Picking the easy targets since 1993
Interview by CHRIS AUMAN
Like a lot of artists and writers working today, UK comics creator, Simon Gane, got his start in the underground music scene of the 90s. Fanzines and indie publishers (then as now) provided a stable of young creators who labored for years (with hangovers!) developing their art and style. If you don't believe me, track down an old copy of Simon's "Arnie Comix" and compare it to a more recent example of his work in the illustrated Paris series. Being a part of this small, intimate world without rules, artists like Gane were able to build a following and a portfolio which allows them to make a living today. Live from Bath, England, it's Simon Gane:
First of all, Simon, are you still the “King of Punk Comics”?
Whu-what? Surely I never was? I don’t think anyone’s ever said I was! Who would be though? Bobby Madness? Seth Tobocman maybe? Hmm, I think that’s doing a disservice to the breadth of his work. I really liked this question by the way!
Going back to the beginning, when did you start drawing—or drawing comics specifically?
I always drew as a child, like all children did pre-MySpace. I think the first comics I drew were around the age of eleven. Bad and unfinished takes on Tintin, then a Bruce Lee type character called Nomis—see how I got his name there?—who was a scientist’s assistant but also good at flying kicks and so on. The latest one I drew purely for love is called Paris and is written by Andi Watson. For some reason it never occurred to me to try and draw them for money, right up until being approached by DC/Vertigo. I owe them a lot of gratitude for that because more than anything it’s given me the time to develop I wouldn’t normally have had.
What were your influences as a kid—what comics or magazines did you read in the UK?
The Beano, Beezer and so on—weekly British comics. Their unruly characters are the heroes and the authority figures are the enemies to be mocked, although they would ultimately come out on top. That dynamic was a huge influence on Arnie the Anarchist. After those I got hugely obsessed with Tintin—those books were and remain the inspiration for my visual style—and then later discovered US comics and bandes dessinées in the mid-eighties.
When you were doing the Arnie Comix zine, a lot of the strips you did were related to the underground music scene, when did you first start listening to punk rock?
At school. But it’s something of a chicken or egg thing in that doing the fanzine introduced me to a lot more music. We’d trade them with record labels and distributors, we’d receive a great deal of stuff for review and so on. As with any community the more you put in, the more you get out.
What were your favorite bands at the time?
The usual charmers; Conflict, Discharge, Subhumans, Amebix, Neurosis, all sorts of anarcho and hardcore bands, plus a great deal of the poppier stuff and lots of garage bands.
Do you still follow any punk bands and who are your favorite bands?
Oh yeah. I’m not as up to speed though, so I rely on friends turning me on to stuff and I’ll still play lots of old bands and catch up on the ones I missed out on at the time. I just consulted my iTunes and it tells me that Propagandhi’s “Supporting Caste” and “Without Love” were my two most played tunes last year for some reason, but then again, I’m currently playing New Order. Man, I hate listing bands, it’s always gonna make your tastes sound more limited than they really are!
Is Maggot Slayer Overdrive still together?
No, and the punk scene is less sexy as a result. Pigsy’s current band Gurkha is good, although it must be noted that they don’t serve the audience cider from a glass tied to a broom handle like MSO did.
A lot of artists and writers get involved in the punk scene after discovering they have no aptitude for learning a musical instrument. Did you make a similar discovery or was art always your preferred form of expression? I may be incorrectly assuming that you are not a musician as well, if so, my apologies.
No, you’re spot on, I have zero musical ability. I am utterly unmusical. That said, I do play guitar, violin, piano, bag—and pan pipes.
Nah, I never harbored ambitions to play an instrument, art has always been my means of expression, or fulfillment. Zines, bands, art, it’s all part of the same scene. An example: I was once chatting to a guy touring with the band Avail here in Bath and for some reason zines in New Jersey came up in conversation, perhaps they’d just been there or something. I’d been corresponding with a zine editor called Joseph Gervasi and I asked if he knew him. He says “Yeah, I know Joe” then points to his feet and says “In fact, I think these are his boots”... Maybe you had to be there!
That's awesome. Small world—small indie world anyway. What was your involvement in, or history with, publisher and distributor Slab-O-Concrete?
Pete, who ran it, was kind enough to print my comics until doing so made him too poor to continue. His publishing model: focusing on non-genre, square-bound comics was quite ahead of its time and something of a forerunner of the current US graphic novel market. The last things I did for him were "Meet John Dark," a crime story written by Darryl Cunningham of recently released ‘"Psychiatric Tales" fame and "Punk Strips," a collection of my zine and mini comics work.
Do you still work for the Royal Mail or are you able to support yourself doing illustration work?
No. I can no longer introduce myself as “a man of letters” and without the uniform pensioners no longer respect me. After the post office I worked at a greetings card company before going freelance—at first mainly as an illustrator and graphic designer and more recently doing predominantly comics work. It’s a privilege but a feast or famine thing as well, at times. Like now!
Who do you like that’s working in comics today?
Man, where to start? It’s the golden age and there are too many talented creators to start listing them. My current obsession is Manga. I was late to it but I love it. I like that you’ll often get long series which you can really become wrapped up in. I like it’s focus being on character and therefore the warmth and humanity it’s able to convey. Because it’s so different from most western comics, I also find I can read it as a reader rather than a creator, if that makes sense, although not without a certain envy of their skills and productivity of course.
What’s your take on the future of comics, zines and the underground press in the Digital Age? Do they still thrive in print or do they need to go digital to survive?
It’s horrible, isn’t it? I like the intimacy of a book, I just love paper and the feel of books. They look nice and they are mementos of your growth and history. I was reading in the bath tub one time and accidentally dropped the book in, imagine if that had been an iPad? What about art books? Guernica almost looks pro-war on an iPhone. The boffins simply haven’t thought this through. I’d rather they were trying to create seedless apples, to be honest.
No, the internet’s awesome too, it doesn’t hurt to have more options for delivering words. I can enjoy a web comic or an online article and I also appreciate that obviously you can reach a larger audience via the web. It means zines can be more up to date, but it did kill off the craft and uniqueness of them, so that’s probably at the root of my mixed feelings. You’re in a similar boat, Chris, so I’d be interested to know how you felt.
Well for me, I get the same pleasure from laying out a web page as I did laying out a page for print. I can also fix typos and spelling errors ad infinitum. When I look at a zine I did from ten years ago and see egregious spelling errors, it still cause me enormous pain. Also, publishing on the web is much, much cheaper and you can reach a much, much larger audience as you mentioned. Reproducing graphics in full color is a a breeze and doesn't break your bank and you don't have to deal with an archaic distribution system that eventually collapased in on itself owing individual publishers hundreds if not thousands of dollar. But, having said all that, you're right, there's something about physically holding an independently produced, stapled and copied zine or comic that you just can't get from any digital format. Vinyl is experiencing a resurgence and so will printed comics, zines, books and all that. There's something to be said for the creativity that is required when you have limitation forced on you and a lack of resources.
Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story, written by Mat Johnson and drawn by me, is published in August by DC/Vertigo. I’ve just gotten back into painting, I think the last time I painted was a good seven years ago. I’m loving it. It’s exciting—perhaps disproportionately to the quality of the work, but I don’t care! There’s just something satisfying about the larger scale and again, having the physical object in front of you.
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