Interview: Andy Barron

Andy Barron is a cartoonist and illustrator
based in London. Barron will be attending TCAF this year with a collection of
his self-published, small run series of Om comics called Mantra. The
series features a doughy main character Om in a surreal world full of dangerous
creatures ready to eat him for dinner.

I sat down with Andy to have a chat about his
comics.

Alex Hoffman (Sequential State): Hey Andy, thanks for taking the time to talk to me about your new
collection.

Andy Barron: Thanks for inviting me Alex.

SS: I wanted to find out
from you how this whole series of comics started – what was the process for
creating the vibrant, scary world of Om?

AB: Well I suppose it all started with the
characters – I’ve been drawing variations of the main character Om in
sketchbooks for almost 10 years now.  Over time he just naturally started
to take shape as a character and a few years ago it got to a point where I was
writing little stories about him.  Turning those stories into comics was
another matter – I had no confidence in my ability to actually draw them and
for the longest time that put me off even starting – but I reached a point where
I knew if I didn’t give it a try it would only ever exist in my head.
 That delayed development has helped in some ways – the characters have
been bubbling away for so long that writing about them comes really easily.

I’ve always wanted to build up a picture of this world through a
series of short stories.  I’m hoping Mantra is the ideal first step into
Om’s world for people.

SS: You first sent me some
of the Om zines last year to look at, and I was thinking about their high print
quality, and also their small print-run size. Many cartoonists tend to go for a
lower quality print, and in black and white, in order to get more bang for
their printing buck, so to speak. I was wondering how you approached making
those early Om zines?

AB: Yeah, those were my first printed comics; heavy
paper stock, full colour interiors, screen printed covers … and very
expensive to make!

But they were only 6/10 pages each.  I printed 50 of each and
that was enough.  I didn’t think about selling loads of copies; I just wanted
to start getting my work out there.  That allowed me to spend a little
more on the production.

I don’t really think of my linework as finished work – colour is
one of the biggest parts of the process for me.  I’d approach the drawing
in a totally different way if I knew the finished product was going to be black
and white.

SS: One of the things I’ve
noticed in your Om mini comics is the seeming finality of most of them. Things
have a tendency to escalate pretty quickly, and endings often seem very “final.”
Is there a larger continuity or narrative to Om?

AB:
There’s no continuing
narrative as such.  One of my worries in collecting these into a book was
that it might suggest that the stories follow each other sequentially, which
has never been the plan. I treat each story in isolation, so each has its own
definite ending.

Pretty early on I wrote what I think will be the
final Om story – but up until that point the stories won’t follow any
particular sequence.

SS: There are some visual
references in the Om comics that strike me as very primal, almost id-like.
Bodily fluids, nipples, etc. I’m wondering what draws you to these images.

AB: I try not to think about where those images come from.  There’s
definitely an element of revealing something from my subconscious when I’m
working.  My favourite stories and images always appear in a bit of a
flash and should be a surprise to me. If I’m writing and I feel like an image
or situation is slightly laboured or forced, then I’ll tend to throw the story
away.  

Also, Om is essentially a shapeless white blob, so I needed some
sort of identifying feature for him as a character – for whatever reason that
feature was giant yellow nipples.

SS: When you say you aren’t
thinking about where those images come from, I’m intrigued. Do you think you
have a very directed creative process, or is it more free flowing, stream of
consciousness?

AB:
The writing side of
things is almost entirely spontaneous. When it comes to actually drawing the
pages it’s much more regimented. I’m still learning so I take a lot of time
planning the panel layouts and working out how each story should flow.

SS: I want to go back to the
imagery of the Om comics, which I find very visually striking from a color and
form sort of perspective. But there’s an inherent violence to your world. Om is
both lovely and sort of wretched. What’s your thought on that duality?

AB: The surface might be very bright and cartoonish – that’s how I love to
draw – but each comic is really my attempt to express a certain mood or
emotion.  

The violence always has an element of humour; I try not to draw
stories that are totally negative.  When I first wrote my story ‘Hoss’ it
was very different – much more negative.  But reading it back just left me
kind of depressed, so I reworked it to give it a slightly more slap-stick
ending.  It’s still violent but the mood is different.  Pea is my go
to character to if I need something funny/awful to happen in a story.

SS: Could you talk about
your more contemplative work in the series? I’m thinking of “The Touch” as an
example – in some ways this is a more studied comic, but also maybe more
disturbing than other Om comics?

AB: ‘The Touch’ was one of the earliest Om stories.
 It has most of the themes that crop up in the other comics so it felt
like the best choice to open ‘Mantra’.  Each of these stories is tied up
with my own state of mind when I wrote them – so I see very clear
autobiographical elements running throughout the whole series. Once they’re
printed though the meaning of each story is really up to whoever’s reading it.

SS: You’ve been putting out
these Om stories in a series of small print run zines, and Mantra is the
culmination of some of that earlier work. How did you decide which stories to
include in the collection?

AB: Well, the short answer is I’ve put everything in there!  Or almost
everything – some of the earlier stuff just didn’t read very well so,
naturally, I left those stories out.  It’s been great to look back on
these comics putting Mantra together, but now I’m just looking forward to
seeing where I can take Om next.


Thanks again to Andy for taking the time to talk with me –
you can find more of Andy Barron’s comics at http://andyillustrates.com/.

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