Paul B Rainey is a comic artist based in Milton Keynes. His graphic novel There’s No Time Like the Present is published by Escape books, and he is a frequent contributor to Viz. This week, Tom spoke with Paul about his artistic process, the appeal of the understated, and the changing face of comic conventions.
T: I think the thing that stands out the most about your work is the everyday aspect, which seems to be deployed in various ways. Sometimes there’s some light comic relief such as a set up for absurdity, or it’s building relatable characters and then there’s this creation of a slightly more unnerving environment, where sometimes just the sheer bleakness is a kind of ironic punchline.What was it about this kind of mundane reality that initially made you take it up as a tool?
P: I think I have always been drawn to entertainment or art that features elements that I recognise from my life or the world around me. Silver Age Marvel Comics, for example, might have appeared outlandish but they were peppered with aspects that I recognised from real life like the Fantastic Four’s money problems or Spider-Man having to report in to Aunt May mid-battle because she would worry about him if he wasn’t home. Part of the appeal of early 2000 AD was how they mixed mad sci-fi with the language that I would hear outside in the real world. I think it’s easier to sell an idea, no matter how far-out, if the characters feature elements that you can recognise in either yourself or people that you know.
T: Some of your strips are autobiographical. How does that play into your everyday? For example, does something happen and you make a mental note to use it? Or better yet – have you ever found yourself tempted to push something into a more comic worthy situation?
P: I think that I have always enjoyed telling anecdotes but my friends and family know me well enough not to encourage me too much which is fair enough. So, the next best thing is to turn them into comic-strips if I can find the time. I get sick of drawing myself, particularly as I think I draw an idealised version rather than the shrinking, chunky, middle-aged reality. However, this year I started a sketchbook experiment I’ve called ‘Hasty Comics’ where I basically draw a comic-strip a day. It’s a good repository for gags, ideas etc but often I resort to drawing an incident involving me that has just happened. (I’ve been posting some of them online most days).
T: What types of approach and tools do you use?
P: The writing is very important to me. I write and re-write around three or four times. For There’s No Time Like The Present, I wrote a scene at a time and wouldn’t start to draw it until I was satisfied that I had nailed it and even then I would tweak the dialogue. For Why Don’t You Love Me, which is currently appearing in ACES Weekly volume 21, I write a page at a time. It’s a lot more involving than TNTLTP and just as satisfying. For TNTLTP, I would happily draw it on various pieces of paper and assemble the pages using Photoshop. In recent years, I’ve become obsessed with there being physical artwork and it looking as much like the published version as possible.
T: You’re possibly the only comic creator I know whose created something about Milton Keynes and time travel, how important do you think it is for artists to embrace their location?
P: I don’t think that it’s that important but using an environment I know pretty well to roll the ideas I have around in is an easy method of applying authenticity. Also, it’s a quirk that people who may be curious about reading the comic-strip might find intriguing enough to take that last step. However, I do think that modern drama and entertainment is becoming increasingly transatlantic and I have a perverse urge to make comics that feel uniquely British.
T: They do feel very ‘British’ in general. It’s always a bit weird to call something that, but they do. I think it’s that kind of “well this happened, and it wasn’t very good” set up. Understatements… mild disappointment… maybe with a bit of mischief? Other countries must have that too obviously, but I don’t know why it feels like something hinting of home.
P: It might also be a reaction to the brashness of American culture that we were exposed to when we were growing up and continue to be. If American comics are filled with bombast and hype then there’s something satisfying about producing a comic that’s downbeat, comparatively understated and celebratory of disappointment. I don’t think this sort of thing is uniquely British, American subculture can often be seen to react this way against the main culture, I suppose, but we are probably the best at it. Personally, I like to manage expectations. I would rather that my readers be pleasantly surprised than underwhelmed by my work.
T: You’ve seen the UK small press scene grow over the years, what’s been the best development and what would you like to see more of?
P: Personally, the best part has been making friends with so many talented creators, many of which seem to, surprisingly, consider me a peer. Seeing friends who started out self-publishing progress into professional work is always exciting for me. It happens but not often enough. There are a huge amount of events now compared to even ten years ago. That’s even more shows that treat ‘small-pressers’ as revenue generators without promoting the events that they are running adequately. I would like to see ‘small-pressers’ being treated by these events with more respect. After all, the entire comics industry is ‘small press’ now.
T: Comic conventions without comics seem to be a growing issue. It seems to be this strange by-product of quite an aesthetic packaging of ‘geek culture’ for a wider mainstream audience. I know I find it can feel more about the image, the fashion, the merchandise and the money, than a love of the craft and the creators… that’s not the case for all, but I think creators can’t help but feel there’s a lot of that about. There have definitely been plenty of positives from this as well of course – increased interest, more support and also a general reduced persecution. It’s actually been quite a big cultural shift really. How are you finding it? What’s it like having loved a lot of this since you were a kid and seeing it hit this boom?
P: A couple of years ago, I decided to opt out. I decided mid-way through 2013 to fulfil my obligations for the rest of that year and then only attend events as a guest (if invited). I had grown sick of dragging my stock around the country to badly promoted shows only to sit behind a table being ignored. My last event that year was a complete catastrophe and I felt that I had made the right decision. The problem with this is that I would sell 80% of my self-published comics at shows and not via the internet so rationally, as much as I enjoy self publishing, I would have to stop doing that. However, now that I have had a couple of years away, recently I’ve felt a little more tempted to return…