Isabel Greenberg is an illustrator and graphic novelist very much on the rise. Having graduated from the University of Brighton in 2010 she has since been involved in two Nobrow publications, created visuals for The National Trust and last week won the Observer’s Graphic Short Story Competition with her Love in a Very Cold Climate story. With such an impressive year behind her, we decided it was time to catch up to talk comics, warring Inuit tribes and graduate life.
When did you start making comics?
I think I made my first comic for a school GCSE project. Thankfully I do not have a copy because it was probably dreadful! It always liked writing and I always liked drawing, so I used to make illustrated stories quite a lot, but it was only when I was about 16 that I realised I could merge the two together completely.
Is it important to have a script completely polished before you start drawing?
I think it’s important to have a complete story, but I think the script can be fluid. Usually I write my comics in prose first, as a short story. I then make them into scribbled pannels, with rough drawings, so I know what words go with what images, and get the pacing right. So I never really write a script as such, but I always have a very firm idea of the flow of the story.
Sometimes I might think I know what the the dialogue is, but then when I have drawn the character’s face or expression, I realise I have it wrong, and think ‘oh they aren’t saying that!’ and change it.
How are you finding graduate life?
It’s been a lot of ups and downs. There have been a couple of great things, like being in the Nobrow Anthology, but there’s also working a day job and the times when I’ve sent work out to people, and emailed and emailed, and had no responses, and I’ve thought, maybe I should come up with a Plan B. But then I realise I don’t have a feasible Plan B (only fantasy plan Bs like fairground ride painter, or street dancer, but I can’t dance and I hate going on rides) so that’s that!
I’ve spent the time since graduating really concentrating on my own projects, and I think I’ve done better stuff than I did in the whole three years of my degree. I think the strangest thing is getting used to working on your own, and realising that it’s quite a lonely profession. I really miss being in a studio with loads of my friends, but maybe thats why I’ve got more work done!
What’s your favourite comic and why?
My longstanding favourite comic is probably Epileptic by David B – it was one of the first comics I read. I think he’s great and has this amazing way of visually explaining complicated ideas, and his stories have so many layers.
Also Seth, I am a big fan of Seth. If I had to pick a favourite by him it is probably Its A Good Life If you Don’t Weaken, but actually all of his stuff is brilliant. Oh and recently I came across Hark! A Vagrant! by Kate Beaton. I was reading it in the bookshop at the weekend and laughing so loudly that people were looking at me. It’s this amazing series of hilarious strips of her takes on literature and history and everything really. The drawings are so simple but so so funny and the writing is just brilliant!
Sorry, that’s three – but I could have said loads more!
Where did the inspiration for the Love in a Very Cold Climate come from?
I was first thinking about writing a story about two tribes who hated each other so much they physically repelled each other. Then I thought about how inconvenient it would be if two of them fell in love! The North Pole-South Pole bit came after – that’s just because I love watching programmes about polar explorers and Inuit hunters and that sort of thing.
I know it doesn’t really make sense scientifically, but it’s my story about an invented world. I actually noticed under the story in the Observer online that there was a bit of a scientific debate raging! But it’s fiction, go with it!
The story in the Observer is actually one story from a whole series that I am working on from an imagined period of the Earth’s history. It’s going to be a graphic novel called The Encyclopedia of Early Earth. So next is getting that finished…