Where: London, United Kingdom
The story of the doodle…I'm Matt and I'm from Banbury, a small town in the very north of Oxfordshire. I grew up with my parents, who are both deaf, and my sister who, like me, is not deaf. I can do sign language, which has made my life quite interesting.
My Dad was always drawing crazy stuff and my Mum used to draw when she was younger. My dad's a carpenter so he was always making toys for us. He once made my sister and I a Noah's Arc and carved out all the animals, even little snakes, mice, birds, a Noah, Mrs Noah and all his children too.
He had bits of old comics that he used to stick in a scrap book. He cut out his favorite eagles and dragons. He was never into football and as a result neither was I. I was always drawing.
Comic obsession…My mum used to be into comics when she was younger. She grew up in the States where you can get hold of so many different comics. She read stuff like Xmen and Spiderman. My sister and I started buying comics at an early age and my mum got back into comics too. She was mad about Spiderman for a very long time. There were always comic books around the house. We watched cartoons and action-packed films because subtitled TV didn't really kick-off until I was in my early teens. The lack of subtitles meant we never watched anything hi-brow. It would always be shit with explosions or slap stick comedy or martial arts cinema. We watched a lot of Hong Kong films too – they tended to be subtitled – so my knowledge of Hong Kong Cinema is unreal but I've seen very little of what most people deem as classic cinema. My attention span also has been completely ruined by a diet of film where people jump off things or get thrown through windows.
The penny dropped…My uncle Mark asked me, 'Can you draw anything other than a circle?' Only at that point did I realise that I could draw something other than a circle! I think I drew a square. I just drew on everything! My dad had oil paintings he spent hours slaving over and I thought I would give him a hand by drawing on them. I drew on comics and tried to make them my own. In the end, my dad put up a giant pin-board in my bedroom so I could pin pictures to it and draw on that instead of the wall.
Timeline…For one of my birthdays, my mum got me a 'how to draw comic strips' book. At the time I really wanted a Sega Mega Drive game. My parents said the look on my face at the time revealed sheer ingratitude. The book taught me how to draw hands, not anatomically correct ones (I can’t do that) but cartoonist 'cheat' hands, which I still do now. Ten years later, a little cousin of mine asked me how to draw hands and I showed him the book. Now he draws hands the same way.
When I was seven or eight, I started drawing comic strips. I was never very good at writing so I drew the narrative. I have a friend back home called Dan and we'd sit at my house and make comics. We even drew our own logos and invented company names. My mum used her sewing machine to stitch the spines of our comic books so they were like proper ones. We made one book about a superhero team of dust bins. They were environmentally conscious versions of the Ninja Turtles, stopping people from screwing up the planet. The Ninja Dustbin Klan People. It didn't catch on.
We would read them and show our comics to people at school. I was even asked to draw cartoons for my primary school newsletter. As I got older, I started to make my own fanzines and other comic books using the school photocopier. I made my first full comic book with Dan and my other close friend Viv, who's now a paleontologist.
I even got my Dad to take me to a manga convention. I was really into manga when it first came out. He patiently drove me there and I got a bit of attention, being a weird 12 year old trying to sell comics. Throughout my teens my parents would take me to these comic conventions so I could pimp my wares. I got a chance to show my work to a lady named Helen McCarthy. She's well known as a manga historian now. If you see a documentary about Japanese animation, you can guarantee she'll be one of the talking heads. She helped me out a lot when we met. At the time, she introduced me to other amateurs like myself. The only difference was they were all a bit older.
Long road to freedom…Secondary school was a bit rubbish for me. I was still drawing but found being told what to draw in art classes difficult. I wasn't interested in drawing plants or bowls of fruit so I fell through the cracks a little bit. After school I went to North Oxfordshire College in Banbury and did a BTEC. It was the only thing they'd let me do at the college. I completely ballsed up my GCSE's so I couldn't do A levels.
When I was at art college, cartoons and comics seemed very uncool. I was embarrassed that I drew them. My course was all about Photoshop and 'why the hell would you want to draw when you could use a computer?' I kind of hid my drawing from other people, then from myself and killed any ambition I had to further explore it as a career option.
After that I went to Leeds College of Art to study Visual Communication. I put Leeds and Swindon on my list of university options. The only reason I chose Leeds was because a mate of mine went there. I chose Swindon because someone from Swindon visited my college. I had no awareness of my work at that point. I turned up with with lots of work in bags and they gave me an unconditional acceptance. I was like 'fuck yeah!' My tutors at Banbury were like 'How the hell did you do that?' I don't even know how or why... I only went to art college to draw. I didn't know what else to do.
It wasn't until I was at Leeds and Pete (Lewis) asked me to produce work – all the illustration for the first issue of his side project Three Magazine – that I even considered drawing for anyone other than myself. Those were the first pieces of work that I ever had published. After a year at Leeds I left and did a degree at Bradford Art College where, other than making some good friends and getting on with my own work, I didn't achieve much. I felt like I just wasted a lot of money.
Making a racket...Because both my parents are deaf, when I was a kid we only had one tape player in the house. I was always singing and running round the house making as much noise as I liked – singing and howling – and no one would tell me off, which was wicked. The only music I'd listen to was stuff on the radio like pop music. It never occurred to me that you could by tapes and listen to them when you wanted to. That never crossed my mind until I got a little older. Then I was really attracted to heavy metal, mostly because I liked the imagery of Iron Maiden's Eddie and Mega Death. I really liked the way they looked very comic book-like. I became a voracious music listener. No one said 'you can't listen to that shit' so I had no preconceptions about any genre.
I walked into my local record shop and said to the guy behind the counter, 'My mum and dad are deaf. Sell me what you like. They won't tell you off because they can't hear a thing. What's the worst thing you could sell me?' I told him I liked Guns n' Roses. He told me I'd like Ice-T. He sold me Ice-T's That's How I'm livin', a gansta rap song. I'd never even heard of gansta rap or Ice-T or anything like that before. Then my friend Dan and I got into Gansta rap – two pasty, white kids form North Oxfordshire. I ended up doing a paper round and spending my money on music. I'd go to the record shop and ask the salesperson, 'What crazy thing can I buy this week?' I really got into Radiohead. I'm still into REM, which is kind of weird. I'm nuts about jazz, crazy electro, Norwegian death metal bands… At the moment I really like Finnish folk metal. I'm always suspicious of people who say they don't like music. What's that about!
His office…At the moment I have a work space at the back of our flat. It consists of a wooden table (which is covered in doodles), an old Apple Mac, a drawing board and a light box. It's all quite small so I have to keep shifting things around. I tend to do all my sketches on a clipboard on the sofa or wherever I'm sat. But when I need to draw something big, I'll crack out the drawing board. I have tubs of pens, brushes and pencils. And I'm a sad sketch pad nerd. I have more sketch pads than I'll ever need or use. I also have lots of comic books and resource books I look at.
Sad state of affairs…I'm a sign language interpreter by day and an illustrator and comic book artist in my spare time. I sometimes get my inspiration from my day job. While I was working in and around Canary Wharf I got a lot of great material when the financial crisis hit. I saw bankers cry. Some of my most recent work revolves around that. I get most of my inspiration from observing people on the tube and the bus. I see strange people everywhere.
Recently I was walking through the city and there was a guy who was quite obviously mad. He was dressed in a dirty Father Christmas suit, pushing a pram with a baby doll in it, carrying a bag full of junk and he was talking to himself. It's really sad. I'm always looking at the sad side of life. You see it everywhere. There are so many people who've been screwed over. It upsets me. That sounded a bit like Bob Geldof but I can empathise with sad things. Everyone's dealt with sad things in their lives. I can't empathise with unrealistic, Hollywood schmaltz, where everyone lives happily ever after. Take Pretty Women, for example, that's not going to happen. She's a hooker and he's a rich curb crawler. You're not fooling me! If you look at real things and draw comics about them, people get it.
Work in progress…At the moment I do a monthly comic strip for a magazine called Imagine FX. They let me do whatever I want, which is quite amusing. I've been doing the strip for nearly two years now. Before that, I brought out two small press comic strips of my own with the help of Liam Sharp, a lovely bloke. He spent years drawing UK Marvel comics like incredible Hulk. He recently produced work for the latest Oasis advertising campaign with Duckzilla. There are massive billboards everywhere and they look wicked. He also did the Duffy print ads, where Duffy is a super hero. A Welsh warbling god. Awesome!
My comics books Life is Humiliation and More Humiliation were quite well received. When I produced them I was in a very dark place. I just kind of shat them out to be honest. I didn't know what to do with them after that. I just sent them to Liam and he was like 'These are great, bring them out! I'll help you'. The first book did well and I was surprised because there's a story about an old man pissing himself – it's a bit weird. I'm not really sure why people like them. I just make them.
I've been working on a new book (for what seems like an eternity!) My sign language interpretation job is draining and steals most of my energy leaving me with less time to draw and do the things I enjoy. It's about half done. There's no name yet. It's kind of an anthology but with one story running through it about one guy having a catastrophic breakdown. It's almost an Alan Partridge-esque break down. He's normal, he's nice and then everything starts going wrong. It's somewhere between Series Three of I'm Alan Partridge crossed with Jacob's Ladder. There are these people in a field on drugs with guns, shooting in the air, freaking out – it's a bit like that.
Hoops and hurdles…I want to say that everything is a bed of roses and it's all wicked but in reality it's not. I've spent a long time battling depression, which is one of the reasons my career's progressing quite slowly. At the moment, I'm going through a bad patch. It makes being creative difficult. It's hard to keep focused when I feel like my mind is falling inside out. My two other comic books came from similar periods in my life. I don't like using the word depression because it always denotes something it isn't, like I'm a bleeding artist.
Depression is like a sprained ankle but instead of your ankle it's your brain. Making those two comic books with Liam Sharp and doing Comic Con put me back on track. But I didn't work for nearly a year. I was on medication that turned me into a zombie. I couldn't think and I gave up trying. It killed my head and I stopped drawing properly. I could draw mechanically but if you were to look at the drawings from that period everything was robotic-looking. There was nothing there. When I managed to get off the medication I was able to finish the books. By then it was about 18 months after I'd started them. The whole experience gave me the confidence to not only draw more but get a job and do normal things instead of being shut off from the world. My creativity has at times been inhibited over the years because of my medication. Sometimes it helps. There's depressed where I can carry on drawing and then there's depressed where I'm pretty much dead to everything. It's horrible because it's a really selfish thing. I become introverted. It's just as hard for the people that love me and are around me as it is for me.
Respect…I could list millions of people. In the last couple of years I've started to look at more cartoonists and comic artists instead of fine artists and commercial illustrators. I really like a guy called Carl Barks. He invented Scrooge McDuck and was famous for drawing Donald Duck comics. This guy made a career out of happily drawing ducks. That was his niche. His books are magic! When other people look at them they just see Donald Duck. I enjoy seeing how stories are told through simplicity.
I'm also really into Jeff Smith who wrote a comic called Bone, which is heavily influenced by Carl Barks. It's kind of like Lord of the Rings meets Duck Tales. When you first pick it up and look at it you might not think anything of it but when you start reading it it's magic. I came across Bone in a comic shop when I was about 11. It was a Christmas special. I thought it was awesome. It had an interview with Jeff Smith and he talked about how he came up with the characters when he was child. There were pictures of his comic books that he had made when he was my age. I saw these crude drawings and I realised that you don't just suddenly become a good artist you have to work at it. It's definitely one of the best comic books ever made.
For me inspiration comes from everywhere – anything by Moebius, a French comic book artist. Moebius is a pseudonym. His real name is Jean Giraud and he had a career of doing cowboy comics in France with a very standard look. Then he took on this alter-ego to draw his crazy shit. He drew the book Incal, written by Jodorowsky. It looks like he’s cracked his head open and let it ooze over the page. My favorite marvel comic book is Silver Surfer as drawn by Moebius. Silver Surfer was invented by Jack Kirby (who's pretty cosmic as well). I like Silver Surfer but I don’t really like other super hero comics any more. It's like homoerotic cock fighting but Silver Surfer is a naked buddha on a surfboard, floating round. He's Ace!
Watched manI recently produced a Watchmen spoof for the ImagineFX Watchmen special where they featured Dave Gibbons, a British comic book artist. When I found out he was in it, I begged them to let me do a spoof. I pitched some ideas – imagine Rorschach but instead of an ink blot for a face, it looks like a child drew on his face with crayons. It went from a three panel strip to a column, to half a page. By the end, it was a full page. It drove me insane, I was trying to spoof the tight panelling and tight story telling of Watchmen. I've read Watchmen hundreds of times. I love it. It's one of the best comics. The writing, the colour and the lettering are so stylish. With a lot of mainstream comics I think the most important thing they forget is design. It took me so long to finish, it sent me half mad. I drew it out huge and even tried to match the colours. After I'd finished it the lead designer at ImagineFX sent it directly to Dave Gibbons. About two days later I got an email from Dave Gibbons on my phone. The first bit I saw was, 'Hi Matt, Paul sent me your comic strip. You'll be hearing from my lawyers shortly'. I almost choked on my tea. Luckily, he was only joking.
A few weeks later I thought it would be funny to go to a Dave Gibbons signing at Borders in Islington. I'd never been to a signing before where hundreds of people turned up. When we got to the queue, it was huge but I finally got to meet him. I asked him to sign my comic strip 'from Dave Gibbons and his lawyers'. It was cool and kind of mind bending – I've been a fan of his work for a long time. I've always liked his stuff because he has a very strong design take on comic books. If you look at his new book The Originals, it's like Quadrophenia but set in the future. I think he's the nuts and I hope he doesn't think I'm mental.
Downtime…I spend a lot of time listening to loud heavy metal, especially on Sunday mornings. I love reading crazy science fiction books and playing computer games. I have an extensive Sega Saturn collection. My favorite retro game is Guardian Heroes on the Sega Saturn. It's like Streets of Rage. It's wicked – you get to smash shit up. I've played it hundreds of times. I have about six different games consoles in the house. Between my housemate, Jamie, and I we have lots. It's quite sad.
Advice from an elder…An uncle once said to me, 'If you ever get in a fight, poke them in the eyes, punch them in the stomach, kick them in the balls and then run away'. I'd just like to state that I have never done this and I hope I never will but it's a good mantra to live your life by.
Advice to others…Just draw for the hell of it. If you don't enjoy it, there's no point. That's the way that I see it, probably because I've only ever drawn for my own enjoyment. If you want to draw, then just draw! Draw everything – yourself, your friends, people on the bus… And draw all the time. Draw when you're not supposed to. I like doing that. When you're at work and you're supposed to be doing something else, draw. When people are talking to you and they're boring, draw. Draw in the pub. Draw in the park. Drawing is the best thing in the world and makes me very happy.