NICK: For the final post of the year I’m going to have a fireside chat, and who better to chat to than Robin Jones, writer of Average Joe, Furthermore and Rock Of Ages. Welcome Rob to my digital fireside. What do you want for Christmas?
Robin: My two front teeth. Failing that, gender equality; a unified Earth; respect for cultures, nationalities and creeds; an end to world poverty; an end to racism and finally for Rik Mayall to not be dead. However, if I’m being realistic, I would say some comics, being surrounded by family and a smile or two from my wife, Charlotte. That would do me.
N: OK, well there you go. I think a unified earth would be a bit dull. End to wars and conflicts would be nice, stop needless blood shed and hate, an end to ignorance and the beginning of a golden age of acceptance, but I’d still want people to not get long. Sort of like “I respect Kevin’s views and religious practices and accept his right as an individual, but I still think he’s a Dick”.
A lot of inspirational people died this year, not to get all morose. And Crystal Castles split up. I know you approach comics from a not very comics back ground, because correct me if I’m wrong its only the past few years you’ve actually had an interest in them, so were people like Rik Mayall more instrumental in your development as a writer?
R: I’d say so, to be honest, over the last 5 years I’ve had as kind of awakening. I studied history at university, absolutely loved the writing process and wanted to continue doing something similar. At the time I was heavily influenced by writers such as Stephen Fry, Jeremy Clarkson and Charlie Brooker. The last two offered up a caustic world view but from different sides of the coin, and often set me up with a cognitive dissonance. In fact, Clarkson does that to me anyway! However, people like Rik Mayall, Russell Brand, Terry Prattchet and Hunter S Thompson are the writers that have really influenced my writing style when it comes to comics.
And, yeah, I’ve only really been reading comics for about 18 months and they really struck a chord with me. That marriage of visuals and prose seemed to stir something in me, and comic writer wise, I would tout Snyder, Ellis, Morrison, Ennis, Weibe, Whedon and Miller (Frank) as perhaps my biggest wells of inspiration now. Their style, their flare, their delivery all speak to me and all have delivered amazing work in comics, yet all show different styles and ways of composing a story, so I reckon they’re a pretty varied bunch to draw some inspiration from!
N: I agree with you on everything on there except for Clarkson. He leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.
Actually I feel quite sick in general right now. Made a quesadilla and there must have been mould in the tortilla bag because everything was tainted with this blue cheese taste. Not cool.
Getting back on topic, not that this ever intended to have a topic, I don’t think you have a unifying narrative in your comics, you spread your ideas all over the garden, would you say there’s some form of binding theme you’re trying to put out? Do you have a message you want the world to hear?
R: I know what you mean about Mr Clarkson, but goddamit, I find him funny despite every instinct I have. He, and top gear, are my guilty pleasure.
And with regards to a unifying theme, I wish I was that clever if I’m honest! The stories which I have planned up to 2016 (which is crazy really considering only one of my stories has been looked at by someone other than me) are all mad capped, crazy, zany, emotive, funny, ridiculous, moving and most of, I hope, fun to read! I think a shared world would kill me. (laughs)
Plus if there’s anything that bugs me beyond recognition with comics its continuity, the minutiae of detail, knowing that in this one issue such and such did this a specific way, and it had these ramifications so many years later. I think a unifying theme to the ideas which are crumbling out my brain like wet digestive would be stifled by something like that. I mean one story is really grounded and dark, involving drugs, death and alcoholism but yet in another there’s a talking beard, embodied with the ghost of an unsung virtuoso guitarist… Its hard to find a theme linking the two together!
And turning this round in its head, since its a chatette, how about yourself? Do you hide/have recurring themes within the comics you write and draw? Is there a higher message or higher purpose to the content you create?
And what about future comics? I mean, it’s safe to say people know we’re working together and we are going to be unleashing Madius comics on the world at large, but what else is there for Dr The Nick Gonzo, Esquire BSC…?
N: I like stitching things together. I never get held down by one particular thing but multiple universe theory just gets me every time. I want one character from one comic to punch through to another if needs be. Even if one world is ridiculous and the other is super serious. Did you read Sandman all the way to the end? Batman turns up at the Wake in the last volume, Constantine compliments some guys in their trench coats. I want my mythology to be as dense as the comics I grew up reading. That thing about a Wake can’t be a spoiler though, the last volume is called the wake.
You ever watched the Venture Brothers?
What else is there? Well, I’ve got a few comics, a few ideas banging about. I really want to work on a HUGE project that has no direction or hope at this stage but I will polish it into something at some point.
Something that gets forgotten quite a bit is that I’m a fine artist as well as a comic book artist. I want to do a show of oil paintings or portraits or something. I love comics but I’d like to have more time to work on different projects.
R: I actually haven’t finished Sandman. I do have the first 20 issues in a beautiful hardback book which I won in a contest from an awesome Podcast called Feedit Comics. Its the super sexy annotated edition, black and white but it contains notes, script notes from Gaiman and all sorts of other extras. Its a weighty tome, and it’s one I am working my way through. Same with Hellblazer, and Dream and Constantine are two characters who should definitely be in more things together!
I get the whole shared, layered, multiple universe thing, its a nice idea and a cool concept, but I don’t know if I’m fully sold on it myself.
If you had to choose two characters to cross over though from wholly different dimensions/universes/comic companies etc, who would you pick? I could see a lot of potential in a Black Dynamite/Early 70’s Sam Wilson crossover, complete with Pam Grier cameo, funk/soul soundtrack and a shit load of ass whuppin! Thoughts?
N: Best Crossover has already happened in the Judge Dredd vs Batman series they did. But I’m not sure what else I’d like to see. My own personal cross over elements will come to fruition in something I’m working on now. Can’t believe you’ve never read Casanova by Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba. That’s all about multiple universes and cosmic weirdness. When you read Grant Morrison comics you KNOW that they all could take place in the same world. All Star Batman and New X men take place in the same word and you can feel that.
Sandman though, that’s entirely about the massive multiple nature of time and space. The Endless in an Endless world. That sense of wonder and the infinite, that’s COMICS.
2000 AD had that. Has that still.
I also like looking for little bits and pieces that tie things together, and I sew them into my comics, because I’m a N+E+R+D 
R: Fine art you say? Such as installations, commissions etc? Any themes you want to explore in those as you create them? Political? Cultural? Ethical? Racial?
Are there any other design projects you have in the pipeline, mixed media projects etc?
N: Never actually been commissioned for a piece of “Fine art”. I always feel like such a wind bag when I say fine art, because to me there’s nothing fine about it. And I also, and I say this knowing full weld I did this a second ago, but, I also hate it when people put a division between Fine Art and comics. I think there have been a few people who have put the axe through the myth that there’s somehow a lower level to comic book art versus other sorts. I was just about to write “I see the distinction in my art work as being Narrative and non-narrative art” and yet that’s a lie too because there’s the greatest of traditions of showing narrative in art.
Look at the Pre-Raphaelite painters and their narrative tradition. Art, arguably started as a form of basic communication and that’s how it should stay, even moving into the subtle and complex world of abstract and conceptual art its purpose is to communicate a feeling or an emotion or message to the viewer to change them in some ways. Only portraiture and comics do that slightly differently.
I’ve had a few gallery shows, one in Strange Cargo Gallery Folkstone and one at West-gate Studios Wakefield. The West-gate one, which I named ‘Shimazl’ which is a Yiddish word meaning Idiot, was a sort of retrospective, a collection of all sorts of different art and drawings, sketches and models I’d made. I love working in Papier Mache and making a mess with printing presses and the like. My next gallery show would be one with a set theme and a set meaning. I have always been interested in human form and the expression of people through art, and I’d like to get to grips with oil painting, maybe move into surreal portraits and expressive paintings of people. But I don’t known, truth be told all my art has evolved out of what was convenient and comfortable. I started using the ink nibs you dip in India ink because it was cheaper than buying fine liners.
I like to push boundaries though, and I like to think young can see that when I do comics I want to do things that can ONLY be done in comics. I want to use cool panel layouts and sound effects. Funk Soul Samurai is a comic I did that only contains sound effects, all communication in non-verbal. Watchmen has no Thought-bubbles and no sound effects. I know that was instrumental in making comics a more grown up medium that people would take seriously, but I think it’d be more subversive to make a comic entirely in Thought Bubbles. Did you see Warren Ellis and D’Isreali’s SVK that had UV inked thought bubbles on the pages that could only be seen through a black light? Revealing hidden thoughts. Imagine a comics which is 30 pages long, but its the same three pages done ten times each with a different artist drawing the same thing with different characters thoughts on it, each one delivering a different layer to a seemingly simple story.
I want to make a 3D comic you know. Not 3D all up in your grill coming off the page, but one on a series of cubes. My Step-mother has this anatomy model that’s eight cubes attached together and you can rearrange them to show different parts of human anatomy. Its an educational tool, but I think it’d be amazing to do that and each surface is a panel and you can rearrange them to tell different stories with the same base ingredients but each one is unique. My friend Joe McCarthy is a very talented writer and he wrote a story called Grimes Ladder which was in three chapters  and about the progression of one guys ice from adolescence to adult hood and then old age with his kid, and the three bits never end. Because the guy and his kid have the same name, at the end the guy’s story becomes his sons story and so on and so forth. We came up with the idea of printing it on a big scroll and joining it up in a loop so as soon as it ended it started again.
2014 was very much about making comics, 2015 might be about pushing comics a bit further.
R: See, the idea of pushing comics further is an exciting one! Comics as a medium are only just becoming a “respectable” medium and are only just getting the recognition as an art form. I totally agree that comics are a merging of fine art and interesting, though provoking narrative. Have you tried drawing something/someone twenty times in a row in various different styles/ranges of emotion etc? I have… I suck at it. Its damn hard to do! Its a skill, an impressive, fantastic skill. Look at Jocks work on Wytches!?! That is art. And then there’s colourists, letterers etc! That’s art, a skill. It isn’t just plonking letters and colours on a page and going “yeah…fuck it that’ll do…!” its about complimenting the art, directing the page and being individual.
And when it comes to your art/gallery shows, do you have different influences and methods which you use? Anything you’re working on at the moment you care to share?
N: You’re right about the acceptability of comics and I honestly think that the Marvel movies have been massively instrumental in making them more approachable. When I was at high school, in the late days of my GCSEs I started buying comics and making my own zines on the staff photocopier, and I remember the bookshop had a small shelf of graphic novels and I’d buy things out of sequence because before then I’d just read batman books and judge dredd books that could be read in as my order. I bought the 11th volume of The Sandman first.
Back then it was semi acceptable to read stuff like watchmen and maus but super heroes were for kids and comics were for nerds unless it was specific graphic novels. All that’s out the windows now and it fills me with joy that I see people reading stuff like Hellboy in public.
I have drawn the same thing 20 times in different emotions, I’ve done conceptual art work for games and film work so I have done drawn the same thing so many times I’ve wanted to jump out of a window. Actually that’s what a comic book is sometimes, just drawing the same people in different emotions. Imagine Darrick Robertson drawing Spider Jerusalem for 60 issue over a period of 5 years.
Jock is a wizard and his art comes from a Graphic design place. I like to think my art in comics is a bit different because I specialised in architectural design at university, but that might just be me deluding myself. But graphics is demonstrating data, comics is demonstrating data. It’s expressing data to a person only that data is a story. A good letterer can make a comic, a great colourist can improve art no end. It’s team work isn’t it. I’d love to work with more people, like to get a colourist involved. My art has flourished since starting to work with you because you see things I wouldn’t and think differently to me, so your perspective adds a different dimension to my work.
I’m not working on anything at the moment with regards to a future art show. I have ideas but it’s been so solid doing comic books this year and working on a big secret project that will NEVER GET MADE but due to the owners of my work will NEVER GET SEEN. My art future depends on tomorrow really. At time of writing it’s Christmas eve and I asked for a book on oil painting. I buy art magazines, subscribe to blogs and buy art books and things to keep abreast of other people’s work and absorb their work. But the general influence in my stand alone art work is what I want to try and what my mood was.
R: I agree with you entirely with regards to the marvel movies exploding comics to the fore front,  now every major production company, TV company etc wants to get their hands on hot comic property and in some ways, it may seem tiring, but in others its a revolution, a great wind of change and its finally making people accept that comic books, the format, the medium, are an art form to themselves. A unique one, merging deep and meaningful stories with emotive, evocative and passionate art. Its taken a long time for comics to stand up and grow up and there are still hiccups! However, a medium which preaches acceptance, tolerance, equality of gender; race; culture; sexuality and creed is one which I can happily throw my considerable weight behind!
N: I think that because the eye of the world is on comics we have to be good. The old eighties ideology of muscular man comes back from somewhere to punch something or someone doesn’t cut mustard anymore. There is a pressure to strive to achieve. Its like Iron Man. Before the movies he was going through a bit of a Dick period. Super human resignation and massive prison complexes in the negative zone. When they realized people would actually start reading it he stumped up a bit and started acting like a human. Have you read Guardians of the Galaxy since they announced the film? Its exploded in quality. I can’t wait until Doctor  Strange catches up with its own hype.
Mark Millar (ahahahahaha not a big fan) once said Comics were the only way to be a rock star anymore because its the only way you can truly say what you want, and he was totally utterly wrong, back in his Millar World column in SFX magazine, but he was kind of right that no one is REALLY telling you want to do, and its cheap to make and all it needs is passion and taint and you can tell tales of equal genders sexualities religions and cultures. Have a blah Captain America, have a Muslim Ms Marvel, have a female Captain Marvel. Comics should be about equality because everyone’s making them and EVERYONE is reading them and they should be for everyone.
Even crap characters, like Miss America who Joe Casey told the world doesn’t wear underwear, what a subversive guy, can have a renaissance like she did in Young Avengers, because with the right direction any character can not be shite.
Diversity is important in every medium. This bullshit about Idris Elba being Bond offending people is proof of that. The detractors use two examples without fail; the first being “This is like Shaft being played by a white guy” or “This is Ike Malcolm X being played by Tom Hanks” or the such like. And this is because there are so few series fronted by characters of colour that their stunted minds can only think up Shaft or ACTUAL HISTORICAL PEOPLE OF COLOUR. James Bond isn’t real, change his gender or race if it makes him more interesting. History has already been white washed, look at Christian Bale in Exodus paying the PRINCE OF EGYPT, why should comics be constantly white washed, I’m glad Wolverine is dead. 
I found the article where Joe Casey talks about the invention of Miss America: “For example: one thing we’ve decided about the new character, Miss America Chavez, is that she doesn’t wear underwear. Believe it or not, that was an important creative decision. I think it says something about her personality that she deliberately goes out into the field sans underwear. You can see it in the art. How’s that for selling it?”
I fond that whole thing so utterly offensive. Your gear for the character is not anything to do with their ethics or person, but to do with their choice of underwear. And this is a middle aged white guy talking about a teenage girl. It’s just pervy.
That and the art they released of the character still showed her thong string over the top of her Jeans waist band.
Gillen did a great job making that character cool by actually think about her like a person rather than a dress up doll. Same with Ms Marvel and Kelly Sue Deconnick. I remember when Geek Week reviewed the first issue of her solo series all those years ago and it was like a medical exam the way her swim suit camel toed.
Men get to be heroes and women get to be sex objects. It’s bit unfair and I’m glad it’s changing.