Director’s Commentary – Julian Hanshaw

Published On April 24, 2012 | By Joe Gordon | Comics

Animator and illustrator Julian Hanshaw first popped onto our radar screens when he won the annual Observer/Cape/Comica short graphic fiction award in 2008 for Sand Dunes and Sonic Booms, which was as visually unusual as the landscape and historic artefacts it rendered (the slowly crumbling 1930s ‘sound mirrors’, a semi successful precursor to the radar developed for WWII, sited on the long, low flat Anglian landscape – see here). Julian followed the award up with a full length graphic novel for Jonathan Cape, the very unusual Art of Pho (which he recently turned into a motion comic – on a related note you can vote for it in the Webby Awards in two categories here and here).

The Art of Pho – motion comic trailer from Submarine Channel on Vimeo.

Now Julian has a new work coming from Cape, I’m Never Coming Back, a collection of interconnected short stories taking place across three continents and I’m delighted to say that today we have Julian talking us through a little of his new work:

Books take a long time to come out.

That’s just the nature of the beast. So when my first book with Jonathan Cape, The Art Of Pho, came out in 2010 I had already began to crack on with the second. My initial idea (and maybe something I will do in the near future) was constructed around a book of postcards. I proposed the idea to Dan Franklin at Cape who wasn’t sure it was a Cape thing but encouraged me to work on a book of short stories.

I had greatly admired Rutu Modans collection of short stories in ‘Jamiliti’ and one of my most treasured and dog eared books is the complete collection of short stories by J G Ballard. I wanted the book to sit somewhere between the two, but have the stories linked much in the same way as Robert Altmans ‘Short Cuts’ works, with stories brushing against each other.

The stories themselves draw upon a similar theme as ‘Pho’.. loss, food and travel and were greatly affected by a number of events that occurred during the drawing of the project.

I start with scrappy little ideas written down in note books. Often done in a flurry of activity. I might go a week or so of staring at a blank page or laying on the floor, as my old tutor at art school advised with mental blockages, followed by a a few days of intense scribbling. Then I close the book and leave it for a bit before returning to have a look at where I got to, what characters, scenarios still resonate, I ditch the rest and start to write.

Next I thumbnail out the pages, very rough and very quickly and move and push the story around on the page. After this I might work up a few pages in some detail in black ink but the vast majority of the pages remain very rough before I scan and work them up in the computer.

(Above: Rough sketch book work, below: Inked work scanned in computer and Final colour page – all art and pics in this post by and (c) Julian Hanshaw)

When I go to events such as Comica I’m always made to feel a little guilty by the amount of drawing people do in note books, having sketched things on their journey up etc etc. Drawing for me is quite a private thing.I tend to take reams of photos and keep scrap books from newspapers and magazines as my reference launch point. I print off the images I have gathered, retreat to my ‘war room’ where I lock the door and stick them on a wall and begin to draw.

(above: image from scrap book; below: photo of my wife looking from a plane window and enjoying a Bloody Mary. Image to inspire inside page of ‘I’m Never Coming Back’)

(Diverse locations: above: image from scrap book – Johnston Atoll; below: Camber Sands. The sign features frequently in the book)

My original pen and paper drawings are scanned into my PC and I then begin to draw with a tablet, which to some I know is seen as a ‘cop out’ or perhaps not in the spirit of ‘comics’ but it suits my approach and frankly the skittish nature of my mind, so I can come back and change colours etc.

You work in a way that suits you best! The downside is that I don’t end up with a lot of inked pages I might be able to sell… Also being somewhat dyslexic it helps that I can keep changing the text as it can be a long process correcting reams of mistakes.

Everything is drawn and coloured as I would do on a piece of paper, no ‘paint buckets’ filling the lines, as I want breaks in the colour and broken lines, moving it away from a computer file. I draw every line, every cross hatch, no digital reproductions etc…honest.

The use of colour is fundamental to my work. I do enjoy working with just pen and ink and think the works of say Joe Sacco, Nate Powell, Dave Cooper and Tony Millionaire are things of utter beauty.

But I am always drawn in by colour. I remember as a child, often buying comics lured in by the colour front covers only to feel somewhat dissapointed when I would remove them from their plastic bags to see the innards were black and white. Clearly it scarred me!

Notable favourite use of colour are Shaun Tan’s ‘Lost Thing’ with its use of sun drenched streets and cool shadows. Seths ‘George Sprott’ an outstanding use of a minimal palette. M Sasek’s ‘This Is The Way To The Moon’ which, like my Ballard book, is well thumbed. Also Chris Ware, Dan Clowes George Herriman, Priit Parn….there are however too many to list.

With I’m Never Coming Back, due to its number of locations and indeed time, I have been able to play with the palette. With ‘Sand Dunes…’ its a rather sepia-looking piece, reflecting both the nostalgic feel of childhood and also the dusty inviroment of Denge.

With the story set on Johnston Atoll I wanted to give it a feel of an old sun bleached image left too long in a shop window, this is where his memory is filled with light even if the words remain out of grasp. Countered with the cold loneliness of his mundane bungalow where everything is painfully real..

I don’t really want to break down the stories and talk too much about each one as sometimes I find shining too much light on a book/song etc can undermine it. I know there are some songs that when the meaning or the reason for its existance has been explained, I’ve never been able to enjoy it as much.

However, I will say just a few things on each tale:


I live in a village near Rye on the south coast and had recently been to Berlin for the first time. I was utterly smitten with the city and it warmed my heart that it was just a number of train rides away. An ode to the Euro Star if you will, the train in general and my desire to spend more time in Berlin.

(above: Berlin, U Bahn entrance as seen in the first short story)

I did live in New Zealand and have a tendency for my sentences to rise at the end every now and again. I have a love/hate relationship with airports and flying. They are simply buildings and a nature defying act that have to be tolerated for the pay-off at the end of the flight. Also I’m often filled with an unsettling feeling of awe and melancholy when I travel, and Heathrow with its relentless churn was perfect for an area of limbo, a place where senses are heightened and a world of possibilities lay through the departure gates.

(above: early rough from sketch book. This page stayed pretty much the same in the final version)


Truth or Consequences in New Mexico or T or C as its known, is a small town in the high desert that I happen to drive through a number of years ago and soon became aware that just some 30 miles north Richard Branson was building his Galactic Space Port. The future seemed to be leap frogging this small town.


As I’ve mentioned I live by the coast in an area that is Britain’s only desert and has an other worldly feel. It has the sound mirrors of Denge (more later), a huge firing range where when I’m cycling at night you can see the flares and tracer rounds in the distance, but I guess it is odd for its normality. After years of living in South London where everything is cranked up to 10, down here, there is just a strange humming of oddness…I would not be surprised to see a fella dressed as a deep sea diver, who everyone had just excepted, and then you also shrug your shoulders and think ”…sure….why not?’…

(above: photo of my local beach; below: me at Lydd firing range, between Camber and Dungeness. The strange limbo nature of this range inspired more than one story in the book)


Tucson. Ahh Tucson. Another place that the more time I spend there the happier I am . Of course I’m not naive enough to forget that I’m on holiday there and so everything feels good: I can stay up late drinking and eat Tacos at 4am if I wish. With this in mind I wanted to put someone in the position of having their hand forced and never coming home from holiday. Maybe something we all theorise about after the third margarita… but that’s just the booze talking …isn’t it?

(above: photo of my room at The Congress, below: sketch from 4th AV, Tucson)


I lived in Christchurch when I was in New Zealand. As a child we would have earth quake drills where we would have to ‘duck and cover’ and get under our desks when a low rumbling noise was played through the PA that linked all the classrooms. The story was written before the unfortunate and horrific earthquakes that shattered the city in 2011. The hotel in the last panel sits right at the base of mount Teide and when staying there, having an over active imagination and being an eternal pessimist I was expecting the volcano to crack open the island at any time sending the wave tearing into the Eastern Sea board of the US, which they think it will do at some point.


Having first submitted The Art Of Pho to Cape Dan liked it but could not commit to it. I reworked it and re- submitted it; again Dan rejected it but suggested I try for the Observer/Comica award. I had already pencilled something but this rejection fuelled my desire to prove to myself that my decision to leave the world of animation where I had worked for some 13 years was the right one and not as it seemed then, a rather rash option. Upon hearing I had won the award with ‘Sand Dunes and Sonic Booms’ I seem to remember I got a little giddy and needed a lie down.

(above: photo from the Denge Sound Mirrors open day I attended; below: roughs from the sketch book)


The final story is an ode to Test Match Special. I adore cricket and would happily be playing on any given day during the summer and to that effect I play indoor cricket during the winter. Its like ‘Fight Club’ where a group of addicts get together and get our fix before summer comes back round.

When the cricket is coming from hotter foreign climes I adjust my work schedule around the cricket, often for a number of weeks I end up in a nocturnal pattern with TMS on at all times. This story encompass my love and my deepest fear. This is the one place I had/have not visited so relied on a lot of Google images and the like.I hope that one day I might be able to stand at the end of one of the huge runways that criss cross the island and perhaps play a classic cover drive.

FPI would like to thank Julian for taking the time to talk us through some of what inspired the stories in his forthcoming collection; I’m Never Coming Back is published next month by Jonathan Cape. You can keep up with Julian’s latest work and news via his website.

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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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