The second piece in a series of conversations with new graphic novelists and comic artists. With many ‘fine artists’ (whatever this means!) turning to illustration in recent years to inform their work I feel that some of these artists are looking back to previous practice rather than interacting with the current developments that are redefining the practice of comic panels, or graphic memoir or illustrated book. I wanted to talk to some artists who were creating interesting work right now in the field of visual narrative story for the bookshop or the comic website. This second interview is with Patrick Wray, the creator of a new illustrated book published by Avery Hill Publishing, THE FLOOD THAT DID COME.
Patrick is a multi-media artist, known for his practice in music and counter-cultural art of diverse kinds – writing, drama, radio-art, as well as his visual contribution to comic book. It was interesting to see someone who did not define themselves as a comic book artist in a traditional sense working creatively in the field. Patrick also writes exceptionally well and moves between different art forms with apparent ease.
JCM: Can you tell me something about your practice before this cartoon? Who you are as an artist, your history?
Patrick Wray: Well, I have been making art of one sort or another for as long as I can remember. I have always enjoyed drawing from a young age. I think it started from just being bored stiff as a child and wanting something to do.
I have often used easily accessible, cheap materials like felt tips, biros and pencils; just things that come to hand. I am definitely a product of various underfunded art departments.
I have also worked within other artistic disciplines. I have recorded tons of music, but when I look back on a lot of it, I see many of my musical adventures it as a bit limited. I wouldn’t feel I could really call myself a songwriter. A lot of the music I have recorded is closer to drawing in terms of discipline, strange as that might sound. I hope to write a good song one day, though. My musical ambition is to be a one-hit-wonder.
Like many people involved with graphic novels, I began with the self-publishing route. The first comic I ever self-published was called ‘Boredom’ in about 1998 (though I did run off a few copies of some DIY Doctor Who comics in 1990)’Boredom’, in case you hadn’t guessed from the title, was typical angsty stuff. ‘The Flood that Did Come’ with Avery Hill is my proper debut though.
I feel a bit like I am on the map with my work with this one. I have published various things in magazines and anthologies over the years so there have been vague bits of interest and recognition here and there and I have sold quite a lot of drawings and paintings via my website and in exhibitions.
JCM: How did you come to do a graphic novel? What was the journey that led you to this format?
Patrick Wray: I have always been interested in comics as a way of telling stories. I have made comics on and off since I was about ten. I have moved away from it a few times, but I always find myself drawn back to the medium. I made a conscious decision to start again in about 2012 when I made a Xerox comic called ‘The Better Idea’ which was based on a lyric from a song by the band It’s Immaterial. I’m not a comic head as such; I just like the medium as a way of telling stories. I mean I like a lot of things I see going on in the graphic novel scene and I am trying to make an effort to read more of what is out there. I liked ‘My Favourite Thing is Monsters’ by Emil Ferris, ‘A Puff of Smoke’ by Sarah Lippett as well as stuff by Simon Moreton, Lizzy Stewart and Tim Bird (and I’m not just saying that because they happen to be on the same publisher!) But yes, since 2012 I worked on various self-published comics as a way of developing my craft in this area.
It’s an unusual style for a graphic novel. Could you tell me something about the decisions you made to tell the story in this way?
Using rubber ink stamps came about from when my girlfriend rescued a box of them from being thrown out from the school she was working at. I decided to write a story based around the characters and the other things on the stamps. It was partly as an exercise in thinking about panel composition. The limitations of the stamps dictate that I had to think carefully about how to place them with the objects in the panel, as well as considering dynamic ways reusing the same stamps again and again without it getting boring for the reader to look at.
JCM: Why did you pick this story – how would you describe it without giving away the ending, leaving enough to the imagination?
Patrick Wray: The story, in brief concerns a flood which has covered most of a county, resulting in a battle of wills over the land rights to a small village. The main protagonists are two children who live in the village, which is called Pennyworth.
It’s a kind of dystopian, apocalyptic, cosy catastrophe tale. One reviewer described it as ‘an Enid Blyton dystopia’ which is spot on I would say. The germ of the story idea occurred to me randomly as I sat half slumbering on holiday. Over the months that followed I watched some old TV series like ‘The Survivors’ and ‘The Changes’ and that kind of thing started to bring a darker, harder-edged tone to the story as it began to develop.
What do you think you achieved well in this work – and what do you feel are its successes and what unresolved issues have come out of it for development (if any)?
Patrick Wray: Well, I think the story is strong and well contained. I hope that people enjoy the idea of a sort of a dark version of The Archers. I think the stamps and the vintage look of them help to create a strong aesthetic. They have a dusty, old fashioned look. I believe it utilises a ‘retro’ kind of feel, but in doing so uses that familiarity and nostalgia element to sort of lead people into the story; into something a bit darker and maybe not quite as cosy as it first seems. You could say it sort of undermines notions of cosy, retro nostalgia through utilising the very language of retro and nostalgia. It’s quite anarchic in that sense.
If it’s a smash hit, I do have an idea for a sequel and I think there is scope to carry on the story. Plus, a friend of mine recently told me she is going to give me another box of stamps so maybe it’s meant to be.
What are your plans for the future with graphic novels?
Patrick Wray: Well, I’d like to publish some more if people like this one and people want me to (and even if they don’t!). I don’t plan to work on another long formwork for the immediate time being. I plan to work on some smaller-scale projects to try and develop my craft a bit more before embarking on another major project. Last year, I published a book I illustrated for my friend, the writer and artist Clara Heathcock called ‘Perforated Eardrum’ which I am really pleased with. She just sent me a script for a comic, so I plan to have a go at that. My drawing style is quite colourful and vibrant, so I am looking forward to drawing something in story form again. ‘The Flood that Did Come’ is quite a departure from the kind of work I am known for in terms of its visual style.
How do you think graphic novels relate to other art forms?
As a storytelling tool, they are connected to film a bit, just in the way you consider the frame and pacing and start to think about time and space across different panels. I felt more about this after I read some accompanying text to the graphic novel ‘A Puff of Smoke’ by Sarah Lippett in which she mentioned the connections to the cinema quite a bit in her work and how thinking about the way films work can be quite useful for comic creators.
Personally, I am always attracted to work where one can see the artist’s hand in the work. There is a cool book called ‘What’s a Paintoonist?’ by Jerry Moriarty where all the images are done with paint, so it has a fine art look which I found very inspiring. I think the medium of graphic novels is increasingly open in the sense that visually, people are interested in seeing different ways of telling stories which can only be a good thing.
‘The Flood that Did Come’ has a stark, minimal, almost conceptual type of feel and look so I think it may also appeal to people who come from an art, avant-garde background too. I went to Dartington College of Art many moons ago so some of the thinking from that avant-garde sensibility feeds into my work I would say.
Do you think your graphic novel has particular relevance to this time, politically or otherwise?
Patrick Wray: I think it might be the first time in my life I made something that might actually be relevant, so yes! Before COVID happened, we had biblical floods in parts of the country and worries about damns bursting and flooding the home counties, which is similar to what happens in the story. I don’t know if my story is polemical as such. It is more of a sketch of England and its conflicting ideals and how these get increasingly stretched and conflicted in a crisis, and I think we have seen quite a bit of evidence of that in the last few months. I think there may be various messages in the story politically, but these are conveyed through the characters and their actions rather than promoting or endorsing a particular ideological point.
How has COVID, pandemic issues, lockdown etc. made you re-evaluate your work?
Patrick Wray: From an art-making point of view, the lockdown has been quite useful. I found myself getting back to making drawings for my own sake and for fun with no set outcome. Having more time has meant I don’t overthink drawings too much before I do them. This is a result of having more time to make art than time to think about making art. I have mainly worked on a one-off, individual drawings and paintings. A few pictures inevitably reflect the crisis, and perhaps that will be more apparent with some when I look back on them in years to come.
Do you see the graphic novel changing through this current international health crisis and in what ways?
There will no doubt be a lot of work in various mediums in the coming months and years that will reflect different aspects of the crisis. More political work may surface as a result of the crisis and various other things going on in society that it has either directly or indirectly drawn attention to.
I think in these changing times, artists are thinking more about whether they have a responsibility to do work that addresses the social climate. ‘The Flood that Did Come’ touches directly on the environment and climate change. It doesn’t offer solutions or anything; I mean I’m not a scientist or a politician, am I? What it does do on some level is use satire and humour to sketch out an absurd situation and our approach to it.
‘The Flood that Did Come’ presents characters that live in a sort of self-imposed time warp of amplified Englishness. The Englishness of Enid Blyton, ‘The Archers’ and ‘Swallows and Amazons’ stretched to breaking point, creating a sort of cracked, twisted version of that sensibility. I can see the appeal of it. I absolutely hate change and would quite like to be in the Famous Five, but I know that the world has gone if indeed it ever existed.
Patrick Wray is from the North of England. An artist, musician and writer, since moving to London he has worked since 2006 at the world-famous bookshop Foyles. He published his first graphic novel The Flood that Did Come in 2020 through Avery Hill. http://averyhillpublishing.com/You can see more of his art and life at www.patrickwray.com