Kate Brown’s on The Beat! A writer, colourist, artist, self-publisher, Young Avenger, anthologist, board game inventer and designer, Kate was kind enough to talk to us about all sorts of things.
The best thing about writing on The Beat is that we have full control over our interviews, and can set up interviews with people even when they aren’t on a promotional trail. We talk and interview to people that we want to talk to, and like, and whose art and comics inspire us. And at the same time, that gives us a chance to build up a sense of community as you move from interview to interview. Kate Brown has worked with Neill Cameron for The Phoenix, for example, and will soon be joining Antony Johnston and Emma Vieceli on the next Alex Rider graphic novel. See that sense of community building up? There’s a web connecting everybody in UK and Ireland.
Emma was the one who suggested I talk next to Kate, and I jumped at the chance. Soon to be seen as the artist for an issue of Young Avengers, Kate’s also contributed to The Phoenix (another connection for you there) the BCA-winning Nelson anthology, Manga Shakespeare and The DFC. Her self-published work Fish + Chocolate tells three stories about motherhood, which move from stark realism to heady fairytale at a switch. She wrote the stories, and drew them, and coloured them – they’re personal and spectacular. So that seemed like the best place to start!
Steve: On books like Fish + Chocolate you’ve handled almost everything – the writing, the pencilling, the colouring. What part of the process do you most enjoy?
Kate: Doing EVERYTHING! Literally, I mean, like, with F+C, when my little self-published copies turned up, I was so happy, because it felt like it was really mine. I’d done everything except print the actual pages. I come from a background of publishing my own stuff (or publishing to web in my teens), and it’s the best!! Just holding this thing that’s totally 100% yours is so good. Um, to be a bit more specific about the comics process… my favourite bit is thumbnailing! I could do that shit all year! (And have done! It’s great!!)
Steve: Your colouring style in particular has changed over the years, moving from traditional to digital colouring. Was it a difficult move to make?
Kate: It’s been a very long time since I was using traditional colouring on my comics! I think I stopped just before my final project at uni. It was a bit tough because Photoshop can be pretty overwhelming, and I know I felt like I was going backwards in terms of the finished effect of the page (i.e., it looked like a pile of shit) for a while until I got the hang of things. These days, I think I’m over-rendering pages… my new book has a super pared-down look, which was a bit hard to get used to (I think detail is addictive) but I think it’s beneficial for the project.
Steve: What’s the key to colouring a page? Do you try to go for clarity or for splash?
Kate: Hopefully both at the same time! My colouring style’s not terribly flashy, though, in my opinion, even if it can be a bit over-complex…
Steve: Does having control over both the art and script tempt you to push further? For example, do you find yourself writing complicated, difficult pages which will show off your artwork more?
Kate: Hmm, no, I wouldn’t really say so. There’s been a couple of things when I’ve been like, “thanks SO MUCH, Past Me, for writing something really complex.” Especially when doing stuff in the Phoenix where there’s a choke-hold on space, even an extra panel can screw things up. I would say I usually set my bar pretty low, hahahaha!
Steve: With The Phoenix you’ve created all kinds of things – not only comics, but board games as well. Do you feel there’s any difference in your mindset when working on all-ages projects, rather than more mature works? Or, aside from the swearing and stuff, do you create in much the same way?
Kate: Ahahahaha…. *fond memories of Phoenix editor scoring out swearwords in drafts with red pen*
Well, yes and no! I think the characters I’ve made up for these particular projects have given the storyline the skew it needs. Like, in The Spider Moon, if I’d had Feth as the main point of view instead of Bekka, the storyline would have been the same, but it would have been a very different telling of it. I hope that makes some sense. Really, the difference in creating something that’s 70 pages long told in 3-page chunks vs. one 150 page book is enough to make the way something’s created super different, in my opinion/experience. I’m often egged on to make my all-ages stuff more exciting, which I find hard, as I don’t really lean naturally towards creating like that, or reading comics like that…
Steve: What kicked off the idea of making board games for the magazine, as well as comics? It reminds me of the sort of thing you’d find in old copies of the Beano, or The Beezer (nobody ever remembers Beezer!)
Kate: I’m afraid I don’t remember Beezer either, sorry!! Ehh, I just sat up one day and was like “I wanna do that.” It’s been really fun but OH MY GOD each one has taken a LOT LOT LOT of work. I hope people are enjoying them. So far there’s four in total, and I think we’re up to two published.
Steve: You’ve worked with a whole host of other British creators, from Emma Vieceli, to Warren Ellis, to Neill Cameron.. How do you feel the British comics community has grown over the past few years? Do you think it’s become stronger and more supportive of new comics projects?
Kate: Yeah for sure! Though I’ve always felt really very welcome… I’ve been doing conventions and trying to be active in the UK scene, specifically, since about 2000, and it’s been really nice. Anyone just needs to drop into a convention like Thought Bubble, really, to see how boomin’ it is. Great selection of content and a growing selection of people from different backgrounds.
Steve: You’re soon to be seen on Young Avengers, as artist for issue 6. How did you get involved with the series, working with convention troubadours Gillen and McKelvie?
Kate: Hahaha, so… when I got the email through from Lauren asking about it, I’d just got back from an event and was super tired, lying on the floor checking my mail on my phone. My phone didn’t show the email properly, so I was like… is this spam? What the hell is this? I nearly deleted it, lol. Then I was like, waaaaait a fucking minute, and passed it to my boyfriend to double-check. THEN I got super excited… but it didn’t really feel real until Jamie DM’d me the next day about it all and I found out they’d put my name forward. It was a big surprise and I was super flattered. But that was it, really, just got emailed about it…! I then proceeded to freak out a little bit, like, “I’m really gonna do this…..?! I hope I don’t mess up!!!”
Steve: This would represent, I believe, your first time working to somebody else’s script (Shakespeare doesn’t count). How’s the experience of working with Kieron been?
Kate: I worked on a one-off for the Phoenix called “Emilie’s Turn” with Neill Cameron previously to this, so I got a chance to work with an excellent script-writer (albeit briefly! Neill! Let’s team up again, dude!!!) and that started me up that learning curve. Both Neill and Kieron are communicative, trusting, and sure in their own judgements, so, I really appreciate that. Personally, I feel I’m often very grumpy to work with, but working with other people can have a positive influence on me… Kieron was very relaxed for instance, so, that rubbed off on me, and I was like “Gotta be cool! Gotta pull out my best!”
Steve: The book has been building a reputation for trying some strange new ways of laying out pages – will we see that kind of collaborative experimentation for your issue of the book? How far do you like to push the storytelling on a page?
Kate: Jamie’s layouts are incredible. I love them. The fact that they’re so visually attractive, AND read so well, is obviously some kind of witchcraft. I love what this series is doing! Well, I tried to step up my game as much as I could for #6! I am all about storytelling, it’s the heart of comics for me. I couldn’t care less if art/writing is fantastic, if it’s not told well… I think success comes with experience and lots of self-analysis/analysis of storytelling with visuals.
And experimentation. I like to push mine as far as I can… I still have a lot to learn, of course, but it’s an area I’m very particular in, so I try my hardest. In particular, I love working on character “acting,” and trying to get that down as well as possible; I labour a lot over little details in expressions & body language, etc. I can’t be lazy when it comes to layouts/thumbnailing, it’s no good for anyone! I personally feel that I get too interested in how a page looks as a whole sometimes, rather than just breaking that and going for sheer clarity, which is a bad habit. I definitely need an editor.
Steve: Is there ever a temptation in your own books, once a page is completed, to go back and edit the writing, change the dialogue? How strict do you keep yourself?
Kate: I keep changing text until the thing is ready to go to print! It’s actually one of the reasons I’m often wary of showing people who aren’t that familiar with my working style my early drafts, because the text is always place-holder until the last minute, really. My thumbnails are often covered in stuff like “This, but, like, better” or “Imagine this is good” or “Haven’t quite got this bit yet” just a speech bubble with “Etc.” in, hahaha.
I hate tying myself in to a particular line or set of lines. I’ve found, especially when moving from script to page, that it can be such a vast transition to suddenly be speaking with pictures as well as words, that tying myself into certain dialogue/instruction etc. isn’t really worthwhile. Everything’s pretty loose up until the page is finished, for me.
Steve: What else do you have coming up over the next few months? Where can we expect to see you next?
Kate: Aw man, I have been working my tits off learning how to animate for this particular project that I could not, would never, absolutely COULD NOT pass up… I’m looking forward to sharing it with people! It’s been a super-steep learning curve (like……. well, it’s more of a straight-up vertical than a curve, tbh) and really I’ve just had to go for it best I can. I know I’m not gonna be pulling out anything like someone who’s been studying animation for years, and wouldn’t presume to, but I’m really giving it my all!
It’s been good to start learning a new skill, and I’ve really enjoyed the thinking process that comes with animation – you can’t relax or stop paying attention for one second, and I actually really appreciate that right now… (speak to me again in a month as I lie broken on the floor after it’s finished, hahahahaha).
Me, Emma Vieceli and Paul Duffield have just finished one project for the Tower of London, which was A.W.E.S.O.M.E. It was a series of pics to go across hoarding on the Bowyer Tower. Me & Em split the pics – it was fun researching the little bits of history! Paul handled the printing and designing side of things, and made them look super sparkly. They’re like, lifesize, so I can’t wait to get there and get pics of them!!
Following finishing up the animation, I’ll be colouring the Alex Rider graphic novels (Emma Vieceli/Antony Johnston adapting) and working on my bloody book which has been an utter cow to hammer into shape and I have literally lost count of the number of drafts it’s been through……. I hope it works out alright, I refuse to give up on it :/
Um, in terms of events, I’m at 2D in Derry, Melksham (in Melksham), and Thought Bubble in Leeds this year. So come and say hi and chat to meeeeee (and buy my stuuuuuuffff!) Young Avengers #6 is out at the end of June (I think) and I hope people will enjoy this issue too!