Sarah McIntyre’s Vern and Lettuce was one of the most recent round of books released from the DFC Library. Its story features a sheep and a rabbit that live in a tower block apartment building and are best friends.
Vern is a safe, careful, tidy sheep, while Lettuce the rabbit is far more rambunctious. The comic follows their misadventures as they meet the other residents of Pickle Rye, and go on a mission to become famous, despite lacking any actual talent. “Vern tries to take up playing the tuba,” says McIntyre. “But then they go into the city and get into a lot of trouble and things all go a bit wrong.”
“Sheep make great characters,” says McIntyre. “They have these really gormless expressions; you can really paint any kind of emotion onto them. I think they work very well as comic book characters.”
McIntyre works as part of the Fleece Station, a group of artists who all seem to have a connection with sheep. Gary Northfield is the creator of Derek the Sheep, currently running in BeanoMax, while Lauren O’Farrell runs StitchLondon.
McIntyre is excited about the current UK comics scene. “The more I discover the more I realize we have so much talent in this country,” she says. “When we come to events like Thought Bubble we get inspired and make better work. It’s going to explode soon, with so many people doing amazing things.”
Working for The DFC
Before starting Vern and Lettuce for The DFC McIntyre had experience doing illustration work, including several children’s books, but she hadn’t worked on any print comics. “I wasn’t that interested in comics for a long time,” said McIntyre. “Cause I thought it was all superhero things, which didn’t attract me that much.” It was only when she started looking at comics online that she discovered there were a huge variety of comics out there, including stories and character that she felt she could relate to.
Soon McIntyre was making her own webcomics, and when the opportunity came to pitch to The DFC she took it. “I went in to talk to them,” says McIntyre. “And they asked if I could do a weekly comic.” Initially McIntyre was nervous about dealing with such a tight schedule. “I wasn’t sure about it, but David Fickling is so full of enthusiasm that when he asks you say ‘Of course I can! I’d love to.’”
McIntyre choose to do a single page a week because she said she’d “rather do one good page than several bad ones.” And while there were the weekly deadlines to hit, she found working for The DFC to be easier than picture books, which required approval of every page and every character design.
“They gave me so much freedom it scared me a bit,” said McIntyre. “I did email in pencil roughs and inks before the colour pages. But I think they only once had me fix things like speech bubble order that didn’t quite make sense. Mostly they just told me to go for it!”
“They were quite confident in the comic,” says McIntyre. “And I think it’s the best thing I’ve done. It had a lot of energy and I really fell in love with the characters.”
McIntyre feels that there aren’t too many differences between creating children’s picture books and comics. “The humour element was a little more difficult,” she says, “But It was a lot like picture books cause they have to end on a payoff, and so it wasn’t that much of a transition.”
Currently McIntyre is trying to introduce comic elements into the picture books she creates. “I’m trying to bring comics by stealth into the picture book world,” she says. “I think picture book editors are growing far more open to comics in picture book form. So I’m trying to mix them together. I think they can both learn from each other.”
“Vern and Lettuce live!”
The one page Vern and Lettuce comic ran for most of The DFC’s run, with McIntyre finishing up her initial story and taking a break just before the magazine ceased publication. “I managed to get my story-arc completely in, which was fortunate for me,” she says.
However, that’s not the end of Vern and Lettuce. McIntyre is currently working on a Vern and Lettuce picture book for David Fickling Books, that might have some comic elements, and the characters continue to show up in McIntyre’s webcomics.
“I’ve got an online magazine called The Pickle, which is basically if Vern and Lettuce had their own magazine.” The magazine is based on reader submissions and McIntyre says that people can send in columns, comics, sports pages, and “all sorts of things”. McIntyre is really excited about other people working on her characters saying “It’s almost like they’re alive without me. I feel like Vern and Lettuce just went on an adventure and they’ve written back to me.”
Tomorrow: Neill Cameron, creator of Mo-Bot High.