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.

Friday, 3 August 2012


H - As I write this, we're up-loading the finished pages of John Barleycorn Must Die: The Fall of the Sky-Gods to Ka-blam, our printer. It's taking a good long while, as we have three compressed files of about 280 megabites each. So while we're waiting, Rex, we can take this opportunity to write this week’s blog post. Have you anything to say now that the book is finally done? 
R - I can’t believe it, after two years of traipsing up here to your house everyday! First we were pulling apart my original, incomprehensible script, then we were writing, then drawing extra pages, then pulling out scenes and putting new scenes in. We had umpteen things that happened over that period of time which were completely out of our control, and sometimes it seemed like we'd never be done...and yet now that two years seems to have gone by in the blink of an eye! In just a couple of weeks, we’ll have an actual graphic novel in our hands.
H - And how do you feel about the comic, now that it's done?
R - I feel a lot of anticipation, and also a little nervous. How will people receive it? Will readers understand it? Will they like it? How do you feel about the book, Howard?
H - It still feels slightly unreal to me. We're sending it off to the printers now, but it will be a week or so before we see a printed 'proof' copy. I think I'll feel very elated when that arrives in the post. Also, at this moment, we're still waiting for the up-load to complete, so I'm a bit nervous too: Will the files upload successfully? Have we got all the formatting right? And, like you, I'm wondering how the book will be received. After two year's work, the manuscript is out of our hands and we can’t change anything now. It’s in its final form and will shortly be released to the world....
R - The book has its own life now. It is out there in the ether, and it will be what it is.
H - Over the past few days I’ve been thinking a lot about the creative process of writing a graphic novel. In some ways, being a visual medium, it's not so different than creating plays...but in one way it's very different. When I devise and direct a play, the editing process continues throughout its tour: the story is refined in collaboration with the actors, and in response to audience reactions. But with a printed book, this version of the story is truly final -- and that's a major difference between the two art forms. Coming from a theatre background, I find that a little scary...because with theatre you can always tweak anything that isn't quite working and continue to perfect the piece.
R - So what you're saying, Howard, is that publishing a book is a bit like the final performance of a play.
H - Yes! 
R - For me, the book's creative process has been very different than other projects I've been involved with, such as storyboarding for film. This time, I’ve had carte blanche to completely direct the action and the pace of the story. You haven’t given me very much artistic direction, and it’s the first time I’ve been entirely responsible for the way the story moves....
H - Visually.
R - Yes, I mean visually, not with regard to the text. But in 'reading' the story through the art alone, if people don’t know which panel to go to next, it will be my fault.
H - Do you feel that this project has changed or challenged you as an artist?
R - I’ve found keeping my style consistent quite challenging. I created the original art work four years ago, and then I had to draw quite a few new pages when we turned it into John Barleycorn. My style has always been quite fluid, so it was hard to create new pages that looked the same as the older pages. 
H - Any other changes or challenges?
R - Well, I’ve learnt that I really enjoy working collaboratively...just not with you!
H - Ha, ha.
R - But seriously, I’ve loved sitting here drinking copious cups of tea and talking about the characters and the book, and where they are going. Previously I’d only written in one dimension....
H - What do you mean by that, Rex?
R - Previously I wrote stories much like a child would write them, from beginning to end, without much attention to nuance. Working with you, I’ve realised that in good writing one thing informs another.
H - I’ve been teaching myself how to write a book during this process. The differences between writing for theatre and for print have been both interesting and a challenge! The way that you describe how you used to write is, actually, how first drafts are written: you just get the story down and worry about perfecting it later. It's something I still find very hard to do; I always want to linger and tinker with the text, when really that's a job for the next draft. Some writers like 'first draft writing' best, that initial flow of inspiration -- and others, like me, find first drafts hard and prefer the subsequent drafts, when you have something to re-work and re-shape. That's when you put depth and nuance into the text, work on firming up characters and resolving plot threads...although there are times when it seems that things will never resolve and the book will never be finished. 
R - One of the most interesting things for me has been how life has informed what we've written over the past two years. Something would happen -- either in the world or in our personal lives -- and we would find that it related to the book.
H - For me, the mirroring of life and art has always been a part of my approach to creative work, so that in itself wasn’t a surprise. Though due to the length --
R - Oh, the first file is up-loaded!
H - That’s exciting! I got a shot of adrenalin then.
R - My heart started pumping!
H - So the second of three files is now up-loading to Ka-blam. As I was saying...due to the length of this project, there were a great many examples of 'mirroring' which occurred. I’ve come to the conclusion, over many years, that this is what should happen in art. As an artist, one’s life is not separate from one’s work. It isn’t just a job, it’s not nine-to-five, it’s a state of being. One’s art informs one’s life, and one’s life informs one’s art. The point of art, for me, is to be an investigation into the deeper meaning of life. It’s my way of trying to get some understanding of the Mystery. Of course, it never solves the Mystery, that’s why it’s the Mystery, but it helps me pass the time while the Mystery unfolds....
R - I’ve always resisted using my work in that way, because it’s not a helpful attitude when you're working in the commerical realm of film and tv -- but over the last couple of years I’ve really seen the value of that approach. And now I think I’m properly a fine artist. So roll on, Books Two and Three!
H - Do you think you've changed as a person in the two years we’ve been working together, Rex?
R - I really have. I’ve mellowed so much. When I first started this project I was full of anger and hate, and now I’m full of peace and love.
H - And is this because of the work?
R - In a way. It’s the patience I’ve had to develop, Howard, while you’ve been fart-arsing around with questions and drafts and character development and your general arty-farty way!