Upon reading Longship, published by Time Bomb Comics, one might suspect it’s a tale set in ancient times. Yet it’s a moving tale written by Lawrence Rider, about a son honouring his deceased father’s wishes to have a Viking funeral. “Longship sparked my interest immediately - it was very different” says Steve Tanner, the editor of the story who was responsible for the pairing of Rider and artist Rebecca Teall. For the 35 year old Birmingham based artist it was a journey of self discovery. This was her first sequential story and the process took 18 months, during that period she also took up the lettering, a chore that’s usually left to someone else. With the impending release of Longship soon, Rebecca spoke to IndieComiX about Longship and her career as an artist.
1. What were your thoughts when you read the script to Longship?
My initial reaction was one of surprise and relief! Surprise because it wasn't what I was expecting and relief because it was so considered and humanistic in its style. I knew straight away that I could draw it and make a lot of it in terms of visual beauty because of the sunset and the fire!
I was happy that my first major project was going to be with someone who like me is interested in relationships and the sum total of what our lives are worth. It's quite a deep perspective for a one shot comic and perfect for me to get my teeth into. As an artist you spend about 100 times longer than anyone else working on a story, and so you spend a lot of time thinking about it (if you are like me anyway) so it helps if it has depth as well as immediate appeal.
I was also immediately struck by the symmetry of the writing, and that inspired me to play with the panel layouts which reflect the story, whether it is in memory or present tense.
2. How would you compare Longship to your monthly strip Vert?
Well, Longship is far more finely crafted! I draw Vert on a sort of what mood I have been in this month sort of basis. So sometimes it’s a narrative, sometimes it’s more of a comment on life in our little region. The funniest one I drew was about the fact that Coles Hill has the highest usage of Viagra in Britain, I was thinking 'Really? Why is that then?' I also knew of a circus elephant that was buried in the town and somehow linked the two things into one of my favourite stories in the run.
Longship is I suppose similar in that it's about a local man and his idiosyncrasies, but Vert is less serious most of the time. I don't think of myself as much of a comics writer but I surprise myself with Vert, it comes about through necessity, and I discover my perspectives on certain subjects by drawing about them. Often I'm surprised by the strength of my feeling on local matters like HS2 - protecting the green belt, supporting local farmers that sort of thing. If I could, I think I would interview more people and draw their stories, I find that almost everyone has interesting stories to tell, and I suppose that is where Lawrence and I meet. We find interesting stories in hidden places, usually right under our noses!
Bit of that Vert!
Bit of early art for Longship!
3. Longship marks your first foray into sequential storytelling, what made you go into comics as an artist?
Um. I don't really know, I have always been an artist of course, a painter all my life. I used to read Asterix, Calvin and Hobbes, and even a bit of Furry Freak Brothers, along with Snoopy - you know. I loved the cartoons on TV like Danger Mouse and Inspector Gadget, but it never occurred to me that I would go into Comics. I went to a school that specialised in Theatre and Dance and I was good at Drama but a bit too shy to love performing, I studied Literature and Philosophy amongst other things - and in a way - though people might not realise it at first, comics is the perfect melting pot for all of those things. You need to have an understanding of all those things to create characters and scenes and atmospheres from scratch, to be able to read a script and it is alive in your mind. So it makes sense that I am doing it in retrospect though how it happened I don't know.
Well ok, perhaps it is as simple as the fact that I started a long distance relationship that was conducted online (though we didn't MEET online). In the course of being online and being in a group of friends, it turned out that all the people I liked best happened to be obviously artists, but specifically people who were involved with comics. Writers, critics, comedians, illustrators, and so on. The nicest people were all into comics and I just caught the bug. Then when I was going through a bit of an unusual experience, I took to drawing a web comic to make light of the situation, and everyone sort of loved it - and it became something I was compelled to do - to communicate the experience but also because I suddenly had people wanting to see the next installment. I think it was that which made me realise I loved drawing comics. It might have also coincided with my going to St. Martin’s to do a character design course, a 10 week short course thing. I wanted initially to be an animator, still do, and so character design is an important part of that, but of course to draw animations you need to be able to draw cartoons and fast. I think partly I started drawing cartoons and comics so that I could animate better! I am still in the early stages of my grand plan you see. No shortage of ambition!
4. How would you describe your creative process?
Pretty random! I tend to do lots of research and then sit on it. Think about it in the back of my mind while doing other things, cooking or gardening or drawing stupid stuff to entertain myself. Then one day I just wake up and have to get on with it. It starts looming over me saying 'DRAW ME'. Once I start I feel better. It’s the best thing to be in the middle of a project, when you know what you are doing, and you just have to get on with it. I often go back and change my course, so it’s not set in stone. With Longship I drew it in a very cartoony style to start with - the first six pages were inked and coloured in a very trippy hyper coloured palette with the art in a non-realistic style, but as the story went on I realised I wanted it to be tighter, so started it again and drew the entire script again in black and white before colouring it. I had to perfect the characters' facial details later for consistency. I think another time I will try to get the characters down before I start but to be honest I am never too strict with myself. It’s a bit like however it comes out is ok as long as it comes out at all! Might be from being a painter - with painting you start rough and work it up to how you want it later.
Good ol' dad getting his Viking studying on!
5. Lawrence Rider wrote the story, which character from Longship resonates with you?
Weirdly enough I am going to say the Dad. Not because I am ill (I hope!) but in terms of being a bit of an eccentric who sticks at it. Only a few years ago I worked in an office in Canary Wharf. I knew I needed to draw for a living - but it took some convincing my family that it wasn't an insane risk to leave a well paid job. I know it was a bit of an insane risk, but the quality of my life has changed. I just knew in my bones I had to immerse myself in art. Fitting it in around other things was just so frustrating, and only since I have been focused on my art has my life seemed to get going - if that makes any sense. Of course I owe my confidence to one or two important people who believed in me and helped me believe in myself, but that is always the way is it not?
6. How do you think Longship has affected you as an artist?
It was the perfect learning curve, it was a vehicle for learning the pitfalls and rewards of drawing a heartfelt story that I could put my all into. Next time I will be more efficient and have more of a technique to help me realise the images in my mind, but there will never be another comic that has that same sense of all or nothing. There were moments when it seemed so difficult. I would get frustrated and exhausted, and sometimes I didn't know if it would work, and then I would leave it for a couple of days, and come back renewed and solve whatever problem had been irking me. Next time I will know I can do it, although you better ask me next time if I was right!?
Neil Patel: Longship will be released through Illinois based publisher Distribution Engine. Special thanks to Steve Tanner and Rebecca Teall.
Editor's Note: And if you'd like to follow along with what's currently going on with the title, head here!