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Transcript by Renée Goulet
Hannah Berry: This is Make It Then Tell Everybody, I’m not Dan Berry. This week the tables have turned on Dan Berry, and Dan Berry’s being interviewed by Hannah Berry. We’ll be discussing his career, his life in comics, his love of comics, and the Bristol scale. [laughs]
Dan Berry: This is Make It Then Tell Everybody.
HB: Hello, and welcome to Make It Then Tell Everybody, with me, Han Berry. See what I did there?
DB: Oh yeah!
HB: Interviewing Dan Berry. Hello Dan Berry.
DB: Hi Han. Hannah. Hannah Berry, how are you doing?
HB: Pretty well, how are you?
DB: Pretty good. You see, I’ve already gone back to asking the questions. [laughs]
HB: Stop it! It’s my turn.
DB: I’ve done nothing but question you now, haven’t I?
HB: You need to drop those question marks. It’s my turn with the question marks.
DB: Okay, sorry.
HB: Okay so… wait, what’s my first question? This is harder than it looks!
DB: I know, yeah.
HB: Do you find there’s a knack? Is there a knack to the podcasting, to the questioning?
DB: It’s just a conversation. I don’t really get… let me think, stage fright anymore. I think the first few I did, because you keep thinking, ‘Oh, it’s got to be right. I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to be witty, I’ve got to be clever, I’ve got to ask smart questions.’ I think when I came to the realisation that smart questions are kind of overrated and dumb question cut to the heart of things really, really quickly, it was quite easy. The Dan on the podcast is a character that I have to play.
DB: Yeah, I do. And when I talk to people I’ll say, ‘I play this character of the dumb guy.’ I want to be the guy that is asking the dumb questions. So if someone says…
HB: But Dan, I thought you were that dumb!
DB: [laughs] I’m very, very clever. Very clever in real life, but the benefit is… the way I explain it to people when we set up to record is that I teach comics for a living, and I’ve had loads and loads of students who would have had a far easier time of their studies, and a far easier time with their art, if when I said, or anyone had said, ‘Okay, go and scan this in. If you do it, it’s 300 DPI. And then you’ve got to move that. Then you’ve got to do this. Blah, blah, blah. Do you understand? Do you know what you’re doing?’ And they go, ‘Yeah.’ When what they really mean is, ‘Nope. You lost me at 300 DPI. I don’t know what you mean. So there’s a real value in asking dumb questions, and I’m not afraid of looking stupid, so I feel ultimately qualified now to ask stupid questions. I have forgotten your original question though.
HB: I don’t think I had one. I think I was building up to start, really.
DB: Rookie mistake. Rookie mistake for an interviewer there. [laughs] I don’t have any questions either when I interview people. I’ve got a list of things I like to think about, but I don’t write down questions. Not that I’m judging you if you have Hannah. I’m very sorry if you have.
HB: I might have written down some questions. They’re really witty. I’m currently scribbling them out, and writing some stupid ones now.
DB: Good, good. Just fling that to one side. You don’t need it.
HB: What’s your favourite colour?
HB: Oh! Good, good.
DB: This week I really like teal.
HB: This week, Dan is liking teal. So actually, my first question was going to be, you know when you meet people at parties and places… new people, these are. What do you tell them you do? If they say, ‘Hello, I’m John. I’m a scientist. What do you do?’ You’re only given a short space to answer.
DB: It depends on the person, it depends on the party, and it also depends on how drunk I might be. Normally I’ll tell people that I teach comics for a living, because this is… the lion’s share of my time is taken up with teaching. You know, I teach five days a week, and it’s an incredible amount of work that goes into that. It’s a really big thing, it’s the thing that pays my mortgage. It’s the thing that means I get to put clothes on my children, and things like that, and food on the table. So that is my primary occupation, is teaching. So usually it’s teaching. If I think they might be a butthead, I’ll say I teach illustration, because everyone knows what illustration is. They go, ‘Oh yeah, like pictures and that. Brilliant.’ And you go, ‘Yes, that’s what I do.’ ‘Oh, sounds pretty easy.’ And you think, ‘Yep. Yes it is. Really easy.’
HB: And then you walk away.
DB: Yeah, and then walk away.
HB: Walk away and leave them to their evening.
DB: Yeah. If they seem nice or if they seem cool I’ll explain in more detail what I do, that I teach illustration and storytelling, creative writing and pacing and narrative and design and typography. All the things that go into making comics. Also, I make comics myself. Hey! You know, isn’t that cool?
HB: You just drop that in at the end?
DB: Then we become firm friends.
HB: And you skip off into the sunset and all is well.
DB: Yeah, it’s pretty good. A charmed life I lead. It’s a charmed life.
HB: So you don’t consider yourself, first and foremost, a comics creator? Is that a different question entirely?
DB: I think I can only teach what I teach because of what I do. Interesting question.
HB: Bit Paxman, wasn’t it?
DB: A little bit. It’s all about the amount of time I spend doing things. At the moment it’s, sort of, 40 plus hours a week teaching, and then, I don’t know, maybe ten drawing and comics-ing. Then probably another five podcasting.
HB: How do you find the time? I’ve got this theory that you might in fact be a clone. You’re more beardy than when I last saw you, so I think maybe you’re not the same Dan Berry that I last saw.
DB: Yeah, there’s Dan Berry, there’s Dan Kerry, there’s Dan Derry. We go through the… how do I fit it in? I wake up really early. I’ve always woken up pretty…
HB: Talk us through a day in the life of Dan Berry.
DB: Are we talking about a typical day, or shall I take you through today?
HB: Whichever’s more interesting. Whichever one’s more podcastable. Whichever one has the least rude things going on.
DB: [laugh] Well! Okay, well I like to do a poo every morning.
HB: Consistency on the Bristol scale, or shall we leave that?
DB: Let’s leave that. Just a 6. An average I think. Let’s explore the Bristol scale now, because I don’t know if I’ve just made myself sound horrible, or like, really ill or something.
HB: I don’t know if there are numbers, or if there’s…
DB: [laughs] There’s numbers and letters. You know, so this is a 6C. Oh god!
HB: Like a sunken battleship?
DB: Very similar!
HB: This is what happens. Are you sure you don’t want someone else to do this interview? Because I’ve already brought it round to poo.
DB: Don’t you try and take credit for that, I did that. That was me.
HB: Oh no, you did do that. Okay, no that’s fine. I should have moved on.
DB: No, it’s fine. I should have moved on.
HB: So you’ve had this poo. Six on the Bristol scale.
DB: I mark it off on the chart that I keep in the bathroom.
DB: Okay, so a normal day, if it’s a teaching week, I will normally wake up at about half past 5:00, six o’clock-ish. If my daughter wakes me up earlier, it will be anywhere between 3:00 and 6:00.
HB: Good god!
DB: Naturally I’ll just wake up at 6:00 anyway. That’s my normal time to wake up, and that’s been the same as long as I can remember. I wasn’t the teenager that could stay in bed or anything. I’ve always been an itchy, restless, get up and do things kind of guy. I’m either awake or asleep. I can’t doze.
HB: Strange man you are.
DB: Yeah, I know this is unusual, and I don’t get comfortable very easily, and I don’t relax very well either. So I’ll get up, and the first thing I’ll do is, I’ll check my emails and I’ll check my Twitter, because I have a problem. Like all of us, we all have a problem with this.
HB: I think that’s the first stage, is admitting it.
DB: That’s right! So I admit I’ve got a problem, so I’ll check my emails. Then if they’re important I’ll answer them, straight away. If they’re not important… I’ve got this amazing new mail app, called Mailbox on my iPhone. You know when you’re normally answering email… sorry, this is maybe going off topic, but it’s been a big thing for me.
HB: That’s fine.
DB: And it’s really recent.
HB: We can edit out if it goes really boring.
DB: It might… might edit it out. Might keep it in, I don’t know. It’s going to sound like I’m being sponsored by them or something, but it lets you say, ‘Okay, this is important, but I’m not doing it now.’ So you, sort of, swipe it around and say, ‘Remind me this afternoon, tomorrow evening, do this.’
HB: That sounds amazing.
DB: Then it disappears. So it’s still there, and tomorrow afternoon it pops back into your thing saying, ‘Hello, answer me!’ And you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I do have time now.’
HB: That’s fantastic!
DB: I know!
HB: Could you get the same thing with your dishes and the laundry?
DB: Children. They’re not old enough to do them yet.
HB: Do children have a snooze button? I’m not sure.
DB: No! No they don’t! So I’ll check my emails, and if they’re really important I’ll answer them. If they’re something that can wait till later, I’ll set them to remind me later to do them. I’ll get up and have a cup of coffee and check my work emails, and important things, I’ll answer then. I leave for work at half past 7:00. I drive 35 miles to work each day, and then 35 miles home again. So on the way to work I’ll listen to an audio book, or a podcast, or something interesting. I don’t tend to listen to music in the car.
HB: Do you not?
DB: Nope. Not really. I’ve got to be in the mood.
HB: What kind of audio books? What kind of podcasts?
DB: I’m listening to the Malcolm Gladwell book about David and Goliath at the moment, and a bunch of funny podcasts. There’s lots of funny podcasts on the Maximum Fun Network, which I thoroughly recommend. Serial. I know we were nerding out about it.
HB: We were discussing earlier.
DB: So, I’ll get to work for about half past 8:00, and I start teaching at 10:00, so I start doing all of my boring admin work between half 8:00 and 10:00. This is really boring. 10:00 till 4:00 or five o’clock I’m teaching, so it’s a really mixed, varied bag depending which group I’m with, what we’re doing. We could be talking typography, we could be doing…
HB: So what kind of age group do you teach?
DB: People from 18 upwards basically. It’s a degree course.
HB: Oh excellent. They all want to be there.
DB: Yes. So I’ll teach till 4:00 or five o’clock. Finish up emails and things at the end of the day. Drive home, again listening to more podcasts, copyright, trademark.
HB: Nice, nice.
DB: Get home. We’ll have dinner. I’ll put the kids to bed. If MasterChef is on, I’ll watch MasterChef. If not, I’ll work on any of the numerous freelance jobs I’ve got going at the moment, and then go to bed for about, I guess, ten and a half…
HB: Ten minutes?
DB: [laughs] Yes, ten…
HB: For about ten minutes.
DB: Ten and a half minutes.
HB: Just long enough to recharge, and then up again. So you do freelance work as well. So you do the teaching, you do the podcasting, you do your own comics, and you do the freelancing, and you have a family.
HB: A young family.
HB: Good god. I suddenly feel really lazy. I hope everyone else listening to this is suddenly feeling really lazy as well, because shit.
DB: But the thing is, young parents will emphasise with this and everyone else will say, ‘Oh shut up.’ That’s the way it is, I understand what it is to be a young parent and talk about what it’s like to have kids, but having kids really makes you understand how many hours there are in the day, and how much time there is to do stuff. I’ve had two experiences where I’ve been given the benefit of finding out how long an hour is and how long things take. I worked in a creative job in a marketing agency, in my life previous to being an educator.
HB: Oh really?
DB: Yeah. You know, it was your standard design stuff, but it was really hard work, really intense. It wasn’t a good job. I didn’t have a good boss, and I ended up being hospitalised with stress because we were doing… I think the longest week I did was, like, 86 hours or something insane like that, without breaks as well. It was really horrible. So I ended up being hospitalised for stress and quitting the job and just never looking back. Like, ‘Oh god, it was horrible.’
HB: Bloody hell.
DB: That kind of workload is not sustainable at all, and it’s really nasty, and it was a very unpleasant time, but it gives you a really, really good understanding of what you can do in one hour. Sitting down and thinking, ‘Right, in this hour I’m going to achieve this. I’m going to do this. I’m not going to check Facebook. I’m not going to look at Twitter. I’m not going to do any of these things, and just do this one thing for a while.’ You can get loads done.
HB: You’re really super disciplined.
DB: No! It doesn’t feel that way.
HB: No? It sounds like you are. I’ve lost whole hours to Twitter. Bloody, bloody Twitter.
DB: I just think I’m not very good at it. I think I’m quite good…
HB: Well that’s clearly not true.
DB: I don’t think there’s such a thing as multitasking, and I think the people who say they can multitask are filthy liars. I don’t believe them at all. I think that you can dedicate your time and energy on one thing, and do it really well for a limited amount of time. But if you’ve got 12 things to do at any one time, you stretch out that amount of ability across 12 things and it gets spread really thing. So I’ll do Twitter for X amount of time, and then step away and have to do something else. I can’t do two things at the same time. I’m not good enough to do that.
HB: You say this Dan, but I can see on the screen here, I can see that you’re doing this podcast and you’re making a small mini comic at the same time.
DB: No I’m not. What are you talking about? I’m not doing that at all! [laughs]
HB: It’s just out of shot, and I believe that you could be. It’s the only way I can understand your time.
DB: I was drawing before we started recording, but I should have been doing something else.
DB: Yeah, I should have been editing a different podcast.
HB: Drinking port.
DB: I’m drinking white port at the moment, because it’s Christmas.
HB: White port. Very specific. [laughs] ‘Tis the season. It would be rude not to.
HB: I think Jesus likes white port. Wasn’t that him?
DB: Oh he loves it. He loves it!
HB: He loved a little bit of white port. It was his favourite thing. I think that’s actually why he came back after he died.
HB: Just a little… a last little dram.
DB: A little snifter.
HB: Is that bad to be faintly blasphemous? It wasn’t anything bad. He loves it.
DB: No, he’s fine. He loves everyone, and everything.
HB: How did you get started in comics in the first place, because you were in advertising. Were you doing comics at the same time?
DB: I was starting to try and do comics. I think that I started getting into comics as we know it, as I know it now, as the industry that is the loose collection of people connected by Twitter and a handful of events… I don’t think I really knew what that was until 2007, 2008 or so. I don’t think I did my first show till later than then. I can’t remember the year. I was drawing comics from, I think about 2002, 2003, or thereabouts, but they were terrible and nobody will ever see them.
HB: Oh, come on!
DB: I don’t have them! I’ve literally thrown them away. I’m not sentimental at all about things like that.
HB: What were they about? Do you remember?
DB: Yeah. For a long time it was me trying to be Chris Ware, because obviously, you know, you read Chris Ware…
HB: We’ve all been through that stage.
DB: …and you’re like, ‘Oh Jimmy Corrigan’s the best on the planet, and I love it, and I’m going to learn how to draw with a brush.’ I went through a long phase of that, and I’m kind of glad that I didn’t know anybody, because I was literally just doing these in my flat and thinking, ‘Cor, wouldn’t it be great if… if.’ I don’t know what I was thinking, to be honest. I was embarrassingly old to be so naïve.
HB: You wouldn’t have been that old in 2003, would you?
DB: Early 20s.
HB: That’s alright, isn’t it? That’s still…
DB: I hope so.
HB: That’s when you dabble with your career. That’s when you can play around.
DB: Yeah, that’s true.
HB: I think anything up until 39, I think, is the age when you can…
DB: [laughs] Sorry listeners age 39 and above.
HB: Give or take.
DB: So, I’d been messing around with doing comics, and I’d done a bunch of small mini comics. I found out if you took a sheet of A4 and made a cut down the middle and folded it in a certain way, you could make a book. And I remember that exploded my mind. I remember thinking, ‘I’m a publisher. I can make books. I’m a publisher. This is amazing.’ I felt powerful, but I didn’t know what to do with them. So I literally went to the local Waterstones bookshop and put them inside books that I thought other people might like. So I found copies of Black Hole, by Charles Burns and put them inside.
HB: That’s brilliant!
DB: I don’t know if I’d say it was brilliant. I felt…
HB: Do you still employ this model of distribution?
DB: No, my books are too thick now. They’re just marginally too thick to actually fit inside a different book. I have to rethink a few things, perhaps. That was it basically. That’s how I got in to drawing them. I really like drawing them. I think that I feel like I can prove that I really liked it, because no one was watching and no one ever read them. Like, my wife would read them and go, ‘Hmm.’ It’s like, ‘Okay, well these need to be better then, I suppose.’ And that was good, I think.
HB: Had you been doing them since you were very small, since you were young as well? Did you draw them when you were a kid?
DB: I remember I used to copy Asterix and Tintin stories. I remember drawing Asterix’s feet and thinking that he only had one toe on each foot, because he had that weird nubbin at the end of his…
HB: Yeah, that’s weird, isn’t it? Not sure about the nubbin. It’s a little bit like a hamster’s arse.
DB: That was exactly what I was going to say next! It’s exactly like that.
HB: [laughs] Hey, great Berrys!
DB: [laughs] And the eight-year-old me, definitely thought that.
HB: It’s not right, is it? It’s not right.
DB: No. It’s forgivable. They’re great books, I really enjoyed them.
HB: So you were reading Asterix and Tintin when you were younger, obviously. Were you reading Calvin and Hobbes, because your son is called Calvin?
DB: My son is called Calvin, yeah. Yep, I used to read Calvin and Hobbes as well. Very much liked Calvin and Hobbes.
HB: And your daughter’s called Hobbes I believe, isn’t she?
DB: My daughter’s called Bill.
DB: You know, my wife and I very much like Calvin and Hobbes and when he was born we had one girl’s name… no, we had a few girls’ names I think, and we only had one boy’s name that we could agree on. No, no, we didn’t have any girls’ names, but we only had one boy’s name we could agree on, so we had a boy.
HB: That’s fortunate then, really.
DB: Yeah. I couldn’t remember the… it was the most special day of my life. Of course I remember, so shut up. Yeah, he’s Calvin. Just seemed like the name that suited him.
HB: That’s a fantastic name. I’m a little upset that you got there first, but you know, fair dibs. Fair dibs.
DB: You know, there are other Calvins. Klein, Coolidge.
HB: I can’t think of any others.
DB: There’s Harris.
DB: This is great radio, by the way.
HB: The Calvin with Calvinism. Mr Calvin, the first of all Calvins.
DB: Of course.
HB: That might have been a surname.
HB: I’m revealing my massive ignorance. This is awkward, isn’t it?
DB: Let’s move on.
HB: Let’s move on from that. You’re the same age as me, aren’t you?
DB: I don’t know how old you are.
HB: I’m… ahem, I’m 32.
DB: I’m 33 actually, so no. Miles off.
HB: That’s why you seem slightly ‘maturer’.
DB: I have a better beard, for sure.
HB: You do. Mine’s got a little way to go yet. I’m working on it. I’m working on it Dan!
DB: I trust you. I know you can do this.
HB: Obviously you’re reading the good stuff when you were a kid. Did you have a weird tailing off as well when you hit the teenage years, where there wasn’t really much for us?
DB: Yeah. I had a whole bunch of… because my family was really poor when we grew up. I’ve got three brothers and our family never really earned any money, so all of the comics we’d get in were either charity shop finds, or they’d get donated or something to us. You know, someone would pass something along. So we never had brand new comics, really. Maybe Christmas and birthdays we might get a new Tintin book or something, and it’s pretty good, but by and large it wasn’t a regular occurrence. So books were special. And I had a bunch of old Eagle Annuals, which had a bunch of these action comics and these guys from… like war stories and people who could climb up buildings, you know. It was good fun. I really liked that stuff.
HB: People with square chins.
DB: Very square chins. The squarest of all chins.
HB: You could cut a sandwich around that.
DB: Yes, exactly. You could! You could mould a…
HB: Mould a loaf tin around it?
DB: Yes! That’s exactly what I was thinking. Two minds, one heart. Excellent. But I had some friends who were into comics properly, properly into comics, when I was at school, and I remember feeling that it was just this closed door, because they were all kept in these plastic bags and you weren’t suppose to read them. And if you did read them, you needed to know so much that came before it, that it… it seemed like a really difficult, closed system to get into. So I just stopped bothering really. But then it’s weird, because I don’t think I ever thought of Calvin and Hobbes and Tintin and stuff, as being comics. I don’t know if that makes any sense at all.
HB: No, I think I felt the same way. It seemed outside of that somehow.
DB: You know, Gary Larson’s Far Side as well. It never felt like comics, because it was too funny. I don’t know if that’s right. So I stopped. I stopped reading comics and stopped bothering. I carried on drawing. I’ve always been a doodler. I can’t stop doodling.
HB: I have heard this about you.
DB: Yeah. So when I went to university, I remember going into Magma in Manchester and seeing this weird book, this really big, weird, ornate book, and it was the Quimby the Mouse book that Chris Ware did. I remember being too scared to pick it up and too scared to look through it, because I didn’t want the people who worked there to judge me for picking up a book that clearly wasn’t for me. I don’t know why I thought that. I remember the next time going in and going, ‘I’m just gonna buy this, and I don’t care what’s inside it.’
HB: To hell with it!
DB: To hell with it! I’m just going to buy this book that I’m fascinated by. And I remember, because I was studying design and multimedia design and there’s one strip in it where he’s saying, ‘I hate you, and I don’t even care if you know anymore. That’s just it. That’s just the way I feel, so just shut up,’ and it was something like that, but the way he’d laid out the page is, he forces you to read backwards through the page, and upside down and around in circles, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is real control. In terms of a graphic design point of view, this guy’s exerting incredible control over the person who’s looking at this page. This is incredible!’ This is deeper than anything I’ve been thinking about in terms of design or typography or sequencing before, or storytelling. I remember being very, very impressed that you could get someone to do that. It’s not been something that I’ve been trying to replicate since. I don’t think that that’s necessarily my thing, but it’s very impressive.
HB: You try and exert your will over people in other ways.
DB: Just physically. Just push ‘em around.
HB: People don’t mind that, right? That’s fine.
DB: Spit at them. Things like that.
HB: Yeah. Push them over by the face. That kind of thing.
DB: Yeah, that’s me. That’s me all over.
HB: It’s funny that Chris Ware was the thing that brought you back into comics, because your work is so… is almost the anti-Chris Ware. It’s so far…
DB: Thank you. [laughs] Pause for applause.
HB: You know how everyone loves Chris Ware? Your work is the opposite.
DB: Yeah, you know how everyone loves that stuff. What’s the opposite of that?
HB: [laughs] Reviled! That’s what I’m thinking of.
DB: There we go! My work is universally reviled.
HB: But your work is so loose, and it’s so fluid, and it’s so vibrant. It’s the opposite of Chris Ware’s, which is obviously very, very planned and very orderly. So how do you arrive at that style?
DB: Lots and lots of planning. [laughs] Being very orderly about it, basically. Like I said, I’d always drawn, and I’d always been able to draw. I didn’t draw for a long time, from the age of, I guess, 17 to 20-something. It was half way through my degree that I started drawing comics and figuring these things out, but I’d always been able to fairly accurately represent something. I could draw hands that looked like hands, and I could draw likenesses and things like that with pencil, because that’s what you get taught at school. Draw some pencil drawings. So I was okay with that, and I remember being really dissatisfied with it, because if it doesn’t look absolutely perfect it falls into this weird in-between zone where it’s just ghastly, and it’s not fun to draw, it’s not fun to look at. I remember really, really trying hard to find a different way out of this. I’m a firm believer in doing the same things over and over again, expecting different results is just nuts. You’re an idiot if you do that. Sorry, idiots out there, if you do that. So I always try and find…
HB: You know they’re going to go back and replay this podcast and hope you say something different each time.
DB: [laughs] High five! Pretty good. Well done, Hannah Berry. Here all week!
HB: Thanks, thanks.
DB: I’m jealous now of that joke. So, what was I doing?
HB: If you want, we can cut that out and pretend that you did it.
DB: Thank you, I’ll just drop the pitch a little bit. ‘And that was me that said that, by the way.’ So, I remember being confronted will all these problems while I was trying to draw comics. Like, how do I get the faces to look the same each time? Which, as seasoned professionals such as ourselves, it comes as second nature to us.
HB: [laughs] Of course it does!
DB: But I remember that being the big challenge, the huge, big challenge that I wanted to try and solve with my work. I had to get the faces to look the same each time, and having to be quite analytical about it, and figure out, ‘Okay, so if this is the head, this is where, as a proportion, how far up the head the eyes go. This is how big the nose is, in proportion to this, that and the other.’ Trying to figure it out in a very methodical, scientific way. And then, finding that doing that had such stiff, boring lines. Then thinking, ‘Right, so why have these got stiff boring line? What’s going on here?’ So again, methodically going through it. ‘Oh, maybe it’s the pen I’m drawing with?’ I was doing everything with Fineliner, which is very, very difficult to get an expressive line with.
HB: I need to talk to you about pens, but perhaps we’ll come back to that in a minute.
DB: Sure. Ooh, how much time have you got?
DB: So I’d draw with a brush, because I heard someone used a brush, and then I found that brushes, you can drop them or you can do stupid things with them and let them dry out and they’re ruined, so I found a brush pen. I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this is amazing! This is a thing that… it has that loose line that I’m looking for, and it does something slightly different. I hear Craig Thompson maybe uses a brush pen. Wow, that’s amazing.’ Looking for that perfect pen. I’ve been very analytical about the way that my work has developed, and I’ve always wanted that feeling that it’s the first time I’ve drawn it, to come out in the work.
HB: Is it the first time you’ve drawn it?
DB: No, no. Very rarely.
HB: It is always planned?
DB: Yeah, fairly fastidiously, really. I leave enough ambiguity in the planning that when I come to draw it, it’s not tracing. It’s getting the rough shapes down.
HB: You don’t use a lightbox.
HB: Oh, you do, but just the loose…
DB: Yeah, my roughs are super rough. Really, worryingly, amateurishly rough looking.
HB: Rougher than an old man’s bottom. No? That does not work, carry on.
DB: Old man… I haven’t sampled enough of…
HB: I mean, smooth as a baby’s bottom. You’d assume that…
DB: Oh okay! Sure, the inverse. Of course yes, that makes sense. I understand now. Yes, exactly, what you said was correct, but I’ve forgotten what I was going to say. So, what I’m trying to do is, because I don’t have an awful lot of time to do anything, a lot of my styles arrived out of being really busy and trying to find a way to cope, doing everything. I figured that my options were, now that I’ve got a big, full time job, and a family, and a commute, and a thing, and a whatsit, my options are give something up, or change something. So I continually do this, change things about the way I work to try and buy more time. For me the drawing bit isn’t a worry anymore. I’m not worried about my drawing like I used to be. I’m fairly confident in my line, I’m confident in the tools I use. I’m really, really boring basically. I use the same paper for everything, so there are no surprises there. I use a pen extensively before I use it for comics, so I know that there’s going to be no surprises, you know, if it goes blobby or catches.
HB: It’s like taming a horse.
DB: Like taming a horse, yeah. Or at least getting to know a horse so it becomes so boring, so dull, that nothing it does can ever surprise you. That’s basically it. Is that the definition of taming? I don’t know.
HB: I don’t know. I don’t like horses very much.
DB: No, me neither.
HB: I’ve not ever tamed a… I mean, insects. You know, when you’re a child and you keep a ladybird in a matchbox, that kind of thing. That’s kind of like taming a horse.
DB: Yes, it’s your command over nature. That’s fine. What was the question?
HB: I’ve completely lost track now! That’s bad question mastering. You wouldn’t get that on a regular Dan Berry podcast.
DB: No, no. This is getting all cut out. [laughs] This is going to be a 15-minute podcast!
HB: [laughs] Some great things we talked about, here’s a summarisation.
DB: What was the question? The question was something about… oh, I was talking about saving time.
HB: Saving time, yes. And changing your style accordingly.
DB: Yeah. And so, a lot of the way I draw now has come out of saving time, so I get more time to spend with my kids, or more time to do extra work or something. I don’t find the actual drawing difficult anymore. The process has become dull and boring, which is good. It’s great. It means it doesn’t get in the way of the ideas or the story that I’m trying to tell. I think that was a trap that I did fall into to begin with, trying to make everything really interesting all the time, and make everything brand new for myself and keep that, sort of, love affair feeling with the art work all the way through. I don’t think that’s really sustainable, and it’s a really good way of making yourself disappointed with your work. Well, for me that was what I found. Accepting that there are portions of it that have to be boring, but there’s an enjoyment to be had in that by itself was really good. You know, it’s really liberating.
HB: You still enjoy it though, right?
DB: Yeah! Oh god yeah, absolutely. Very, very much so.
HB: Did you hear the slight desperation in my voice then? ‘You do, don’t you?’
DB: I do, yeah! I really, really, really enjoy drawing. You get into this, sort of, mental Zen state when everything’s going really well, and I love it. That’s great. It’s a really good feeling. It’s deeply pleasurable. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens often enough that it’s totally worth it.
HB: Is that partly why you do it?
DB: No, because that’s only a recent thing. I think being comfortable enough with the way I work has led onto that, and that’s really nice. Why do I do this? I like the idea with comics, that I can have an idea, I can come up with something, I can write it down and turn it into a bunch of things that then makes that same idea appear inside your head. It’s like telecommunication, you know? It’s really good. You’ve got absolute control about what and how you communicate, and I think that there’s something really delightful about that.
HB: Yeah. That’s gone slightly back to controlling other people, but that’s is part of its charm.
DB: A recurring theme here, isn’t it?
HB: [laughs] Part of its glorious charm!
DB: Oh god. I’m coming across really badly now, aren’t I?
HB: Not at all, not at all. I think people will just be a little bit more cautious around you now.
DB: Yes, guarded.
HB: Be very aware of your mind control. So your stories, even though they’re very… generally they have a light-hearted feel to them, at least initially, but they’re not really, are they?
HB: Well, I had a little read of Carry Me, and I cried. I shed actually tears from my actual face, Dan Berry.
DB: I get that a lot.
HB: You do?
DB: Yeah, I get emails from people saying, ‘Oh, I bought this book off you at this festival, and then I read it on the train home and cried in front of all my friends, you bastard.’ Like, ‘Oh, I’m really sorry!’ And they’re like, ‘No, in a good way!’ And you think, ‘Well, okay. Um, good.’ Yeah, it is a sad story.
HB: I’m pretty sure that when you interviewed me, all those years ago, whenever it was, 2000 and…
HB: I’m pretty sure that we discussed… we’ve talked about writing darkness, and things. Are you drawn to that? Do you have a darkened patch of your soul?
DB: Yeah, of course. I think everyone does. It’s strange because the first few books I did that anyone paid any attention to were funny. At least I think that… I was trying to make them funny. Let’s say that. I know that humour’s subjective, or whatever, but the aim was, ‘Here are some funny books, and you’re going to laugh. Hey!’ You know, everyone likes to laugh, that’s good fun. That probably came… I was thinking a lot about comedy at the time. I used to do stand-up comedy way back when.
HB: Did you?
DB: Oh yes.
HB: I did not know this about you!
DB: Did a bit of stand-up.
HB: You’re a man with a dark past.
DB: Yeah, a chequered history. So, you know, I’m very interested in humour and comedy and I love it. I love laughing and I love a really well told joke and a really nicely constructed thing. I find that fascinating, but I also find the idea of taking a ghost story fascinating, or doing something tragic, or setting up a premise that misdirects you into thinking something else. I’m really interested in storytelling. I’m fascinated by it. Really, really fascinated by it. So I think that because the first few stories I did were funny stories, I made an expectation, ‘Oh, this guy does funny stories.’ Then you do a book like Carry Me, which is not funny. I don’t think there’s anything funny about it at all.
HB: No, not really.
DB: I think it throws people, because they’re like, ‘Oh! This funny guy’s doing something he’s not supposed to do. This is kind of strange.’ With Carry Me specifically, I remember people not knowing how to respond to it, because they knew what to expect with my stories. ‘Oh, it’s going to be funny. The Suitcase is funny. This was funny, this was funny.’ And then, ‘So what am I supposed to do with this now? You want me to cry, do you Dan Berry?’ Like, ‘Well, yeah. Yeah, that’s what I want.’ No it’s not. I don’t know. I don’t know what I want.
HB: Does your storytelling, does it have the same kind of meticulous approach as your drawing?
HB: Do you plan it, and plan it, and plan it, and then make it look… because it has the same kind of spontaneity… not spontaneity. That sounds like I’m undermining you, but it’s not laboured, is what I’m trying to say. It doesn’t feel at all laboured.
DB: It is. [laughs] It really is! The process, as it stands is, I’ll have an idea, and I’ll tap it into my phone, into the notes, or I’ll email it to myself, or make a note of it in my sketchbook somehow. You know, as soon as I have an idea, I’ve got to capture it and get it down, and then it’s solid and it’s not going anywhere. If I just think, ‘Oh, well I’ll remember that,’ I won’t. It just dribbles out of my nose while I’m sleeping and it’s gone. So from that initial premise… I mean, a good example to give is Nicholas & Edith, the 24-hour comic I did. It’s a bit of a lie to say it’s a 24-hour comic, because the artwork itself was done in the 24 hours, but the planning was a month before hand.
HB: Is that allowed?
DB: Because I was in charge, yes it is!
DB: Yup. I made the rules there.
HB: The man in control, he has the control.
DB: It was a really, really good experience. It was such a good day. But the initial one… the idea that that started with was a haunted scrapyard. That’s where I started.
HB: Right. So not at all like the story?
DB: No, not at all like the story. The ideas I have… I mean, that one’s a really good example because it went through eight different versions of the scrapyard thing, because I’d gone to a scrapyard to find a part for my wife’s car, and you get this idea like, ‘Oh my god. This is where people have died, because all these cars are smashed up and… oh, is that blood on the seat?’ Like, ieee, this is… so that’s where the story came from.
HB: [laughs] I’m sorry I’m laughing at that. That’s horrific!
DB: Yeah, it’s really horrible.
HB: I’m laughing in fear.
DB: Yes, it’s a natural response. It’s a fight or flight, and you’re fighting it with laughter. So that was where it started and it will go through a whole bunch of variations, until it got to the point where I realised it wasn’t about ghosts chasing someone, it was about people coming to terms with the fact that they’re the cause of their own problems. They don’t just, sort of, pop out and then turn into artwork, and I’d love it if they did. I really would. If I’m honest, that would be ideal. Just pop out an idea, ‘Whee.’ Pop out as artwork, ‘Oh, done!’ You know, I could do two of these a week. It’d be brilliant. But it is a fairly laboured process. So it will start on my phone as a note, and then I find that if I wake up at 4:00 in the morning, you have this ideas furnace inside your head, and you start by feeding it these little twigs and then the flames get bigger. Then at 4:00 in the morning, providence comes and lands with this great big log that it piles into your head furnace.
HB: Are we going back to the Bristol scale again?
DB: We are, yeah. It’s a 17B, and it ignites this frenzy of activity where you can’t do anything but. It’s 2:00, 3:00, 4:00 in the morning, you have to get up and write this down quickly, immediately because, ‘Oh Christ, this fire’s burning hot and I’ve got to get on with it. Ahh! Now, now, now. Quick!’ But I don’t get that until I’ve done all the boring work at the beginning, where I think, ‘Oh, it’s going to be about this car that falls off this stack of things, blah, blah, blah…’ boring stuff. And then it will go through another version where it’s, ‘Oh, maybe they’ve got a lamp that they take in there, and it’s night-time. The lamp motif got shifted all the way through till the very last version of the story before I drew it, and then realised, ‘Oh, the only reason I’m drawing this is because it was in the first version, and there’s no reason for it in the story, so I’ll cut it out.’ I’m very cold and analytical about the way that the story will develop, but I still need to feel like I’m writing it with a bit of heart, and I don’t know how to describe that.
HB: That makes sense. It makes sense to me.
DB: Phew! Good.
HB: Hopefully for everyone else as well.
DB: I kind of just, blurted out a bunch of stuff and hoped that it sounded about right.
HB: It sounds like you still really… you do enjoy the process as well, of the whole thing.
DB: Yeah, I mean, there’s no bit of the process I don’t find enjoyable anymore. I used to hate lettering, and then I forced myself to do loads and loads of lettering. My handwriting’s terrible by itself.
HB: I didn’t want to say anything.
DB: [laughs] But now, now it’s pretty good because you can train it. You can get better at these things just by practice.
HB: I thought you used a font.
DB: Yeah, it’s based on my handwriting. I taught myself to do that. Part of my freelance job is making people typefaces as well, which is an awful lot of fun, but that activates a different reward centre in your brain, because it’s so cold, clinical, analytical. ‘Must sort out this kerning.’ ‘Mmm, what about this?’ You’ve got to get really nerdy about weights and ems and picas and things like that. It’s good. I like that. But it feeds a different part.
HB: Actually this leads me on quite nicely to pens, your fascination with pens. To try and do some research I’ve been listening to quite a few of the Make It Then Tell Everybody podcasts, and obviously they’re really enjoyable. I’ve noticed you do talk about pens a lot.
DB: Yeah, I love them.
HB: They’re kind of your thing, aren’t they?
DB: Yeah. It goes back again, you know, that analytical, ‘try and find that magic pen’ thing, that I spent a lot of time doing. I’ve spent a lot of money on pens, not to brag. [laughs] But I’ve spent a lot of money on pens over the years, trying to find that one magic pen that will draw bicycles or cars properly.
HB: Have you found it?
DB: No, no.
HB: It’s out there Dan. Don’t lose hope!
DB: I knew that I wanted a flexible line, so I went and used a brush for a while, and then I found that they weren’t practical, so I started using brush pens for a while. Then I found that the Pentel brush pen I was using, it’s got a synthetic tip and it doesn’t quite go exactly the way I want, so I’ll buy one with a sable tip, and it’ll cost an enormous amount of money or something, and I won’t tell my wife about that. Then I’ll just… you know, so it’s been a constant process of slow refinement, to try and find the pen that works best for me. I think I’m starting to find pens that are about right.
HB: Yeah. It’s like your life quest.
DB: It’s kind of a nice, fun little hobby as well.
HB: It must be good come Christmastime as well. I imagine you’re quite good to buy presents for.
DB: No, I’m terrible, because I don’t want anything! I don’t need anything. I’ve got everything I need. I’m terrible to buy Christmas presents for.
HB: People can’t buy you some nice nibs, or some lovely ink?
DB: No, you’ll get it wrong.
HB: Well, I’m glad I don’t have to buy you a present now!
DB: What I’ve found, the overall stories… I was using a Pilot Desk Pen, or a Platinum Desk Pen for a long time. I was doing a lot of my work with this Desk Pen, and I was finding that the nibs were wearing down too quickly. I’ve very heavy handed when I’m drawing, and it’s caused me some problems with my wrist. I smashed my wrist up when I was a teenager. I broke a lot of the small bones inside my wrist, and then when it healed…
HB: How’d you do that?
DB: I fell over backwards.
HB: That’s not as dramatic as I was hoping, I’ll be honest. Can you make something up for the podcast?
DB: I got shot.
HB: I knew it. I knew it. Drive-by in Shrewsbury. Shrewsbury? Shrowsbury?
DB: I live in Shrewsbury, because I’m from the other side of the river.
HB: Is that the definition?
DB: Shrowsbury is where the rich people live.
HB: Oh! Shrowsbury! [laughs]
DB: Yeah, mmm. Anyway, I smashed my wrist and then it was in plaster for eight weeks or something, and then it healed and I got it out of plaster and then I had a compression fracture on this bone here. My right distal radius. I don’t know if you can see if I hold my hands up, my hands are actually on wonky. This hand doesn’t fit on, because one of my bones is shorter than the other one.
HB: For anyone that can’t see this video clip, Dan’s got a massively wonky hand.
DB: Yeah, it’s just not on straight, but it’s my drawing hand.
HB: There’s a kind of pen that shoots out from his wrist, I think?
DB: Yeah, kind of like Wolverine.
HB: Like Wolverine, but nibbier.
DB: Nibbier! [laughs] Something like that. So I smashed it again, it healed, and then I broke it again. I fell over in the snow and smashed it up. It healed weird and wrong, so I had to have an operation to take out bits of bone from inside my wrist. I’m just going to try and make this noise into the microphone. If you’re really squeamish, I really apologise. [cracking]
DB: That’s the sound of my wrist, just moving.
HB: Well that is horrifying.
DB: I had a long time rehabilitating my wrist, really. So I couldn’t use it very well. I can’t bowl, because my hand’s not on straight. It’s gutter ball every time.
HB: You aren’t missing anything.
DB: I don’t think so.
HB: Bit boring, really.
DB: I mean, they get pretty snazzy shoes I guess, but that’s about it. So, I’ve had these problems with my hand, but I don’t think I’ve got quite the range of motion that everyone else does. So I was trying to find a pen that was comfortable to use and gave me the kind of lines I wanted. I was using this Pilot Desk Pen, which is quite a nice pen, and you can get a fairly variable line with it, and it’s easy to stick in your pocket. It’s quite long, so it sticks out, but it was alright. I was on my way to pick up my kids from the nursery that they go to, and I was early. I had an hour to kill, and in Shrewsbury there’s a pen shop called Write Here.
HB: Oh, nice!
DB: Wait, wait! You think that’s nice? It used to have a kite portion of it, so it used to be called Write Here Kite Now.
DB: Yeah, it’s pretty good. But the people there are lovely and I thoroughly recommend you go and see them, but I went in just having a look around. They do stationary things as well, and there was a guy sat at the back at this table who is a pen merchant, and he customises pens. So I just got talking to him, and he was saying, ‘So what do you do?’ We talked about these pens, and I showed him my Pilot Desk Pen that I was very proud of, and it cost me however much money. He was like, ‘Ah, that’s garbage. Garbage. Put it away, that’s disgusting! I hate that pen! Rah, rah, rah, these pens are useless. What you need is this, this, this.’ And this guy new exactly what he was talking about, and he knew exactly what I was trying to find, and he knew everything. And he knew everything about me! It was like going to visit a fortune teller.
HB: Did you go back to the site the next day and the shop had disappeared? There’s just a little ring of mushrooms.
DB: He had disappeared!
HB: He had disappeared, leaving a ring of mushrooms.
DB: Little puff of smoke and a ring of mushrooms. It was really good. So, from there I started looking into vintage fountain pens. They don’t make fountain pens with flexible nibs any good anymore. So, my pen of choice is this one here. This is a Stylomine 303, from the 1930s.
HB: Dan is holding up a beautiful pen.
DB: This one’s got an 18 carat gold nib.
HB: Wow, that is a shiny nib!
DB: Yeah, and it gives you a really lovely, flexible line, and there’s a bunch of them. These ones are really difficult to find and they’re really expensive, but there’s a whole bunch of other pens that have these flexible nibs. This one is a Peyton Street Pens Soquel Ebonite, with an Eversharp 14 carat nib, which is pretty good. I like this one a lot. So I’ve gone on this interesting little adventure, trying to find pens that have the kind of line that I want, that don’t have the impact on my wrist that makes it painful to draw. It’s been great, really fun!
HB: Like an odyssey, like a pen odyssey. Penodyssy.
DB: It’s weird, because a lot of the pens that you find, because they’re almost 100 years old, some of them, they need reconditioning. So, you can buy them fairly cheap. You can get them reconditioned already, but they’re unspeakably expensive. I’m buying these junk pens from pen fairs and eBay and places, and I’ve had to learn how to put them back together and to recondition them, and to polish the nibs and grind them, and put them back together, and that’s been really fun. I really like doing that.
HB: This is a thing that you do between 3:00 and 3:30am, every morning.
DB: Yeah, something like that. Yes.
HB: That portion of your day.
DB: Yeah, basically. I like pens. They’re the tool I use most frequently. I think getting them right is a good thing.
HB: Do you have a pen like this one? I don’t know if you can see this, probably not.
DB: Oh, it’s a French biro.
HB: My friend gave it to me. I don’t know if you can see, it’s a Bic Cristal for Her.
DB: Oh, finally a pen for ladies!
HB: That’s right, it’s a biro for ladies. [laughs] For my delicate lady hands.
DB: Finally. That’s what I think, finally.
HB: Actually the other thing that I quite liked, listening to your podcast, was noticing that our last conversation, there was a little ‘E’ for explicit next to it. It’s lovely.
DB: Because you drop an awful lot of swear bombs.
HB: I’ve got a bit of a potty mouth.
DB: A little, yeah.
HB: Sorry. Sorry about that. I’ll try and rein that in.
DB: Well, on the podcast I don’t swear generally.
HB: But you do normally, don’t you?
DB: Yeah. You know! You know for sure I love to drop them. In the first few I didn’t. I just didn’t, I can’t remember why, and then someone pointed it out, and now I’ve got stage fright. And I think, ‘Well, I can’t start now! This is 100 episodes.’ It would just be weird to start now.
HB: If you want to beep out my swearing then…
DB: I’m going to have to, basically. I’m really going to have to. It’s disgusting, it sickens me.
HB: Just make a little quacking noise over it, or something.
HB: When you started Make It Then Tell Everybody, what was your goal? What was your purpose? What was your aim for that? Was it just to have a chat to all your friends? Because you’re, kind of, in the middle of the comicking community. You know everyone.
DB: I think I know a lot of people. I don’t know if I know everyone.
HB: Everyone. Well, everyone says they know you.
DB: Sure, everyone.
HB: You’re probably pretending you don’t know them, but they know you.
DB: Everyone likes to drop that brag, I suppose. Ah, shut up Dan. What was I trying to do when I started? When I started it was literally trying to find something useful for people to get from comics. It’s going back to teaching and having people who lack confidence, or they don’t know what they’re talking about. Talking to someone, finding out that someone else is having the exact same problems as you are is really gratifying, and I find that really useful. There’s lots of comics podcasts out there, and there weren’t very many that were getting into the detail that I wanted to find out. I’m a really firm believer in, you don’t get to complain about something if you don’t try and do something about it. Lizz Lunney asked me to host some panel discussions at the Eye Candy Festival in Birmingham, which is an illustration festival, and there was the Birmingham Zine Festival running alongside it. So we did these panel discussions at the Hippodrome in Birmingham. My brother runs a podcast. He’s done things for Radio 4, the BBC and all sorts, with Johnny Vegas and people like that. You know, darling.
DB: So he had this equipment to record podcasts, and his podcast, it was doing very well actually.
HB: What’s his name for listeners who want to find him?
DB: Simon Berry, and his podcast is Tim and Simon. If you search for ‘Tim and Simon’ on iTunes you’ll find him. Very funny. So he came along and recorded it. I don’t even think that the idea initially was we were going to podcast them, but he was excited about podcast and I’d been listening to a lot of podcasts as well. I didn’t really know how they worked, and so he just talked me through it and walked me through it, and I was like, ‘Oh, these are easy!’ And he was like, ‘Yeah. That’s alright.’
HB: Wait, are you sure you want to say that? Because people will be listening and people might start doing their own.
DB: That’s fine.
HB: Is that fine?
DB: The actual, physical process of doing a podcast is easy. The difficult bit is affording equipment, but if you’ve got a laptop you’ve got the equipment. The difficult bit is finding the hosting and paying for that, which isn’t difficult. The really difficult bit is trying to make something good. It’s really, really easy to do a really shoddy job.
HB: Yeah. I’m struggling at the moment, to be honest.
DB: I mean, I was alluding to that of course, you know.
HB: I got that. There’s a look of distain you’ve had since I started talking. That’s what is cutting me most.
DB: It’s my wrinkled nose, isn’t it?
HB: Yeah! [laughs]
DB: Turned up nose.
HB: God, the horror.
DB: So that was basically where the show came from. It’s Lizz Lunney’s fault, basically.
HB: I thought as much! How’s she doing in Germany by the way? It’s a little aside.
DB: Pretty good I think. I’ve not been to visit her. I don’t know. I’m going to assume great.
HB: Well good. I hope so. If you’re listening Lizz, get in touch!
DB: Hey Lizz, drop us a line.
HB: Are you interviewing people that you want to interview? How do you choose people that you talk to?
DB: I’ve got two or three ways of trying to figure out who I want to talk to. The first is, I like them and I’m interested in them, and I think that’s important. That’s really important for me, for the sake of keeping me interested. So if I like them, and if I think they’re interesting. If I think the work is really good as well. You know, that’s really good.
HB: That helps. If you can contain the contempt, that’s pretty good.
DB: Exactly, and a mixture of the two is also ideal. If it’s people that I don’t know… I do know quite a few people now, but if it’s people I don’t know, but whose work I know and very much admire, I’ll see if they want to talk to me. Most times people do.
HB: I would be surprised if they wouldn’t.
DB: I get a few nos, of course.
HB: Do you?
HB: Idiots. Don’t talk to them again.
DB: It’s absolutely fine. Everyone is so busy, and not everyone has time for this, and I’m basically asking for an hour or two of someone’s very busy workday, and not everyone has that to give. It’s fine.
HB: Well, more fool them, really. More fool them.
DB: No, it’s fine. It’s absolutely fine.
HB: No, it’s not fine. I’m angry on your behalf.
DB: Well, if you’ve got a message that you want to…
HB: I want you to give me their names and addresses after this.
DB: I’ll send you a list of emails. Mmm, I won’t.
HB: No, no. Since you’ve been doing comics… wait, was it 2007? We established that was when you officially came on the scene?
DB: No, I think it was later than that.
HB: Came on the Waterstones scene?
DB: Oh, the Waterstones scene? Yeah, like 2006, 2005. The Waterstones scene. My books were first in Waterstones in 2005, 2006. Yes, there we go.
HB: So, since your appearance on the scene in Waterstones in 2006, something like that, the comic scene has changed pretty dramatically since then, hasn’t it? I don’t know if I’m allowed to call it the ‘indie’ scene or ‘small press’. After listening to the Stephen Holland interview that you did with him, I don’t think he approves those phrases and I don’t want to… you know, he knows what he’s talking about. I don’t want to go against his wishes.
DB: The comics scene in the UK.
HB: Yeah, the bit that we’re in, that doesn’t involve tights.
DB: Independent comics.
HB: Are we though? Is it?
DB: I’m independent.
HB: Well I’m… I’m independent, well am I? I’m not though, am I?
DB: You work for big comics.
HB: I know!
DB: You work for the man himself.
HB: I’m working for the man.
DB: Jonathan Cape himself. Independent my bottom, Hannah! So what have I seen changing?
HB: Yeah, how has the change affected you? What are your views on it?
DB: The first few things I did, the first things at the UK Web and Mini Comix Thing, my first show where I shared a table with Joe List, I had a couple of hand photocopied, black and white, hand stapled things. There was a brand new service where you could order a newspaper from this company, and you could get these newspapers, so I’d done this dinosaur comic and I printed it as a newspaper, and it had 40 something pages or whatever, and I was ever so proud of myself. So for the first year or two that I was doing things there were lots and lots of hand photocopied, hand stapled stuff around, and that’s great and I like that stuff. The book I did recently, The End is basically that, but to the best of my abilities.
HB: Lovely, lovely screen printed…
DB: Oh yes, with metallic inks and all sorts.
HB: Oh, that was nice. Shiny! Can’t go wrong with the shiny!
DB: But it’s exactly the same principle. It’s photocopied, stapled, it’s just nicer. I measure things and make sure everything’s nice and neat and I’ve got a really nice guillotine. Anyway, I’m boring myself now.
HB: No, no. Carry on.
DB: No, no. Carry on, and tell us everyone before you…
DB: You know, the ease of producing things has increased incredibly. You can get a really, really professional looking thing printed fairly cheaply. If you’ve got a few hundred pounds to spend on a print run, you can have something that looks really, really nice, and you can sell it for more than the print run cost. That’s astonishing. So the ease of actually producing things has increased like crazy. Being able to send a PDF to a printer and have it come back, literally days later, is amazing! Twitter has been a big thing. Twitter has…
HB: Yeah. Sweet mother Twitter.
DB: Sweet mother Titter, you know!
DB: Dr Freud!
HB: Or Twitter! That was a Freudian slip.
DB: It really was! Oh geeze, oh dear. So anyway…
HB: This is very silly.
DB: We’ve gone in too deep, haven’t we?
HB: Shall we go back to talking about poo again?
DB: We better had, yeah. Twitter’s meant that people can get connected, and people weren’t as connected when we started doing this. I think if you’ve got a bunch of people doing really interesting, creative stuff, and those really interesting creative people can get to see all the other stuff that everyone’s doing all the time, I think what it’s done is it’s caused everyone to raise their game. Because you’re not aspiring to be better than the last thing that you did, you’re aspiring to be better than the last thing that, ‘Oh god, that guy over there who’s going to be sat opposite me at Thought Bubble,’ is doing. I don’t know if it’s a conscious, competitive thing, but it’s accumulative effect. The idea that you become the average of the people that surround you, and if the average of the people that surround you is higher than your ability, then you rise to meet it. I think that’s really, really fascinating. That’s been a big thing for me. Seeing people come into things, and right off the bat having these incredibly produced, super slick packages. They make banner rolls on their stands at Thought Bubble and custom printed tablecloths or whatever, and it’s their first time. You’re like, ‘God, I’m getting left behind! I don’t know anything anymore.’ You understand that there are people that you’ve never heard… I mean, the weirdest thing about comics now for me, is that there are a bunch of islands, and doing the podcast has meant that I get to visit a few of these different islands. When I started there was, as far as I knew, there was like, 20 people in the UK that were doing comics. Even when I started the podcast I didn’t think I’d get to 100.
DB: Because there weren’t that many people to speak to. I literally worried…
HB: I was just feeling really proud that you said that effectively you interviewed me because you liked me and my work. Now you’re saying there’s not… there just weren’t enough…
DB: Just no other choices. I was scraping the barrel.
HB: Yeah, you ran out of people! [laughs]
DB: No, no. Literally not…
HB: My ego just came crashing right down.
DB: You know, the first couple I remember thinking, ‘Right, okay. So how long can I reasonably do this? If I do one a week, I reckon I can do it for, hmm, two years I guess?’ I remember seriously thinking that I can’t go much more than that, because I don’t think there’s that many people to interview. Doing it means that, you know, I talk about this idea of islands, and I think I was living on this one little island where there might have been 100 people that knew each other and talked to each other on Twitter. Now, because I’ve been afforded the ability to go off and visit other islands of other 100 people, doing other 100 people things, I’m like, ‘Oh my Lord, this is enormous!’ And there are loads and loads of people doing it. There was an article I read a little while ago, this idea that comics festivals, it’s the same pound or the same dollar that gets passed around from every creator, and it’s a closed system and that there’s no money coming in, and no one’s going to ever make any money from it.
HB: Well that’s depressing.
DB: It is! It’s very depressing, but I don’t think it’s true at all.
DB: I think that what comics doesn’t do particularly well is evangelise its good points and get more people in. I think the way that we tend to evangelise about comics is by saying, ‘Oh, no, no. It’s not just for kids. Honestly no, it’s not just for kids.’
HB: No, no. I think what we actually say is, ‘Kapow is not just for kids.’
DB: ‘Hey, no, no, no, it’s not just for kids.’ And you think, ‘Oh, Christ.’ It’s a bit like saying to someone, ‘Do you want a lift in my car? I’m a really good driver, honestly. No honestly, I’m a really, really good driver. I’ve barely crashed ever. Never crashed really. A couple of times I crashed, but honestly no. Just get in my car, it’s fine! Just get in my car!’ And that’s what we do. It doesn’t fill anyone with confidence.
HB: There’s a strip club in Brighton. I think it’s a strip club, something like that called Top Totty. If you have to say it, they’re probably not are they? Probably not.
DB: [laughs] It’s like having a taxi firm called ‘World’s Best Drivers, I Promise’. Mmm mmm, real good driving. Anyway, please carry on. Please interview me.
HB: It’s funny, because I was reading… you very kindly sent me some of your stuff to read, but I hadn’t read all of your stuff before. A lot, I’d read what I could get my hands on, but not everything. I’d never read Onion Soup before.
DB: That’s an old one.
HB: It’s very old, yeah. It doesn’t look like your stuff from now. But it’s funny, because it, sort of, sums you up perfectly I think, in that it’s you having this… how’d it work? It was you having a Twitter conversation with people. Is that right?
DB: Yep. While I was cooking onion soup.
HB: Were you actually cooking onion soup at the same time?
DB: Yes, definitely.
HB: Oh right, okay.
DB: Yeah, there was no artifice there. That is the timeline of events as they happened.
HB: It’s like a lovely chat with some very silly effects. I thought before I summed it up in that way, that that summed you up, but now I’ve said it in that way that’s…
DB: I’ve got a deep dark soul, with a twisted wrist… or something. That’s what I put on my business cards anyway.
HB: [laughs] Twisted Wrister. No.
DB: That’s my tribute band. We’ll talk about that next interview.
HB: Didn’t you used to be in a band as well? Did I imagine that?
DB: Yeah, I played in bands, punk and metal band or hardcore bands from the age… actually, I played my first gig before I ever went to one. I think I was 13, in this working men’s club for a battle of the bands thing.
HB: Did you win?
DB: No! No, no. We played an awful lot of battle of the bands things, and we never, never won anything.
DB: It was good fun!
HB: It’s the taking part really. In a way, you were winning just by taking part.
DB: I like to think so. That’s the story I tell myself.
HB: So what does the future hold for Dan Berry?
DB: I’ve got a few things that I’m working on at the moment. I’ve been drawing some foxes.
HB: I’ve seen your foxes on your blog.
DB: Yeah, I like them. They’re really good fun to draw, and they talk to me. I don’t mean it in, like, a crazy way. Like, ‘Oh, they talk to me!’ But I mean, the characters feel natural while I’m drawing them. There are certain ways of drawing them and certain things that they do that feel intuitive and natural and normal. So I think that’s a good sign that they’re a thing that I’m going to do something with. So I’ve been planning out a story with them. It might be a long one, don’t know yet. Probably will be a long one. It might be something else, don’t know. I’m working on a thing that is real close to being announced, but I can’t announce it just yet.
HB: Oh, we’ve timed this badly, haven’t we?
DB: Yeah, super bad! Oh, it’s just the worst! So that’ll be 100 and something pages probably, if it comes up. That’s pretty good.
HB: That is long. How long was The Suitcase?
DB: 50 pages.
HB: Okay, that’s way off.
DB: Yeah, tiny. Tiny! Miniscule! I’ve not really done much long form stuff, so I’m interested in getting my teeth into something much longer.
HB: Something meatier and foxier.
DB: Yes, something fox meatier.
HB: [laughs] Hmm, fox meat.
DB: [smacking lips] Yum… I think.
HB: I think we might be running out of time. I think we might have overrun quite a…
DB: Yeah, significantly.
HB: Must do some serious editing, yeah.
DB: There’s going to be people sat in their cars on their driveway, families screaming in the house…
HB: Yeah, waiting in the doorway.
DB: But they won’t stop until we finish talking!
HB: [laughs] They should probably turn off the ignition and go in now I think. I think it’s time.
DB: Probably, yeah. What a note to end on.
HB: Well, have you got any final things to add?
DB: Just go and buy my books.
HB: Oh yeah, buy all the books.
DB: Go to my website and buy my books. Someone told me off at Thought Bubble for never saying on the podcast that I’ve got my own books to sell.
HB: It is quite silly.
DB: I don’t say it, but you’ve got to remember now that what I’m doing is I’m building a shop front for the people that I’m interviewing, not for myself. This isn’t about me, it’s about the people I’m talking to.
HB: Well now it’s all about you.
DB: Seeing as I am now the… you know, the tables have turned dear listener.
HB: Now the worm is on the other foot.
DB: Here’s the things I want you to do. I want you to go and buy my books. Go and buy them from my website so I get all the money from them. I want you to commission me to do your drawing. Oh, they’re very affordable. I was going to say cheap, I mean they’re affordable.
HB: And high quality too I believe.
DB: Of course! Go to the Patreon site for the podcast and help me pay for everything. That’s really nice, strength in number, micropayments. You know, give me one dollar per episode, 5,000 people, that would change my life. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
HB: It would be great to be able to finish off that gold laminated wall that’s behind your head there.
DB: I know! I know! And my throne…
HB: Just a little bit more gold leafing. Just a little bit more. So close. And there’s that throne you’ve made out of pens. It’s not going to make itself.
DB: Patreon.com/makethentell. Follow me on Twitter. I’m incredibly funny on Twitter. @thingsbydan on Twitter.
HB: True, I laugh at you constantly.
DB: With me.
DB: With me.
HB: With… with you. With you.
DB: A little sample there, for the uninitiated. It’s pretty good. It’s pretty good stuff. I feel like I’ve overstepped the boundary. I’ve become quite churlish.
HB: Yeah, that’s what happens at the end. You get a little bit cocky. It’s like, ‘Yeah, I own this stage. It’s mine now.’
DB: Yeah, I don’t want to leave. I’ve got to.
HB: I’ve got to go. I’m going to go. I’m off now.
DB: Thank you.
HB: Dan Berry, it’s been a massive pleasure. Thank you for talking to me!
DB: Thank you for having me.