Glyn Dillon set for appearance at 2013 Edinburgh Book Festival
The writer/artist returns to the graphic novel medium with a bang
This article is from 2013.
Those who think that comics are just for teenage boys in their darkened bedrooms getting overexcited about superheroes should probably have another think. Henry Northmore chats to Glyn Dillon, one of the literary breed blazing a new trail for graphic novels
The Nao of Brown is a gorgeous, big, chunky, stunning graphic novel. It’s also a deep and evocative portrayal of a young girl’s battle with OCD as she fights against her own fears, damping down the vicious and violent urges that bubble up within her mind from time to time. Capturing a stumbling romance in all its mundane glory, it even touches on aspects of Japanese culture, myth and Buddhism. Beautifully drawn and painted by its writer/artist Glyn Dillon, Nao is a very different kind of comic book.
‘It’s a slice-of-life type story about a troubled girl coming to terms with herself. It’s serious but also funny and at times a bit weird,’ adds Dillon. ‘The original idea was about Gregory and the “ichi” universe but it transformed into Nao’s story, when she upgraded herself from Gregory’s love interest, to main protagonist.’
Like so many comic-book artists before him, Dillon had his first mainstream work published within the pages of 2000 AD. The sci-fi weekly has been the training ground for so many talented British writers and artists, and Dillon joined their ranks illustrating Judge Dredd and Future Shocks in the late 80s as well as working on Crisis and cutting-edge underground comic/magazine Deadline (the home of Tank Girl).
‘My brother, nine years my senior, was already a really successful comic artist when I started trying to break through,’ explains Dillon. ‘He was determined that there would be no nepotism, for which I’m grateful, but when I think back to how I was badgering the editors at 2000 AD, they’d have been well within their rights if they’d told me to go practise a bit more. So, had I not been Steve Dillon’s little brother, I suspect it might have taken a bit longer. But I was very persistent.’
Of course, comics aficionados will be well aware of that older brother’s work. Steve Dillon is a fan favourite, particularly for his many collaborations with writer Garth Ennis on Preacher, The Punisher and Hellblazer.
‘Steve was my complete hero,’ says Dillon. ‘I struggled with black and white in those early days, I was much more comfortable working in colour. But he had a natural, I’d say extreme talent for black and white, so we’ve always differed in style one way or another. But, of course, I looked up to him and he was the main influence on my early artistic endeavours.’
While Steve favours heavy, crisp lines, Glyn has a softer organic style. This led to work at DC’s adult-orientated imprint Vertigo on titles such as Peter Milligan’s Shade, the Changing Man and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. However, after 1995’s mini-series Egypt (also with Milligan), Glyn moved away from the genre. ‘I wasn’t as one-track minded as my brother with regards to comics. I had ambitions to work in the film industry from an early age, so after about seven years of drawing comics I managed to switch career paths and got into storyboarding and concept design, which at the time satisfied my need to be more collaborative.’
Dillon has now returned to the graphic medium and The Nao of Brown is the first project he has written and illustrated. Given its assured pace, intelligence and style, it might come as a surprise to some of his long-term readers. Such an intimate story wouldn’t have been an easy fit with any of the big comics companies, so Dillon published via a London-based independent, SelfMadeHero.
‘If I can cheekily borrow a quote from Dave McKean: “DC aren’t a publisher, they’re a brand management company”. SelfMadeHero are a wonderful publisher, small but growing very fast. I have nothing but good things to say about them; they indulged all my wishes with the design and look of the book, which for me was as important as the interior content.’
It was a wise decision as the book is a wonderful object in and of itself, with lovely touches such as the embossed cover and a double-sided dust jacket, while Dillon’s watercolours have been perfectly reproduced. But the hard work came at a cost.
‘I did get RSI and I also had a spell in hospital with my back when I finished the book. I’m still not quite right but it could have been much, much worse.’ However, all that stress and strain was worth the effort and Dillon is proud to be working in comics again, a world which he so obviously loves.
‘It’s a unique medium, sharing elements of visual storytelling, like illustration or film, as well as literary prose,’ explains Dillon. ‘But with the basic elements of words and pictures combined, it can deliver something completely different. Unlike film, the reader is by and large in control of the pace that they digest the work.’
Dillon notes that we’re living through an exciting time for comics. ‘But I suspect there’s a lot more to come. It’s been a subculture in this country for so long, and some people might like to keep it that way. But I’d love to see it become more mainstream.’
Dillon is also pleased to be involved with the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s efforts in helping to push comics and graphic novels towards a wider audience through its Stripped strand.
‘This way, it might start creeping into mainstream culture. There are young people out there who aren’t limited in thinking that comics are only for kids – not that I’ve anything against kids’ comics. This new generation of artists, writers and readers will hopefully help create the cultural shift.’
Glyn Dillon, Charlotte Square Gardens, 0845 373 5888, 26 Aug, 7pm, £10 (£8).