It’s a contemporary thriller set in London’s Hampstead.
I caught up with John Harris Dunning for a between-the-pages look at the book.
What was the inspiration for the story?
Film Noir and old crime pulp fiction by writers like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. They often dealt with men marooned in urban settings up against the challenges of modern living. I like that these heroes are flawed people just doing their best in difficult circumstances.
Why was a graphic novel the right format to tell this story?
I also write prose, but comics were my first love — I actually remember dreaming in comic book panels with captions and speech balloons as a kid. I’m a comics nerd.
For this project, I actually started it as prose, then had this really strong visual impression of it and started writing it as a comics script. There’s something really powerful about the comics medium — you’re working on two levels as a storyteller, visual and narrative. It really packs a punch.
At what point of the creative process did you start the collaboration with Michael Kennedy?
The script was well and truly polished, so I had that to present him. I finished the script without any idea of who would eventually draw it. I totally lucked out. There was an immediate and very deep connection between me and Michael in terms of how we wanted this story to be.
He read the script, then presented me with a hundred page mood-board of images. As soon as I saw it I knew he was the man for the job. We shared a vision. The book wouldn’t be a third of what it is without his input.
There’s a magic that happens when a writer and artist’s ideas sync, that results in something greater than the sum of its parts.
How difficult was it for Michael to create visual representations of the characters that you’d written?
Michael’s grasp of the look and feel of the story was immediate, but we put in a lot of work too. I had a really specific vision of the characters, and we chatted away like hairdressers on crack about hairstyles and outfits. It got kind of ridiculous — in one instance I sent about 40 outfit reference images for a single panel. That’s when I knew I had to stop. But all of it was valuable.
That’s what I’ve learned about collaborating with artists — provide too much rather than too little reference material, then be prepared to be flexible about the results. If you trust the artist — and in this case I did — part of the joy of collaboration is to see where they take your ideas. It’s not about control. It’s about serving the book, which, if it’s working, takes on a life of its own.
What are some of your favourite graphic novels?
Ghost World by Dan Clowes is a perfect book. He draws and writes it — he’s a genius. The story’s deceptively simple, following two suburban girls on their last summer together having just finished school. It still makes me laugh and cry.
The Push Man by Japanese master Yoshihiro Tatsumi is a volume of short stories about post WW2 Japan, exploring the personal and political. It’s devastating in an understated way, and allows an incredible insight into the nation’s psyche. The Japanese comics tradition has been hugely influential to me. They have a more cinematic way of telling stories, a slow ease that I’ve adopted. I don’t believe all comic stories have to be told at breakneck speed. There’s a place for that, but I believe that there’s also a place for silence and meditation on the page.
I also love my superhero comics, and I can’t think of a better or more brilliant example than Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye. Stylistically rigorous and even experimental, it’s a rollicking good tale full of action and humour. Pure comics joy.
What do you hope that people feel when reading the story?
Turned on, frightened, intrigued, spiritually heightened — basically, like being on a date with me.
Is there more to come for these characters?
It wasn’t written with franchise in mind. It was written as a discreet story, but oddly enough I’ve been thinking about the characters and where they would go next. Never say never
We want to hear your opinion
Beach Boys in the Buff
I caught up with artist Marc DeBauch to look at his series of work titled Beach Boys.
When did you discover and start to explore your passion for art?
I started drawing and painting when I was three years old. Before I was five, I remember creating a crayon drawing of the Sinking of the Titanic on the rough plaster of the living-room wall of my parents’ house. It was impossible to remove — my parents weren’t happy with me, but after that they provided me with enough art materials to pursue my creative interests without destroying their home.
When did you start specialising in painting naked men and creating erotic art?
It was 36 years ago when I started painting male nudes and selling them in a local gay book store. Then, in 1995, I entered two paintings in the Tom of Finland Foundation’s Emerging Erotic Artists Contest. I was won first place, which opened the door for my art career, as I was immediately approached by galleries and magazines that wanted to feature my art.
This gave me the confidence and notoriety to exhibit and sell my work at erotic art fairs and gay events. At that time, the internet was just emerging, so my friend Andrew created a website for me, which was a fantastic tool to get my art out to people around the world.
You’ve written that Tom of Finland is one of the major influences on your work — when did you first encounter the work of Tom of Finland?
I remember seeing Tom of Finland’s art in a porno magazine my friend had in high school. I was just amazed at the sexual tension, outrageous anatomy, and attention to detail in Tom’s art.
This was back in the early 1970s, so gay porn was just emerging legally in magazines and films. At the time, I wasn’t talented enough to draw the human figure accurately. But, I was fascinated enough to want to try. My sister’s boyfriend was a photographer, and he gave me his dark room equipment — back then you actually had to develop film, as there were no digital cameras.
I talked a friend into posing naked for me while jacking off, and I developed the film and made some prints. I was 14 years old, photographing another 14-year-old boy. It was very exciting creating my own porn! Unfortunately, my dad — being supportive of my art — wanted to see the photos, and of course I couldn’t show him. Not only did he not approve of gays, he didn’t want his son to be gay. He would have probably hit me if he knew I was a homosexual creating gay porn! So, I destroyed the photos almost in front of him, while saying — “The photos didn’t turn out and I would show him better work at another time.”
I was scared and freaked out. I knew I was self-censoring. But I also realised that if I was going to create erotic art that I would have to do it in secret. When Tom of Finland began drawing naked men, he also had to make his art in secret. I think most erotic artists learn to be very careful about choosing the right audience to exhibit their work to.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
My inspiration comes from people I know. I’ve been fortunate to see and meet many beautiful men in my life. Capturing their beauty and illustrating them in a unique way, is my goal.
What’s your creative process?
My creative process is different every time I paint. Sometimes an idea for a painting just pops in my head and I try to find model to pose for a photo to match my vision — that’s often the easiest route.
I rarely work from a live model. My paintings take so long to create — I often work all night on a painting — so, finding a model to sit for that long of a period and whenever I want them, is impossible. I use the photos of my models as reference.
Often, I look through hundreds of images and piece things together in a collage. It’s more like a jigsaw puzzle — lots of pieces missing, and my mind fills in those missing pieces with an arm from this model, the chest from another, the dick from another, the face from another, and so on, until I have the entire figure. But then I have to decide how the light and setting will pull all of those puzzle pieces together.
I have dozens of photos that are my references for every detail of plants, animals, rocks, furnishings. I sort through a constant mess of photos — gradually eliminating those references as my brain digests the information and my brush puts it on the canvas or paper.
The paintings that form the Beach Boys series are beautiful — what are some of the challenges in creating beach scenes like this?
Trying to find a balance between the setting and the model is always a challenge. I don’t want the model to overpower the beach, or the beach to feel more important than the model. I want my paintings to have a natural feeling, like you could be at the beach with my models.
Who are the men featured in the paintings of the Beach Boys series?
The men in my Beach Boy series are mostly friends that have modelled for me. Sometimes I find a photograph of a model that someone else has taken, that inspires me to use it as a reference pose to work from, then I find one of the photos of a beach that I’ve visited and I try to recreate a similar pose in a drawing that will eventually become a painting.
What do you hope that people feel when they look at your work?
I don’t want to just give the viewer of my art an erection, I want them to feel like they’re part of the painting, that they want to invite the men in my paintings into their homes, their beds, their dungeon, their car, their locker room, or the bushes for a hot fuck, butt licking, cock sucking, ass spanking good time.
I hope to excite the viewer visually, emotionally as well as spiritually. It’s my goal as an artist and sexually active gay man to paint erotica that continually challenges the views of people who oppose sexual freedom. If my paintings assist the viewer in discovering where they are in the spectrum of human sexuality, then my aim is reaching its target.
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