Interview - Rosie Packwood

"The stars have finally aligned to bring you the Chapter three of Blinker!" With the comic out now from Madius Comics, Susan Omand caught up, at a socially acceptable virtual distance, with Blinker's brilliant creator, and illustrator of The Incredible Bun, Rosie Packwood...

Coming up in Chapter 3:

Having escaped the clutches of the mysterious Hive, Merrik and Trixie made their way to Kudullah - home of the shining Rae and the stunning Galactic Gemstone theatre. But not everything was as crystal clear as it seemed, and after some smashing mix ups and mishaps, the show really might just be over!

Drag Queens, AI chips, Brainmelds and more! With new friends along for the ride, Merrik needs to figure out who he can trust and who has their own interests at heart. When new powers manifest, old acquaintances hear the call. Merrik's world will be turned upside down in the blink of an eye.

Hi Rosie, thanks very much for sparing the time to answer our questions, although some folk may feel that time is all we have just now. How are you coping with the lockdown?

Hi Susan! Thanks so much for inviting me over for a chat. I have to say your living room is very cosy - full of your personality and style, too! By which I mean: lockdown is a scary, necessary thing to keep my loved ones safe, and I miss visiting them dearly!

2020 has been a crazy ride so far and, seeing what others have had to endure, I recognise I'm in a very fortunate position. Mental health has been a challenge for me in recent years, but this also means I've been practising techniques for handling it, which have come really in handy for the last few months. I find I get good days and bad days - the sooner I recognise which one I'm having and accept it, the easier they are. Same goes for other people! I try to be alert to whoever I'm engaging with, and understand how they're feeling and let them have whatever kind of day they're having, but always meet it with a smile or a joke where I can manage. It's been a valuable way to connect and support friends, family and colleagues at this time.

Chapter 3 of Blinker is now out! For those who haven’t heard about Merrik et al yet, tell us a little about the main plot and characters (no spoilers though!)

Absolutely! Blinker tells the tale of Merrik, a slight-out-of-the-ordinary human kid and his peppy AI partner, Trixie. They're on the run through the galaxies of the UC. Things get pretty messy: emotions, hair, back stage at a drag show... You know, classic sci-fi stuff!

Merrik has this weird ability to vanish at one location and show up in another. Only downside is he leaves a bit of a trail of destruction in his wake. The characters haven't figured out anything more than that right now, and are just trying to manage his teen tantrums. 

I love the characters in Blinker, they all have very strong personalities, so I wondered if the characters appeared in your head fully formed before the story did or was it vice versa i.e. you came up with a plot first and the characters evolved to fill the roles.

The characters definitely lead the story. I try to put myself in the moment they're in, and feel how they would feel (and if that is full on teen tantrum, then so be it!). How they act on their feeling tells me where the story flows to next. Sometimes I feel like there's a gap, and it usually turns out to be a character hiding in the universe that I haven't uncovered yet. So I put those scenes down and come back to them later when that character is ready to show up! They can be coyer than you'd think, sometimes. Rae, for example, look a long time to show himself, but boy howdy was I glad when he did! 
Chapter 2 Cover
I also really like the slightly more suspenseful undercurrent that’s developing in the story (I won’t give away any spoilers) and I know you’ve said in the past that older children would get the most from the series, which I would agree with. Was it a deliberate decision to aim at that tween/teen audience rather than going for either younger readers or a specifically adult comic?

I wanted Blinker to be the kind of comic a parent and kid could read together. But also one your older sibling might read and then talk to you about. Connecting through fiction has always made me happy, so I tried to picture a story I'd have wanted read to me, but that would have also encouraged me to read independently. Comics are great for that transition, because you have the words the characters are saying alongside visuals of body language and facial expression that younger kids already understand. Tapping into that is a big part of what makes reading aloud together so fun - my parents 'doing the voices' always delighted me when I was little and as I started to read for myself that same playful attitude would bring the characters to life in my head. Powerful stuff!!

You’ve drawn for other comics writers before, The Incredible Bun with Mike Sambrook literally springs to mind, so how did it feel doing everything (story and art) yourself for Blinker? Was it quite daunting to do this series all on your own or did you find it a rewarding experience having full creative control rather than bringing someone else’s ideas to life?

Making comics is like eating. It's a pleasurable experience and I can't live without it. Honestly.

I originally planned Blinker as part of a bigger universe series with some other comic-making friends. It fell apart a little but the world I'd built already was so nice to mentally spend time in so I decided to go for it anyway.

I always approached Blinker as a learning experience, I'm hoping to keep learning each chapter and make every one better and better, whether its a new lettering technique, a new story telling quirk or just better drawings. It's a lot to do but it keeps me alive so... Bring it on!

If I may say, you have a very distinctive art style – this is a good thing btw, I can recognise a “Packwood” character instantly. It may be an odd question to ask but does your art style impact on the characters and stories you choose to draw for?

Susan, I am clutching at my pearls! Yes you MAY say so, thank you!!! That's thrilling to hear!

I try to be adventurous with my characters. Bun, which you mentioned earlier is such a work-out for me in this respect. Mike and I decided to have anthropomorphised animals and humans alongside each other. So when the script introduces a new character I have a huge array of looks to pick from. Sometimes its easy - of course the match referee is a zebra. Stripes, duh! When Mike says "draw a crowd in this panel" you know it's going to be a wild mix of people, animals and styles. Punk horseman one second, cute kid with a bunny hat and placard the next.

Blinker is another extension to that. Where we are in the story at the moment there aren't many other humans at all (as I'm certain you'll have noticed!). Drawing a crowded spaceport without falling back on drawing other humans was an idea that made me grit my teeth and groan at first. "whyyyy, whyyyyy!?" my left brain screeches, pathetically shaking its fists. Right brain solemnly replies "The reason why is I'll only get better at making comics if I challenge myself to try new things" and then off I go, into the unknown!

So... short, yes! If I think a new theme will challenge me to draw different characters and settings, I deliberately choose it!

Have comics always been a part of your life? – what did you read as a kid and what do you enjoy reading now? Do you find your reading influences your own work at all?

Ahem so... Yes. A lot. Not just comics, but I'd devour any fiction books, videogames animated TV series and movies... any storytelling I could get my little paws on. And I LIVED in those worlds. I'd invent and draw my own Digimon, Pokemon, my own Sailor Scout! Honestly I was the biggest little nerd. I had a couple of friends growing up who joined in, so creating was a way to bond with them. It was wonderful. I'm not sure when I shifted from living in other people's worlds to building my own, it was probably a gradual thing.

The art and stories I make are, then, a mix of everything. I look at my work and I see a potent mix of all I love - people, places, creations and feelings. You can find so much sadness and hate in this world. So I try to put out love instead. If I can just spend my spare time putting out some love, then there's more of that for people to find.

How did you get into working in comics in the first place? Why choose comics over other book illustration work, for example? And where does the marvellous Madius gang, publishers of Blinker, fit in to the picture?

I make comics because without them I'd be lost. Part of my aforementioned mental health journey taught me to use these comics as my centre. They make me happy, and now that I'm sharing them more and more - they seem to make others happy, too. I was really shy of sharing my work for a long time, especially with close friends and family, or people I know face-to-face. To this day I often run from it. Which is why, my dear, patient, lovely, Susan, you've waited so long to get this interview back! Thank you for letting me take my time, it really helps me get over these hurdles.

I'm scared of so many things, and as my comics are my comforter - my mental safe space - sharing them feels daunting, huge and scary. My anxieties make me want to run, even when there's no ill will. Looking someone in the eye knowing they've read my work and have an opinion about it... well they might as well be looking an embarrassing video of me dancing about naked. That's how it feels - weird and uncomfortable! But that also makes it a challenge, so I press on.

Mike reaching out to work with me really helped me see the light. I was quite content just making short stories and posting them on a quiet corner of the internet for free. But Mike always meets my work with huge enthusiasm. He's patient, professional and understands the way my head works and without his gentle pushes I wouldn't be doing this now. Working with Mike on Bun opened my eyes to the fact that the comics I make to stay sane can actually bring others some joy, too. So with his kind help, support and guidance behind the scenes I've been gutsy enough to get these things out into the world. Thanks, Mike!

On that note: we live in a world with huge inequalities, which we're all able to see the painful results of, especially now. Please know that these things take time and effort, but by being a real ally, you can, do and will make a huge difference. Now - go be someone else's Mike!

Now that you have created your own, what advice would you give anyone else wanting to get started in creating or drawing for comics?

Be brave! Find a good support network, BE your own support network! You can make comics, there's no secret or set of things you need to know before you begin. Just start now and keep learning as you go. They'll never be perfect but they'll be YOURS and if that feeling will bring you some happiness, then go for it!

Finally, what’s next for Rosie Packwood? Anything on the go that you can tell us about?

Yes! At the moment I'm on the search for an editor for Blinker. I recognise a need to reach out and get a new voice involved with the story and it grows and develops. I'm hoping to find someone who will add strength and viewpoints I may not have considered to make sure the story hits the right notes as it builds.

While we're kicking the script for Blinker into a better shape, I'm working on a short story about Cyberpunk Rock climbers (you can tell what hobby I'm missing in lockdown!) and of course the latest issue of Bun will be hopping onto the page very soon! 

Thank you very much again to Rosie for taking the time to answer our questions. Blinker chapter one is available as digital download from Gumroad totally free here:

Blinker chapter two and three  and all issues of The Incredible Bun are available from Gumroad here:

Images - courtesy Rosie Packwood
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