One week from now, I’ll be heading to Leeds for Thought Bubble comics festival, specifically for the launch party of three incredible new comics from Avery Hill. Among them is Follow Me In by Katriona Chapman, one of the most visually spectacular comic books I have seen so far this year. Part Mexico travelogue, part personal narrative, Follow Me In is published officially in the UK on 20 October. Katriona answered a few of my questions ahead of publication – have a read, and be sure to look out for her comic in bookstores from next week!
Your art is really striking (when I show people the cover for Follow Me In they always make a little ‘whoa’ sound). Have you always drawn? How long did it take you to develop such a unique and recognisable style?
That’s lovely to hear! I’ve always drawn, but for a long time I only really drew observational stuff like sketching from life… portraits etc. I drew in a very realistic style. The challenge was to develop a style that was more simple that I could sustain when making comics, which are really labour-intensive. I worked for a time as a children’s book illustrator, and for that I worked with watercolour but I’ve never been a natural painter – I’m much more comfortable just with a pencil! I feel like my style only really started to come into its own in the last few years when I started working in pencil with digital colour. For me it’s much faster, and also allows some of the nice qualities of expressive pencil drawing to remain in the final art.
Follow Me In is your first full-length comic, and it’s very dreamy and evocative. I imagine it must have taken a lot of work. What were some of the main challenges, and what parts of the process did you enjoy the most?
I really enjoy the final stages of colouring the pages the most. By that point most of the hard work and decision-making is done and you can almost work on autopilot! It’s also fun to see the finished pages start to appear. Follow Me In is pretty long though, (248 pages,) and by far the longest thing I’ve ever made. So the challenges were just getting through the workload and making sure I was on target time-wise. I have two part-time jobs so had to be on top of things in terms of time management. Also I couldn’t have done it without the help of Ricky from Avery Hill who was my editor. He was able to provide an overview and give really helpful objective feedback while I was bogged down with a million tiny details, so for me with a project this length it was essential to have the help of a good editor!
As well as being a super interesting piece of travel writing, the story is very personal in that we see you dealing with some pretty major life challenges along the way. Was it difficult making something so autobiographical?
It was uncomfortable at first, but I think at some point you start to just focus on it as a story and you detach from the personal feelings because you’re thinking more about how to make it interesting for the reader. I had this idea that the combination of travel writing and personal story could potentially be a nice balance… and I knew that if I was reading this book it’s the personal story that would really keep me involved so I knew that it was important to make that part as real and honest as possible.
What inspires you the most? Was there anything in particular that inspired Follow Me In?
It seems like an obvious answer, but Mexico was the main inspiration. I’d wanted to write about what I’d seen and what it was like to be there since I first got back from that nine-month trip. When I was a child we used to go to Canada every few years to visit my aunt, and I was fascinated by the differences between the UK and Canada. I used to list them in my head! I think I’ve always been drawn to places and cultures that are new and different to what’s familiar at home… nothing is more exciting for me than getting on a train or a plane.
Although Follow Me In is your first full-length book, you’ve self-published a lot of comics and zines in the past and are quite well known in the indie comics scene. How did you get into comics originally? Do you have any advice for anyone starting out?
I got into comics in a bit of a roundabout way, because the first couple of books I self-published were more like art books… they were quite illustrationy. But I started selling them at small press fairs and comics fairs, and I’d always wanted to make comics so seeing everyone else’s work at those events probably inspired me to start. I think just making work and sharing it online is usually the best way to start… it’s an easy way to start making contacts and seeing what people seem to respond to in your work. Making comics/zines to sell (either online or at events) can also be really fun, although it can be a lot of work. So I think definitely start out online first, and interact with other creators and just keep making work!
What are you currently reading, and which creators, writers, or artists do you most admire?
I’m still working my way through some of the comics I bought at ELCAF this summer – I went to a couple of summer comics fairs just as a punter for a change and bought lots of stuff which was a really nice change from being behind a table. It’s really hard to say who I most admire because there are so many! Peter Bagge was a big influence early on because I loved his Hate series and it taught me that great comics could be about the mundane details of everyday life and they didn’t have to be about superheroes or fantasy.
Do you have an idea of what you might start working on next?
Not yet, because I’m still quite busy working on promo for Follow Me In… organising launches and things and getting ready for Thought Bubble. I’m really keen to start on something new though, so once the launches are over by the end of September I’ll probably have time to think about it!
If you are heading to Thought Bubble next week, be sure to look out for Avery Hill’s table and grab a copy of Follow Me In.