An Interview With Michael Hawkins, TLB28 Cover/Feature Artist

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To celebrate the killer cover artwork for TLB28, our Deputy Art Editor Marc Pearson chatted with Melbourne-based comics and visual artist Michael Hawkins, in the third of our series of short interviews with Brow cover artists. Michael’s work graces the cover of TLB28, which hits subscriber letterboxes next week, and newsstands and bookstores Dec 3, and features in tonight’s TLB-curated exhibition at The Food Court to accompany the launch of TLB28: The Art Issue.

I first got to know Michael Hawkins through his comic series Frosnall Graaf, which I picked up from Sticky years ago. I remember struggling to get into it at first, then finding myself intensely invested. I ran into my housemates’ room and was like “Woah! Hey! This is amazing!” Just like that. “Wow! Gee wizz!” I yelled and yelled.

Since then, I’ve gotten to see Michael’s work change and grow with time. His comics explore themes like sex, society, the relationship between the known and the unknown. His comics unravel before you the more you give to them. I can’t recommend his work enough.

I thought I’d end this pre-interview introduction on a quote about Michael, so I googled “compliment quote”, as I like Michael’s work very much, and a compliment felt in order. I found something Abraham Lincoln said that I think is true: “Everybody likes a compliment.” Unfortunately I couldn’t find a way to link this back to this interview, so i googled “quotes about ending”, which led me to something Charlotte Eriksson said:

So for now,
I will miss you like I’ll never see you again,
And the next time I see you,
I will kiss you like I’ll never kiss you again,
And when I fall asleep beside you
I will fall asleep as if I’ll never wake up again,
because I don’t know if I will.
I don’t know if I will.
I Will Love You Like The World Is Ending

— Marc Pearson

The Lifted Brow: Oh hi, Michael. How are you?

MH: I’m fine. Thank you.

TLB: You have a very idiosyncratic style, I’m trying to think of adjectives to describe it, all I can think of now is ‘goopy’. How have you gotten to the kind of work you’re making today?

MH: I can’t tell you much except I’ve been digesting high and low culture fairly manically my whole life, and accessing my subconscious is something I am both naturally good at and work pretty hard at. I’m not very good at anything else. Basically, even if I picture something in an existing style it comes out my style, which people may not like, but at least they can’t accuse me of biting.

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Excerpt from ‘Threshhold’ by Michael Hawkins, appearing in Weakly Comics Xtra Large Annual Book (2016)

TLB: What kind of role does sleep play in your life?

MH: Well, it goes without saying that I’m inspired by dreams and by the images and ideas that occur in the hypnagogic, pre-sleep state. Being dead asleep doesn’t do much for me. Lately, I’ve read a couple of articles about segmented sleep, which is the concept (mostly forgotten/covered-up but now coming to light) that before the Industrial Revolution people slept in two shifts: first, a few hours sleep from early in the evening before waking up and doing stuff like reading, writing, meditating, praying, having sex, then sleeping until morning. This is obviously where it’s at. I hope some day to be able to adopt this practice.

TLB: What’s a normal workday like for you?

MH: If I’m free from encumbrances, I’ll start work mid-morn and finish around 11pm, stopping just for meals. That said, I do pretty much everything I can—that is, basically, drawing—in front of my computer watching TV shows and movies. If I use Photoshop or Paint etc., I listen to music or podcasts. So it’s leisure as well. I try to focus on one project as much as possible, for immersion, but if I stall or have clashing deadlines I’ll switch it around. On days I have day-job shifts or other obligations I fit in what I can.

TLB: Tell me about Ursula, the web-comic you’ve been serialising with the Brow online.

MH: There are always a few different influences. The design of certain old paperback novels, the look of European arthouse and exploitation movies of the seventies (an aesthetic you see on Tumblrs made by people like the main character, Boyfriend), which often have girls’ names as titles. There was also the impulse to experiment with a new format that hasn’t been done much, and that would allow me to complete a “graphic novel” without it consuming all my time and energy.

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TLB: What visual art/comics/other stuff are you interested in right now?

MH: There are so many comics I love at the moment: Lale Westvind, Antoine Cosse, Anna Haifisch, Anya Davidson, Gabriel Corbera. I don’t consume as many comics as I used to because I’m more into activating my comics practice than forming it, but when I see stuff like the Volcan anthology from Lagon it inspires me to knock things up a notch. Other recent interests include Stephen Sondheim, Italian horror movies, the way movies from the eighties look digitally restored, 1Q84, Jenny Slate and Gabe Liedman, Robert Beatty, Clay Hickson, French Cold Wave and Belgian Minimal Synth, Linda Perhacs, the new albums by Beach House, John Grant and Joanna Newsom, anthology horror/sci-fi TV, Star Trek:TNG.

TLB: What are you working on at the moment?

MH: I was asked to curate a show by Mailbox featuring Melbourne comic-book artists. Looking at the space, a series of closed boxes, I thought of how it could accommodate the theme ‘the prison of self’, which I think about a lot and perhaps a lot of cartoonists do as well. I ended up broadening it to ‘Cells’, dealing with the various metaphorical prisons a person might experience, to give the artists a little more freedom. The exhibition will feature me, you, Tommy PG, Sarah McNeil, Caroline Anderson, Merv Heers, Lee Lai, Michael Fikaris and hopefully Sam Wallman, so obviously it’ll be really great.

After that, I want to tie up loose ends: finish Ursula, and reply to all the questions I’ve received on Advice Comics as my character Boyfriend. This will clear the ground for next year, as I’d like to be working on one long story and maybe a few off-the-cuff minis as a pressure release valve. The long story I’m thinking of is one of a bunch I have planned, which exists within a loosely slung-together shared universe. They will be primarily be connected by Boyfriend, existing as a host and participant, but will also share other characters, settings, cultural and plot elements and general mythology. I’d like to say this is in no way inspired by the Marvel cinematic universe but that would be a lie.

Michael Hawkinsis a Melbourne-dwelling comic book and visual artist of Tasmanian and U.S. derivation. He believes in mystery.

Australian readers: you can pick up a copy of TLB28: The Art Issue from Dec 3 at any of our 900+ stockists.

International readers: buy a copy from our online store and we’ll chuck it right in the post for you.

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