Smash Pages Q&A: Remy Boydell

The artist of ‘The Pervert’ discusses his latest, ‘920London,’ which is out now from Image Comics.

Remy Boydell’s new book, 920London, will remind a lot of readers of The Pervert, the book that Boydell made with Michelle Perez that was published by Image Comics in 2018. 920London establishes very early that this book may look similar, but it has an approach and tone of its own.

920London is an intimate love story that is raw and emotional, and will remind many of their 20s. It features a couple who see the apocalypse just over the horizon. Boydell’s great gift is the skillful mix of funny and unsettling, as the two main characters are searching for something. It is beautiful and sad and funny and painfully relatable, and Boydell was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book.

Where did the idea for 920London start?

I was pitching strips to Vice that got very firmly rejected, and worked from the same characters/setting to build up the story. On balance, the strips with the original appearances of those characters aren’t very good, so there’s no hard feelings there. They don’t appear in the final print book.

After collaborating on The Pervert, what did you take away from it that you wanted to replicate, and what did you want to do differently?

I feel like watercolor is one of my selling points, so honestly I’m a little worried about deviating from that when it comes to coloring a book. I can paint pages a bit faster than I could color them digitally, so I was pretty firmly locked in.

Since the tone was different, I wanted to leave the square panelling out. I looked at Asano Inio’s panelling and layout a lot to try to learn. I also don’t want to imply that the comic is taking place as the same level of reality as The Pervert, apart from the last page, so changing up panelling was a really big deal.

What was the process of writing and drawing the book?

I usually script chapters in groups, and then pencil/ink/color in batches, one chapter at a time. On a physical level, changing tasks eats up your time. For example, if I’m painting the reds on one page, every time I change color I’m washing my brush. Thinking that way, if I color all the reds in one chapter at once, I’m saving myself the time of all those brush cleanings that I’d otherwise do.

Equally, you get faster when you focus on doing the same task, so doing pencils in a batch of 15 pages for a chapter, say, that’s way faster than approaching single pages start to finish. I know it’s down to individual choice, but I get a little stressed imagining doing production start-to-finish on single pages. It feels awful not having a finished product that you can show at the end of the day, but I get two hundred times more done if I “production-line” tasks and group them together.

How do you think your artwork has changed in the past couple years and for this book?

I’ve been trying really hard to improve on the fundamentals, which isn’t something that’s crazy exciting to hear about, but it’s mostly what’s made a big difference for me. It’s hard to show my work since usually if you’re reading a book, that’s artwork I’ve done around 2+ years ago simply because of how the publishing schedule works. I notice a lot of errors or things I would have approached differently, so I try to just focus on getting stuff out there. When it’s out, it’s out.

In this and The Pervert, the structure is short stories that mostly stand alone but also build on each other. What do you like about that structure?

I don’t know any other way to write! It’s pretty hard to get stuck into a graphic novel without any breaks or breathing room, so I focus on punctuations for the stories.

Are you interested in plot?

Uhh. I don’t know.

I just mean, do you read and enjoy heavily plotted work or not so much?

I think my favorite fictional work ever is still Donnie Darko, which I’m sure says something pathological about me on some level. Beyond that, I suppose I’m drawn to ambiguous work that expresses an emotional truth without being super cut and dried. I love David Lynch.

I’m sort of into my work too deep to see it clearly, so I don’t know if it seems structured or not.

I’m interested in how the monthly serialization model shapes narrative in chapters like the cliffhanger, callback, revelation model that you see in say like Shonen Jump or just tankobon monthly comics in general. There’s not much footing directly in the West to do stuff like that, unless it’s directly via webcomic (i.e. Cate Wurtz’s Crow Cillers, which comes out with monthly chapters).

You open the book with a line “Happy people don’t start believing in the end of the world.” Can you talk a little about that line and that page?

I read a lot about Heaven’s Gate, and stuff like that. It’s really simple, but you become really vulnerable to a lot of stuff if you’re in a difficult place emotionally.

Besides all of the emotional storylines, I learned a lot about growing mushrooms. Why was this such a big part of the story, and what did you like about just having this detailed explanation and demonstration as part of the story?

I don’t know if I’ll get in trouble talking about that. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies does a cool podcast about that kind of thing, and I was listening to that. If you’re growing mushrooms for food, like oyster mushrooms, doing everything from scratch is a pretty involved process. You have to be really meticulous about it, because you’re naturally going to make a couple of mistakes, and say you can get away with making two mistakes, but if you make three mistakes they all die.

I grew a great colonized batch of lion’s mane mushrooms (n.b. this is a gourmet thing, and they are meant to be healthy for you), you grow those ones on woodchips, and at the last stage I didn’t cover them well enough, and they all died before they sprouted.

If you’re feeling disturbed, sometimes it helps to have a meticulous, methodical kind of hobby, and if you gain basic competency at a new skill, it’s good for your self esteem. I’m not recommending anything beyond that as a broad concept, haha. Gardening works, too.

Have you thought about making nonfiction comics? 

All my comics are non fiction. They’re just like, “adapted” nonfiction. Maybe one day I will make a fiction comic. I took a break to found a small animation studio, so I’m doing that right now. 

Once I gain basic competency in animation, my comics will have a better sense of dynamic movement. At the moment, the characters are sometimes kind of winsome and static, since that’s how I was feeling in real life.

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