Interview With Katie Whittle

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Katie Whittle runs horror publisher Frisson Comics with Tom Smith. I’ve recently had the chance to read their unique take on how a vampire could be self-sufficient and the problems they may face in the graphic novel ‘The Trade’. The artwork in the book with its rough appearance, smudges and colour scheme is different to most comics I’ve read; so I’m excited to have had the chance to talk to the artist Katie Whittle.

Let’s start at the beginning. What inspired you to be an comic artist?

I’ve always been interested in art, I just never really knew what I wanted to do with it it. When I was 15ish I read The Crow by J O’Barr and then the Sandman series and something clicked when I realised comics don’t have to be just superheroes

When I first met you at a Liverpool horror event I noticed your themed Zines under the Knock, Knock series heading featuring illustrations, short comic strips and stories. There’s only a few companies that do this. What made you start?

When we (myself and Tom Smith) set up Frisson Comics we always had the idea that we wanted to work and collaborate with other horror people. Initially we realized there were a lot of Liverpool horror creators so the first issue of Knock Knock was just a Liverpool collection, but every issue our range of submissions grew and we became a regular zine featuring people from all over the world!

How has the Zine industry changed over the years?

I can only really speak for zines in the last 5 years or so, but it feels like zine production has boomed. Having access to zines online, the increase in zine fairs and libraries, the inclusion of zines in comic spaces as well as more people being aware of the term have all helped this. When we first started the zines in 2016 people were fairly aware of the concept but even in the last 3 years there’s been an increase of awareness as well as a shift in what zines can encompass.

Onto your graphic novels now. The art in The Trade reminds me more of a picture book with its simple shape outlines, no traditional panels and uneven appearance. It’s different to your pin badges and prints. What was the reason behind it?

The story of The Trade really required a less precise hand, as it’s a gritty emotional story and I really wanted the panels and textures to reflect this. There are a lot of moments in the story that are reflections of my own life, I couldn’t face sanitizing the art style like my prettier work and really wanted the brush and pen strokes to be raw and reflect my own emotional state.

I generally prefer to draw comics in a traditional way (ink and quills) because it gives me a lot more flexibility with what I can draw, I have done a couple of short comics (The Foxglove Woods 2017, Call of the Copse 2018) in a very decorative style similar to my prints and artworks but they have a completely different feel and tone to The Trade.

The colour scheme behind The Trade with many pages just being one colour with black lines is very striking and neon colours contrasted with dark ones is a feature of many of your works. How do you pick the colours for your scenes?

I wanted to try and visually differentiate between past and present. The scenes set in the present are pastels and neons but with the rounder less defined borders, compared to the past which are sepia reds with defined panels and layouts. I wanted the reader to get the sense of Serena’s life spiralling out of order and becoming more colourful but also more chaotic. When Tom sent me the script I got a very 90’s feel from the story so I picked some colours that I personally associate with 90’s grrrl culture. There’s also the theme of fire and burning, Serena’s present is very much singed by her past.

The character design for Serena with her young Goth attire, hairstyle and wide eyes reminds me of Magna. What else influenced your character and vampire design in The Trade?

As above, I had a really 90’s feel from the script so I had a look at 90’s girl bands and really wanted a denim goth with twin buns. As for her general look, when reading about vampire legends they’re often described as having thick dark eyebrows and dark hair which I wanted to give her. Often when seeing pictures of lady vampires they’re very sexualized, I wanted Serena to be a bit more normal in build but still look appealing and interesting.

Normally people think of writers having the main say in stories but that’s not always true. How much input do you have in the story and characters for The Trade?

I’m very lucky, the writer Tom, knows what kind of stuff I love to draw and also based aspects of the story on my own personal tragedies, so I had a fair bit of input in the initial story process. We have a close working relationship generally and bounce ideas off each other a lot. In a similar way when Tom has interesting visual ideas he usually discusses them with me.

All of your work I’ve come across is standalone stories. Have you got any plans for sequels?

Neither of us really envision our work as series, we usually come up with an idea and usually a moral underpinning and create the story around it. Usually this doesn’t really leave room for sequels. Serena was quite a fun character to work with though so maybe one day she might make a cameo?

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