After years of creating online comics semiprofessionally, Mill R&D expert James Turner recently launched his first ever graphic novel Star Cat. The novel follows the hilarious misadventures of Captain Spaceington and the intrepid crew of the Star Cat as they blunder across the universe to take on its most dangerous villains.
James, who has had an eye for comic book illustration since before he could write, started his graphic career 10 years ago with a web comic named The Unfeasible Adventures of Beaver and Steve. This foray into the world of professional comics was a great success, and after thousands started reading his work, he was asked to create comics for a number of high profile sites.
Most recently, James created the Star Cat series, which is printed as a strip within The Phoenix, a weekly comic for children. He reveals how the series and book came about: "I was trying to come up with a new strip idea to pitch and I wanted to make it something really original that no one had done before. So I thought to myself, 'What is the absolute stupidest idea I can think of?' and the first thing that popped into my head was, 'a cat that is also a spaceship', and it sort of stuck. I worked on the idea while I was on sabbatical living in Delhi and I pitched it to The Phoenix when I got back. They loved the idea and after drawing it for their weekly comic for two years, they wanted to publish a collection of all my stories in a single book."
While James is heavily influenced by popular culture, it's not because he loves it. He explains: "Pop culture infuriates me so much. Although it's probably not obvious on a first read, a lot of my work is driven by a desire to correct how stupid modern media is - Star Cat is mostly fuelled by all the rage I've vented shouting at the TV while watching episodes of Star Trek.
"I always try to imbue my characters with a sort of desperate madness, as though they are working very hard on something, but we have no idea why they are doing it. I'm not sure why this fascinates me - it's probably from watching nature documentaries, seeing animals work very hard at things that to an outside observer seem to serve no purpose at all. Oh, and cakes. For some reason there are always cakes."
Star Cat was created purely digitally, using a 12" Cintiq tablet, but James, who studied maths at university, proves art training is not a necessity for budding illustrators, and has also created his comic strips using pencil and ink.
For aspiring comic book artists, James recommends putting your comics online. He shares: "By putting them out there, you force yourself to be critical of your art and to stick to a schedule. Even if you think you're not great, the most important thing is to keep making things and putting them out there - it's the only way to improve."
Alongside Star Cat, James has contributed to the launch of another very well known cat's 40th anniversary: "I recently contributed three pages to the Hello Kitty 40th anniversary collection which launches next month. Working on Hello Kitty was quite a different experience from working with my own characters, as the rights holders had a lot of feedback: Hello Kitty cannot eat a raccoon, the raccoon cannot kiss the ghost, and most importantly of all, Hello Kitty must never ever have a mouth. It was kind of frightening!"