Gareth Sleightholme is part of the comic collective who operate under the Iron Shod Ape Comics banner and like many of us he started as a fan before taking the plunge on some writing & art for comics.
What was the first title you worked on?
I’d say The Indian Fighter, as that was the first completed book that I took to a con (Thought Bubble November 2012) and saw people pick up a take away, it’s the first of #TheCthulhiad books to make it out into the world, a violent western, with tentacles, 48 pages, black and white, I did all the writing and the art, the lettering and prep for print… it was a massive learning curve getting that book ready.
But, that said, it was actually years before when I drew my first comics pages (with no fixed plan in mind) I draw a bunch of stuff called “The boy next door…”, a weird, Sienkewicz/McKeever influenced serial-art-murderer story (this was back in ’92/’94 when I was at Art School), something that evolved into an unfinished sprawling genre-hopping project called Toxic Shopping, this started out as a few character designs and hastily had lettered narratives, but has since had scripts show up as online pages, three panel strips, and has even had one chapter performed on stage as script-in-hand theatre (not even I saw that coming, laughs). The first finished set of pages I finished for Toxic was an eight pager SF/Moebius/Hewlett/Dorkin influenced ramble called The Tie-dyed Garage of Judea Grain, which you can still find online.
How has your work changed since then?
Well, I’ve read a whole bunch of great comics, watched a bunch of film, read a heap of dark novels and listened to a lot of Tom Waits since then… my current stuff is probably set in the same, if evolved universe as all that crazy “Toxic” stuff from way back (two characters from back then are certainly in the latest book).
Because I have a day job and other art and comics projects and because I want my new stuff to get out the door some tome before I die I’ve attempted to find a way to streamline my art process, so work is less Darrow and more Oeming influenced these days… from a writing perspective my work is probably more influenced by Edwardian prose and contemporary short fiction and (for better or worse) is less worried about my own misplaced perfect reader/audience target… I guess I’m wearing my aesthetic and literary stream of consciousness influences on my sleeve much more happily these days.
My process has changed too, that early colour Toxic cover was done by photocopying the ink line work onto acetate and collaging colour from photos beneath it, sort of like Photoshop, before Photoshop, laughs.
No I pencil the work traditionally, re-jig and clean up scans in PS, then print out a blue-line version ready for inking, which is again done trad’ with lineart pens and brush-pen, then rescanned and toned or coloured in PS, while colouring I can be setting the lettering over the pencils giving me two possible jobs whilst still moving the comic forward, I might still be adjusting dialogue and narration at this point too, which makes my own stuff difficult to hand over to others due to this slipshod, free-form way of working, laughs. Finally the finished art is “slid under” the lettered layers and prep’ed for print, crop marks, bleeds etc. And then is off to my printers to discuss paper thickness, finishes etc.
Who are your main influences?
Aah… This could get lengthy, laughs.
Mignola, Stewart and Fegredo, Gaydos, Mike Carey, Jonothan Carroll, Robertson Davies, R.E. Howard, HPL, Kiernan, Gaiman, Yeats, Eco, Mieville, Ligotti, Machen, Dunsany, Toth, Toppi, Gilliam, Jeunet, Caro, Tony Scott, the Hernandez Bros, Frazetta, Al Williamson, Chris Carter, Ian Rankin, Stross, D.E. Edwards, M Lanegan, Waits, J.R. Lansdale, Vachss, Yeowell, Staples and Vaughn, Oeming and Bendis, and more recently Cloonan (loved her small press and Conan stuff), Ormston, Guy Davis, Jock, Aaron, Hickman, Oesterle, WJC, Culbard and Eric McCormack.
These are just the ones who I think have a direct influence on my current stuff, not including the ones who I just love to sit and read, or have learnt from by looking at their incredible art… otherwise I’d be here a very long time indeed.
What comics are you reading just now?
The Black Monday Murders, Black Hammer, Black Road (I see a theme developing), The Goddamned and anything from the Mignolaverse… I also recently read Faith, The Can Opener’s Daughter, and Southern Cross.
What’s the best thing about creating comics?
Being able to tell a story in exactly the way you want to tell it, as quickly or as slowly or as non-sequitur laden as you want to deliver the panels, and attending the cons and seeing people walk away with your story in their hands …that, and the support from within the (small press in particular) creative community to be able to do just that.
What are you working on just now?
I’m currently drawing pages and plotlines together from the last few books, trying to complete “The Cthulhiad – Origins” (the sixth book in the The Cthulhiad Sprawl) hopefully in time for September and Thought Bubble (whilst unrealistically thinking I might finish the final installment of The Lance – my Georgius of Lod trilogy – for the same deadline)
My books, are usually 48/56pages and attempt to be stand alone-ish, but “Origins” looks like it’s weighing in much heavier than that.
I’ve also been asked to do some pin-ups for friends and fellow small-pressers books/kickstarters etc, which is a real honour and a great thing to be asked… and I’m looking forward to expanding the two Viking Saga books to three with Rob Jones later in the year maybe (although those Madius guys are pretty busy right now, as they always are, laughs).
And I might revise and reprint my 96 page sketchbook again ready for September.
Where can we see you next?
Well, I’m heading to Thought Bubble in Leeds in September this year, so see you at #TBF17, we will be showing up as Iron Shod Ape Comics as we have done for the last five years. And as always, you can find me posting work in progress comics art and sketchbook stuff on Twitter, oh, and I recently did a small art drop in London, keep an eye out for more of that as summer wheels around, though maybe closer to home, Manchester, Leeds maybe.