Hey guys! I am very, very excited to present this interview to you today. Jamie Gambell of Monkey Pipe Studios is a fantastic guy. I met him on twitter over a year ago, and he never ceases to amaze me with his work and attention to detail. Jame has a great sense of storytelling that you would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere, and his dedication to his work is outstanding. He’s one guy whose work you can’t miss! Let’s get started!
Hey Jamie, thanks so much for joining us!
Thanks for having me!
So tell us a little bit about yourself!
My name is Jamie Gambell, born and raised in South London, but currently living in Los Angeles. I work as a sound engineer in film and television, and write comic books as a hobby/release.
Awesome! Tell us about your comics!
I run a website (Monkeypipestudios.com) which posts a variety of comics I either write, help put together, or host for people who I know. I also put out print issues for conventions, and have digital issues for sale on various platforms.
What was the origin of the project? Was there any specific event that happened that made you want to create it?
For the website, the idea was to create a single place for a collective of creators to share their work. My main thinking behind not doing my own stuff exclusively, and to not focus on one single webcomic, was that I found myself having a book see a massive delay, and felt that stuff like that might happen. I saw a safety in numbers approach, which made it possible to keep updating the site, but not be solely reliant on just my stuff – any delays could be hidden by another series updating around it. I could run a book, updating a page a week, but have 5 updates a week with other people around it.
In terms of the series’ I’ve created and why – well in order –
Omnitarium was my first series, and I went with it because it was a contained story, black and white, with a definite ending – it seemed like something I could manage to put out with little effort on my part!
Hero Code is my big story, the one that I’m sure everyone has. I’ve been working on it for years, if not decades. It’s a total labor of love, and I felt like I needed to just get started on it. (Sadly, this is the book that got hit by delays!).
Department O came about because of the delays to Hero Code, and because of my absolute love of Andrew MacLean’s art. I know I wanted to do something with him, and found myself with the time to finally sit down and work something out. I wanted to have fun, and have a departure from the other books and stories I’ve done, so we really just decided to go to town with it.
How did the style of your project come about? Are there any direct styles or inspirations you draw from?
For Hero Code, because it bounces around different styles, different time periods, and different realities, there are quite a few influences. A big one is from the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguie Justice League books – to get that balance so right of characters that are both realistic, that you care about, are funny, but that can exist in a world of super heroes and comic book absurdities (especially when so many other books are desperately trying to strip that away and ground these stories in a grim real setting) was just incredible to watch happen.
I’m also very influenced, generally, as a writer, by Grant Morrison – who embraces the rich continuity of comics as a living thing, and seems to accept every aspect, and go to great lengths to make every incarnation of these incredibly long running stories work as a continual story, I just find that amazing.
Warren Ellis, and Planetary in particular, is another incredible creator I love. I’m not smart enough to be directly influenced by him, but the hope of that series in particular has seeped into my writing.
Another influence which I really want to come across in that series (and which is actually proving harder than it looks, which is a testament to his talent) is the work of Bill Mantlo – he was such a master of serialized story telling in comics.
Department O is quite blatantly influenced in style and tone by Mignola and the work he and his collaborators have been doing on BPRD and Hellboy. Andrew’s art style is very much it’s own thing, but I really did want the series to feel like it could be something Dark Horse put out.
How do you come up with ideas for your comic? Is there any special way you approach the creative process of the comic?
Inspiration comes from anywhere, if one is open to it. Without sounding too hooky, I tend to meditate on ideas for a long time, and let them grow out from themselves.
I tend to get an idea of a moment, or a beat, or an image of something, and build from there. I think about each series and character a lot throughout the day, and when something hits, I’ll sit with it for days or weeks – ask questions about it; does it fit; can I use this, etc. If it starts to feel genuine, then I’ll think about how it could happen, what would make getting the characters or story from point a – where it is at now – to this new point b could happen in a natural feeling way.
If I ever feel like I’m forcing the writing, or like I’m inserting an unnatural beat, then I know that it’s not working.
My general approach to the actual writing tends to go something like this – making lots of rough notes and thumbnails on scraps of paper throughout the day at work (at my job we’re given a set of the days script pages each day, so a lot of my note taking goes on the back of these). Once I feel like I’ve got an idea working, I will write a rough break down for me, which normally consists of an outline of the key beats of the story, and sometimes an estimated page count. Then I go into full script. I do most of the heavy work in my head – which is good and bad, so when I actually sit down to write, I hopefully am ready.
Do you listen to music or watch tv when you work? Is there a specific tv show, music album or something else that gets you in the zone?
When doing the thinking or meditating on story ideas, then I do listen to music. I think it really helps to form solid visualizations if one uses music to help develop a story’s rhythm. Sometimes it syncs really well, and I find myself listening to a single song on loop in headphones for a long time, because a visual moment starts to gel. For example, I have an ending to a big story in Hero Code plotted out, which came about when I was listening to a Florence and the Machine track called Cosmic Love.
When I’m actually writing, if I do listen to music, it will be instrumental, sound tracks, classical, dance music – hopefully something that fits the mood of the story I’m writing. I can manage to listen to Opera, but any actual music with lyrics gets in the way for me.
I could never watch TV and write, I don’t think. I tune outside sounds out. If I am watching something, or even reading, and I do start to get an idea for a story, I’ll completely zone out of whatever it is I’m watching or reading, and focus on the idea.
I also do a lot of writing early in the morning. I wake up around 5am so I can get a good chunk of writing done before I have to get ready for work. I have two kids, so the house tends to be pretty quiet at that time, and I think my wife would not take kindly to me waking anyone up!
Who is/are your favorite artist(s)?
I was in Brussels several years ago, in the winter. It’s a great city at that time of year, very medieval, lots of Christmas squares, trees, markets, cold air and warm fires – a really interesting place to walk around in, and find great little restaurants for beer and mussels. While wandering around I came upon one of the Royal Museums – I think it was the museum of History and Art, or the Museum of Fine Art, but my memory isn’t complete. It had some great exhibits, but there were two paintings which jumped out at me, one of them just blew me away. The artist was Jean Delville. The painting which I was completely taken aback by, and stared at for ages, was called Satan’s Treasures. It was just a brilliant, bright work, it seemed to be alight.
I saw this at a time when I had just finished reading Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea’s Illuminatus! Trilogy, and was reading G K Chesterton’s Man Who Was Thursday, so was very into occult symbolism and the idea of conspiracies and hidden messages.
In comics, I’ve always been a huge fan of Bill Sienkiwicz, I loved Kevin Maguire for what he brought to Justice League, I’ve really grown to love Frank Quitely’s stuff of late.
Another really great artist is Paul Grist. I first met his work at a convention in the early 90’s in London, where he was tabling with his creator owned series, Kane. I think he had maybe four or five issues out at the time, and I chatted briefly with him, getting all the issues. It’s fantastic, really great use of shadow, light, panel shape, page space, time, everything. One of my big sad moments came when I sold my comic collection when I moved from the UK to the US, and it’s probably this series (I picked up the other books later) that I miss the most.
Do you consider them a strong influence on your work?
Art wise, I’m not really confident claiming influence from anywhere. I tried for years to get the facial acting of Maguire’s style into my sketching, but he is a master at it.
Writing wise, I would consider Chesterton an influence, definitely. He’s ability to build very real realities that have just slight differences from ours is great.
How do you juggle your daily life with the comics? Are there ever any challenges?
The biggest challenge is time. I work for 12-14 hours week days, and I want to spend time with the family as much as possible during weekends. As mentioned before, I get up early to get some writing in before the day starts, and I can get plotting and the thinking work done at work.
It’s hard to keep my sense of hope and faith up some days, that’s for sure. I’m not the most confident person, especially when it comes to stuff I create, so I do have days when I wonder if I should go on! Self funding and creating while working a day job means that this is a slow process sometimes, long periods of nothing, peaks and troughs!
Where do you see your comics in a year, in five?
I’m beginning to move away from relying on print and single issues, and thinking more and more about getting the books out digitally as the main platform – a means to building an audience. I want to have digital “issues” available on different platforms, while dripping out pages on the website every week, building the stories up with some regularity. That way, for print, I can really focus on trades, books, which I think will help when tabling at shows.
Having Hero Code be hit by such a big delay has really got me wanting to finish at least one arc as soon as possible!
Five years from now? Well, I’m annoyingly very happy with my day job, and very comfortable doing comics as a hobby/side project. I really want to have a nice chunk of finished series by then, as well as some stand alone books, and a few more arcs of Hero Code. Hero Code is really the story I want to tell and run with for as long as I can!
What are your future plans for your comics?
Hero Code – all the way!
Will you be at any conventions this year?
Not totally confirmed yet, but I’m hoping to be at WonderCon Anaheim this Easter (April 18-20)