Welcome to the archive of the John Barleycorn blog, produced by Howard Gayton and Rex Van Ryn during the process of creating their graphic novel John Barleycorn Must Die. As part of that process, you'll find discussions of magic, of creativity, and 'Around the Table' discussions with a range of internationally known artists, writers and film makers. The graphic novel was printed in a limited edition, so if you managed to get one, good for you! Although this project is over now, we're leaving this blog online as an archive and as a snap shot in time.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Around the Table with...Brian & Wendy Froud Part 2

Howard, Brian, Wendy and Rex.

      B - There’s always a feeling that what we do has...purpose. It isn’t just decoration, it isn’t safe, easy, shallow stuff. It's meant to go deep. It's meant to have purpose. Nowadays that's the only way that I can work. It’s very frustrating if I try to step out of that space and try to paint something ‘normal’ for people. Then you get into a situation where someone who's commissioned a painting says something like: “We’ve changed our mind, can the faery be wearing shoes now?” And I go, “No!” And then, “Can the faery be facing the other way?” And I go, “No!” And then you realise that you keep saying "No!" -- and when you try to work out why that is, it's because art just doesn’t work that way. You can’t do anything in a painting in isolation: if the shape of a wing goes a certain way, the other aspect of the figure has to have a different form; and if I change something over here, then something over there has to change along with it.

H - It’s like pulling a string on something knotted. 

B - Yes. There is nothing casual about what I do. It all has it’s own carefully calibrated magical structure, where shape and form imparts information and feeling that actually transports you to another place, and that’s its intention.

'The Troll Witch' - Brian Froud.
R - It’s interesting to hear you say that, because for most of my life, in the film and advertising industries, I worked not in the way that you describe but in the other way, where people constantly say, "I want this, this and this," and stuff constantly comes back to you. For thirty years I didn’t give a shit, really, I just made the changes. This is the first time, working on John Barleycorn, that I'm in a project where I’ve been able to use all the principles you've been talking about, Brian. When we change things in the comic, we change them for good reasons, because something isn’t saying what we want it to say. But I’m so used to working in the old way that if Howard were to keep telling me, “I don’t like that, I want you to change it,” I’d probably do it, because I am so condition to it.

H - Fantastic! 

B - It’s a weird phenomena that because of the Internet, everybody thinks they understand images. Because we are bombarded by them, people think that they understand how they work -- but most people actually have no idea, because we're not educated in image and image-making. Whereas a Renaissance man confronted with the Internet would grasp its images more completely. There was an understanding then that when you look at an image, there's more to it than just its surface, there are also clues to complex stories and meanings embedded within it. There are symbols and signs -- everything has purpose, every proportion, every design element, nothing is casual. You can't just change things on a whim, because each element, placed together, is telling a larger story.

H - When you see an image of that kind, Brian, as an artist who knows about these symbols, you’re 'reading' the picture at a level that a lot of people aren't able to see. Often those pieces of art are the ones that people find especially fascinating, even though they can’t 'read' them properly. It’s as if there are two different levels of perception, but we're no longer trained to see them both. There is a similar thing with Shakespeare. His work is fascinating even if you know little about it, but when you study it, you go “wow,” for there is depth upon depth of metaphor and meaning that reveals itself.

Page from forthcoming book - 'Trolls."

B - Yes! So, to relate this to our work: when we produce pictures of Trolls, you’re not just looking at pictures of Trolls. I would argue that actually you are looking at a landscape...literally the landscape of Dartmoor...because all of the shapes and forms are based on rocks and roots and trees, and it’s very localised. Then beyond that, not only is it a Troll, and a landscape, it’s also the World. When you are looking at a picture in terms of magic, and magical thinking, everything is encompassed in that one picture; everything!

R - Like a universe in a grain of sand.

B - Exactly. It’s precisely that phenomena.

W - It’s interesting hearing you say that, Brian. It make so much sense, and I understand it...and yet it would be so easy to slip over into madness from that place. I’m serious, because you walk a very fine line between ‘this is important, this all makes sense’ and ‘this is chaotic madness.’

H - That’s always true of the Shaman, isn’t it? And of the Fool? Rex and I talk about the wisdom of the Fool quite a lot, and of the madness of the Shaman. It is a fine line to walk when you are dealing with these principles, treading between what is believable and what is not. When I read about magical principals, a part of me thinks: this is definitely true; and another part thinks: no, this is mad. It's like living in two worlds at once. Artists often do live in two worlds, which is why we can seem a bit mad to other people. One foot is in the real world, where we have to feed ourselves and take on practical jobs to make money, and the other foot is in the creative world, which has a different time scale and demands different things of us: that when you sit down and draw, this is what you are going to draw, and how you are going to draw. Living this way can be both liberating and distressing I find, in equal measure.

Pixie sketch - Brian Froud.
B - When I was young, it seemed so much easier. You just went for it. Youth has an arrogance. Now it’s more of a struggle, but there’s still that inner voice which, when I draw a line, goes: “No.” Rub it out, draw another. “No.” And then, suddenly, “Oh, yes!” And then I think: “Where has that come from? Why is this the right line? While all these others, which to an observer would probably seem to be the same, were wrong?” Now that we’ve finished Troll project, I can’t figure out what to do next. My duty as an artist is to try to articulate something truthful, and that truthfulness has to be real, yet I'm dealing in an area that people think isn't real. But, in fact, it's really, really real.

H - It’s a sort of 'greater truth in fiction' thing, isn’t it?

B - Yes.

H - When you talk about the lines, and changing a line, of course the lines that you rejected might be the right lines for something else at some other time...

B - Yes.

H - ...so you are trying to find the right line for what you are doing now.

W - That’s almost mad thinking, though -- because what are you going to do, save all those lines?

H - Yes, in a little line bank!

B - That's what it’s all about, being able to step into a magical space as you create. We all know that feeling, when you are writing or drawing and there is a flow. You just step right into that magical space where it's all going well.

H - That’s where we are trying to get to, isn’t it?

B - It’s a moment of grace, and you just want it all the time. When I am not in those moments, I think: why can’t I get there? Sometimes, when things go wrong in life (and often there are a lot of things that go wrong in a row), I think that you just need to be jogged along by an inch, that somehow you’re out of sync and you just need to step back into sync, and then everything just works.

R - It's a bit like the way airliners are actually slightly off-course 90% of the time, and must keep making minor readjustments in order to get to their destinations.

W - Don’t tell me that!

H - Don’t worry, the pilots are aware of it.

W - Good.

R - Some of them aren’t, Howard; some of them aren’t! 

W - Oh, dear!

R - The trick of the magician, of course, is that when you're off-course and you know it, you’re still relaxed about it. You recognise that the universe will get you back on course again; all you have to do is relax, and you will get back.

Troll and Maiden - Wendy Froud.
W - Yes, but also I think it’s important that when you are on course, when you do have that moment of grace, that you recognise it. You can then refer back to those moments sometimes, and that will also help you to get back on course. You think, 'I’m getting close,' because you can feel it, and that memory is like a compass.

R - I can’t do what you just described, Wendy.

W- Really?

R - I've tried and I can't, so I find it easier just to wait for the bang, and then get back there.

H - Talking about being off-course in terms of art, there was a whole scene in John Barleycorn that only came about because we went down a blind alley and hit a dead end. That scene is now really important to the plot, but had we not gone down and hit the brick wall, we wouldn’t have discovered it. Do you have those kinds of experiences?

W - Yes, occasionally. For this book we did, very much so.

B - There’s magic where the magician tries to bend the universe to his Will, and there's magic where you become the servant, in a sense, of the Will of the universe. And when you accept that, you have to ‘go with the flow’ -- but then there comes a point where you do need to apply your Will. What I believe is that mistakes are always going to be made, so is there not a way of pretending that you meant them all along? Because that just flips everything around. What if this mistake isn’t a mistake? And if it isn’t a mistake, what is it telling me that gives me another point of view?

Flying Faery - Wendy Froud.

H - Which is another magical principle: flipping something on its head. Like the Fool does. It was Thomas Eddison, I think, who famously said, after failing for the hundredth time to invent a working light bulb: “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found a hundred ways not to do it.” That is a really good principle for artists. It's something that Geoff and I teach students of Commedia: you kind of can’t make a mistake, as long as you learn from it, and even, sometimes, incorporate it into the work. What if actually it wasn’t a mistake? What if actually it was the best thing you could do? Then, if you inject it with belief, it often becomes something really good. Not always…sometimes it’s still terrible! 

R - I’ll vouch for that!

H - Can I return to something that Brian said earlier? You were talking about your Troll pictures, and that they are not just pictures of Trolls, but also of landscape and, in particular, of Dartmoor. We had a very interesting ‘Around the Table With’ discussion with Alan Lee a while ago, and we were talking about how much his work has been influenced by Dartmoor. Alan said that after moving here from London, he started to really study nature properly, so that rather than just trying to represent trees from his imagination, or by copying Rackham, he started looking at real trees, and his art changed. Did you have a similar experience when you moved to Devon?  Because your work is kind of rooted in the land.

Green Man - Brian Froud.
B - Literally rooted! I have no imagination! Everything that I do is real, it’s based on reality. Years and years ago, when I first went to America and I was Guest of Honour at a World Fantasy Convention, I had been looking at American fantasy art, and before I arrived, I was convinced there wasn’t a single tree in America. But when I got to San Fransisco, the first thing that I saw was this wonderful tree! So I asked these young American artists, what are you doing, why are you not looking at your own landscape? You’re just looking at other people’s art, which has no relation to your own life. Look at where you are! Look at the land, and it will inform what you do. So when I first came here to Dartmoor, it was the same for me as it was for Alan. It really impacted my art. I looked at these rocks and these trees, and they were just so magnificent. I wasn’t then, and am still not, interested in traditional landscape painting though. I had an emotional response to the landscape, and it always seemed to involve some sense of spirit, and soul, and the land's inner life. I’ve always wanted to know what it is like on the inside of it all. It’s all about the interiors; everything I do is about an interior thing. That was when Trolls and Faeries really came to the fore in my paintings.One of the things that I've noticed in my new Troll pictures is how much I've been inspired by the old Devon hedgerows...which are being destroyed all over the place, all this ancient hedging with these old trees planted on top of the stone walling so that the vegetation all grows up gnarled together over years and years...and now they’re being chopped down! How can they do that?!! A hedgerow is a special, unique, magical space, and you’ve just destroyed it! So some of what I’m doing is almost like a paean to a landscape that’s going.

H - That makes me think of something that Terri often talks about, which is landscape and spirit being very connected. One of the themes in John Barleycorn is the idea that the connection to the archetypes, to myth, have been removed from our world. It is this removal which allows us to say, “Let’s get rid of these trees, because they are in the way,” rather than “This is a magical space, we’d best preserve it.” The world has become very pragmatic. We've lost that sense that when we see a landscape there is more than just solid ground here, there is the spirituality that comes out of it. At times is seems like we are getting rid of a very special dimension of human existence.

W - That’s why we do what we do, and that’s especially why we’ve done this particular book. Our hope is that people will way, “But I do need this, and I need to go out and experience the land myself.” 

Sitting Pretty - Wendy Froud.
H - When you try to make life just this grey, flat thing, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t function, because humans aren’t two dimensional; we actually live most of our lives in our perceptions of things. Another magical principle: it’s all about perception and belief. You can believe the most unbelievable things, and they are true for you, and events seem to conform to that belief. At times it seems to me that there isn’t an ‘objective’ reality, it’s what we all make of it. We don’t actually see what is out there, we are creating it all from electrical signals in a totally pitch black part of our brain.

W - And that’s so amazing.      

H - So I think that what we are trying to do as artists is to wake people up! It used to be: Wake up to this because it’s good! Now it’s more: Wake up to this because it’s disappearing, and once it’s gone there won’t be anything to wake up to! It reminds me of Joni Mitchell’s song, Big Yellow Taxi. "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot, and charged people $1.50 to see the trees...."  That’s what is going to happen if we don’t do something!

R - Howard, that seems like a good note to stop on. 

W - But we’re just getting going. We could talk forever!

R - Well, we can talk forever, but we won’t be able to put it out on the blog then.....

H - Rex, for once, you are correct. Brian, Wendy, thank you.

Brian Froud - Troll spotting!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Around the Table with...Brian & Wendy Froud. Part 1

Brian Froud was born in Winchester, UK, raised in Kent, and studied at Maidstone College of Art. He began his career as an illustrator, worked in film (designing two children's classics: The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth), and now creates paintings, books, and other projects from his studio in the Devon countryside. His internationally best-selling books include Faeries (with Alan Lee), the “Lady Cottington Pressed Fairies” series, Good Faeries/Bad Faeries, The Runes of Elfland, and Brian Froud's World of Faerie. His paintings have been exhibited around the world, won numerous awards, and have influenced a whole generation of artists and folklorists.

Wendy Froud born in Detroit, Michigan, where she studied art and design at the Center for Creative Studies. She began her career as a sculptor on the set of The Muppet Show, and went on to work on such feature films as The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and The Empire Strikes Back (for which she sculpted and fabricated Yoda). Her doll art and mythic sculptures have been extensively exhibited across the U.S. and Europe, published in three children's books (The "Old Oak Wood" series), and featured in an art book, The Art of Wendy Froud. Her writing has appeared in The Heart of the Faerie Oracle, Troll's Eye View, and other books.

Brian & Wendy live in a 17th century thatched Dartmoor longhouse filled with art, books, trolls, goblins, and faeries. Their new book, Trolls, will be published by Abrams this autumn, and artwork from it will be exhibited at The Animazing Gallery in New York. You can see more of the Frouds' work on their website and their blog, The Realm of Froud.

Howard, Brian, Wendy and Rex.

Editorial note: Prior to the following discussion, Brian recounted a tale in which he once stalked a famous writer. Unfortunately, due to possible legal implications (for both Brian, the Stalker, and the writer, the Stalkee), we are unable to publish this portion of the transcript. The deleted text is currently being kept in a safe in a Swiss bank, and will be opened to public gaze once the statute of limitations has passed. Until such time, here’s the rest of our "Around the Table' chat with Brian and Wendy. 
        H - Hello to you both!

B & W - Hello.

H - We’ve invited you ‘around the table’ primarily to talk about the process of collaboration, as you’ve just created a new book together, haven't you? Rex and I have found that working collaboratively has certain challenges, and certain advantages. So let me begin by asking, is this the first time you two have collaborated on a project?

        W - This is the biggest collaboration we've done.

B - It’s the only one that I can remember...

W - Well, it's not the only time we've worked on a book together, but it's the only time we've done it as an equal collaboration and without anyone else being involved.

Mother Leap by Wendy Froud
        B - You worked on my last Cottington book, for example…

        W - I did, but I wasn’t acknowledged for that!

        B - It was under a nom de plume.

        H - Do you both normally work on your own, then? Wendy, you've obviously worked in collaboration when you've made models for films....

        W - Yes. And I’ve worked for Brian before, but this wasn’t working for him so much as working with.

        H - And what about you, Brian? You've worked in collaboration before, on both books and films. But is there a difference when you're working collaboratively with a writer and artist who is also your wife?

         B - It’s been a peculiar collaboration that way. It's not a traditional one, I suppose. We've just finished our book, which is all about Trolls. We'd been wanting to do a Troll book for years...and then we finally got the ‘go-ahead,’ and now suddenly we were doing it! I started by painting random pictures, trying to find my way into the subject intuitively as an artist...and then Wendy and I had the realisation that what we were actually attempting was: ‘Trolls: The Story!’ Everything! Trolls have been around forever, so that is a huge amount of myth, history, and iconography. So the question then became: “How do we do that?” The collaboration between Wendy and myself wasn’t so much about showing things to each other, or bouncing ideas off each other, but becoming two travellers on a quest to find out about Trolls together. 

 H - So you both got completely involved in the world? 

A page from the forthcoming book, 'Trolls.' 
        W - We did... 

 B & W: ...at first!

   B - It's all rather shamantic, as far as I’m concerned. You have to sort of go in deep...and then try to find nuggets of stuff that seem to have some meaning, and bring them back. I do that with pictures, but sometimes I have no idea what the images I've brought back are supposed to be! I try to make images that have some sort of content, but I don’t always understand what the content is. Wendy, though, has this brilliant facility of looking at my stuff and going, “Ah!”

         W - Finding the stories for them. Let me explain what the premise of this book is. It's a book about Trolls, but it's also about the tales that the Trolls tell to themselves. It's the story of a young Troll’s journey from the beginning of the book to the end, and what happens to him along the way. And what happens is that he collects these different Troll tales, and we get to hear the tales as he collects them. I started by writing the main story, which is the young Troll's journey, and then three complete little Troll tales within that. And then I read them all to Brian, who had already done some artwork for the book. Brian doesn’t like to illustrate. He wants to paint what comes out of his own head, not what comes out of a writer's words, but on this occasion he did do some illustration from my stories, which was great! I loved it. So that, Brian, was a real new departure in twenty-five years for you.

 H - Was that a conscious decision for you, Brian, to make that departure? Or did it just happen spontaneously?

W - It was me, making him do it! With the support of Terri (Windling), who said "you’ve got to make him do this," because she was reading the Troll stories all along, and encouraging me so much.

Troll sketch - Brian Froud
        R - And were Brian’s illustration what you had in mind...?

W - Yes. They’re perfect! So he is brilliant at illustrating words when he choses to.

B - To be honest, I did it out of desperation. We thought we'd have a long time to work on the book, but by the time the contract was sorted out with the publisher, what we thought was going to be a year was down to six months. I realised at that point that I had to stop painting, see what we'd got, and turn it into a book.

        H - There seem to be some similarities here to the way that Rex and I work. We've also been drawn into the world of our book, to the point where it has obsessed us. But we haven't got a firm deadline because we’re self-publishing, which has benefits and drawbacks. One drawback is that we have to impose our own deadlines and they can become somewhat ‘elastic.’ On the positive side, that's allowed us plenty of time to really explore the world and mull the underlying meaning of the story. It's also allowed us to develop our partnership, and to discover how each of us likes to work, which I think is important in a collaboration. Obviously you’ve known each other for a while now....

        W - Thirty-one years!

        H - ...so I guess the need to get to know each other better isn’t there so much! Wendy, you know how Brian draws, for example, when it comes to him illustrating your words --

        W - I do. But I also had images in my head of how I thought the paintings were going to be, so it was a wonderful surprise when they turned out to be...not exactly what I was thinking, but better. 

B - The problem for me is that I have no idea what I'm doing. I am not very good at just crafting something, at just shaping it. What I'm really doing is 'searching' for an image when I paint, for what it needs to be.

H - When you say that, do you mean…well, I’ve seen your art, and you are clearly technically capable of crafting it. Do you mean that you're more focused on exploring the inner reality of your art, it’s inner meaning? 

Troll and Red Haired boy - Brian Froud

        B - Yes.        
        H - I can really relate to that.

        B - I instinctively know what image is right when I find it, but it may be that the way I get to that image is through lots of ‘no’s.’ Every project I work on, I have a similar problem: I find it difficult to explain to a publisher what the book I want to create is all about, because I need to start it, and get into it, in order to discover what it's going to be about. You make a start, and then the book begins to tell you what it needs to be finished, and what it’s form will be.

        H - Yes, I see.

        B - So when we started on the Troll book, we had to pull together everything that I'd been drawing and painting with the tales that Wendy had written. Wendy was brilliant at that, putting it all together, and that's when the collaboration between us really started. There were some simple, practical things which helped: Wendy went down to the village hardware store and bought some pin boards [bulletin boards], which we put up in the kitchen.

          W - It was sort of like story-boarding a film.

          B - We pinned fragments of paper to the board...anything that I had in terms of Troll images, we’d put up. That allowed us to work out the flow of the book: should this go here, or there? 

Gone fishin' by Wendy Froud
         W - At that point, I’d written the book's main story, and most of the shorter 'Troll tales,' but I still had to write some 'factual' pieces about the Trolls themselves: about what they do, what tools they use, and how they live their lives. And I couldn’t do that until I'd seen the art Brian had been working on. Which he hadn't yet shown me!!! Oh, I should point out that there’s photography in the book too, photos of some of my models and also of Troll 'artifacts' that I'd made, or that Brian had made, and other strange objects that we found. The pages are a collage of all of those parts, which Brian has put together. We couldn’t have done it if we hadn’t had these pin boards; it would have been too complicated.

        R - This is really exciting to hear, because it's very close to the way Howard and I worked on John Barleycorn, including the pin boards to keep track of different elements of the book. The way you've described how you draw, Brian, is like a writer describing how they write a book. You’re describing how you 'write' a drawing! What I found, working in collaboration with Howard, is that it's all about constantly asking questions: about the story, the characters, about what’s happening, and why sometimes it can happen in that way and why sometimes it can’t.

       H - How do you write, Wendy? Do you do it in a way that's similar to Brian's painting method, where the story just 'comes' to you intuitively, or do you have a clear idea of the story beforehand, mapped out?

         W - I really don’t start with a clear idea. I’ve been writing since I was a teenager, but I've been focused for many years on sculpting instead of writing. Though I've written for Brian's art before, this was the first time I had to write something that was quite so long and sustained...and I found that, basically, I can sit down and do it intuitively as long as I have an idea to start with, or some art to look at. As well the complete Troll tales in the book there are also 'fragments' of Troll tales -- so if Brian had a painting that couldn’t fit into the overall story, but we wanted to include it in the book, I would just look at it and know its tale. Then I would write a fragment of the story -- but at the same time, I would kind of know what the rest of the story was, even if I didn't get the chance to tell it. Which was fascinating. 

         H - In your collaboration, did you have separate areas of the book that each of you handled, or were you both involved in everything? For example, Brian, did you have a hand in the writing, or did you leave that up to Wendy?  

 B - I just let Wendy do it! She would read her writing to me, and then I'd maybe ask her, "Is this what you meant to say...?"

Hare by Brian Froud
       W - And sometimes I did, and sometimes I didn't.

         B - And if it wasn't what she meant, then she'd change it; but if she did mean it, then that was fine. 

         W - And if it wasn’t what I'd meant, Brian would suggest other ways that I could express it.

         H - That's one thing I like about collaboration! It's like having your own editor with you. When I direct theatre shows, for example, I much prefer working with Geoff Beale, my old Ophaboom partner, as it means there is someone there to say, “That looks good,” or conversely, “That’s really not working.” In some ways, I feel that having a collaborator to act as a sounding board almost works along the lines of magical principles: as long as one other person thinks the work is looking good, then despite the fact that I'm often lacking in confidence, I think, "Well, it must be alright then!" and carry on. What I mean is, it’s as if you are practicing sleight-of-hand magic: someone else has been ‘fooled’ into thinking that the work is good, and therefore we can ‘fool’ other people into that same perception. I guess that’s a weird way of looking at art-making....

         R - I had no idea that was what you were using me for!

         B - Wendy doesn’t always agree with my ideas, and sometimes when she doesn’t, I think, “No, I am right.” I'll re-examine whatever it is, but if the inner still voice says, “I'm right,” I’ll stick with it, even if I'm not able to fully express the reasons why, I know that my way will work. 

         W - On the Troll book, Brian always showed me the pages that he was putting together at the end of the day. Sometimes I’d say, “That doesn’t work for me,” and he’d say, “It is going to work.” 

 H - Yes, a good collaboration isn’t about someone telling you something is good even if it isn’t...but also you're right that you have to be able to trust your own judgement and not rely entirely on your partner's feedback. Sometimes, like you’ve just said, Brian, you just know that something is going to work, but you can’t quite explain it. And even if your partner says, "It's not working,” you say, “No, but it will!” 

         B - To do what Wendy and I just did with this book is literally, for me, a nightmare. A painting, for me, is also a nightmare, because it's full of unresolved problems. The hope is that when the painting's finished those problems will be resolved and the picture will be in balance. Now, to do a book of this nature, every single double-page spread has hundreds of elements in it: bits of pictures, bits of text, my art, Wendy's art, photographs, design elements, other bits and pieces, and they’re all floating around. Because I think in abstracts, not in solid thoughts, when I put all the elements into a double-page layout, I play around with proportions. Everything to me is about proportion, which is where the 'magical thinking' comes in. The meaning is in the proportions -- not just how the different elements look, but how they relate to each other. There is a different emphasis if I make one element bigger, or another smaller, and then it is about relationship: where do these elements go? As they start to create relationships to each other, now there is a some sort of a story emerging. While I was working with all these visual elements, in desperation to get a book with some sort of shape, Wendy was working on the words. 

Art from forthcoming book 'Trolls' by Brian Froud
        W - And sometimes I’d find that Brian was working with the wrong words for the page! It’s because he would refuse to read them.

         R - Brian! How was that helpful?

        W - It wasn’t! I’d read everything out loud to him, but he wouldn’t read it when it was printed on the page. He had a mental block about that, so I’d come in at the end of the day, and his page designs would be beautiful, but I’d say, “Brian, this isn’t the text that goes on this page!!!” 

         B - Normally when I'm designing a book I go up to London, and I sit with a computer operator. I give them instructions, and then I walk away. I go back a few days later, and they’ve done stuff under my direction, and so I’ve got something to respond to. That's a different form of collaboration. This time I was doing it all myself, and I had to be sure it was working. I was dreaming about it at night, and nothing was resolving. Then, as we got the book firmed up, and I was feeling happier about it, I would say to Wendy, “Don’t write too many words here, because I've got the page in balance, and when you put your words in you’re going to mess up my art!”

         H - So, how do you resolve that?

         W - I’d give him the text, and he’d go, “No!!!” But then I’d read it aloud to him, and he’d say, “Oh, alright....”

          B - Yes, because once I heard the words, I’d 'see' them on the page. A book like this is not traditional in terms of ‘picture’ and ‘words’ -- that would make life so easy! Here, it's the whole page that's telling the story, image and words in collaboration. There are other messages going on in the arrangement of word and picture. It’s subtle, but essential.

          H - We come up against this all the time in our comic, trying to find the correct placement for the words on the page. One of the things that I love about Rex’s art is that his portrayal of the characters, and the way that he positions the 'camera angle' of each panel, really tells a story; you're not dependent on the words. I find in some graphic novels that the art doesn’t have a sense of story to it, a sense of narrative movement -- whereas I'm used to working with image in theatre, where image and movement is just as important as words. That's how I have always approached my theatre: it is, primarily, moving image, on which words are an added extra. The moving image ought to be fascinating in and of itself. Commedell'Arte is a little like a dance, the story is told through posture and movement. Words and image are very different mediums for telling story, but when they gel properly, you get a “wow!” moment. That's when the words and the image are working together, backing each other up...or, sometimes, telling slightly different things, which adds depth to the overall story.

         R - If you have an image, it speaks a thousand words straight away, so the dialogue in the word balloons should be something else, something more. It shouldn’t simply be telling you what is going on in the picture, because the picture is already telling you that. The writing should compliment the picture, put the icing on the cake of the picture, in a sense.

Troll witch with owl 2 - Brian Froud
 B - That’s why I always say I'm not an illustrator! I gave up illustration in 1975. I did a book, years ago, called The Wind between the Stars, and that was fascinating to me because I thought, well, how do you draw the wind? You’ve got to find a metaphor for wind. And the metaphor was what interested me. It was precisely at that point that I got fed up. I couldn’t understand most illustration. You had a text that said the boat bobbed on the blue briny sea, and an illustrator would draw a boat bobbing on the blue briny sea, and I’d think, “Why?” The words have said it, and I have a picture of it in my head, and now you're just duplicating it for me. I feel that what you should illustrate is the space between the words. It's the betweenness, the otherness, that gives depth and dimension. Pictures and words compliment each other, they tell more than…

H - ...the sum of their parts? A sort of synergy. So that you get more from them in combination than you would from each of them individually.

        W - Yes!

        H - This sense of ‘otherness’ is something that I wanted to talk to you both about, as our graphic novel is very much concerned with the ‘otherness’ that magical thinking brings. I know you're interested in magic, Brian, because I’ve talked with you about it a couple of times before; but I'm not sure about you, Wendy. I know you have a deep spirituality….

        W - If you mean magic as in alchemy and the Golden Mean, I’m not particularly interested, no. Not like Brian is. He’s more of an alchemist. I like natural magic.

        H - That’s what I was getting at. Both of those aspects of magic interest me: esoteric philosophy, and also natural magic. The two seem to link in some areas, but in others are far apart. I wonder how much it influences your work, individually; and how much your work comes out of these different strands of magical ideas? Or, more philosophically, how do the ways that you work come out of these ideas? Those are huge questions, aren't they? Sorry!

        W - They are! Brian's work has alchemical aspects, and he uses esoteric ideas, like sacred geometry, in the construction of his paintings...but it's not so simple as to say his work comes from one strand of magic and my work comes from the other. We're both very interested in natural magic, which involves healing and energy. We both believe very strongly that whatever work we do, we put healing energy into it -- especially if it goes out into the world for other people to experience. There is enough out there that has bad energy going out with it, and I don’t want to contribute to that, I don’t want to be part of that. People seem to sense that our art has a kind of energy, a healing energy, so we tend to be very conscious of it as we work. This doesn't apply quite so much to my writing, however!  I’m working on something about two serial killers now, so…

        R - But if they’re Trolls, it’s okay!

        W - They’re not Trolls.

        R - Oh, dear....

Don't miss Part 2, where the conversation turns to Renaissance Man, the Dartmoor landscape and the liberating arrogance of youth!

Sunday, 10 June 2012


H - We’re back! 
R - We surely are. As night follows day, we’re back.
  H - Sorry we’ve been away for so long! We stopped posting weekly on the blog 
in February, and had planned to make ‘ad hoc’ postings instead -- but this proved to 
be impossible, due to a combination of life events and finding ourselves deeply immersed in the last draft of our graphic novel. 
R - It’s been…emotional.
H - But now we are back on track, and back to weekly posting. We're also gearing up towards the release of the comic, finally! During the time we were away, we finished the book's third draft, which was the hardest work of all the drafts, bringing all the different story-lines together fully for the first time. The comic's text was then line-edited…
R - Which means?
H - Which means that it was gone through with a fine-tooth comb! We had a few days of intense, detail-oriented work to make sure that there were no plot holes, and that narrative information was divulged at the right times for pacing purposes. Certain scenes were re-worked to introduce more tension, speed up the pace, or, conversely, to slow the pace down.
R - I have one question.
H - Yes, Rex?
R - Can you go through something with a broad-tooth comb?
H - No. 
R - Oh!
H - I have a question for you, Rex.
R - Go on.
H - Looking back at the first post of this year, you claimed that (and I quote) "the stars have dictated that our book must be out by Easter." Would you like to comment on this statement?
R - Yes, I'd like to take this opportunity to explain. On the surface it seems I was in error . . . however, if one examines my claim more deeply, it becomes apparent that I was in fact correct. I had observed the stars in the Southern Hemisphere, forgetting that we are producing the book in the Northern Hemisphere. Had we been in the Southern Hemisphere, of course, our book would have been out by Easter -- but now that I'm in full possession of the facts, it's clear to me that what the stars were really saying is that our book will be ready some time very soon. 
H - Thank you for the clarification, Rex. I was starting to loose faith in your prophetic ability, but now my faith is fully restored. It's clear to me that you are indeed the Chosen One. 
R - At last, recognition!
H - And it is true that it would not be unfair to say that it isn’t an un-truth that our release date hasn’t been a tad un-malleable. 
R - Absolutely!
H - And your new understanding of the stars does appear to be correct…
R - Oh, without a doubt, the stars are never wrong!
H - …because even as we post this, the comic is nearly finished -- except for the copy-editing of the text, which is happening at this very moment!
R - And then what happens, Howard?
H - The copy-edit will catch any remaining errors in grammar or spelling, then these edits will be put into the book, the pages will be exported from Comic Life (the software we used to create the comic), and the whole bundle will be ‘zipped up,’ digitally speaking, and sent to the printers. Once the printer has it, we'll get a Proof copy to check for any printing errors, and once the Proofs have been approved, the book will be printed, and then it will go on sale….
R - 
H - Rex, Rex? Are you all right. Do you need smelling salts?
R - Yes, I do. 
H - Here.... What happened?
R - I fainted. I was so stunned at the words: “It will go on sale.” It has taken so long to get to this point that I thought the comic would never be finished!
H - Well, we haven’t actually finished yet. There is still plenty of time for delays....
R - That would be par for the course, wouldn’t it?
H - Yep!
R - And what happens to the blog now, Howard?
H - Well, after promising two new ‘Around the Table’ chats at the start of the year, we are honestly, definitely going to be posting them. 
R - 
H - Rex, Rex? Are you all right? Do you need smelling salts again?
R - Yes, I do.

      H - I know it seemed like we’d never get these chats up on the blog, but at last they are finished, formatted and ready to go. Next week we'll begin with Part One of our discussion with artists Brian and Wendy Froud, and soon after we'll sit ‘around the table’ with writer and Goblin Fruit editor Amal El-Mohtar. Our apologies to all of them, and to our readers, for the lengthy delay. 

  R - Indeed.
H - So, Rex, is it good to be back on the blog?
R - Absolutely!  
H - To celebrate our return, the video above is our very own version of the old English folksong, ‘John Barleycorn Must Die’ (using the Robert Burns lyrics of 1782). The song was lovingly produced by the multi-talented and amazing David Wyatt, who also played all the instruments on the track -- with the exception of the snare drum, which was played by me…
R - …and the scythe, which was scraped by me. 

      H - The vocals are by me and Amal El-Mohtar. Enjoy!