Dan Berry: This is Make It Then Tell Everybody. I’m Dan Berry. Andy Poyiadgi and I sat down to talk about how directing films and drawing comics cross over, about confidence, and where ideas come from. This is Make It Then Tell Everybody. Andy Poyiadgi, hi!
AP: Hello, hi Dan.
DB: Did I pronounce your name correctly?
AP: You did yeah, well done. Good going.
DB: Excellent, Andy.
AP: Well pronounced, yeah! And try the surname.
AP: Yeah, that was ten out of ten. Perfect.
DB: So the correct pronunciation of your name, because you’ve got an errant ‘i’ in the middle there, so you just ignore that ‘i’ in the middle.
AP: Yes, exactly. It’s Poy-adgi.
DB: Nailed it. So where does that come from?
AP: It’s Greek Cypriot.
DB: Are you Greek Cypriot?
AP: My parents are both Greek Cypriot, but I was born over here, so I grew up here with Greek parents.
DB: In London?
AP: Yes, I grew up in London. I speak Greek. I had to go to Greek school when I was growing up, which was like… I don’t know if this is relevant at all, but quite a nightmarish experience, having to go to school Monday to Friday, and then on Saturdays going to another school to learn another language, it’s kind of horrible! But kind of good, now that I’m older.
DB: I mean, you’ve learnt another language.
AP: Yeah, it’s good for that. In retrospect obviously good to understand that part of my heritage, but at the time, like, ‘Why am I doing this? This is horrible!’
DB: Trying to convince a kid, ‘Oh, go to school again.’ ‘Again? But I’ve just been!’ (Laughs). ‘You mean the only weekend I get is Sunday?’ The worst day of the weekend!
AP: Yeah, I kind of rebelled against it.
DB: Just refused to talk Greek!
AP: That would be horrible. I don’t do that.
DB: Excellent. So you are a filmmaker, a director, a cartoonist. You do a lot of things I think.
AP: Yeah, I sort of describe myself as a filmmaker and a comics creator, I suppose. I don’t really use the term ‘cartoonist’ for me. I don’t feel it applies somehow. I don’t know why. I feel that when I see that, people are cartoonists, it somehow applies to me that they’re professional. They’re proper good at it. I’m not sure why, but I don’t quite feel that I’ve attained that label just yet, if that makes sense.
DB: You could label yourself a filmmaker, a director?
AP: Yeah, I think so, because I’ve been doing it. That’s what I do to get paid, or that’s what I have been doing to get paid for a long time now, so I feel comfortable saying that, but I don’t quite feel comfortable describing myself as a cartoonist. I feel like I can say I create comics because I do actually make them, but perhaps if you’re a cartoonist, it’s a title, isn’t it? I don’t know. I’m probably overthinking it.
AP: Are you a cartoonist? You’re a cartoonist.
DB: I’m a cartoonist, yeah. I’ve never though of it along the lines of a professional title before.
AP: Maybe I’m also associating it in terms of earning money. I earn money by directing, but I don’t earn my living, I don’t pay the bills by cartooning, so maybe that’s why I place the emphasis that way.
DB: So what kind of directing, what kind of filmmaking do you do?
AP: All sorts of filmmaking. It’s mostly directing commercials. That’s the bread and butter work. I also do the occasional music video, I’ve made short films and idents and stings and those sorts of things. Basically the bits that appear between programmes. The bits where people get up and go and put the kettle on.
DB: Oh, so you’re the stuff that we ignore!
AP: Walk out of the room, I do those bits! Exactly! (Laughs).
DB: You replaced the test card!
AP: Exactly, yeah! That’s my purpose. That’s what I get paid to do. I’ve not really made long form. I’ve written long form feature film length stuff, but not directed feature film length stuff.
DB: So how does the film and the comics cross over then? Which did you get into first. Yeah, that’s the end of my question, I’ll ask a follow up question when I fell like you’ve answered sufficiently, as a professional interviewer would.
AP: Well, the comics definitely came first in terms of it being an interest. I always loved and read comics, and wanted to draw comics, and kept a sketchbook from a very young age. I think if you asked me at eight, nine years old what I wanted to do, it probably would have been drawing or making comics. I think what happened was, and I enjoyed filmed but I didn’t really have an interest in making films as a youngster and growing up. I think what happened was, growing up when I tried to draw comics, I found it so hard every single time, that I kind of lost confidence in it. I never lost an interest in reading comics and being inspired by comics, but I would try drawing a couple of pages, or even a few strips as a kid or as a teenager, and then just think it looks kind of rubbish. It doesn’t look like the stuff I’m reading. I obviously don’t have the ability to do it.
DB: The magic.
AP: Yeah. So I would be dissuaded from continuing to practice, and I would draw and I did art courses, but I think I sort of beat it out of myself, this idea that I can maybe make comics. So despite studying illustration at university, I don’t think I ever really believed that I could make comics, and even then I probably tried, but would look at the stuff I was reading and think, ‘Well look at Dave McKean’s illustrations,’ his beautiful comics and think, ‘Well look at mine compared to his, I’ve got no shot at this. It’s not worth it.’ So I ended up doing bits of animation and directing live action on my course at university, because it was quite a broad course, and I think maybe then I discovered that I could tell the stories I wanted to tell, but get other people to do it for you, because I found drawing so difficult.
DB: Cheat, you mean?
AP: Yeah! And that’s kind of what directing is. It’s getting other people to do all the jobs for you, people who are better than you, more talented than you, to do the jobs for you. Whereas when you’re cartooning, you have to do it all yourself, right? You are the cinematographer, and the actor, and the art director, and all those other difficult jobs, you’re having to do it all yourself. Sure, you’ve got the creative freedom to do it any which way you like, but it’s really difficult, isn’t it?
AP: So I think I saw the light in filmmaking, in thinking I could maybe tell some of the stories I was interested in, but do it collaboratively.
DB: Does filmmaking now… because you’re an experienced filmmaker, do you feel that those skills transfer themselves into comics? You said in comics you’ve got to be the actor, the lighting director, the guy who puts the lens on the front of the camera, whatever that’s called, the best boy, whatever that is. Does understanding what those things are and how they work help you make better comics?
AP: Yes. It certainly helped me. I probably would have been a better cartoonist if I just started drawing comics back then. You know, nothing beats learning how to make comics other than making comics.
DB: I think that’s the best way to learn comics. I get emailed a lot by people saying, ‘Oh, I want to draw this comic, what should I do?’ I’m like, ‘Draw the comic?’
AP: Make it.
DB: Make it. Make the next one better. Don’t worry about this one, make the next one better. That seems to be the winning formula.
AP: I wonder if it’s just a case of instilling confidence in people though, like, in the way I didn’t have it. I suppose you do that with your work. It’s about making people believe that they can do it, if you just work hard enough. If you keep going.
DB: Yeah, I mean, that was my experience. Just banging my head against it until it got better. I don’t think I’m a naturally gifted artist. I think everything I can do I’ve had to earn, I feel.
AP: Right. But going back to your question, I think I’ve definitely learned some skills that you can bring over into the comics making world. I think if you have any interest in telling stories, if that’s your objective with it, with any of this media, then you can transfer things you learn. I think if you learn about story structure or characters, if those are your concerns when it comes to making film or making a comic, then I think these things have certainly been helpful for me. I think maybe more the writing side, writing scripts, learning how to write scripts. Also, I guess, with making commercials, learning how to tell a story economically.
DB: Oh, because you’ve only got that finite amount of time to do something.
AP: I think that’s probably helped, because you have to storyboard what you’re going to shoot, and you don’t have much time in which to shoot it. You need to figure out, ‘How am I going to tell this story in so many shots?’
DB: See that’s very interesting, because I’ve often thought, and again this may just be my approach to comics. My approach has been a stripped down version of efficiency. What is the absolute minimum I can do to tell this story? And I’m not concerned about line mileage, like, what’s the minimum amount of lines I can get away with without drawing this, but what’s the most distilled version? There you go, distilled.
AP: That’s the one.
DB: Distilled version of this story that I can tell? So it gets purer the less I do. Is that basically what you’re saying about learning from doing these adverts, where you do have to distil it down into like, ‘Washing powder! Buy it now’?
AP: Absolutely, yeah. It’s silly, isn’t it, because we sit down and we watch TV commercials, and they’re all kind of a bit frivolous, and we know that ultimately they’re selling us things, but on the other side of the camera, when you’re actually making them, it’s quite a good exercise in learning that. You know people aren’t really going to be that interested, and they’ll only have one eye on the TV, if they’re even in the room, or if they’ve even got both eyes on, they might just be listening. You have to bear those things in mind, and then figure a way of getting people’s attention. Then once you’ve got it, telling a compelling story quite quickly, if you can. You know, if that’s even possible in the time, assuming you’re given that freedom, and sometimes you’re not. So I think, yeah, it’s exactly what you’ve described. It’s distilling it down to its essence, in as few shots or frames or key frames as possible.
DB: An interesting point you also raised was this idea of confidence, and developing a confidence in what you do in comics to actually be able to tell the stories. How did you develop your confidence then?
AP: Well I think the truth is, I haven’t. I still feel far from confident in all areas of it. I think because I’ve been doing it for just over three years now, and I just don’t think that’s enough time, and maybe because I’m going back to it quite late as well, I think if I’d started it earlier, like, in my early 20s, or if I’d done it straight out of uni, then by now I’d probably have the same confidence as I do.
DB: But I think that all the time. I keep thinking, ‘If I had started doing this when I was 19, I would have been much better by now.’ You know, woulda, shoulda, coulda, I always think.
AP: Maybe that’s just an excuse, but the fact is I don’t…
DB: (Laughs). I mean, that’s what I’m getting at. You’re making excuses here!
AP: Sorry! But the fact is, every time I sit down to make a new strip, I don’t feel any more confident than I did the last. I always look down at that blank page and I’m like, where on earth do I start here? It really daunts me.
DB: I don’t think that comes across on the page though. You say that you don’t have the confidence in it, but I think that the work that you actually produce and that ends up printed on paper, it looks like the hand of a confident artist.
AP: Yeah, but that’s spending a long time…
DB: You’ve tricked me!
AP: Yeah, that’s never the objective. Your quest is never to fool people in thinking you are confident, but I think my objective is just like, try and make the story clear, and try and make it look okay, look good enough, so that people aren’t, you know, people are interested to continue reading and to want to turn the page, and that sort of thing. They’re my objectives, and I guess once you’re satisfied that you’ve reached those objectives then maybe that comes across as it being reasonably confident. It’s not like I’m just like, ‘I know what I’m doing here,’ and then off I go and then it’s done. It feels like this real mountain to climb. Every page, every panel, feels like that to me. Less so the writing side of it. Those early stages, less so, but certainly the drawing of the page, the final element feels that way.
DB: It’s a really weird thing. You talking has reminded me, I was teaching in Angoulême a few years ago, so I was working with some of the comic students there. They were showing me their work and I was giving them tutorials on what they were doing, and one of the things that I talk about with drawing when I’m giving people tutorials is this idea of confidence in the line, and confidence in the work that you’re producing. I was telling these French students, ‘Oh, you need to have confidence in this. You’re working with an abstract style, you’re working with a loose media, or whatever, which means that you need to display confidence in your line, otherwise people won’t believe it.’ I was really confusing them, and I was getting some really blank looks. The idea of confidence, being confident in a thing, translated across to ‘in confidence’. You know, if you said something ‘in confidence’, so that’s how it translated to them. They didn’t have quite the same vocabulary for talking about this belief in what you’re doing. It made me think, ‘Okay, so how do I describe this idea of confidence differently?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t think I can.’
AP: So what did you do?
DB: Just, sharpen your pencils.
AP: Let them get on with it.
DB: Sharpen your pencils with a blade instead! Stop using a pencil sharpener.
AP: Draw it quicker!
DB: Yeah, just draw it quicker, just do more.
AP: Think less about what you’re doing.
AP: That’s interesting.
DB: You know, that one stuck with me, and I like the idea of confidence in line, and I think when you see illustration, you see that it’s done confidently, you really like it. In some art you can see the artist undermining themselves, or bailing on a line or an idea before it’s come to fruition. So I think confidence is a really interesting part of the overall artistic process that I don’t think we’ve got a good vocabulary for talking about.
AP: I mean, your line work comes across, if we’re talking about line, as an element of it, your line absolutely, it kind of exudes confidence. Would you put that down to practice?
DB: Yeah. Basically I think that every line that I put down, it’s not the first time I’ve put it down. For example, these foxes I’ve been drawing, I’ve drawn hundreds. Hundreds of those damned animals, so I know exactly where the lines are going to do, and even if I mess one up, I know that I can put the rest of the lines in a certain configuration that no one will ever notice. I’m confident in my ability to, first of all, represent the form of whatever it is I’m drawing, but also I’m really confident that if I do mess it up, I can arrange the other lines around it, unless it’s a catastrophic ink failure, ligament snaps, paper dissolves, problem with the page or something.
AP: Fox ears next to a tail.
DB: Yeah, you know, a problem like that. The lights go out and I just carry on drawing. I’m confident in my ability to fix a bad drawing as I go. But I think that’s something I’ve learned.
AP: So you know that ultimately it will be fine. You can deal with whatever your hand throws onto the page, you know you can deal with it and work with it.
DB: I think so. I mean, the worst case scenario is that I have to draw something again, and I quite like drawing, so I’m not so bothered about that, really.
AP: Oh damn, another fox.
DB: I mean, in the grand scheme of things, well you know, I can draw that, that will be fine. So I don’t know, I think that confidence… I think that I’ve been faking it for a long time, and now I’m like, ‘Oh, I can’t take this mask off.’
AP: Oh, right! So it’s still a slight façade then for you?
DB: Oh sure, yeah.
AP: The confidence is slight – not performance, but yeah, a mask.
DB: It is, yeah. I think of it as, it’s almost a character I have to play, and I know that no one else is in the room, and I’m drawing by myself, but I think I’ve got to kid myself into thinking I’m better than I am to actually be able to do it.
AP: That’s an interesting thought. Maybe I need to start convincing myself of that.
DB: My life got easier when I started doing it, I think. I don’t worry so much about everything.
AP: Yeah. Well, going back to directing, because when you’re on set you have to be a character. If you’re directing crew, well for me anyway, not having as much confidence as I would like, I think you need to be a certain type of character in order to work with actors and crew, and to show them that you know what you want, and it’s similar in a way.
DB: I remember listening to an interview with a director whose name eludes me, and I can’t remember what they did either, but they said something that was really interesting because they were being asked about the process of directing, and they said, ‘Basically my job is, people will come up to me with questions, what should I do with this, what should I do with that, and every time I don’t give them an answer immediately, it costs money. So I have to give people an answer.’
AP: Is that Wes Anderson?
DB: It might have been.
AP: Maybe, I don’t know.
DB: So every time someone comes up to me with a question, ‘What do I do about this?’ ‘Where do I put that?’ ‘How do I do this?’ ‘What shall I do with this?’ ‘Is this okay?’ ‘Is that bad?’ ‘What colour do you want the wall?’ Blah, blah, blah. And every time you don’t give a definite answer, yes to this, the wall needs to be yellow, that lens needs to go on the front of that, this with the camera, blah, blah, blah, then it costs money, and it also undermines you if you don’t. If you say, ‘Let me think about it for five minutes and I’ll get back to you,’ it undermines your authority as a director.
AP: Yeah, that rings true. You’re almost better off making the wrong decision than no decision.
DB: Yeah, and I think that’s true of my artwork as well. I will get it down, and at least it’s there then, and I can fix it later if it’s terrible.
AP: And do you find, once you put that line down then, when you come back to it a few hours, or a day later, or whenever, do you find that it looks okay to you then, if you doubted it? Because it just exists on the page it becomes a part of the greater comic or the greater page design and then you just learn to accept it more?
DB: Yeah. I found that… when was it? When I was working on The Suitcase, because I did a few pages, and I started it again. I think I got five pages in and started it again, because I was just overworking each page. I realised that I had to stop about 20 minutes before I thought I was finished, and go and eat a yogurt and drink a cup of coffee, go for a run or something, and then come back to it and go, ‘Oh no, it is done.’ That thing that I thought, ‘Oh, I need more shading under there, and I need to – oh, that line’s not quite right,’ and going back and worrying at it, it just seemed to kill it. Just destroy it dead on the page. Now I’ve always got in the back of my head, 20 minutes before I think it’s finished, that’s when it’s finished. I have a tendency to overwork stuff otherwise.
AP: That’s a good approach.
DB: I spend a lot of time inside my own head I think! (Laughs).
AP: Which comics creator doesn’t, you know?
DB: That’s true. So one of the things I wanted to ask you about, is you’ve played with lots of different formats as well. You’ve got a book out with Nobrow, now? Immediately. You can buy it now?
AP: Yeah, out now.
DB: Here’s the sound of this book. (Flipping pages). Pretty good!
AP: It smells better than it sounds I think. I think the smell is the best thing about it, then the sound, and then the look.
DB: I’m just going to hold the book up to the microphone so people can get a good smell.
AP: (Sniffing). It’s pretty good! They print damn fine smelling books.
DB: If you’re in a very modern car, that should have just wafted out of the air conditioning while you’re listening. Otherwise, you just need to buy a new car basically. One of the things I wanted to ask you about, is this is like, almost I think, the first book book you’ve done, because you’ve done origami fold out, tea bag things, strange posters, and this is the first thing where you can…
AP: With staples!
DB: Like, a book, with a cover and things.
AP: I think it is, yeah.
DB: What’s drawn you to explore formats in this interesting way then?
AP: I like the tactile nature of comics. Before I was making comics, I would go along to comics festivals and fairs and see self published work that took on all these many beautiful different forms, and love it. Of course I love staples, mini comics and other, you know, nice hard cover books as well. There’s something about the tactile nature of handmade, well crafted things you want to pick up and keep, and investigate and explore. Partly the design element of it as well I really like. I’m interested in that. I think that was part of it, but I think also starting out, I think I was probably worried about page count. The first story I did was only four pages, which was for the Cape/Observer/Comica graphic short story prize, so that’s a four page competition. So when that was finished and I wanted to print it to maybe sell on a table at shows, I wasn’t really going to print it with staples, that wasn’t going to work, so I turned it into a fold out.
DB: Just one sheet of paper! (Laughs).
AP: Exactly, yeah. Comes with two staples!
DB: Oh, spend them wisely!
AP: Use them for something else.
DB: Now, for me that seems like a weird thing, because you talk about this idea of confidence, but for me, doing something different with a format other than just having one page, and then another page, and then predictably, a third page, and then predictably… you know, that really, predictable, boring grid system, this page turn. I find real comfort in that, knowing that I don’t have to go weird with the format at all.
AP: You don’t have to worry about that side of it.
DB: I don’t have to worry about the user interface element of it at all. So doing things in different formats, that would cause me stress and a little worry, I think.
AP: Also, maybe I see it as being a bit of a distraction from the content of the piece, you know? I feel if I turn it into a nice, foldy, origami piece, or if I make it really small and put it in a real teabag, with a nice little drawstring.
DB: If someone doesn’t get it, they folded it wrong! It’s your fault reader!
AP: Yeah. People like my teabag stuff, so they pick it up and it’s a nice little thing. I like to think people like what’s inside as well, but it’s an attractive thing in and of itself, so maybe I see it as a slight distraction from the content needing to be very good perhaps. I don’t know.
DB: Interesting, interesting, interesting.
AP: But I do really enjoy that whole design side. The thing I’m working on next hopefully, is another kind of mini mini comic type thing, which is playing on the form again. I kind of get excited about that kind of stuff.
DB: Yeah, I like it. You mentioned the Guardian/Observer/Jonathan Cape short story, however long that title is, the newspaper comic prize that everyone likes to enter.
AP: Yeah, that annual newspaper competition, yeah.
DB: That’s it! So was this the first directed jump into comics that you’d done, or had you done stuff before this?
AP: That was the first story which I completed and dared to show anyone. I started strips and small pieces just for myself before that, across the years when I dabbled in it and tried to give it a go, but certainly never printed anything or shown to anyone more than just a few friends to get their opinion. I’d seen previous entries and thought, ‘My god, these are fantastic,’ and I liked the idea of having a deadline. I thought if the only way I’m actually going to get something finished is by committing to entering in my head and just going for it, and making sure that I actually did it, and I think that particular year I had the tea idea. I was into the idea enough, felt strong enough about that little story to actually really make it and finish it. So it was a combination of wanting to tell that story, and having a deadline. I think having a deadline is a really good thing to have, you know?
DB: Yeah, it really sharpens the mind, doesn’t it?
AP: Even if you miss it, I guess, which isn’t great, but just having it is a good motivator to get on.
DB: Jonathan Cape/Observer/Comica graphic short…
AP: Graphic short story prize.
DB: Is that it? Did I get it?
DB: I got it! I think that’s the first time I’ve ever got that right. I think about this, and it seems to be a really respectable entry point into comics for a lot of people. I think that I first came across Isabel Greenberg’s work there.
AP: Isabel won in the year I entered.
DB: Yes, Stephen Collins as well, so you’ve got this long list of people who do really well who’ve either entered, have been short-listed or come out of this situation, and I think that it… I don’t really know the best way to describe this, but it feels like an achievable way of getting into comics that also circumvents comics. Your other ways into comics is draw a whole book, and sell it at a table, and that’s terrifying. Put together a portfolio and go and show an editor at 2000 AD or Marvel or whoever, and that’s terrifying. Putting together a cold submission and sending that off, and that’s terrifying, or starting a webcomic and having the pressure of having no one read it, and that’s terrifying. This seems to be a really good way of showcasing a short story to the rest of the country.
AP: I guess it is. I mean, I think you need to… I mean, I didn’t win, but I guess it was good exposure in terms of it being short-listed, and then going on a small exhibition, being shown for others to see, and then it being online and that sort of thing. I guess at the end of that period of interest, I suppose you fall into that category of then having to make something else, or having to tell everybody about what you’re doing.
DB: (Laughs). To live up to it! ‘Oh, that guy who was short-listed, I wonder what he’s doing now?’
AP: Yeah, you’ve got to follow it up, I suppose. Certainly for me, it’s not like that was enough to get people interested in my work. It wasn’t. Then after doing a couple of stories, that’s when I started appearing at festivals and printing my own stuff, so I suppose I’ve obviously had to do that as well, but you’re right. The competition is fantastic in terms of exposure nation wide.
DB: So you entered the competition, then you’ve been short-listed, you’ve been in the exhibition and people have seen your work, you’ve been on the website and everything. How did you then make the leap into doing more things and going off to festivals? What was the decision you had to make there?
AP: Well the next thing I did was, I think I sent Teapot Therapy out to people whose work I admired, and to a few anthologies and publishers just saying, ‘Hello, this is me. I’ve made one comic, here it is. It would be lovely to know what you think,’ and had some nice responses from some people, and zero responses from others, which was fine. You’ve got to expect that, right, after making one piece of work. But thankfully I got a really lovely email from David O’Connell, who was working on his anthology ink+PAPER at the time, and I think ink+PAPER #1 had just come out, or was just about to, and I’d seen some press about it and seen some of the contributors involved, and was a fan of that work, from going along to festivals as a punter. We had a bit of a conversation and then he very kindly offered to include me in the next issue. So that was my second comic, it was doing a story for ink+PAPER.
DB: Another deadline.
AP: Yes, which was fantastic. So I went back into panic, ‘Oh god, what am I going to do?’ I need to think of another story that I’m into enough to create for this anthology now, that’s going to be alongside other people’s work, people who I admire. So that was another bit of pressure I guess, but a good one, because hopefully it helps you up your game and do better work. So that’s what came next, and I think after that, after ink+PAPER, I had a bit of a run, I then printed that as well as a concertina. That was still only six pages, so that wasn’t really going to work as a stapled thing either, if I were to self publish it. So I made that into a pull out concertina thingie. Then I think I maybe did my first show after that.
DB: So which was your first show then?
AP: It would have been Comica, a spring Comica Comiket.
DB: Whereabouts was it?
AP: Bishopsgate? Was it ever at Bishopsgate? Am I getting confused now?
DB: Bishopsgate Institute, it was there a couple of times.
AP: It was two, three years ago. It was one of those in the spring. It was one of the spring Comikets, and that wasn’t even – I was literally taking up a bit of space on someone else’s table at the time, so it wasn’t like, ‘Look at me, look at all my work,’ because it was one or two or three bits. Then I think the next festival was LCAF. By the time I did that I had started making Teabag Theories, which is the teabag comics. So there was a bit more, I could have half a table by that stage.
DB: So in these first festivals, do you remember… because I remember doing my first shows and being, sort of, a bit blown away by the fact that nothing happened really. I was sure that I’d sit behind this table and there would be a queue of people lining up to tell me I was wrong, or something. I remember being kind of shocked that nothing happened.
AP: You mean nothing good and bad happened?
DB: Yeah. It was a very neutral experience. I didn’t make great sales, I didn’t make terrible sales. I remember feeling like, I thought there was going to be something different, and I can’t really remember what, what I thought was going to be different.
AP: Yeah, I think I had a similar – I’m not sure that my expectations were the same. I think I expected very little, but it was certainly that. It was a, kind of, ‘not much happening’. I don’t know that that dented my confidence. I think, you know, you would have sold a few, right?
DB: Yeah, I remember it knocking my confidence, for sure.
AP: Because you have that expectation to…
DB: Yeah, I’ve paid money for this, and this is my first toe being dipped into these waters, and I don’t know if I’m making a mistake. I remember thinking, ‘Should I be doing this? Am I an imposter here? Everyone else knows each other and everyone else is so much better, should I be here?’ I don’t know how long it must have taken me to realise that everyone feels the same about everything all the time.
AP: Do you put that down to just time, and having more work, and making a bit of a name for yourself on the scene?
DB: I think so.
AP: Making more books, and eventually people are actually tracking you down, rather than just casually walking past and your work catching their eye?
DB: I think so. People write about me and call me a veteran, which is like…
AP: A vet of the scene!
DB: Yeah, you know, part of the furniture, Dan Berry. You’re like, ‘Ah, geeze.’ The tables come with him! It has changed, and I can’t really think about – I can’t articulate what’s changed. I think my confidence and my ability to talk someone into buying something, and finding ways to really amuse myself at a festival, that’s changed as well. I find it much more enjoyable these days.
AP: Right, that’s part of the trick. I mean, you’ve got to enjoy them, right? Even if you’re not selling. I always do, in terms of meeting co-creators and just everyone. It’s been brilliant for me, just making new friends really. Being sat next to strangers and seeing other people’s work, being inspired, being daunted by all the amazing work that other people are making. I kind of enjoy it for that, and if you sell a load, then brilliant. I still certainly don’t sell bucket loads. My teabags always do really well, because they’re nice little things and they’re cheap, but I don’t make loads and loads. I do it because I like being on the scene and I like everyone involved.
DB: So how did you make the jump from doing the self published stuff to having a book out with Nobrow then?
AP: That came about while I applied for LCAF. It was probably the second LCAF, so was that two years ago now?
DB: Yes. This will be the fourth one this year I think.
AP: Yes, that’s right. I previously sent the stuff that I self published to the Nobrow guys. I’d pestered them with it a little. I think I maybe emailed them the original Teapot Therapy, once that was done, after the competition thing was out and up and running. So I drip fed them bits and pieces, but I basically got a call from them after I’d entered LCAF for that year, to have a table there, and kind of out of the blue, and I was totally chuffed to get that message from them, because I had no idea what it was about. I was asked if I’d like to pitch a couple of ideas for the 17×23 series, which is a standard format series of books they do for new creators, to tell a one off story in 24 pages. So I was completely thrilled to be asked to come up with something. So that was it really, and after that initial – well, we had a couple of conversations about it, and I worked on a couple of ideas and wrote two short synopses, which I then sent over, and then the guys at Nobrow picked one, and then I developed it.
DB: It sounds remarkably simple.
AP: (Laughs). Does it? Is that simple? Well, I guess the developing the story idea certainly didn’t feel simple. I mean, I suppose it was simple enough to get a call from them, you know, that was amazing. I guess I still had to then go and try and think of something good.
DB: It’s maybe when you say it in bullet point list format. I did this, I did this, I did this. Oh, that’s easy! So getting published is easy, I understand!
AP: And then the book came out!
DB: Yeah, then a book popped out at the end of it.
AP: And the book is out now!
DB: Lost Property, Andy Poyiadgi, Nobrow.
AP: It was a long, drawn out – that process of applying to LCAF and then getting a call, and then a few emails back and forth, and then having another conversation, and then thinking of ideas. It took a good few months for that to play out.
DB: So in terms of actually drawing the book, how long did it take to actually draw?
AP: That took a long time, because I’m one of the slowest artists in the world. That took most of last year, on and off.
DB: This is obviously working around your day job as well.
AP: Yeah, so the beginning of the year, or the first half of last year when I was working on the thumbnails and then larger roughs and then final colouring, everything, all the art work, I was doing day job work in between. Because I’m freelance I would not be doing it full time, but when I have a job on, I have to do the job and you’re working crazy hours to shoot, to be on set or whatever. Then the comic would have to stop. Then I had some health issues which slowed things down, which was a real pain in the ass, because once you get on with something you want to just get it done.
DB: You want to maintain that momentum.
AP: Yeah, exactly. I don’t enjoy stopping. I don’t enjoy halting. You get into the swing of it, don’t you, and then you don’t want to stop. I find I get rusty really quickly if I stop. Do you have that?
DB: Yeah. Oh heck yeah. I find I have to…
AP: You need to flex the muscle all the time, the drawing muscle?
DB: Yes, very much so. I’m a doodler, I have to. I think that’s the way to keep things fresh. So the way you balanced the drawing work with the film work, the freelance work, was to do one and then the other, not try to do them simultaneously.
AP: Well there were times where I did both, when the hours in the day would allow. I guess if I’m filming then it’s impossible, because you’re up at a silly hour, and then you’re back home. You don’t ever see daylight if you’re in a studio, it can be a bit weird, so you don’t really want to come home and start drawing at 10:00pm, knowing you’ve got to be up at 4:00am, and it’s that kind of schedule. But there are other days when it’s absolutely not like that, and you can be working on something in the morning and then switch to the other thing in the afternoon, and that’s cool. Even then, I think I still prefer having a whole day stretch, or days at a time where I’m just working on the comic, because you get into it. Because again, I’m really quite slow at drawing, it takes me a while to accelerate and then get into it.
DB: This rings with something that Josh Bayer was talking about. When I interviewed him he was saying – I can’t remember who it was that told him, so this is fourth hand information or something, that context switching is expensive. That idea that having to put on different hats and juggle different roles takes its toll mentally on you.
AP: I think it does. I think it can be advantageous, perhaps when you’re at the thinking stage of a project, funnily enough. Sometimes you need to be away from what you’re doing, and that helps free you up, because you’re not engrossed in it. Like, when you’re at the story stage, I need to think of the story stage. I think maybe that’s when it helps to be juggling more than one thing, because sometimes an idea will come at you when you least expect it.
DB: Okay. Andy, where do you get your ideas from?
AP: (Laughs). Man, I totally set myself up for that, didn’t I?
DB: Yeah you did, you lined it up and I kicked it in.
AP: There you go, they come when you least expect it!
DB: Oh, that’s a very good answer, please elaborate. (Laughs).
AP: That’s not entirely true, is it?
AP: I think I used to think that ideas came from within. I think I spent many years – like, if I had a brief, or if I knew I’d need to work on a story, I would be like, ‘Okay, I need to look into my head and pluck out an idea. Where is it? It’s got to be in there somewhere. Come on, where is it?’ and stress about what was in my head and whether it was in there. It sounds so obvious really, but it took me a while to figure out that they come from without, not from within. Like, from external stimulus, or from reading another comic that maybe inspires you, or creates a feeling in you or something. Just learning to be accessible to stuff happening around you, and just absorbing that kind of stuff, and just making a note of it. I think what I find now is that I don’t really have ideas. They’re never ripe and ready to go, they’re always under ripe, and they’re always seeds or husks. They come at you and they’re never fully formed. They always need a lot of work before they’re anything worth developing or turning into something. It sounds so obvious, doesn’t it, but I just really was oblivious to that before. I was expecting to pluck an idea out of my own head, and for it to be exciting and ready to go, ready to draw.
DB: I think that’s part of the eureka myth, because I remember when I was at university, beating myself up, ‘I’m not having enough ideas, there must be something deficient with my brain, I can’t make enough ideas just pop out.’ I think I fully subscribed to this idea, the eureka. Like, this idea zooming around the universe, and bang, it hits your head and you do something amazing. For me, learning that ideas have to be earned, and I had to read this many books, or I had to watch this many films, or do this many drawings before I’d earned an idea, thought about it enough before I’d earned my idea. Now I feel I earn a lot of ideas. I listen to books in the car and I work hard, and I try and keep a really, really wide open mind, and I think – I don’t want to jinx it or anything, but I think that I keep earning more ideas, and that seems to be the way it works for me now.
AP: Yeah, I relate to that. It’s about keeping an open mind I think, being receptive to stuff, just stuff, and then making a note of it. Then when you really need an idea for something, referring back to those terrible, unripe thoughts, and then developing it. Then that’s when the hard work begins. That’s when you need to really mine it and actually just keep going with it, keep working with it, whether that’s just thinking or writing or drawing, doodling, whatever, until it starts to take shape as something. I mean, I’m sure there are people who can have a bit of a seed of an idea, and then maybe just run with it on the page, whether that’s with words or pictures, but I really can’t. I feel like I need to have a long conversation with it, or a long walk with it, or something. It needs a lot of TLC before it becomes anything half decent.
DB: Saying a ‘long walk’, whenever I’ve got a creative problem that I’m trying to solve, and I’ve tried drawing through it, I’ve tried painting or I’ve tried writing, or something is stuck in there, I think it took me a long time to realise that a lot of my creative problems were circumstantial problems, and I could change the circumstance and it would change the problem. So now I will literally, if there’s no one else in the studio while I’m working, I’ll verbalise it. I’ll say out loud, you know, make sure there’s no one stood behind me, but I’ll say out loud, ‘The problem is this, and I’m trying to fix this, and I’m trying to…’ It feels like it lights up a different part of my brain to think about the problem in a different way. I’m pretty certain that if I sang it, it would use a different part of my brain again, and I’d think about it in a different way. I’ve taken to leaving my phone at home and going for a walk around the village I live in, not listening to music, not doing anything but thinking about this problem. That’s been really, really useful, because it’s like isolating yourself with a thing. Like locking yourself in a room with this problem and going, ‘Right, we’re going to sort this out, and you’re not allowed to go home, and I know it’s cold and I know it’s raining, but we’ve got to sort this out today, otherwise we don’t get to go home.’
AP: ‘We’re not leaving, we shan’t be leaving until…’
DB: ‘We both want to eat yogurt, so let’s get this sorted out now, and go home and eat yogurt,’ and that seems to work for me now.
AP: That’s interesting. I was once told about the writing process, or trying to develop – the stage at which you’re writing your thoughts down, to go and sit in a chair you haven’t sat in before, and see what effect that has. So people often like to go to that comfortable chair that they’re used to working in, to think or to write. I mean, drawing is slightly different, you need to be at the desk, but for the thinking stage, or where you can do something slightly more portable, I thought that was quite interesting. Go and sit somewhere, even if it’s a chair where you live that you don’t usually sit in, or a chair in a café, or a chair outside that you’ve never been to before, and see how that changes the way you think about things.
DB: Well that’s a good way to change those circumstances, isn’t it?
AP: Yeah, a different chair.
DB: Very interesting. So what’s next? What’s coming up next for you then?
AP: So I’m working on another mini, micro-type comic, which hopefully will take another unusual form, if it pans out. With any luck that will be ready for the spring festivals, whatever’s around the corner, if I get into those. So that will be quite cool. I’ve also been working on a longer story, a bigger one than Lost Property anyway, which I’ve been writing for a while now. I’m just trying to think how many pages that might be, if it were to happen. So that feels like a much bigger thing, that feels like the next mountain to climb as it were. I’m quite excited about it, if it happens.
DB: Sounds good. So where can people buy work? Where can they follow you on twitter and all that good social media stuff?
AP: You can see my work, you can read some of my earlier stuff, because most of it is up there now at ajpoyiadgi.com. There’s a link on that to a store where I sell some printed stuff, like the teabags and such. Then I’m on Twitter at @ajpoyiadgi.
DB: Fantastic. Andy, thank you ever so much for speaking to me.
AP: Thank you Dan.