At the last Edinburgh Comic Con, I caught up with writer, illustrator and colourist Bob Turner, who has been publishing his original comics under his Castle Rock Comics imprint. Bob’s DTHRTL silent comic, has received many praise and it’s now in its second issue.
FB: Your professional life is grounded in the comic world. Why comics?
BT: As far back as I can remember comics have always been around me in the same way as music, films and books were. As I grew up the types of comics I was into have changed but there’s always been something that I have been able to connect with no matter what was going on.
I also think that comics have a number of things which differentiates it as a unique medium. Time is so important. Each reader will have their own personal experience of a book. Being able to quickly move through pages and in both directions to recap or spy ahead, how the eye moves across the page and the time you spend pouring over those pages that really hit you all come together in comics in a way which is not replicated in other mediums and that has always resonated with me.
I also think because comic books are made by individuals or small teams collaborating it also makes comics a very direct way to get a message across or to tell a story.
The visual language of comics is so pervasive in other mediums as well, of course there are films made of comic book characters but to me it’s more about breaking it down to the basics of sequencing images to create a narrative. Warhol used it for pieces like Atomic Bomb, Hogarth had his A Rakes Progress. It’s the same principles just presented in a slightly different ways. As a kid I remember the Stations of the Cross paintings around the walls of the church my Mum used to take me to. A graphic story told in really vivid images. As a 4 or 5 year old this was the most violent story I’d ever seen in pictures. It was pretty cool stuff to me at that age and I liked that I could follow the story along to the end.
More recently it was the strength of what was going on in the small press scene which made me want to get involved in making comics. I had being going to conventions for a few years but had been more into the more mainstream guests and collecting sketches. Then my buddy Alan (who now does his own small press book The Penned Guin) picked up a book called West by Andrew Cheverton and Tim Keable. As soon as Alan showed me it I was blown away. After that I have never looked back and most of my reading these days is small press books.
The freedom available to small press creators also had a major impact on me. When I decided to try my hand at doing my own book, which I wanted to be an attempt at an epic poem told only using pictures, and then to go on to add in all these bits and pieces from medieval art and other things I love like video games, I really did wonder if anyone would want to read it but as long as you put in the effort to do the best you can there is a good chance you will find an audience. It’s handy that the folk in the comics scene are really open minded. It’s such a bonus.
FB: This year you have released the second part of DTHRTL, a wordless comic. It is an unusual choice – what led you in that direction?
BT: There were a few reasons that I ended up doing a wordless book. The main one is that I am not very good with words and I don’t consider myself a strong writer. I find it much easier to use my drawings to say what I mean.
I also really wanted to try and make a book that anyone could read. It doesn’t matter what language you speak or how old you are so long as you can understand rock, paper, scissors then you can read DTHRTL. I have young relatives and was keen that I make something that they would enjoy as much as an adult reader would. Sure they might not get some of the references but I have tried to use the colours and the pacing to make the book as fun and upbeat as possible.
Before I started DTHRTL I was experimenting with some short 1 and 2 page strips (collectively these make up my first book Rote) and at the same time I had been having issues with my OCD. So I ended up reading up on the condition and kept getting into topics like repetition and irrational thoughts. I think because I was just searching various terms like this that I kept finding myself being taken to articles on writers like Sartre and Kierkegaard. Now I’m not going to suggest I understood all that much of it but there was certain imagery like the Knight of Faith and the Danse Macabre which kept popping up. I was also reading a lot about medieval art as I love old illuminated manuscripts and cool alter pieces and big epic religious art, really anything in the gothic or insular art styles. Both of these separate interests starting to join up and this started to also come through in the comics I was trying to do. So from that I just kind offell into the silent style. I think the literature and art from that time period is very visual and doesn’t often involve that much text as most people would have been illiterate so they needed to get it all done in the art to get the message across to the masses.
Another thing which kept being mentioned in the books and articles I was reading was work being done in the early 20th century by artists like Frans Masereel and Lynd Ward. Who did these phenomenal books in wood and linocut prints and who were also influenced by medieval art and they put them out as wordless novels. While I had read comics for many years had never heard of this type of book before. They are mostly black and white, but almost always monochromatic, full splash pages with no text. Some used what I read were called rebus in their books where you use images to portray text so this was one idea that I snapped up for my own stuff. I reckoned that if I wanted to try a longer story I would need a way of getting certain points across and so far this has worked for me using simple drawings in the few speech bubbles that appear in my books.
Of course there are also loads of great comic books out there which are either wordless or completely silent and which I have been a big fan of over the years. I remember getting my first copy of Mad magazine and loved the Spy Vs Spy strip. Then every time I would get another issue I would search to see if there was a new one before reading any of the other strips. That then got me into the work of Peter Kuper who does just the most amazing work and I am also a huge fan of Jim Woodring and also Jason. In fact I was reading a lot of his books when I was starting to do my own comics so these guys definitely played a huge part in me going into this style.
FB: How did your journey start? Take us through the origins of Castlerock – including the story behind the name.
BT: When I first decided to do my own comic I had an idea for a story set in my home town of Edinburgh. It’s a city with a lot of history and I wanted to make use of it. The more I read up the more the Castle loomed large over city and I was drawn to the rock that it sits on just as much. This massive prehistoric rock just lends a kind of mystical feel to the city centre. So that’s where I first came up with using the name for my comics. Then I realised it’s used as the name for where Stand By Me is set (I didn’t know the Stephen King connection to the name to start with) and also it’s a place name used in The Lord of the Flies which just cemented it for me.
FB: Imagine you had no constraints: what project would you love to bring to life?
BT: I am so slow I know there are a couple of things I would kill to do that will probably never happen. Firstly I’d love to make a full book using linocut prints for every page. I’ll need to get a lot better at lino cutting first for sure but it would be cool to build up a book like that. Being someone who really likes nice looking books I would want to make a small number of copies where every single page is hand printed on cool paper and bound nicely. Really make it into something which feels special just to pick up and read. While digital comics are cool I will always go for the tactile physical editions if I can. I think it does add to the experience.
The other thing I think would be cool would be to take something like The Book of Revelations and make it into a super colourful, fun action story. Strip out all the specific religious elements and replace them with something new and make everything feel like an awesome cartoon, with giant dragons, weird monsters and crazy things happening all over the place.
That idea comes from one of the major things that influenced DTHRTL. I think Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal is just one of the best things ever made. It contains all the stuff I like and is just beautiful to look at. That’s why at the core of DTHRTL I have the protagonist in this ongoing relationship with Death. Instead of chess its rock, paper, scissors that they play and I reference a bunch of scenes in total admiration of the movie. I even did a mock-up of the films original theatrical poster using my own characters which was a lot of fun.
Also the film starts with a specific bit taken from the Book of Revelations, about the opening of the seventh seal and there being a silence in heaven which lasted about half an hour. I have tried to make it so that this will be roughly about the same length of time as it will take to read the complete DTHRTL. To me that’s kinda cool, not really something anyone would ever pick up on but I like to have these things to work to. Because I don’t write much in advance of starting drawing, I just have a basic plot done, I need to have various goals to try and hit in order to keep me on track. For my pages I use a very strict grid which keeps the pacing nice and even throughout. It’s meant to mimic the heroic hexameter used in many of the epic poems but I use it as much to help me plan out the storyline as often I will pick the panel structure before I really know what’s going to happen on the page.
FB: What’s next for you?
BT: Next thing out by me is a short story I have done in collaboration with the writers Rob Jones and Mike Sambrook from Madius comics. It has been really great experience for me, first I had never worked from a script before, and secondly because they are just fantastic writers and a total pleasure to work with. The story will be in issue 5 of their anthology book Papercuts and Inkstains which should be out in May, all going well. I have also had the privilege of doing the cover for the issue and it was a blast to make so I hope folk like it.
I also have a pin up in the new collection of the brilliant webcomic The Penned Guin by Alan Henderson. The book is called We Waddlers and is well worth checking out. Alan and I will be sharing a table at the upcoming Glasgow Comic Con which I am properly looking forward to.
While all that is going on I am working away on the third and final issue of DTHRTL which I aim to have out later this year. Hopefully sometime in August if I can get a move on and keep myself at the drawing board.
Find out more on Bob Turner’s Official Website.