Chris Carlier (above) is a British writer and cartoonist living in Tokyo. His comics include Little in Japan and In the Crapper. I caught up with him online last week to ask him what on Earth was going on.
Patrick Sherriff: What on Earth is going on?
Chris Carlier: I’ve just made a new comic called Spaboon. I thought it would be fun to draw a comic about a ridiculous mascot, and that it might be a nice vehicle for some surreal gags and social satire. So, Spaboon is a half-spoon, half-baboon mascot for a pharmaceutical company, and he gets fired. He has to wander around looking for work, but finds there aren’t many opportunities for half-baboon, half-spoon creatures. This is an existence I can relate to in many ways.
I thought I’d have fun with the sense of not fitting in, not being on the right path. I’m always in the wrong job, I can’t fit into plane seats, and I can’t find clothes to fit. This is an absurdist version of that. This comic is also an extension of one of my interests. I get a kick out of the mascots that you see everywhere in Japan. The weirder the better. They’re often these bizarre hybrids of animals and regional delicacies, or freakish chimeras based on untranslatable puns. I’ve even been submitting my own silly characters to local mascot design competitions, because I’d love to see one of my creations bounding around at a village festival somewhere in rural Japan.
Tell me about the process of drawing a comic. How long does it take to do a panel, a page and the whole thing? Do you do it by hand or use a computer or what?
I do it by hand, at the rate of about a page a day, whenever I get some free time. Maybe an hour a panel. I’m a bit behind the times. I should probably start using a computer. I’ve got a lot of ideas stored up, which at this rate will take a couple of decades to draw, so I need to pick up the pace.
Please do! I loved your Little in Japan. And just saying Spaboon makes me chortle. How did you get into drawing comics? Did you graduate from the Royal College of Comic Arts or something?
I always drew them as a teenager, then I went to art college in the UK, where the teachers were sniffy about comics and told me not to do them, so I focussed my energies on drinking instead. I got back into drawing comics a decade or so ago.
Bloody teachers. Do you have a publisher or self-publish? I notice you sell your stuff on your own website. How does that all work in Japan and everything?
A bit of both. I don’t know the first thing about the intricacies of publishing, so I prefer to let someone else handle it than do it myself. It’s easy enough to find a good comic printer in Japan because of the big culture of self-published dojinshi comics, but you end up having to lick a lot of envelopes and make regular trips to the post office. I decided to print this latest comic myself to take to some comic conventions. I’d left it a bit late, so I didn’t have time to approach publishers.
Who are your influences? I think we talked about this online once, did you say Robert Crumb?
I like Crumb, especially his work with Harvey Pekar, but I was more influenced by the American alternative comic artists who were influenced by him in the 80s and 90s, like Peter Bagge, Joe Matt, or Daniel Clowes. Being from the UK, I love Viz comic, so that was an influence. I still read it to this day and get a chuckle. And I like Japanese comics by Yoshihiro Tatsumi and Takashi Fukutani, whose comics are about downtrodden, marginal characters.
Is there much of a market for English comics about Japan? (Or is this more a labour of love for you?)
I think there’s a lot of interest from around the world in comics about Japan… although not necessarily the kind of comics I make. Ha ha! I find the process of writing and drawing them rather therapeutic and fun, so making any money from it is a bonus.
Do you or would you do a comic for Japanese readers?
Yes, I’d like to do that. I tried making a Japanese version of Little in Japan, but the jokes were tricky to translate. I bore this in mind when I made Spaboon, and I think I’ll have more luck translating it because it would be equally silly in any language.
Is Japan something of a muse to you, or just a place you happen to be?
Well, there’s always something interesting to see here, so I don’t have to look far for inspiration. And I like that there’s plenty of time and opportunity to think. You can potter around aimlessly all day, without anyone bothering you.
What’s next for you? For Spaboon? For your art?
I imagine I’ll do a couple more issues of Spaboon, then I’d like to work on something more longform. I like to write cynical, snarky comics about sleazy, reprehensible characters doing deplorable things, and when I set those in Japan, there’s a risk of it being misinterpreted as a statement about the country as a whole, rather than just the sort of thing that tickles me. So I’ll probably set the next thing elsewhere, so I can really cut loose.
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