Paul O’Connell is the mastermind behind The Sound of Drowning, the comic he has been producing and publishing from his Brighton residence since 2000. I first encountered Paul’s books in 2004 when I picked up the ‘Adler’ issue in Brighton’s Dave’s Comics: I was hooked by the great sense design and the slightly refracted, otherworldly feel to the story inside. Paul has recently released a new edition of his book, issue 13. It builds on the reoccurring theme within his work of collaging and reusing old and found images in new contexts and juxtapositions.
Since purchasing that first copy Paul has become one of my favourite artists, and a good friend (full disclosure). His books are never predictable, by turn’s bitingly satirical, laugh out loud funny, or achingly heart felt (one of my very favourite comics of all time is Paul’s mini masterpiece ‘Love is War’, a simple, poetic exchange between feuding lovers, try and get a copy of you can).
If every action has an equal but opposite reaction then The Sound of Drowning is the proof that this rule also stands for comics, situated as it is against the corporate, content controlled franchises that dominate the comics world. And Paul’s latest issue is a wonderful example of this.
In issue 13 Paul has taken Woody Allen’s conceit of redubing an already existing film to make a new comedy (What’s up Tigerlily) and applied it to comics. Using art work from what looks like 1960’s and 70’s genre comics Paul has made an at times hilarious and often darkly funny book that lampoons the post colonial, misogynistic world of the mid 20th century.
Paul has been kind enough to answer a few of my questions about his project and it’s latest incarnation:
Would you mind talking about the creative impetus behind the latest issue of Sound of Drowning?
Initially it came from someone giving me a pile of old comics and finding the stories in them almost unreadable, just really naff and dated. So I had a go using the artwork from one of the comic strips -'Dan Dakota: Lone Gun' - to tell a different story which became 'Johnnny Three N's'. I had fun with it so thought I'd try with some other comics and the more strips I did I decided to eventually collect them all together in a themed issue. They were all done over a two year period. My mental health hasn't been so great over this time and the project was also a way to continue to be creative at a level my brain was capable of dealing with.
It seems to me that SoD 13 has in part set itself the challenge of lampooning male stereotypes in genre comics from the 60’s and 70’s, were you consciously pursuing this theme or was it more a case of the theme arising from the source material?
A bit of both. I just couldn't relate to the original characters in anyway. Yeah the artwork looks great, but they're horrible to read. I also wanted to satirise old comic genres as well as projecting my own fuck ups onto the characters.
Can you talk a little bit about the role of appropriation and collage in your comics?
When I first started making comics, it was never even a thought that I would try and make the visuals myself. But I didn't know anyone to work with so had a go myself. I hate drawing and so it was a means to an end - a way to make comics in a way that I found enjoyable. Using photography and a multitude of other peoples images, for me, is also a way to try and remove 'the hand of God' effect that you can get with comics where style takes precedence over content and comic artists become almost deified. When I used to read comics it was the stories and the worlds they created that made the most impression on me, more so than the artists or writers responsible.
How does working collaboratively differ from your work on SoD?
Eventually I met people who wanted to work with me! I love working with other people. I find it really satisfying. It's like when I used to play music. Making music with other people is so much more fun than doing it all by yourself. You might have to give up some of your unique creative vision but most of the time the work is better because it's two people being uniquely creative rather than one and both appreciating and complementing the others' input. That's when it works. I'm really lucky to have found people it works with.
What are your future plans for SoD?
I started off making The Sound of Drowning with the idea that I'll keep doing it as long as I enjoy doing it and it can be whatever I feel like making it. I don't know if I'll keep on making them. At the moment, if there is another issue, I have no idea what it will be like.
Thanks for taking the time out to answer these questions Mr O.