Living with Cancer: Ross Mackintosh Talks Seeds from Com.x

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Few of us will be lucky enough to live our lives untouched by the shadow of cancer, whether directly or indirectly. This April, debut creator Ross Mackintosh’s original graphic novel Seeds is published by Com.x, detailing his father’s diagnosis, decline and eventual death from cancer, and the effect it had on those around him. Ross spoke to Broken Frontier about events behind this very personal work and why he chose to convey them in comics form…

BROKEN FRONTIER: For the Broken Frontier audience unfamiliar with Seeds, could you elaborate on the themes of the book and the events in your life that led to its creation?

ROSS MACKINTOSH: My father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Although I had no plans to make my first comic book about my experience of seeing a loved one deteriorate, the comic grew involuntarily.

BF: Why did you feel that the comic form was the most effective medium for telling this very personal story?

MACKINTOSH: I had noted down observations and quotes during that time, as I do regularly anyway, without an idea how I would execute them. A lot of details I remembered however were visual. I didn't feel equipped to make the ideas flourish through words alone.

BF: Seeds is a graphic novel that is very different in tone to what we’re used to seeing from the Com.x stable. How did your involvement with the publisher come about?

MACKINTOSH: I researched them on the web and, after a chat with Eddie [Deighton - Com.x co-publisher], realised he had the same frame of mind as I did about the book: it shouldn't be published as a moneyspinner, but to reach others who have been affected by similar events. I was also flattered that Com.x didn't want to change the original material.

BF: One of the things I took from Seeds was that it was as much a book about the unspoken complexities of father-son relationships as it was about cancer per se. Was that something you were consciously trying to convey?

MACKINTOSH: Not intentionally. Those aspects were as vivid as any of the less personal moments, but I saw them as progressive and therefore positive. It's a shame it took such a mountain to move molehills, but I'm sure it couldn't happen any other way. It's only when we're peering over the precipice do we turn around and ask to be pulled back.

BF: Could you tell us a little about your comics-related artistic influences? I found it very interesting that you mentioned Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) as an inspiration, for example, because I found myself thinking of her work on more than one occasion while reading Seeds.

MACKINTOSH: I've been reading adult graphic novels for about ten years. I originally was dazzled by the work of Dan Clowes, Charles Burns and Chris Ware. Knowing my own capabilities as an artist I never thought I too could create comics. It was only when I began to read Alison Bechdel, Art Spiegelman, Jessica Abel, Jeffrey Brown and countless web-based artists, that I thought I probably could have a go. Marjane Satrapi probably has a greater influence than I realise, mixing stylised fantasy with minimalist panels the way she does.


BF: To what extent was crafting Seeds a therapeutic or cathartic experience for you? As a reader I got the feeling that, very much like Willy Linthout’s graphic novel Years of the Elephant, this was a project written as much for yourself and your family as it was for the wider audience.

MACKINTOSH: It was originally only meant to be cathartic. I planned to let my family see it afterwards, but nobody else. I'm not sure why. It's said that the typical airline crash passenger or person being mugged often remains almost catatonically calm as a way of attempting to influence external forces. I think I secretly wanted to show my family that we were having strong feelings but just didn't want them exposed, so as not to jolt us around any more than we were already.

BF: Unsurprisingly, Seeds is a work of great pathos but there’s some wonderful moments of humour to be found in it as well; the reader gets such a distinct impression of your Dad and his personality. How important was it to you to provide that counterpoint of occasional levity to run alongside the more overt poignancy of Seeds?

MACKINTOSH: My Dad was a funny man. He loved the sport of finding ways to make humour in conversation, like panning for gold. Although it was the darker stuff that pushed me into making the drawings, most of my conversation with my Dad at that time was as it always had been, taking the piss and having a laugh. I couldn't move through the story and ignore that.


BF: There are a number of cleverly crafted recurring motifs and narrative techniques in Seeds that are really quite astonishing in a first-time book. It’s a remarkably assured and confident piece of work for a debut graphic novel. How long did you work on it and can you tell us a little about how you collated all the individual experiences over the last year and a half into a structural whole?

MACKINTOSH: You're too kind. I make idea notes all the time so it was natural to write down details during Dad's illness. I sketched out all the panels very roughly over a period of about two months, which gave me the words and composition. I then did all the pencil layouts over about three months, and the same for inking. I've never spent such an amount of time on any other personal creative projects, as I have a day job. I'm ashamed to say there was little editing or conscious structuring - it just came out.

BF: Seeds is obviously a very specific work, but do you have any plans or thoughts about returning to the comics medium in the future?

MACKINTOSH: It's on my mind all the time. I certainly want to create another comic book. I feel at home doing it, more so than any other creative pursuits I've experimented with over the years. I have a vague idea for another book but I can't say yet what it might turn out to be. 

BF: And, finally, if the readership takes just one thing away from Seeds what would you hope that would be?

MACKINTOSH: Less reluctance to examine the subject of death, be it their own or their loved ones.

Seeds is available in April from Com.x priced £6.99 in the UK and $10.99 in the U.S. It is listed in the February Previews catalogue (Previews Code FEB110891). You can check out Ross Mackintosh’s Seeds blog here.

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  • Kstewart

    Kstewart Feb 11, 2011 at 6:03am

    An interesting, honest interview and I love the art work.

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