Diving into the Irish comic book scene

Young graphic artist Barry O’Sullivan tells the Liberty about the challenges of doing exciting work in the small indie space – and of getting noticed.

Graphic Artist Barry O’Sullivan. Photo: Barry O’Sullivan

Barry O’Sullivan, a 26 year-old Irish artist, has just finished creating the cover art for an Irish indie comic called “Hooks for Hands”. I got the chance to ask him some questions about the Irish scene and what it’s like to work in the sphere.

When asked his thoughts on the current state of the Irish graphic novels scene, he replied, “It’s constantly growing. There’s no shortage of great artists out there. It’s just a matter of getting their work seen.”

As with any creative endeavour, the hardest part usually comes once you’ve finished creating your work. Getting noticed even in smaller markets is no easy feat and according to O’Sullivan, “Comics can be a very social environment, you need to be able to work with others so you can thrive.” 

Once a community forms, it can be hard for outsiders to break into it as well. Many new creators are faced with the challenge of social anxiety and diving head first into a new social scene isn’t an appealing task.

Cover art of “Hooks for Hands” by Barry O’Sullivan. Photo: Sean Norman

O’Sullivan also expressed that many “Irish artists are getting more work with big publishers”, but he wished for comic conventions, Irish ones in particular, to “embrace the variety of comics” instead of pumping out what is already popular.

As Ireland’s comic book scene grows so do the expectations put on artists. Drawing for pleasure is a different experience to drawing for business and many struggle with the idea of their passion simply becoming a job to them. 

When I asked O’Sullivan if he maintains the same investment in working for others he remarked, “Not really, that’s not to say I’m not passionate at all about working for others.” He explained that it can be tricky to gauge what people expect from your artwork.

Plenty of factors go into these expectations – how familiar the client is with an artist’s previous work, payment and time are all in play. 

Due to this, O’Sullivan finds “it’s much easier to create for myself”, that even in the difficult times he’s always thinking about his own work and what he wants to create.

Graphic Artist Barry O’Sullivan. Photo: Barry O’Sullivan

Any artist can tell you of the numerous inspirations they look to and O’Sullivan is no different, “I feel like my inspirations are evident depending on what I’m reading at the time.”

O’Sullivan lists off some artists as his inspirations like, Takehiko Inoue (Vagabond, Slam Dunk), Akria Toriyama (DragonBall), Mike Mignola (Hellboy, Baltimore), Chris Samnee (Fire Power) and Yoshitaka Amano (Final Fantasy Series).

O’Sullivan also added that many Irish artists helped him greatly as he was starting out. O’Sullivan would bring his newest pages to conventions and look for feedback, “Declan Shavley, Stephen Mooney and Nick Roche were all extremely helpful at telling me what to focus on.”

The introduction of a universal basic income scheme for the arts has been a big boon to many creators in Ireland and O’Sullivan believes, “more great work is sure to follow.”

The variety of comics is something to be embraced and celebrated. While many in the mainstream see comics as the realm of super heroes and action packed stories, O’Sullivan knows that there’s much more value to be found, “there is a wealth of genres out there that readers and creators can all gain something from.”

Irish comics are here to stay and thrive and with the likes of small press publishers and stores like Little Deer Comics in Stoneybatter the scene is growing by the day.

Little Deer Comics shopfront in Stoneybatter, Dublin 7. Photo: Little Deer Comics

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