When art school students graduate, they understandably don’t always hit the ground running, creatively. However, in his debut graphic novel from Nobrow, Art Schooled, London-based illustrator (and recent graduate) Jamie Coe found great storytelling fodder with a series of vignettes about a small-town guy who moves to the city in hopes of becoming an artist.
Speaking with ROBOT 6, Coe recalls finding his narrative voice while discovering those of his characters, and why it was critical that this journey from kid to adult be told in full color. Be sure to check out the preview at the end of the interview.
Tim O'Shea: How early in the development of the book did you realize you wanted to do it, in essence, as a series of short stories combined to tell one larger story?
Jamie Coe: I think that was probably the first thing I decided about this book. I knew I wanted to make the book feel like a diary; I think the fact its told in vignettes gives a sense that my protagonist, Daniel, is recollecting a specific experience.
The art-school experience has been explored before. What made you embark on such a topic, and was there any hesitancy on your part?
Hell, yeah. I was asked by the guys at Nobrow to do the book on art school so I was very happy to get the opportunity but also wary of treading on covered ground and possibly offending everyone from my art school.
Obviously Daniel Clowes' four-page comic Art School Confidential was a big starting point for my book, but I tried to venture into a different direction. I think at the end of the day, it's all about your own spin/perspective on a subject. For example, I like The Godfather but also Goodfellas and The Sopranos; they're all about Italian-American mobsters, but they tell their own unique stories.
In terms of the diverse cast you built for the story, is there anyone that you were pleased by the project's end to realize you enjoyed writing more than the others?
Yeah, I definitely enjoyed writing Charlie and Fabian the most. They both talk before they think and have douche-like qualities about them. Fabian is the skinny, moustached guy who has is overly opinionated on everything, and is always out to provoke people. How can I not enjoy writing this guy?!
I kind of wrote Daniel and Charlie as two sides of my brain: Daniel is awkward and anxious whilst Charlie is loud and often obnoxious. My favorite part of the writing was developing their bromance.
None of your characters are direct representations of your former schoolmates, but I wonder if you have heard any reactions regarding Art Schooled from former peers or teachers?
Generally, everyone has been super-supportive, and any accidental likeness to people has been met with a sense of humor. I actually drew a few of my mates into the comic as cameos, so I think they liked that.
In terms of layouts for the book, would you consider "Descent" to be the most ambitious/challenging, or does that title go to another segment of the book?
Yeah, sure, I'd probably agree. In terms of storytelling I think it was my most ambitious because the layout really plays a key part in the way you interact with the book and feel emotionally during the scene.
Did you ever consider doing the book as black and white, or did you always envision it as full color?
Always color. I'm a color guy. I think it plays such a big part in terms of atmosphere that I wanted to include it.
What themes did you hope to explore in Art Schooled?
At the core I wanted it to be about first impressions, anxiety, making friends and the awkward stage of going from being a kid to an adult.
A perusal of your Twitter feed reveals many things, including the kind of movie and music you like. Do you use social media as a way to share insight into your creative process, influences and as another means to connect with your potential audience?
Yeah, I usually take pictures of my work whilst working and post it on Twitter. It's great to connect with people, talk to other creators etc but it also just straight up helps you keep your sanity; doing comics can be a pretty solo job sometimes and it's nice when people give you words of encouragement, it gets me motivated.
Art Schooled aims to be an insightful memoir as well as funny. How challenging is it to be both humorous and revealing at the same time?
I think the two go very much hand-in-hand. I try not to take myself to seriously and be honest, and sometimes the best way I can express that is through humour.