AUTUMN OF INDIE: Interview with Comic Creator Garry McLaughlin

Garry McLaughlin is a very talented writer and artist. He has collaborated with Martin Eden on Spandex, produced many titles for Laser Age Comics, he runs his own comic workshops, is a part of GLoW (Glasgow League of Writers) and if that is not enough, everything is going to go Gonzo whilst he is  the star of the tremendous web comic Suddenly Something Rather Interesting.


Geek Syndicate (GS): Hi Garry! You have released many different comics from many different genres. We have seen Scottish superheroes to killer nannies. Where do your ideas come from?

Garry McLaughlin (GM): On the books you mention I was the artist, so I didn’t come up with the ideas; I relied on various amazing local writers to do all the heavy ideas work!


GS: What first inspired you to make comics?

GM: I was reading comics and drawing from a very young age, and used to make comics when I was wee, but when I grew up and decided to pursue a career in art, I ridiculously thought comics were too immature. I kind of left them behind. Years later, and not making a career in art, I got into it again accidentally. I’d started doing comic style art, then met someone I worked with, Jules Boyle, who was really into comics. His enthusiasm and passion made me ask him if he fancied working together, which he did; he was already a writer. We did a really basic strip for a Phonogram fanzine that was released at San Diego Comic Con, and with that illustrious start, I realised I still loved it, and wanted to try for a career in this.


GS: What type of storytelling do you like?

GM: Storytelling’s really broad; I don’t have one type or style that I like. But I think that good storytelling is compelling – the reader should want to read more – and should have good characterisation. I also happen to think that the idea is really important, and that writers should have something to say. You don’t have to hit the reader over the head with a polemic, but I think that even in light, genre work, it’s worth exploring something of yourself. My favourite writers are the ones with big ideas, no matter the genre.


GS: You have your fingers in many different pies. Can you tell us more about Laser Age Comics and where the idea came from?

GM: Yeah, pie meat everywhere… Laser Age Comics was born of necessity. Jamie McMorrow, Jules and I were working on stuff together and needed a label to release all of our small press stuff independently. We originally thought of Bully Comics, which I loved; I think there was a swagger about it. But I think Jules wasn’t so keen on it, and Jamie came up with Laser Age. I loved it, the idea of this future age of comics that would be poppy and shiny and full of laser light.

We were victims of hubris, I think. We only ever put out pulpy horrors and superhero books, and never did get the chance to release those magnificent psychedelic meta-textual masterpieces we discussed in the pub. Laser Age Comics is effectively defunct now, by the way. We might resurrect it if some future work demands it, which would be cool, but we’re all concentrating on other things now.


GS: You also run GLoC (Glasgow League of Cartoonists). Can you tell us a little bit more about it and again what made you think teaching was the right path to take?

GM: GLoC spun out of Cosmic Designs, the charity I run. I work with a group of facilitators and artists doing community art workshops with various groups and on various issues. We’re about to launch a massive year-long project working with young LGBT people on the theme of identity, using money we’ve been awarded by the Big Lottery Fund, for instance. But I’ve also run 10-week commercial comic art workshops, and wanted a way to continue that in a way that wouldn’t cost people. So we transformed into GloC, a weekly Sunday morning meet up where we get together to chill out, talk comics, and work on our own projects.

Most of the folk who attend are people who’ve already been through the workshops and who are now working on their own exciting strips and books. We also come together for group projects: we’re about to release a great little anthology on the theme of ‘community,’ and we’re about to announce details of our 24-hour comics day event.


GS: Your web comic, Suddenly Something Rather Interesting is an honest depiction of your own dealings with anxiety. It is a raw, beautifully crafted piece of work that really shows the world what it is like to have such a condition. What made you think that a web comic was the right way to get your voice heard?

GM: Thanks! It didn’t start with me wanting to make my voice heard, as such. I’ve had anxiety and depression since I was a kid, and when I was younger I used to use a variety of substances to mask it, but as I’ve gotten older and stopped all that, I’ve been left with just me and this irrational fear of the world around me.

Things like social events and even communal studio spaces are things that have made me really insecure and nervous in the past, and I felt like it was starting to hinder a potential career in a variety of ways. After one particularly nerve-wracking day in the studio, I decided enough was enough. I realised that I was having a tough time making comics because of my anxiety, so I decided I’d make a comic about that. I also went to the docs to get on some medication, and started therapy, which has been going well.

SSRI has been incredible – it’s been really well received, better than I ever expected. I thought it’d just help to get stuff out of me, and that maybe a few of my friends would read it. But I’ve had folk contacting me to say it’s really helping them with their own issues; I can’t even tell you how exciting that is. Plus I’ve realised that it’s far more widespread than I knew, especially among creative people…


GS: You have recently started to look into writing as well as drawing with your future title, Gonzo Cosmic. Can you tell us more about it?

GM: With pleasure! Gonzo‘s a 12 or maybe 24 issue Kirby-esque pop sci-fi superhero book I’m writing and drawing, with a view to pitching to Image Comics. It’s also intensely political, and I’m using it as a vehicle to explore ideas of post-scarcity and a post-capitalist society. The ‘heroes’ are humans who are turned into powerful meta-nauts, beings who can travel between universes and dimensions – superheroes, in other words. But rather than coming back to Earth to pick small fights and change nothing, they decide the planet needs an entire overhaul, and the choices they make to get there are going to be very contentious. They’re not really ‘heroes,’ and in fact many of the other characters view them as villains.

I’m trying to get beyond the polarisation of super hero books; either characters are out-and-out heroes, or we explore them “going bad.” My guys are kind of beyond that kind of morality – some of the stuff they do is definitely bad, but it’s with a view to creating a better world for everyone.

It’s heavily influenced by Iain M Banks’ ‘Culture’ stories, and by Grant Morrison, my favourite comic book writer, but I sincerely think I’m doing something that’ll feel fresh, that speaks with its own voice. I’m hoping for a 2013 release, and I’m holding out hope that it finds a major publisher. It’d be perfect for Image, but we’ll see…


GS: What made you want to pick up the pen and write as well as draw?

GM: I’ve actually been writing almost as long as I’ve been drawing. I regularly write song lyrics, and I’ve written a novel and short stories, some of which have been published. But I did a lot of my growing up in public creatively, and made a lot of embarrassing mistakes. I fell for vanity publishing, thinking I had as much right to be published as anyone else, and put stuff out there that wasn’t ready for consumption. It was also derivative, and was really just me hoping that somehow miraculously someone would see it and give me money to escape my boring corporate life; at the time I was the branch manager of a healthcare recruitment agency, which was as far from the real me as I’ve ever been. But we live and learn.


GS: Your style has a Frank Quietly feel to it, who inspires you?

GM: Would it surprise you to know that Quietly’s my favourite comic book artist? I share some of his influences like Otomo, and he’s encouraged me to learn from others, like Moebius, but it’s the way he pulls that all together into his own style that I enjoy. His work’s unashamedly cartoon, but there’s a realism in the posture and the weight of the characters that almost no one working in mainstream comics today manages to pull off, and I seriously think it’s thrilling. His work does as much to communicate the story as the writer, without ever overshadowing it.

Other comic artists I love are Geoff Darrow, Darrick Robertson,  Charles Burns, John Cassaday, Rafael Grampa… The list is endless, and always growing.

I’m also influenced a lot by artists outside of comics, particularly the Surrealists like Max Ernst, Dali and Remedios Varo, one of the lesser-known ‘female surrealists’.


GS: Can you tell us what the process is like creating a comic book and getting it out there for the public?

GM: I’ve realised there’s no magic process – it’s different for everyone, and there are tonnes of books and tutorials online that can help you with various practicalities and techniques. What you really need is a good idea, and collaboration, and the desire to have your work read by other people. You have to be willing to make mistakes and learn from them, and not wait for that “right moment” when you’re good enough – if you think like that, you’ll never get there. You’ll always look back at earlier stuff and think it’s pish… You just need to keep learning.


GS: To any aspiring creator out there, what would you say is the best piece of advice?

GM: Keep reading, keep practising. Get your influences from more than just comics. There are an awful lot of folk who want to make comics who’s only experience is of superhero books or whatever. Even if that’s the genre you want to work in, you should be soaking up ideas and influences from the centuries worth of literature, history, philosophy, science, whatever that’s more accessible to the ordinary girl or guy than it’s ever been. Stick it all in the pot, add your own experiences, and try to come up with a new way to say things.


GS: Where you would like to be in 10 years time?

GM: Sitting in a comfortable, warm house with enough money coming in from comics to pay the bills and live well. I’m serious when I say that I don’t want to get rich off comics, I just want to make a living. I effectively want to be paid to keep writing and drawing.

And I want to be happy and not anxious…


If you want to see how Garry is getting on with his anxiety why not check out his web comic or follow him on Twitter.

GS Reporter: Luke Halsall

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