Writer and artist Nick Abadzis has been publishing comics since the early nineties. In 2007, he released his acclaimed graphic novel, Laika, about the Soviet space dog; he has also worked for Marvel and DC, and been published in the Guardian, the Times and Time Out. He talks to Michael Leader about making it in comics...
What first inspired you to start making comics?
I first made comics as a kid, imitating the funnies I found in humour comics like The Dandy and The Beano. Tintin and Asterix were also really big influences. Hergé’s work blew my mind when I first discovered it. Charles M Schulz was also a big early inspiration. I loved Charlie Brown and Snoopy.
Did you study art or illustration?
I did an art foundation course at Chelsea School of Art, but didn’t go on to do a BA because after that year I still hadn’t figured out whether I wanted to do fine art or illustration. I took a year out, travelled a bit then found myself rediscovering comics. That really sealed it – I’d had my calling.
What was your big break?
I was working in the original Forbidden Planet on Denmark Street in central London and a friend told me there was a job going as a colour separator at Marvel Comics UK, back when Marvel had a UK office. He arranged for a friend of his who worked there to view my portfolio and I managed to talk my way into that colour separating job.
This was in the days when everything was done by hand, the old four-colour method –very laborious! But comics is a labour-intensive business. I learned how to colour pages by that method and soon worked my way into editorial. Marvel UK was a good university of comics – you learned things a particular way, but it was all useful stuff. It gave me confidence to pursue my own direction, which I did after about a year and a half of working there.
At what point did comics become a concrete, sustainable career for you?
Ha! I’m not sure it ever has. I’ve always supplemented my comics career with other work, as an editor, illustrator, newspaper cartoonist and magazine developer. The secret to my longevity has been diversification.
How is creating all-ages comics like Laika (pictured above) different from more adult-oriented work such as Hugo Tate (below)?
Younger readers will let you know very quickly if they’re bored by the story you’re telling them, so it’s worth giving it plenty of twists and turns. But really, it’s the same for adults – you have to engage your reader whatever age they are, and hook them into the story so they can’t put it down.
What do you think of the term “graphic novel”?
I’m not sure who originally coined the term, but it seems to be used a lot by the book trade to describe long comics, be they documentaries, memoir, fiction or whatever. It’s a clunky term and I don’t like it much – especially when it’s prefixed by the word “literary”. I’ve heard my own work described as “literary graphic novels”. They’re visual narratives, fusions of words and pictures that are utterly immersive when they’re doing their jobs properly. But in all honesty, I don’t spend much time thinking about it – I think about the storytelling and whether it’s working or not, whether it’s going to hook a reader in. That’s what’s most important.
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
Never give up. Follow your own instincts, your own voice and get your vision out there.
Hugo Tate is being published by Blank Slate Books. Visit Nick’s website for more information.
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