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 a magic schhoolbus just for this feature, which steams across to The Mansion every week with a new creator onboard.
This week sees Neill Cameron drive on over to tell us about How To Make Awesome Comics, a series appearing in today’s newest issue. If you want to find out more, then try an issue of The Phoenix for yourself!
Steve: What is ‘How To Make Awesome Comics’ about? Who does it star?
Neill: How to Make (Awesome) Comics is about… comics! Specifically, awesome ones and how to make them. I guess the clue’s there in the title, really. The nominal ‘stars’ are Professor Panels – who guides the reader through the more writing-focussed and theoretical aspects of the sequential arts – and Art Monkey, who teaches you how to draw robots and stuff.
Steve: What inspired the series?
Neill: When my first book, Mo-Bot High, came out I suddenly found myself starting to give talks and workshops on comics at schools, libraries, festivals and so on. I put together a sort of evolving talk / presentation which covered some of the basics of how to come up with ideas, story structure, panel transitions and so forth, but – in order to keep the 7-year-olds in the audience on board – did so in a way that was very silly and full of jokes about farting and fat dudes falling over a lot. Anyway, it seemed to go over pretty well the first few times I took it on the road, and so it got me thinking it would be cool to try and put some of these ideas in print somewhere.
Shortly thereafter I got the call about the Phoenix, and while they were initially interested in ideas for action / adventure type strips (which ended up being The Pirates of Pangaea) it struck me that it would be a very cool thing for a new weekly children’s comic to have a regular page all about making comics; to really keep encouraging that link between reading a comic and then having a go at making your own that is such a magical part of the whole process. And bless those fine folks at the Phoenix, they agreed.
Steve: How is your process with the writing/art of the story? How do you take your ideas and develop them into awesome comics?
Neill: HTM(A)C is a weird one to write and draw – some weeks, when we’re just doing ‘How To Draw Penguins’ or something, it’s a blessedly simple and fun process. Other weeks, when I decide to attempt a 40-panel-page explaining how narrative rules apply across different story genres… it is less so. Often the pages end up being halfway between a comics page and a horribly complicated diagram, and the process of making it becomes more like a challenge of graphic design than of comics storytelling per se. But it all ends up making sense and being clear to read. Or at least, that’s my hope.
I’m talking some high-falutin’ talk here, but I’m always conscious that I’m going to have to read these strips with my 5-year-old son and I want him to be able to follow them and get the ideas. Or at least, enjoy the bits where people fart and get hit with stuff.
Steve: What’s your favourite part of this week’s story?
Neill: This week, we join Professor Panels as he attempts to explain How (Awesome) Adventures Work. If the strip is often aiming at being something like “Scott McCloud for 7-year-olds”, this run sees us veering off into an attempt to be “Joseph Campbell for 7-year-olds”. Or possibly “Dan Harmon for 7-year-olds”; looking in a bit more detail at the common elements of story structure, particularly in terms of heroic myth and archetypal adventure stories. Again, that possibly sounds hopelessly pretentious, but I do genuinely think that this stuff can be handled in a way that is funny and interesting and completely approachable for a young audience.
But, sorry, to actually answer your question: I think this week’s strip has a caveman in it? I love cavemen.
Steve: Where else can we find you? What else do you have coming up?
Neill: I’m also on the Pirates of Pangaea – also in this week’s Phoenix! – and after that I’ll be ploughing on with some exciting new ideas for Professor Panels and Art Monkey; looking to do some new things with the strip, and find new ways to push the idea of reader interaction and involvement in the comic. Also my first book Mo-bot High comes out in paperback this August from the DFC Library! After which I pretty much plan to retire to a private island and enjoy the inevitable billion-pound royalty cheques.
Many thanks to Neill for his time! You can find How To Make Awesome Comics in this week’s issue of The Phoenix – issue #82! And many thanks to Liz Payton for running the bus on time!