Director’s Commentary First Graphic Novel award: Gareth Brookes

Published On March 12, 2012 | By Joe Gordon | Comics

And so we reach the final of our themed guest Director’s Commentary posts (where we give creators a space to talk us through their work in their own words). Bryan Talbot was so complimentary about all of the final nominess in the First Graphic Novel Competition Myriad Editions sponsored a few weeks ago that we thought it was only right that we gave those creators a chance to show their entries here and share it with our readers (plus, truth be told, we simply wanted to see more of them ourselves!). All of last week the finalists talked us through their entries – some have a deal in progress, others are still working on their graphic novel and considering publication (so publishers, have a look at them, please – don’t just take our word for it, when a creator of the calibre of Bryan Talbot praises them you know you should be paying attention), all were quite different but all fascinating; I don’t know about you, but they left me wanting to read more of the work.

But there can be only one, as Christopher Lambert said, and today’s guest post belongs to the outright winner of the competition, Gareth Brookes, with his The Black Project, which will be published by Myriad next year. Over to Gareth:

The Black Project is the story of a boy called Richard who makes girlfriends out of things he finds around the house.  Richard is a misunderstood loner who creates a fantasy world in which he can have friendships and tentative sexual relationships with the ‘girls’ he has invented. Throughout the story Richard treads a thin line between the endearingly innocent and the darkly perverse, and as his hobby develops into an obsession he finds himself increasingly in conflict with those around him.

I can’t really remember how I came up with the idea for the Black Project. At the time I’d written a few stories about being at the difficult age between childhood and adulthood when you begin to realise that certain things previously regarded by adults as harmless are taking on a mysterious forbidden nature. I was also thinking about the kind of tiresome, bleary pub conversations that men sometimes have about how you could make the perfect woman out of Kylie’s bottom, Beyonce’s legs and so forth, and the pressure for boys to grow into this rather narrow objectifying sexuality. I was interested in how unsettling everyone finds it if you put a foot outside the tacitly understood confines of this kind of conversation.

I wrote it as a prose story in 2004 long before I started doing small press comics and zines. One of the things that didn’t work was the long clumsy paragraphs describing how he made his girlfriends. They needed images. From about 2008 onwards I began trying to resurrect The Black Project, eventually deciding to do it as a straight prose piece with linocut illustrations. I’d done a bit of work on it when I went to Angouleme in 2010, and that completely changed the direction of The Black Project. I was massively impressed with publishers like FREMOK. It made me realise there were already people out there making comics in woodcuts or etching or paint and it gave me a real kick up the arse to use some of the skills I already had in a graphic story format.

I started experimenting with embroidery. The idea was to unite words and image with decorative devices rather than use panels and bubbles. These decorative devices could contribute a certain tone to the work. As inspiration I chose things like doilies, the stain glass windows of churches and pubs, and the designs of matchboxes to reflect the English suburbia Richard inhabits in the story.

Embroidery is the perfect foil for the heavy linocuts. This image provides a break between two parts of the narrative.

Amongst other things I wanted parts of The Black Project to be instructional, to have the feeling of one of those ‘Things to Make and Do’ type books you sometimes see in Charity Shops.

This page layout takes it’s inspiration from an antique matchbox design I saw in a museum.

Here’s a sneaky peek at a new lino cut in progress. I use A4 pieces of lino and, as you can see there’s more that one image per print. The prints are scanned in and collaged together with the embroideries and texts.

I self-published the first part of the Black Project last year. I find the whole process of small press publishing really useful. Just seeing how people physically interact with your comic, noticing what pages they stop at, and what makes them laugh or look disgusted, can tell you a lot. Getting feedback in the form of reviews or by chatting to people at fairs is also very handy. I don’t think people tend to give very good feedback online, beyond ‘like’ or ‘don’t like’, so getting something out into the real world is good for finding out what you’ve done right or wrong with it, and figuring out what you can do better next time.

I was really surprised to win the competition. I’d had a look at the other shortlisted entrants online and thought they all looked highly professional, I realised that my work stuck out somewhat as being rather unusual. I know this can sometimes be an advantage, but I thought it would be like the Mercury Music Prize, where they always nominate one far-out jazz album but it never wins!

At the moment I’m getting stuck in to creating the rest of The Black Project, working with Myriad to see how I can make it flow better and work as a full graphic novel, and revising some of the things that didn’t work so well in the self published version. I want it to work as a true synthesis of word as image, as much so as any comic, which is something that isn’t quite there yet.

I’ve got a lot of sewing to do!

Also in this series: you can read the first of these Commentary guest posts by Con Chrisoulis here, Hannah Eaton’s post here, Paula Knight’s Commentary here, Tom Eglington’s piece here and Thom Ferrier’s post here. Huge thanks to everyone for taking the time and effort to share their work with us like this and thanks also to Corrine at Myriad for making sure we could all get in touch with each other. We look forward to hearing more about all of the works covered here in the future.

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About The Author

Joe Gordon

Joe Gordon is’s chief blogger, which he set up in 2005. Previously, he was professional bookseller for over 12 years as well as a lifelong reader and reviewer, especially of comics and science fiction works.

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