Comicosity is picking the brains of a pro who is killing it in the comics industry, and for this round I was lucky enough to talk to Andi Watson! Andi is the creator of the upcoming Kerry and the Knight of the Forest (July 2020), The Book Tour (November 2020), Glister, Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula, Gum Girl and more! Andi was kind enough to give us a glimpse into his creative process, below:
What does a typical day in your life look like?
Right now it falls into a pretty regular routine, but then that’s probably the case for most of us. I wake up, make breakfast for my wife and myself before getting down to work. I’d make my daughter breakfast but it’s best not to wake a sleeping teenager. My wife is working from home at the minute so she’ll take a break after a couple of hours and together we’ll take a walk. We’re pretty lucky in being close to green spaces where we live. We can walk by the river, check in on the swans and goslings and enjoy the fresh air. I’ll stop work to make my family a simple lunch and then back to it. I tend to make dinner during the week so stop around five to prep that. My wife’s a flexitarian, I’m pescatarian and my daughter’s vegetarian, so I cobble something together we can all eat. After dinner I’ll maybe finish off some work but try not to do too much unless there’s a pressing deadline.
I’m used to working at home alone in my “studio” all day (actually the front room) but we’ve all adapted well to the new circumstances. It’s nice to spend more time with family and have a better feel of what they’re up to day to day. Social isolation has actually reduced my social isolation.
What time of day do you do your best work?
If there was a golden hour I’d do all my work then and life would be an awful lot easier. For me there’s no good or bad time. I’ve always kept pretty regular hours over the years so that I’m synced to my family’s day. Working all night would be weird as we’d never see each other.
Comics is always a marathon, not a sprint, so it’s more about placing butt in seat and putting in the hours. Some days everything’s a struggle and somedays it’s easy, mostly it falls somewhere in the middle. Generally I’m happy with something I’ve created during any given day, whether it’s a line of dialogue, facial expression or a little bit of background business probably no one but me will notice. If it was misery all the way down then there would be no reward in doing the job. The joys are in creating as the external rewards are, well, less obvious.
Comics is often a collaborative medium. How do you work with your editors/others on your projects?
It depends on the project. Some editors want input, others leave you to do your thing. There are many gradations in-between. Work for hire sometimes involves approvals and hoop-jumping. If you’re playing with other people’s toys, it’s part of the process.
I’ve collaborated with artists like Simon Gane on books and that’s always amazing. I love seeing the pages and experiencing the alchemy of two people making something better than either could do individually. I tend to author my own work but there’s something very special in collaborating with other people you admire.
How do you manage your to-do list?
I learnt to be careful with my schedule the hard way. Back when my daughter was very young I thought I could work pretty much full time and still manage child care. As parents know, that’s not possible and so I had to adjust. Now I have enough experience to generally know how much time something will take. It’s best to communicate with editors and let them know where you’re at. Life throws stuff at you and you might need time to deal with it. If you have the luxury of setting your own deadline then factor in some extra time for when things go wrong/stuff happens. Deadlines are stressful and they’ll bite you in the ass if you’re not careful.
What is your workspace like?
I work in the front room where I have all my materials and books. I cobbled together a standing desk from an old Ikea bookshelf and I have another small desk that I currently squeeze onto. I’d like it to be more homely but in truth it’s a workspace and I’ve accumulated a lot of pages, materials and books over the years. The chaise longue and soft furnishings will have to wait 🙂 I try not to acquire too much stuff as space is at a premium and I don’t want my clutter escaping the studio and spreading over the house. However, I have a weakness for second hand books which I indulge frequently.
What tools are essential to your creative process?
Paper and pencil. Everything starts with those. I make a point of using the back of old sheets of paper which means I have stacks of scrap, the back of bills and whatnot. That’s where I’ll scribble notes and thumbnails. All my thinking takes place with a pencil and paper. Later I’ll use a computer to write a full script or colour a page but I’m most relaxed and creative with disposable paper and a pencil.
What do you love most about creating comics?
It’s hard. It’s really hard to master. It takes a lot of work to make even a bad comic. There’s a lot to learn, not only writing and drawing (each of those is a lifetime’s work) but the intangibles that are unique to comics. Panel to panel transitions, pacing, composition, page design, lettering. It’s endlessly challenging. If I thought it was easy I’d get bored and do something else. As it is, the next book will be my best.
What is your favourite phase of a project?
Early on. Not right at the start where I’m struggling to put the pieces together but a little later when the story’s taking shape. The characters, the setting, the art style, when they’re all beginning to gel. Making connections and the disparate parts begin to fit together. New ideas arrive and they find a place within the whole. The metaphor I use is pushing a snowball down a hill. It starts small but gathers size and momentum as it travels. That’s the exciting bit. The rest is a struggle to do justice to my idea.
What do you listen to or watch while you work?
I listen to podcasts. They are the closest I get to having witty and knowledgeable studio mates. I used to follow more politics but it has gotten way too depressing for me. It’s a mix of the arts, some nerdy stuff, movies and what not. I can’t watch things while I’m working and I can’t listen to anything when I’m trying to write.
When you aren’t creating comics, how do you like to spend your time?
My time is mostly spent with family and working. I read, prose mostly and I will try and watch a movie if I have a spare couple of hours. I also exercise. Cartooning is the worst for your health and your posture. I probably spend too much time looking at Instagram etc.
Networking and meeting other creators & editors is an important part of the business. What is your preferred way to network?
It definitely makes sense to develop contacts and nurture relationships, meet readers, go to cons and festivals and hang out with peers and friends. Nothing stays the same and editors and publishers change over time. You need to be nimble.
Back in the day I was eager to find my place in the field and be accepted by the gatekeepers within it. I attended SDCC seven or eight years in a row. It’s important to remind people you’re around. Having said that I haven’t visited the US in seventeen years or more, so I am not best placed to offer advice.
I make a point of always doing a good job, be easy to work with and putting out good books. That’s my calling card.
What comics are you reading right now?
On the to-be-read pile: Tumult written by John Harris Dunning, Ganges by Kevin Huizinga and bunch of French comics that I’ll need some help from google translate with. Some Tradi, the collected Mitchum by Blutch and a book by Spanish author Anabel Colazo from my French publisher çà et là that I brought home from Angouleme (which seems an awful long time ago now).
What do you hope to see in the industry in the future?
A bigger more diverse audience for the medium that comes with a more diverse pool of authors. That it becomes easier to sustain a career in the medium. That it works harder to welcome people. That it be a safer place for everyone, online and in real life. That the ugly speculator instinct would go away, particularly right now.
That there’ll be more great books to read and the authors of those books are rewarded for their efforts.
And kittens for everyone.