Steve Augarde is an author, illustrator and paper engineer who has written four novels for older kids and over 70 picture books for younger ones. He also provided the artwork and music for Bump the Elephant, a cartoon you may remember if you were a small person or parent in the early 1990s. I spoke to him about designing pop up books, 30 years of writing for children, and the possibility he may be responsible for electronic birthday cards…
This being graphic novel month, I have organised a few interviews with proper artists who do this sort of thing for a living. Alexander Matthews is a freelance cartoonist who draws comics for loads of people, including Private Eye, The Spectator, The Week and The Dandy (which I’d recommend buying solely for his strip, Nuke Noodle – read the first episode on his blog here). He currently lives between Russia (where he teaches art) and the UK. He very kindly agreed to chat about what it’s like to be a proper comicker, rather than a charlatan like me.
You trained in illustration and graphic design and you’ve also been a teacher – which came first and how did you get to the point where you are now?
Illustration came first; the teaching thing was really a way to make money. It’s extraordinarily difficult to make ends meet as a freelance illustrator straight out of college. Teaching very much took over my life for a number of years, however. It’s a tough job but one I love.
You draw in a few different styles (strips and panels, colour and monochrome) – which is your favourite to draw and do you have different processes for coming up with them?
I don’t really have a favourite style. The demands of the publication tend to dictate how I draw. With gag cartooning I might sell one out of every 10 I draw, so I tend not to spend so much time on the images. The strips sort of write themselves-I start at picture one and end up at picture 12. Then I go back and stuff a few more jokes in there! Writing gags is much more difficult-a lot of staring out of the window, drinking coffee and going for walks. I draw all my cartoons directly onto the computer because I’m lazy and paper is a fire hazard.
This week I will mostly be answering the questions of The Rogue Verbumancer, a scientician who occasionally masquerades as a writer on the internet, blogging here and tweeting as @Glempy. Here’s what he had to ask me.
It’s obvious that you enjoy writing, otherwise you wouldn’t have embarked on a project of such herculean proportions. But why do you enjoy it? What is it about writing that keeps you coming back for more?
First of all, I find writing fun. I don’t know why, exactly – I just enjoy doing it and I would blow other stuff off in its favour.
It’s an impulse I’ve had for a long time, I think because the process of creating feels good and I like the notion of engrossing people in a story as much as my own favourite authors engross me. I remember being really annoyed when I was ten, because I wrote a story that was about 12 pages long for a language exercise in school and my teacher kept not reading it. She probably had other marking to do, but I distinctly remember thinking she was being a hypocrite cause she used to bang on about how much she loved Gone With The Wind, which was much longer! The story was about a ghost called Jenny, who I think lived in a cabin in the woods and needed a bloke to help uncover the truth about why she died so she could move on, and I think maybe they fell in love? I don’t remember a lot more than that, although reading that back I wonder whether I should have re-used it for my paranormal romance! But I do remember one of the girls in my class telling everyone it was only that long because I wrote really big and left massive spaces between the words. I was deeply offended at the time an denied everything, but who knows, she might’ve been right! Can’t do that anymore though as I’m typing everything out!
I find that writing helps you process things – particularly when something is bothering you. That’s why the advent of blogging is a strange and terrible thing… When it comes to fiction, it’s fun because quite often things come out that I wasn’t necessarily expecting (although sometimes these things aren’t necessarily that good – eg when I was a teenager I wrote a series of stories that included some very embarrassing, deeply personal monologues when I was in a bad mood. They’d probably have been better in a diary or blog, TBH..). It’s only since I began doing this project that I’ve started trying to plan things, before that I’d sit down with a vague story idea and pretty much just write till it was done. That’s not the best way to do a novel, though. Not if you’ve only got a month, at least!
Is writing something that you’ve always wanted to do? Did you, from day one put your foot down and cry ‘I shall be a writer! And woe to all those who stand in my way!’ Or is it a career goal you’ve just stumbled upon unintentionally and decided to stick with?
In terms of how long I’ve wanted to be a writer, I can definitely date it back to primary school. I remember in primary 6 thinking I was very cool with my 3 As that I had in my career ambitions – I wanted to be an actress, an artist or an author. I kept up the acting in the local am dram group till I was about 18 or 19 but by that point I think I had lost my tendency to show off – I don’t know why, maybe because felt a lot more comfortable in my own skin so I didn’t need to borrow somone else’s anymore? That sounds ridiculously trite, doesn’t it. Clearly the real reason was that I could only do about 2 accents. And to be honest the writing took over – I started writing for local press when I was about fifteen and thought yes, I could be a journalist and make a living from that and then maybe segue into fiction later.
I was always pretty interested in writing books for children, and I applied to art college to do Illustration because I wanted to write the books and do my own drawings. I was accepted, but by the time I got the letters back from the places I’d applied to I was going through a practical phase where I thought doing an English degree more sensible, because as I said before then I could go make a living out of journalism and be an author later on. Essentially writing for a living in one form or another has been my goal since I was at least ten, so that’s fifteen years of it with varying degrees of focus!