Darran Anderson interviews Paul O’Connell.
Darran Anderson: The title is intriguing, why The Sound of Drowning?
Paul O’Connell: I honestly can’t remember how or why that name was chosen. Its lack of sense just seemed fitting somehow.
DA: How did you get into creating comics? I understand you had a long break and came back to them?
PO’C: I’ve never been an obsessive comics fan. Along with books, films, music and magazines it was just another medium that I grew up with and enjoyed. Periodically I would discover things that I particularly loved. 20000AD as a kid. MAD and Heavy Metal as a teenager. Then Alan Moore‘s stuff in the late Eighties. It was discovering Adrian Tomine‘s Optic Nerve in the late nineties, with its narrator led stories with their ambiguous endings that got me excited about comics again and made me think about trying to turn some of the writing I had been doing into comic form. I found myself getting more and more into trying to make the kinds of comics that I wanted to read. After a few years, when I first had some really positive feedback, that spurred me on even more.
DA: From the collective projects you’ve been involved with (Paper Tiger etc), there seems to be a thriving comics underground that has embraced a D.I.Y. ethic, the internet and, in terms of quality, is outclassing the more mainstream comic publishers, is that the way you see it and who would you recommend checking out in terms of like-minded spirits and co-conspirators?
PO’C: I don’t know about out-classing the mainstream. People working independently simply can’t compete with the kind of high production values that the big publishers can afford. Also, the quality of the work of the small press, like the mainstream, ranges from comics that are just really embarrassingly shit to comics that are pure works of art. But there’s a real thrill in finding some home-made personally-put-together comic offering that does outclass the expensive, glossy but often very shallow output of the mainstream. I guess the musical equivalent would be discovering those rare obscure 45’s that you can’t believe aren’t more well known. In terms of small press comics there are lots of people doing things that I admire. I tend to like people who I think are really good writers though like Dan White and Daniel Locke – both of whom are very good at writing things that I wish I had written. Off the top of my head, I also wouldn’t mind having the artistic brains of either Tom Gauld or Jim Woodring. Or both. I could probably squeeze both in. I’ve a fair bit of room.
DA: There’s been a trend for British and Irish writers/artists to be let loose on traditional US comic characters and reinvent/deconstruct them (I’m thinking what Alan Moore did with Swamp Thing or Grant Morrison with Animal Man). If you could take on any beloved comic character who would it be and what direction do you think you’d take them in?
PO’C: I’m afraid I think of superheroes as a bit like the colourful and sometimes vaguely entertaining population of a retirement-home cum psycho-geriatric ward. So that’s probably where I’d put them all, losing their marbles and fighting incontinence. Nothing would ever really happen beyond an endless routine of feeding, washing and toileting. It wouldn’t be very interesting or meaningful but then I reckon that’s pretty much keeping things true to the genre. When people start talking about superheroes in any depth it’s like a part of my soul freezes over. I may as well be asked about my opinions on flan making. I’d have as little to say.
DA: There’s often a hilariously-misanthropic and kitsch cinematic quality to your stories, a nightmare-world of demented 50’s housewives and darkness in the souls of otherwise wholesome screen idols like Doris Day [Doris Daze], William Shatner [Mexican Surgery] and John Travolta [The Eyes of Travolta], do you see Hollywood as the home of the anti-christ?
PO’C: No, I love the idea of Hollywood, it’s still a fantastic concept and a bizarre reality. But the people who populate it, the versions of them we are presented with, are not real people. What they show of themselves is as much a performance as their parts. I was trying the other day to think of one openly gay big Hollywood actor and I couldn’t think of one. Which is absurd and clearly not reality. I don’t think there’s really anything evil about this, it’s more just pretty fucked up. Somehow it’s all still very Sunset Boulevard.
PO’C: All of my favourite comics I think are also well written. Good writing can carry less than amazing artwork in a comic, but it doesn’t happen the other way round. No amount of great art will make a badly written comic good. Even when some of the comics I love have no words, they have a literary quality that has been transposed into the medium of comics. The literature I like very much influences how I try to write. The writers you mentioned, along with other of my favourites like George Orwell, J.G Ballard and Magnus Mills, all use words in a very powerful and effective way. It’s why they are great writers. It saddens me that so many of the people putting the words into comics are such poor writers. I appreciate anyone who attempts to redress this.
DA: Music is obviously a central influence, you’ve helmed the tunes-inspired project He bought me a soda and tried to molest me in the parking lot as well as creating strips based on the lives and music of Dylan, John Coltrane, Bowie, Bonnie Tyler, what would the current Sound of
Drowning soundtrack be?
PO’C: As I turn around, the five most recently played CDs stacked up by my stereo are: Lee “Scratch” Perry & The Upsetters – Kung Fu meets the Dragon, Boogieology – The Boogie Woogie Masters, a best of Joe Meek compilation I made for myself (which has one of my favourite tracks ever on it – Frankie Vaughan’s ‘Garden of Eden’), The Hold Steady‘s latest album, Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um.
DA: Given the breadth of subjects in your comics (Giraffes on Ice, Flea Circuses, forgotten Japanese soldiers still fighting the war), I’m curious as to what other unusual finds and cultural curios interest you that you’ve come across?
PO’C: How about workers in the offal departments of Chinese slaughterhouses being scrutinized to make sure they don’t steal any gallstones they find? Who would have thought that the offal department of a Chinese slaughterhouse could harbour such intrigue.
DA: What is your idea of heaven/hell?
PO’C: Heaven would be never having to worry about money and how to pay the rent, bills, council tax etc etc etc etc etc etc etc Just a bit of respite really. I’m not asking for much. Hell would be a very slow and painful death. Cancer maybe. Or being sent to prison for something I didn’t do.
DA:What are you working on at the moment and what are your plans for the future in terms of The Sound of Drowning? A musical? Children’s TV show?
PO’C: Having just completed the Ladybird nasty that is the Sound of Drowning 12, I’m concurrently working on the next few issues. One of which will be very cartoony and deceptively mainstream looking. The artwork on that one is being done by Lawrence Elwick who knocks me out every time I see how he’s turned my bad sketches and face-pulling into the most beautiful artwork. I like the idea of a Children’s TV show though. Maybe something where working with kids could also perform some kind of rehabilitative purpose for the presenters.
DA: With the financial system collapsing in around us, what advice do you have as we bob towards the abyss?
PO’C: Take nothing for granted.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Darran Anderson is an Irish writer. His hobbies include whiskey, rum, vodka and regret.