MM3 Artist Interview : Joseph (Joe) P. Kelly
Joseph P. Kelly
Joe has written a brand new 6 page comic for Mould Map 3, and has kindly shared a selection of his sketches and reference material for the comic below:
Joseph P. Kelly
MM3: Sorry if I’ve got this wrong, it looks like you make a lot of posters for a community centre you work for (??) Do you think it’s important for artists to respond directly to their local community?
JK: I’d say my main initial motivation for making the posters was that it simply gave me solid deadlines to produce work so my portfolio and skills continue to improve and also it meant I could draw and screen print during work hours! However I think artists who directly respond to their local community would probably appeal to me and embody the aspects of art and design that I find valuable and interesting. I generally prefer art that is communicating with an audience clearly and for a purpose beyond selling or pure process experimentation.
MM3: Your works sometimes hint at socialist imagery, how does the growth of youth activism in the UK affect your creative output?
JK: I think that current political events and activism definitely influence the way I think but I have had trouble in the past with incorporating this into my work. When I was at university I tried to be a political cartoonist for a bit, but it didn’t go very well. My tutor said he didn’t feel that I’d really ‘found my voice yet’ and this could only be achieved through reading and working over a period of years. When creating comics today I’m more comfortable telling or creating stories which embody the things I believe in through their themes and imagery but don’t explicitly deal with current events.
MM3: You play close attention to clothing fashions in your work, what is it about these reference points that is important?
JK: I think this stems from trying to emulate my favourite artists. I like art where the time period in which it was created really shines through and you can tell what the artists’ tastes were, what they were into and what they hated. I therefore spend a lot of time thinking about what characters might be wearing or what details might be in the background. I think at a superficial level I also like things to look cool.
MM3: Some people find trendy things annoying or intimidating. Do you think cartoonists should try to appeal to particular people, or have a universal appeal?
JK:I think trying to appeal to certain people would probably annoy people, like if something is too self aware and obviously trying to fit into or sell to a certain type of person. I try to create the type of comics i would like to read myself but i still think you would need to consider a potential audience if you are going to be successful. If a piece of art has a very definitive aesthetic, style and its influences come through strongly then its is inevitably going to create associations with certain fashions, politics and movements. If an audience doesn't like these associations they will probably dislike the art, regardless of its skill or storytelling, they may even have a negative reaction without knowing why, but others will hopefully have positive reactions. A cartoonist just has to consider these responses when they are creating their work, what is appropriate for the ideas they are trying to get across, who they are trying to communicate with, and who they are working for.
MM3: Making comics in the UK is not exactly a respected or lucrative commercial venture, so what is it that draws you to making these things?
JK: I tried lots of different things at university and while I think I always vaguely knew the kind of ideas and themes I wanted to work with I didn’t quite know what medium. I started drawing in a comic book style but it was a visit to Thought Bubble Comics Festival in Leeds that really inspired me to make my own comics. When I finished art college I moved to London and started an internship at London Print Studio which was based around creating and running workshops in comics. Up until that point I had been creating a portfolio with the idea that I would try and find work in the traditional way alongside a writer, pencilling or inking someone else’s story. However the other artists at London Print Studio were writing and drawing their own work with complete freedom and creative control. This really appealed to me and seemed to be a much more exciting way to work, it really solidified my ambition to become a comic book artist.
MM3: Do you think it’s good to make work in London? Would you be making different work if you lived in a small town? Does the pressure of living in an unaffordable place affect your work in any way?
JK: The good thing about working in London is there are more opportunities and avenues to work in art and design, there are lots of like minded people who are ambitious and projects get off the ground and actually happen much more than I feel they might elsewhere, plus there's more of an audience when they do. I think you end up doing more either through being involved in more stuff or there being more stuff to compete with. Depending on what type of lifestyle you are accustomed to I think the unaffordability of London is sometimes overstated a bit and I don't think it really affects me in terms of artwork. If you want to get a mortgage or make savings for the future then you'll probably struggle but most people live here well enough. However in terms of the artwork produced, nearly all of my stories and ideas are at least loosely based more on my past living and growing up in Hull. But I still thinks its good to have lived different place so you can compare and analyse experiences and different cultures.
MM3: Where did you get the story idea for this comic?
JK: This story is a short piece focusing on a character from a longer story I have created. The idea for the longer story stems from the difficulty I had been having creating narrative comics work over the past few months. As I’m currently in full time employment it is sometimes difficult to motivate myself to draw comics in the evening and weekends. I had been doing a comic about my friend who had been in the Royal Marines in Afghanistan, but the grind of having to stick to real life reference and desert scenes had meant that I had pretty much abandoned it to make posters and flyers which were easier and more fun. To get myself making comics again I decided to start creating pages simply based on what I would most like to draw, it would incorporate the themes and ideas I wanted to communicate but also the things I purely enjoy drawing such as fashionable people, paramilitary and guerrilla armies and utopian and dystopian cities. It would be led by the drawing instead of the writing, I knew the overarching plot but each scene is more based on aesthetic things I want to achieve and that I will enjoy. When I got the opportunity to create a comic for Mould Map I thought I could use these pages to introduce a character and their back story. I used this same process to create these pages, knowing the overall idea but letting the drawing lead the story.
MM3: Since you have not been making comics for very long, do you think you will continue to make comics with this same visual approach? (apart from the fashions) How do you see your work developing in the next 5 years? Do you have a specific type of comic you’re aiming to create?
JK: I have been aiming to make comics in this way for a long time, its not that i didn't think of it or decide i wanted to do it, i wanted to develop my drawing enough for it to be good, plus then working a job and creating flyers and posters for things became more of a priority for a while. Now I have developed this style I definitely want to produce a proper body of comics work, although obviously i hope i continue to improve further in the process. The last few years have been about setting myself up in London, I now have experience in community arts and hopefully a career to fall back on, but the next 5 years is going to be about telling the stories I have been thinking about over these years and finding out if I can forge some sort of career on the back of my own art rather than just helping other people to create stuff.
MM3: How do ideas of The Future, The Past or The Present play a role in your work?
JK: I think in simple terms my stories are based on the past because its easy to use stuff that has happened to you and people you know then completely make stuff up form scratch. It also enables you to inject real emotion into the narrative. I try to then relate stories and imagery to what is happening now in terms of politics and fashion so you can make comments about society as it is. I find an easy way to draw whatever you feel like is to set things in the future, you are free to design scenes, architecture, clothing any way you want with no restrictions.
MM3: Do you think it’s better to make work that is optimistic or pessimistic?
JK: I think there is a melancholy that all the best stories communicate. The sense that everything isn't ok- thats what binds everyones experience of life together - slight despair!, but then the stories you tell maybe offer your ideas of small solutions or what you think deserves celebrating or what might be possible. However in imagery for individual pieces or posters my favourite type of art is often filled with optimistic or celebratory imagery, depictions of unity, strength or struggle against adversity always work well for me.