AUTUMN OF INDIE: Interview with Daniel Clifford

Today we are taking to Daniel Clifford, the very talented scribe from Newcastle who has brought us Sugar Glider and set up his own company Art Heroes producing Halcyon and Tenderfoot.

We will be talking to Daniel again with his collaborators to discuss Sugar Glider in more detail as well as Art Heroes but this one will be all about Daniel himself. Read the interview behind the jump!

Hi, Daniel. Since breaking onto the comic scene you have had two hugely successfully hits with Sugar Glider and Halcyon & Tenderfoot. What first inspired you to write comics?

Most writers will agree that they’re compelled to tell stories, and would actually have a hard time working out why other people don’t want to do the same. It’s just in my nature. I started out by making up story songs, encouraged by my grandparents and recorded on a flour-encrusted tape desk. I went on to dress-up in drag and portray an elderly woman who wouldn’t have been out of place in early Coronation Street. And when I played with my Action Man, X-Men and Spider-Man figures I didn’t just make them hit each other, I created epic storylines with ensemble casts.

A teacher at my junior school, Miss Middleton, organized a radio play project for our class when I was about 8 years old. I created a superhero soap opera called The Enchanted Englanders and she liked it so much she sent me to the Headmaster’s office to show him. The radio play project didn’t end for me that year – I churned out a new one every week.

But I only really started making comics at college. My English Language lecturer was obviously having a difficult time, as we had a string of lectures where she didn’t show up. I would sit in the canteen with my mate Martin Trollope and draw comics. The first ones were a parody of Hellblazer, set at our comprehensive school and Newcastle’s Forbidden Planet. Then I made a three-issue communist superhero series starring my group of friends, East Coast Men.

I didn’t even think about making comics for 5 or 6 years. I was studying for my Drama and Scriptwriting degree but not really engaging with film, television, radio or theatre. But I was leaving university every Thursday night (remember those days?) to pick up a big pile of comics from Travelling Man. I gradually remembered my childhood dream and decided that I’d combine my urge to write with my love of comics.

What type of storytelling do you like?

I’m not sure I’m at a stage where I feel I can answer this question confidently. I’m still learning and developing, and who knows how successfully I’m hitting the type of beats I’ve been aiming for?

I’m going to say multi-layered, because my aim is to tell a simple story about a character that wants something and then tries to get it despite all the challenges placed in their way. But I also love to pack my comics with a lot of extras – stories happening in the background, references to other comics and art forms and motivations that might not be clear at first.

My aim is to tell stories that are fun and enjoyable, with characters the reader can relate to – but I’m also trying to throw a lot of other stuff into the mix so that repeat readings are possible. I don’t think I’m getting the mix right just yet, mind. I’m afraid there’s too much fat and not enough fun in some of my comics. Other people might not agree, but I’m striving to improve with every release.

You have worked with two great artists in Gary Bainbridge and Lee Robinson. What has it been like to work with both of them, and what is the collaborative process like?

Developing ideas and characters with Lee and Gary has been amazing. Receiving artwork from them has been fantastic. But I’m afraid I’ve only just started to enjoy the collaborations as much as I should have been throughout.

We’ve designed projects that are quite ambitious in scale, and I’ve been obsessed with meeting our expectations and releasing our comics on certain dates. I haven’t had a chance to sit back and say, “Damn, this is an amazing experience.”

With both projects – Sugar Glider and Halcyon & Tenderfoot – coming to a close, I can finally breathe and feel satisfied with the journey we’ve gone on. It’s a shame I haven’t felt able to enjoy myself more when we’ve been in the middle of these endeavours, but that’s my fault and I’m making sure I don’t make that mistake on what I’m working on now.

You have taught yourself to letter too. How did you do this?

To say I’ve taught myself to letter would be a disservice to the instruction and advice of Paul Thompson, Terry Wiley and Gary. Paul took a lot of time to show me how he lettered and when I forgot how to do it Terry and Gary gave me some pointers. I’ve taken all of their approaches and came up with something that works for me. However, I’m not sure it works for everyone – I’m not a ‘letterer’ and that’s why I never include that credit in our comics, it’s just easiest for me to do it sometimes.

I’ve definitely improved as I’ve gone along, though. And I’ve done this by lettering a relatively large number of pages these last few years, and by doing it with my favourite comics open in front of me. I see a lot of daft lettering mistakes in other small press and independent comic books that could have been solved by having a good comic open next to the creator’s computer.

You have worked on a variety of different mediums and styles from music to theatre. What kind of projects do you see yourself working on in the future?

We have Sugar Glider and Halcyon & Tenderfoot wrapping up in the next few months, I’m writing a play for the Customs House Youth Theatre called Result! and I’m going to write a screenplay based on the Sugar Glider comics when I get a chance. I’ve got about 10 more comics projects in the works with some absolutely fantastic artists. Rather than self-published work that values scale over quality, we’re going to take time to make the best webcomics, one-off comics, and pitches we can – while having fun and developing new audiences.

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

It’s not a race. Quality is more important than quantity. Focus on your protagonist rather than falling in love with the support cast. Find script readers you trust to give you a hard time when your work is terrible. Don’t be afraid to use social media, websites, podcasts and local papers to promote your work. Don’t chase money for the sake of it. But if you do want to make money, a local launch will be more profitable than the biggest convention. Don’t make superhero comics.

Where you would like to be in 10 years time?

I want to sell my house and move. It’s strange for that to be my main aim now, but it really is. I will always tell stories. I’ll probably always make comics. But I know that that stuff will take care of itself to some extent. I’ve reached a point where I know if I keep forcing things in comics, I’m going to make myself ill and I’m not going to do myself any favours. So I want to sell my house and in a slightly nicer area with a good PAYE job or lots of freelance workshop bookings. My only wish for comics is that I’m better at it, I have a larger audience and I’m letting myself have fun.

You can follow Daniel on Twitter, check out his blog or even look at Sugar Glider and the work he is doing with Art Heroes.

Reporter: Luke Halsall

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