Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Meeting

At the tender age of eighteen, I attended a meeting in a dank bookstore where the next issue of Inkspots, a large format comic magazine, was being discussed by it's publishers and contributors. The conversation turned deadly serious as Colin Paraskevas, one of the publishers, asked, "who wants to do the COVER?!" The room fell completely silent. No one said a word as nervous eyes darted around the room. I broke the uncomfortable pause with a tentative, "I'll do it!!" I had missed all of the interior page allocations, and this was my first introduction to everyone in the room.

The subject of the cover was deliberated upon and decided, a harlequin clown from the story by Steph Campbell and Daryl Lindquist. With that decided, the meeting was adjourned. I discovered that there were four other Philips involved in Inkspots, making a total of five Philips in one publication. I had been using the icon FIL to sign my artwork since I was fifteen because it made a nice graphic, so I decided to change my name officially to Fil by deed poll, which was achieved before the issue of Inkspots hit the stores. 

Cover of Inkspots issue 2 in 1981 by Fil Barlow

Inkspots barely came out once a year so I would submit comics to other periodicals to practice my craft. For a time I shared a 2nd story loft studio on Chapel St. in the busy Prahran shopping area with other artists. It was a very creative period where I painted and conceived a multitude of comic ideas. One of my favorite experiments was Cryptic (shown below) it was an experiment in using words to create the visuals while linking seemingly unrelated images together. I wish there had been more publications for me to unleash these experiments on, but sadly there wasn't a comic industry in Melbourne to support me.
Cryptic was published in Issue 4 of Inkspots in 1984.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

In the beginning...

It was 1980, I was 17, alone at a tram stop, a crisp early morning, on my way to college with 30 minutes to kill until the next ride. Deep in thought I decided to make an appeal to the heavens. "I don't get this religion stuff, but I know you are there, I have studied nature enough to see that there is a deliberate design to it, I can see the intelligence behind it. I have nothing left to offer you except my art. Please teach me through my art so that I can understand you better".

The next few months were the most productive I'd had up to that point, so many concepts generated, so many new characters and styles. One of the concepts was about a man who turns himself into a living universe, I saw it as a dumbed down model of our vast Universe but in human terms, and common ground for me to learn from the Universal intelligence I had appealed to earlier. But my universe needed a name. As I often did, I turned to the Latin section of my dictionary and started hunting, I got to the end and found the word "zoon" but it was the definition that got me, ".... a zoon is any individual of a compound organism". A perfect fit! My compound organism was the living Zooniverse which had populated itself from it's own substance with trillions of lifeforms called "Zoons".

I was so happy with the definition that I photocopied the page and present it to you here. My project had a name, and the creatures in it shared that name! The Zooniverse was born!

Style shedding at the age of eighteen.

Zooniverse would have looked very different if an illustrator, six years my senior, hadn't photocopied my entire body of work up to that point. I was 18 and so painfully shy that I sat quietly all day as the professional artist, a person I deeply admired, stole my style one page at a time. I was too polite to protest, too shocked to speak, swallowing my silent panic as I watched him copy the equivalent of two phone books in thickness, of all of my Zooniverse designs and concepts up to that point. The next illustrations that appeared printed in a glossy magazine, stamped with his credit and signature, were in the style I had painstakingly fostered through my teenage years. If I were to use my own style again I would be seen as an imitator of him. Below is Lokki in the Zooniverse style that never happened ... 

As you can see, I was myself a derivative, heavily influenced by Vaughn Bode and Rene Goscinny (Asterix). The professional Illustrator had actually done me a favor. I shed my artistic skin and let him take the style as his with my sincere blessing. I'm happy to report we are old friends to this day, and I'm sure he is unaware of what he took from me and what I sacrificed.

I had to start again, and decided to throw my creative stone further out than I was comfortable so that no one could follow me, at least not in the 1980's. I learned to risk and to keep designing until I felt uneasy, as soon as a drawing went so far that I started hearing a voice say, "I can't do that!". I knew that I had arrived at the Zooniverse. Every character, and incidental in the comic series was an "I can't do that!" moment for me. Risk had become my standard. Below is a page of unused character designs, now aged 20, each night ended with me curled up in bed inventing pages of characters.

This page was drawn while I lived with other cartoonists at a studio called Ghaspp my bedroom wall was shared by Mandate, a gay disco in St.Kilda. Even with earplugs would go to sleep with the throbbing base permeating every fiber of my mattress. Someone was having a good time and it was never studious little me.