Comic Boom - Comics in Education

Comic Boom - Episode 2 with cartoonist Neill Cameron

January 11, 2023 Lucy Starbuck Braidley
Comic Boom - Episode 2 with cartoonist Neill Cameron
Comic Boom - Comics in Education
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Comic Boom - Comics in Education
Comic Boom - Episode 2 with cartoonist Neill Cameron
Jan 11, 2023
Lucy Starbuck Braidley

In this episode I chat with award winning comics creator, Neill Cameron.

Neill Cameron is a cartoonist and writer, creator of the comic books Mega Robo Bros,   Since 2011 his work has appeared in the weekly children’s comic The Phoenix. In 2016 Mega Robo Bros and Tamsin and the Deep were both shortlisted for the British Comics Awards. In 2017, Mega Robo Bros won the Excelsior Award Jr, a national comic award voted for by school and library reading groups across the UK. In 2018 Mega Robo Bros was chosen as one of the best children's comics of the year by both the New York Public Library and the Schools Library Journal.

Links to everything  discussed, including Neill's reading recommendations can be found on the podcast padlet.

Follow Neill on Twitter at  @neillcameron
Host:
@Lucy_Braidley
Contact: comicboompodcast@gmail.com


Music by
John_Sib from Pixabay

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode I chat with award winning comics creator, Neill Cameron.

Neill Cameron is a cartoonist and writer, creator of the comic books Mega Robo Bros,   Since 2011 his work has appeared in the weekly children’s comic The Phoenix. In 2016 Mega Robo Bros and Tamsin and the Deep were both shortlisted for the British Comics Awards. In 2017, Mega Robo Bros won the Excelsior Award Jr, a national comic award voted for by school and library reading groups across the UK. In 2018 Mega Robo Bros was chosen as one of the best children's comics of the year by both the New York Public Library and the Schools Library Journal.

Links to everything  discussed, including Neill's reading recommendations can be found on the podcast padlet.

Follow Neill on Twitter at  @neillcameron
Host:
@Lucy_Braidley
Contact: comicboompodcast@gmail.com


Music by
John_Sib from Pixabay

Lucy:

Hello and welcome to Comic Boom Neill.

Neill:

Thank you. Thank you very much. Glad to be here.

Lucy:

I always like to start the podcast by asking people about their personal journey into becoming a comics reader, and in your case, a creator as well. Can you tell me when did you start falling in love with comics as a form.

Neill:

It goes back pretty much as, as early as I can remember really. what I always say is where it started is I grew up like literally next door to a news agent shop. Like it was the other half of our house was the news agents. and so sort of be, we'd, we'd get to be the first in there on a Saturday morning. I'd be like literally waiting for it to open, you know, and hear'em moving around in there and know the shop was open. And so run round on Saturday morning to get, to get the weeks comics. You know, that was the sort of the weekly ritual. Go and spend your pocket money on comics. So they were just always there. As far back as I can remember, as. The best thing and the thing that you did, you know, you, you read, you read that week's comics, you swapped with your little brother and read his comics, and then when he is run outta comics, you started drawing your own comics, so you'd have some more to keep next week.

Lucy:

And what sort of titles were you reading?

Neill:

It's probably started out with like the Beano and the Dandy, you know, all that stuff. And this was when there were still sort of quite a few more around like that. So you still had, you know, Buster and Wizard and Chips, uh, that kind of thing. So, the Beano was the big one, I guess, but then, Then the second one week we went in, to buy our weekly Beano. And they had this new comic, that was about robots that turned into cars and for other robots and shot lasers and stuff. So the second I discovered the transformers, that was maybe the absolute falling in love moment when it switched from being just, these are things that are around and are fun and that I like to, oh my God, this is this is the greatest thing. All I want to do is read and draw these things. This is amazing.

Lucy:

And was it part of your school life as well? Were they accepted in school or was it very much that something for at.

Neill:

I think, I think they were around at school, but not in any kind of, um, I was, I was thinking about this, and I think the extent to which we had them at school was that sort of, it was the kind of thing where you'd have like a big, there'd be a chest of'em that you'd maybe get to read, like when it was raining and you couldn't play out, you know?

Lucy:

Wet play box

Neill:

Um, it'd be. wet play box. There you go. Yeah. Yeah. So we'd have sort of a creative them around for like that kind of situation, at school, but it was sort of, I dunno, they, they, they were sort of tolerated but not encouraged. Maybe, you know, you weren't supposed to read them if there was anything else.

Lucy:

And was it important, do you think that, you know, you had friends that were reading them, there was that kind of social side of it as well, that it was a a thing people were into.

Neill:

I dunno actually, I like it was very much a thing that like me and my brother were into, like I say, so there was a lot of, you know, talking about, and drawing and swapping back and forth with us. But sort of from, from quite early, I think. I mean, a primary maybe, but I'm a bit hazy on primary cause I'm old now. So that's, that's a very long time ago. But I think, yeah, it was just like every, at that sort of age, the, the Beano and the, the Dandy, all that sort of thing, everyone just read them and talked, but it wasn't a big thing. But as then it became more my thing. I was obsessed with, I think. Um, It, it was clear that it wasn't everyone's thing and not everyone was as obsessed. And I maybe learned to sort of keep it to myself a bit more or, you know, learn that, you know, felt a bit self-conscious about, just how obsessed I was with these things and, kept it to myself a bit more.

Lucy:

So how did that then become from your personal obsession into your job? I think that's really useful because from, from a teacher's perspective, it's always useful to, to be able to kind of bring to life the journey of a writer. It helps children to understand like that they too could be that sometimes I think, Writers, comics, creators, almost like mythical beings in children's mind. It's like, it's saying you want to be a unicorn. But it's useful to know like how those things, how those things come

Neill:

As, as realistic as a career plan?

Lucy:

Yeah.

Neill:

No. As some, so I was sort of, When we were, when I was at like sort of middle school age, which is the way schools worked here in Oxford at the time. So I dunno, roughly sort of 12. 13, I guess I was already drawing a lot of my own comics and I was getting to the point of making photocopied copies of them. So that sort of taking the first beginning steps of what you would sort of now call self-publishing or, or small press comics. But it was around, I remember distinctly cuz by that point I was a bit sort of, it is that thing I think a lot of, A lot of creative kids maybe have of being really, really proud of their thing and into their thing, but also kind of mortified about anyone ever finding out about their thing. You know? Or maybe

Lucy:

Yeah, no, I know I've got some questions later on about some, some sort of similar things around that. So yeah, definitely know what you.

Neill:

yeah. Yeah. So, well, I'm, I'm reassured it's not just me, uh, anyway, but yeah, so I'm remember I'm one day I took along my self-published comic that I'd made to a party at my friend's house and let people actually see this thing I'd been you know, doing and sort of opened up my obsession a bit and people were like, oh wow, you made a comic. That was awesome. And it was, it was a very, fun and empowering moment and, you know, I would be drawing comics at the back of the class then just to sort of making up stories based on people's suggestions, you know. Sort of it, it became a bit more, I was okay with that being known to be my thing. And that encouraged me to maybe take those steps, towards, yeah, towards making small press comics, making self-publish comics, because that's how I, and most every like comics creator, like professional comics creator, I know got started was just by drawing their own and making their own, publishing their own and sharing them with people that way. And then eventually, eventually you keep doing that, you get better at it. You, you maybe start to grow an audience at some point. Someone starts to pay you money to do it, and then that's your job, you know? But it can be quite a fairly sort of organic growth from, you know, you're a kid who just likes drawing things to entertain yourself and your friends to, just that expanding and expanding If you, once you take those steps of sort of sharing it with other people.

Lucy:

So it is one of those things that it comes from passion in that case, doesn't it? You can't manufacture, you just, you've gotta be doing it because you love it, because you can't control how it's gonna pan out for you

Neill:

yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that's the other thing that every comic artist I know has in common. You know, no one's doing it cuz they thought this would be a way to succeed in life and achieve great riches. You know, it, I think it always comes from, from love and passion and from, just the love of drawing and making

Lucy:

do you think it came from a love of drawing or a love of stories for you? Or was it very much both both at the same time?

Neill:

Well, that, that's the, that's the beautiful thing about comics, right? That, that is comics. The fact that it's both,

Lucy:

Yeah.

Neill:

It's, it's sort of intrinsically both. There's no, there's no separation. Like before you understand intellectually the difference between. Writing and drawing or, you know, the, the fact, the sort of that division of roles when, when you're young, when you're a kid, you're just drawing pictures and then drawing what happens next and sort of making stories. And that's sort, it happens very naturally. And, and, and again, when you're reading comics, you're not thinking about, you know, you're not looking down the credits and saying, oh, write out a pencil inker letter. You're just sort of experiencing the whole thing as a story. That you are reading through pictures in this very, very, sort of organic, engaging way. And so I think it is just all naturally one thing. And there's no separation sort of in my mind really at all. Like comic comics are stories. I love stories. I love comics. It's all just one thing, you know.

Lucy:

You're most well known for the Mega Robo Bros. I love them so much, to me they're so complex because they are, exciting and funny for people that don't know stories about two robot brothers who are, robot spies. It's taken on, crime fighting. So you've got that kind of classic comics world and it's futuristic. And then you, there's also so many other layers, themes of prejudice, of friendship, of sibling rivalry, adoptive families. I feel like there's quite a lot of feminism going in on in these stories as well that I really enjoy. They're so complex. How do you start to create a world like that? Is it something that happens bit by bit or did you sit down at the start and think, I want to get messages of diversity embedded in my stories? How did that happen?

Neill:

It's an interesting question. I definitely, I don't think there's that much, like deliberateness or sort of intentionality to, I'm going to I'm going to do this. But that story for me began from character, you know, just sort of immediately having this very strong sense of those two characters and their relationship. That sort of sibling relationship and the older one being, the sort of slightly quieter, more sensible one and the younger one being just this little mad ball of energy running around winding his, older sibling up, you know? So they were so sort of clearly formed in my head straight away. And the, the world just sort of, expanded out from that. It's like, so they're robots, but I want'em to be like going to school, with, regular human kids, and for them to be the only robots. And so what does that mean about this world? How far in the future are we, what kind of it's set in? I want it to be in London. I wanted it to be set in Britain. So what, what does Britain look like far enough in the future? That there are sentient robots with superpowers, but also not far enough in the future. Like this is a highly unusual and sort of novel situation for them and for, for this world, you know? And so then it was just sort of question of, filling in the blanks and because the characters felt so real to me very quickly, I wanted them to feel, real to the readers and for the readers to care about them. And I think, you're just trying to make them feel as real as you can. And that means, Thinking about how they would fit into this world and how they would relate to the people around them. And it just all comes out naturally. You just trying to come up with storys and like, well, what would happen? Uh, they get invited to a birthday party. I dunno what happens there? Who, who else is there? Who are the other people around them? And how do they relate? And it just all starts to, it all starts to come together naturally, I think.

Lucy:

And do you think you were influenced as well by external events in the world, the themes of prejudice, and the world around them, maybe not accepting them, seem to build throughout the stories. Do you think that you were responding to kind of what was going on? I'm thinking of like Brexit and these kind of things happening

Neill:

yeah, maybe, maybe. Right. I'm gonna, I'm gonna try not, um, ramble too much or get too emotional, here. But I remember, the day of the Brexit vote, I was out in a primary school, in Oldham, I believe, and it was a weird day to be in primary school right teachers running through from the staff room to where I was doing the workshops with sort of news updates between every class, you know, the latest situation that's happening. And it was just, Day because I felt very conscious that I was in this school. And you know, I, I travel around and do workshops in schools, all over the country and in sort of every, every sector of the. education system. You know, I go to very, very posh private schools and I go to, you know, uh, much less, less posh regular schools, you know? I get a very shallow but broad experience of, the school system as in this one school in Oldham that day. And, you know, the Brexit vote result was a bit of a shock, there were a lot of, factors around, fears around immigration and stuff in play. I think it's fair to say. and so I'm in this school where, you know, the majority of the kids were from, families, from in immigrant backgrounds. And it was just really strange to me to feel this sort big momentous thing happening while I was spending a day with these kids who were kind of. Represented everything these people were worried about or afraid of. You. And they were just, they were just kids, you know? They were just exactly like kids. In every other classroom I've been to across the country, they were just, you know, funny, mad, weird kids who had the same sort of dynamics and the same sort of split of personality types. And, you know, it was just, it really made me think, what, what is everyone so afraid of here? And that, I suppose, has informed. My thinking in this story, to some extent why are we afraid of the future, man? Why are we afraid of children? Why are we afraid of people being slightly different than us, coming to our country and making it maybe slightly different? Is that such a terrible thought? And so it's robots lets you talk about a lot of that stuff, uh, metaphorically to some extent,

Lucy:

It's definitely sparked conversations in my own household, and it's been really useful to be able to do that through Alex and Freddy's story. You've got so many child fans around the country. You literally are a legend in this house. Um, uh, I just wondered what that was like. And is that hard Almost, your stories belong to other people as well, children around the country and their parents are really invested in the lives of Alex and Freddy and what's gonna happen to them and do you feel pressure around that?

Neill:

yeah, I do to an extent. Yeah, I mean the story's been coming out for a while. You catch me a, a, a vulnerable moment cuz I, I'm just this week, writing and drawing the final episodes, the, the final chapter. And, it's been quite an emotional, uh, couple of weeks at the drawing board and I have been, Occasionally thinking, oh, how's this gonna go? Cause I, I'm aware that, that, you know, there are readers who are very invested in these characters, in lots of ways. And, I'm aware of not wanting to, disappoint them or for it to not be what they hoped it would be, or for sort of letting them down or, you know, just emotionally traumatizing them completely. Um, I don. I don't wanna give away any spoilers, but

Lucy:

Oh no,

Neill:

but something Um, but, but also I think, you know, I can't, you can't think about that stuff too much. Like you have to, you're, you're aware that these characters in this story means something to people. And you are very grateful for that. But also you have to tell your story, you know what I mean? You have to, you have to just stick to your guns and tell the story you wanted to tell and, believe. That that will be okay and, hope that kids reading it will be okay.

Lucy:

And what was the decision behind bringing their story to a close? We have lots of very long running comics franchises, but you've decided to kind of draw a line under.

Neill:

Yeah, it's, it's just, that's. that's stories have endings, you know, and I'm really excited to finally get to this one cuz this is the first time I've managed to actually make it as far as the ending, and get sort of close out a story properly, I feel like on my terms. but yeah, no stories. Stories have beginnings and they have middles and they have endings. In a way like the ending of this story, The story, you know, like it's that there's stuff in this last volume that has been. It's what I've been heading to the whole time. Some of the first moments and character beats that, that formed in my head about the entire thing. Were I'm finally getting to draw now. I just feel like, the ending sort of is the story is what the story is aiming for. It's what the story's about. Characters in in comics do not always necessarily have endings, you know? But after a certain point, are they then stories like, is Spider-Man a story?

Lucy:

Mm. Yeah.

Neill:

or is it a sort of engine for telling for different creators to tell different stories? There's absolutely value to that, but, Mega Robo Bros isn't an engine for lots of different creators to tell, lots of different kinds of stories, in its current form. It is my story and I, when it ends, I will have said everything I had to say. You know, I, I, I'm sort of not, not leaving anything on the table. What would be the point in, carrying on, you know, and do a new story. Do something new and cool, man. And I just think it's very nice. Give, give readers an ending, you know what I mean? Like, Lord of the Rings is great cuz it ends all the stories I loved as a kid, the ending is what you remember. you can go back and read it again. You can, you can always spend more time with those characters and you can. Absolutely go and make your own stories about those characters and, draw your own comics, write your own stuff about them, make, make them your own and develop it however you want. But, if it doesn't end, it sort of stops meaning anything almost.

Lucy:

it completely blows my mind that from the start you would have. The ending when it's such a big story. I, JK Rowling said that she knew that entire Harry Potter story before she started writing it. and when I read that. I didn't believe it. I just thought she's lying. she's making up. No, don't way

Neill:

a,

Lucy:

But, um,

Neill:

a very complex story to have fully formed in your head,

Lucy:

it is maybe, I mean, people are just smarter than me. That's what it is. Um, I don't believe it. Um, but

Neill:

No, I mean, Mega Robo Bros it's definitely not a case of, I had the entire story, like the, it's, it's completely grown and changed shape and the mechanics of how to get to that ending of, you know, have been figured out along the way. But like the, sort of the, the emotional beats of that ending, the resonance of it, I suppose, like the feeling, the vibe, the tone, the, the tone you wanna end on, is sort of what you're aiming out the whole way through Maybe.

Lucy:

So I'm gonna ask you actually a little bit about your process because again, I think that's really useful if there's teachers out there wanting to get their children in their class on the path to. Creating their own comics. It's useful to have some examples. I know there's almost as, as many different comic artists that there are, there's gonna be different processes. But how do you work? Do you work completely digitally? Do you work more traditional methods?

Neill:

bit of a mix of both really. At the moment I've sort of settled into a fairly sort of regular way of working, on Mega Robo Bros certainly where, we write it to outline stage, just as, as text and go back and forth and get the sort of the shape of the next series figured out, I guess. But then it, it moves over to drawing sort of a, a very early stage. And I tend to draw the roughs rough little versions of each page, Just working out what's gonna happen on each page and the dialogue and I do that digitally. I, I sort of draw that stuff on my iPad. And so I make a readable, version of the comic in that very rough, sketchy, digital form. Uh, and then, you know, go back and back and forth on that editorially. And once it's that's approved and we're happy with the, the flow of it all and, uh, the shape of the story, then switch over to, to drawing on paper with pens and pencils and stuff. Because, I'm old school apparently. I like pens and paper and stuff and, uh, so that's sort of draw, draw the artwork that way and then that gets scanned in and colored and lettered, digitally. I do, I'm not so old school that I wanna be covering all in. We felt tip. Pens. Yeah, that'd take.

Lucy:

That's, and do you do your own coloring? Cause I know sometimes there's than a separate artist that does

Neill:

Yeah, I do, I do. Generally, we have, over the years had some people help me out with it on mega pros. We've had, people come and help with the flattering for a while or, or do, the flattening process, which is just sort of filling in the sort of blocks of color separately, which the first stage of coloring, which is a real time saver and very helpful. But I tend to then sort of want to stick me all in and finish it off and make it look how I want it myself, because I'm a control freak possibly, or Just, I dunno, like that's, it has, it has quite a sort of particular style or a particular look that, you know, I've, I've sort of ended up at over the years and it'd be weird to me if it, somebody starts looking and feeling sort of quite different. Halfway through a series, you know,

Lucy:

yeah.

Neill:

Keep that consistency.

Lucy:

that, so this is an aside. But I make comics, occasion. and I really struggled with starting from the beginning, going to the end. By the end, it looked completely different to the first, the last page has got a pretty different style to the first page. I guess that's just, me being a, a rookie and, and we're trying to

Neill:

No, I, I think that that will always happen to an extent, you know, because you do, you are sort of growing and learning more with every page and it sort of Yeah. Sort of unavoidably happens, you know? And particularly like with how the characters look, I find that's an issue. So it's always worth, I feel like doing a, as many drawings of the characters of a story as you can before you actually sit down to. Making that story because they're gonna change a lot. And the more you can get that consistency locked in and learn what they really look like, you know, before you start doing it on the page. But it's fine, as long as it's like an organic sort of style tends to sort of creep, you know? And as long as it's sort organic as it's happening to you making it, it's not gonna be too jarring for someone reading it either. You know? I think that's,

Lucy:

And are these the kind of processes that you then bring into your comics club with the children at the Story Museum, or how do you approach those session?

Neill:

Yeah, well, we don't tend to get too much into the more advanced, more technical, comics, production, sort of digital side of things maybe. It's more focused on. You know, coming up with ideas, doing some silly drawing, just making stories, you know, in fast and fun and silly ways and sort of turning. The writing and drawing process into, into a game in different ways and just ha having fun with it and getting them motivated, and giving them a chance to just draw and be silly and mess around. I've, I've sort of come to see that more as the value of it than, uh, explicitly. And here is how we, you know, flatten color up page and then we put it through the lettering process. You know,

Lucy:

Yeah,

Neill:

we, a, a while ago we started actually. This was just pre lockdown. We, started doing a second session of Comics Club, at the Story Museum for older kids and teenagers because, A lot of our regular kids were sort of aging out of it and wanted to still come along and make comments on a Saturday, you know, and I was, I was persuaded to start doing this second session, and my first thought was that that would be the much more sort of advanced technical, nuts and boltsy. Let's talk about. Wally Wood's, 22 panels that always work. Let's talk about the flow of a page, all this kind of stuff. And, and to an extent I get into that with them, but mostly they still just wanna mess around and draw things and make each other laugh and, you know, just, it still is that sort of fun, creative space rather than a sort of two theoretical or academic, vibe, I guess.

Lucy:

just keeping the love alive for it.

Neill:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I think, like, what I've really come to see is the value of it in a way is just. I mean, it's sort of exactly what I didn't have as a kid. You know, weirdly circling back to where we started, but. It's a place for the kids who are maybe the quiet ones and the shy ones, and they're super into their thing, but they're kind of terrified of anyone else finding about it. It's a place for them to come along and just be fully like out as themselves and like out as into their thing and around other people who are super into it and just, just really sort of open up and be, it's a place for the kind of kids who would never join a club. You know, it's, it's the club for. And I think there is real value to that. That's been the joy of it,

Lucy:

Yeah.

Neill:

that I wasn't necessarily expecting.

Lucy:

And do you think you learn, you've learned from it as well in terms of having that kind of close relationship with your end reader in some.

Neill:

Oh, yeah, absolutely. I. Yeah, in, in ways that I'm probably not even aware of. But like I get a very good monthly, little insight into what kids find funny and what kids find entertaining and, even in really specific ways. Cause we do get. Probably sort of by the nature of it, we get a lot of Phoenix readers, coming along to the club. And, we've had some pretty hardcore mega robo bros readers there over the years and as sort of as a new story's coming out in the Phoenix, it's really funny to me cause I get this sort of live rolling focus group, you know, and I get a sort of,

Lucy:

Did you get brutal

Neill:

from all the questions. Yeah. Sometimes, man, um, why did you do this? That's stupid. Uh, but no, usually it's, it's usually, it's quite enthusiastic, but like, they'll always be like asking me questions like, what's going on here? What's gonna happen with this? Who's this guy? And, I can sort of get a sense from the questions that they're all, you know, frantically asking me and demanding an answer. How my story is landing in real time, you know, with, with its readership like, are. Asking the questions I want them to be asking, or are they ask, have they, are they asking questions? I don't want them to be asking just yet. You know what I mean? Am I, am I pitching this right? Do I have them where I want them in the palm of my storytelling hand or not? So it's a really good way of gauging that stuff and seeing what they're outraged and obsessed. With this week is, is really, really fun and entertaining to me and probably quite useful, as a storyteller.

Lucy:

There is a bit of magic about having a, a weekly comic as well. That and, and that anticipation of what's gonna come next. Has that been an important part of your story?

Neill:

Oh yeah, completely. A hundred percent. I think that's the, that's the great opportunity and the joy of it for me, you know, it's kind of all about that cliffhanger, you know? I think the, the Phoenix gives us that opportunity. And because kids who tend to read the Phoenix tend to sort of read it every week. You know, for, for the duration of their, their readership. A lot of the readers have subscriptions. You can be fairly sure they're coming back next week. And so it's an opportunity to really, you know, have fun with that aspect. Of the form, you know, that giving them a whole week to go out their mind, try to figure out what's gonna happen next, and desperate to know what's gonna happen next. That's, that's kind of the best, that's my favorite thing in comics. you know, uh, definitely was a big feature of stuff I read as a kid and stuff I love, to this day. You know, like what's better than a TV show that. Ah, you can't end there moment, you know, and you desperately have to, binge the next one. I love that. I love all that. And because, because with a weekly comic, you can't just binge the next one. You know, you have to wait for a week. You have to wait for a week for the cliffhanger to resolve. That's a whole week. For your brain to take over and, theorize and speculate and make up its own stories and sort of fill out that world yourself. I think that's one of the best things about, weekly comics for kids in particular, is the way that they're sort of turning you into a creator and engaging your creative imagination. Almost, you know, without you realizing it or asking it to, it's just, it happens naturally and I think that's a, cool thing.

Lucy:

One of the things that I've, observed sometimes when I've worked with children in my own classroom previously, around art in general. Is that sometimes people with more skills at that moment in time, find it very difficult to finish anything. Can be almost paralyzed by perfectionism, And that's actually a bit of a blocker to creativity. Have you got any tips to help navigate

Neill:

Oh yeah, a hundred percent. Um, yeah, like the. They're sort of perfection of some, uh, different levels. You have the, you have the kids who maybe are like the less developed drawers. The ones who, maybe this isn't their thing, they will also be perfectionist though, and so will, but just will sort of give up and abandon a drawing cuz it's not coming out right. So that, that's one issue. But then you have the, the kids who, this is their thing and they are obsessed with it, but they will. As you say, they'll just never finish anything They'll just always rubbing out to get the nose

Lucy:

Yeah, exactly. The rubber is not your friend in that situation.

Neill:

Yeah, totally. So I do have a couple of techniques for navigating that sort of thing. one of the, the obvious and simple ones is that o often when I'm doing workshops and stuff, I'll just say, all right, no rubbers, we're not using rubbers. And you know, they'll be gasp of outrage. But, what I always say to them is, I would rather you, we haven. All the time in the world here. I'm with you for this short time and I wanna see some drawings. I wanna see, I wanna, I want you to finish some drawings. And I want you to really try and not worry if the nose goes a bit wonky or whatever, I want you to just finish it and then at the end we can look at it and we can judge what worked and what didn't work and what we like and what we would change next time. And you can learn from that and you can, you know, improve from that. Whereas if at the end of the time we've got. We have, you know, a smudgy, muddy piece of paper with, with a hole worn out in the center of it from endless rubbing out, you know, then there's not really anything that we can learn from that, or, you know, that that doesn't get us anyway, you know, so if you make and finish a thing, You can look at it and, you know, try, try not to judge yourself so harshly. You know, try and just sort of make a thing. Enjoy the process of making it and have a look at it at the end, and then see what you can take from it into the next one rather than obsessively trying to, fix or perfect. This one, drawing. No, no drawing is ever gonna be perfect. So, just enjoy it for what it is and, and move forwards. So the no rubbers rule, is, one, but also, we do have some regulars at comics club, including sort of in the older session, particularly some really fantastic artists, you know, Who, can create beautiful, stunning drawings, but will take, you know, a day doing them and making them perfect. And so I do often try and slightly torture them by saying, right, we're gonna do this. And there's this really strict time limit. We're gonna, just take five minutes drawing a panel and then we're gonna mix'em around and do something else and I know this is gonna be hard, but you're just gonna have to try and they, they keep coming back so it can't be too terrible torture. Cause I think it is good to just sort of force, force people out of that comfort zone a bit and,

Lucy:

Yeah. It's quite liberating

Neill:

know, say, try and encourage them to just make a thing and like the, the focus on the story part of this rather than the drawing part. You know what I mean? Let's, let's try and get through a story. Let's try and think through the steps of a story. Get this character doing something and resolving. And then you've got essentially like a rough version. You can then take that away and do the completely beautiful, perfect version of that if you want to. But I think there's such a lot of value in actually finishing a story, you know, and in, make a story, finish it, share it with people. Go through, go through all the steps of that instead of just, you know, making the most beautiful thing in the world that you stall two pages into and no one ever gets to see you.

Lucy:

in your new comic strip, in weirding waves in The Phoenix you've got. some incredible, double page spreads within those stories, which I mean, they must take you ages, That's what, that's what I'm left with. A few points on these that I'd like to cover. One is they must take you ages and it's like a weekly

Neill:

They take so long.

Lucy:

comic.

Neill:

Yeah. Well, you'll, you'll notice that strip isn't in there every week.

Lucy:

And then also wanted to talk to you about, some of them have got panels that are kind of floating throughout these splash page and it's quite complicated and it's something that I've not seen before and I just wondered if that. Approach has come from the story or was it an idea of something that you wanted to try and then the story fit the idea?

Neill:

Yeah, well in that case, like that, that whole story. an extent is comes from me wanting to draw that kind of stuff. You know, so the secret origin of that story is, me and my son, when he was a bit younger, we would talk, we still do actually often sit and draw comics together. But we went through a little phase of drawing like Zelda comics, cuz we were both playing a lot of, legend of Zelda at the time. And so he would draw, he would want to draw these sort of comics bit where I would draw. I'd draw link the main character and he'd draw all the monsters and stuff. And we'd sort of, draw link having these adventures together and. I, I, we did this one where he was like walking down through a dungeon and sort of did the whole sort of dissent into this dungeon as one big sort of Page spread. And like when I say we draw this comics together, it's, you know, it's very rough and messy and just straight in pen on folded up bits of paper that we've nicked from my studio and. These are not, fully rendered masterpieces necessarily, but they're, it's, it's the most funner person can have And I just really love that idea of, that page that we did of this, this guy walking down it, sort of using the page as a page of comics with a story unfolding through it and sort of. The layout of the dungeon being the panels that they're walking through. but it just being this one awesome big mad image, like sort of halfway between a comic and a map and a board game, you know, it was just, that was such a fun idea to me. I was like, what if I did this? Like, but even bigger and even madder and, So then, I came up with characters and motivations and a story and stuff. But really it was like, I wanna draw some big, cool, mad stuff. You know, I wanna, I wanna draw some weirdness. I wanna, I wanna, Push the boundaries a bit. Cause I mean, maybe partly because, you know, mega bros I've been drawing for, for years and years, and it is, I, hope that that story sort of pushes the boundaries in, in lots of interesting ways. But in terms of just the visual storytelling of it, that's always been a very, I tried to make that as clear as possible, in a way, as straightforward as possible. in terms of like all the narrative techniques available to you as a comics creator, I really don't use. That many of them in that story. Because my focus is on, on different things. And so I wanted to maybe just do something that was just a bit less straightforward in, in the visual storytelling, just was a bit madder and a bit more experimental and could just do some weird cool stuff for fun, you know? So that, yeah, that's, that's kind of the primary reason that's true is just me wanting draw weird, cool stuff for.

Lucy:

Wow, it's brilliant. It's very enjoyable to read the weird cool stuff as well. We are just coming to the end now. Thank you so much. It's been really, really interesting. I've learnt loads and it's been absolutely fascinating. At the end of the podcast, I'd like to, ask people if they've got a couple of points, that they would like to kind of leave teachers that might be listening with tips or things to think about. Any ideas of what those could be.

Neill:

Well, what I would say, for any teachers who are listening, I'm, I'm a big fan of like u using comics in the classroom as much as possible. I think there's so many fun things you can do with that. I think if you're not sure where to start, there's lots of stuff, lots of resources available online. I set up a couple of years ago, a thing called Comics Club Blog, which, has not been updated for a while because I'm quite busy actually making comics. But at the point we set it up. Got loads of resources on there and sort of activity sheets you can use in ideas from lots of different artists and creators and some sort of guidance on, for example, how to set up a comics club in your school. Like some of the practicalities around that from groups who've done that and sort were sharing their, sharing their best practice, sharing their ideas. So comics club.blog I would recommend. The other thing I would say is, lot of these activities work really well if you start off by drawing in front of kids and, get them started that way by doing a bit of drawing yourself. And so that means. Having to draw in front of a bunch of kids. And I know that a lot of grownups, including teachers, can have a bit of a fear of, thinking they're not good at drawing. You know, fear of, fear of drawing and certainly fear of drawing in front of, uh, live audience who will, laugh at and drawings. But it's okay cuz that's really funny. And, I think it's really sort of liberating and loosens kids up in a way to see, you know, to see someone having a. And it not being perfect and amazing, you know, the, them not being professionalized to see them just sort of, let's do this activity, let's sort of follow the prompts or whatever. And I will have a go. And even if it's rubbish, we'll all have a laugh and, enjoy the process, you know.

Lucy:

Brilliant.

Neill:

be afraid to draw is my, is my advice.

Lucy:

Excellent. And the last thing is, if we would to add one comic or graphic novel to our to be read pile tomorrow or today? What would you recommend?

Neill:

One of my favorite comics, of recent years, for. This kind of age range that I guess we're talking about is, lost Tales By, by Adam and Lisa Murphy. I think that's just, it's just one of the best comics. It's so funny and it's so beautiful and if people aren't familiar with it, it's, adaptations of folk stories from around the world. But all told through sort of the, the voice and the comic sensibility and the storytelling sensibility of, Adam and Lisa Murphy, who are, you know, some of the best, the best makers of comics, working today. And so it's just endlessly, delightful and funny, and glorious and beautiful. So, yeah, I'll go with that one.

Lucy:

Excellent. Thank you very much for that recommendation, and thank you so much for taking time out to talk to me today. It's been brilliant.

Neill:

Not At all. My pleasure.