“Colour gives far more of a feel to the story than my words ever could.” Rozi Hathaway talks Cosmos, Njalla and more!
Small press sensation Rozi Hathaway is making quite the name for herself on the indie scene with her beautiful, through-provoking, poetic style. With a dreamy mix of painted artwork and minimalist story-telling, her latest book Cosmos And Other Stories was launched at Leamington Comic Con to critical acclaim, so we caught up with Rozi to find out more about what inspires her highly personal style of comic.
Your new book Cosmos feels more like a series of thought pieces than stories, can you tell us a bit more about the idea behind it and the way you go about crafting your stories?
Rozi Hathaway: Cosmos started off as an idea to write about my own loneliness, as a way of dealing with it and turning it into something beautiful. It was also a totally different way of working for me – though I’ve created short stories for a number of years for different anthologies (Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook, Dirty Rotten Comics, A Bit of Undigested Potato, Sneaky Business), this was the first time I created stories with the intent of collecting them together in one book; I didn’t approach it in any methodical way – I already had Sørgedag from a prior submission to Dirty Rotten Comics #8 – I just wrote, drew and painted each story as I went along, finding ways of connecting them as I progressed through the project.
It’s published by the guys at Good Comics, so how did you get involved with them? And why pick a publisher rather than release it yourself?
RH: I’ve known Sam and Paddy through the comics scene before the Good Comics name was born, and after tabling at the same events and supporting each other’s ventures (Dead Singer’s Society, Sneaky Business) it seemed like a natural progression to have them as my publishers first time round. Sam brought up the idea of publishing my next work as an option at BCZF 2016 and again at Thought Bubble, and it just seemed like a great idea – and it really was. Sam has been my editor throughout the process and we made a fantastic team as he had no qualms about pushing me to make better work. And the rest, as they say, is history!
It focuses on themes of loneliness and isolation, are you quite an independent and solitary character? And is this subject resonating with people as I know issues about mental health are being covered in a lot of interesting ways in small press at the moment?
RH: I am a fairly solitary person, but as I mentioned above, my reasons for writing Cosmos started more as a cathartic process in dealing with a failing relationship and cutting loose from some unhealthy friendships rather than any deep desire to inspire people. Analysing my thoughts and feelings led me to research other areas of loneliness that aren’t so noticeable at face value; starting a new life in a big city, being an only child, feeling far away from a loved one, loss of a family member; all instances of how ongoing loneliness can change a person. Loneliness can be exacerbated by mental health issues, and can also cause mental health issues, and with the continual rise of social media’s “being on the outside looking in”, more and more people – children, teens, adults and the elderly – are lonely. What writing Cosmos taught me is that I wasn’t the only person feeling scared and alone; I was one of many and that in itself is something to find comfort in. We’re all struggling with our own problems every day, and that’s what makes us human – and the ability to connect with someone, and maybe even help, was an integral part of this book in the end.
You showed us some of the pages at Leamington and you use pencils and washes to build up your look, can you talk us through your process a bit, what materials you use and how long does it take to create a page/issue?
RH: Generally speaking I write first, and then hash out my idea in sketchy pencil alongside a sketchbook containing character development and ideas. After this I work on a small-scale mock up book to figure out the layouts and how to best emphasise certain elements of the story, which can be one of the longer parts of the process. After I’ve figured out exactly what I’m doing, I draw up the pages double the size they’ll be printed at just in pencil until I’m 100% happy with the composition. From there I use a light box to ink up the lines with Indian ink pens onto cartridge paper, and then paint onto the same surface. These days I tend to do 4-6 layers of paint on the final artwork, though there can also be layers of coloured pencils and digitally added layers of other painting work, depending on the project. Although there are a lot of stages it take as long as one might think – I started Cosmos and Other Stories around mid-November and it was completed and ready for print by early-mid March, whilst working a full time job and preparing to move house. I have a certain methodical approach to comics which I’ve managed to streamline into an efficient way of working (or so I think)!
We love your use of colour, especially the pinks and yellows which carry through the book but also into the promos you have, how important is that colour co ordination for a story? Do the colours have significance? Is the design intentional or just a reflection of you as a creative?
RH: Thank you! Colour is a very significant part of my creation process, with the colour palette for the story often firmly decided before I’ve even written it. Anyone familiar with my work will know that I’m fairly speech-light in my stories with some being totally wordless – so for me colour gives far more of a feel to the story than my words ever could. I love writing and I love reading, but I’m also big fan of quiet reflection and I think colour and its application is a way of sharing that experience.
Your books also have a quite Scandy feel, I’m thinking of Sorgedag in Cosmos and also Njalla, are you quite inspired by Scandinavian landscapes and people? You seem to love drawing a fir tree!
RH: I do love a good fir tree and a mountain range, I can’t deny that! I spent a couple of years learning Danish, and almost two years ago I spent some time travelling through the main cities of Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The research I gathered on that trip led me to write Njálla about the Sami people, but I had a lot of experiences I wanted to feed into my comics that I didn’t get to use right away. Within comics and outside in the wider world I have a keen interest in history and different cultures, with my first comic The Red Road telling a Native American tale, and Ø being set in Polynesia, so it’s nice to infuse these passions into my stories whether in an obvious way or more subtly.
Do you prefer short stories like these or longer books like Njalla? What will you be doing next? And plans to work on something more long form, or does your style restrict that?
RH: I’m more comfortable with shorter stories as that’s mainly the work that I’ve focused on in the past few years, but I’m definitely looking forward to throwing myself into a longer form story as my next project. Njálla felt very long compared to anything I’d done at the time, but as a story it is pretty short. The next challenge will be to draw on everything I’ve done so far and create a full length tale, which I’m really excited to do! But, for now I’m taking some down time to recover and carry on with some smaller projects, so I’ll let you know which I prefer after the next one comes out..