Edward Ross joined us to discuss the theory and process behind his new graphic novel, Filmish: A Graphic Journey Through Film.
Utilising one visual medium to explore another, Ross has broken down movie history into seven themes that explore how audiences engage with the art form and what films can reveal about the societies that produce them.
Read our review of Filmish and get to know Ross in the Q&A below.
Steff Humm: What does the “M.A.” in your email address stand for?
ER: My middle names are Michael Anderson, but I really just go by Edward Ross. People call me Ed, Eddie or Edward.
SH: We can’t find a photo of you anywhere, just illustrations. Tell us… are you actually a cartoon character?
ER: You obviously weren’t looking hard enough! I do exist in the real world but it is kind of convenient to hide behind a cartoon character persona. I used to work in a cinema (the Filmhouse in Edinburgh) where the self-published Filmish would be on sale on the counter and customers would occasionally make the link between the cartoon and real world versions of myself.
SH: We know you studied film at university but can you tell us a bit about your background in cartoons and comics? Where did it all begin?
ER: Comics were an early passion for me. I grew up on a steady diet of The Beano, Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes. I’d spend all weekend with friends making our own comic strips which we compiled into Beano-style comic collections. I continued to draw through my teenage years, and as I was introduced to a more diverse range of comics, my influences changed.
By the time I was in uni it was Dan Clowes and Chris Ware who were my comic icons, and I began to see the wider potential of comics as an art form. That’s not to dismiss Peanuts or Calvin & Hobbes, which still represent the high benchmark of what newspaper comics and comics overall can be.
SH: Based on your work creating science-themed comics, why do you think graphic novels are such a successful medium for education?
Comics are the perfect hybrid medium of words and pictures, allowing you to take advantage of the strengths of each. For those science comics, you’re taking really complex ideas and needing to boil them down to their essence – to do that you use words to do what pictures can’t and pictures to do what words can’t.
More than that, comics are a really attractive and disarming medium. A screed of scientific text could put a lot of people off, but colourful pictures draw people in and allow you a little more of a chance to communicate with them.
SH: Scott McCloud is perhaps the biggest name in graphic genre studies and your inclusion of yourself as narrator within Filmish is reminiscent of his Understanding Comics series. Was he an influence? Where else do you draw your inspiration from?
ER: I don’t ever remember it being a conscious choice to present Filmish as ‘Understanding Comics but for films’, but the influence is clear to see. I think the choice is obvious in a lot of ways: these kinds of topics have very little narrative through-line and you’re jumping about all over the place with often unconnected imagery. It really helps to have a guide to take you through that, and I guess it was written in my voice so why not feature my face?
The other big influence was Mark Cousins’ ‘Moviedrome’ introductions they used to screen before cult movies on BBC2 – there too was a presenter talking enthusiastically about film directly to camera. Those shorts were my first taste of film-theory and really inspired my passion for movies at quite a young age.
SH: What was the process for creating Filmish?
ER: For Filmish the writing process is really everything and I barely think about visuals until it’s all written.
First I came up with a broad arc of chapters; each with a topic I thought would be good to explore. Then I dug in on each topic, reading widely on various angles on each subject before coming up with each chapter’s structure.
From there I could begin writing; always reading more on everything I was covering. The battle is always to be concise while making each idea as clear as possible, and without making it a bore to read. Once the script was set I could break it down into a page-by-page plan, before thumbnailing the entire book. From there I could pencil and finally ink. The whole process took about 20 months, about half writing and half drawing.
SH: The chapter about ideologies is particularly riveting. Do you think the film industry has a wider responsibility for the influence movies have on social perceptions?
ER: I think that all artists have a responsibility for what they produce, to an extent. That doesn’t mean we should necessarily expect everyone to tow the same ideological line, but an artist needs to be happy with what they’re putting out there.
I think film-makers need to take seriously the impact that what they create can have, both as a single artwork and as a part of the industry’s entire output. A single film failing the Bechdel test is a shame, but when movies consistently fail that test time and again it’s an outrage.
SH: It feels like you may have seen everything ever made. What films outside of mainstream Hollywood would you recommend for movie night at Ink inc.?
ER: I’ve not seen nearly enough actually! I’m a big genre nerd, and I imagine the Cantina crew are too, so I’d recommend checking out Primer if you haven’t already seen it. It’s basically the best time-travel film ever made. It’s a really smart, grounded time-travel film unlike any you’ll have seen before. And it demands multiple rewatchings. The director’s second film Upstream Colour is also worth watching if you like your love stories to feature behaviour-controlling parasites.
I also watch quite a lot of documentaries; something not really covered in Filmish. From Grizzly Man to King of Kong, documentaries can be as tense, funny or involving as any blockbuster and there’s so much out there to discover if you haven’t already taken the leap into non-fiction film.
SH: What’s next? Will we be seeing any fiction comics from you? Or perhaps a film about graphic novels?
ER: I’ve not quite decided what’s next but I would absolutely love to continue making Filmish.
I do have an interest in exploring fiction further. I’ve done short pieces in the past but it would be a fantastic challenge to create a longer work of fiction. Working on Filmish has certainly taught me a lot about creating longer works, both on a practical level and in terms of the kind of depth that you can invest on a thematic level, as seen in so many of the films featured in the book.
Filmish is available in all good comic book shops. Read our review here.