September 23, 2017

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Thought Bubble 2017 Interview - Michael Doig and India Swift

Thought Bubble is the premiere indie comic book festival in the UK. It runs annually from the thriving city of Leeds, bringing together people from all walks of life to celebrate the one thing that so many other conventions tend to forget: the comics.

Check out all of our Thought Bubble 2017 content here

Michael Doig and India Swift are a powerhouse artistic duo who have previously collaborated on the gorgeous minicomics NorthRaven & Swift and Frostblight, but have stormed onto the indie comics scene this year with their full-length debut The Girl and the Glim. With script support from the refined J.P. Jordan and lovingly hand-crafted lettering from Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, this stunning story is one that you truly cannot miss out on.



Mark Dickson: Who is the "girl" and what is a "glim"?

India Swift: The "girl" is Bridgette. She’s a nervous young kid who is always trying to push past her fears to be the person she thinks she could or should be. The "glim" is a mysterious little sprite that appears into her life one day, bringing adventure but also a whole heap of trouble.

How did the two of you meet? What makes you enjoy working with one another?

India Swift: It was actually on Facebook! We had seen each other's work on there and added one another as friends but hadn't actually spoken. The first time we messaged one another was because I was trying to hire him to work with me on a small indie game me and some friends were making. We ended up chatting and punning back and forth, and it just went from there!

Michael Doig: India is pretty good at pitching challenges or gauntlets to help push our art forward, so later that year after she realised that I'd been struggling to make my own comics she suggested we attempt to make one together but added a crazy time limit into the mix.

We ended up making a 24 part comic over 24 days and uploading our results each day.

India Swift: That was Frostblight - our first project together. Since then we've also made North, which is an 8 page mini comic we pulled together over a month. 

I think we compliment each other’s work really well because we can each round out the other's skill-set. Mike is amazing with colours and composition whereas I enjoy working with line and character expression. We're also not afraid to critique one another's work or suggest edits. Mike's ideas have made The Girl and the Glim better than it would have been if I'd attempted it alone. Having a second set of eyes and another brain to mull over the problems makes a big difference.



Where did the series' core theme of social anxiety originate?

India Swift: Well, I'm a pretty socially anxious person! I think that stems from secondary school, where I dealt with a lot of bullying and I have a lot of friends who have had the same experience too. Glim isn't about bullying specifically, more the fear of feeling rejected by others; this is just my specific lens I'm looking at the problem through. 

Setting it in a school means I can throw all kinds of different characters into the mix, so it's a good environment to tell that kind of story. I want Glim to be an affirming tale about the power of being loved and accepted for just being you.

Michael Doig: I couldn't relate to this at all. I was incredibly well liked at school…

Your book is so rich with emotion and most of that comes from the expressiveness of your protagonist. What is your favourite mode to draw Bridgette in?

India Swift: I think shocked and scared? My friends keep telling me off for torturing Bridgette, but it's somehow comforting to draw someone else feeling the way I feel, like, 99% of the time!

Michael Doig: If I can pitch in, I like those moments where she's being quietly determined or showing an inner force of will. 

I mean Bridgette, although I can see a little spark of India in Bridgette sometimes.


There's a lot happening in the background of panels. What's the most ancillary detail in the first issue that you're most happy with?

India Swift: In one of the pages where Bridgette is unpacking, you can spot her Agent Bird comics collection. The character belongs to our good friend Ethan Yazel (@ethanburnsides) who is currently directing and animating a short, but hilarious, Agent Bird animation. This is our homage and thanks to him and his support in our work. Plus, I think Bridgette would be a massive Agent Bird fan.

To me, the details are important as they flesh out the world. Having a consistency to the locations and layouts makes the town more believable, and means that changes to the environment feel more deliberate and meaningful. That way you can deliver story through the scenery itself as well as the characters.

One of my biggest struggles was just making sure that each door opened in the same direction from panel to panel!

Michael Doig: One of my favourite pages is where Bridgette finds herself alone in her new house, and shows how she interacts with that environment. A lot of the framing India used involved showing the emptiness of the rooms and the smallness of Bridgette within that space.

Colouring is used to great effect in this book to represent the tone and the structure. What was your thought process when you tackled each page?

Michael Doig: While I worked on Glim, I would keep an overview document which showed the whole comic at a glance, and it updated when the working files of pages were saved. I found page turns super important for dramatic changes in colour shifts or scenes and it helped ground the reader in new environments or give an overwhelming sense of what was to come when their peripheral vision took in the double page spreads.

I tried my best to link the overall palette or dominant colour of a page to Bridgette’s emotional state at that point in the story. I associated some particular colours and hues to sources of fear, using a lot of yellowish greens to represent places where she felt more afraid or where the things which made her scared could come from. It’s pretty noticeable throughout the majority of the school interiors and things like the doors into the Library.

I enjoyed giving whole panels a singular background colour in more intense moments, often orange to accent the expression in the panel. Sometimes I let all the colour fall away from the background so the characters read against white, which became striking and removed any distractions from the characters in those crucial moments.


Sequencing is often cited as one of the most important parts of visual storytelling. What's your process for planning out a page?

India Swift: I found thumbnailing the fastest way to explore multiple layouts for a page and get an idea if they were working or not. I would have spent months and months just exploring thumbs if I could have, as I think the pages that work the best are the ones where I had several different versions to choose from. 

I feel like I still have a lot to learn about pacing and sequencing - I often use more panels than I need to. 

Just looking at the work of artists who you admire can be a big help, though and I am often inspired by artists who can use movement and stillness well within a page. Head Lopper is a great example of a comic which uses both to great effect! As with most things, practice is the best way to improve, and I’m looking forward to continuing to learn and improve on Glim #2.

Michael Doig: We write a lot about our process and struggles on our Patreon blog, which is free to read and follow!

The speech feels remarkably natural, creating some immediately distinct voices. How much of the characterisation is you and how much is the efforts of JP Jordan?

Michael Doig: India worked fairly visually first - since she comes from an animation and storyboarding background we didn’t have a script to work from initially. Since we wanted to bring Hassan onboard for the lettering, we needed a solid script for him to work from.

India Swift: With the speech we made an effort not to use it unless we absolutely had to. I would thumb the pages first and we would put in speech if it felt unnatural without it or if the page felt like it needed it to communicate the story beat.

JP really helped with making the calls on this - which parts were better with speech and which parts were better without, as well as refining the character voices to feel more natural and conversational. 

I really liked the way that he approached SFX, too. Rather than use ‘drip drip’ for a dripping tap, he might choose ‘plok plok’, avoiding the verb and instead going for a more naturalistic reproduction of what the drip actually sounds like. When you spend half an hour trying to figure out how the creaking of a door could be written, it gives you more of an appreciation for that kind of attention to detail.

The colours used in the lettering are absolutely exquisite. What drew Hassan's work to your attention?

India Swift: We were recommended by JP and Elle Power to look into Strip Panel Naked when we began our comics making journey and we had been following his work and series since then. His understanding and analytical approach to the use of space, colour and storytelling were a great advantage.

Michael Doig: I think he really captured the feel of Bridgette’s voice visually to convey her hesitancy land at times meek delivery of speech. A lot of our back and forth discussions about the book happened via text so I was delighted at how quickly he locked into her character.

His hand drawn bubbles really added a texture to how characters were interacting with one another.

India Swift: I loved the SFX he used. ‘BOOM!’ is probably my favourite example, but I also love ‘ZOOM!’ And ‘KRSSSSSSSH’. You’ll have to look out for them!


Where are you going to be at Thought Bubble this year?

India Swift: We’ll be at Table #59 in the Leeds Town Hall Marquee if people want to come and say hi! We’ve got copies of The Girl and the Glim with us along with North, an 8 page minicomic about finding your way when you’re lost as well as some printed sketchbooks featuring character art. 

We also have art prints, postcards, Glim pins and bookmarks!

Everyone's got the story of the comic that got them hooked on the medium. What's yours?

Michael Doig: I remember reading my dad’s collection of Calvin and Hobbes as a kid. I really loved Watterson’s sense of adventure and humour. My dad and I played video games though and t wasn’t til later in life I rediscovered my love for comics and visual storytelling.

India Swift: Ummm…. Sonic The Comic was really the thing that I was obsessed with! I still have all of my issues stored away somewhere so I can look back through them whenever I’m feeling nostalgic. I remember writing a letter to the StC staff when I was eight asking for a job drawing comics for them. My parents helped me pull together a portfolio to send off and everything! 

I still have the letter they sent back, essentially saying that they had no vacancies at the moment but that I should keep drawing! They were really encouraging and nice about it and it lit a fire under me to carry on practicing. My dream of drawing Sonic comics came true in a way - every now and then I’ll get to do a story in Sonic The Comic Online, which is the fan-run continuation of the series!

I also loved X-Men growing up, and had a big collection of Tin Tin books that I would re read over and over. I loved how animated and communicative all of the character posing was in Tin Tin. Hergé really knew how to get expression out of just a few lines.

If you're exhibiting at Thought Bubble 2017 and want to flail enthusiastically about it with me, drop me an email (mcdickson101@gmail.com). Even if you're just attending, let me know what you're looking forward to this year on Twitter.