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Cartoonist shares life at the drawing board

Rolleston : city of the future

Christchurch-based Jared Lane has been drawing and producing cartoons for years. He's published in books in New Zealand and Australia, and has worked storyboarding movies, as well as producing his own comic, Progress.

Pulse wanted to find out what life as a part-time cartoonist was like, and Jared kindly lent us his ears and answered our questions.

You’ve been cartooning and self publishing for several years – have you ever thought you’d stop cartooning?
Not really, it’s more a problem of finding the time to devote to my hobby now that I’m a father. That’s really how I view comics these days; a Hobby. Kind of like model trains - I spend a lot of time and money on them, for little reward, but I love it, and the other hobbyists I meet are so enthusiastic about it, it’s infectious!
Has your style changed over the time?
Oh definitely. I’d like to think I’m better now than when I started! Certainly having to work faster has recently meant my style has become more fluid, and ‘expressive’. The brushwork has in a way taken over from what was a very clean ‘pen’ style, with lots of detail. But also I think just drawing more and more makes you better. You develop a kind of visual shorthand that makes you work seem fresher, and less laboured. However I’m still developing, and I can still improve more!
What are your favourite comics? Graphic novels?
The only comic I regularly buy these days is ‘The Walking Dead’ by Image Comics. Other things I’ll pick up are usually reprints of European Comics – Westerns or Medieval stories, Metal Hurlant, Blueberry that sort of thing. Some indie stuff from Dan Clowes, or Dave Cooper I really like, and the occasional Manga. And New Zealand stuff of course!
Kaiapoi KidYou're an architect by day, a cartoonist as time allows – do you ever see being able to make a living full time as a cartoonist in new Zealand?
The short answer is no. There simply isn’t the market locally to earn a living. However working for an international company from New Zealand is a possibility – just one I haven’t pursued. To get work say, in the States you really have to go there, and make a personal connection with the big companies. In saying that though, I’ve heard terrible things from people who do get into the industry overseas, regarding pay and the way they’re treated. I’ve got a great job, and a family, so being an ink-slave holds no interest for me career-wise.
Tell us about your storyboarding work for movies – there must be quit a bit of scope for work in this area?
Well, certainly more scope if I wanted to relocate to Wellywood and work for Mr Jackson! The fact is the local movie scene runs very hot and cold. You might get some work, are flat out for a few months, then nothing for ages. Large studios such as Weta might have fulltime work available, however most storyboarders in this country work on a contract basis, and as the work comes up.
As for my part I did the Storyboards for a New Zealand film “Perfect Creature” which met some pretty mixed reviews and disappeared from the Cinemas before I’d even seen it!. The storyboarding work was fun, but hard, and not the sort of thing I expect to do long term.
What next? Any projects in the wings or conferences coming up?
The big Convention that tours around the country is ‘Armageddon’ and I’ll be there, in Wellington and Christchurch at least in some sort of capacity selling comics and signing stuff. Other than that I’ll just be working on the next issue of Progress.
If Jared Lane was stuck on a desert island, would he be scanning the horizon for ships or drawing pictures on the beach?
I’d be burning everything on that rock trying to attract attention. Damn the drawing – reality takes priority.

Kaiapoi Kid
Technique and style

There’s tremendous detail in some of the drawings – how long does a comic strip take?
A single page will take around 1 day (8 Hours) – this includes thumbnailing out the action, pencils, inking and lettering. So a 24 page comic like Progress represents a good month worth of work – spread over a whole years worth of weekends, evenings etc. A really detailed page, one that has loads of stuff going on it might take slightly longer, but I’m pretty quick these days.
Do you work digitally or with traditional pen and ink or a mixture of techniques?
I tend to draw everything in Brush and Ink, with detailed stuff in pens. Then the drawings are scanned and prepped for print digitally. I do have a Wacom tablet, but I don’t like actually drawing with it. I’m a Luddite in that respect.
There’s been some changes to the way things are printed – do you print using bromides and film or digitally? Does the printing method change the look of the final comic? Is that an important consideration?
It’s all digital these days. My designer friend (Darren Sawyers @ Form Design), who does all the preprint work just fires an electronic file to the printers, and their big machine spits a comic out. If I was going to do an arty bound Graphic Novel of  the ‘Kaiapoi Kid’ I might want nice paper stock, and a more traditional printed look. But for me the main consideration is cost. In saying that however most people have a very fixed idea of what a comic should look and feel like. I do try and make my comic as ‘mainstream’ as possible with nice glossy paper, a large format, and a colour cover. I tend to think that small, badly printed comics just put people off, and this theory is borne out by Comic Shop owners.
Are there illustrators and artists who are similar to your own? Who do you enjoy?
I like all sorts of different peoples work. I’ve been told my style is very reminiscent of British artist Philip Bond, and I do really like his stuff. However I don’t really set out to emulate anyone, I just draw, and that’s my style.

Individual stories

Living with the AbyssOne of your longest running strips, Living with the Abyss, paints a bleak future for Christchurch –  a hyper-capitalist, eco-holocaust world. How did this story evolve?
The original core idea – a cleaner stealing a robot – happened while I was funnily enough working as a part-time cleaner, and finishing my Fine Arts Degree at Canterbury University. The main theme was in part influenced by the movie Metropolis, and its proletariat struggle, which I’d seen around then.
The setting owes a lot to the vision of a futuristic Christchurch my friend Ed Dewe had devised, in a roleplaying game I was playing at the time, and I’ve added to it over the years. I was also reading a lot of William Gibson, and Manga (Akira, Appleseed) I wanted to write and draw a really epic ‘action’ story set in New Zealand, after the frustratingly short comics I’d been doing for Canta and in Funtime Comics.
An idea for the first episode came to me when I was cycling home one night, and I started drawing it straight away – later I realised I had gone about it the wrong way and that I should sit down and write the whole thing to avoid any continuity muck-ups. As it stands the part of the story I’m dealing with now is only loosely written, and I’m still making it up as I go along. So while the bones of the story are set, the dialogue, pacing and page layouts are started afresh each episode. I usually reread the previous episode to remind myself of what’s happening, and then I go from there.
Did you think when you started it that it would still be as relevant today as it was in 1994?
I had hoped it would be!  In the 13 years since I originally wrote the story some issues have faded away (such as the Employment Contracts Act) while others have become more immediate and important to us (ie: global warming). The story is in the ‘cyberpunk’ genre, and as such deals with issues surrounding humanity and technology.
These are still relevant today – as in many ways the internet, and artificial intelligences haven’t really developed hugely since the mid nineties (Well, the internet is more pervasive, but it’s still not the type of immersive ‘reality’ we’d been led to expect it would be by now). So as a result much of the technology I was writing about then, is still unfulfilled today.  I think it’s interesting that Mobile Phones, and the rise of the modern ‘text’ generation was a development I didn’t expect. As a result, despite some passing mention of mobiles, the Characters don’t use the technology we take for granted today.
One way I’ve tried to keep things current is with the news bulletins, in which I can drop in contemporary fears. For instance in recent issues there has been mention of an Islamist jihad sweeping across Australia, which was never in the original script.
There’s a lot in the comics for the sci-fi fan – who are your sci-fi favourites?
LWTA is full of obscure references to other Sci-Fi movies and books. Sometimes readers will catch me out on the origins of things – like the Puritan Foodstuffs Company. However to be honest I don’t actually like a lot of Science Fiction. I prefer historical or contemporary stuff as I connect more with the characters and their motivations. I grew up reading a lot of 2000AD Comics, which tended to have a vision of a more gritty ‘Hard’ sci-fi world, which if I do read or watch Sci-fi is the type I like. This has definitely influenced LWTA, as I wanted to show a grimy, tangible future, that focuses more on the little guys, and not the ‘Starship Commander’ type characters. I like to call it lo-fi sci-fi.

Kaiapoi Kid

Kaiapoi KidThis is an interesting tale – how did this character evolve?
A friend of mine, Nik Wright, came to me with the characters and the basic plot already sketched out in 1999. Nik lives in Australia now, and hasn’t had anything to do with the Kaiapoi Kid since then, so I’ve been making the character my own ever since – but crediting him with the original idea. I’m interested in New Zealand history, and the Kid story is a good outlet for this.
It’s set in the 1880s – totally opposite to the futurist vision of Christchurch. Would you ever do a contemporary cartoon or do they date too quickly?
I’ve done several short contemporary comics. They do tend to date – but then what doesn’t? I’ve been accused (I don’t deny it) of not writing strict genre work, but writing comics about people talking. The setting might differ – Futuristic, Historical etc, but the stories are always about conversations. I suppose in that respect I avoid the comics dating too much by giving it a genre setting.

Deep in the heart of Dixie

Sky SurferI enjoyed the sky surfing in Deep in the heart of Dixie. Does the idea for the story come from a single drawing or is it the other way around - do the illustrations follow the idea?
I think you get a nugget of the story first, and then as you play the story out on the page in thumbnail sketches, more images and ideas come to you. It’s very similar to storyboarding a film, opening shot, pans down to… close up on… etc. Essentially you’re telling a story, and the images you choose will drive that story forward. So while a singular image might provide an inspiration for the story I tend to find the story itself is the main driver.