Every year, in the countdown to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in October, this year running as the virtual LICAF LIVE, we bring you a series of interviews with both guests and participants in the Comics Clock Tower (This year, also virtual).
Sarah, who’s playing major part in the Festival’s free online LITTLE LICAF event for younger comic fans, has a new chapter book out now, Kevin and the Biscuit Bandit, the third book in their co-authored Roly-Poly Flying Pony series created with Philip Reeve. Her latest solo project, Don’t Call Me Grumpycorn, was released in June.
Sarah also created a 24-page strip as part the Festival’s 2014 24-Hour Comics Marathon, which appears at the beginning of the award-nominated, collected 24 by 7 anthology, edited by Dan Berry.
What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?
Sarah McIntyre: I just made two comics videos for the upcoming Lakes International Comic Art Festival! One will lead you through making a unicorn comic, and the other gives you lots of ideas for making your own comic about two guinea pig bandits on the run, inspired by Neville & Beyoncé in Kevin and the Biscuit Bandit.
I’m in the middle of illustrating the fourth Kevin book, which isn’t a comic, but it comes out next autumn and I hope you like it anyway!
Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Sarah: I’m still most proud of Vern and Lettuce (about a sheep and a rabbit who are best friends), now reprinted by my former studio mate Gary Northfield, who runs Bog Eyed Books. It’s available at good comic shops, including Page 45!
I also had a lot of fun working on the 24 by 7 comic anthology, where one LICAF, seven of us spent 24 hours in a room, each making a 24-page comic. There’s nothing like a bit of time pressure to pump out some work, and I liked how mine came out.
My other favourite is NELSON, again, a big collaborative effort, edited by Woodrow Phoenix and Rob Davis.
How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Sarah: I do, but it often gets scuppered when I try to tackle my e-mail Inbox. I keep telling myself that I should set aside, say, Thursdays, to answer e-mails, but it never happens that way. Most days start with a walk to the studio, where I put on a pot of coffee as soon as I arrive. It’s a bit of a ritual. Everyone in the building can smell that I’m in, because of the coffee.
What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
Sarah: When I do workshops with kids, particularly older ones (say, eight and older), they sometimes feel patronised if I talk with them about how I make picture books, even if I present it as a potential career path, not a story hour. But if I get them making comics, they’re instantly engaged; it’s kind of magic that way.
And the worst?
Sarah: It’s really hard to make a living making comics. Publishers don’t pay well and I draw them too slowly to do it as a full-time job. So mostly I use the comics medium when I’m working with children. But all design elements feed into each other; comics aren’t absolutely separate from picture books or illustrated chapter books, and a lot of what I know about page layout comes from comics.
What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Sarah: Emails, always emails. And snacking.
Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
Sarah: If kids have a bit of guidance, it’s definitely easier to self-publish. Making copies of comics is so much cheaper and accessible than it used to be, and with the help of a supportive grownup, they have the potential to sell their comics online.
If a kid has been making and publishing their own comics, they get a lot of experience and it’s much more natural for them later to move into working with someone else who will publish them. I think of Zoom Rockman, Jonny Toons and Alec Anderson, who all started making full-length comics well before they were ten years old, and selling them at LICAF; in practical terms, they’re all well ahead of most art college students.
How has the Pandemic affected you, work wise – good or bad?
Sarah: I have a lot less distraction from events; it’s kind of amazing how much time they took up, the pre-planning e-mails and social media, travelling and follow-up e-mails. I’ve had more time to paint things outside of my usual book work. I’ve actually really enjoyed making paintings to sell, and I just opened my first-ever online shop (sarahmcintyre.bigcartel.com), selling printed cards of some of the paintings. Publishing involves a lot of time-lag between finishing a project and seeing it launched, so it’s refreshing to finish something, tweet it, and sell it in minutes. That’s been good.
On the bad side, I’ve lost income by not doing events. And publishers are incredibly wary about commissioning new things because their business models are all messed up and they have no idea how to predict sales figures.
Even printers have been affected; when Stephen Holland of Page 45 hosted my online launch for Don’t Call Me Grumpycorn, we didn’t realise the hardcover editions didn’t even exist – everything had been messed up with the Italy-based printer and no one knew where things were – so Stephen worked wonders, replacing hardcover orders with paperbacks and giving people a free comic on top of that.
What do you think might be its most significant impact on the comics industry in general, long term?
Sarah: I hope, with all this extra time at home, kids have more time to make comics; they’re our future. If you’re a grownup reading this, please have lots of blank paper and pencils available for your kids to draw on. Let them scribble, and mess up their papers and do all sorts of experimenting. And have some comics around the house to inspire them: Dav Pilkey‘s books, The Phoenix Comic, Calvin & Hobbes collections, the Phoebe & Her Unicorn series, etc.
Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Sarah: I’d love to meet Gemma Correll and her pug. She’s so talented and funny, and I’m always up for meeting a pug.
What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Sarah: Make comics! Writing and drawing are all good, but you learn so much more from actually putting together full books… and finishing them. Finishing is a big thing. If you struggle to finish a book, just keep it very short; even a small, single folded piece of paper can be a finished comic.
In my videos, I walk people through making their own full-length comic book. Set yourself a deadline, say, a whole comic in an hour, or a day, and don’t be too precious about it, just finish it.
Also, be generous with credit. If you write comics, be sure to credit your artists. Show people you’re someone good to work with, and that you realise how much time, skill and hard work goes into making all the different elements of comics.
What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Sarah: I love Jamie Smart‘s Bunny vs Monkey series, they’re so beautifully drawn and full of funny chaos. He had a new book of the collected comics come out this summer, and I’m sure you can get that at Page 45, Gosh, and all good comic shops and bookshops.
Sarah, thanks very much for chatting with us, and the very best of luck with all your projects!
• Sarah McIntyre is online at jabberworks.co.uk | Twitter: @jabberworks | Instagram: @jabberworks | Facebook: illustratrix | BigCartel Shop | #DrawingWithSarah Youtube | #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign
• Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2021: 15th – 17th October 2021
• The Virtual Comics Clock Tower is online at licafclocktower.com
All art © Sarah McIntyre