Q & A with Joe Sparrow

Q1: How did you get the Nobrow 17 x 23 gig?

It was pretty sudden – I was tabling at ELCAF 2013 and I ended up
chatting a bit to Alex Spiro, one of the two guys that founded the
company. Then a few months later I got an email pretty much out of the
blue from Alex talking about how they wanted to do some more books in
the 17×23 series and asking me to pitch a few story ideas. Prior to this
I’d been selling my own self-published stuff at conventions for a couple
of years beforehand, so I already had a few finished stories under my
belt. Also, if I was ever at a convention where nobrow had a stand I’d
make a point of going over and saying hi! I have no idea if that
actually contributed to them wanting to collaborate with me though.

Q2: Which comics from the 17 x 23 series do you own?

Do you have a favourite?

I owned a few of the original bunch and I’ve been buying all the new
ones as they come out. It’s really cool to see the diversity of styles,
both in the art and the narrative! I’d really struggle to pick an
absolute favourite… I dig Jen Lee’s stuff a lot; I really admire her
use of colour in particular. Plus as an animator I can really see that
capability in her drawings – I mean it’s always amazing to see her
characters in motion, but even in her static work I like the way she
constructs them out of these really simple, readable shapes but they
still have tons of character. I’d love to be able to draw like that.

Q3: I love the pixelated artwork in your comic The Hunter

– why did you choose this approach?

I started getting into pixelart a few years ago during a period
where I was really frustrated with my art in general and I wanted to get
back into a way of working that I actually enjoyed. Working at a
pixel-level is very satisfying for me because it’s pretty much the
highest degree of control you can have over a 2d image that’s on a
screen, and I like having a lot of control over the way stuff looks.
There’s also something really paradoxical about seeing it in print, but I
quite like that. Sometimes people mistake it for a printing error, which
is understandable!

I decided to use the pixelart method for The Hunter partially because I
wanted it to be a fun thing to work on, something I’d enjoy. It also
struck a weird, videogamey chord with the story – it made me think of
games like Pokemon or Monster Hunter where some players obsessively task
themselves with “100% completion” – meticulously achieving every goal
possible, often investing hundreds of hours. It felt like the story was
about a similar kind of obsession, like this guy equates the goal of
living a fulfilled life with completing a bunch of videogame quests.

If anyone’s interested, style-wise my two main influences with the
pixelart are Paul Robertson and the anonymous Japanese game dev who
calls himself “Pixel” (maker of the game Cave Story, which I’d highly
recommend).

Q4: I stumbled across your blog Dungeons and Drawings,

can you tell us about it and how it came about?

I played D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) with some friends once or twice
when I was a kid – it’s a real eye-opener of a game, like you just start
playing it and you realise you can do pretty much whatever you want. It
really blew my mind at the time! I picked it up again with some friends
at uni, getting into it on a more creative level, writing stories,
designing characters etc. When we finished uni in 2010, Blanca
(Martinez, my girlfriend & the blog’s co-creator) and I started coming
up with ideas for personal art projects that we could work on (since we
were finding it hard to find freelance work at the time and we wanted
something to do). We’re both super into RPGs (she even more so than I)
and we came up with the idea to start this art blog where we post our
own redesigns of classic fantasy RPG monsters. I think she came up with
the name and it stuck! The inspiration came from our memories of looking
at the Monster Manual as kids, and the fun of endlessly leafing through,
comparing power levels and picking favourites. We published a book last
year and our currently working on a follow-up, so hopefully people can
get the same sort of satisfaction from our stuff!

Q5: Which illustrators inspire you?

Quite a few at the moment. At random: Rebecca Sugar, Jonathan Djob
Nkondo, Thomas Wellmann, Matthieu Cousin, Valentin Seiche, Masaaki
Yuasa, Boulet, Jillian Tamaki, Josceline Fenton, Ben Sears, Kim Sloane,
Jack Cunningham.

Q6: What’s next for Joe Sparrow?

Right now I’m actually directing an animated short, a little cartoon
bio of Mozart, that should be out later this year. It’s been a lot of
fun to research, and music is probably a pretty close second to art in
my life in terms of interests so I’m really looking forward to seeing
what I can do. After that I want to get back to comics and do something
a little larger-scale. I’d like to write a story that’s more about the
characters than anything else (I feel like a lot of my stories are just
“stuff happening”, there isn’t much of a character element to them).
Anyway, lots of plans!

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