James Harvey is a comic artist and writer currently based in Stafford, England. His new book Mouth Baby is available to pre-order from his website now. While he prepares work he can’t talk about for publishers major and minor, here are some of the things he’s done you may have heard about:
James’s short story Masterplasty was a finalist in Japan’s GAIMAN awards in 2014. James helped design Duke Thomas (the first African-American Robin) for DC Comics. His work was featured in the multi-Eisner Award-winning anthology Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream. He’s the editor of Bartkira, a massive world-spanning collaborative comics project. In 2015 he art directed an animated music video for hip-hop violinist Lindsey Sterling.
What influence does music have in your life as a creative?:
When I was 12 my mum bought an Intel 486 Windows PC from two heroin addicts, friends of my older sister. They delivered this computer loaded with art programs like Photoshop, which I’d asked for, as well as what they told me was “ten thousand pounds worth of music software”. This included an 808 and 303 synthesiser, and sound editing software which allowed me to build a whole track from the ground up. So in addition to teaching myself Photoshop, I sat there figuring this music software out, making hours and hours of spooky, weird instrumentals which I never played to anyone. I slept little. I’d sit bleary-eyed and disinterested through lessons the next day, my schoolwork suffering as I got my real education at night, tinkering away in solitude.
What became pretty clear was that everything I learned in making music was also directly applicable to visual art. Through the sheer act of making music on the computer, one develops basic theories and instincts about art and composition that carry straight over into visual art. My music was built from a dense, colourful collage of re-appropriated sounds cut in with original melodies and recordings, which is close to a description of what my visual art still is. This is pretty common, I think. If you look at anyone who makes both art and music, you’ll see that their art usually looks the way their music sounds. Look at the paintings of Don Van Vliet, which are a folksy brand of Abstract Expressionism- a descriptor which sums up his music as Captain Beefheart pretty well, too. Robert “3D” Del Naja paints what appear to be dark, brooding and monumental self-portraits, which is basically what he was doing musically in 2003 when he was the sole remaining member of Massive Attack. Grimes’ art is futuristic and beautiful while still feeling handmade and personal. Ringo Starr’s art is shit. There are probably more examples!
I only mess around with music purely as a hobby now, but I’m often thinking about what I want a book to “sound like” when I’m in the early phases of a project. The interior scenes of my book Mouth Baby are probably inspired in part by the work of Cornelius, an avant-garde pop musician from Shibuya. I put his album Point in the background of the first panel of the second page of the book, just to acknowledge this influence. Point has an extremely clean sound that’s built from natural instruments and found sounds that have been recorded at an obsessively professional grade, and then cut up and used in very intricate arrangements that are only possible with the aid of computers. It feels light and airy and uses warm tones and calm voices that are punctuated with moments of aggression and discordancy. I think you can see this influence clearly in Mouth Baby, since the interior scenes fixate on pleasing, simple shapes, primary colours and sparse, bright arrangements- which give way to dark, inky and dense collages in the exteriors. Musicians have probably taught me as much about the potential of my artform as visual artists have.
Tell us about your playlist:
This is a playlist I made while working on a comic pitch for DC, last year. The pitch was accepted by one round of editors, then another, then the second round of editors changed their mind, so currently the book resides in unmade project limbo along with Frank Miller’s comic about the life of Jesus (naturally titled “JESUS!”), and that proposed Kubrick adaption of Lord Of The Rings which would have starred The Beatles.
I made the playlist to inspire me in the creation of the art and the world of this story, set in a single neighbourhood of Batman’s Gotham City. This playlist tries to get at the heart of the story I wanted to tell- a young girl (a crimefighter, naturally, because this is DC Comics) entrenched and mired in this city of dirt, grime and a million stories. As a writer, making a playlist is a very good way to build a world for yourself to step into and explore. Gotham is based largely on New York, and I wanted to paint a portrait of that dark, gothic underbelly of New York that we thought only existed in urban folk tales- the rat people and alligators who are said to live in the sewers, for instance. I pictured Gotham as a New York where every single urban myth is true. The New York that exists in the collective unconscious. Incidentally, a lot of those urban folk tales did turn out to be true- the rat people were exposed in a 2000 documentary called Dark Days, for instance. Maybe New York really is as weird as people think it is.
- The Hands Of Doom – MF DOOM –
- Halloween – Siouxsie And The Banshees
- Haunted House Blues – Bessie Smith
- 2 Cups Of Blood – Gravediggaz
- Digital – Joy Division
- Listen – David Holmes
- My Mate Paul – David Holmes
- The Nightmare – Cab Calloway
- She’s Lost Control – Joy Division
- Let’s Get Killed – David Holmes
- Monitor – Siouxsie And The Banshees
- The Ballad Of Mack The Knife – Marc Blitzstien