Oi Polloi

Interview: David Bailey

Published: Fri Dec 02 2016

David Bailey is a man from Bradford who makes comics. He’s the chap who does those comics in the back of our Pica~Post magazine thing, and he’s also the mastermind behind thousands of gig posters, record covers and other such illustrated items.

Seeing as I know next to nothing about comics, I thought it was only right that I expanded my mind and asked him some pressing questions. I hassled him at his day job at a nearby bar called Common (where he's also got an exhibition at the moment) to find out more about drawing and comics and that sort of thing. 

Going straight in there… you do comics and stuff. How did you get into that?

I sent some work to NME. I had some work in a book about gig posters, and they saw my work in that, so I sent them some of my stuff back. They asked me if I wanted to do a weekly comic strip in the back of the magazine. I’d never really done comics like that, with a narrative before, and then I got that job and I did it for two years.

What did you do in school? Did you ever think about being a ‘comic artist’ or anything?

I didn’t really know what illustration was. I just knew that I liked drawing. I didn’t know how that translated into anything though.

Yeah I remember in school when you did stuff in art, there was no thought that it could ever be a job or anything. Now I think it’s maybe different though.

I had no idea what it was, or what it could be. When I was 15 or 16 I wanted to do album covers.

I remember when I first came to Manchester maybe about eight years ago; you had a shop in Affleck’s that sold zines and comics and things.

Yeah, Good Grief. I did that from 2009 for about two years. After the comic strip thing for NME came to an end, I had the idea to open a shop. I knew a lot of people in Manchester and around who made comics and zines and stuff, and I didn’t feel like there was a place that you could get it in one place.

Yeah, it makes it into more of a thing when you’ve got it all together.

I had friends who were releasing records and tapes, and everyone was doing their own individual thing online, but there was no shop to get it. I hadn’t been in Affleck’s Palace for years. I used to go in when I was 16. I was well into it then. Getting bootleg CDs.

Your shop seemed pretty early for that sort of thing. Now it seems like making a zine or something is more common. You used to have to be a weirdo to into be stuff like that.

Yeah definitely. A lot of the time people would just walk into the shop and they just didn’t understand what it was. There are loads of print fairs that happen in Manchester now.

Why do you think it’s bigger now?

Maybe as a response to the digital age? People like to get hands on things. I’ve been trying to do illustration properly since I graduated in 2004, and I’ve noticed there’s definitely been a move back to the more hand drawn stuff.

What are your thoughts on all this fashionable illustration at the moment? Twiddly drawings of owls with glasses on and Wes Anderson characters? Do you ever feel like you need to do something like that to make money?

When I was doing the shop, there was certain stuff that would do better than others, and it tended to be more of the pop culture stuff. If I had a Twin Peaks print, I’d sell shit loads of it, even if it wasn’t that good.

There have been times when I’ve made stuff that I thought might appeal to a wide audience, like greetings cards, but anything I think that might catch people’s imaginations… it just doesn’t. They might like the card, but they won’t know who they could ever give it too.

Do you find that annoying? You not fancy just whacking Bill Murray on something and making a fortune?

I don’t know. If people want to do that, that’s fine, but if I was doing it, it’d be a forced thing.

You did that Tom Cruise one though didn’t you? Although that one was mental and definitely on another level from the usual pop culture stuff…

Thinking about it, I have done quite a bit of stuff that has ties to real people. That comic was from 2006 or 2007, when he was going mad on Oprah Winfrey, and coming out with loads of weird quotes about Scientology. I was really interested in him. I bought videos of all his films. I just felt there was loads you could play on… like how enthusiastic he was about everything. But I’d like to think that was a bit different, I wasn’t just making a standalone print of Tom Cruise, I was putting words to it.

I sometimes wish people would try a bit harder. Maybe go a bit further with things.

Yeah, I don’t feel like it’s enough for me to do a straight drawing. I’m not necessarily against it though. I am against adult colouring books and that kind of thing though.

Do people make a full time thing out of this?

They must do. I know lots of people who do illustration and design as a full time thing. I’ve done it in the past, but it kind of wore me down a bit constantly sending work out speculatively. Last year I was drawing designer hand-bags and babies clothes. But then I just thought would I feel successful and good in my life if I spent all my time drawing this stuff? Drawing burgers all day? It feels good when you do say no to stuff.

What are you on with at the minute? I remember you were saying you wanted to do a book.

I’ve wanted to do a proper, long-form comic for years. Mine are mostly short, conversation based stories, so it’d be nice to do something longer. I’ve not really started, but I’ve got the story. It’s about a guy who works at a dog magazine, as a caption writer. That’s the only thing in his life he really loves, but then one day he loses his job.

That sounds like my job… but I’m writing captions about clothes all day.

Haha, that’s the dream. He loses his job and gets really depressed, but then he ends up meeting a door to door salesman who inspires him. It turned out that it was basically just the plot for Fight Club. So I need to rewrite it.

It must be a challenge to do something that’ll sustain itself for a whole book.

I don’t know how people do it. They take so long. I draw in a simple style, but it still takes ages. I can’t imagine doing proper detailed frames with backgrounds.

Do you think that’s something to do with what everything is like today? How hectic everything is? Fifty years ago you could sit there doing a really intricate comic, because there were no distractions.

Yeah, if I’m doing a poster or a drawing, I quite like just sitting at a desk and just inking it all day. Spending a large amount of time on it. But I just can’t imagine doing that every day for a full comic.

What other comics are you into? It’s not something I know much about to be honest.

I quite like Jonny Ryan. I’m not into crude stuff, but I think his stuff is really funny. There are some American people too, like Lynda Barry. She started doing comics in the 80s, and was friends with Matt Groening. She does really funny high school based comics. I’d like to draw like her, just exactly the same.

Matthew Thurber is really good. He’s got a really good comic called Infomaniacs, about the internet. It started off as a web-comic, just one page stories, but then they released it all together to make a bigger story. There’s a character in it who has never seen the internet, and gets ferried around by the FBI with a sack over his head.

Is there still many people doing comics?

Yeah I think so. There’s definitely a really high standard of comics coming out from America, from people like Fantagraphics and PictureBox. And then there are some really good comic people in the UK too. I really like the idea of doing a book as the temptation now is to do one comic strip and put it straight on the internet.

Yeah, that instant gratification thing.

Yeah, I can save this up and make it into a book, or I could scan it in and post it on Facebook for ‘likes’. There’s something really interesting about doing something that noone’s seen… something that you think is good, but you don’t know what people’s reaction to it will be.

I did that with this exhibition here. I wrote a song about a character called Donut Boy. There are 99 different drawings, each with a different lyric, and that makes the song. No one had seen any of it. I spent months making it at home. I felt like I was going mad doing it. I didn’t really care what people’s responses were, but I was thinking, were they going to think it was really weird? Just this really long story about one character?

I like that stuff though… where it’s just one person’s vision. Everyone wants reassurance. I suppose that’s a thing with comics, it’s not like being in a band or making a film… it’s a solo craft. The other side to that is you must spend a lot of time on your own.

Yeah, I don’t draw with friends, or meet up with other illustrators.

Is there much of an audience for this sort of thing? Do people publish stuff?

I know people who do small publishing. My friends do a shop in Glasgow called Good Press. They publish books pretty regularly, and they published one of mine, called Flesh and Bone. I was doing that on the internet, two comics strips a week. I did that for four years, and they put it out as a book.

What do your parents think of this? Is it hard to explain this stuff to some people?

My mum and dad came to this exhibition. It was on a really busy Saturday lunch time and I think they were a bit overwhelmed. I don’t know if they understand what it’s about… if it’s about anything.

Going off on a bit of a tangent now… what is Food Legend?

I do food reviews of low rent foodstuffs. Reviews of chocolate bars and drinks. I started doing it about four years ago. I’d been thinking about it a little while. It’s just this stupid thing I wanted to do.

Everyone’s pretty snobby these days. Do you think people overlook the lower end stuff?

There’s definitely not as much written about it. I’m not interested in going to a nice restaurant and being a food blogger. I don’t feel like I’ve got a defined pallet.

What was the thing about spending a day in Piccadilly Station?

Oh yeah, I had this idea for years of spending a day in Piccadilly Station, and not leaving from nine in the morning until five at night, and spending £100. I thought I could crowd fund the money. I ended up raising the money through friends chipping in a few pounds.

And then the M.E.N. covered the story and there was a massive backlash. The M.E.N. had gotten really into doing clickbait style headlines, and the headline was something like ‘THIS GUY WANTS £100 TO SPEND IN MANCHESTER PICADILLY ON FOOD AND DRINK’.

They’d use quotes from my page saying about how it was, “my mission.” I think if you were coming into it cold, and never read anything I’d done, you’d think it was really obnoxious. They put it on their Facebook and there was like 400 comments on it. I was reading it all and going under because they were all entirely negative… making out it was the most debauched thing.

When I actually did it, it was really hard to spend £100 in the time.

What did you eat?

I went to Carluccio’s for breakfast. Then I went for a pint. For lunch, I went to Yo Sushi! And then for dinner I went to TGI Fridays.

What were you doing in the time in between?

I was just writing on my phone, my review of all of it.

It’s a long time to be in there.

I go to Manchester Piccadilly station every day, because I get the train from Stockport. And I just feel really strange when I go through there now. I felt like I was a ghost in there. I mostly stayed on the top level. I just wanted to find the darkest corner.

Everyone’s just passing through aren’t they.

Yeah, that’s kind of the reason I did it.

Going back to the comic thing, what else have you got in the pipeline?

Since doing this exhibition, I’m thinking about doing more narrative exhibitions. If I do a print or a drawing which doesn’t have a narrative or anything, it just feels kind of flat and pointless. It doesn’t feel flat when other people do it, but if I do something like that, it’s like, what’s the point?

I really like the idea of having really busy exhibitions, I’m not into minimal things. I don’t like having just three pictures on a wall.

Yeah, a lot of stuff is pretty underwhelming. Okay, I we’ve talked for 59 minutes now. Think we better wrap this up. Have you got any wise words?

Yeah, go and see Baby of the North in Bradford. Have you heard about this?

No, what is it?

It’s this new public art sculpture. It’s a giant robotic baby, just a little bit outside of the town centre. It was unveiled early by accident, and there was an outcry because it cost about £15,000. That feels like a fine amount of money for me, for a sculptor to make something that will last for years, but people don’t see it like.

There’s a quote from the sculptor saying that people will understand it once the plaque has been put on, like a small plaque could explain it. I’m fascinated by it. Generally public art is quite bad, so it might as well be bad and insane.