Robert (Bob) Byrne: From Dublin With Speech Balloons
Posted: Tuesday, October 22, 2002
By: Darren Schroeder
After reading the first issue of Mbleh! I was moved to comment that Robert .. has an imagination the way Pamela Anderson has breasts. His work is a strange and amusing mix of science fiction, ultra violence and bestiality that is drawn beautifully and has a sense of humour that one can't help but laugh along with. Robert agreed to have a chat with us so we can find out about the Irish comic scene, and his small press work in particular.
Darren Schroeder: What is your full name?
Robert Martin Byrne
DS: What was the last film that you disliked a lot?
RB: Windtalkers, I was looking forward to it for about a year and it broke my heart. Saving Private Ryan worked because the violence was shockingly real but Windtalkers is full of A-team style slow-mo shoot outs and there's a scene where Christian Slater is playing a harmonica and its possibly the worst piece of acting/miming in cinema history. Plus there's a scene where they used old stock footage when the naval ships start firing.
DS: When did you discover the comic medium?
RB: When my older brother let me read The Dark Knight Returns. I was about 11.
DS: Did you have a look at The Dark Knight Returns 2 recently?
RB: Yes. What a disaster. I don't know where to start dissing it. It broke my heart. What was he thinking?!! The ending of The Dark Knight Returns is perfect, it kept me wondering about what happened next for years and although I often said I'd give my left nut to see a conclusion, I knew it was best left alone. It's like some descendant of Shakespeare bringing out Hamlet 2: The Procrastinator. You can't add on or tamper with classics. I don't know, maybe he needed the money. It looks like he drew it in bed with his left hand and the colouring was awful. Sin City has made him lazy and complacent. I haven't even flicked through the other installments of DK2, I just bought #1 and that was enough. DK2 has killed another part of me that loves comics. This is what it sound likes when doves cry.......
DS: Are you hoping to make some money from your comics?
RB: Damn Straight! I know I won't make any money on Mbleh! or probably for the next ten years but it's may goal to become pro and live off comics.
DS: Did you do art at school?
RB: Yeah, but I dropped it for the last 2 years (the Leaving Certificate in Ireland) I hated it.
DS: Why was that?
RB: I didn't agree with curriculum. It was/is designed for people who have no interest in Art. You spend months studying Celtic jewelry and copying pictures from books. I was in the class for 3 weeks and I dropped it. I learned more about art from drawing in schoolbooks in other classes. I did Technical Drawing instead which was a great laugh, the teacher was cool and it was just me and my friend in the class. The three of us would wander around the school when we got bored.
DS: Did you do anything with your drawing back then or did it stay in the school books?
RB: Nah, I tried a few comics when I was in school but I gave up on them quickly. It's very frustrating when you can't even use a ruler properly to draw up the panels. I still have most of the early efforts, I get a good laugh looking back at them, things like Ninja Turtle stories drawn on ruled A4 sheets with markers and blue biro. I'm beginning to look at Mbleh! #1 like that now.
DS: What does Mbleh mean?
RB: I don't really know. It's sort of a sound of disgust. The 'M' is sort of silent. I get a kick out of hearing how other people pronounce it, maybe it was a stupid move calling it Mbleh! because some people seem reluctant to say it which might hinder 'word of mouth' publicity.
DS: Why self publish?
RB: Frustration. It takes at least 8 months for the major comic companies to reply to submissions, I had more than enough material to start my own thing and I was sick of sending out fancy full-colour submission packages, so I got the money together and printed issue 1. Plus I love having complete control over what goes in, I self censor to a degree but I wouldn't like other people telling me what can't be included. I see self publishing as a way of gaining the experience and discipline needed to break into the 'real' comics industry.
DS: Did everything go smoothly when dealing with the printers?
RB: Yeah, thank God. The colours on the cover aren't what I expected but that's my fault for not using the right type of bitmaps. I've heard some horror stories from self publishers in the States though. If you're dealing with a printer the most important thing to remember is that to him it's just another job on a list and he doesn't really care so make it as trouble free as possible by providing/checking your own film (this eliminates problems that might arise from supplying artwork on disc) and giving them a mock up copy with page numbers on it
DS: How do you distribute your comics?
RB: At the moment I'm relying on Small Press distributors such as SmallZone and There Goes Tokyo, who do a great job and an amazing amount of work out of sheer love of small press comics. There's only 3 comic shops in Dublin, so I sent a copy of #1 to a lot shops in UK and just followed them up phone calls. It's amazing how some branches of Forbidden Planet won't take it yet others have gone nuts and ordered 20 copies straight away. I have a deal with a fledgling company in US called Fury Comics who'll be promoting it in the States. We all have to help each other. I'm trying to get in touch with other artists in the UK for swapping advice and contacts. I'm going to sell them on the street when #2 is out. I think you need 4 issues before you can submit to Diamond. Ha! Optimism.
DS: Do the comic shops in Dublin stock much in the way of local comics?
RB: Well there's only a few for them stock, there's Toenail Clippings which has sort of stopped making comics and turned their energies to web comics, there's Mbleh!, there's Naked Lunch which is definitely going to go places and there's a few photocopied works too, Crack In The Shell by Phil Barrett and Mad Alan by K9. There's a few other groups of people who are working on comics but they've yet to materialize. I'd say in about 8-10 years we'll definitely have a native comics scene.
DS: Do the local comic creators keep in touch with each other or are you all working in isolation?
RB: Not really, I've met most people involved in the 'scene' (I hate that word) but there's no concerted co-operation or direction among us. I think we'll all have to work together in some areas though, we don't really stand a chance on our own. Easons (Ireland's biggest chain of newsagents/bookshops) have refused to stock any of our stuff on the grounds of 'limited appeal' and it's sort of like a bouncer stopping you at the door of a pub and giving you the 'sorry. Regulars only' line but how are you meant to become a regular if they won't let you in! All the comic producers over here will have to join forces on this one. It would great if we could meet on a regular basis and share info and contacts but like everybody, I don't want to organize anything!
DS: Give a run down of the essential bits of Irish small press.
RB: I'm no authority on this so I could stand corrected but I believe Toenail Clippings started it all around '98-99 with xeroxed comics with colour copied covers. They then started printing them at the start of 2000 and released 2 per year. It was mostly made up of Irish talent and was A4 format. They were the first to publish my stuff. I brought out Mbleh! in May 2002 and Atomic Diner released Naked Lunch a few weeks ago. Clockworks should be out this month too so there has been a flurry of self publishing this year. There's also Ructions by an American artist called Joven K and a few other photocopied books. I think we've done it different from everyone else, there was no tradition of hand made comics over here and we skipped that whole area and went straight into high quality printed comics partly because the majority of people and even comic buying people wouldn't take them seriously. Atomic Diner are going to put us on the map, I've seen a preview of FREAK SHOW, I think 2 issues are already completed and it's a world class comic. Their site should be up and running very soon (http://www.atomic-diner.com).
DS: What materials and equipment do you use when drawing your comics?
RB: I use a dizzying array of disposable Edding and Unipens to ink, I've never used an ink brush but I definitely have to learn. I mainly use a 0.5 retractable pencil but anything will do for roughing out a page.
DS: What work have you been doing recently?
RB: Issue 2. At the moment it's 90% finished, last week it was 98% finished but I keep finding more things that have to be tidied up, so next week it'll probably be about 75% finished. I'm also working on a mini comic that will be out before #3 of Mbleh!
DS: The content the comic of yours that I've seen had its icky moments. What sort of responses have you had to that aspect of your work?
RB: People seem to love the copulating dogs. A local record shop made a t-shirt using my two dogs. Yeah, some people find it offensive but I don't think it's that bad. I find ads for Persil and Insurance companies offensive so it's all subjective. The word 'unpleasant' has been used in a few reviews but I'm not trying to make it unpleasant deliberately, I hold back a few ideas sometimes because I think they might offend. Issue 2 has a lot more dog sex in it.
DS: Why are ads for Persil and Insurance companies offensive?
RB: As long as I can remember there have been ads on telly for new types of Persil and the like, how many 'innovations' have there been in your lifetime? They put it in liquid, they made it into cubes and little dissolvable bags, they made it into cubes that go inside little nets, they've made numerous devices that you pour the shit into then put that into the machine, they added lemon and herbs, the list is endless. And we're supposed to get excited about this. Its insulting. Yet at the same time they're saying 'Oh ignore all those gimmicks we've made over the past few years, THIS is the one' It's like Ribena; they bring out Ribena Toothkind saying that x amount of drinks are too sugary and rot kids precious teeth so there's the moral imperative/guilt factor with parents but when you see it in shops, its beside plain old Ribena so now there's 2 types, Toothkind and Toothkiller. And we're supposed to be sucked in by all this. When I see these ads I am offended. They drive me mad!! Do you want to hear me rant about Insurance companies?
DS: What made you want to do a mini comic?
RB: I never really got to see any self published stuff over here and I sort of scoffed at the idea of making Mbleh! a photocopied job so I printed it. But now I'm getting to see what other people are doing in the UK and it's really changed my perception. Things like Neill Cameron's Dumbass Comics and anything I've seen by Malcy Duff are amazing and they're all photocopied. They're more personal because the artist is involved in every aspect of production, if you get it printed you hand it over to someone else to get it made but if your making a mini you do the folding and stapling yourself. It's more 'hands-on', each copy becomes an individual piece of artwork. I also want to get away from using a computer for a while, lettering is a dying art form and I want try doing it all by hand. The content will be different from Mbleh! maybe a bit more experimental and personal.
DS: Do you think you put more or less effort into the minis than your Mbleh material?
RB: I'd say less for the artwork but the lettering and copying, collating, folding, stapling, etc will take a lot more time.
DS: How did you find out about the UK material?
RB: In the back of Comics International they feature UK small press releases so I send them a copy of my comic and ask them if they want to swap. There's two great sites for UK and Irish small press, http://www.smallzone.co.uk and http://www.tgtokyo.com
DS: What sort of computer do you use?
RB: I recently bought a new PC, not sure of the spec but I know it's Pentium 4. I use Corel Draw and Corel Photopaint, Adobe is over rated, Corel is the way of the future.
DS: A lot of people find lettering a quite monotonous part of the comic making process, how is it for you?
RB: Yeah I know what you mean, I always thought that most artists refrained from lettering their own stuff because they didn't have the skill but I know now how time consuming it is. I've only started experimenting with lettering a few weeks ago.
DS: Had you published anything before Mbleh! #1?
DS: Describe the view from your front door.
RB: A pair of filthy white gates at the end of a messy garden, all the kids throw their papers in to our garden knowing we don't really care. Sometimes they'll clean it for a small fee. Beyond the gates there's another row of houses facing straight at us. I live with a friend in a run down rat maze cul de sac.
DS: Do you pay a fair rate or rip the kids off?
RB: The kids are ripping ME off! They throw all their crap into the garden--we leave it there--they throw more--we leave it there--their parents complain to us then their kids come around and offer to clean it all up. Bit of a self perpetuating economy.
DS: Are comics worth the paper they are printed on?
RB: Comics are only worth the paper they're printed on. The story and artwork are price-less but the physical copy is just over priced glossy stapled paper. The whole speculation aspect is killing comics. I hate seeing comics boarded and bagged, I understand why shops use them for back issues but I know people who preserve them in mint condition and won't anyone near them. Comics are meant to be rolled up and stuck in a back pocket, traded among friends and spread all over your bedroom floor. Look at Japan, the highest comics readership figures in the world and they treat their comics the way we should; printed in bulk on low quality newspaper stock, circulated among friends then they are thrown away and recycled, if a story is popular then it gets printed on better paper for collecting purposes. With most comics you're paying for the high production costs and relatively low print runs, we need someone to take a gamble and do the same in the West.
DS: The mass of readers seem to be reluctant to buy anything that isn't shinney and colorful. How do you try and get around that?
RB: I suppose it would take effort from all the comic 'authorities' like Wizard and your local comic shop by emphasizing quality of story and art instead of pushing limited edition variant covers. I don't know....everyone seems to have an idea of how to 'save the industry'
DS: Describe the 'real' comics industry in 25 words.
RB: I don't really know...ask me in ten years when me and Jim Lee are snorting coke off $1000 hooker's necks.
Now that's a nice image to finish up on. My thanks to Robert for the chat. Fans, customers, people with job offers, and $1000 hookers can contact Bob via:
or 43 Kilclare Gardens, Tallaght, Dublin 24, Ireland.
If you have a comment or question about Small Press then feel free to contact me