Recently Therefore I Geek had the good fortune to poke the brain of David Leach, who is the writer, artist and creator of Psycho Gran, a wonderfully warped British comic that is making a return. Issue one came out just a few weeks ago. David provided us with some great insight into his creative process and the origins of Psycho Gran.
TIG: What was your personal introduction to comics?
David: When I was about six I was given a copy of the Tintin book, King Ottakar’s Sceptre, which I still have. When I was nine I saved up all my school bus fare to purchase the 1972 Beano annual, which I still have and my sister gave me a copy of the 1975 Giles annual for a Christmas present, which I still have.
As a reader, I started with the humour comics like Cor, Whizzer and Chips, Buster and Topper, then moved over to Battle, Warlord, 2000AD, Starlord and Action. I didn’t come to American comics until much later. I’d read Marvel UK titles like Tomb of Dracula, Planet of the Apes and Frankenstein’s Monster and I vividly remember reading several pivotal issues of both the Hulk and Spider Man as well as Super Man and Batman, but I didn’t start reading US comics properly until Mike Zeck’s run on Master of Kung Fu. Back then I read just three US comics, MOKF, Legion of Super Heroes and Frank Miller’s Daredevil. Then a whole new world opened up for me and I was hooked.
TIG: How did you get started in the comic industry?
David: To quote Mafia Gangster, Henry Hill, “Ever since I can remember I wanted to be a cartoonist.”
All through my early years, nothing drove me more than that desire. But I didn’t want to draw super hero comics. I wanted to draw funny stuff, kids comics. I have a pathological obsession to make people laugh. So, after leaving Art College, I got a job working for animation legend, Bob Godfrey (creator of Rhubarb and Custard). He employed me as his ghost artist and for the next year, I pencilled all of the Henry’s Cat comic strips that appeared in the Halifax Young Savers magazine, the New of the World’s Sunday magazine, and Buttons comic, as well as other stuff too. Then I went freelance. I got a four-week gig drawing for Whizzer and Chips comic, which lead to Oink! and the publishing of my first comic strip under my name and starring my own character, Psycho Gran. Then I went on to work on Toxic! Which lead to working for Marvel US on the Toxic Crusaders, followed by more British stuff.
TIG: How did you get involved with this particular project? Were you approached about doing it, or did you pitch the idea?
David: Alan Cowsill, who was editing the charity appeal book Spirit of Hope asked me if I’d like to contribute something, and I said yes. I’d recently drawn a Psycho Gran cartoon for my nephew Alfie’s school newspaper and felt like drawing her again. As soon as I had decided to draw a brand new Psycho Gran strip, the whole story just plonked itself fully formed into my brain box and I dived in.
After I’d finished the Spirit of Hope strip I found myself flooded with new ideas for new Psycho Gran strips, so just for fun, I’d decided to draw a comic book’s worth of new material and then think about self publishing when I had enough.
I took a few finished strips to work (I work at Titan Comics as an editor on titles like, SpongeBob SquarePants, Wallace & Gromit, Adventure Time, Lenore and Nemi), and was delighted that people found her funny so I sent off one of the strips to Roman Dirge of Lenore and Lise Myer of Nemi and their encouragement galvanised me greatly. I ended up doing a strip for Roman in issue #3 of Lenore and Lise republished a Psycho Gran strip in her magazine, Nemi, where she’s known as Psycho Besta.
Then Titan’s Editorial Director, Chris Teather saw her and offered to publish her digitally under the Titan banner with the proviso that if she did well, Titan Comics would publish her in book form in the future.
Finally I got approached by David Lloyd who was setting up the digital anthology title, Aces Weekly and asked if I’d like to draw Psycho Gran for that too!
TIG: What drew you back to the character of Psycho Gran?
David: Just the fundamental urge to draw comics again, pure and simple. Plus I’d been away for too long and having drawn her once, I was reminded just how much I love drawing comic strips. Psycho Gran offered me a chance to do silly strips and she was ready made. Plus I’d always enjoyed drawing her, so I gave her a revamp, improved her wardrobe gave her a dog and Bob’s Your Uncle.
TIG: Since this is all new material, why did you choose to go with the short, one to three page stories? Would you ever consider using Psycho Gran in a longer form story?
David: I like short vignettes–a nice short story with a twist in the tail. Also, because of the sort of character PG is, she doesn’t necessarily lend herself to longer stories, she doesn’t have an origin story as such, she’s not prone to periods of soul searching or angst-ridden introspection and most other characters who meet her tend to end up dead or ruined.
That said, I’m planning for issue #3, a single-issue length adventure that will change the world of Psycho Gran forever!
So, in answer to your question, yes I am thinking of a longer story, one that will introduce new characters and plot points and expand the universe of Psycho Gran.
Also, since writing these words I realised that I did have an origin for Psycho Gran and I’m probably going to do it for issue #4.
TIG: Who or what was the inspiration for the Psycho Gran and where do you find inspiration for the situations you put her in?
David: She was inspired by the works of Giles the cartoonist. When I first created her, I knew I wanted to draw an old lady character for a kid’s comic, it amused me to have such a character at large in a kids comic, traditionally the elderly are portrayed as a bit barmy or childish and I wanted a character who was old to the bone.
TIG: Whose work have you found most influential?
David: Giles, Robert Crumb, Moebius and Herge are my four major influences.
And the work of W.H. Robinson, H.E. Bateman, Jack Kirby, Uderzo and Druillet heavily inspired me.
TIG: How did you come to define your own personal art style?
David: Practice, trial and error, and realising that I was hiding my inadequacies behind cross-hatching. I describe her brand of humour as Surrealist slapstick and the artwork as a cross between Robert Crumb, Dave Law and Herge.
TIG: For this book you are the writer, artist and editor. Is there one of these roles you prefer over the others? One you would rather delegate to someone else?
David: There are two phases of creating comics I love and two I hate.
The first one I love is the initial idea, coming up with the idea and crafting it into a strip. The second is colouring. The two I hate are pencilling and inking because they are the hard work phase the nuts and bolts, without those two I couldn’t do the bits I like. But they’re also the bit with, oddly enough, the least challenge; but that’s not to say I don’t try hard, I just love the freedom and pure naked creativity of coming up with the ideas.
Actually, I adore editing, shaping and rewriting or script editing, I get a thrill out of that.
As to delegating, I’ve spent nearly all my professional life creating comics for other people but with Psycho Gran I get to do the sort of comic strips I want to do. I know her humour and I think it’s hard to explain it to another, so I can’t imagine a world where I’d be happy delegating the writing to another person, but maybe an artist. I’d love to get some guest art going for future issues. That said, I’d be more than happy to get someone to do the flats on Psycho Gran #2. It takes forever, so if anybody out there wants to work on issue #2 for £10 a page let me know.
TIG: Where would you like to see Psycho Gran go after this book?
David: I’m holding out for a big-budget, live-action Hollywood movie with no CGI and no plot, just a stream of random vignettes strung together as a ‘Day in the Life’ of style film.
That plus a successful range of merchandising and a vi-day-eo game.
We’d like to thank David for taking some time out of his busy schedule to share with us. Be sure to check out Psycho Gran #1, now available on Comixology, and check out our review, coming out tomorrow.