Making non-profit comics


Photo: Vivi Stamatatos

Over the past seven weeks I’ve been in Bristol, working closely with a dozen amazing individuals to write a graphic novel. We did it in record time and the resulting manuscript is impressive. It’s full of true stories and fantastic lies and imagination. It’s the most exciting and bravest work I have been involved in yet and I can’t wait to share it with you, but I will have to draw it first.

It’s safe to say the past eight weeks of workshops and the process of writing using physical theatre exercises, improvisation techniques, group workshopping etc. has altered my practice forever. One thing that emerged was the advantages of non-commercial work – this project is being supported by the Arts Council of England and the Arnolfini in Bristol – over work whose end goal is to satisfy sales targets and generate profit for the writer, artist, publisher.

I’m aware that most of my colleagues in comic books aren’t familiar with this model of creating, as these opportunities are still fairly new and far between (outside of France and Belgium, who subsidise comics as any other art form with generous grants, residencies, prizes, awards). If there is interest in hearing more about this, I will write in depth about this some other time. But for today, I want to briefly qualify the drastic shift in style you see in Swallow.

No one asked me to draw Swallow. Like most webcomics, it was a self-initiated venture and until recently a total vanity project. On days when I didn’t feel like doing it, there was no client or boss knocking down my door and demanding a doctor’s note. This is liberating or frustrating, depending on your state of mind. Sometimes it’s nice to have a hard deadline.

To encourage in myself a performance of consistency and regularity, I opted to treat Swallow as if it were a commission or a conventional job. Until recently, that seemed to me the most natural and useful attitude. But during my time in Bristol, it finally dawned on me how draining, on top of financially unrewarding, I had allowed this project to become.

After sulking for a few weeks that it was no longer the creative outlet it had been at the start, I realised something crucial: I can do whatever I want. Of my current projects, Swallow is the most self-indulgent and least consequential to others. So why not produce something radically different week upon week? That’s what personal projects should be: a platform for personal and artistic development, not some hammed up melody of since-departed ambitions, reluctantly and arbitrarily revisited to feed your ego and postpone self-evaluation. Or whatever.

If you’re in the same boat as me, maybe the reason you haven’t made a change is you’re waiting for someone to swoop in and bind it and put in on the shelves of a library/bookshop. My advice is: don’t. Don’t give way to a fantasy and let it stunt you growth. Don’t labour robotically under the illusion that someone will recognise your determination and see through all the levels of artifice you guard it with. This work should be made of doubts and hope and insecurities and love, or not at all. If you’re going to hate your job, at least find one that pays properly.

So, here’s the latest instalment of my comic. It looks different, and I’m gonna learn a lot from this method.

Thanks for your patience and support. Keep checking back for more news on Swallow and other work. I’m glad to have finally figured out this blogging phenomenon the kids have been on about since the nineties. I hope some of it made sense, and other parts didn’t.

My fellow art bastards, I’d love to hear your ideas on the subject of personal projects and not-for-profit comics.

Have an awesome week.