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).
Today, we’re talking to Robert Wells, one of the comic creators who has a space on the LICAF Virtual Comics Clock Tower.
Robert has been writing and drawing comics since the 1990s. His debut graphic novel, Back, Sack & Crack (& Brain), was shortlisted for the Myriad Editions First Graphic Novel Prize in 2014 and published by Robinson / Little, Brown in 2017. Since then, he has written and drawn Love Her Madly for Aces Weekly, Malty Heave (with Phil Elliott) and is currently drawing the series Department of the Peculiar, written by Rol Hirst.
What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?
Robert Wells: I’ve just finished drawing a six-page sci-fi strip, written by Paul Duncan, which should appear in #4 of The77 later this year, and I have just started drawing the new Department of the Peculiar comic DOTP:NY (which may not be done for a few months, as I really have only just started it and I have a few other things to draw too). Plus me and Phil Elliott are about to do a horror-themed Malty Heave comic which may or may not be out in time for Halloween.
Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Robert: Right now, I’d say Department of the Peculiar Goes POP! issues 1 and 2, which are my most recently published comics. Although I didn’t write them, I think the art is the best I’ve ever done and Rol Hirst’s script is great too. I think these are really good comics, I really like the characters, and I hope we can do a lot more with them. You can get copies from my Lakes Festival storefront or from my own shop.
How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Robert: Err, my plans usually go awry, if I make plans at all. I just draw whenever I can, but now that my wife is working from home most of the time too, I tend not to really get going until the afternoon, unless I have a deadline for something, as the mornings are taken up with household chores, dog walking, etc., but I tend to work late into the evening and most weekends.
What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
Robert: Being able to spend my days drawing, which I enjoy doing more than ever now, and being able to work from home.
And the worst?
Robert: Earning almost no money.
What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Robert: Household chores, dogs, the internet, and feeling like I should be doing something else to raise some money.
Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
Robert: Well, self-publishing is getting easier and more affordable, there’s Kickstarter and there is a graphic novel market that didn’t really exist when I was younger, so it’s probably easier for young creators to get professional-looking work out there, but earning money from published work is getting more difficult all the time.
How has the Pandemic affected you, work wise – good or bad?
It hasn’t made a huge amount of difference so far. I was going to launch the DOTP: Goes POP! #2 Kickstarter in March but decided to put it off for a couple of months, because things seemed so uncertain, but I eventually launched it in May and it did pretty well.
Other than that, I’ve just carried on drawing as normal – and have drawn quite a lot – but during the peak of the pandemic it seemed to be easier to focus on one-off drawings and cartoons, rather than comics.
What do you think might be its most significant impact on the comics industry in general, long term?
Robert: I suspect the negative impact will be a lot of comic shops and publishers closing for good, a lot of people losing their jobs, and creators finding it even more difficult to find paying work. If anything positive comes out of that at all, I hope it makes the remaining / new publishers try harder to find ways to reach a wider audience, rather than relying heavily on one big distributor and a relatively-small network of specialist shops that you have to make an effort to find.
Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Robert: Living: Jaime Hernandez. Dead: Bernie Wrightson. I have no idea what I’d say to either of them if I met them – I’d probably get tongue-tied and make a fool of myself – but they are two of my favourite artists and I’d love to have an opportunity to watch them work.
What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Robert: I’m not really in a position to tell people how to find work in the comics industry – I’m more of a cautionary tale – but if I’m speaking to a young person I usually advise them to go to university, as I didn’t go to uni myself and I think I would have been a lot more confident in my art (and more confident in general) when I was younger if I had.
What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Robert: It’s a boring answer, and one that I’m sure a lot of other people will give, but my favourite comic right now is Criminal (and all the related comics / OGNs) by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, which you can get pretty much anywhere that comics and books are sold.
Robert, thank you very much for your time and the very best of luck with all your projects!
• The Virtual Comics Clock Tower is online at licafclocktower.com