For a few years London-based comics artist and illustrator Liam Cobb divided his time between working for clients, jobbing in cafés and making his own strange series in the hours between. He’s since knocked one of those three on the head to focus on his personal projects and “watch the money roll in.”
“I’ve decided not to do any more comics for other people because it doesn’t interest me as much if I’m honest,” says the 27-year-old artist. “Writing and coming up with ideas is just as important to me as drawing them—just drawing other people’s ideas isn’t what I want to do. I’m doing okay with my own stuff, and people seem to be really responding to it more than work I’ve done for other people. I feel like it’s the right move.”
His decision is paying off. Earlier this year Cobb won the People’s Choice award at comics publisher Nobrow’s ELCAF (East London Comics Art Fair) for his beautiful collection of graphic short stories, Shampoo. The trilogy loosely explores love and loneliness in dystopian futures, through the prism of arson at an elite social gathering, a solitary wander through a monolithic nighttime building, and a fruit-induced love affair between two colleagues in the jungle. They’re surreal tales, chaotic both in their telling and genesis—Cobb’s process is somewhat frenetic.
“I start by writing a script and working out how many panels per page,” he says, “because that has a narrative form in itself. When there’s not much dialogue it’s easier to work out what’s going to be drawn. You write and put the narrative together, and then you draw it and think, ‘okay that doesn’t quite fit together,’ then adjust and keep going back and forth until you feel like things work. Sometimes I just draw out random pages and sketch ideas, and through that comes the story.”
In the final stages of production Cobb is eye-wateringly fastidious. His comics are mostly printed using Risograph, and much of his time is spent separating artwork out into individual layers of color. It’s a process he learned while still at college, clocking up hundreds of hours perfecting his screen printing skills.
“I’ve got this really thin paper and I layer things up, but there are a few brush marks in there that I used Photoshop for. I’ve found myself using Photoshop more actually. I usually do it all manually, but it saves time—you can go back and forth more on Photoshop and it gives you freedom to experiment. You can undo things quickly and be less precious.”
In 2016 Cobb has been prolific, producing two collections of comics, with a third ready for release this coming weekend at Breakdown Press’ Safari Festival. There’s a follow-up to Shampoo in the works as well; “I might call it Conditioner,” says Cobb,“you can see what I did there…”