So you were doing comics when you were a teenager in high school?
Mandy: Did someone introduce comics to you or did you find them somewhere?
Ben: I always drew and always owned comics, like Archie, but what made me go suddenly into comics was British comics. I discovered Beano and Whizzer and for some reason, something about those ones was really different and just grabbed my attention. I immediately just switched and drew nothing but comics all the time. I bought this book called The International World of Comics and it was just the front covers of all these comics and it was just so fascinating. I always found the most appealing and the most influential comics for me when I was starting out, was if they were mysterious, and I didn’t quite understand where they were from, and I didn’t quite understand what the point was. You don’t quite get it, but it’s obviously real raw, and real dirty, and there’s something naughty about it. Or picking up some black and white manga. Finding these Japanese comics where I didn’t understand a word of them but the artwork was so unusual and strange compared to like Superman. I couldn’t stop thinking about them and looking at them.
All of my influences were then. From teenage years to maybe 20 was when the stuff that I looked at influenced how I drew. Since then nothing does. Nothing is an influence.
Mandy: Yeah. The way you know the comic language is just so particular and also well-practiced. The way you use exaggeration and caricature, all the sort of key things that make a comic that can also push the boundaries of what a comic can be. With my work, I always feel like I’m trying to do that. I find sometimes my drawings are more illustrative and I really want to use comic language more in them. I think in my new book, I was using the panel to experiment a little bit, to try and use the language a little bit more. There’s this language, and I can use it, but I want to use it more than I am. I’m sticking to what’s comfortable, but I really want to push it out a little bit.
Ben: What influenced you? What influenced you to even start?
Mandy: I don’t know if I was particularly good at it, but I just used to draw because I liked to draw. I think it became my sort of super power because I could draw and people would respond to it. In school, I found a friend that drew and that helped a lot. My dad saw my interest and would buy me a comic series and Mad Magazine. Obviously Mad blew my head off. It did seem like this subversive magazine that had stuff in it that I hadn’t really seen before, that I could just get from the news agency. I was just doing comics about little silly things. I always had a sense of humour that was more into poo jokes.
Ben: There’s not heaps out there that does that. It’s really weird. I love Mad as well, I really appreciate that there were grown adults somewhere in the world together making rude silly jokes about whatever. I just thought that they were the coolest people.
Mandy: It was like legitimate to make a living off drawing pictures and making jokes about popular culture and taking the piss.
Ben: And not taking anything seriously. We’re allowed to be like that, how nice, how good to know.
Mandy: It poked a finger at establishments and at politicians and at media figures, and it was a way to be a be a part of the idea of democracy. You don’t have to be scared to poke fun or to criticise. It was just liberating knowing that you had that freedom. Then going to Canberra, I thought that I would be a painter but then I met people who were into comics.
I felt like I always wanted to tell stories, and comics were a comfortable space to do it. I was shy, I actually hate the word shy, it pisses me off. I was just a kid who wasn’t loud but I still wanted to communicate and had lots of things to say. For me, comics were my saving grace.
Ben: Like I feel sorry for movie makers. What a pain in the ass if you’ve got an idea and you’ve got to get actors and equipment. Comics artists can just get a pen and can do their own story.
Mandy: I feel spoilt for being quite independent. There’s something nice about being so much in control of the work.
Ben: Every step of the way it’s like a craft. Nothing is ambiguous.
Mandy: Coming from a background where you enter into an art form and you don’t know where it’s going. You don’t know if you’re going to make a living from it. you don’t know if you’re making a mistake by going into this field. What’s going to happen? I think being trained to be so independent and self-driven helps you out later on when you are getting opportunities. It makes you a lot more equipped for timelines and stress.
Ben: There was no community really. You would just do it because you really wanted to. It’s really nice now, especially here in Melbourne. I'm really excited by how many young people are doing comics, and making just little zines. They’ve got all the same old methods too, like the photocopiers. I love what young people are doing with comics now.
Mandy: Yeah, I’m blown away as well. I’m really awed by the work and I’m excited to see what happens with comics in Melbourne and Australia. It’s crossing into all sorts of things now, like live readings and live drawing.
A lot of people are getting opportunities now, internationally as well. I love being published in Australia, but way before I was ever published in Australia I used to send all my stuff overseas. I was super ambitious. I was very determined. I think it’s a good thing to aim high.
I still really passionately pursue self-publishing. I always have something on-the-go that I’m going to do myself. You get that adrenaline, feel-good serotonin, that you’ve completed something and have that pile of books in front of you. It kind of softens the blow when you have those moments of: ‘What am I doing? It’s very quiet out there and I don’t know what my next opportunity is.’ Just basically keep working constantly.
One of the things we were going to talk about were the sorts of projects we decide to invest our time in. Would you think it’s worth investing your time into a graphic novel-length comic that’s quite long and complex, and has layers, if it’s going to take you years to do it and you’re not sure that it’s going to be published? Is that something that would hinder doing a longer scale project?
Ben: I’ve just finished a graphic novel, a children’s graphic novel. The first drawings of that I did were in 2003, so that was a long time ago. From the start, I knew that it was going to have to come out and that I was going to have to finish it. So I was fine with that. I’m self-publishing it. I’ve been seriously working on it only the past couple of years, that’s colouring and drawing it and everything, and it’s 111 pages.
Mandy: Hypothetically, if there was more access to support for projects maybe it would open people up to bigger, more ambitious projects. For me, I do a lot of minicomics because I don’t want to disappear for two years and not have any work out in the world. Part of drawing is the giving it over to people. I always want to be like, ‘Here’s my comic and I want you to read it’, but I don’t want it to take three years. I like to do a new comic every six months.
Ben: For me too, that is the single downside. That is why I sort of dislike doing a big comic because I won’t have anything out for ages.
Mandy: I also see some really great work in the form of these handmade minicomics. I think the frustration is that not as many people get to see them. I like the idea that as well as that, there are other opportunities for more ambitious projects, read by a hell of a lot more people. That makes reading comics something that people see as a familiar part of their habit, rather than the odd thing that they might do. I definitely think it’s improving.
What do you think that it’s going to look like in 20-30 years?