The short story is that I've been making comics for more than quarter of a century. That's a long time and I should just about be good at it by now. Giving so much time to an art medium means that it must have some intellectual, if not visceral attraction to me, which bears asking what that might be.
At no stage when I was a boy, was it obvious that I would make a career in comics. I loved reading Tintin, Asterix, Raymond Briggs, the Disney Duck stories by Carl Barks, Mickey and Friends by Floyd Gottfredson. These were what was available in my local public library in the 1970s. The only other place where I knew you could get comics was in local newsagencies: American superhero comics, a smattering of Phantom and those digest sized war comics. I was not interested in them, as I didn't like the art; I only liked cartoony art at that age. I was not obsessed with comics, but with Lego, which I played with extensively, recreating scenes from movies I loved, such as Star Wars, Where Eagles Dare, Guns of Navarone, Empire Strikes Back and other 'boys' flicks. The other thing I loved to do was draw, but it wasn't comics, but cartooning: funny pictures, only I would do these elaborate 'all-over' style pictures that were characteristic of Richard Scarry, Guillermo Mordillo, or another cartoonist who did similar pictures whose name I only remember as 'Coup'. I have tried to find out who this was, but have yet to succeed, as I cannot remember the title of that one book in the local library, and I plainly have the artists name wrong. All the people had round heads, very long pointy noses and it was a book of colour double page spreads.
At about age 20, in my local newsagent, I stumbled upon an issue of Heavy Metal Illustrated with a striking cover by Enki Bilal from the Nikopol Trilogy. I browsed the comic, astounded by the lovely painterly, erotic art, and was hooked. At that point in time, I wanted to be an artist, but as a fantasy/sci-fi art a la Boris Vallejo, Julie and the Hildebrandt brothers, so the immediate attraction to me was Bilal's illustration technique: paint, gouache, inks, colour pencils, pastels all going to make a striking, moody image. I sought more of the same sort of art. About two issues later, Heavy Metal Illustrated reproduced Eleuteri Serpieri's Morbus Gravis 2: Drunna. Aside from the attractions of the titular character to a young male, it was Serpieri's exquisite drawing that blew my mind: such command of line, with cross-hatching that really modeled the figure (unlike my mess), lovely figure work, background detail, in short, everything I could hardly do. And then to top it off, Serpieri could add lovely delicate watercolour! I felt as I was unfit even to wash this mans brushes, but I did want to learn how to draw like that. There was no school to learn such sublime drawing skills at the time, although there are now - though uncommon. I had to learn by copying, and I... didn't really do that.
At the time, I was attending Swinburne Institute of Technology (as it was then), studying Graphic Design, and not at all interested in it. My response to the boredom was to rebel against the 'system', by taking a punk attitude to their assignments, but without any wit or talent. Commensurate with this, I also discovered comic shops in Melbourne, with their cornucopia of comics, and quickly found the underground comics, which very much suited my attitude. The signal work that changed me was Hup #2 by Robert Crumb, whose story 'My Trouble With Women, Part 2' gave succour and inspiration to this nerdy, virginal, frustrated male. Yes... finally a comic that speaks exactly to how I was feeling at the time. And so my earliest comics influences were in underground comix, mixed with American alternative comics such as Hate (Peter Bagge), Eightball (Dan Clowes), Love And Rockets (Los Bros Hernandez), Peepshow (Joe Matt), Yummy Fur (Chester Brown), Palookaville (Seth), Naughty Bits (Roberta Gregory) and so many of the Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Kitchen Sink, Tundra, Knockabout, Rip Off Press comix of the period.
My earliest comix were short humourous stories, mostly jokes and some political commentary that came with my growing socio-political awareness of the progressive sort (before this time, I was not especially political at all; one of the sleepwalkers). I created a gallery of characters like Robert Crumb did for his early works. Dippy The Hippy, Joe Shmo, Wiggs and Buttcheeks the dog, Chelle MacPhersonstruts, Angie, Reg C#@t and other proxies and avatars. But my ambition seemed quite different to Bob, as probably the greatest influence on my work was cinema, particularly the great auteurs like Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, Michelangelo Antonioni, Jean-Luc Godard, Yasujior Ozu, Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti among many that make up the bulk of my Dvd/BRD library. But added to that were the classic Hollywood of John Ford, Howard Hawks, Vincente Minelli, George Cukor, Joseph Mankiewicz, Billy Wilder, Anthony Mann, Douglas Sirk and Robert Siodmak among many. But I also loved some of the edgier contemporary filmmakers such as Woody Allen, Scorcese, David Lynch, Todd Haynes, Abbas Kiarostami, Wes Anderson and Soderbergh (but not in frivolous mode). In short, I have a pretty standard cineastes taste.
The classic link among them all is telling stories about human beings and why they do and say what they do, or humanism. And that's why I write and draw the comics that I'm most well known for. I am interested in people and what shapes and motivates them to do things, for ill or good. I'm particularly interested in what is disparagingly called 'little' people, the common man, average people, or what I like to phrase as: not the movers and shakers in history, but those moved and shaken by history. So, I am not interested writing and drawing superheroes, action stories, violence except where it intrudes into the everyday life, crime, fantasy, science fiction and the like. Sure, I occasionally might do a short story or illustration on commission, but I won't generate a whole graphic novel on the same. It's not to say I don't like genre as a reader and/or viewer – I most certainly do – but it doesn't interest me to spend months or years create stories in genre. I'd love to do a musical in comics, but I'm not sure how to do that one!
So we come back to the question: why comics?
Sometimes I think it's because I really wanted to make films, but didn't have the maturity or social skills to be able to command a movie set like my auteur heroes did, let alone hustle the money or go on the promotional trail. I think I could do it now, but definitely not when I was younger. But since I could write and draw (so saith I) words and pictures, and cinema was fundamentally telling stories with words and images, then in a way, I am making the movies I want to make, but with no need for a budget other than buying time to create, where all my actors and sets are at my command day or night and there are no on-set tantrums, capricious executives or bad weather to deal with.
But that's not it. There is something intrinsic to the medium that fascinates me as a storyteller, being how pictures in juxtaposition manage to engage a reader and create an immersive, yet active experience. My technical definition of comics is 'juxtaposed narrative images', which I think gets closer to its unique active quality: juxtaposition. Other mediums have words, pictures in combinations, but not with the same rigidity as comics do, and it is there that the key resides, and it is this, I make the subject of my academic research into the medium. But in the end, it's because I am a storyteller and I happen to like to write with pictures.