RISOGRAPH

A STORM CLOUDS recap by Kian West

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IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY HEARD, ONE OF OUR REGULAR CONTRIBUTORS, BEN MITCHELL RELEASED A COMIC RECENTLY.  A CERTAIN INTERVIEWER WOULD DESCRIBE THE WORK AS “...A MODERN TALE TOLD THROUGH THE CONVENTIONS OF A CLASSIC HARD-BOILED DETECTIVE STORY. THE APPEARANCE OF TECHNOLOGY FEELS ANACHRONISTIC AND THE HUMOUR IS BOTH DARK AND SUBTLE. THE DISTURBING ELEMENTS OF THE STORY SUBVERT THE INNOCENT EXPRESSIONS OF MITCHELL’S CHARACTERS - A CLEVER CONTRAST. STORM CLOUDS IS SIMMERING WITH INTRIGUE AND ORIGINALITY.” ONE MAN NAMED KIAN, CAUGHT UP WITH THE ARTIST TO CONVERSE ABOUT THE LAUNCH AND SUCH. 1966069_742323895788059_3804101974005829825_o

So you just launched “Storm Clouds” tell us a little about the night and how it went? I held the comic launch at Churchkey Espresso on Hunter St - which, by the time of publication, will be under a new name/managment - and promoted it very hard leading up to the night. I had some leftover prints of the comic art, so I threw them on the wall, made a 6-hour Spotify playlist, organised some refreshments (including special Storm Clouds iced coffees) and prepared a team of helpers to keep the night running smoothly. My friends Tim, Mitch, Swannie and Big Pog took care of everything all night - I couldn’t go three minutes without someone pouncing on me. The launch party was a ridiculous success and I really was unprepared for how well the comic was received. Things got a little Murphy’s Law in the days leading up to the event and by the time I had everything set up on the night I was so physically and mentally exhausted that I wouldn’t have been phased if only like five people showed up, but there would have easily been close to a hundred passing through on the night. We nearly sold out of copies as well - which is over double what I had expected to sell - which was both shocking and delightful news. I wanted to get more of my friends involved in the night, so I threw together a bit of a mini-exhibition with some friends the week before the party. Three artists from Newcastle, (Keo, Grizz and Dan Arnold from Alien Art) and three artists from Sydney (Carlo, Sindy Sinn and Mike Watt) each submitted their interpretation of one of the comic’s main characters. I only gave them like eight days to get the art to me, so they were all mates about it. I only made 40 packs. They were $3 to make giving people change easier if they bought it with the comic, and they sold out in like a half an hour. Another unexpected surprise! Each card had a QR code on the back which reveals a secret message about the comic if you scan them all in the right order! I could not believe how many people showed up and bought a comic. My old band just did a reunion show at the Cambridge and there were more dudes on the stage than there were on the dance floor, so I had lost all confidence in my pulling power. The fact that there are eighty-odd copies of my comic floating around being read by that many people right now is blowing my mind. God bless Newcastle. How has the comic itself been received? On the whole, pretty well. I put a lot of attention into the production and presentation of the book as well as the story and artwork, and getting them risograph printed on special stock left a lasting impression on people. Most people’s standard reaction to receiving the book was opening it, smelling it, and feeling the ink on the pages to take it all in. I’m yet to hear a response to the story from someone who isn’t friends with me and wouldn’t necessarily get all the Newcastle in-jokes, but I’ve had a lot of people tell me they have read the whole thing with my voice in their head, because I haven’t done a good job at disguising my natural mannerisms, haha. I had the same experience reading Nick Milligan’s book at the beginning of the year. So far everyone I’ve spoked to has enjoyed it and are keen to see what happens next! What do you mean by ‘Newcastle-in jokes’? There are too many to really cover here, but the majority of places/people/things in the comic are loose references to things from this city, to add an extra layer to the story for locals. The main character Chino is named after Chino’s, the Cambridge side-bar that was shut down in 2011. Everywhere in the city there are tags that read ‘R.I.P VOX’, a reference to the old record store in the west end, Vox Cyclops. Conroy’s, the bar in the comic, is named after a closed-down Newcastle cafe and the inside is modelled after The Lass. Jared’s band CHANCES is named as a nod to No Second Chances, a now-defunct Newcastle hardcore band, and their hit song bares some similarities to a horrible chauvinistic anthem my old band from Uni had back in the day. Also, a huge part of the plot (which I won’t spoil for you) is a big reference to how Renew Newcastle works. Marni Jackson made an appearance at the opening, and I think she got it, but was a little taken aback by all the violence ahahha Will there be more comics from Ben? I hope so. I was treating Storm Clouds as my debut of taking the cartooning thing seriously, so the general response is going to determine whether or not it’s something I am going to continue with. As I said before, most people who’ve read the ending are keen to follow up the cliffhanger and find out what happens next. Everyone conversation I’ve had about this has been different depending on who I’m talking to and what they’d like to see in a sequel. I’d really like to focus more on Jared on Charlie in a prequel story, but after the events of the first comic there are lot of directions I can take with Detective Rose and Chino. The main idea, at this point, is to tell a bunch of interconnected stories about Bontown and the whole conspiracy that was uncovered in Storm Clouds, and how everyone there seems to be so caught up in their day-to-day that they don’t realise how much sinister stuff is going on behind closed doors. What’s next for Ben? Before I can tell another story, I want to make sure as many people read Storm Clouds as possible. I am currently sold out of all of the first run (which, as I said before, was not how I had planned this to go) so I’m trying to chase up a second edition as we speak. At the moment I am a lecturer at Newcastle Uni which is keeping me afloat pretty well, but I still do regular freelance graphic design/illustration work pretty much full time. I have currently never been more busy, and any time I am away from my phone/emails I am super relaxed. At the moment I’m working on a comic with another dude which will be out next month, and doing a bunch of graphics for a new bar opening on King St which should be out around the same time. I’m beginning to think that if I can survive just on doing comics for myself (that other people want to read and share) I could end up only drawing things that other people tell me to occasionally - which is the dream, currently. For those that haven’t caught a copy yet, where can they get one? This is a question whose answer has changed only very recently. Storm Clouds is currently sold out all over Australia/the world, but I will be able to release a second edition of 100 copies in mid-April. These will have slightly different covers, and won’t be hand-numbered. They’ll be available from Fun Apparel online, Graphic Action on Hunter Street, and I’m also super excited to announce I’ve scored a partnership with indie comics publisher Birdcage Bottom Books for distribution in North America and the rest of the world, alongside some of my favourite artists. As I wasn’t expecting to sell 80 copies in one night, and then sell the remaining copies within 2 days in stores and online, I hadn’t planned a second run for the foreseeable future. Whilst selling out was great news, it took me off guard and I was really uncomfortable telling people they would be unable to read the comic, so I took action almost immediately! By a stroke of luck, my boy Xavier in Melbourne has had a cancellation and will be able to fit my second edition in, and another risograph printers in Sydney is interested in doing another run in case anything goes wrong. Finally, no one will be denied Storm Clouds. Until the second edition drops, I ended up with a few extra copies from the printers that were lacking covers. As I mentioned before, I got the covers done in Newcastle and the insides done in Victoria, but the covers were done first and Xavier ended up running out. As a result, I’m doing a very very limited run of five copies with a limited edition cover illustrated by my friend Carlo Delos Santos, which I’ll be selling myself online. BUT, if you subscribe to Newcastle Mirage this month, you’ll be in the draw to win one of these limited edition Storm Cloudses! Tell em all about it, Kian!

 

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IN CELEBRATION OF STORM CLOUDS RELEASE BEN MITCHELL HAS GENEROUSLY GIVEN US A COUPLE OF LIMITED EDITION COPIES TO GIVE AWAY. ALL YOU NEED TO DO IS SUBSCRIBE TO MIRAGE BEFORE THE END OF MAY AND 2 LUCKY SUBSCRIBERS WILL RECEIVE A FREE COPY IN THE MAIL WITH THEIR JUNE EDITION.

(offer only available to 6 or 12 month subscribers)

Storm Clouds by Kian West

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WHEN GRAPHIC DESIGNER HEAVYWEIGHT BEN MITCHELL ISN'T COVERING LOCAL DUDES NAMED NICK FOR THIS HOT LITTLE MAGAZINE, HE'S WORKING ON HIS TASTY NEW COMIC CALLED STORM CLOUDS, KIAN CAUGHT UP WITH MR. "MAD DOG" MITCHELL THIS MONTH TO GET THE LOWDOWN. 1616623_707214519298997_1853752041_n

Without giving too much away, What should people know about Storm Clouds?

Storm Clouds is a 60-page risograph comic book about a young detective from Sydney travelling back to her hometown in search of a masked serial killer, wanted for a series of night club murders. The story deals with a lot of different themes, as the main character finds herself losing sleep, losing friends and having a love-hate-love with the city she’s in. It’s all printed in two colours – black and gold - so the graphics are pretty cartoony, and though it has moments of comic relief and satire, the story is actually a pretty serious crime thriller with a bunch of twists and secrets.

 

Why a comic book?

I’ve been an avid fan of comic books since I was a kid, and as my line of work – as a graphic designer – is always forcing me to experiment with different ways to show things visually, I’ve been really interested in how the comic book format works, and how it can be experimented with. Part of the comic was actually made to support a thesis I wrote last year about comic book design, and how you can use graphic design principles as tools to tell an immersive story. I’ve worked on comic projects before, but this is the first thing I’ve ever done of this scale, and the longest I’ve ever stuck with one project – I remember starting the artwork around the same time we were organizing the Super show, back in July. It’s certainly been a labour of love putting it together, and I’m really excited to share it with everyone when it launches this March!1620322_707214415965674_1160669001_n

 

Having read the first few chapters of your comic book, my first question has to be where did the inspiration for this come from?

I think anyone close enough to me will see a lot of my life reflected in the story, which is, I guess, a result of me trying to write about what I know. When I was first working as a designer, two of my first regular clients were a chain of nightclubs in Sydney and the PCYC of NSW, both of which I ended up working really closely with – so the initial story revolving around a young police officer investigating a series of night club murders came very naturally to me. A big part of the story revolves around the two main characters’ reactions to travelling from Sydney to a much smaller fictional city named Bontown, and the differences between communities based on size. Considering the majority of my friends have moved cities within the past year, I’ve witnessed a lot of this sort of culture shock first hand. One of the main characters is in an obnoxious, misogynistic hardcore band, and that whole sort of scene mentality is explored in the comic – something I dealt with a lot when I was growing up, both as an insider and an outsider looking in. That, and a few of the characters are loosely based on people I’ve met and worked with, and there are a lot of Newcastle-related inside jokes hidden in the story which I think will mostly go over a lot of people’s heads. Like the two main streets in Bontown being named Queen and Collector. I’ll give you a minute.

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How long has this idea been floating around?

Quite a while, now! A very, very early version of the comic was bouncing around five months ago, with the same story but extremely rough artwork. After months and months of rewrites and bouncing ideas off friends for feedback, polishing off the artwork is the last piece of the puzzle, and I finally feel as though I can see the finish line! I’m very close now. Today I smashed out two of the final pages in record time, and have one last spread between me and the end. I’ve had a schedule worked out for the past couple months, but due to a bunch of stuff popping up at work for January (and also, most recently, my old band getting back together) I’ve fallen a little behind! As I’m not completing the pages in chronological order, the last scene I need to draw is smack-bang in the middle of the book, where shit starts getting real. I’m very excited for it to be finished so I can read the whole thing all the way through!

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Ben, you certainly have a Signature style, who do you take inspiration from?

It’s funny you’ve picked up on this, because I’ve been struggling with the idea of a ‘signature style’ for a while now. Like I said before, this is the longest I’ve ever worked on the one project, and the longest I’ve had to stick with the same illustration style, so the whole thing feels unified. Prior to working on Storm Clouds, I would be experimenting with different styles all the time, so sticking with the one way of drawing eyes, lips and fingers for this long has been driving me bananas!

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The style I’ve been trying to go for with this project has been heavily inspired by alternative cartoonists like Daniel Clowes and Adrian Tomine – who usually tell stories that focus on the mundane subtleties of social norms – like the comic book equivalent of Seinfeld – and have a very static, clean cut illustration style to match. I wanted to tell an action thriller using this style, rather than in the dynamic, cinematic look used in mainstream superhero comics, to create a sort of unsettling juxtaposition when shit starts to get real. There’s something offputting about showing a violent action scene in the same flat, straightforward way that you would a relaxed conversation scene, rather than show it over a series of exaggerated camera angles bursting out of each panel. I feel like that would just get exhausting!

 

Once Storm Clouds is out there, do you have a new project ready to work on?

I think for the past two or three years, there’s never been a period where I’ve been without something to keep me busy. As soon as I finish the art for Storm Clouds I’m collaborating with a local writer on another comic project, which will be very exciting, along with a bunch of other large-scale illustration projects I’m currently involved with but can’t say much about! Depending on how Storm Clouds is received I would love to do another story with these characters – I mentioned one in an obnoxious hardcore band – in a sequel or prequel story. I think once you’ve read the ending to Storm Clouds you’ll get how both could work. I’ve been kicking around different ways I could approach another installment, and how I could get some of my friends (namely writer Nick Milligan) in on it as well. Working on this comic has been a learning process, so

I’m excited to try another one in a completely different manner – different art styles, shorter stories, not having the entire thing in black and yellow… We’ll see!

 

As a long time contributor to Mirage, Ben, you sure do work in a lot of creative fields, is there a particular field you prefer or is being creative the main driver for you?

This is a difficult question to answer, especially since I’ve recently began playing with a band again, which is a very different kind of creative outlet. Visuals are always going to make more sense to me, and so I always prefer working with pictures over words, but I’ve always enjoyed the idea of being a storyteller. When I was writing songs for the aforementioned band – like four years ago – I would always try to tell a story with the lyrics. I think using comics as a form of visual storytelling is the most comfortable I’ve been creatively in a long time. I am very excited and very nervous to pursue it further.

 

If you had to pick one thing about Newcastle to show, or tell, a visitor, what would it be that everyone should know about?

The Sunday markets at The Store across the road from the Cambridge, in City West. There is a dude there who I am pretty sure has just found a shipping container of untouched treasures from 1999 and is slowly selling it all off. Last weekend my buddy Luke went home with a Danny Buderus action figure. I’ve never been prouder to come from this city.

 

Renowned for some highly creative and successful events in the community, is there something special in the pipeline for the launch of Storm Clouds?

Ah, yes! I’m planning a launch for the comic on March 14th at Churchkey Espresso – a week after my friend Nadia, who I named the main character after, returns from Japan. So far all I’ve set is the date, but it’s going to be quite the night! There will be art on the walls, a performance from the actual same DJ featured in the comic (aka K-Rock wearing a mask), watermelon, a chance to pick up a special edition version of the comic for a very special price and just a good excuse to have a fun evening on Hunter Street. After the launch, the comic will be available at Graphic Action, and online through my friends Fun Apparel’s zine distro service.

 

Anything else NM readers should know about you Ben?

I’m single, and looking for a girl who can distract me from the fact that all of my friends are moving to different cities.

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Oh yeah, and what is Risograph?

A loaded question to finish on! It’s an artisan printing process that sort of looks like a mix between photocopying and letterpress. Essentially, rather than the pages being printed digitally with four inks, they’re printed manually with two inks (black and gold) and you can see how the colours overlap and bleed into each other. A few of my favourite indie artists, like Ryan Cecil Smith, Box Brown and Luke Pelletier have produced riso books in the past, and I love the way the look! My comic is being printed in Melbourne by a small company called Dawn Press – who produced Marcus Dixon’s Better Me Than You/Better You Than Me

zine last year – on super pulpy newsprint stock, like an old comic from the 50’s. I’ve got a proof copy of the first few pages back from the printers, and being able to feel the ink raised on the page, getting sucked into the paper, provokes a feeling you’d never get from reading the comic on an iPad, or on your computer. I’m really, really excited about being able to hold the final copy. Even if no one buys one.

 

Facebook.com/stormcloudscomic (for news)

Benmitchell.com.au (for ben)

 

 

KW