Getting Folks Together: An Interview With Paul Carroll

You may have noticed the Kickstarter campaign for Turning Roads already. It is the second anthology that I’ve been involved with creatively speaking and I am super excited about it. It is already funded but, if you haven’t backed it yet, here’s some more details for you as I speak to the organiser of it all, Paul Carroll.

What is it about Irish Folklore that appeals to you? Looking at your non-comic book work, it seems like something you have a keen interest in.

This probably sounds weird, but I love how miserable some of the stories can be. Sure, there’s hope lingering around every corner, but to get there you usually need to overcome a curse or trick the devil himself, or take heed of a death omen wailing over the hills out West. There’s an awful lot to be said for the magic and mystery of irish Folklore that, maybe just through overfamiliarity in other areas of mythology from around the world, you just don’t get from other cultures. I also get this sense of community from the stories in Irish Folklore that the Greek Pantheon, for example, doesn’t inspire. Where they tell stories of gods overthrowing titans and heroes being born out of the lineage left behind, the Irish stories feel much more about trying to understand nature and the forces that drive people.

Looking at snippets we’ve gotten on the stories (follow Limit Break Comics on Twitter to see these), people are giving new takes on some well-known stuff. Was there a particular legend you were hoping to see pitched?

Before pitches opened, I had a rare opportunity in this Lockdown Nation we live in to sit down with Gary Moloney, one of the other contributors to the book and a co-founder of Limit Break Comics, and he asked me something along these lines then. He even specifically asked what I would do with the Salmon of Knowledge, as an example. It so happened that that day I had read about a neural implant being developed that seemed like a hi-tech equivalent to the Salmon of Knowledge, if you put a narrative spin on it. So while I wasn’t specifically hoping someone would do that, and I didn’t have any particular legends in mind that I wanted included – aside from maybe some that would be familiar to international audiences – I wanted that sort of thinking. How can someone retell a legend from Irish Folklore in a way that, if it’s magical in the story, can be explored through science in the comic?I haven’t been disappointed, I’ll tell you that much!

Did anyone pitch something that surprised you? Maybe something you’re not very familiar with?

Hugo Boylan, though that should come as no surprise. He’s pitched a King of Cats comic, teaming up with Hugh Madden. It’s absolutely insane from what I’ve been shown so far. They’re working with less of a script and more of a chaotic interpretation of comics, and I know people are going to be blown away by the creativity in it. It was also the one story I had to ask directly, “What are you actually pitching me here?” because there are several versions of the King of Cats story, and Hugo and Hugh hadn’t yet delved into the aether of how insane they might make it.

Everyone else pitched with ideas I was familiar with, but with twists that I was excited to see. I don’t want to spoil anything, but Ember Johnstone – one of our international adoptees for the book – has a cool and slightly grim take on a story that had me ooh-ing and aah-ing as I read the pitch.

There’s a nice mix of creators from the well-known in the community to almost complete unknowns. You must be happy having recognisable faces while being able to give new people a shot.

Absolutely. Aside from the international creators that many casual readers of Irish comics might not know because they don’t otherwise explore small press comics, I’ve been lucky to get some pitches from people who haven’t gotten to make much noise in comics yet, either from a lack of experience or because the pandemic put a halt to the shows that would have allowed their work to be shown. What was important to me was that the teams worked, so if I knew a writer could tell a story, and they were paired with an artist I trusted, then I could consider them a perfect match. I would have loving to give more space to new creators, but with the way these things work, there’s only ever so much room. I definitely want to see more work from those who didn’t get in, though, if even to help amplify the voices of new comic creators in Ireland.

There are some interesting teams like Kerrie Smith and Leeann Hamilton. Did everyone pitch together or did you do some match-making?

Well, as a requirement everyone had to pitch together. Kerrie had Leeann in mind from the moment she pitched. For a few other writers, they were struggling to find artists or had expressed concern about finding someone, so I took out my spreadsheet of comic creators in Ireland (that’s not a joke, I literally have a spreadsheet) and had a look through the artist list. If I didn’t know someone’s availability but trusted their ability to work with a writer on a story, I asked if I could send their name to prospective writers to pitch to them. So I didn’t quite do the match-making, but I did point people towards creators who were interested but who hadn’t yet teamed up with anyone. It meant not needing to juggle creators after the fact, which could have been a messy task if I had way more writers than artists.

You’re doing a story with James Killian. I only know his stuff from Twitter. What is like working with someone relatively new?

James is definitely new to this in terms of publishing comics, but he comes at it with a lot of passion, and he’s always up for learning something new to help his work in the future. Just recently he showed me a four page comic he created to practice ‘talking heads’ scenes, so he could deal with comics that didn’t feature a ton of action. I’d met him once at a course Declan Shalvey ran, and then again at a couple of signings – back in the Before Times, when we could go outside and mingle – and I’ve loved his approach to his work. That sort of drive, and the willingness to put the work in to improve, gave me a lot of confidence in our collaboration on the comic. It also helps that Tríona Farrell will be colouring his story. That was a fun message to send him when he was getting ready to draw the comic!

I have to mention Hugh Madden’s comic that he donated to the campaign. I don’t think I’ve seen that before. Is it new or something I missed?

That’s brand new, created by Hugh specifically for the campaign. I didn’t ask him for it, he didn’t tell me what it was until it was done, and I was left speechless after I read it. Hugh is one of those special gems in the community that I wish more people paid attention to, because he creates so much and puts so much thought into the work he produces.
He’s definitely one to keep an eye on, and whose work sometimes needs a closer glance. Just check out the can of Red Bull on Page 1 of his Niamh Cinn Óir comic to see what I mean.

We’re in Stretch Goal Country already. Declan Shalvey has always been a big supporter of the Irish Independent scene. We get a cover by him if the campaign hits 8k*. How did the cover come about? 

The boring answer is that I just asked him about doing it. Originally, I’d been hoping for Arts Council funding to support the book, which would have covered Declan’s fee immediately. A few days before the campaign launched, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind being a Stretch Goal for the book, with the relative confidence that we’d get there. As I type this late on Day 5, we’re about a grand off that target – with no telling what the campaign will look like by the time this goes live.

He was only too happy to take part, mind you. While he’s an exceptionally busy man, he tries his best to get out and support Irish comics whenever he can. I recall DCAF in October 2019, before the world shut down for business, and Declan spent a few hours checking out all the tables and picking up books that excited him. He’s definitely one to pay-it-forward after finding his own place in comics in the small press scene before bagging up his portfolio and taking it to the States.

He’s not alone in that regard, but as he began to be the driving force behind his own stories, he definitely stepped up to make sure the creators following him are given a fighting chance in an increasingly competitive world. I consider myself exceptionally lucky to have a chance of including his work on the cover of the book.

*The campaign has hit 7k, so the coloured version of the cover has been revealed to the world. Check Limit Break Comic’s social media to see it.