THE BIG INTERVIEW: Paddy Lynch & Rory McConville Talk Up Big Jim

Today I’m delighted to present an exclusive  interview with the writer and artist of the forthcoming historical graphic novel Big Jim due from O’Brien Press later this year telling the tale of famed Irish trade union leader and activist Jim Larkin. Rory McConville, speaking to us all the way from San Diego and Paddy Lynch have both been very gracious in giving ICN a few minutes of their time to talk about the next instalment in O’Brien Press’ line of historical graphic novels following the trail set by Gerry Hunt’s Blood Upon The Rose.

ICN: How did the Jim Larkin project find its way into your hands?

Paddy Lynch: This one’s easy enough from my perspective, I was recommended to Rory by Declan Shalvey. Rory had pitched The O’Brien Press the idea and they said ‘Great, find an artist and put together a few pages’. I think The O’Brien Press were vaguely aware of my small press comics. We had a meeting where they reviewed my portfolio and gave me the green light to start developing the project.

Rory McConville: My dad has a lot to do with it. He heard that O’Brien had published Blood Upon The Rose and encouraged/harassed me to send some of my work in. I’d been working on webcomics for DC and Shadowline for the past few years but wasn’t sure if the work would suit O’Brien’s catalogue. However, Dad kept harassing me until I sent them The Mundane Overrated Misadventures of Spudman.

After a few weeks, O’Brien rang to arrange a meeting. They weren’t interested in publishing Spudman but proposed the idea of the Lockout book to me. I jumped at it of course. They asked me to choose the artist so  I got in contact with Declan Shalvey who recommended a couple of people. We’ve got such a brilliant selection of Irish artists at the moment but Paddy led the pack by miles. We did up a proposal, some sample pages and after another few meetings, O’Brien gave us the go-ahead.

ICN: Why choose Jim Larkin as the subject of this book?

PL: This might be more a question for Rory, but to me, Larkin is such an interesting character. He’s not necessarily as well known as other Irish historical figures such as James Connolly or Michael Collins so I don’t think we’re dealing with the amount of preconceptions that they might have. Mainly he’s remembered as a fiercely inspiring public speaker who successfully organised huge workers and civil rights movements in Belfast, Dublin and Waterford, successfully taking on huge opponents almost single handed. I’ve found him fascinating to work with: he was a completely fearless, inspiring and compassionate campaigner for the basic human rights of the downtrodden, and an idealist to the core. At the same time he was a total egomaniac, prone to biting off more than he could chew, and of a bullish temperament that alienated many of his supporters. I’ve enjoyed learning about the very magnetic but flawed human that existed behind the legend.

RMC: I echo a lot of what Paddy said. The main appeal for me comes from how flawed Larkin is. As a reader and a writer, that’s far more enticing then Mr. Perfect. Larkin’s contribution to workers’ rights is staggering but I can imagine him being one of the most frustrating people in the world to work with.

ICN: At what stage this year will we see the book released?

PL: This Autumn. September/October 2012. Just ahead of the 100 year anniversary of the events depicted.

ICN: What are your experiences so far in the creative process?

PL: I’m enjoying the creative process immensely but that’s not to say that it’s all been plain sailing. There’s been a fair bit of back and forth between all parties in hammering down stylistic elements of the artwork and script, but I think that’s part and parcel of collaboration.

I’m only a few pages away from having all the drawings completed. It still has to go through the editing process and then will need to be coloured, so there’s a fair bit of work to go (if we were making a film we’d be wrapping up all the principal photography). Over the course of the book my drawing has improved a huge amount, and Rory is a very intelligent writer who knows how to make use of comics inherent storytelling strengths. I think we have the bones of a very strong graphic novel on our hands.

RMC: With most of my previous comic work, the artists and editors have lived in different countries, sometimes different continents. This is the first time I’ve been able to actually interact with my collaborators in person. And it’s been really enjoyable. As Paddy said, there might not always be unanimous agreement on stylistic aspects but that’s the nature of collaboration. I’ve been up toDublin a few times to discuss things with Paddy and it’s been great to be able to tear through the script and brainstorm with him.

When I was selecting artists, Paddy stood out for a variety of reasons. Firstly, he’s got fantastic panel-to-panel storytelling. A lot of artists nowadays neglect basic storytelling, but Paddy’s got a real flow to his work. Obviously, for a historical graphic novel, you can’t go about having barrel chested ten foot tall Jim Larkin. This is not a Rob Liefeld comic.

ICN: Thank God for that.

RMC: Paddy captures the everyday and makes it look interesting for what it is. There’s a dirty realism in his work, an understated quality that makes him absolutely perfect for the book

We’ve found a pretty unique spin on the historical graphic novel.

ICN: What are your thoughts on how O’ Brien Press are expanding their historical line of original graphic novels following Gerry Hunt’s Blood Upon The Rose.

PL: I think the O’Brien Press want to support the Irish graphic novel industry and the way that they see their part is to focus on the Irish history/mythology area. They have an established reputation of over 30 years in these areas so I think they’re playing to their strengths. I’m looking forward to seeing a few projects: I believe Gerry Hunt is working on the War of Independence, Will Sliney’s Cú Chulainn looks promising and is bound to be a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. I’d love to see them commission an original graphic novel that isn’t constrained by the history label, but we may have to wait a few years for that to happen.

RMC: The O’Brien Press is providing a huge boost to Irish creators and Irish comics. We’ve never had such a high profile opportunity for creators before. In addition to the books Paddy mentioned, I believe there’s a book on Famine that’s in progress. It will probably take a while but I’d also love to see them expand into other genres.

ICN: Thanks guys, take care.

My thanks to both Paddy and Rory for contributing their time to this piece. Head on over to Paddy’s art blog here: http://www.patrickl.net/category/blog/big-jim-previews/ to check out previews of some of the art for the book and keep an eye on ICN over the coming months for any more information on Big Jim.