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I’ve been a fan of comics my whole life. In the late 80s there was a comics boom in the UK. In Brighton, where I’m from, a handful of shops started specializing in imported American superhero comics, and I quickly became hooked. I already liked drawing but wasn’t at all academic – I think my parents saw something that I could potentially make a living doing and really encouraged my interest. I’d spend my pocket money buying comics every week, and often my Dad would pitch in so I could afford older issues of Superman from the 60s and 70s. As I grew up I developed other interests, and during my late teens and twenties I studied fine art at college and university. I used to make large inflatable sculptures and video installations, but the comics never really went away. At the end of my MA at the Slade School UCL, I was awarded a research grant which allowed me to travel around Japan for a month, and while I was there I saw how diverse the comics culture was. I came back to the UK intent on focusing all of my artistic practice towards telling stories in comics form.
At the moment I work in a studio at home: my wife has been kind enough to hand me the spare room, so I’ve got a lovely large room with two desks, a big window, and central heating! I used to have a studio on the other side of town but when my daughter was born I found that I’d end up working from home so I could be at hand to help out and not be missing out on seeing her grow and change. I’ve got two kids now so I’ve had to learn to be able to work whenever I can, and that means early in the morning, late at night and during the day. I find that most of my story ideas come whilst driving or screenprinting.
As is often the case, my first response was a personal one. I have many friends living in Europe, and a very close friend in Poland with who I’m in very regular contact. So when I came to consider what I wanted my strip to be about I knew I would want it to reflect the ways in which my life is lived across Europe.
Personal experience definitely informs my work (my first full length graphic novel, 311 Ditchling Road to be published by Nobrow Press early next year, is a memoir). Practically speaking, autobiography provides a useful framework through which one can tackle the daunting job of writing a first book or responding to a brief, however my relationship to it has a more profound aspect as well: I feel it provides me with the opportunity to consider life, and interrogate my memories in the search for meaning or understanding. With regard to Europe and my strip, Europa, I’m not a politician and although I take an interest in the political debate surrounding Europe, and I have a view on the subject, I feel that my role as an artist is first to express the subjective and experiential elements of life. Personally I feel that Europe is my home and being European is an important aspect of my identity.
It doesn’t seem that strange that holiday making would provide a back drop to the stories the UK artists have told, since the notion of travelling to and within Europe has been a part of UK life since the 19th century. And certainly since the 1960s it’s been a mainstay of many people’s annual holiday. However I think it probably does say a certain amount about the distance we perceive mainland Europe to be from the UK.
I am really looking forward to seeing what the other artists have made. I feel very lucky to have been given the opportunity to contribute my thoughts and experiences to such an important debate.
At the moment I’m reading Naming Monsters by Hannah Eaton, an excellent book by a fellow graphic novelist from Brighton. I’ve just read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, really great but terribly heartbreaking. And my daughter and I have just finished Finn Family Mooningtroll, by Tove Jansson, seriously one of the most profound and beautiful books ever written.
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