I first discovered Kev Couling’s Sugarcane through his prologue through Comichaus (reviewed there too) but that was more than enough to get me interested in his creation and with a sketchbook being funded right now, I had to get some answers out of him.
Where did the idea for Sugarcane come from?
Honestly, I’m not really sure! I guess it’s a combination of things I think about quite a lot: the direction society seems to be headed, the benefits (or not) of applying more and more intelligent tech to every area of life, the mess we’re making of the planet, etc. And a healthy measure of dark cyberpunk vibe. Underlying all that is a love of fantasy – that’s not manifested itself in anything that I’ve shared just yet but it’s coming!
Have you had the Sugarcane world in mind for a while?
A couple of years ago, I had a loose idea for a story and needed somewhere to set it. In trying to figure that out, I started to do some world building and that’s when I landed on the concept that underpins Sugarcane. Right now, the world building is ahead of the story-telling (at least in terms of what I’ve put out) but that’s ok – having a solid setting for the story you’re trying to tell seems like a pretty good idea! Plus, I absolutely love world building – I really cannot get enough of it (if anyone out there needs a world – give me a shout!).
There’s a potted history in Sugarcane: Prologue which explains how this alternative future comes about. I didn’t want anything too on-the-nose for the title and, if you read it, you’ll see why I went with ‘sugarcane’- it’s deliberately a little tangential.
Has working on the sketchbook changed anything from your original designs/ideas?
For sure. Things are still developing in my mind but in Prologue you’ll see that the people have freaky squished heads – the truth of that is that I was being lazy and a bit paranoid: I was worried I didn’t have the art-chops to draw it so I dug out some really old sketches I’d done with these squishy heads and thought ‘you know, if I draw the people with heads like this, no-one will realise I can’t draw normal ones.’ What I failed to realise at the time was that a) if I’d just drawn normal heads, I’d have had a load of the practice that I needed to draw them better, and b) how hard it would be to draw a hat on a head that looks like a trimmed Cuban cigar…
The sketchbook also started to turn up the cyberpunk feel of the setting and I’m now going full Gibson on the next Sugarcane project!
Do you have a favourite character in the world you’ve created?
I’ve got a few actually.
Everything centres around Libby, who’s the character we see in Prologue – she also appears in the sketchbook. She’s an amazing biotech-rigger working for a backstreet outfit who tries to do the right thing. That starts her on a journey of discovering who she really is and why she’s alone in the overwhelming crush of humanity that is London.
Zee is also in both the sketchbook and the next project – a key character who works with Libby. I find Zee a lot of fun and very engaging – an essential counter-point to the seriousness of Libby.
The other one I love is Brother Emundo – he’s a Mine Priest whose work keeps him right down in the lowest levels of London, The Mine, where he tends to the spiritual needs of the people there. He’s the third character in the next project and a no-nonsense priest who doesn’t take any crap from anyone!
Beyond that though, I’m loving the characters from the Met police and DC Kirsty Jones in particular – you can imagine policing the London of Sugarcane is a total nightmare and you have to be hard as nails to tackle it! I’ve done a few more images with her and she appears on one of the A5 art prints.
How has it been writing & drawing the Sugarcane world?
Great fun! As I said, world-building is one of my absolute favourite things to do and I’ve tried to do more than do it just for its own sake – I’ve tried to create a rich backdrop for the stories I’m planning; I want the weight of history to be evident in those.
Like lots of people, I struggled during lockdown for various reasons and just didn’t feel able to tackle the main Sugarcane project I had started before. Instead, I was snatching opportunities to draw as a way to give my head a break from things, and the theme of the characters sort of emerged, coming together in the sketchbook. They’ve helped me add some more threads to the tapestry and to make Sugarcane feel more alive.
What’s next for the world of Sugarcane?
I’m really excited now to get onto the next project – I’ve scripted it (edited by the amazing Lizzie Boyle from Disconnected Press), done the layouts, and pencilled 22 of the pages. The favourite characters I mention are all because I know them pretty well after spending a long time developing the script. It follows Libby on a journey that takes her to places in London she’s never been and to places in her past that she never knew existed.
What else are you working on just now?
Beyond Sugarcane, I wanted to support The Awesome Comics Podcast charity anthology and was lucky enough to do the cover art for that – that’s going to be a must buy book, so I’d recommend following Sarah Harris (Editor-in-Chief, @implausible17) on Twitter to keep an eye on it.
There are some other things in the wings but Sugarcane is my main focus right now – especially the work to fulfil the Kickstarter if we hit the funding goal!
Great big THANK YOU to Kev for taking the time to answer those questions and share some of those cracking images. You can get your hands on a copy of the Sketchbook AND more on the campaign link below:
You can also keep updated with Kev through the following creator links too: