10(ish) questions with artist Paul Duffield
Paul Duffield represents a twofold rarity, a successful British manga style artist whose output includes a massively popular web comic. That comic is called Freakangels, it is written by comics’ superstar Warren Ellis, and tells the story of a group of twenty-somethings who have psychic abilities and play guardians to a post-apocalyptic Whitechapel [a district of London]. The catch? They may have been responsible for that apocalypse. So popular is Freakangels that the ongoing storyline has been collected into a multiple volume, graphic novel format by Avatar Press.
Paul was first noticed back in 2006 when his animated short, Rolighed, won the grand prize at The International Manga and Anime Festival. The following year his eighteen page comic strip, Sojourn, was published in the anthology Best New Manga 2, and soon after that he produced the full-length graphic novel adaptation of The Tempest for SelfMadeHero’s manga Shakespeare range.
More recently Paul has been on the publicity circuit, spreading the word of his beautiful and esoteric, self published sci-fi work Signal.
I recently got to quiz Paul a little regarding his work on Freakangels and was lucky enough to get a press exclusive on his insights into Signal.
Fanboy Confidential: Having a relatively small amount of published work out at the time, how were you put in contact with Warren Ellis in regards working on Freakangels?
Paul Duffield: Mostly serendipity. I happened to post an introduction to me and my work on Warren’s old forum, The Engine, at exactly the same time that he was looking for an artist for Freakangels with a euro-manga look. I was noticed by Jacen Burrows (an artist working for Avatar Press), who introduced me to William, the editor on the project. After sending some samples, it turned out that my work fit the bill, and it went from there.
FC: Not too many web comics see the success that Freakangels has, what were your expectations at the outset and how have they been lived up to?
PD: I’m not sure I thought too hard about it at the time to be honest. I was just pleased that I’d found regular work, and since I was being paid a page-rate, the success of the project wasn’t an instant concern. However, I was well aware of Warren’s high profile, and knew that anything he produces comes with a decent minimum-audience-size. Looking back though, I didn’t imagine that Freakangels would get as popular as it has, or that it would expose my work to as many people as it has. I’m still surprised on the occasions when I meet artists or editors in the industry for the first time that already know who I am. It’s a bit disconcerting.
FC: Freakangels sports incredibly detailed, post-apocalyptic cityscapes and steampunk-like technologies, how much of these are grounded in some kind of reality and how much reference material do you need to keep around?
PD: I don’t really keep a lot of reference material close by, since the Internet is so handy. At the beginning of Freakangels, I did a tour of Whitechapel with a camera gathering reference, but then Google street-view did a much more comprehensive job of that than I ever could. So a lot of Freakangels is very directly referenced from real locations, but there are still many occasions on which I had to make up a street or building to fit the story or action. In terms of machinery, it’s the same. I look up what I need on stock websites and image searches and extrapolate from there, inventing when I need to and referencing when I need to.
FC: Until recently you were expected to produce six colored and fully finished pages of art each and every week for the web comic. How did you handle this kind of workload and are you generally satisfied with the outcome? (Note: the average comic artist is usually expected to produce around one penciled page per working day. To ink AND color a page within the day too is virtually unheard of)
PD: I think the straight answer is sometimes I couldn’t keep up. Everything else I did had to take a backseat to Freakangels, since that took up so much of my time, but I tried and find time to work on other projects when I could, since I’ve always been creatively very restless. Even now I share the workload with two other creators, I’m never happy with what I produce on Freakangels. The day-in-day-out nature of the work makes it hard to put my full enthusiasm into every drawing, and the weekly deadlines mean that I can’t take my time and push the quality to the highest I’m currently capable of. When I look back at my work at the beginning of the comic, I’m even more dissatisfied. I see an artist with much less professional experience, and a very different and undeveloped style. I think it looks quite ugly to be honest.
FC: I don’t think it is out of order to suggest that the art in your self published book Signal is your most accomplished to date. Do you regret not having the time to bring all of your work up to this incredibly high standard?
PD: Signal for me was a chance to do exactly what I can’t on Freakangels, and discover my limits. I spent as long as I practically could on each page, and tried to make them works of art that functioned both to construct a narrative, and work as individual pieces. During the process of creating Signal, I sent out a general call for harsh critiques from my friends and fans (which you can read on my blog here along with the replies: http://spoonblog.blogspot.com/2010/03/your-honest-opinion.html ) That helped me pin down the weaknesses in my art that the fast pace of Freakangels had never let me address, which allowed me to push my work further. That’s not to say that Freakangels hasn’t helped me improve or hasn’t improved itself. Like I said, I look back at the earlier work and cringe, and drawing all day, every day for 3 years has really helped me develop, it’s just that it never gave me the chance to breath, analyse and plan until recently.
FC: Signal is a beautifully rendered, abstract, genre piece, as is your animated short Rolighed. What draws you to this kind of material, what was the genesis of the idea for Signal and do you have any more stories set in this strange world?
PD: I think it’s because it’s the sort of thing I like to read/watch the most. I get a lot of pleasure out of esoteric storytelling with lots of layers to peel away and reflect upon. I also enjoy vagaries and unanswered questions when I consume fiction, so I guess it’s natural that all these things should worm themselves into my work. I know they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but that was another purpose that I hand in mind for Signal: Self-indulgence.
So basically Signal is a project born from personal passions – science, learning, knowledge. The storyline really isn’t literal; it’s more of a metaphorical exploration of these things, using images that came into my head whilst thinking about them. I guess because of this there probably won’t be any more work in the same “place”, since the place itself was constructed out of those images and for this piece.
FC: What other side projects are you currently working on?
PD: Right now, nothing specific. Most of my spare energy is going into promoting and distributing Signal. I have a number of things that I’d love to do given time, including a short comic that’s more specifically about conducting SETI in the here and now, and also a long form fantasy/science-fiction that’s been brewing in my head for a good while now. These are definitely years down the road though.
FC: Have you been approached to do more mainstream work and would you ever consider leaving Freakangels to do such?
PD: Originally, Freakangels was slated to last 10 volumes or more, and being perfectly honest; I was toying with the idea of moving on to other projects whilst that was the case. I’d already spent three years on Freakangels and hadn’t even reached the end of volume 5, so the thought of spending that again plus more was a bit daunting, especially considering that creative restlessness I mentioned earlier. However, Warren recently announced on Whitechapel [Freakangels’ fan forum] that Freakangels would be ending with volume 6, and given that, I’m more than happy to see it through to the conclusion.
In terms of being approached to do other mainstream work, not yet, although I guess that depends on what you define as mainstream, since I have had a few offers.
FC: What kind of mainstream book/character would you be most drawn to?
PD: None particularly. I’ve never been much into comic franchises or specific characters/universes, so it’s not something I have much desire to get into. I get the most pleasure from reading self-contained stories with definite beginnings and endings, so that’s the sort of work I’d love to be involved in. Projecting myself into the future, I’d want to look back on a career full of a large number of short to medium length titles in as many different genres as I can manage.
FC: Who are your major influences, both for your written and artistic output, and who are your favorite creators in general?
PD: Artists: Jiro Taniguchi, Tatsuyuki Tanaka, Taiyo Matsumoto, Joshua Middleton, Kay Neilsen, Edmund DuLac, Miou Takaya.
Authors: Ursula Le Guin, Haruki Murakami, Erica Sakurazawa, Alan Garner, Craig Thompson.
I’m sure there are more, but that’s just a quick list of the really major ones.
To learn more about Paul Duffield and to see some of his excellent work, visit his website at www.spoonbard.com
… and to read Freakangels, visit www.freakangels.com