September 22, 2017

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Thought Bubble 2017 Interview - Rebecca Burgess

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

Rebecca Burgess has taken a difficult subject matter and, as all great storytellers do, wrapped it within the confines of something disparate in order to emphasise the effect of both. With a tale of mistrust and racial bigotry intertwined with British and Indian folklore, Strangers and Friends tells the story of the naive paranormal investigator Hemu as he gets carried away by an adventure far greater than him.

Mark Dickson: When did the story of Strangers and Friends begin?

I started writing it in late 2010, after watching a documentary about the history of horror movies and I became really inspired by Victorian-style horror. I like how it isn’t especially gory, but instead uses a lot of exaggerated situations as metaphors for social issues, so I wanted to try that out for myself.

The story deals remarkably well with the expression of racial bigotry and how quickly supposedly well-meaning people can jump to conclusions. What made you want to tell this story and why did you choose to contextualise that with the theme of mythical succession?

I wanted to talk about this specifically because at the time, the small town of Wootton Bassett where I grew up (incidentally where the comic is set) had recently become famous in the news - soldiers who died in the Afghanistan war were being flown back and got driven through our town; everyone would stand out in the streets to pay their respects. I noticed after this sudden fame that a lot of people I knew suddenly become more patriotic, but at the same time more hostile towards Asian people.

At the time my family were good friends with a guy who owned a restaurant down the road from us and, as he was Muslim, he was the victim of a lot of severe racism. In the end he was even told that he wasn’t welcome in our local pub and my family was told that we shouldn’t be friends with him.

The comic ended up being pretty much directly about that experience: the mythical theme tied in with the horror inspiration as I wanted to use it to exaggerate some of the themes.



You begin the story in with textured colours transition into black and white for the next chunk of the story and then intersperse the colours back in.  What significance do you assign to colour and how do you choose to make that transition?

In all honesty, I just wanted to get the comic done more quickly, but by the second chapter I decided it would be nice to add colour to help separate the fantasy aspects, which ended up helping to emphasise Hemu’s secret identity.

Your little coloured stories have roots in at Hindu and Welsh mythology and legend (as well as many others). What makes you want to draw from these cultures?

Hemu deals quite a lot with a clash of two cultures that he identifies with, so the stories were purposefully a mix of Hindu and British themed stories (and the personal story introducing his family that mixes both). I specifically went to mythology style stories to link in with Hemu’s geeky interests in folklore.


One of the strongest relationships that we see is between Hemu and his grandfather. How has this relationship shaped Hemu before the story begins?

Because of their job, Hemu and his Gramps are always moving around, so there's never any chance for Hemu for root down and make friends. So with Grandpa being the only stability in Hemu's life, they’re really close!

Unfortunately, this has definitely made Hemu more shy/awkward around people, and lacking in confidence to tackle things without his Grandpa around.

As you've already mentioned, there’s a strong undercurrent of Hemu’s social anxiety that prevents him from fully connecting with any of his new neighbours. What are you drawing from for this component of the story?

Definitely personal experience!

I was a lot like Hemu when I was a bit younger - not really used to talking to people and really shy. The only time I could talk was when it was about whatever obscure thing I was intensely interested in at the time, so I put a lot of real life experiences into Hemu.

There are little notes and annotations that imply some kind of British comic influence. What comics (both contemporary and classic) do you draw influence from?

I’m not influenced by Beano or Dandy, even though I’ve worked for both of those comics. My cartoony style is mostly influenced by Osamu Tezuka. I really enjoy fusing exaggerated expressions with more serious stories.

I’m also very influenced by Posy Simmonds and Craig Thompson - especially their nice balance between inventive and cinematic panel layouts.


Do you see Strangers and Friends as complete in its current format? Where can people go to read it?

Yes! It was intended to be a self contained story, so I’m happy that its all finished!

I’m currently updating it online on Tapastic, so people can read it for free at: https://tapas.io/series/SnFOr they can buy the books, which are split into two volumes! I’m currently only selling the books at conventions, but they’ll be online for sale soon!

Everyone has the story of the comic that got them hooked on the medium? What’s yours?

Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball! I’m from that generation of people who got into comics via the boom in Japanese comics.

At the time, there weren't many Western comics that had an appeal for me as a teenage girl, so Japanese comics were great at offering stories with female main characters and a wider range of art styles. Akira Toriyama specifically is amazing with panel layouts! Everything is so spacious and quick/easy to read! This style of storytelling really got me hooked, then as time went by I discovered more and more comics from all over the world doing similar things :)

You can find Rebecca (a.k.a. Theorah) in the Comixology Marquee at Table #127.

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.