A re-blog from the archives of my regular column for Alltern8; Comicking.
Ralph Kidson is the creator of Captain Dolphin, Sad Animal and Envelope and Stick. He’s also the funniest cartoonist in Britain. Around the late nineties, his unique work inspired a cult readership, the sort of cult that sometimes accidentally pee their pants when laughing. Maybe.
His recent booklets include “Doctors’ Waiting Room”, a work of masterful observation, cracking comedy skills and hidden manifesto for alt. comics distribution. “Animal Jobcentre” followed directly and in much the same way records the ludicricousness of the everyday through his unique “RalphieVision”. “Dalek Home Guard” arrived fairly shortly after. Here, Ralph uses the the language of “Dad’s Army”, a classic British sitcom about WWII troops, to create a bridge between old and new and dark and comic-lite interpretations of the Daleks.(Update: Or so I thought. Having seen the trailer for this week’s ‘Churchill’s Daleks’ episode of Doctor Who, I wonder if he might have had foreknowledge of it’s content.)
I bunged a few pairs of briefs in the wash, and sat down to ask Ralph some questions about his work.
Andy Luke: I was wondering if you could clear something up for me? I heard a story from Pete Ashton that you produced a comic on a door, with hinges acting as staples. This apparently was sold at the art auction at the Caption comics festival one year, with the buyer having some difficulty getting it onto the bus..
Ralph Kidson: It wasn’t a door, not as big as that! Me and a guy called Rich Smith (Teenage Suicide) got together to make a giant free-standing comic for one of the ‘Sofa’ Brighton small-press group’s gallery shows. There were about 3 or 4 of these shows in the mid-90’s…anyway, it was Rich’s idea, I blame him. We went and bought about 10 big ( 4 foot high, I’d say,x 2 foot wide ) sheets of plywood, painted ’em white, let ’em dry, then painted a really awful comic on the ‘pages’, plus a cover and back-cover. It was ‘bound’ I think by just drilling 2 holes in the side of each sheet, then tying ’em all together with cord or string.
We set out to make it as offensive as we could, with lots of babies and grannies and wheelchair-bound folk being slaughtered in a supermarket, lots of swearing, references to Satan etc., in the hope that a local newsman might wander in, see it, and write an inflammatory piece about the show corrupting the minds of young Brightonians or something. Bit of publicity, get the punters in…but no-one batted a fucking eyelid!
AL: A layman might look at your comics and think they’re junk. Asides from writing great pacing and dialogue, the panels are often actually quite detailed and worked. I’m also aware you have a fine portrait skills. So why the minimalist approach?
RK: Um, I dunno, I’ve just always drawn comics like that. I think that really all comic strip or book art is a very codified way of reforming what we see around us. The key thing for me has always been clarity of expression, having the image work completely in sync with the words or ideas, and not distract from the ‘whole’. I really really hope that people don’t read my stuff and get held up every other panel thinking ‘Jesus, what’s wrong with that guy’s ARM…why is his HEAD so big?’ or stuff like that,
that’s the biggest no-no for me in comics.
AL: Undoubtedy, you’ve got skills and a ready audience. I’m wondering if you’ve ever considered writing for paying professional publishers. Is there anything there that’s a realistically tempting avenue to pursue? I know you’ve been featured in Cerebus, Dee Vee and probably loads more…
RK: Yeh, I’m sure there are plenty of avenues like that, but I’ve always been blind to them. I think I’m pretty fucked-up and self-defeating, always have been. Now I just do the comics ‘cos it makes me happy, and send ’em out to people I like, and don’t think about the rest.
AL: You’ve taken to stapling single sheets for your work. On my copy of your latest book, Dalek Home Guard, it’s hand-numbered 03/2010. How do you manage that high level of personalisation with all your comics? I’d find it an endurance trial. Don’t you worry that having something of a cult following might be more than you can cope with?
RK: I’m more concerned about unsustainable global population increases. And the warts on my cock.
AL: Are there any amusing or frightening stories to be told from the church of Ralphie? Has anyone offered you their virgin daughters, or slid a stick and envelope under the toilet door?
RK:Once at a Caption this girl came up and said ‘Oh you do Captain Dolphin, I’m a big fan’, so I said ‘Oh great, thanks, that’s really nice of you…so what do you do?’…
and she went ‘Nothing. I’m mad.’ And she wasn’t joking.
AL: Can you tell us a bit about your influences, comedic or informative?
RK: Comedically…Charles Schultz, Bill Watterson, Johnny Hart, Sergio Aragones, Gary Larson, Garry Trudeau, early Jim Davis, Johnny Ryan, Spike Milligan, Alex Graham, Dennis Worden, Bob Burden, Peter Bagge, Mack White, Kaz, Nicholas Gurewitch, Dave Sim, Modern Toss, Eric Morecambe, The Mighty Boosh, Simon Munnery, Stewart Lee, Richard Herring, Sean Lock, Willans & Searle, Ambush Bug, babysue, Charlie Brooker, Steve Bell, Scott Musgrove, the BRILLIANT Roy Tompkins, Maaike Hartjes, Mawil, Lewis Trondheim, Ken Campbell, Chris Ware, Lisa Holdcroft, early John Cleese, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Richard Pryor, Bob Newhart, Terence ‘Larry’ Parkes, Mark Marek, the Viz boys…and a shit-load more I can’t remember, probably. AquaTeamHungerForce!
Other comics folks I love…Jim Woodring, Alan Moore, Pat Mills, Garth Ennis, Gilbert Hernandez, Chris Webster, Gary Panter, Kev O’Neill, Mike McMahon, Julie Doucet, Kirby & Ditko, Frank Quitely, Rich Corben, Moebius, Manara, Frank Thorne, Brendan McCarthy, Frank Miller, Bryan Talbot, Hunt Emerson, Chester Brown, David Lloyd, Kilian Plunkett, Joe Sacco, Terry LaBan, Tanino Liberatore, Frank Stack, Steve Gerber, Gilbert Shelton, Malcy Duff.
Other artists…painters like Morandi, Redon, Friedrich, Guston, Paul Nash, Ravillious, Bocklin, Cecil Collins, Manet, Baselitz, Peter Doig.
AL: I notice you gave a shout-out to Paul Rainey’s ‘No Time Like the Present’. What’s on your reading list this month?
RK: A 1970’s paperback book-sized collection of early Lee & Ditko ‘Doctor Strange’, gorgeously coloured inside. Three-issue Marvel Knights ‘Strange Tales’ from last year, lots of crazy alternative types tackling the Marvel Universe, great fun. ‘A Land’ by Jacquetta Hawkes…a poetic history of Britain from Pre-Cambrian times, when it was seabed, to the present day. Razzle readers’ letters page.
Hope that’s okay for you Andy…
AL: That oughtta keep me atop Google listings for a few months.
RK: Cheers, Ralph
AL: Cheers, Andy
Ralph’s work is available by writing to Ralph Kidson, 3 Langridges Close, Newick, East Sussex, BN8 4LZ. Please add 50p (£1 for non-UK) for postage and packing.
nice interview. can someone who works for a grown up publishing house and distribution empire get it sorted that all of his back catalogue is put together in one great big compendium with a range of greetings cards, animated shorts on E4 and t-shirts please. Everyone should have Ralph Kidson’s work in their lives and I’ve never been more serious in my life, well, possibly when I was saw my first nipper being born, that was pretty serious but apart from that, the above.
Posted by skip-rat media small press dept. on 15 April 2010 21:10
Great interview with a great talent. And by the way Andy I have your book about your late granny.
Posted by DAVID LLOYD on 18 April 2010 07:48
If anyone would like to contact Ralph, he’s availble by email at btinternet.com, ralphiek
Zum Comics Kidson archive of the first two issues of Captain Dolphin is around and Paul Rainey deserves a link
Ah, thanks David. That it got to you was one of those things I meant to follow up on, but it got away from me. Twisty turny all over the road lifetime piling up.
Posted by Andy Luke on 18 April 2010 17:53