Our online theme for this month is Comics and Graphic Novels, so who better to kick-off insights into their illustrative lives than Franco-Scottish duo Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers? Here they walk us through their busy lives as graphic novelists and the work that goes into new releases:
On a typical day we get up at 6.30am, and work through the morning, Sandra on creating
pages, John writing. We make sure we also dedicate some time to exercise, walking, swimming, or Pilates. Walking affords us time to discuss ideas and work out story details. Swimming is meditative and also allows creative flow. In the afternoons we write and draw respectively, and deal with correspondence. Sometimes emailing, phoning, doing essential administration and promotion are actually a great way to re-trigger creativity. We stop between 18.30pm and 22.30pm, depending on whether we’re on deadline or working closely with our publisher on pre-press work, for example. Making The Little Mermaid we worked long hours six days a week for months.
But we don’t always have typical days. Sometimes we are invited to literary festivals, schools or libraries for author visits, so we might have to get up at 5am to travel or come home late. We are Patrons of Reading at Northfield Academy in Aberdeen, the first graphic novelists to fill such a role, and were also Writers in Residence at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2015. Events are often on weekends, so we work right through.
We try to take two weeks off at Christmas but always end up dealing with bits and pieces, and the subconscious never really stops. Creating a graphic novel is very labour intensive, as is being self-employed!
In the twenty three years we have been working together the creative process is always different. Perhaps that is what keeps it exciting and challenging. We don’t really believe there is a right way to be creative and writing, especially, comes out best when it’s unforced. So ideas often appear during the kind of twilight at the end of sleep, or while having a shower, or travelling on a bus: ideas tend to come when you least expect them.Although we seem to work separately, there is a lot of collaborative work involved: from initial ideas and preliminary sketches to writing the script, then producing pages of layout, so that we both may read the story and assess the flow, the pacing and the general feel of the book or of a particular scene. Sometimes we’ll go for walks and try and work out the best solution to a challenge.
At the time of writing we are about to embark on an American tour in support of our new graphic novel The Little Mermaid and it’s very exciting. And, we’ll be in London talking at The Guardian Reading for Pleasure Conference on June 29th and will also be doing a Process at Gosh, one of the city’s best comic shops, on June 28th. We’ve also got several festival visits lined up for the rest of the year, including Thought Bubble and The Lakes International Comic Art Festival.
Over the years we have had the pleasure of seeing a growth in interest in the comic medium as people recognise it can be an art form in its own right, lively, dynamic and rich, not just a stepping stone for reluctant readers. You don’t need much, just a pencil and paper, and with words and pictures, the only limit is your own imagination.