For the Creator Spotlight this week we get to know Newcastle writer and illustrator Ben Mitchell, and we get the low down on his murder mystery/slice-of-life comic that has its own original hardcore soundtrack.
What are you [playing/reading/watching] right now? Currently watching the adaption of Charles Forsman’s comic book The End Of The F***ing World on Netflix, and I’m loving it. If you’re not familiar with the comic, it was originally produced as little 8-page xeroxed mini comics and later collected into a volume by Fantagraphics, but because of the 8-page structure of the chapters, the constant conflicts and resolutions sort of feel like you’re reading a collection of haikus. From what I can tell from backing Charles on Patreon, he’s been really involved in the production of the show, and loves how his work has been treated. It perfectly captures the feel of the original story, and it’s so bizarre to think that even photocopied zine-style comics are being turned into highbrow Netflix content now. It’s even more bizarre seeing people I went to high school with get invested in the story on Facebook – hopefully this means more people will want to check out the source material!
What is Storm Clouds? Why is it important? Storm Clouds is a series of comic books I’ve been working on for the past couple years, and I’ve just finished the third book in the series, Ghost Beach. The series started out as a mystery about a bunch of Sydney police officers investigating a fictional beach town after a series of murders, but the story is now less about the crimes and more about the town itself. It follows the main suspect for the murders – a well-meaning but heavy-hearted barista named Jared – and explores how an accident at confusing and restless time in his life leads to him becoming the face of a notorious murder cult – or, maybe, how he was manipulated into that position. It’s still a mystery! What began as a cheesy crime blockbuster set in a caricature of my home city, Newcastle, turned into a suspenseful slice-of-life drama about anxiety, loneliness, peer pressure and secrecy following the same characters in the same town.
I feel like Newcastle is a great setting for a mystery: a city small enough for everyone to think that they know everyone, but large enough to disappear into if needed. It’s always been first and foremost for me to have my characters act like average, Australian twenty-somethings without it feeling like ham-fisted Australiana. If I need to debate the importance of my work I’d say thats where my strengths are: showing its possible to write a comic about Australians without any kangaroos or acubras or ACDC, and without it feeling overtly American by default. Imagine Archie comics except everyone’s finished Tafe, has tattoos, and swears to show endearment.
The comics are getting denser and longer (the new one clocking in at 108 pages) and I’m currently working on a fourth, which is looking even longer than that. I think I’m going to have to cut it up and release it as chapters, so no one has to wait too long to find out what happened to Sandy. It’ll be out later this year, hopefully, and will be about a costume party! You heard it here first!
Apart from your comics what should everyone be looking out for in local Australian Pop Culture? My girlfriend got me a copy of Australian ex-pat Simon Hanselman’s book One More Year for Christmas, and his story about Megg, Mogg and Owl visiting the local pool is one of my favourites. I’ve also just recently been introduced to Chris Gooch’s work, and by that I mean I saw his book Bottled popping up constantly, saw it was available digitally on Humble Bundle for a $1.50 donation, read two pages of it and immediately ordered a hard copy so I could read it properly, and then went home to find I’ve already got one of his books on my shelf but had forgotten buying it three years ago from Sticky Institute. Cannot wait to read Bottled once it arrives. Weirdly enough, my favourite story of Chris’ also involves a public pool! I just did a big trade of my work with Bruce Mutard, and loved all of his older stuff (specifically, A Mind of Love) so much that I picked up a copy of his latest collection Post Traumatic, which features a picture of a woman in a pool on the cover. I am noticing a theme here! Funnily enough, I do not know how to swim. Maybe it’s over-compensation.
Major prediction for Pop Culture 12 months from now? The thing I’ve been most
excited about recently is creators getting very good at doing their own thing and being noticed and celebrated for it. Creators are being trusted that they know how to Do Their Thing very well, and should be left alone to Do Their Thing properly. I feel like the people making comics I mentioned before are all at that point, but a recent example of this is Ed Piskor’s work on X-Men Grand Design. Ed made a series about the history of American hiphop and went out of his way to stylise it like an old X-Men comic, and Marvel noticed his labour of love and gave him his own X-men series. Like, “can you do those hiphop comics you do, except with superheroes?” as though they didn’t realise he was making superhero comics except with rappers. Honestly, I hope there’s more of this happening over the next year, culminating with me getting a job at Archie comics.
Best last thing you ate? I feel like I was doing an excellent job at eating healthily up until halfway through last year when two new restaurants popped up in my city – a burger joint named Rascal and a Vietnamese sandwich spot named Screamin’ Veemis. They are both incredible but also, recently, have had to become very stern sometimes-foods, so I daresay the best last thing I ate was actually this new granola they have at Coles. It’s called Be Natural Sprouted Granola and it is dumb-expensive but I tried it on an introductory discount and it certainly got its hooks in me. I recommend everyone try it so long as they’re cool with paying $7 for like four bowls of cereal!