With the eagerly-anticipated “first trial” of Pirate Fun going on sale a couple of weeks ago (although not at the time of this interview – time travel, amirite?), we decided to pop in and visit artist Neil Slorance at his studio space in Glasgow to have a chat about his career, his personal life, and – perhaps most importantly – his favourite cheese.
BCP: Hi Neil, thanks for talking to us today.
NEIL SLORANCE: Don’t be daft, thanks for coming down.
BCP: Tell us a bit about your studio space here.
NEIL: So the studio space is in Studio 1 in the Hidden Lane which tucked away in Finnieston [in Glasgow] and is almost like a kind of community full of artists and illustrators but also screenprinters, jewellery makers, and we chat and swap materials and borrow ideas. A community’s what I wanted because I just went full-time at the end of last year, and didn’t want to be in the house 7 days a week. I love it, when I got told about this space I jumped on it, to have more than just a work space. Plus it also has a little shop front so people can come in and buy books and prints, and just come and chat.
BCP: How’ve you found the transition from hobby to freelancer?
NEIL: Fairly easy, because it’s been such a gradual thing, though there is stuff I work on still that’s just labours of love. But I got to a point where my artwork and my commissions meant that I didn’t have time to go to my part-time job, so it wasn’t as if I took a big dangerous leap, it was fairly calculated.
BCP: You’ve become known for your political cartoons for STV and the National. How did that come about?
NEIL: Accident, like most stuff! I’d done some stuff during the Independence Referendum and for anthologies and then, in the General Election, I just started drawing along with the debates, rip it a bit and tweet them out. That got a lot of traction and people like Nicola Sturgeon would get in touch, and then STV got in touch to ask if I could live-draw the election coverage, and that kept going for about a year or so. There was a big shake-up at STV – and I guess cartoonists were first to go! – but then the National picked me up, and I’ve been doing that for the last year. There a lot of hard weeks but it’s great, having a regular reliable income is like gold dust.
BCP: Who would you say are major influences on you and your style?
NEIL: Well I l like to keep things fairly simply, as long as you can tell what’s going on, that’s fine with me. I’ve always really liked Peanuts, and more modern comics like Chris Ware – very geometric – and Geoffrey Brown, very scratchy and simple but inviting. You feel like “Oh I could do that”, and obviously it’s hard than that, but it’s good, and people get that from my stuff too.
BCP: And that lends itself to accessibility also to younger readers, I suppose. My kids are big fans of Dungeon Fun (well, my daughter’s two, she’s mostly a big fan of chewing things). Let’s talk about the return of Fun, with Pirate Fun coming soon, and thanks for showing us some pictures. What’s happening?
NEIL: Well right now, I’m working on the first issue of it, and what we’re going to do is release the first issue for charity and bringing that to Dunfermline Comic Con [note – cancelled because of the Snowpocalypse, but see more about this at the end!] for donations to the Little Shop of Heroes Books for Schools charity that gives comics and graphic novels to kids, because we’re really big on making sure that all kids from a young age are able to read comics. Eventually, down the line, we’ll be starting a Kickstarter later in year, August-September-ish for the full collected edition. I’m working on it pretty solidly.
BCP: Back to comics for kids, you also go into schools, don’t you?
NEIL: Every now and again, yeah, I like to. Particularly for talking about work and jobs; I remember being in school, and there weren’t a lot of creative industries people that came in. I didn’t know I could be an artist as a job till I was well into my 20s to be honest! So I thought it was important for me to go into a school and explain you could do it as a job, and kids always get really buzzed about comics.
BCP: How about as a writer? Have you considered picking up the other pen, as it were, as you have done with things like your travel journals?
NEIL: Possibly, yeah. It’s been on my list to put my hand into more fiction; I did a fiction book about astronomy a while ago and I really enjoyed that. But there’s only so much you can fit in a year!
BCP: Well, talking about the other stuff you fit in, you’ve been posting online about your efforts to embrace running (fair warning – I don’t get it at all!) – what was behind that?
NEIL: I had a health kick a couple of years back, I was overweight and I wanted to take control of it. Eventually, I found that with exercise there’s something you can find that you like doing, it took me a while. But I found I liked doing outdoor running, I don’t need to travel to the gym, I can just leave the house and in twenty minutes or so you’ve had a decent day’s exercise.
BCP: And you’ve really got into baking on your social media too [Neil chuckles guiltily], how did that start (and can you recommend a suitable cheese, because that the BCP team really do care about)?
NEIL: Woah. Yeah. Well, baking came around because I like cooking for people and I wanted to make pizza for folk and getting them out at parties. And if you can do that, you can bake anything it turns out. You just need patience, and then you can give it to people. Cheese…[Neil’s studio colleagues recommend Cornish Yarg – good call] I can’t even pronounce this, it’s French… Ossau-iraty … Basque sheep’s milk cheese.
BCP: There you go, you handled my specific and awkward question. Your tortoise has become a bit of a social media star himself hasn’t he? How did you end up tweeting your tortoise?
NEIL: Yeah he’s more popular than me. The fascination started with unboxing videos, and I thought, I’ll unbox my tortoise from hibernation, as a piss-take, and it just blew up and went crazy. I keep him in the fridge and that raised loads of questions. People are interested in that side of things, but that kinda raises your profile too.
BCP: So obviously you really embrace social media; how do you think we’ll see it influence comic art both in terms of form and the industry in the future?
NEIL: I think a lot of people are getting picked up now from social media, especially Twitter, and a lot of people communicate directly with their fans through it. Nowadays we don’t really need a publisher so much, because you already have a fanbase that are ready to buy direct, that you can punt stuff too and that it turn gets the attention of industry people higher up. I get a lot my work through Facebook and Twitter. And fan engagement dovetails into the Kickstarter model, I think, from what I can tell. A lot of writers and artists, that’s their model now.
BCP: Thanks for your time!
NEIL: No probs, any time.
PIRATE FUN: THE FIRST TRIAL (post-snowpocalyptic meltdown)
NEIL: So, originally Colin Bell and I had planned to launch this at Dunfermline Comic Con, with all proceeds going to the Little Shop of Heroes Books for Schools Charity. You may have heard that this event has been cancelled due to the recent weather.
So, the next best thing we can do is this – we’re selling them online, with all proceeds going to the fund to make sure that the Graingers aren’t unfairly set back for recent events when they’ve worked all year to make it happen.
To answer some expected FAQs in advance:
– This is a 32 page black and white comic which is essentially a work-in-progress (although it’s pretty finished) of the first chapter of Pirate Fun. Pirate Fun will not be sold in single issues. A whole book of it will be out later in the year.
– It’s priced at £5 for the comic, and £10 for it signed and sketched by me. Yes, this is more than the norm. But it’s also to help ensure Dunfermline Comic Con’s and Little Shop of Heroes continued existence.
– Supplies are limited! We will NOT be reissuing the first chapter in print.
– It’s a GREAT comic. But don’t take my word for it! Here’s the BCP review (CLICK HERE).
– If you’d rather donate without buying our daft comic, that’s cool too! Go to: https://www.gofundme.com/savedunfermlinecomiccon