Every Friday, Stately Beat Mansion invites round a comic creator or two for a cup of tea, complementary Kit Kat, and a chat about their work in The Phoenix. The Phoenix is a UK series which features a range of the best all-ages comics available, from all kinds of wonderful creators – all compiled into a single issue each week! The Phoenix have very kindly commissioned an underground burrower machine just for this feature, which tunnels across to The Mansion every week with a new creator onboard.
Steve: What is Gary’s Garden about?
Gary: My comic is called Gary’s Garden, and it stars a whole menagerie of characters from my back garden. Each week features someone different as I like to mix things up story wise and stylistically. It’s like my own anthology title really. I regularly come back to some characters though, like Chompy the caterpillar, Larry Ladybird Lord of the Jungle and Boris & Monroe the night-time ninjas, but I often throw in brand new characters, like Billy the Bee and his treasured rock with a face.
Steve: What inspired the series?
Gary: I’d been looking to do a back garden series for a while. I had a bunch of stories and characters that I’d worked up for a book proposal for Walker Books, including an adventurous Blue Tit and a Snail who raced around on a toy car, but they plumped for Teenytinysaurs instead. I’d also had the idea of two brothers, a caterpillar and a butterfly, squirrelled away in my sketchbook for a while.
I wanted to do a proposal for The Phoenix when it was announced, and thought about using the brothers, but wasn’t convinced that they would have enough stories in them to carry a weekly strip. It then struck me that I could create an umbrella strip and bring in my cast off Walker garden proposal and have a constantly changing rota of stories and characters, with me and my garden as the constant.
It was a bit of an odd decision to stick myself in (I think I was looking at cartoons like Simon’s Cat, or Henry’s Cat), but the idea was so preposterously egotistical that it made me laugh, so I went for it. I’m pretty self-deprecating, though, so most of the garden dudes take the micky out of me in case I get any high faluting ideas about starring in my own comic.
Steve: How is your process with the writing/art of the story? How do you take your ideas and develop them into awesome comics?
Gary: Normally scraps of ideas scribbled into my sketchbook like, “Make everyone cry over a leaf”, or “Two spiders wear snowflakes for wigs”. These one liners are gold dust to me and from there I let my imagination run and I jot down scenes and snatches of dialogue. I then start to get a structure forming based around one or two big ideas with plenty of mad conversations or sequences.
If I’m lucky, I’ve thought of a lovely payoff with my initial one liner (very rare), but generally I sit staring at my page, trying to figure out the last piece of the puzzle that glues everything together. I’ve done it so many times now over the years with the Phoenix and all my other strips, that I’ve got, “thinking up with an hilarious punch line” down to three minutes!
Steve: What’s your favourite part of this week’s story?
Gary: There’s a lovely scene where Larry Ladybird, Lord of the Jungle tells Colin the Ladybird Barbarian that he’s searching for his kidnapped girlfriend. We get a close up of Colin gazing off into the distance, whispering, “Love… Yes, I have heard of this word.” It’s so corny it made me really laugh. Also, I like the idea that this mysterious beefy Ladybird has had a bit of trouble with keeping a girlfriend in the past. I like to hint at stories yet untold; it gives the characters a bit of depth. Not quite Tolkien, but you get the idea.
Steve: Where else can we find you? What else do you have coming up?
Gary: I have a new book out from Walker Books called The Terrible Tales of the Teenytinysaurs, an 80 page kids graphic novel about a gang of young dinosaurs exploring the world. And for the past four and a half years I’ve been writing and drawing a monthly strip for National Geographic Kids UK called Mini Histories which focuses on people from History and their story and contribution to the world.
Thanks so much to Gary for his time! Gary’s Garden will be appearing this week in The Phoenix #77. And thanks to Liz Payton, who drove the burrower!