James Squires sometimes draws things and occasionally publishes them on his blog. A harsh self critic, his hilarious comics generate a degree of visual stimulation, but there is more at stake here.
Genuine passion fuels his skill, and this is what articulates his unpredictable concepts. He admits to being confused a lot of the time, perhaps it’s because he drinks a lot of coffee and is residing in post-design degree limbo. His self-described ‘terrible’ weekly internet-comic is what drives his productivity and keeps his work circulating. His blog dates back to 2009 and the archive is ever expanding with more novel content.
James Squires is not your usual, conventional comic artist, although some of his inspiration does come from traditional comics and graphic novels. At first glance the raw morbidity of his themes and the despondence that resonates throughout his work becomes quickly apparent, but his acute sense of humour pervades the melancholic undertones and the predicaments of James’ characters.
His raw and playful content, which is simply hand drawn from its inception, reflects on the intriguing and thoughtful man holding the pencil. His pictures and stories contain all sorts of simple, surreal surface imagery, but James Squires is a clever man. You don’t need to look far beyond his elementary line work to find yourself laughing out loud, because a lot can be said in a drawing with few words. His knack for underlying satire and ridicule makes for some smart and refreshing comic strip action. There is a childlike innocence in the quality of his lines, which adds to the distressing slapstick comedy of it all.
I talked to James about his personal artistic process with the intention to unfold his imagination and to tap into the source of his obtuse concepts.
I think this quote sums up his universal creative outlook:
“Inspiration is like a splinter just under the skin. If you leave it alone and ignore it, it’ll probably just fall out on of its own accord. Alternatively, you can stab at it repeatedly with pointy metal”
Inspiration can be painful whether you decide to do something about it or not. And that’s the moral of the story.
Words: Emma Forster
Can you draw us a current self-portrait like the one you drew on the napkin at Denny’s that time?
You are currently between a design degree and something else? Tell us about your design degree and then explain what the something else might be…
I finished my design degree at the end of last year at CPIT (Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology), with a focus on animation and illustration. Before that I did a Psyc degree at uni where I spent more time drawing the comic series Fishing For Orphans for the Uni mag than I did studying. Doing a design degree was my way of attempting to channel these creative impulses into something more “worthwhile,” something that I could make a career out of. Instead I focused on animation and illustration, and there’s an awful lot of people out there infinitely better at both than I am.
Optimally, the something else is some inexplicable future situation where I can somehow trick someone into paying me to keep drawing things. I’m certain it’s possible but I’m still figuring out the particulars. Presently I’m writing and illustrating two books which I’m hoping will end up making me a zillion dollars. Two zillion if I’m lucky.
Pretty much everything is penciled and inked and then scanned and polished on the computer. On occasion I’ll create everything digitally, but usually I find them to be too clean. I need the irregularity of my shaky hands and crappy ink pens to add a slight unpredictability to the line-work. Also, I’m pretty messy so there’s seldom a comic or illustration I make that doesn’t need cleaning up or rearranging digitally later.
Where does the concept and imagery come from before you create a piece? What are the kinds of things that initiates your inspiration?
Concept, imagery, inspiration… they all come from wherever I can get them, I’m not picky. I watch too many films and read too many books and comics- I take a lot of inspiration from the many amazing illustrators and comic artists out there that are somehow able to make a living out of it. I carry a pen and notebook everywhere. I stay up late pacing and drinking too much coffee. The truth is that ideas are hard work, even when you’re just drawing terrible comics for the internet.
You have a website named Moonbeard. Who is Moonbeard?
Moonbeard‘s the name of my Internet Comic Website. I wanted to get myself a comic up and running on the internet ASAP so I made a list and picked the least terrible name among them that had an available domain name. I really wish I had a better justification behind that name, but I don’t and now I’m stuck with it. I also think it might already be the name of a band.
I read somewhere on your blog - ‘It may take many readings to peel back all it’s layers, but persevere and surely you will never want for laughter again’
What are you ultimately trying to communicate through your art? What is the cause and effect intended?
I waded through my whole blog to find that quote, because I don’t remember writing it, I’m not usually that sarcastic. Sure enough it was attached to the worst comic on there.
Panel 1: “I’d forget my head if it wasn’t screwed on OH NO IT ISN’T”
Panel 2: (man has no head)
So many layers.
As for what I’m trying to communicate, and the intended cause and effect, it’s really not easy to give an answer without reference to something specific, because it really does depend. Sometimes there’s something I want to communicate. Sometimes I just want to draw Batman.
Can you give us some adjectives to describe your work?
Shaky. Confused. Uncertain. Um.
No, no I can’t
Do you have any recurring characters or stories that seem to feature on the page more than others?
A couple, but not many. I’d really like to feature recurring characters more often but I haven’t been able to write anyone I’m happy enough with to keep using. I have a child character who has appeared in an awful lot of comics. I try not to use him too much because his comics seem to revolve around dark themes and I don’t want my comics to become too unremittingly bleak. I like bleak very much, but only in moderation. I’ve also been drawing a few comics about a guy coming to terms with getting his head eaten by an insect-creature. I don’t know if there’s too many places I can take that one. There were a whole bunch that featured a talking pizza, but they were pretty awful. Lately I’ve noticed that I seem to have a lot of comics where the story devolves or disintegrates into a nothingness, an empty void. I try not to read into those too much.
Do you intend your comics and their stories to make sense or do you prefer to leave interpretation to the imagination of the viewer?
They all make perfect sense to me, but I leave a lot of the concepts pretty open to interpretation. I would hate to tell people how to read my comic. There are definitely comics that aren’t intended to have much in the way of concept, and then there are some that definitely are, and I’ll put the two next to each other and leave it up to people to see if they can find something they can identify with or not. I intend them to make as much or as little sense as people want them to.
You enjoy flat black and white images but you also delve into a bit of colour from time to time, how do you know when a drawing needs a dash of colour or shading to bring it out of the monochrome?
A lot of the time I just don’t think the use of colour is justified or would add anything much to a comic, so I’ll avoid it. I’m also pretty bad at it. At colour. So it takes me a million years to get something I like, and who has a million years to spend on a comic. Illustrations I’ll take the time to colour. My illustration style is usually pretty flat and without depth, so flat colour schemes seem to make sense.
What inspired the Sad Thing in a Field series?
I drew a sad thing in a field. Then I drew a lot more. Now it’s just too late to stop, and I’ll be drawing sad things in fields until I die…in a field. Then everything will have come full-circle.
Tell us more about Munchscronch, what is your role in association with this?
Munchscronch takes it’s name from some onomatopoeia on a panel of a collaborative comic drawn on post-it notes on the wall of our studio last year at CPIT. It was perhaps the worst comic ever drawn by anyone, but a good way of staying more or less sane through exhausting hours spent in the studio.
Munchscronch.com is a website I created with a couple of other graduates upon completion of the degree, and is kind of intended for a similar purpose- an excuse for us to create an illustration on a weekly basis that doesn’t really ever need to be taken seriously. There’s a weekly theme and anyone can contribute an illustration according to that theme. It’s a very silly website.