Glyn Dillon is a British comic book writer, younger brother of Preacher’s Steve Dillon, which after being away from the sequential art for many years, has returned at the end of last year with the graphic novel The Nao of Brown, winner of a prize at the Angouleme Festival 2013 and that it will be presented soon in Italy by Bao Publishing.
With Glyn, we talked about what he did in the period away from the comic, about his family full of artists and the secret behind the success of Nao, of which we have dealt earlier this year in an article you can read here.
You come from a family of artists: your brother Steve is a cartoonist known in American comicdom, but also your father is an artist/painter, right? Have your parents supported since childhood your artistic talent? And now that you two are established artists, do you compare with Steve and also with your father on the work you are doing?
My father is an artist, but his trade was a sign writer (sign painter) and in the days before photographic enlargements, he would paint the bar of soap for a soap commercial on the side of a truck. Now with the advent of plastic letters and photographic advancements, there are no sign writers left, except those who paint canal boats maybe.
My parents were, and still are, very supportive of my career choice. They’ve been amazing in that regard. My brother was also very supportive but very wary of there being any nepotism, he wanted me to succeed on my own merit, not because I was his little brother. And I’m very grateful to him for that too.
But I don’t really show them what I’ve been doing and we don’t really talk about it so much either.
You started out as a comic book artist and then, for over fifteen years, you stay away from this medium, working as a storyboarder and concept designer for film and television projects. While remaining within the profession of designer, you have stayed far from the land of the comic itself. What this choice is derived from and why do you finally decided to go back to comics?
I had ambitions to be a film director and storyboarding was my way of trying to achieve that. I managed to direct a few things, like this & this …but not much more. It’s easy to get caught going down a road you thought you wanted to go down. It took me a while to learn about the film industry and how it works, the fact that having a good idea doesn’t guarantee success, or even that it will get made. So many random factors have to come together and align perfectly in order to get a film off the ground. By it’s nature film is a collaborative process and lots of people have to be involved. I reached a point of frustration with this situation and a realisation that, if I just got on with my own idea in my own time, step by step, eventually I would have something finished. With the bonus of complete control. When I was younger I didn’t have that patience and I craved the collaborative process. With Nao I’d reached a point where I was ready to come back, ready for the long hard slog. And I really enjoyed it, much more than I expected.
Return to comics after a long absence, moreover for the first time as a complete author, and get the success had by Nao of Brown, it surely must’ve filled you with pride and satisfaction. Did you expect such a warm and large welcome, both from the public and critics alike (your work has also won an award at the recent Festival of Comics in Angouleme)?
No! I didn’t expect it at all. Previously I’d written the first draft of a screenplay, when I still had the ambition to direct. But other than that, I hadn’t written anything, nothing for public consumption anyway. So I was nervous about how the writing would be received. I certainly didn’t expect to win at Angouleme, I was just thrilled to be in the nominations.
You and Jamie Hewlett (creator of Tank Girl and co-founder of Gorillaz) are friends right? Both of you have gone away from comics to explore new artistic approaches. Since when do you know Jamie? As you have directed the video Gorillaz “To Binge,” did he countered in some way during the processing of your graphic Novel?
I first met Jamie when I was seventeen years old and he took me under his wing (he’s three years older than me). We’ve been friends, shared studios and flats over the years, he’s been a solid inspiration all the way, not just artistically but his work ethic.
But I moved out of his studio when I started Nao, I wanted to work from home in order to be closer to my family. So Jamie didn’t really see much of Nao until I finished it and asked him to write something for the back cover.
Nao of Brown is really an impressive work: over two hundred pages for a graphic novel about a theme absolutely not easy to present, the Pure Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (POCD). Some time ago you said that you wanted to make a book for sufferers of POCD, but given the success and the sales of your graphic novel, I think you’re able to reach a much wider audience. This is definitely your own merit as an author. What do you think are the reasons behind the excellent feedback received from Nao of Brown?
Ha ha! I don’t know. I’d like to think maybe it’s because it meant a lot to me personally… and somehow that comes through in the work. Who knows? If I knew, I’d do it again in my next book f’sure.
I quote a piece from our review of Nao of Brown: “The theme of Nao’s inner discomfort, due to her condition and hate for the violent and evil thoughts that this entails, are interpreted from the point of view of the oriental philosophical / medical dictates. The disease, according to this current, is an “imbalance” of the body which needs to heal, to reassess its own mechanisms: it has to come and create a sort of neutrality canceling the differences of body and mind engendered by the disease itself and stating the balance lost. The author introduces these topics through the narrative device of the “comic in the comic” with the manga-anime Ichi that the protagonist is passionate about, and the development of Nao’s Buddhist meditative experience “. Do you recognize yourself in this analysis or do you see it as one of the possible interpretations of the meaning of your work?
Yes, I can see that. The story within the story, echoes with Nao’s on a number of levels, it acts as a kind of wonky mirror to her internal struggle. As well as serving as a kind of respite from the main story line.
The main character of your book, Nao, is a “Hafu” (half-English, half-Japanese), as well as a “Hafu” can be defined Ichi, halfway between the French comic by Moebius and the Japanese manga by Miyazaki, two authors who you have chosen to pay homage. When and how did you get the idea of using the allegory of the “comic in the comic” to explain or better highlight various passages of the narrative of the story?
Well, to be honest, originally the story was to be about Gregory and HIS obsession with ‘ichi’, in those early days he was the main protagonist and Nao was to be his love interest. Then after deciding Nao would suffer with OCD, it felt like she’d pushed herself centre stage and things started to fall into place more. It became a much more interesting story. And having Nao be obsessed with ‘ichi’ instead made more sense.
Which one was born before inside you, Nao or the story of the manga-anime Ichi and its protagonist? And most importantly, in the future could Ichi have a life of its own, perhaps with a graphic novel or a comic dedicated to him?
So yes, ‘ichi’ definitely came first. In fact the map on the inside of the dust jacket came first.
Could there be more ‘ichi’? Yes, I suppose so. I always imagined the ichi universe as vast, so I’m sure there’s more stories to be found there.
You may not have seen this, it features in the book, when Nao & Steve are talking in the shop.
Let’s close with a look to the future: what are you doing now and what the future holds for us lovers of comics that brings your signature?
I’m working on films, in the costume department as a concept artist. It’s great fun but hard work.
I’m biding my time with regards another book. I want to wait until I have the same passion I held for Nao.
Interview conducted by email and ended on 2013/09/24