October 26, 2010

Interview with the Sheehan Bros.

Jo Lo from our web team recently interviewed Kelly and Darren Sheehan, authors of The Inhabitants, a superhero/fantasy series about a boy who discovers he has magical powers, and travels to another universe full of hipsters and slackers, pit stops and digressions.  The Inhabitants picked up the Best Writing honour at the 2010 Eric Awards for New Zealand comics in March.

What inspired The Inhabitants?

Kelly: Lots of things. The original idea for The Inhabitants was that everything in it would be ‘stolen’. Samples culled from whatever we thought was cool. It didn't quite work out like that, but a list of inspirational sources would include Zenith (a superhero comic by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell), England’s Dreaming by John Savage, SJD, Dimmer, Wilco, Alan Moore and Alan Davis's Captain Britain, Susan Cooper's Dark Is Rising series, Philip K Dick, Warren Ellis's brainstorming about comics in various essays and reviews he has written (most of which are online), The Matrix, Grant Morrison's The Invisibles, Akira, Joss Whedon's Buffyverse, the sense of place in any novel by Robert Stone, William Gibson's crystalline writing and loads of coffee. Oh, a retrospective inspiration, if I had read it before I started the series, was Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove. It's the best book I've read in the last 10 years. It's so digressive that it makes The Inhabitants straightforward and to the point.

Darren: I wanted to tackle a more ambitious project on a wider scope at the time I was reading England’s dreaming by Jon Savage. It's a book stuffed full of ideas and history and it really fuelled the initial charge at The Inhabitants.

How did you get started in the graphic novel world?

Kelly: Darren and I started work on our first comic around 1996. It was a short mini-comic called The Long Man. We went on to complete six Long Man comics before we started The Inhabitants.

Does your job at the libraries help with graphic novel work?

Kelly: It helps in that you work in an environment where you see inspiring things – novels, DVDs, CDs – on a regular basis. However it sometimes works the other way around, in that there is a danger that you become overwhelmed by 'stuff' and part of you begins to think why bother adding to it?

Do you have a writing process or routine?

Kelly: Unfortunately I don't. I'd like to be a disciplined, methodical person, but I'm not. The writing of The Inhabitants was a piecemeal process with time grabbed here and there. That's part of why it took so long to finish. Being a husband and a dad only intensified this personal shortcoming though my wife is very supportive in helping me find time.

What's the history and inpiration behind all the pictures in Inhabitants, Longman, Go Gorillas?

Darren: The Longman was the first comic Kelly and I attempted together so we were finding our style and working out how to tell a story and create a world and populate it with characters. Go Gorillas was a way of doing one-page stories and experimenting with form. I was thinking Spy vs Spy with evolution thrown in the mix as a backbone. Those strips are really inspired by the work of Martin F Edmond. The Inhabitants was Kelly and me taking on a more ambitious scope of storytelling and really rolling up our sleeves and do some hard-out worldbuilding.

Any favourite comic books/series?

Kelly: Grant Morrison's The Invisibles, Zenith, Bible John, JLA-Rock of Ages, Seven Soldiers, All Star Superman and most of Final Crisis. Alan Moore's Captain Britain, From Hell, Promethea, V for Vendetta. Akira and Domo by Katsuhiro Ōtomo. Jamie Hernandez's Locas. Anything by Taiyo Matsumoto, Timothy Kidd or Sophie Mcmillan. Mike Mignola's Hellboy. Jim Woodring’s Frank stories. Tintin. Bone by Jeff Smith. 2000ad. Charley's War by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun. Jared Lane's Progress.

Darren: Too many, but off the top of my head, anything by Frank Quietly eg All Star Superman, The Authority, Flex Mentello, We 3 etc.  The Invisibles, Zenith, The Biologic Show by Al Columbia, Crickets and Poor Sailor by Sammy Harkhem, Progress by Jared Lane, a New Zealand comics artist based in Christchurch. Anything by Tim Kidd, another great New Zealand artist.

Does winning make you think of making the series into an animated feature/TV series?

Kelly: The thing I like about doing comics is that you can get it done and finished and out there. Filmmaking is such an expensive and complex process that anyone I know who wants to make movies is still waiting to be given the chance. If someone was interested I'd take their cash, but I'd probably stand waaaayyyy back from the production process.
What do you think of the recent spate of comic-based films out there e.g. Iron Man, Watchmen, Batman, Spiderman?
Kelly: Some are good, most are bad. I really like both Hellboy movies and the first two Spiderman movies are almost perfect. I refused to see Watchmen.

Working on anything new at the moment?

Kelly: Yeah, mostly short things and one longer piece. We might put out an anthology next. We have also started on a weird-dreamy-fantasy series.  The idea is that we will work on it slowly over a couple of years, perhaps putting one out each year-as a kind of break from the anthology.

Darren: I’m just finishing work on a set of illustrations for a novel by Mike Johnson called Travesty. It’s being published later in the year by Titus books.

Any pearls of wisdom for the budding comic writer/graphic artist?

Kelly: Just do it! Remember you don't need someone else's permission. Nothing’s going to happen if you sit around waiting for someone to ask you to produce your masterpiece. If you want to approach publishers overseas, you’re better off having something in your hand than just telling them about your really, really good idea.  
Darren: Always keep a sketchbook to record those stray thoughts or inspirations.
How does the comic book publishing world work in NZ? Or is self-publishing the norm in NZ?

Kelly: Self-publishing is the norm. There are some exceptions to the rule. Everyone pretty much makes it up as they go along with varying degrees of support from New Zealand’s eccentric comics community.

I see Central City Library in Volume 1. Are there other buildings in the city you've included in The Inhabitants? E.g. I thought I recognised the Carlisle building on Richmond Rd in it? (I could be wrong).

Darren: Yeah, the whole series is really informed by old buildings in Auckland as a backdrop, when I was initially coming up with sketches for the Great old city nothing was really working so I started taking photos of old building and chopping and dropping them in as the street scapes. There are a lot of buildings on Symonds street, the inner city, Mt Eden Road, parts of Albert Park, the Art Gallery interiors and exteriors, a wrought iron fence here, an abandoned staircase there. I think some of it harks back to growing up in Auckland and coming across to the central city on the ferry from Devonport in the weekend  when everything was closed on a Sunday. That deserted empty feeling.

Do you base the characters/character names on people you know? E.g. I know an TV editor called Tibor, and the Tibor character shows up in Volume 3.

Kelly: There are some real people in our cast of thousands (well, actually, more like dozens). The Auckland graffiti artist Deus plays himself in one scene, (and then we kill him), also Auckland band Golden Axe are the inspiration for the mostly robot band in the background of the party scene. There are characters who are sampled from other strips and sources (mostly with permission). Tibor and his crew are taken from MF Joyce and Dominic Correy's 'I Agree 49%'. There are also a couple of Timothy Kidd and Sophie McMillan's characters here and there, and one of Karl Wills's anti-social school girls. And we  also sampled the Jimmy Dynamite character (and in another story the character the Glasgow Pixie) from a couple of Playstation '3rd Place' ads (can be found here and here).

Charlotte says "We're on the edge of something that consumes worlds and suns, whole places and times, whole dimensions" - is this some sort of metaphor?

Kelly: It's as close as I get to a metaphor, but since it’s a superhero comic it’s mostly just a cosmically omnivorous, sentient universe.

-- Jo Lo, Online content editor, Auckland City Libraries

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