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Interview – J W Murray

This time we have an interview with Edinburgh comic writer J W Murray. He currently has a Kickstarter running for a new collection called Short, Dark & Peculiar.

Cover artwork by Jon Aye

What got you into comics in the first place?  Is there a specific book that made you want to make your own?

I got into comics kinda late – I see a lot of creators who were into comics as kids, but I really only got into them in my mid-20s – Auckland library in New Zealand played a pretty major part in that. I read the entirety of The Invisibles, written by Grant Morrison. Can’t say I understood half of what was going on, but I loved that comics could be so mind-bending. It really set the world of comics apart from any other medium I’d ever experienced.

The thing that really prompted me to think of making comics was actually the act of writing a novel. My writing style is succinct – it has its flourishes, but mostly what I’m doing is writing scenarios in the present tense so that it feels like the action is right in front of the reader. I get annoyed with too much unnecessary detail or navel-gazing – as a reader, I mostly just want to “see” what’s happening. So while I was writing this book, it occurred to me that if I was doing my job well, what I’d essentially be doing is conjuring up a comic. The logical next step was to add pictures to my writing.

You dip into a number of different genres in Short, Dark & Peculiar.  Do you have a favourite to work in?

I really love a good conceptual, creepy horror story. If I could have written M. R. James’ Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come To You, My Lad I’d consider my contribution to literature totally fulfilled.

I also like a bit of sci-fi because I’m happiest when I have carte blanche to make up places and events without the burden of getting it right historically. For The Blue Men of The Minch, which I worked on with Zhou Fang, that was based on the “real” mythology of a specific place. I got a little obsessive about making sure the ship model was plausible and putting it in a time context when there really were kelp traders going to the Outer Hebrides. It’s much easier when you can just say “it’s the future” and skip the research.

Artwork from Hugh Madden, J W Murray, Steven Ingram,
Jon Aye, Bob Turner, Zhou Fang & Morgan Russell

Are there any genres you feel are more suited to comics than others?

Not really. I think as long as you change your style to adapt to the story, you can do anything with comics. I mean, Tamara Drewe has shedloads of prose – you wouldn’t want to draw it in the same way you’d draw a Hulk comic, but it still makes perfect sense that it’s a comic. I’ve seen philosophy and physics tackled with comics – there really doesn’t seem to be a limit to what you can do with them!

You’ve written a prose novel before.  How do you find the experience of writing a comic vs prose?

A lot of my comics start out as a conversation – I’ll have an idea of what’s going to happen, then I just build up dialogue between characters. Once I’ve got the rough shape of that, I’ll split it up into pages and panels, adding in more detail and action along the way. There’s a really pleasing process to it and a puzzle element when you’re figuring out how to distribute the scenes and where to put the page turn. When I’m writing prose, I guess I just start writing – it’s far less structured! I managed to write myself into all kinds of corners while I was writing my book, Izvalta – the challenge was to find my way out of those corners so that the plot and motivations all made sense. In the end, I was really happy with some of the solutions I came up with – but it was seriously hard work!

Artwork from Morgan Russell

How did you go about choosing the artists to work with?

I basically approached anyone whose work I liked and who I knew I’d enjoy working with. If you’re a local artist, be warned, I’ll probably try to work with you at some point!

Artwork from Zhou Fang

Were any of the stories in Short, Dark & Peculiar written with a specific artist in mind?

Yes yes! The Blue Men of The Minch with Zhou Fang was written for him – he wanted something folklore-y. Walk into the Sea was specifically for Morgan Russell – because she has a fascination with the weird and wonderful creatures of the deep – there’s a page in there which is full of exotic undersea weirdness. Volcano was written specifically for Bob Turner, and that wasn’t typical at all – in that Bob makes wordless comics, which is interesting territory for a writer. Essentially I just came up with a detailed scenario – he picked it up and ran with it and it looks awesome.

Artwork from Bob Turner

As well as working with artists, you’ve illustrated some of the comics in the collection yourself.  Is this something you would like to do more of?

I have mixed feelings about illustrating. I’ve definitely said in the past that if I had a choice I’d only ever do the writing – and that’s not just down to laziness – I think there’s a magic to collaboration that I miss out on when I’m illustrating my own stuff. For the front cover for SDP, I suggested a bunch of ideas to Jon Aye and he came back with an incredible array of riffs on those ideas – the final result is definitely not an idea that I pitched to him – it’s far far better! It’s been that way for all of the collaborations – all the artists have come up with amazing ideas and approaches I’d never have dreamed of.

All that said, I’m really looking forward to my next big illustration project – it’s going to be totally grotesque, which should make it lots of fun to draw!

Artwork by J W Murray

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us J W!

You can, and should, check out the Kickstarter for Short, Dark & Peculiar right here!