Jobs They Love: Comics Maker
Lucky are they who look forward to Mondays – or their next gig -- with joy in their hearts! Meet the folks whose talents and passions are happily matched to the jobs they have.
At the beginning of a recent Zoom workshop on drawing a story starring your inner voice, comic artist, illustrator, and writer Danny Noble suggests if you can’t think of a way to begin, “…just put your pen to paper and start wiggling around.” It’s also a perfect description of her own drawing style, dreamlike line drawings that wriggle and wander and sometimes fairly leap off the page, to grab and pull you into any story she writes.
And over the past 20 years, Brighton (England)-based Noble has written and drawn her way through life’s ups and downs, creating hundreds of comics peopled with lunatic, off-the-wall characters that also are somehow intimately familiar and usually lovable. Her very first comic was about a bunch of drunks who wrote Christmas cracker jokes.
Nobel has published several comic books, including “Monday Morning,” “Diazapam Diaries,” “Hangover Farm” – each a collection of different hilarious takes on often awkward incidents in her life. “Was it Too Much for You” and “Ollie and Alan’s Big Move,” on the other hand, follow the improbable (and naked) antics of actors Oliver Reed and Alan Bates gleefully meandering an alternate universe.
She has also illustrated actor Adrian Edmondson’s children’s books “Tilly and the Time Machine” and “Junkyard Jack and the Horse that Talked,” and Class: A Graphic Guide with sociologists Laura Harvey and Sarah Leaney. Her work has appeared in many anthologies and exhibitions including The Strumpet, Dirty Rotten Comics, The Inking Women and Broken Frontier Yearbook. Noble was awarded the 2020 Comedy Women In Print Award.
“Shame Pudding,” Noble’s graphic memoir of growing up in an eccentric family overseen by two inimitable Jewish grandmas was published in 2020 to critical acclaim by Street Noise Books.
Noble also sings with the bouncy ska band The Meow Meows, and designs their album covers.
How did you develop your captivating drawing style? Your comics can sometimes have the feeling of angsty teenage doodles that somehow morph into fabulous high art and design.
Haha! I recoil at the thought of both teenage angst AND high art... but somehow the way you’ve squidged them together in that sentence makes me like the description. I developed both my drawing and writing style through obsessive diary keeping, so that probably explains the first part! I mostly use drawing as a way of communicating a story or idea and, because my hand can’t keep up with my brain, my images tend to be loose and stripped down, and that led to prioritizing movement and expression over detail.
Recently I’ve also begun drawing and painting purely for the pleasure of scrutinizing things and mark making, so that’s slightly different, but even then, I wouldn’t work in a laborious way.
The layouts and sequencing of your panels and pages, particularly in “Shame Pudding,” have so much movement, the reading experience is very much like watching a movie. Have you thought about getting into animation?
Ah thank you! I’m so happy the movement comes across! I’m a massive film nerd and it's always been a not-so-secret dream of mine to walk into a cinema and watch a funny, heartwarming yet gritty film adaptation of one of my comics. I don’t have the patience or technical ability to animate, but I’d definitely be open to a collaboration.
Saying that, the more I learn about comics and graphic novels the more I see them to be an utterly unique way of telling stories.
What was it like to write “Shame Pudding”? Putting your coming-of-age experiences to paper that way seems like a wonderfully cathartic thing to do. Was it especially painful -- or joyous -- to work on that fully formed story as opposed to doing one-off self-deprecating gag strips like “Monday Morning”?
Yes! Mostly joyous! I’ve always worked episodically, and I love the challenge of telling a gag over a specific number of panels, improvising a story as I go and working to a time restraint, so I wasn’t sure how I’d cope with the endless possibilities of a longer form book...but I loved getting lost in it!
After drawing one particular panel, the last that one of my grandmas appeared in, I was surprised by a sudden heavy grief and had to crawl into bed for the day. It made me realize that while I’d been drawing us together, it was like I’d magically won some extra time with them! So, among some sprinkling of re-lived shame and anxiety, it was mostly an experience of warm joy, and realizing what a lucky thing I am.
What comic strips were your favorite to read when you were a kid?
I seem to have become obsessed with comics much later than most of my comic-making friends, but I did love reading Calvin and Hobbes as a kid. Amazing comic timing, fully realized characters, and the whole world painted in dynamic inky lines!
Did you imagine growing up to become a comic strip creator? Was that a goal?
No! I was definitely going to be a writer. Writing is like breathing and blinking, sometimes I don’t even realize I’m doing it. Occasionally wanted to be an artist, but mostly a writer. Then I discovered I could do both at once (with a side hustle of working in kitchens and schools)! What luck!
I also wanted to be some kind of vet that exclusively looked after dogs and wolves, but I think you might need some sort of grasp of science for that career choice.
What was it like to work with Adrian Edmondson on his children’s books?
A dream! I’m still not sure it actually happened! I grew up cackling my head off to the comedy work of Adrian Edmondson, and then one incredible day he began following me on twitter. He’s still not sure how he came across my work, but I’m so glad he did. A couple of months later he wrote and asked if I’d like to illustrate his book and I said YES PLEASE!
It was my first time collaborating, not only with an author, but with a designer, editor, sales team and all. I learned lots, and they were very patient with my entire lack of photoshop skills. And Edmondson himself is a gem of a human. Sometimes it is OK to meet your heroes.
Your comics featuring the supposedly post-“Women in Love” actors Oliver Reed and Alan Bates are maniacally funny. Do you think Glenda Jackson has read them?
I wish! I love Glenda! She is a brilliant actor, and was a rare fine, ferocious politician. I gave her a reoccurring “off-screen” (off panel?) role in the Ollie and Alan comics. The thought of her reading them is both terrifying and one of my heart’s desires.
Are you working on a new graphic novel or autobio?
I’m working on a fictional graphic novel that may, or may not, be heavily influenced by my own very self-centered life.
Among the other famous Danny Nobles in the world are the promising American tight end footballer who had a remarkably short career, the 19th-century English-American con man, and the YouTuber who posts vids of himself holding his breath underwater while wearing different brands of underwear. Surely there’s a story there begging to be drawn by you!
You should never publicly admit to Googling yourself…but I may have come across the tight end, and a men’s fashion designer who specializes in the tapered trouser leg.
I am very excited to hear about the 19th century con artist and the underwear Danny. Especially as I’m awful at both conning and holding my breath! Thanks so much for all your brilliant questions...I’m off to search the internet for my fellow Danny Nobles!
Video extra: “Shame Pudding” promo
Author photo: Jemima Marriott