Leave Your Spandex At The Door: Andi Watson

ONI, ACTUALLY: LOVE, FIGHTS

Welcome to the 22nd installment of ‘Leave Your Spandex At the Door, tentatively labeled LYS@D acronyms are the next big thing, s.s.s. (So Said Someone). This week I’m kicking off a series of columns under the banner of Oni, Actually, shining the spotlight on the indies company supreme: Oni Press!

First up, is Love Fights. This is the comic that reminds me how much I love reading comics. Andi Watson is the man rbehind this title, doing story, art, and gofer duties. He’s incredibly cherished by fans for his work on Breakfast After Noon, Geisha, Dumped (all available in neat trades from Oni) and Marvel Comics’ Tsunami head-liner Namor.

What is Love Fights about? Why not ask the expert, directly? And before I forget, here’s a nifty link to the Love Fights cover gallery and previews form the upcoming issue #6! (thanks Jamie Sweety!)

LOVE FIGHTS ISSUE ART AND COVERS GALLERY

Manolis: What is Love Fights about? What is the format?

Andi: Love Fights is a romantic comedy about real people living in a world populated by superheroes. That’s the high concept but doesn’t really cover everything that interests me in LF. It’s also about, work, friendship, commerce, “the media” and comics. Oh, and super pets.
The format began as a strict monthly but I’m creating this alone and stuff happens. Currently it’s b&w and coming out four months, then a month break then another batch monthly followed by a break. Family stuff, holidays, flu and fatigue will have an influence. What can I say, I’m human 😉

Manolis:What inspired this book?

Andi: The inspiration initially came from Oni who came up with the bare concept of regular folks being kept apart by hero shenanigans, “Serendipity meets Marvels”. I thought it was a neat idea, developed it and started work about a year ago. I guess really, I wanted to look at hero comics from my own perspective. Ground up.

Manolis:Why should people check it out?

Andi: I think there’re different aspects to the book that draw readers in. There’s the hero genre thing stewing in the background, the love story, the work relationships and the mystery story and the cat. I kind of took the hero genre and looked at it through different characters but they’re all united by the direct or indirect actions of the Flamer.

Manolis:How did you come up with this name for the book? Were there any other candidate names?

Andi: Nah, it was one of the few occasions where the title popped into my head and I thought “that’s the one”. Sometimes I start with a title, tick off a long list or even don’t come up with one until I’m writing an actual issue.
This was easy, for once.

Manolis:Can you introduce us to your cast?

Andi: The main characters are Jack, penciller of the Flamer comic book and Nora, tabloid journo and would be girlfriend. Then there’s Jack’s friends Sue and Russ who also work on the comics, J.J. the editor and Guthrie the cat.

Manolis:Most of the leading characters in the book are working in comics. Is this comic autobiographical to some extent? Have you based any of the characters on yourself or your friends?

Andi: Not autobio in the strict sense. I mostly work in the indie world and not work for hire. There’s just a lot more drama in work for hire, it’s where personal _expression and commercial concerns clash.
I suppose the closest it comes to autobio is the characters in the book are at the mercy of the actions of the heroes that populate the world. Not in the sense they get into fights but the hero actions have a ripple effect that has an impact on the “real characters”. I feel the same, I work in a medium where heroes rule and to a greater extent I’m at the mercy of mainstream trends and decisions. I first started working on comics around the time of the heroes world thing and the speculator bust and that’s formed the kind of mainstream industry we have now. Pretty much everyone bailed ;D
Also, I’ve been working on the book during all the upheaval in world affairs and it reflects some of my own feelings of powerlessness. I didn’t vote for Blair and certainly not for Bush yet they go ahead and act in ways I fundamentally disagree with and are supposedly in my best interests. I get really frustrated and I sit here comfortably in semi-rural England. What’s it like for the citizens of Iraq?

Manolis:The spandex quotient of the title so far has been pretty low, with the resident superhero, the Flamer, only making behind-the-scenes appearances. Will he be playing a more prominent role in the future?

Andi: The Flamer is the background figure that ties all the strands of the story together and pretty much drives the plot, although he doesn’t appear prominently. He has a scene in #4 but I’m not interested in punch ups so we see him from a different angle.

Manolis:Can you give some hints as to what is coming up in the next few issues?

Andi: We follow Jack and Nora’s relationship and it’s ups and downs, Guthrie has his part to play, Jack’s pencilling job gets tougher and the wrap up to this story line has serious repercussions for Jack and Nora. It involves the Flamer, his supposed child, Guth, Jack and Nora.

Manolis:Romance, with a more soap opera-ish flavour, has always been a vital ingredient of most superhero books. Which are your favourite superhero and big-screen romances?

Andi: I’ve read little more than handful of hero books and none in a monthly-the-illusion-of-change vein. Dark Knight, Watchmen et al don’t exactly make a lot of space for romantic relationships.

I’m more into Tracey/Hepburn, Jane Austen, Thackerey (Vanity Fair is a superior sprawling soap) and Billy Wilder.

Manolis:What particular themes will you be exploring in Love fights?

Andi: Themes. Personal and public morality is central to the Flamer’s story.
Loyalty, dependants keep cropping up pets, children, friends. Personal and professional relationships and their effect on each other, art v. commerce.
It’s intended to be an amusing book but there’s other stuff happening under the surface which doesn’t get in the way of the fun.

Manolis:How hard is it to write about real a relationship when one or both of the characters involved can fly or breath underwater or shoot fire from their eyes? How is the approach here different from your other projects?

Andi: Jack and Nora don’t have powers and that’s central to keeping them relatable and sympathetic. As soon as they have x-ray eyes you’re distancing them from the reader. For all intents and purposes it’s a real relationship, it’s just that the stuff around them is comic book genre stuff, albeit my take on it. If I don’t believe in the central characters then I can’t assume the readers will either.

Manolis:You’ve got a “street rep” for writing good romance comics and being able to appeal to the “elusive” female audience, (something that led to your recent Namor assignment). Are comics today a male-oriented form of entertainment? What are the steps needed, in your opinion, to get more girls interested in comics?

Andi: I’m pretty certain that as soon as the mainstream focussed solely on superhero comics they signed the medium’s death warrant. But then short-termism is nothing new to comics. Yeah, of course they’re male dominated,not only that but a certain kind of male of a certain age who’re slowly falling away from comics. Add to that the fact that comic shops are pretty forbidding places for people new to the medium, and let’s face it they’re very male environments.
The manga stuff in bookstores is a good way of hopefully getting new kinds of readers into comics. If the mainstream put out books intended for girls then they can’t expect them to survive in the direct market. They’ve gotta think long term, bookstores, trades and not sit back and hope the books will sell themselves. My fear is they’ll throw a couple of projects out there, they’ll die in the direct market, there won’t be the long term commitment to trades and bookstores and it’ll be back to the same old s**t. Thinking long term is key, you might not make money right away but long term you’ll help grow a new audience who’re open to different types of stories.

Manolis:Do you have a girlfriend/wife? What does she think of your work?

Andi: Yeah I’m married and have a young daughter. Phil was pretty into Hate when that was around and she’ll read Optic Nerve but she’s not a big comic person. Out of my stuff she likes BAN best.

Manolis:You’re currently writing 3 monthly comics and drawing one, how do you manage to juggle everything at once? How long does each task take you, usually?

Andi: Yeah, I certainly did not plan it this way. I started on LF about a year ago and intended to put it out regularly. After that the writing gig’s were offered up and I didn’t expect them to last. So now I’m juggling those as well my child care during the week.
It’s always a tricky balance. I can’t afford to make personal work unless I have for-hire stuff to help with the finances. And I’d go nuts if I was only doing for-hire stuff without pursuing my own stories.
Time wise I allow two weeks for a script and I ideally manage to draw five pages a week. Ideally.

Manolis:If you had to choose one over the other, would you prefer to continue as a writer or an artist? Which do you find more fulfilling? Do you think of yourself as artist first, or a writer?

Andi: Comics is the combination of both. I have to combine both to fully express my stories. I’m not exceptional at either but combine the words and the pictures and hopefully I get more than the sum of the parts.

Manolis:You have a very fluid and “cartoony” art style. Who are your favourite artists? Which artists’ work inspired you to become an artist yourself?

Andi: I don’t think any one artist inspired me to draw, I just had a little talent and enjoyed getting lost in my own little world. I think with this kind of work, like a novelist, it’s more someone’s personality that leads them into it. It’s a particular kind of person who can put up with the solitude.
In comics I like Avril, Dupuy and Berberian, Seth, Seizo Watase, Mitsuru Adachi, Herge, Simon Gane, Wds, Bruce Timm, Glen Murakami, Jaime Hernandez…a lot of stuff. But I also enjoy “fine” art, Degas, Ingres, Matisse, Picasso, Hiroshige…again a whole long list of stuff, chinese tomb pottery.
It used to be I was more inspired by the visual side but as time has gone on I get inspired by ideas and characters and the visual stuff comes after.

Manolis:The bulk of your work is creator-owned. How is working on your own creations different from work-for-hire on company-owned characters?

Andi: It’s totally different. With work for hire it’s a job, you have a boss, your editor and you’re concerned with getting the script approved. It’s much more about pleasing other people, editors, the perceived demographic, commercial concerns and your satisfaction is secondary to that.
With creator owned I just go with the idea that’s really interesting, regardless of commercial concerns. I have to please myself and the rest is secondary. And obviously I can do what I want with my characters. With company characters you can paint the walls and move around the furniture but you can’t knock down the walls or add an extension. It’s not yours so handle with care.

Manolis:The covers on the book so far have been very eye-catching and original due to the simplicity of design and clever use of two-tone colouring. (In fact it was #1’s cover that initially drew me to this title). Was it your idea or Jamie’s to go with this style? How important is a good cover to the process of marketing a new book?

Andi: I always come up with my own covers. I have a degree in graphic design/illo and I like the graphic arts so I enjoy the discipline of working on a single image. And so many comic covers are just plain ugly with a gazillion rendered computer colours. When you do a really nicely designed stripped down cover it stands out on the shelves, as well as being pleasing to the eye.

Manolis:You’re one of ONIPress’ most prolific creators with an impressive track list! How did you originally end up an ONI-boy? What was your first comics work?

Andi: Well, I work regularly with Slave Labor as well DHC and now Marvel.
But I got to know Jamie because he liked Skeleton Key back in the day. He hooked me up with the Buffy gig, quit DH and started at Oni. I had the Geisha pitch hanging around and they liked it so…here we are. I’ve been laughing at Jamie’s CD collection ever since!
My very first comics work was Samurai Jam, I did three self published issues followed by four from Slave. We just put out the collection this summer, so although it’s early work, it’s nice to know everything is collected and available.

Manolis:What other projects are you working on?

Andi: There’s talks with Marvel about writing more stuff but it’s still early days yet. I’m collaborating with one of my fave artists Simon Gane on a story set in 50s Paris. Again it’s early days but he draws beautiful street scenes and I can’t wait for the four issues to come out from Slave next year. .

Manolis: Thank you for your answers, Andi! I’ll be camping outside the comics shop until the next issue arrives!

LINKS:
ONI PRESS

ANDI WATSON HOMEPAGE

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The rest of you, tune back in 411comics and “Leave Your Spandex @t the Door” in one week for a special column ,wherein we reveal who the new NXM writer is exactly… -KNOCK- -KNOCK- Hey who are you? Are those real guns? Erm, hehe. I guess we won’t be revealing the new writer after all. But believe me it’s a doozy! –BUMP- What, I can’t say that either? How exactly does that constitute a spoiler? Put that X-Force Hardcover down! No, I surrender! I surrender!

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Manolis Vamvounis
a.k.a. Doc Dooplove