Steven Appleby is a cartoonist and illustrator living in Britain. A dual citizen of the UK and Canada, Appleby has published over 20 books, had many exhibitions of paintings and collaborated on a musical play, Crocs In Frocks, staged in Camberwell and at the ICA, London in 2006. His work has also appeared on album covers, most notably on Trompe le Monde by the Pixies. Steven will read his graphic thriller Dragman at ilb's GRAPHIC NOVEL DAY: London is teeming with superheroes. Dragman, who is called August Crimp in real life, is one of them. As soon as he puts on women's clothes, he has superpowers. Married and father of a son, he keeps this part of his identity under wraps –until a situation arises in which he has to show commitment.
How many ideas for potential works do you have in your head?
I was tempted to answer ‘none’ to this (see my answer to question number 5, below), but in truth I have plenty of ideas in my head. There are 6 or 7 old ideas I’ve not yet done that have stood the test of time and sit waiting for my attention. Then there are new ideas popping up every week or so which, if they pass quality control, join the queue to eventually come into being. And there are always not-yet-formed ideas jostling just out of sight in the wings, ready to come on. I always have the hope that one of them might be the best idea I ever had…
When working on a new project, how do you sift through competing ideas in order to move forward?
With me it’s often the first idea – and the first rough drawing – that is the one. But I have to carry on regardless and explore other directions, take a few wrong paths and a few wrong turns, before I realise it. The other thing I do is to think of ideas and dismiss them as not being good enough without even bothering to get them out of my head and on to paper. This is a mistake I always make because, of course, the best thing to do is put down a whole bunch of quick thoughts, however crazy, then go through them a day or two later at which point instinct - or gut reaction - tells me which is the best. And it’s often the first.
What writing habit do you have that is impossible to shift? (That could be a particular snack, writing hours, location, caffeine consumption etc.)
I wait for the perfect moment. The perfect mood. The perfect location and atmosphere. The perfect notebook. The perfect pen. The perfect café. The perfect day. The perfect city or house to stay in. The perfect conjunction of thoughts or facts randomly heard on the radio or read in a magazine or overheard on the bus…
I’m certain this whole procrastinating process is because I have a fear of starting. So long as I don’t start, my new piece of work can still be totally original, utterly insightful… even a masterpiece. But once it’s committed to paper its revealed as simply whatever it is. Which is never good enough.
In the end a friend, or my agent, gets annoyed with me and shouts: ‘For God’s sake shut up and get on with it!’ And, miraculously, I do.
The international literature festival berlin (ilb) has become an essential part of Berlin’s literary calendar. What do you connect with the city?
In my mind Berlin seems almost fictional to me. Almost mythological. A kind-of black and white memory of the cold war. I was 33 when the Berlin Wall came down so maybe that’s why. In my imagination Berlin is forever linked to my youth and the magical idea of two cities in one, side by side, full of artists, musicians, adventurers and misfits, sitting somewhere between the east and the west. Two worlds outside normal reality. It’s very inspiring.
What impact did the past 12 months have on your writing and ways of working? (Answers could range from challenges of home schooling to enjoying some quiet time or a writing routine turned upside down)
For me the past 12 months have turned everything sideways and upside down and I’ve really struggled to make new work. It feels as though the rug of reality has been pulled out from beneath me… and I’m not sure what, exactly, has been revealed. So I guess I need to find a way to make work about that…
And it can’t be long now before a friend, or my agent, shouts at me… then I’ll be ok.