I first saw Garry Mac’s work in the Taking Flight indie one-shot back in 2012 and since then I’ve read more of his comics, seen his art shows and become a big fan of his work.
What was the first title you worked on?
The first book I ever worked on was called ‘The Abortion’ by Jamie McMorrow. It was a black & white, silent horror with a weirdly sweet twist and it changed my life. I committed to it like it was the biggest thing ever – I used pen and brush (something I’ve never done again…) and really tried to capture the angular horror of the script through camera angles and stuff.
It was part one of our Year of Fear plan to do 12 horror one-shots. We did three, and they were all really good, but hubris was at work. That hasn’t changed (see Gonzo Cosmic 1, 2 and…)
As a writer, the first book was Gonzo Cosmic, I released two issues of that which were really well received, but I haven’t found time to do more yet. It’ll come when it’s ready to. For now, I’m focusing on two things – writing a novel and writing a big comic book called ‘AION’. I’m giving myself as much time as I need for these things – for the longest time I thought I was running out of time, and had to try to ‘make it’ quickly. Now I’m like, on Indian time. It’ll happen when it happens.
How has your work changed since then?
It’s gotten better! Seriously, I had no clue what I was doing at the time, so I’m amazed I managed what I did. I was poring over other artists’ work, trying to figure out how they did certain things – perspective, anatomy and that kind of stuff. And I was learning with every single page.
That hasn’t changed, really. Every new book I do, and I mean this sincerely, is an opportunity for me to get better at art and to better myself. Since ‘The Abortion’ I think I’ve come a long way in terms of pacing, storytelling, perspective (finally!) and really getting across the writers’ intent.
Although I feel like I’m not far off releasing that one book that shows I’ve really cracked it, I’m not there yet. And I’ll still keep on learning.
Who are your main influences?
Anyone who knows my work knows I’ve got a pure stauner for Frank Quitely’s work. It’s a simple combination of a few things. 1) I genuinely think he’s one of the best artists of any medium I’ve seen, 2) he was influenced by a lot of the things I’d already enjoyed over the years, so there was a kind of recognition when I saw his work and 3) he’s also from Glasgow. Reading the last issue of The Invisibles and the first issue of New X-Men in succession and realising he lived in the same city as me (X-MEN, right??) was a massive shot in the arm and made me realise being an artist was a genuine thing you could do, and wasn’t just for Americans…
That he’s continued to push and develop his skill and styles over the years is what makes him continually inspiring. While I’d hate to be ever thought of as a Tesco Value Quitely, I’m comfortable with people seeing the influence, especially as I think I’m starting to find my own voice.
Which brings me to some of the other influences. I’d seen Moebius here and there but it was actually Quitely who told me to go and look at his work properly. Which I did, and fell in love. Mystical, mysterious and playful, and really transcendent.
Otomo was already a favourite of mine from my youth, I used to copy panels from ‘Domo’ regularly but I was massively intimidated by his perspectives. Still am, to be honest. But he’s a master storyteller.
Geoff Darrow is a big influence too, and I recently read through the Milligan and McCarthy collection – McCarthy’s work is insanely good and I think some of that’s bled into recent work. Brian Bolland’s influence has crept in a fair bit too, I think.
As a writer, Grant Morrison is a huge influence – see most of the reasons above for Quitely. Morrison was someone I got into during a lull in comic reading as a young adult – I was reading about magic, into Bowie’s occult leanings, hoovering up stuff on the Disinfo site and their books and loved the Matrix, and Disinfo was running an ad (of their own accord, I believe) that said “If you’re into the Matrix, read this.” And it was The Invisibles. By Grant Morrison, who had also written the ‘Pop Magic’ intro to the Disinfo book ‘Book of Lies.’
I started reading it and it cracked open my head completely – it made magic make sense, it made binary politics make non-sense and it started a process of conscientisation in me that’s lasted to this day. The phrase “Who put that thought there” in The Invisibles is kind of a mantra to me – it says, always question where you’re responding from. Is it you, or is it the way you were conditioned to respond. Like racism, for instance – many people out there respond from a conditioned way – if you asked them if they were racist they’d be appalled at the thought, and yet in casual conversation you’ll hear them say racist things. Not only are they not conscious of why that’s wrong, and the contribution they make to structural racism in society, but they also don’t even know why they’re saying it – they just grew up with it.
I grew up with it. I had to overcome that – it wasn’t a natural thing. It was a process of going, this is wrong. Why do I think these things? What evidence is there that says this is the way things should be? And on finding none, calling all of that into question – who put that thought there? They weren’t my thoughts, they belonged to other people. So, then you have the process of overcoming those thoughts, of putting new ones in there – ones that belonged to me.
It’s not to say The Invisibles was solely responsible for all this, by the way – it was an ongoing process for me that had started before then. But Morrison articulated it in a genuinely mind-altering way – the book was a game and it had real, long-term effects as a reader.
That this was also a comic book blew my mind. It made me realise that the medium of comics had real power. It’s rare, but it’s possible.
Warren Ellis is another writer who’s had that kind of effect, albeit in a very different way. Ellis has this kind of interesting perspective – a seemingly-cynical futurist. World-weary, but working towards something better. I responded to that a lot. The reality of things is that life is hard, politicians are arseholes, the system is fucked, and we’re, individually, collectively, the worst, because it’s just our world we’ve created around us. But in that realisation, there’s also a power – collectively, individually, you can take action and change things. Sure, it’s often cloaked in superhero garb or whatever, but that’s what Ellis is saying in a lot of his work, I think. Sit in the shit and dream of better days. Mind you, he’d probably hate everything I just said…
There are other writers, too many to go into, who were really formative for me and whose influence seeps into my work – Clive Barker, Alistair Gray, Brion Gysin, Frank Herbert, Steven King…
What comics are you reading just now?
Oh man, don’t ask me this question… I got to point about two years ago where I made the decision to basically stop buying comics – mainstream comics at any rate. Marvel, DC, Image, by and large. It’s too expensive. I found myself buying loads of comics each month, really hoping for that hit, you know? Hoping that THIS time the latest X-Men relaunch will be what I want it to be, or THIS DC initiative will be the right jumping on point or THAT Image book will truly capture the Vertigo days that I loved, and it just wasn’t happening. Not for the money. I think I came to the realisation that these ongoing books will be reflective of their time in many ways, so what I thought was me chasing the zeitgeist-y feel of New X-Men was now actually nostalgia… That’s a hard fact to reconcile, by the way.
Now, I actually tend to read most of my comics through Kickstarter. So, stuff like Ryan K. Lindsay’s Deer Editor and others, Fraser Campbell’s Alex Automatic, John Lees and Iain Laurie, the Madius guys, Ness by Chris Welsh, Kill Screen by Mike Garley, Last Driver by Shaky Kane. Joe Glass’ The Pride is an incredible book I’ve finally just read in its entirety. An older example now is Martin Eden’s ‘Spandex’. Those last two books are giving me the X-Men feels the actual X books never give me now.
There’s a shit-tonne of fantastic stuff coming out of indie books right now, and it puts most of the big publishers to shame. Risk-taking, varied genres, experimental approaches… I’d rather give my money to those guys.
What’s the best thing about creating comics?
That’s an… interesting questions. Okay, as an artist, probably the best thing about comics is the collaboration. Working with a writer on a fantastic script and pushing myself to make the best possible work can be tough but incredible rewarding. Tomorrow by Jack Lothian and BHP Comics came along at a particularly difficult point in my life, which had a knock-on effect on my output. But the guys were really patient, and I think it worked – it’s one of the books I’m proudest of, for the sole reason that I think I did justice to an incredible script.
And working with Harry French is one of life’s pure joys. (I mean, he’s not, he’s a sour puss… Nah, not really…) Harry is one of the best, most interesting and unique writers I’ve ever come across, and that includes professional work. Working with him is a dream because he’s a total collaborator. Never micro-manages, gets everything he needs down in the script and really lets me as an artist just explore.
He also has a very unique perspective on things – he kind of wears his influences on his sleeve, but the work he creates is greater than the sum of its parts. He’s never re-hashing, he’s always filtering – taking the good from one thing and the best from another and remixing them through his worldview. It’s a crime that he’s not at pro level yet, but I feel genuinely privileged that we’re at the same level, and I get to work with him. He’s a writer and friend I can see myself working with on and off throughout our careers, and that’s a really exciting prospect.
Phew… As a writer, the best thing about creating comics is seeing your world come to life and having a vehicle for the stuff you want to talk about.
What are you working on just now?
Right now, I’m working on the final issue (#4) of Freak Out Squares with the aforementioned Harry “Happy” French. It’s taken a while to get to this so I’m going all out to make it the best it can be. We’re just gonna drop it digitally once it’s done, like we did for #3, then we have some BIG and INTERESTING plans for a collection that will be the ‘album’ to the ‘singles’ we’ve already released. Or more appropriately, a collection of 12-inch remixes. Because who doesn’t love a 12-inch?
It’s a chance for me to polish up the previous issues and hopefully get the book to people in the form it deserves to be read in.
Then I hope to do a couple of strips with some other folks I’m in talks with – including some folk I’ve wanted to work with for a long time – then I’m focusing on AION, the graphic novel I’ve been developing for a while. Hubris, right? Go for a 60+ page graphic novel? I’m at the stage in my work where I’ve got something I really want to say, something that won’t really let me work on anything new until it’s done, and I just reckon, do it, and get it out there, in whatever form that eventually takes (webcomic, Kickstarter, pitch to publishers, whatever). It just needs to be made, really.
Where can we see you next?
Hunched over my desk in my flat. Bring good coffee and maybe some biscuits or cake. Otherwise, I’ve no plans for cons this year, as I’ve a lot of making I want to concentrate on, but I’m hoping to do more in 2018 when I’ve got more stuff completed. Until then, you’ll see me on social media ranting about politics and posting a variety of twisted comic book pin ups and drawings of naked men…