Q&A with Fionn McCabe

Fionn McCabe is an illustrator, printmaker, and cartoonist living in Sydney on Gadigal and Wangal land. He teaches comics and storytelling at the University of Technology Sydney, is one of the Comic Art Workshop’s co-directors, and is a producer of Read To Me, a live visual storytelling event.

Your style is so active but simple at once. You mentioned to me that you create in quite a haphazard way. Can you tell me more about this mind-to-body connection? How well do you know the story before starting, and does it come ‘out’ quickly?

I’ve been making comics for about thirteen years and for most of that time I hated making them. For a long time I was very caught up on trying to make them ‘the right way’, the way other people made them. And, as it turns out, the traditional method of scripting, thumbnailing, penciling, inking and colouring made me miserable. I love the comics community in Australia and most of my practice for the past five or six years has been trying to learn how to enjoy making comics. The way I work now is to create a loose script and work very quickly and loosely. If I screw something up, I just make it again. This way of working results in lots of mistakes but it keeps me excited and present when I work. It makes the process feel alive and I hope that energy makes the work come alive for readers as well.

I’ve never known grief more than the death of a pet—the face of the little girl in panel one was me for months after my bunny passed away. Your comic’s equal-in-size grief-to-gesture was a somewhat soothing counter-narrative in a society where we can’t react to the pain of pet death. How do you tend to use humour and ‘the ridiculous’ as a way to plug these big holes in our hearts?

I think that, when I first started making comics, I confused serious storytelling with serious stories. There are a lot of serious comics that talk about serious things and, while I absolutely think stories like that are important and vital, they make me feel terrible. I don’t like feeling terrible! So, I often try to address something big and serious in a playful way so that I don’t make other people feel bad. In my practice these days, I take silliness very seriously. And I’ve found that pairing a serious topic with something ridiculous and fun helps me find meaning I might not have found any other way.

The striving-but-failing father figure often pops up in your comics. Where does this theme and character emerge from for you?

I can’t stand people who have it all figured out. They’re the worst! I have no patience for anyone who always does the right thing, who always has the right answer. I don’t relate to that at all.

I sometimes get things right, but there have been times when I’ve screwed up as a parent—raised my voice or forgot to pack a lunch—and when I tell people about it I feel ashamed. And I’ve noticed that, when other parents respond by giving me solutions, I often feel even worse about myself. But sometimes other parents respond by telling me their own horror stories, and I feel better, less alone. I try to share (and usually exaggerate) my mistakes in order to make readers feel the same way. 

That, and the space between what we think we’re doing, and what we have actually done, is crammed with comedy.