“There were hookers in Dalston when I first got there and now there’s hangers on.” Dilraj Mann on East London inspiration for Dalston Monsterzz
East London is filled with some pretty kooky character, but none as strange as the giant monsters and gaudy street gangs who populate the world of Dilraj Mann’s debut graphic novel Dalston Monsterzz. Another truly one of a kind book from the wonderful Nobrow Press we catch up with Dilraj to find out the secret to monsters in East London and why the location is so important to his story.Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for Dalston Monsterzz – was it the idea of monsters in East London that started it off or was it the street gangs or just the relationship between the main characters?
Dilraj Mann: The initial idea emerged because of all the luxury flat developments that were rising up in Dalston and I imagined a repercussion to all the digging the construction companies were doing was monsterzz crawling out from under the ground. I wanted to use all that as the backdrop for the emotional heart of the story about a boy who feels his best friend is growing up and away from him.
Speaking of which we love all the street gangs you create and the map introducing them, who are your favourite and are there any you’d like to revisit or expand upon?
DM: I wanted to do a map like the one on the endpapers of the Lord of the Rings book but superimposed to Hackney. The Crying Fives would be good to tweak, maybe update the masks a little bit and try to make them creepier. I originally wrote the first fight scene, with Lolly and the Hard Faces, with the Tin Sisters so I’d like to show more of them as they have an… interesting dynamic.
You have a very distinctive style with the angular faces and cutting edge fashion, was it important for you to create a really unique style and give it that ultra modern edge? And why did you choose to do comics, as your style would also lend itself to illustration and animation?
DM: I kind of try to draw what I like, what interests me and so fashion, music and style are in that mix. Also Dalston is full of some amazing looking people from all over the world, there is such a collision of styles and cultures, so inspiration is all around.
I’ve always loved comics so I gravitate to storytelling but I also do some illustration work and I’ve done a bit of animation and I’d like to do more – I have this amazing idea….
Your use of colour is incredible and mixes really bright vibrant scenes with much darker scenes in the zag at the end. Was it important for you to create that contrast or do you just love bright colourful comics?
DM: The story moves from scene to scene quite rapidly and so I wanted to distinguish exactly where the action was taking place in a strong visual way. I used limited palettes for each scene in the way that Pixar do for their films and I wanted the zag scenes to have a sense of foreboding so a limited, dark palette seemed to be the way to go.
How important is the East London setting? Does it allow your characters to be even cooler than usual or was it just a local place to draw inspiration from?
DM: East London was vital as it’s changing so rapidly and that change is something I wanted to comment on. I think the same is occurring in other parts of London and other cities around the world but I see it first hand in Dalston. There were hookers on Kingsland Road when I first got there and now there’s hangers on.
One of our favourite things about Nobrow books is their amazing production values, how much input did you have on the size and formatting – we love the larger format as it really allows your artwork to stand out!
DM: I knew what size I was going to do the book from the beginning but the credit for the overall look has to go to the Nobrow production gang Lilly, Camille, Harriet and Hanna. They were awesome.
In our review we called it a hipster studio ghibli book, but what are you influenced by artistically and creatively?
DM: Manga and anime are definitely an influence – Otomo, Matsumoto, Yokoyama but so is the indie comics scene with Youth in Decline, Breakdown Press and Epoxy Comics. I’m watching Gimme the Loot, Ralph Bakshi cartoons, Stations of the Elevated, Style Wars right now. Listening to King Krule, Rise of Gqom, London Posse, Moses Sumney, Ariel Pink and always F.O. Checking out Gucci, Zaha Hadid, Keine Liebe, Keiichi Tanaami, Richard Billingham and Blue Meanies.
Will be we seeing more of Lolly and co after this or are you working on other things now?
DM: I’m getting ready for Brighton Illustration Festival (October 21st/22nd) at the moment as I’m doing a talk about Dalston Monsterzz this Saturday. After that I have a few prodigious things to crack on with..
And finally if you had a tame monster of your own what would you have?
DM: Something that breathes fire but also flies. I guess that’s a dragon right? Tiamat. I’d like Tiamat.
You can purchase Dalston Monsterzz from Nobrow’s online store and find out more about Dilraj’s work at dilrajmann.tumblr.com