We caught up with Justin David to talk about his work.
What was your inspiration for He’s Done Ever so Well for Himself?
When I was growing up, I used to see at least part of myself and my folk reflected back at me from the television screen and in books. We watched Crossroads, and Steptoe and Son. I read Alan Bennett, and the plays of Willy Russell, and piles of Stephen King novels. While there weren’t many queer role models, Boy George and Steve Strange were on Top of the Pops.
I don’t have a telly now, but I hear that people watch stuff like Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and Downton Abbey — worlds I know little about. I’ve always been fascinated by ordinary people — people like my parents, and the folks who were around me where I grew up in the West Midlands. Daily life was comparable to an episode of Coronation Street. There was gossip and high-drama and high-hair, and the kind of clothes sported by Les Dawson and Roy Barraclough in the Cissie and Ada sketches. So, I’ve written about those people, about my life.
It’s not memoir. It’s very much fiction — a mythologisation of my family. ‘He’s done ever so well for himself…’ is something my Nan used to say to me when she saw me achieve something new. Often it was a throwaway statement — she thought I’d done well for myself when I got my first mobile phone.
How long has it taken to write the book?
Practically a lifetime. I wrote this particular book in pieces, that’s why the book feels soap-operatic and episodic. Some chapters, the ones where Jamie — my main character — is a young lad, were written a long time ago and contrast starkly with the chapters set in London which were written more recently.
It kind of happened very gradually and organically, but I’d never write a book in this way again. Other books I’m working on took a long time to plot, but once I started writing they only took a few months to get a draft done. My process is changing.
Who’s your target audience for the book?
It’s a working class book for working class people. It’s got a queer vibe to it, but not exclusively so. I hope the LGBT+ community embrace it. The book roughly spans the time from Section 28 to Marriage Equality. Some sections are a little bit erotic, but my dear mother coped with it all very well, and dad didn’t bat an eyelid.
How are you publishing the book?
Inkandescent is a new press set up by me and my partner, Nathan Evans. We want to build a platform for those so-called ‘niche writers’ who maybe find it difficult to find a home in mainstream publishing. Our books are available in good bookshops and online.
This book, having an LGBT+ connection, is being launched and sold at Gay’s The Word bookshop, bastion of queer literature, in Bloomsbury. Jimmy McSweeny and Uli Lennart, who run the shop, have been incredibly supportive.
We’ve made a trailer for the book, and Andrew M Pisanu, has written an accompanying song — Proceed Undeterred — it will be released for download on the same day as the book launch.
I’m also a photographer. I pestered some of my lovely friends into posing for portraits as the characters.
What do you hope that people feel when reading the book?
People read for a number of reasons. I read books to escape, to learn, and to feel understood. I hope people get those three things when they read He’s done Ever So Well for Himself. I hope they laugh and cry. I hope people see themselves in it. I hope they recognise the characters. I hope that people will see that ordinary working class people from ordinary places make extraordinary stories.
What next for Justin David?
I’m focusing on getting my new book finished. It’s called Feral, and it’s set in Dalston. The story revolves around a little boy called Idris, who believes he’s actually a Princess. Idris is being raised by his terminally ill foster-carer on a sink estate in East London. Drawing on the conditions of flourishing gang culture and violent gun and knife crime, Feral is a savage indictment of the world in which too many children live, but also the story of one child who through sheer strength of personality is seen and heard for himself.
Inkandescent’s publishing slate is busy. So, for me, the next few months will be taken up publishing other people’s books. We’re publishing a fantastic new horror debut from Bartholomew Bennett called The Pale Ones. I’m very excited about this one.
After that, we’ll be opening up our first submission window for Inkredible Lives, Inkredible Stories. We’ll be looking for ten incredible novellas that will ignite the literary world and shine a light on the darker corners of British life. Stories from authors who are hungry to find an audience.
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“In a fictional universe I would wield magic”
I caught up with artist Stefano Junior to talk art, illustration, and super-powers.
When did you start to explore your passion for illustration and art?
I’ve been drawing as far back as I can remember. According to my parents, I drew a very convincing female figure from my imagination at about three or four years old. From then on, when I wasn’t at school, watching cartoons, or voraciously reading comic books, I’d be drawing. My parents eventually enrolled me in a fine arts weekend program at a local college — I studied there for several years while going through grammar and middle school.
What is it about superheroes that appeals to you?
In hindsight, apart from the obvious colourful allure of superhero adventures, it was the transformative nature that is the basis of most superhero narratives. As a child, in suburban 80s America, with my penchant for the arts, girls toys, and a foreign name, I was bullied extensively — superheroes provided a means to escape, I could imagine that I might one day extricate myself from that oppression.
Books like Chris Claremont’s X-Men, which were ripe with soap-opera-like drama, reassured me that my ‘latent’ powers weren’t things to be ashamed of. Roger Stern’s run on Superman affirmed my beliefs that though people could be cruel and misguided, it didn’t mean that I should have to sacrifice my ethics and sense of what’s right. George Pérez’s Wonder Woman — that she was an immigrant appealed to me as a first-generation Italian, and she never lost her compassion for even her greatest foes.
Growing up with older sisters and a strong Italian matriarch may have influenced me gravitating to female heroes. But there was also the allure of the outrageous 80s feminine glamour of heroes like She-Ra, or the many fantastic mutant women of the X-universe who all played such pivotal roles in the series while donning fantastic costumes created by amazing artists like Paul Smith, Arthur Adams, and Marc Silvestri.
I love your drawings of Sorceror Stefano — is that an alter ego?
I’ve been developing an illustrated version of myself over the years. I’m currently studying cartooning at the School of Visual Arts — comic legend Phil Jimenez was one of my instructors my sophomore year. Our mid-term assignment was to create a fictionalised life drawing of ourselves in a turnaround. So I photographed myself, and further developed the design of my Sorcerer self. As an artist, the process of creation feels like sorcery, so were I to exist in a fictional universe, I would definitely wield magic. I’d also like to be physically invulnerable.
Who are some of your art heroes or inspirations?
My inspirations are pretty vast. From the art world it includes Bernini, Gabriel Rosetti, and Waterhouse. From comics it includes Esteban Maroto, Garcia Lopez, Marc Silvestri, Brian Bolland, George Perez, Phil Jimenez, Adam Hughes, Colleen Doran, Art Adams, and especially Alan Davis — both for the aesthetic beauty and elegance of his art, and as a draughtsman and storyteller.
If you could do a life drawing of a male super-hero, who would you choose?
Henry Cavill as Superman.
Your moustache game is pretty strong — what does your moustache say about you?
At its most base, it’s a homage to the machismo of the 1980s — particularly my hero, Tom Selleck as Magnum PI. He’s the epitome of masculine idealisation.
I grow it and shave it constantly — it’s spawned its own cartoon of my creation. You can follow the exploits of me and my moustache — Mr. Mustardo — on Instagram. It’s absolutely vain, but it allows for me to be humorous in a single panel cartoon form that deviates from the more representative work and superhero storytelling that I’ve primarily been focused on.
What are some of your goals and ambitions for the months ahead?
I hope to further develop an original comic that I started in the Fall, that centres around a complex heroine and a magical discovery. Plus there’s some newer humorous cartoons that Id like to serialise online somehow — one that follows the exploits of a majordomo in an early 20th century hotel, another that follows a boy through multiple mediums and circumstances that end badly.
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