By Gemma Tadman
Royal Holloway alumni, Owen Michael Johnson, is a two-time British Comic Award nominated writer, with titles such as the phenomenal, Beast Wagon, under his belt. His most recent project, Reel Love, is making shockwaves as one of the first in Unbound’s new Graphic novel imprint. During Johnson’s time at Royal Holloway, he was involved in designing the logo for Insanity radio, produced cartoons for The Founder, and made artwork for our very own SU. We spoke to the man himself, to find out more about his time at Royal Holloway, his recent projects, and what advice he would give to budding writers:
How did Royal Holloway enable your entrance into a career in comic books?
Because I was set on that path prior to Royal Holloway I can’t say it enabled my entrance into the industry a comic book writer par se. What it did do was enable me to be a writer, period. It ensured I would create better, more interesting and more varied writing than I would have without.
What was the highlight of your time at Royal Holloway?
Learning from great, and open-minded teachers about my abilities and how to extend beyond my sphere of influence. Similarly, meeting students with different passions and opinions. Among them, some like-minds I continue to collaborate with personally and professionally.
Do you have any tips for current students, hoping to get into a career in comics or writing?
Don’t look for a career in either comics or writing. Just train yourself to make the work you instinctively want to make and the career will come to you in time. It sounds simple, and it is. Be curious about what interests you, extend that learning out, and when in doubt just listen to that impulse. Regardless of what medium you work in, that will make your work unique only to you. That’s the most valuable thing you possess.
Comics are built on community so put your work online for free, find community there and at the countless comic book conventions across the country – Thought Bubble in Leeds being the greatest.
Who are some of your main influences?
Michael Chabon, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jack Kirby, Bruce Springsteen, Roahl Dahl, Grant Morrison, Ray Harryhausen, and Douglas Fairbanks Sr.
Do you have any rituals to invoke creativity?
Experience as much as you can, in any medium you can, regardless of whether it’s your own discipline. Plays, films, novels, dance, painting. As broad as possible. Everything will feed you. The muse won’t find you unless it knows where to find you, so just sit your arse down and work at it. Every day if you can. Sounds boring, but that is the only way you can finish projects. And if you finish projects you can start new ones, and that is the only way you can improve. When all else fails go out and live, or you’ll have nothing to create about.
Can you please tell us more about your project Reel Love, and what readers can expect to see?
Reel Love is the semi-autobiographical graphic novel about a young boy who forms a relationship with his local cinema and follows his dreams of becoming a famous film director. It’s written and drawn by me and is being crowdfunded at Unbound.com/books/reel-love.
Readers can expect a bitter-sweet comedy with some magic realism elements in the vein of movies like Stand By Me or the films of Richard Linklater.
Could you tell us about the up and coming exhibition at Orbital Comics?
To support the campaign, a Reel Love exhibition will run throughout June at the UK’s only Eisner award-winning comic store, Orbital Comics, with a launch party on Saturday June 3rd. I began visiting Orbital Comics when at RHUL and now they’re very close friends of mine. We’ve worked together a number of times. This will be my third gallery show there, my first as a solo artist. The exhibition will feature over 50 pages of original artwork and process pieces, and exhibition attendees will receive a discount code when pledging on the graphic novel.
What’s next for you?
Staying busy! Ha! I’ll be doing everything I can to get Reel Love funded, and if that happens I’ll be finishing the book and preparing it for publication around the world. I have a new book in mind but I’ll have to keep that under wraps for now.
By Gemma Tadman, Arts Editor