For the love of graphic novels…with Stephen Axelsen

How lucky am I? Today, I joined Australian author and illustrator, Stephen Axelsen on his short blog tour, following Walker Books’ release of his new graphic novel, The Nelly Gang, a story set during Australia’s gold rush.

Steve is one of the loveliest, funniest guys this side of the Black Stump, and for all I know, probably beyond that worthy landmark. Check out his amazing array of published work. And here’s the book trailer to tell you about his story, The Nelly Gang.

Digital-studio-self-portrait-crop-Sept-8th-2013Welcome, Stephen to my little home in the blogosphere! Congratulations on the release of your new graphic book. So how did you survive your book’s launch at the StoryArts Festival in Queensland?

I’m recovering rather well. Thanks for asking, Sheryl.

I love Graphic novels – but tell me what you like about graphic novels/sequential art/comic books?

The amount of story and imagery they contain. They provide the opportunity to have a good long look and read, and are value for money.

Do you like all kinds of graphic novels?

Not at all. I can’t warm to most manga – I find most of it too pointy, visually. I’ve never been a fan of super hero violence, being a passive fellow (wuss). (You’re not a wuss, Steve! Kind and gentle more like it…Sheryl)

What do like about making them?

The space to tell a good long story, compared to a picture book for instance. Beginning the making of a graphic novel is like a hobbit embarking on some incredibly long adventure, but less life-threatening.Cover 72dpi

What do you think children like graphic novels?

To be honest I’ve never asked a live a child this question. I imagine that they like the same things that I like – lots of pictures telling a good long tale. Also I’m told that ‘reluctant readers’ who won’t go near a book with a sharp stick will pick up a graphic novel. Here is a quote from an intelligent woman to underline up this point…

“the combination of less text, narrative support from images, and a feeling of reading outside the expected canon often relieves the tension of reading expectations for kids who are not natural readers, and lets them learn to be confident and engaged consumers of great stories … That being said, graphic novels are not only for reluctant readers  — they’re for everyone!  Robin Brenner (The Horn Book Magazine March/April 2006)

 Are there any downsides to creating a Graphic Novel?

They are very labour intensive to illustrate, and frankly, entirely uneconomic for the older, slower gentleman illustrator such as I. There is a lot of love in them, but it is conditional.

A friend of Stephen's from the goldfields
A friend of Stephen’s from the goldfields

 Do you have any favourites?

I love the graphic novel version of Coraline. (Neil Gaiman illustrated by P. Craig Russell) (Oh, yes, so do I!) And Saun Tan’s The Arrival is an imaginary tour de force.  Some other favourites I don’t understand fully, being French. But because it is  a visual medium I can still get the gist.
I’ve spent some time ogling and drooling in graphic novel  (bande dessinée) shops in France. These are FULL of nothing but graphic novels, everything from pre-kindy to volumes that probably ought to be wrapped in brown paper and kept under a counter.

Stephen’s ‘Pikelets and Lamingtons’

Did you read graphic novels or comics, as a kid?

Not much, sadly. I would have eaten Asterix and Tin Tin for breakfast if I’d  had access to them and sharp enough cutlery. I vaguely remember comic books but they must have been Other Peoples’ and a bit illicit, like Other Peoples’ cigarettes (not that I smoked as a child) (or subsequently – much).

What does the ‘novel’ part of ‘graphic novel’ mean?

Well, they are not novels, are they. You wouldn’t call War and Peace with chapter head illustrations a picture book. ‘Graphic Novel’ is a way of distinguishing  a well bound, good paper stock product from ‘comic book’, which is usually a periodical publication printed on cheaper paper and stapled – a bit low rent.  Comic books still carry a stigma of being light weight, disposable entertainment. This prejudice applies in the Francophone Japanese cultures.

Your two GNs so far have been historical Australian stories. Do you have a particular interest in Australian history?

Yes, but not exclusively. I’ve illustrated many historically themed cartoon series and loved them all. These appeared in The School Magazine (NSW Dept of Education and Communities) and included stories set in Victorian England, 16th century Rajasthan and Renaissance Italy. All of these were written by the esteemed Cassandra Golds. The Mostly True Story of Matthew and Trim (also written by Cassandra) and The Nelly Gang (by me) began as cartoon series in The School Magazine.

Henry Axelsen, a baker and my great grandfather Here he holds a jar of yeast grown from potato water

For my readers in the other hemisphere, Stephen’s book, The Nelly Gang is a twist on Australia’s famous outlaw gang, the Kelly Gang bushrangers, led by the Aussie/Irish, Ned Kelly in 1878.

It’s been great having you visit, Stephen. Everyone will love your enlightening and entertaining answers! And I wish you well with this your new book, The Nelly Gang.

The pleasure was all mine, Sheryl.

If you’d like to check out more of Stephen’s blog tour, check out these links:

Monday September 16th – Children’s Books Daily
Review and book launch update, giveaway

Tuesday 17th September –  DeeScribe Writing
Review, five tips on graphic novel making

Wednesday 18thSeptember Kids Book Review
Review, giveaway

 Thursday 19thSeptember Sheryl Gwyther’s Blog (that’s me!)
Q&A  …  About writing and Illustrating Graphic Novels

Friday 20thSeptember – Soup Blog
Review and Interview

Saturday 21st September – BuzzWords
The Value of History, plus review


5 thoughts on “For the love of graphic novels…with Stephen Axelsen

Add yours

  1. Hi Sheryl, I’m really looking forward to reading Stephen’s new book. My great great grandfather was on the goldfields as well, he was a tobacconist. It’s wonderful family history. I also love the graphic novel form and yes it’s very popular in Europe at the moment 🙂


  2. Conclusive crack up! Great interview guys. An exchange where the reader is entertained and gains more perspective on every angle of the artist and their work is a winner for me. Good one. 🙂


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