An Interview with Jonathan Schwochert & Fahed Rahman
Jonathan Schwochert & Fahed Rahman are the artist/writer team behind Gork and Izzy, a partially-animated comic that is high stylized and a great read!
We will be interviewing people at all levels and in all roles (check out our previous interview here!). If you are a comic creator or know someone who may be a good fit, hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Please introduce yourself! Who you are, where you’re from, and what you do for a living/in the world of comics.
Jonathan: I'm an artist, activist, and athlete. Originally from Milwaukee Wisconsin, now living in London. I am an all around artist but I often focus on pencilling. I also teach art courses at Huanghuai University in China 3-4 months out of the year and been my free time as a Savate fighter.
Fahed: I'm Fahed Rahman, born and raised in London, England, I'm a social media manager for a software company, mediocre BJJ purple belt and I write stories.
How did you get started? What got you into comics and, eventually, making them?
Jonathan: I was never into comic books when I was young. Comics used to be dominated by superheros in America and that was never my thing. When I was at university I was exploring different career paths. I walked into Forbidden Planet, discovered the Walking Dead and 100 Bullets, and was hooked! I had no idea there were other stories that could be told through the medium.
Fahed: Some of my earliest childhood memories are of reading Roald Dahl books and wanting to write my own stories. I always wrote bit and pieces as a hobby all the way through school and Uni. I only really started getting serious about my writing after I started a collaboration with my friend adapting his exploits at med school into a sitcom. From there I started looking for other collaborative opportunities and got in touch with Jon after I replied to his Gumtree advert.
Regarding what got me into comics, I think the first one I had was Ghost Rider story. A lot of my childhood reading was Marvel comics. I'd spend most of my pocket money on Spider-man, X-men, and other super-hero comics. I think I'm one of only 4 people that purchased the Green Goblin that had Phil Urich as the main character.
What are some of the most rewarding parts of making your own works? What are some of the toughest parts?
Jonathan: Creative control and the ability to push boundaries is amazing. I've shown my work to mainstream publishers and none of them were interested since I didn't work to industry conventions. But I get great feedback when showing my work comic book fans.
Fahed: I get very anxious about writing, and this leads me to procrastinate a lot. I get frustrated and loathe most of what I type. Most of it is shit. Most of what everyone writes is shit. This plus my own inherent laziness means I take far longer to write than I should. It is an unpleasant and painful process. I hate editing and re-writing. But it is something I have to do. Having discipline as a creator is very important because it is tough. However occasionally when I write I get into a creative flow, where everything word I write does the service to the story, I am trying to tell. For those moments however brief make it worth it. Writing comic scripts is very hard due to the constraints of the format. Understanding how to tell a story visually with as few panels as possible is hard. I'm lucky I found Jon and that we are focusing on digital at the moment. Seeing something that I created with Jon in print was great though. Getting the weird shit I have in my head down on a page can make me feel better. One of the most rewarding things though is the friendship I have developed with Jon which is something I value greatly. Our first royalty payment from Selfmade Hero was pretty sweet too.
What are some of your inspirations and favorite works?
Jonathan: I am madly in love with the art of Eduardo Risso. I come from a classical painting background and his crime noir comics really helped my translate my chiaroscuro into the comic form.
Fahed: My favourite comics? It's a long list! Larry Hama ( I loved his run on Wolverine), Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo , the first 25 issues of Garth Ennis's Preacher, Mike Mignola's Hellboy. I really enjoyed Logiccomix, Maus, I love most of Brubackers stuff, Criminal is really good. There are a few webcomics in there as well: Gone with the Blastzone, I adored Ben Driscol's Daisy Owl, and, A Softer World. Jeff Lemire, Jeff Smith. There's a great graphic novel called The Photographer by Didier Lefèvre that really affected me a lot, I think everyone should read Guy Delisle stuff, same probably goes for Joe Sacco. Classics like Alan Moore's From and V for Vendetta changed the way I viewed comics.
For this story, I was drawing heavily on the comedy of Bill Burr and Patrice O'Neal. Road films like Midnight Run and the works of Tarintino.
So let's talk about Gork and Izzy. How did this project start? What inspirations are you drawing on? What are some of the major themes and messages you want to hit?
Jonathan: The project started while doing my Masters. I wanted to collaborate on a comic with someone and a few friends had let me down. I put an ad online and got some very bizarre responses, but one amazing script called Gorky and Izzy's Trip to Mexico. I spent a lot of time researching into the history and foundation of crime noir. Gorky and Izzy focuses largely on the character's need for emotional support, inability or unwillingness to express their emotions and the consequences of it. I found that crime noir drew inspiration from German Expressionism who painting scenes of alienation in the face of growing urbanization. I used many of their compositional ideas to help demonstrate the characters feelings of alienation through juxtaposition of them against unfamiliar urban back drops.
Fahed: Gorky and Izzy started as a short film script I wrote for a film comp. I got the idea for the story after a conversation I had with a friend who was going through a rough break-up. It was an awkward conversation, and I was embarrassed by how little comfort I offer my mate and by how uncomfortable I felt by seeing my friend close to tears. After that, I had this idea about how some men don't really want to hear about the emotional problems their friends are going through.
I wanted to modern masculinity, why the need to have friends you can trust is so important and how this can mean we make bad choices about the people, we let get close to us. I wanted to explore why it is so difficult for both men and women to expose their emotional selves to those closest to them. The inciting incident of the story is a divorce. I was interested in looking at knowing when to walk away from a relationship. Having been a lawyer and that has advised on divorces I always found it frustrating how peoples emotions can let them make decisions that will really damage them in the long run.
The partially-animated nature of the comic grabbed our attention immediately and reminds us a lot of cinemagraphs. Can you tell us a bit about the process? How do you decide when and what to animate? Why did you choose that format?
Jonathan: During my studies I looked at the shift from print to digital in comics and the boundary of comics lies. If we use technology to introduce animation or sound, is the artwork still a comic? You can find my discussion on the topic here: http://www.jonschwochert.com/blog/what-is-a-comic and here: http://www.jonschwochert.com/blog/masters-thesis1
I decided that animation that is ambient and does not its self describe action of the narrative or characters is still in the realm of comic. So for example traffic seen from a distance or rain splattering on a window would still be comic. I used the animation to show the city full of life when the characters were at their loneliest. I looked a lot at Akira Kurosawa's use of movement and weather to describe the emotions of his characters.
I chose the format to push the boundaries of what could be considered a comic. In doing so I did push past the boundaries of what digital readers are currently capable of. Our website is the only place where you can see the comic animated. For the moment everything published on Comixology or Comix Central will be without animation.
Any advice or tips you want to share with aspiring comic and graphic novel creators?
Jonathan: Get started ASAP. Don't wait for the right time or when you feel ready. There will never be a right time and you become ready through a process of trial and error. It takes a long time to build up a career in this field so the sooner you start the better.
Fahed: Write. Write. Write. It will be shit, but you need to get the reps in. Makes sure you understand that this is a collaborative process so don't get too precious and be prepared compromise and take notes and suggestions. Set deadlines if like me you procrastinate. Read as many scripts as you can your hands on. Editing is so important. No one gets it right on their first time. So being able to cut lines and bits you love and staying tight is really critical. Talking to other creators is really important too.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Fahed: I'd like to give a shout out to Mike Carter @mikewritesabit and Saffron Myers of Omnibus Theatres writing group. Check out our strip in the Corbyn Comic Book. If you are ever in Muswell Hill come check out Alexandra Park BJJ.
Where can we find you and your work?