In OIC – we try to encourage everyone here do their part to make our illustrating life in Singapore interesting and vibrant. We love to hear our members share about what they have learned and what inspires them too. Kaiyee is a fulltime illustrator and has been actively volunteering in OIC whenever he can through helping at our events and also reaching out to international illustrators that he admires on his own to request for interviews and network with them.
Here is an interview he conducted last month in the UK at Nobrow Press.
Nobrow press started in 2008 – an independent platform for illustration, art and graphic books in the UK. As an illustrator and a big fan of comics, the many high quality comic/art and children’s books that Nobrow have published over the years have constantly impressed me and I find my collection of Nobrow and Flying Eye Books expanding greatly.
Interview by Kaiyee Tay
I have had the honour of meeting and speaking to Sam Arthur, a founding partner of Nobrow – a Keynote speaker at ICON08 at Portland this year, a founder of ELCAF (East London Comic and Art Festival) and a regular speaker at Universities across the UK. After graduating from Central Saint Martins in 1998 he worked on commercials, music videos and short films as a director until he founded Nobrow press together with Alex Spiro. Nobrow seeks to spotlight the best in Graphic art, Illustration and art comics, publishing books with the highest calibre and quality.
So what makes them so amazing ? How can we possibly be the next illustrator or comic artist to be published by them ? I ask some questions that some members of OIC and myself are dying to find out !
Interview with Sam Arthur from Nobrow (http://www.nobrow.net)
(Photo credits: http://www.nobrow.net)
Hilda and the Bird Parade – Luke Pearson
Kaiyee (Q1): If you were to go back in time to the start of Nobrow, what would you do differently?
Sam: I’m not sure that I would do anything differently. I think what we did has worked so far. So, in a way, I don’t want to tempt fate by saying we could have done better or differently. As with all things, there were certain things that worked and certain things that don’t – and if you dwell on things that don’t work you can get quite negative, but what’s important is you learn from your mistakes, and the only way to learn the right road – is taking a few wrong turns along the way, doubling back and making the right road. And that’s the same now as it is then, we continue to try things and when things don’t work, we learn and we move on, if they work we take notice. So I’m not sure if there’s anything we would do differently – that’s probably not the answer you’re looking for.
Big Mother # 3: Riikka Sormunen
Kaiyee (Q2): No, that’s great and it relates to the second question -
Are there any notable mistakes, or choices that really paid off?
Sam: I think that there have been mistakes in printing and in Books where it’s been quite a disaster, when we had to reprint things. Sometimes it’s been our fault, sometimes it’s been the printer’s fault, it’s terrible and it doesn’t matter whose fault it is – it is terrible to happen. A really big mistake in a book makes you feel sick and you want to crawl under a rock and just hide but you can’t – because you need to try and make good from wrong. Whenever that’s happened, it’s always the worst thing – that’s always the thing we’re most nervous about. But on the other hand it makes us try extremely hard to make sure the quality of everything is as good as it can be – and that gives us something to aim for. Those are the things that have happened to us where it’s horrible but it also makes us not complacent, it also makes us very vigilant – really we put a lot of effort into everything that we’re doing. It gives me grey hair!
Kaiyee (Q3): Many have asked – and I’m sure you get asked this a lot – but what do you look for when selecting an illustrator for a new book?
What is the outstanding attribute of an illustrator that represents Nobrow Press?
Sam: What we’re looking for in an artist or an illustrator is an individual voice – a voice that communicates clearly and does so in a entertaining way, in an arresting way, or in a beautiful way, but whatever way it is, it communicates to the viewer a message, a story – it inspires people and that’s what we’re looking for. How can you qualify that – it’s impossible. The way that Alex and I find people, is when we find somebody and we show each other and if we both like that person then we go for it. If one of us is a little bit unsure, then we think maybe that’s not good for us. And that’s generally how we do things – so if you want to do well with Nobrow then you have to be liked by me and by Alex – and how do you do that? I have no idea.
But that’s how it works, and I would say that if you’re looking in general to get work and be seen or do well in your career you need to have talent, you need that voice that I am talking about, but you also need to be able to promote yourself – that’s very important – a lot of people forget that they need to be good at self promotion and the artwork. And that’s hard to find: people who are good at both things. So that’s one of the things we look for as well – someone who’s capable of giving a great account of themselves and who really pushes their work into as many places as they can. That makes it more likely that we’ll see somebody and we’ll notice them above all of the others.
Kaiyee (Q4): In the many stages of book making, in your opinion, which is the most difficult, and why?
Sam: I think the concept is usually the toughest stage, because to think of an idea which is going to be good enough to create a book from is tough, and I think once someone has an idea which is that good, then everything else kind of cascades down and it makes everything else easier – it makes it easier for the artist to actually create the work, it makes it easier for the people in editing because there’s a clear concept and goal. It makes it easier for the designers, because they have great art and a great product, because it’s been easier for everyone up to that point – they enjoy what they’re doing – they then make it easier for the people involved in sales and marketing because they have a clear unique selling point. They have some (thing) easy to take to market. So I think that’s why it’s the toughest thing – to find a good concept in the beginning.
Wild – Emily Hughes
Kaiyee (Q5): While we’re on the topic of concept, how does it work for Nobrow? Does the artist come up with the concept for the book and then sell/ pitch it to you ?
Sam: It really depends, it can work in many different ways, sometimes someone will come to us with a concept and we just like it – we say yes. Sometimes we will approach an artist with a concept and say: “Can you work on this idea?”. And we’ve done books that have gone both ways for example – let’s say the book “No Such Thing” by Ella Bailey. She came to us with the story and we just said: “That’s great!”, and we helped her with the editorial and with the writing, but it was her concept and we just loved it.
On the other hand, the concertina book “Bicycle” by Ugo Gattoni – I came up with an idea of a cycle race through London for the Oylmpics, but what if everyone could take part in it, and then we had that idea and we saw the work of Ugo and thought: “Oh my god, he would be perfect for that idea.” and we gave it to him, and he just took that idea and just did his thing and we let him, we didn’t interfere, and there you go! It can work in different ways, each time we have something, we can be quite involved or not involved very much, but we’re always involved in a sense that we need to agree and like that concept in the first place whether it’s our idea or someone else’s idea, we will always have a hand in it.
Bicycle – Ugo Gattoni
Kaiyee (Q6): Next question – with the rise in interactive and animation media, will it become the choice of story-telling for the next generation?
Sam: Possibly, I think there’s always going to be a place for books because you’re always going to run out of battery or your screen might get dropped down the toilet by your four-year-old child. Books will always have a place especially for children, adults want occasionally to have their “favourite thing” on display somewhere in their home. What I think is interesting, is the relationship between the digital world and the printed objects – I think that there’s many interesting kinds of partnerships between the two that we will see over the coming years and months. We’re very interested in the digital too – because we concentrate on print many people think we’re “anti-digital” but that’s not the case – if we didn’t have digital we wouldn’t have our business – we didn’t have our social networks it would be so much harder to market what we do and communicate with the people we work with, and the people we sell to. We’re very wedded with digital and there is definitely more to come from us in that department.
Kaiyee (Q7): We look forward to seeing that. Do you think the market for printed books will be slowly reduced to only a small niche market of collectors? And if that day comes, will the beauty of the book precede the value of its story?
Sam: It depends on who’s publishing something, I agree there’s an age old concern of style over content, it’s one that we’re always going to be preoccupied with, and for good reason. I think it’s important that something has a good narrative, a good structure and an interesting concept – otherwise the visual doesn’t matter. But I believe that the visual aesthetic of the book, is more important than ever, now there’s no need to print something – you don’t have to print it, you can put it on a tablet, the Internet and people can read it on a mobile device or their laptops. You don’t need to have it in print necessarily as a way of disseminating information. However, what you can do with a book now that you can’t in digital is you can create a tangible object that’s beautiful that people want to touch and smell and look at and display. And that’s something you can’t do with digital at the moment. It has its place and I think for books where for the mass market like fiction, we’ve taken for granted the paperback and the crime thriller on the beach; these things will not be produced in the same amount. More and more people will realise that the Kindle is the best way of accessing that information but on the other hand – a picture book is something that will continue to have value in this digital world we are in because it is something that can’t be replaced in a digital form - not yet anyway.
Forming Vol. 1 - Jesse Moynihan
Kaiyee (Q8): Moving on to the last question – Regarding ELCAF( East London Comic Arts Festival), any advice for organisers who might be interested to do a similar style of event in Asia?
Sam: I think firstly, you really need to love what you’re doing. Otherwise you’ll quickly realise that it’s a complete waste of time. You will get too stressed out, there will be too many problems, and you’ll have to deal with them. So, if you don’t love what you’re doing then don’t try – You need to enjoy it. The last thing is: you can’t micro-manage these things, you have to widen the net and you have to let other people use the event for their own gain. It’s too much to organise, so for example for an exhibition like ELCAF, there are many exhibiters and the key is making sure they get something from it – when you take too much from them, then they stop working and they won’t want to be involved in any promoting. From our point of view, we’re always very wary of trying to make sure the people involved in it are getting as much out of it as possible and we’re not charging them too much money or asking them to do too many awkward things that they’re not comfortable with. You need to be able to curate and then let people do their thing.
Kaiyee: Thank you so much for the interview Sam, we really appreciate it !
Note : ELCAF (http://www.elcaf.co.uk/) took place on the 14th of June in London.The third edition of the festival will aim to showcase the plethora of youthful talent in the comics and graphic art scene in London and the UK .Overflowing with exciting programming for people of all ages, the events space will offer immersive encounters with the fascinating worlds of illustration and comics, while the fair will provide you with a unique opportunity to pick up affordable art and prints, the full gamut of comics and graphic novels and even the occasional hand made toy and t-shirt.
OIC will be in the process in bringing Sam to Singapore for a talk soon, he has expressed interest, so watch this space for any updates. We look forward to bringing you the best discussions in Illustration here.
Behind the Scene:
Special thanks to the group of OIC illustrators who chipped in to contribute to the interview questions: AnnGee, Qixuan Lim and Twisstii!!
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