Pat Grant is a cartoonist writer and zine maker. He has recently completed a graphic novel called Blue, which is part autobiography, part science fiction.
What’s more important for creating good comics: the writing or the art? Which appeals to you more?
Well, I guess that the problem with that question is the idea that the writing and the art are different practices completely. I think that the communication practice that I do is called cartooning, which is writing with pictures. Like, I do spend a lot of time writing on a laptop, nutting out a story, but in terms of the overall process for producing a cartoon, it’s not even a blueprint at that stage. It’s not even a script, as a screenwriter might have a script. The real writing is really only taking place when you’re sitting down, trying to communicate visually. For example, you can write a sentence that’s supposed to be in a speech bubble, and you’ll try to write a character’s voice, and you’re trying to get all that traditional literary content in all, like timbre and tone and all that stuff. But then, when you’re actually sitting down at the drawing table with a brush or a quill in your hand, there are similar literary qualities that come into the marks that you’re making. There’s a language of symbols and images that’s speaking entirely on its own. I mean, some people absolutely love certain comics just because of the pictures, and they can spend hours poring over the illustrations and not even look at the stories, and that’s completely fine. And I know that I really love certain Japanese comics that I don’t understand at all just because of the drawing, and I’m pretty sure that even if I could read them then they’d be total crap. But I think that as a cartoonist the writing and the art are very much intertwined for me.
What do you aspire to as a cartoonist and comic book writer? What means success to you?
I don’t know. Probably just communicating with people, really. That’s all I really care about. I mean, I’m just not snotty enough to think that what I do as an artist isn’t totally pop culture, and built into pop culture is that idea of talking to a really large group of people. So yeah- all I really want to do is talk to people.
In the writing community, there’s a lot of emphasis nowadays on writers’ groups and collaborative work- getting feedback from other writers, editing and then rewriting and so on. Is there are similar culture in the world of cartoons and comics?
Yeah, no, not really. There’s a powerful community of cartoonists around the world, and especially in Australia- like, Australian cartoonists are very together and support each other heaps and talk to each other a lot- but it’s really, really difficult to edit a comic book. It’s just not like prose where you can chop and change and pull out a paragraph at the start of the chapter, the whole thing is too interdependent for a process like that to work. But I think that I would like to see a bit more of a traditional writing community where we critique each other’s stuff and work together and so on. I think one of the reasons it doesn’t really happen is that hardly anyone I know who writes comics has had any formal creative writing training. Nearly all of them have had some sort animation or fine art training, so for them it’s not so much a given so far as the practice goes. But yeah, I kind of really do wish that there was more of that writing, critical community going on a bit more.
You self-publish your comics and zines, and at the Festival you’re going to be our resident expert on self-publishing. This is something that’s becoming increasingly popular for books, with people trying to circumvent slush piles and so on. Do you think that it’s a good way to go about it?
Yeah, definitely, if the artist is one of those people who’s interested in communicating visually and through design and stuff like that. I mean, for me, the book design is just as important as the content of the thing, so in that respect it’s fantastic for me to self publish. When I’m in charge, I don’t have to do things like compromise artistically for the sake of expense. But some people really don’t care about design and just want to write their stories in their rooms on their laptop, and to them I say, why would you bother? Why would you distract yourself with things that publishers normally worry about? But one thing I do like is being able to not worry that a project won’t find its audience. I’ve never had to worry about my work being on a slush pile because I’ve never put it there. From what I can tell publishers are way more interested in projects that already have a drive built into them- books that are easy to sell because they already have an audience or a market or are the same as thing’s that have worked before. They’re not concerned so much about originality and all that. Whereas for me, when I talk to a publisher, it’s not a situation where I’m like, “Please help me find an audience”, it’s much more like “This project is going to happen whether you like it or not.” And that’s a great thing for me, because it would be a huge discouragement for me to be worrying about whether or not some editor is going to like it. But I really don’t think that my way of doing things is right for everyone. I think, in general, it’s unreasonable to expect someone who is a writer to be obsessed with printing and marketing and all the other stuff that publishers have to do.
You’ve previously made comics that focus on quite political issues like the Cronulla Riots. Do you think art- whether it’s writing or painting or sculpture or interpretive dance- has an obligation to engage with political or moral issues?
No, not really. If the artist is interested in politics then their art will be political no matter what. But the idea that art has a responsibility to be political is troubling to me. I hate art that’s too political, especially art that tries to act as propaganda, that tries to convince people of certain things. But I’ve always been interested in the Australian beach as a setting and the Australian beach seems so political at the moment, so the politics of belonging and alienation are things that are constantly coming up in my comics.
Pat Grant will be our resident expert on comics and self-publishing at the Living Library event at the Emerging Writers’ Festival. You can purchase tickets by visiting our product page or calling the NSW Writers’ Centre on (02) 9555 9757.