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What got you started with comics? Was it a childhood interest or something that developed later?
I read the Beano and Asterix when I was little and drew my own comics in notebooks for years. I’ve still got some, but they are rubbish. Then I started drawing comics again in my last year at university after discovering the Underground cartoonists like Robert Crumb, and getting into manga. After university I went to China to teach English and did a lot of drawing there. When I got back I drew my first comic about it, which was ‘Train to Shanghai’.
You’re unnervingly prolific. How do you do it? For me it’s a good week if I read a zine, never mind write one.
I don’t have much of a day job so I have plenty of time to draw. I only work a few days a week and most weekends at my job making and selling ice cream, cheese and soup at farmers’ markets. I try and do some drawing every day, even if I don’t really want to — usually in the mornings.
How long do you spend cooking up an idea before putting pen to paper?
A few months I think usually. With ‘Flying Leaf Creature’ I just started drawing it, in the middle. You can probably tell.
Speaking of paper, is your desk an avalanche of sheets? Or are you pretty organised?
I keep all my drawn sheets on top of my shelves so my cat doesn’t walk across them with his dirty feet. So my desk is pretty clear.
You’re currently working on a comic about your family: ‘Jackson Family Stories’. Was this something you’d planned for a while? Does your material come from anecdotes, or have you found yourself sifting through the family archives?
I’ve been planning it for about six months. I’ve been through my dad’s files of photos and I got him to tell me all the family stories he could remember one afternoon, while I wrote down notes about them. Then I get to do research in books and on the internet to get some of the clothes and boats and things right. I like doing research. I’ve been using photo references for things like horses pulling carts as they are very tricky to draw.
Do you prefer creating surreal, slightly absurd yarns, or those based on your own everyday experience?
I like to do both so I don’t get bored. It stops me doing the same things in the stories.
Your comic ‘It’s a Man’s Life In the Ice Cream Business’ is a nice example of turning your daily life into an entertaining narrative; in this case delving into the pleasures and pitfalls of selling home-made ice cream at farmers’ markets. Can we expect more instalments of this story?
Yes, I’ll do a third part some time this year. I needed a break from drawing gazebos and stalls over and over. In the third part my freezer breaks and I lose a hundred ice creams. When it happened I thought, “At least this will make a good page in my comic, anyhow.”
You’ve also put together some great compilations, including Gin Palace and The Pasty Anthology. How do you pick out artists for these projects, and how closely to they have to stick to the theme?
I put adverts on my blog and on some comics forums asking for submissions and asked all my comics friends to do stuff if they wanted. I wasn’t too bothered if anyone kept to the themes or not as long as they were good stories.
Do you ever have days when the faces just won’t go right?
Yes. I draw the faces very quickly and then later on I stick little bits of paper over them all and do them again, until I am happy with them.
Lastly, can you recommend any other independent comics we should check out?
Simon M is really good, and so is Francesca Cassavetti. And Oliver East is great. Also, Jim Medway is getting a book published this year called ‘Playing Out’ from Blank Slate, which will be really good.
To find out more about Rob’s work, visit: robjacksoncomics.com