Jeremy's Affections -- Interview

Trudy Cooper
nuts and bolts
nils, jeremy and kate

Doug Bayne
impressing our friends

Danny Murphy
blame the pianist

The following interview was conducted via email between July 1997 and July 1998, and edited by Justine Shaw, Kristen Brennan, Trudy Cooper and Doug Bayne.

BRENNAN: What role do the folks on the credits page play in creating PG? What's the process of creating each issue?

COOPER: Platinum Grit itself is by Danny, Doug and Myself. The other names see credit for helping out in the non-creative areas. As for the process, this is the ultra-brief run-down - Doug and I brainstorm the plot, run it by Danny, and finalize it. When our shit's together, Doug and/or myself write a loose script as an ideas template to help Danny, who then goes off and writes the script proper. Doug and I suggest any script cuts/changes, then I lay it out in my scrawly, "what the fuck IS that" way. When I've got the boy's approval on my layout scrawl, I pencil and Ink the pages. I also draw the cover-art, and hand it over to Doug, who paints it up nicely.

BRENNAN: What other creative projects are the folks involved working on?

COOPER: Doug works on the odd animated short film, Danny's an actor, so he's usually off in some play or film-shoot, while I pretty much devote myself to PG. Doug and I are working on other stuff, which shan't be mentioned at this stage.

BRENNAN: Is there an "end" to PG? Do you have a feel for how many issues you might need to tell the story?

COOPER: Absolutely. Always was. As for the issue count, we gave up on speculating when we realised we couldn't even guess how many pages each issue would be. We're not restricting ourselves with a "goal issue" like Dave Sim - but perhaps around thirty issues. Then again, we're not even close to half-way yet.

BRENNAN: How many issues do you print, and how many sell out?

COOPER: We print around 7,000, and sell around 2,300-ish. The newsagents destroy the unsolds, which is usually around 3,400 copies. We wouldn't be sold out of any issues if the ex-newsstand recall copies were in decent condition. It's a hideous waste.

BRENNAN: How has the response to PG been in America?

COOPER: From the readers, there's been bugger-all response, but then we are obscure unknowns from Australia. Not having any money to publicise ourselves makes it almost impossible to generate interest, so until we discover some sneaky backdoor, we'll likely stay obscure unknowns.

Professionally, the response has been wonderfully supportive - with a few incredibly nice reviews. Orders are slowly increasing, but our timing with this industry slump is going to make it slow. Luckily we're champions at 'hanging in there'.

BRENNAN: Can you verbalize your ambitions for PG? Lots of trade paperbacks in print forever? Movie Deal? Animation? Get-the-damn-thing-off-your-chest?

COOPER: To be honest, I just want to tell the story and have it mean something to the reader.

For the tangible, we're aiming to do trades simply because a nice, neat book works better than a pile of single issues. Aesthetics, how shallow.

As for Animation, no. I'd only think about it if Doug, Danny and I had complete, total creative control, which, sadly, is not how the film and TV industry works. Anyone but the creator is going to fuck it up, no matter how good their intentions are. Besides, the story's too bloody long. It's happy being a comic.

BRENNAN: Is self-publishing an important part of PG, or merely a means to an end?

COOPER: All the arguments for self-publishing are there, but ultimately, it's just about doing it. The creative freedom is essential, but from what I hear, publishers are behaving more like humans now anyway. As long as Platinum Grit is told the way we want, the business side is irrelevant.

BRENNAN: Have you worked on any other comics? Do you have any desire to?

COOPER: The odd short bit with friends, but that's it. As for the future, I don't know until I've finished this story.

BRENNAN: I think you work at a coffee shop or something, yes? Would you churn out comics or animation pabulum if it paid well, or is that part of your energy reserved for stuff you care about?

COOPER: Absolutely the latter. I've done work in all those other "creative" fields, and I despise the lot. It's more pointless, demoralising and demeaning than making coffee will ever be. Devoting a substantial part of your life to someone else's ideas for little or no credit for what? Nice furniture? I may struggle, and it's often harder than it needs to be, but I'm producing something that's all mine. I have no desire to waste my energy for some talentless, overpaid twat in a suit who takes all credit for work he couldn't produce if it was colour-by-numbers-for-retards. I can't believe people put any value in that. If you're really an artist, you just DO it, any way you can.

As for working in a cafe - yes, and by choice. I can pay my living expenses, clear my head, and have a full creative tank for PG. I don't burn out. But the main reason I prefer to work in this environment is the real-world contact - which, I can honestly say, isn't found in a 'real-job'. The place I work in isn't your average cafe, it's a hip, late-night, dingily lit place owned and staffed by good friends - and due to the area, we get a parade of freaks every week. I have more hilarious stories from nights at work than any other place, and we don't put up with shit. Subserviant we ain't. It's rough, bizarre and it's a wellspring of material I store away for later use in my work. Realistic fictional portrayal has to come from experience, and one thing I can't stand is seeing an artist tackling something - and betraying their complete ignorance. Reference all you like, but it's going to show.

BRENNAN: What's the status of the fabled PG trade paperback?

COOPER: When I can blackmail Santa into doing a bankjob for me.

BRENNAN: Does the script proper include panel breakdowns, like a shooting filmscript, or is it more like a stageplay?

COOPER: I can't work with those restrictions, and PG is my story - I'm not illustrating someone else's idea. Danny's scripts are stageplay format, giving me complete directorial control beyond the very basics. Beyond the dialogue, it's my call.

BRENNAN: I know you've got some acting experience, which helps you "act" the characters out.

COOPER: Kind of. Acting, as far as I'm concerned, is vital, and my time on stage was invaluable in loosening that up.

BRENNAN: Weren't you in a comedy troupe, or somesuch?

COOPER: An improvisational theatre group. Which came out of Theatresports, which Doug and I did professionally for three years, twice representing Queensland in Interstate competition - and successfully (Hurrah!). The other group was with three other friends, and we produced our own shows, both improv comedy, one of which we ran for about two years and built up a funky following. That show, unlike Theatresports, was based on more narrative, extended impro, which was my favourite time on stage, in a regular character role I had a ball playing.

BRENNAN: How do you handle pacing? Does the script flow easily into thumbnails which are more or less redrawn into the final thing? At which point are pacing decisions made, and how do you decide what feels right and what doesn't?

COOPER: I have no idea how to verbalize this! It's not a conscious process, It just unfolds. The pacing happens at once with everything else - each scene has a mood, focus, subtext, that all intertwine. Thumbnails are a kind of 'brainstorming', though it forms itself as I read the script. I do make the odd change, but generally it plays out in my head as I read through the script.

BRENNAN: Do you keep a mirror next to your drawing board, to experiment with facial expressions?

COOPER: No. It's a process of becoming that character, feeling the emotion, and reflecting it on paper. Much like acting. The mirror-method never sat right with me. It's subtler than that, and quite intimate.

BRENNAN: PG is dense with multi-level puns, recurring jokes, and inside stuff. How much of that stuff gets cut? Do you ever worry about losing the reader?

COOPER: Very little is cut out.

As for the reader, not really. I know we don't help the reader, but PG is a kind of jigsaw puzzle. We want the reader to work it out, and every issue holds clues both visual and verbal. We just don't do the standard comicbook 'technique' of verbal plot expositions with a loudhailer and spotlight. With PG you have to pay attention. Readers who burn through it for a laugh and a perve at Nils' tits WILL get lost. Comics are a notoriously lazy medium, and most are at a child's level. Investing thought isn't a daunting thing, as good literature and non-commercial film leave much for the audience to think about.

We're giving readers credit for intelligence. Most feedback is very positive. One guy wrote that he and his girlfriend both read PG and then enjoy sitting down and talking about what's going on. I love that! It doesn't end when you finish reading the issue.

We want it to be a comic you can re-read, and find something you missed last time. It involves and includes the reader beyond being briefly entertained.

BRENNAN: What is your work cycle like?

COOPER: I absorb myself in a breakneck-speed, four to six week sheltered-workshop - neglecting things like sleep, food, the outside world.....when I'm in a zone and firing, I won't interrupt it. My friends are used to it. What drags on are the few teeny finishing touches - that's the only irritating part.

As for vices, they're an everyday need and have no special role in my work. What is essential is music.

BRENNAN: What do you listen to?

COOPER: It depends on the atmosphere of the scene. Anything from Ministry, Propellerheads, Regurgitator, The Prodigy - through Garbage, They Might Be Giants, and of course, Kate Bush. I also have a sick penchant for retro-trash, so it's pretty eclectic. I do have my PG favourites - some stuff creates a real palpable atmosphere, which is a real boon when I'm in the thick of it.

BRENNAN: Can you listen to music with lyrics during writing/pencilling, or is that instrumental only?

COOPER: For the artwork, I have to have music - I don't like working to silence. As for writing, I prefer to take my arse off to a comfy cafe and write over a flat-white binge. My head works better conceptually when I'm out somewhere.

BRENNAN: You seem to be using a fairly straight-ahead narrative. How attracted are you to the experimental/formalist aspect of comics (a la Chris Ware)? Is the narrative style in PG an expression of your taste in general, or your taste for this particular story?

COOPER: Me, not especially. I feel that there's enough exploring and ground to be broken in just the narrative area. PG is and ongoing narrative, so fucking around with the medium in the technical sense would undermine the fiction. Comics need a proverbial kick up the date in all areas. Doug's the one who's more technically driven.

BRENNAN: You've expressed that the high degree of control you have is critical to telling PG the way you want to tell it. Is such minute control the primary quality which draws you to the comics medium?

COOPER: Yes, but also the medium itself. There's a lot of potential power in a medium that is so easily absorbed. And it's cheaper than animation.

BRENNAN: What else attracts you to comics as distinct from film, animation, or prose?

COOPER: I've simply always loved and drawn cartoons. Using pictures and text, you're in complete control with how the readers see and read the story. Also, sequential art allows for techniques unavailable in other media - such as the suspension of a point in time. It can be done in film, but not as poignantly.

BRENNAN: Would you ever write a book?

COOPER: Once I thought I would, now I doubt it. I'm not really a writer - I don't have a decent enough grasp on structure for one. I'm fine with dialogue, but you need more for a novel. Besides, I'm first and foremost and artist.

[part two]

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