DARREN FISHER is a lecturer in Animation at Swinburne University and a 2019 ABC Top 5 Humanities and Social Sciences Scholar, a prize awarded to a select few upcoming early career researchers within Australia each year. Darren is a self-publishing graphic storyteller working across autobiography, fantasy, and educational/informational comics for print and web, and his recent publications include Kicked out during Coronavirus (ABC Radio National) and How to have better arguments about the environment (The Conversation). Darren is currently working on comics for HALT (a mental health awareness program for local tradespeople) and CNBSafe (a workplace safety awareness program).
Our Art and Comics editor, David, talks to Darren about his work in #20: Handbag.
Let’s start with text—your story has such a poetic cadence which complements the flowing imagery. Do you often work in this format where you dispense with panels in favour of melding illustrations and blocks of type and where it’s structured precisely to suggest a division of space?
I approach different projects in different ways. There’s a really beautiful graphic novel by Ludovic Debeurme called Lucille that works in a similar way as I have here. It works without many of the usual formal elements of comics, including panels, and I kind of wanted to do something like that. I also used a method of automatic drawing, where I form images out of mindless mark-making, which is partly my excuse for why some of the drawings are a little chaotic! Of course, there are a lot of different ‘entry points’ and methods for making comics. For this one, I started with the theme of baggage, which to me, has the literal meaning of luggage, bags and the metaphorical meaning of this accumulation of emotional weight over time. I wrote a short text around the theme, thinking about how we express ourselves through what we wear, and how our inner baggage might be represented through these choices. I constructed the images around that and worked it all out on the drawing board. I have to say that I always think about how text and images are working together, how blocks of text are part of the composition of a page, how the eye will flow, how negative space and positive space work together, things like that.
Looking back at some of your old mini-comics, one can see how you’ve developed your liquid line and watercolour shading. What materials do you most often use, are you fully traditional these days?
Actually, the main reason I worked on this traditionally was to escape the screen. I’ve been working on a couple of other creative projects that are almost completely digital, so this was like a little reward at the end of each day to myself. I really love using ink washes and watercolours, but there are some things that you can do using digital techniques that you just can’t with traditional. For instance, once I was finished with this piece I scanned it and then resized the text and did a lot of editing to make sure it was as clear as possible. Of course, with more time in the planning stage, I could avoid this post-production, but sometimes it’s just easier to fix things after. In general, I just use whatever tools that work best for what I want to do, or when I want to mix things up for my own sanity—but ink washes and traditional media definitely have a special place in my heart.
I really enjoyed the series of comics that you were posting to social media while undertaking the ABC’s Top 5 Media Residency Program. Could you tell us a bit about that experience? I’m also curious to hear your thoughts on comics journalism in Australia after having experienced the inner workings of a major national media organisation.
The ABC’s Top 5 Media Residency (https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/top5/) was an amazing experience. I was selected with four other academics from across Australia to do a two-week residency at ABC Ultimo Centre in Sydney. We learned about media and radio production and created some different outputs based on our research areas. If anyone’s interested, I wrote about the experience here: https://www.swinburne.edu.au/news/2019/12/reflections-on-a-2019-abc-top-5-media-residency/
While I was there I also created a daily diary comic, which in hindsight, was a huge distraction from the actual work I was supposed to be doing but it felt important at the time. I usually revert back to my diary comic leanings during intense times, as a way to process events and also to create a bit of distance between myself as an observer and myself as a subject, if that makes sense. The ABC were super supportive, publishing my comic ‘Kicked Out During Coronavirus’ this year, and they are certainly open to further works of journalism, activism and commentary in the medium. More broadly I’m quite partial to First Dog on the Moon, published by The Guardian Australia and there is some great independent work going on. Stuart McMillen is also making really engaging comics on important issues and publishing them for free on his site at www.stuartmcmillen.com and your readers should definitely check him out. But as to the extent that cartooning and comics are supported by mainstream media, I feel like we still have some way to go.
Thank you, Darren! Where can we find more of your work?
Absolutely, you can catch me on my site, www.darrencfisher.com, Instagram @darrencfisher, and on peakd.com/@dcfisher. I also have a Twitter that is painfully neglected, and a Tumblr gathering dust somewhere. It’s hard to stay on top of all of these things!