksville in 1998 to critical success worldwide. I found it in Wellington City library around 2005, looking for something that would keep me entertained on cold nights but didn't strain my eyeballs after all the other books I was supposed to be studying.
Hicksville's artwork is refreshingly simple compared to some of the more baroque, digitally-rendered productions like Christian Gossett's Red Star series. This is a style New Zealand artists seem to do well, with Aucklander Ant Sang producing sweet punk-flavoured, multiracial comics like the celebrated Dharma Punks and more recently, Shaolin Burning. Independent publisher HUIA have also put out two comics in te reo Maori , Hautipua Rererangi or Born to Fly, and the award-winning followup Ngarimu: Te Tohu Toa or Victory at Point 209.
Richard Fairgray is an up-and-coming comics artist who was born blind and lives in Auckland. Richard writes three comics; I Fight Crime with wife Tara, solo project Ghost Ghost and the well-known Blastosaurus with Terry Jones.
He's here to explain more about the comic and graphic novel scene in New Zealand.
What are some of your main influences?
In comics my biggest influence is Alan Moore. I hadn't even read a comic until I was 16 when Terry first gave me the entire Alan Moore canon up to 1999 to read, but had been publishing them since I was seven.
I think in general I haven't so much been influenced by people as I have found people who do the sort of stuff I like to do and learnt from them. I have two really strong memories from childhood of feeling like I'd stumbled upon a like minded writer. One was when I first saw Scream and the other was when I first watched Dr Katz.
What kind of processes do you go through to make each comic?
I do all the art on Blastosaurus and Ghost Ghost, and Tara does the art on I Fight Crime. All my titles are co-written to some degree. With Blastosaurus Terry and I literally sit down together and write the entire thing. We do about five drafts of each issue, constantly tweaking dialogue and pacing before I draw it.
Who do you sell your work through?
Blastosaurus is available through all bookstores and in a lot of libraries. My other titles are all available at any comic convention in New Zealand or Australia. You can alo read a lot of my work online at Blastosaurus.com
Is it easy to get comics to the public in New Zealand?
No. There are so few comic shops in New Zealand that most people don't even know where to get comics from. Having a book in regular bookstores and libraries is the only way to go.
Can you tell me about any specific problems in the field that are stopping more people getting excited about producing and reading Kiwi-made comics or graphic novels?
Well, for starters comics are hard. They are a lot of work for very little pay off. Something that takes a year to draw takes two hours to read and most people don't tend to finish anything beyond a first issue.
The New Zealand comics scene is by and large comprised of independently produced stuff and a lot of it is created by people who aren't necessarily interested in writing work for a mainstream audience so to a newcomer it can seem very alienating.
A big part of this comes down to production values as well, printing is expensive and it's always a risk to make thousands of copies of something that maybe no-one will even look at, especially if there's something more familiar a few steps away.
Do you have any idea how they can be fixed?
I'm a big fan of well printed comics. I think there are a lot of people who view the drawing as a finished artwork which is fine if that's your intention. I don't see a comic as finished until it's for sale on a shelf and part of that is how it is formatted and presented to the world.
How did you first get into creating comics as a serious career?
When I was seven I drew an eight-page comic called Ghost Ghost, which I photocopied and sold at a school athletics day. I made $200 and bought a bunch of action figures. From that point on I have been making and selling comics.
What would you tell people who also want to make comics?
Be prepared to give up every other part of your life if you want to get your comic finished.
Can you tell us about any really great Kiwi comics that more people should know about?
Well, mine obviously. But also the work of New Zealand's youngest graphic novelist Theo MacDonald. I've been hearing good things about Moth City by Tim Gibson, and I always like the work of Robyn E. Kenealy, although it is hard to find.
What's your favourite favourite? (apart from Blastosaurus)
Favorite New Zealand comic or favorite comic overall? In New Zealand I would say Theo MacDonald's Edward Fischer. It's about a guy who reads one Raymond Chandler novel and decides to live by the rules of pulp detective stories, but unfortunately he's up against a man living by the rules of the spaghetti Western films.
Choosing my favorite comic overall would be a much harder question that I'd need to make a spreadsheet and pro/con list to figure out.
What's the best thing about comics/graphic novels as opposed to straight fiction novels?
Comics have no limit. You can have prose, you can have visuals, you can imply more with a furrowed brow than a page of text. Also, you can control time with comics in a way that prose doen't really allow.