By Haleema Khokhar
4th Apr 2017
This year CPC are sponsoring Charlie in his role as Comics Laureate, promoting literacy in young people. We recently had a chat with him about his love for comics, how he started off and of course his infamous work on The Walking Dead!
I was around 6 or 7 years old. One of my earliest memories is my dad bringing home a copy of the Mighty World of Marvel Number One, way back around 1972. It seemed to be the catalyst in everything, that one weekly reprint title of all the old Marvel comics from the 60’s. Previous to that you couldn’t really get them regularly in the UK. I remember seeing the original US comic books in newsagents that came over infrequently and marvelling at this amazing, strange, mysterious, unearthly thing. This full colour comic that was from a place called America. It must have held a fascination for me just because it seemed so alien from everything the UK was doing. So, that was what started me on the road. I always wanted to become a comic book artist, I didn’t really have any other plans.
When I was young I tended to read whatever the reprints were at the time. Most of the stuff I was reading from the age of 6/7 to late teens were the Marvel reprints. Also, Asterix played a formative part in my early career. Around the same time I was reading Marvel, my dad was taking his car to this one petrol station where there was a promotion that if you fill up your car enough times, you would earn enough points to get an Asterix comic. I was completely fixated after that so I demanded that my dad only fill his car at this place so I could get more!
"Art is as equally as important to the story as the story is equally important to the art."
I still read a lot of comic books and because I’m an artist I tend to pick up a lot of stuff because I like the artwork rather than the story first. I think I’ve always been like that because I’m attracted to the design of something rather than the content. But obviously what keeps me with a comic will be 50/50 story and art. I’ve always believed the art is as equally as important to the story as the story is equally important to the art. That is the mark of a really good comic.
As a creator, it’s the freedom to do pretty much whatever you can do. I don’t think there’s an industry like it that gives you that sort of creative freedom. Especially when you are working independently as a creative owner of a property you are pretty much your own editor. You’ve got that luxury to just be able to sit back and create it how you want it to be. In other industries such as film, TV, video games etc. there’s a great big committee of people you have to go through to get anything approved. In comics, even when you’re working on other people’s characters there doesn’t seem to be the same hoops to jump through to get what you want on the page. I think it just promotes creativity that way.
I think in quite a few ways really. First off I think they’re a great reading tool, they’re a lot less threatening than a full-on text novel. Especially for boys because sometimes you have to encourage boys to read more than girls.
"I think they’re a great reading tool."
The idea of pictures and words together are more appealing visually as well to children. It is a different way of telling a story and bringing it across to a child who might be unwilling to read a novel or a play. Plus the fact, that they’re a lot better for children with reading difficulties. From my point of view I’ve got a very close connection with that because my eldest son, who is 15, is dyslexic and pretty much the only thing he reads are comic books. He’s not a great comics fan but when he does choose to read it tends to be in comic book form.
It’s a very dull story, I knew Robert for a few years previously and bearing in mind that the American industry is a comparatively small industry so a lot of people know everybody else and what they’re doing. I met Robert [Kirkman, writer of the Walking Dead comics] through a mutual friend and we chatted at various American cons over the years. I got an email out of the blue saying, would you be interested in working on a small zombie book I’m writing. Thankfully he caught me in-between jobs!
Personally, I believe if someone employs me to draw a comic they’ve seen my art style so why would they ask me to draw like somebody else. Robert said right from the beginning that I don’t want you to draw like Tony Moore. I’ve asked you to draw this book because I think you could bring another dimension to it. And to be honest Tony and I are leagues apart in style as well. Tony tends to go for more linear line artwork and his artwork is more ‘cartoony’ whereas I tend to lean towards the more realistic, more illustrative side and I favour atmosphere over detail. So, it was quite a brave move for Robert to go with somebody radically different and it’s obviously paid off!
I wouldn’t be at 160 issues if I was bored with it! I’ve always been a big believer that if something is getting boring don’t do it anymore, especially in a creative industry like this because it would show in your artwork and writing.
"I’ve always been a big believer that if something is getting boring don’t do it anymore."
The last thing you want is to start lacking the creative momentum.
I was on for the pilot for a few days in Atlanta. I was even a zombie extra; I’ve tried to find myself in the scenes but it’s impossible! I just did it because I wanted to experience all the makeup.
"I was on for the pilot for a few days in Atlanta. I was even a zombie extra."
I was up there again for midway through Season Three. I’ve got to admit nowadays it’s hard to justify taking a week or so off work and family just to go on set. As great as it was being out there for the pilot it was still all based on stuff I hadn’t drawn but in Season Three everything was based on what I’d drawn so there was that extra excitement. Arguably my second visit was more magical than the first one in a lot of ways, especially meeting Michonne face-to-face, thinking “wow I drew you!"
For kids who are really serious about getting into something like this the first tip is, work work, work! This isn’t a vocation you take lightly. If you’re just doodling away for an hour a week you might as well go on and do something else. If you’re serious about this just keep practising. The next tip is something I truly believe in. When you’re old enough you should go to comic book conventions, whether in this country or abroad. As good as social media is and even with a lot more opportunities to get your work on the internet, I still very much believe in meeting people face-to-face. Tip 3 is believe in yourself.
"It’s an incredible honour and it’s nice to be recognised sometimes."
It’s interesting that so far the Laureates have been given to two people more associated with the art side rather than the writing side. I know that Dave [Gibbons, Watchmen artist and Comics Laureate 2014 – 16] has written books before but Dave is generally regarded as an artist and as I don’t write at all I’m certainly just an artist. It’s nice to be recognised in that way and given the opportunity to have a voice.
Yes, hopefully I’ll be doing something in the Laureate role. It seems the obvious place since the folks who run the festival are supporting me in my role as Laureate. I think the Lakes is by far the best of all the comic festivals/conventions in the UK, possibly in the world. I certainly think it’s a strong contender for being the best one I’ve ever been to. There’s a genuinely unique atmosphere about the Lakes, I think because it takes over the whole town and that gives it a uniqueness. Everybody in Kendal is fully aware of what’s happening and gets behind it, non-comic people included.
We’ve just started recording the second album and our plan at the moment is just to record an EP first. Bearing in mind we are doing this in our spare time I wish we could set aside a couple of weeks and pile into the studio and spend two weeks working on something like that but you know we all have day jobs etc. so it isn’t going to happen. Hopefully the EP will be done by April/May time.
Throughout the two years in post Charlie will be making several educational visits and guest appearances, doing workshop events and attending conferences. Charlie's second appearance will be on Friday 12th May at the Toronto Comic Art Festival where he will be giving a presentation on the role of the Comics Laureate to an audience of librarians and educators. His next UK appearance will be at Lancaster University on the 12th October. If you’d like to find out more information about any of these events, please contact Carole at [email protected].