Alison Sampson first appeared on my comic radar several years ago with her Space In Text site, an art showcase site proving that she had exquisite taste and a fabulous artistic eye. After that I started catching glimpses of Sampson’s own work, her architectural background informing her style, each new piece more impressive than the last. The definitive moment I knew she was one to keep a close eye on came with her small piece in issue 4 of Solipsistic Pop, the MAPS issue, wherein Sampson documented her personal space, with a beautiful level of obsessive detail in four pages that was simply exceptional.
Since then, she’s been involved with the shared art site ‘Think Of A City– place, space, experiment, exquisite corpse; adventure’, where each artist brings part of the architecture and landscape to life, building a city created from art, one piece at a time. A fascinating project and one that gets more fascinating as it builds.
Her first full length comic project, Genesis, designed and drawn by Sampson, coloured by Jason Wordie, lettered by Jon Babcock, written by Nathan Edmondson and published by Image Comics was published yesterday. A 64-page graphic novella in full colour, it features pin-ups from Chris Visions, Travel Foreman, Tommy Lee Edwards, Robert Ball, Artyom Trakhanov, Matt Taylor and Joseph Bergin III and should be available in your local comic shop.
The basic story concerns the life of preacher Adam, suffering a loss of faith, is granted incredible, reality shaping powers, powers that elevate him to the level of a God, anything he imagines can become real. This much power in the hands of one man…. it will always end badly.
(Genesis, art by Alison Sampson, colours by Jason Wordie)
Richard Bruton: Alison, can you tell us a little about yourself, background, how you came into comics etc etc
Alison Sampson: I read 2000AD when I was little, but stopped reading it when I started studying architecture and didn’t come back to comics until a few years ago, when I read Watchmen. That led to me trying to find out more, and I had an art blog called Space In Text (RB – and now a Tumblr – http://alisonsampson.tumblr.com/). After a couple of years of that, and I started drawing by hand again, and then in 2011, I wrote and drew a short strip for the UK anthology Solipsistic Pop, which you reported on this site. That was published, a page found its way online, and Nathan asked me to collaborate with him. All that was while I’ve been working as an architect, in the UK, in and around London, on large projects and twentieth century conservation schemes. That’s it really. And I live in a little house in South-West London with my partner, and too many books.
(Sampson’s piece for Solipsistic Pop Volume 4)
RB: With Genesis it’s pretty obvious we’re looking at a creation tale of sorts. And in the creation of Adam the God, or at least Adam with the God-like powers of creation, we have something of the ultimate superhero, the Superman ideal taken to the obvious extreme. Was this all part of the brief, all part of the idea as presented to you?
AS: No. Genesis is not the name I knew for this comic when I drew it. This is a collaboration- and Nathan approached me with some ideas, but there was no brief, per se. This is a creator owned comic, so it has become what we wanted it to be. We talked about Nathan’s ideas, I sent over some visual references (it was mainly photography) and did some drawings. We were talking about this man who could manifest anything, and if you think about that, there are an awful lot of ways the story could go. It was up to Nathan to pick that route.
Religion wasn’t mentioned, although undoubtedly if we are talking about creation and power, something like that was going to manifest itself. I’m interested in allegory, we both are interested in Greek myths and suchlike, and that was part of the attraction of a story where a person could manifest anything and distort the world. It would be like something out of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a book entirely about things changing. Those stories have stood the test of time and attract people now, with their themes of power, nature and the unknown and fantastic possibilities and creatures.
After the fourth drawing, Nathan sent me eighteen pages of concise script (I’ve given out at least three extracts from this to other places on the internet and there is one page in the back of the book, so you can see what that was like). I drew the pages without further discussion, with a quite a lot of freedom, and put the book together.
(The raw scan of inks and pencils from page 15 of Genesis – art by Alison Sampson)
RB: Your background in architecture informs much of your work, the idea that your eye observes and reflects the world as it is is always there, or at least I think it is. Is the style you adopt deliberately this side of photo-realism, or is it simply a style adopted specifically for Genesis?
AS: I didn’t adopt a style for our project, this is just how I draw. In architecture, one of our main goals is to represent the world as it is and how we would like it to be, so you would be right in your assumption. My style is not about what is or isn’t figurative, it is about composition, and a belief in a kind of ‘total design’. I do have a fairly liberal idea of ‘what can be real’, because I’m a designer. There may be things I draw that *could* be real, they are just not real elsewhere than on my paper, yet.
The other thing is, I take a lot of care to ground the work in the real world as that will make it more believable, and that involves regional architecture, familiar furniture and objects with associations. That is why, when the possibility for having those things was taken away, you get the sense of the world drifting away.
(Stripping back the cover to the basics – art by Alison Sampson)
RB: How did you and Nathan work on Genesis? Was it a piecemeal thing, bits of the story / script coming to you at a time, or was the entire scripted package delivered at once?
AS: Nathan gave me the script in bits, over the space of about fifteen months, and I sent back the print-ready art as I drew it. I never had an outline, although I might have liked one. Nathan said I was totally responsible for the art and that was fine. That would include finding the colourist, making the files, designing and putting together the book and dealing with its production. I also made our website and sent out our marketing.
RB: The thing that struck me as I read it was that you trod a fine line between control and chaos in the artwork, the control necessary for guiding the reader through the pages, the storytelling aspect. The chaos necessary to depict some of the nature of the reality bending abilities of Adam.
AS: No. Whether chaos or control, it is all “just” composition.
RB:Just how difficult was this, and can you guide us through a little of the choices you make as an artist in constructing the pages?
AS: I can’t really. I had the script, I made thumbnails and layouts at print size that told the story and I pencilled and inked the pages. I carried on designing the work until I put my pen down. It is just a matter of working on the composition and lots of practice on big architecture and landscape projects. To me, there is no difference between control and chaos, if you think of them as abstract elements, as I do. You have to design both to the same extent The design did get more difficult as I lost straight lines and grounding elements from the art. On some pages there are only the panel borders to ground the flux on the page, and I didn’t want them to become distracting in the story. So things had to be positioned very carefully. That isn’t so hard. You just have to draw it.
((Genesis, art by Alison Sampson, colours by Jason Wordie)
RB: After Genesis I’d hope the offers of more work would be pouring in, but I also remember hearing/reading somewhere of your plans to produce your own comics, writing and illustrating. Is there still a chance we may see these, and if so, what themes, ideas are you thinking of?
AS: For myself, I have the project I started before Nathan came along to finish. It is called Wold and it is a story set a long time ago in the landscapes we know, the east Yorkshire Wolds. I started it and my mum helped me with some of the background. She passed away at the end of this last year. I would like come back to it, but I’m not really ready yet. It isn’t particularly a nice book.
Other than that, there was quite a lot I thought I was going to draw with Genesis (things that could have happened), but didn’t. There quite simply wasn’t enough room in the story for so much. So I would like to draw more ‘mythic’ stories, where I get to design worlds, or even places or things, real or unreal, or both. It is what I do, after all.
RB:And in relation to that, what IS coming up next from yourself?
AS: I’m drawing a horror story set in Texas with Steve Niles. I need to get back to that.
RB: Finally, one we always like to ask… Who are you looking at now? who do you think should hit big soon, or is worthy of further investigation?
AS: You can look at the Think of a City contributor list, for world-building types and friends. All the work for that project will be new. I come and go on people’s work, but at the moment Chris Visions, Adrian Alphona, Steve Orlando, Damien Worm, David Rubin, Robert Sammelin, Ian McQue and others have my eye, and I’m sure there are others. Ingo Roemling and Dilraj Mann have done very good Think of a City pieces. Some of these people we know, but not necessarily in this country, or for comics. There are, as someone said, gatekeepers to comics, but no fence. So it will be interesting to see who comes in from elsewhere, art wise- and what they bring and what they do.
(Pin-Up from Genesis by Robert Ball)
Thanks very much to Alison for taking part.
Genesis, by Nathan Edmondson and Alison Sampson is out right now and should be available in your local comics shop. If not, do ask why not.