The Story of My Book: Pat Grant on Blue
Part sci-fi, part autobiography, Pat Grant’s Blue is a beautifully illustrated tale of localism and racism on Australia’s beaches. Here, he guests blogs to tell us the story of how the book came to be, and the painstaking, detailed process of drafting a graphic novel.
This book project really started on December 5th 2005, when I accidentally went to Cronulla beach for a swim on the day of the race riot. It’s kind of embarrassing really, but the whole experience really changed the direction of my creative work. I started writing and drawing comics about beach culture, nationalism, racism and surfing. I found that for the first time in my life I had something to say about an important global issue. I had a situated kind of knowledge about this new sandy sort of nationalism, unique to my upbringing by the beach and my experiences as a surfer and an activist ratbag. It all felt like perfect fodder for a comic book.
The thing about a first graphic novel is that no one starts out with any clue how to do it. There’s no real way to learn the craft of cartooning other than by making and publishing comics, so when you learn cartooning you’re pretty much learning in public. When I started Blue I wrote a script, bought a stack of thick white paper, sat down on my cheap plastic chair and, with a mechanical pencil in my claw, started bumbling my way into the world of Bolton. Here’s the first page I drew. It was terrible and it never ended up in the book.
Cartooning is a performance art that leaves a trace. It’s kind of like those contemporary dance shows where someone covered in paint flops around on a clean, white stage.
With this book, it took me forever to get the character design to feel right and as I drafted it from start to finish in graphite, my body slowly learned the correct way to move in order to get the characters to properly come into being. By the end of the draft I was an expert, but of course, by then it was too late. I had to go back and redraw about half of the book. Here’s how the characters evolved as I drew.
I rehearse for thousands of hours with the pencil, but when the ink and brush come out, well, that’s when the real performance starts. It’s showtime!
The way a cartoonist’s body enacts each line in the inking phase is really the essence of good cartooning. In my comics I try to make my body the conduit for every line in the story, which means no cheating with computers when it comes to the lettering. I’m physically affected by these uncomfortable politics of exclusion and belonging that play out on the Australian beach and I really need all of that embodied knowledge to come out in the making of every mark. That doesn’t happen with the click of a mouse.
I pretty much self-published this book, so the production and design was all up to me. It took over my life for a few months. There was a lot of anxious hand wringing and many late night phone calls to my friends who have experience with real design workflows (my experience is based on the inebriated zine maker model of production). Here are some early cover designs that didn’t get used because they were a bit wrong.
When I finally decided on the cover I was still anxious about it. The cover is the thing that I’ll have to look at the most during the next five years or so, so it’s important that it doesn’t annoy me.
But the stress was all worth it when the books got back from Singapore and I tore open a box to find that Blue had become a real hardback book with a genuine ‘book smell’. I sometimes lie on the lounge room floor with my head in one of those boxes, just breathing it in.