To say writer/artist, Kate Brown, doesn’t fit the stereotype when one stirs up mental images of the average comic creator would be a bit of an understatement. An award winning, independent, female creator that derives more inspiration from European and Japanese sources than anything resembling the mainstream isn’t generally on the checklist when sizing up the average comicbook professional, but all these ingredients and more are what make Kate and her unique work a success.
Having previously had work published in Accent UK’s Western Anthologhy, The DFC, The Best New Manga Book and The Girly Comic, Kate is now spending her time producing a weekly strip called The Lost Boy and promoting her haunting, independently published graphic novel, enigmatically titled Fish + Chocolate.
Kate kindly spared Fanboy Confidential some time to talk a little about that latter project as well as some of her working processes.
Fanboy Confidential: In your original graphic novel, Fish + Chocolate, the three stories presented are vague, almost abstract in their portrayals of family dramas that boarder on horror. What attracts you to this style of storytelling?
Kate Brown: One of my chief pleasures in life is picking out meanings from fiction, and I find that at its most fun when the piece is abstractly told. I really enjoy thinking about what the author had intended, the kinds of things that were going through their head, what their life had been like, and how it affects their fiction. What I think won’t necessarily be what the author had intended, especially when dealing with abstractly told work. I actually find that fascinating about fiction, though; it’s one of my favourite aspects about it. I also find that, if a piece has a meaning, I don’t like it shoved down my throat, I like to think about it and ponder on a piece… so, really, that’s kinda why I told F+C in that way, because I like to pick at fiction and I guess some other people might like to, as well. That said, I know what I was doing when I made F+C, haha! I mean, I understand what I’ve written. But, I don’t mind if other readers come away with different meanings. Or even no meaning at all. I find that exciting.
FC: And what of the title, Fish + Chocolate, can you clue us in to some of its relevance?
KB: Haha, I heard someone speak the title recently and follow it up with “Ew.” That was good, actually, that was totally the reaction I wanted, something that doesn’t quite go together naturally in people’s minds. Although that said, I’ve also had a lot of people say, “Oh, like those chocolate fish?” and I’m like, what, but apparently this is a thing. It’s like a chocolate bar in the shape of a fish. I think someone said they are more popular in Scandinavia? I want to eat one! Also, actually, my friend sent me a recipe for salmon with white chocolate sauce, which looks well good. So, um, I guess I didn’t research my title well enough, haha!
FC: Your art is heavily influenced by manga. What initially edged you in this direction and who are you major influences insofar as manga is concerned?
KB: I would say that Japanese comics had a massive impact on me in my teen years, mostly because of content. I think I’d dropped out of reading comics at that point because there wasn’t much about that I’d liked, but then there was this massive influx of manga, a lot of which was aimed specifically at girls, and, very importantly for me, a lot of which was made by women as well. So, really, if I’m influenced by manga these days, I would say more of it’s to do with the layouts and story-telling styles employed by some of my favourite Japanese creators. Like, could you fault Rumiko Takahashi’s storytelling? She’s impeccable. Same with Tezuka. In terms of being a fan, I also love Miou Takaya’s work… so spectacular… I’ve got a couple of her artbooks. I’ve got this shitting incredible one that’s printed with gold and black… I don’t know what the title is because I can’t read Japanese, but it’s the one with Az(Pg) in it. She’s phenomenal. I’ve had that book years and I still gasp when I open it.
FC: And which creators from other backgrounds and mediums influence your work?
KB: I’m a huge fan of Herman Hesse, whose work not only changed my life as I read it at a time when I was very vulnerable, but also had a big impact on the way I felt I could tell stories. I’ve got a fuck-off huge print of his face above my sofa. It’s like a shrine. I’m also a fan of Angela Carter, Ursula le Guin, J.M. Barry… I have to say I’m not that widely read, I wish there was more time in the day. Probably one of my favourite books ever is Perfume by Patrick Süskind, though I’ve not read any of his other work. I keep meaning to. I’m also a huge fan of the late Satoshi Kon, who has produced some of my favourite films. I also rather like Tarantino’s work, but who doesn’t!
FC: You colour your own artwork in a very beautiful way. Every story has its own colour specific pallet, but all have an ethereal quality. It’s quite unique, how did you go about developing this style?
KB: Thanks! Well, I actually used to colour with traditional things, watercolours and markers and so on. I was always afraid of Photoshop. But I learnt to let go of that and really experiment, and now I prefer it. And my traditional work sucked, anyway, haha! So it was for the best. I really love working digitally, I love being able to experiment without ruining a piece, you know?! It’s also really useful if you’re making something for someone, and say, you’ve coloured something red, and they’re like, actually I want it blue. I mean, it’s just easier for working to deadline and specification, I find. In terms of technique/style, me and my boyfriend, Paul Duffield, have quite similar styles/tastes/techniques, because we swapped a lot of tips and so on when we were developing our work. Well, we still swap tips We learnt a lot together, I owe him a lot! A lot of it is trying to get the most detail down in the quickest time, really. It’s a routine.
FC: As well as drawing you own stories, you also produce art for other people’s writing, such as the A Midsummer Night’s Dream graphic adaptation, and you also colour for other people’s artwork. What are the pros and cons for each manner of working and which do you prefer?
KB: I guess I can say I’ve not worked for another writer, because I’m not really certain Shakespeare counts, haha! It was nice to have the pressure off a little though, actually, ’cause I didn’t have to worry about the writing, it was pretty good already, hahaha. I’ve also only coloured for Freakangels, and that was only ’cause (as I mentioned) Paul and I have a really similar colouring style. Like, people didn’t notice when I took over colouring Freakangels. That was a good test, haha! So, yeah, other than that, there’s not been any other people that I’ve really worked with. I actually don’t think I’m very good to work with, to be honest. I’m a real control freak and I’m horribly picky, and I have odd quirks and I’m really moody. I’m saving other people from torture by working alone…!
FB: Your work is fully independent, which anyone out there who has given it a try will know, is a rough game. Do you take any none comic jobs to support your income and if so, are they all artistic in nature?
KB: I’ll do workshops if I have time and if they’re worthwhile money-wise (sorry to sound so mercenary, but I do need to eat & pay bills…) and I’m completing an illustration job at the moment, for instance. That’s all really, comics take up SO. MUCH. TIME.
FC: Obviously keeping a presence at conventions is a must for those in the independent field, but in what other ways do you promote your work and do you have any advice on the subject for any up and comers out there?
KB: Yeah, going to conventions and getting a table and chatting to the folks in the industry is, in my experience, pretty vital. It’s tough if you’re shy (I can be really shy! If I seem confident I’m mostly putting it on!) but it will help your career. Other than that, have internet presence. Make sure you have a portfolio online and explain yourself and how people can get hold of you. Domain names are cheap these days and I’ve seen people using WordPress for their sites, which is very easy to use and can be very presentable. There are very easy methods these days to getting your work online, so, do it! And then tell people about it! Oh also, don’t make promises if you think you might break them. Always chat to other people in the industry if you’re unsure about a job. Make sure you hit your deadlines. Don’t ever be pointlessly rude… it’s a very small industry and news travels pretty fast.
FC: Do you have any interests in more mainstream comics, and if so, which characters or properties would you most like to get your hands on?
KB: Um, I’ve not really thought… if you mean Marvel or DC, I’m afraid I don’t know much about those properties. I feel pretty dumb if they come up in conversation because I can’t join in, haha.
FC: What future projects are currently in the works and when can we expect to see them?
KB: Well, I’m finishing off The Lost Boy for The Phoenix, after which I’m doing a short comic that should be out at Thought Bubble in an anthology (sorry to be vague — I’m not sure it’s been announced yet so I don’t want to go into specifics, haha). I’ve been working on a longer project as well (another book), which I really hope to get going on by the end of the year. I’ve probably cursed myself by saying that now, haha! Oh well… watch this space?
We would like to thank Kate Brown for her time, enthusiasm, frankness and colorful descriptions. Fans of abstraction, horror, drama, manga and beautiful artwork in general must check out Fish + Chocolate, like, right now.
It is published by Self Made Hero and can be purchased on their website. Kate’s new strip, The Lost Boy, can be read in the British weekly comic called The Phoenix, which is available in Waitrose stores or subscribed to on The Phoenix website.
If you want to learn more about Kate or see more of her work, go check out danse – macabre [.nu!], her dedicated website.