You may have seen Richard mentioning a couple of times recently about a mysterious new project, Built of Blood and Bricks, a collaboration between two of our most intriguing Brit small press comics creators, Douglas Noble and Sean Azzopardi, following on from their very successful collaboration with Sightings of Wallace Sendek. We were curious, naturally, and wanted to know more, so Messrs Azzopardi and Noble agreed to have a wee chat about how the new work came into being for us:
Sean: Sendek was the first thing we worked on, which was a straight script/illustration process. I wanted to try some different styling in a comic, and the writing lent itself to this. There was different locations and time periods, so a fractured styling enhanced this I think.
Douglas: Sendek was written from the point of view that I’d supply you short, page length stories that would build into something bigger, and each page could be done in any style you saw fit. I think that I gave you literally one art direction in the whole writing process, other than that it was very much go you own way, I think.
After Sendek was done, we talked a little about doing something else, perhaps extending the original, but at that point you were doing a lot of prep work for Black Leather, I think, though I may be wrong, and didn’t want to take on another scripted thing as you must have just come out of finishing Monsters as well. A break was deserved.
I think at that point I suggested that you give me some sketchbook images to play with – things that you would have already have drawn so wouldn’t mean you had another story hanging over your head. It’s the antithesis to the way that Sendek was produced, so I thought it might work in an interesting way. Anything to avoid having to draw myself!
Sean: I love the way that it seems like I’m hard working and you just spend all day sitting in your smoking jacket watching art films. In point of fact you are producing a vast tranche of material. But its true that I didn’t want to work on a script. I also like the idea of images being remixed, seems to fit a current cultural tic. Remix, re-imagine and in a lot of ways, re-animate. There is always a lot of sketchbook stuff that never gets used after a project. I like to work in sketchbooks, throw down ideas and images. Then forget about them. Then when I trawl through the musty pile of crumbling Moleskins it’s like ‘Hey, this could be useful’ So it seemed natural to try this. To say ‘ Here you are Douglas, 20 images and make us a comic.’
Douglas: I think it’s 26 images, in total, that you sent me. I’m pretty sure I used them all.
If I remember rightly the first thing that you sent me were the images that would later become that of our protagonist; so with this in mind, do you often sellotape bits of paper to your face and take pictures?
Sean: All the time, it’s a non invasive face lift technique for middle aged cartoonists. Possibly. I’m not a great designer of characters. They don’t arrive very often. Over a 5 year period of time there have been two. So it was an act of creative desperation. See what would spark off. So yes, Paperface became the protagonist. I had been sketching a lot of the area local to my new flat. Trying to develop some new diary story’s. It didn’t get to far, but I had a lot of buildings and location sketches. I scanned them in and put them in a folder with with some reference material. There was a nice combination of hand drawn line and photography. There was a styling narrative, and possibly a story. But it’s was sitting in bits ( Bytes) on my hard drive in my head as well as sketchbooks emails and conversations. It’s interesting how dispersed a story can be. Floating around. Lying dormant in some dusty recess waiting for discovery.
Douglas: So, the protagonist came in to me before the rest of the sketchbook images – the street scenes, the plant, the church and so on. I knew that there was a few things I could do with the textures that you were using – they already suggested different states of mind to me, or memories (which is where we ended up) but the most interesting, and most problematic, images in the pile were the three large collages that you sent. I knew that they would have to be used intact, and as such would have to logically fit together in some way, and it’s from there that the rest of the story coalesced. I realised these three images would each have to be the payoff, or the anchor for their own strands in the comic, so it was a matter of figuring out exactly what story they were telling me.
Having said that, I don’t know where the original images came from, or what they were intended for – any hints?
Sean: They were a last minute consideration. I found a folio from work I made in the 90s. I was interested to see if they could fit alongside my current output. I like the narrative in them. They connect to a larger theme that I seem to be looping on, living in the past. It’s a curio. I don’t recall a lot of the smaller details, ideas behind these collages yet they still fit now. Maybe I just haven’t developed thematically in 20 years.
Had you worked this way before Douglas? This collage cut and paste process. I imagine your thought process when writing is similar to many cartoonists. There is an image that resonates with the many threads of mental word processing. This sparks numerous other ideas and suggest options. It has taken me a lot of years to even understand my own mental constructs when it comes to processing information. I think some of those early collages show that, the overwhelming rush of ideas. You seem to have a more structured and organised approach. I would never have come up with the narrative you have. Mine would have been a sat in the corner navel gaze.
Douglas: I’ve never worked in collage, that I can think of. My art tends to be more straight forward – which is part of the reason i like working with other artists so much. My stories do tend to build outward from particular images though – in this story it was those three big pages that I knew I’d have to tie together. I had the pictures of our protagonist, staring out of the frame at the viewer, so I knew that he’d be addressing us, telling us the story of these images, and what they represented to him. Once those things are in place, everything sort of slots into around them. It’s a bit like detective work – why did this happen? What led to this? I’m uncovering something that’s been hidden, along with the character, bless him.
Sean: Whats really odd is that you are writing about the possible lives of characters from my universe. ( A ghastly superhero term, I apologise). Scary. But not as scary as the opening line. I went on a family holiday to one of those exotic 70s destination, Skegness I think. I got a really bad sunburn, still have a scar on my shoulder. I was six at the time.
You spoke about themes, but I think when you’re writing you’ll always go back to the same themes over and over again – there are some interests that define you as a writer. I’ve always been interested in the tyranny of place – and I can see that filtering through into this too. I’ve always been interested in stories that when viewed together reveal another hidden story, like Sendek or The Silent Choir, I can see that here too.
And then there’s that other thing – the voice that takes over when you’re writing and the characters start speaking for themselves. I’d had the images sitting in my inbox for a while before I started hearing that – I knew what the first panel was going to be, but I went through a few different ideas of what was going to be said before the first line revealed itself.
“When I was six years old I suffered a terrible sunburn.”
After that was in place, everything else came too.
FPI would like to thank Sean and Douglas for sharing their time and thoughts on their new work with us; Built of Blood and Bricks has just been released and you can get it from Sean’s store on his site here. Artwork here fro, Built of Blood and Bricks is (c) Azzopardi and Noble.