James Evans, Stumpy Comics, Impolitikal

Q&A | James Evans on drawing the (Scientific) Revolution

A background in earth science and micropalaeontology may not seem the most obvious starting point for a career in graphic design, but it set James Evans on that trajectory. Fascinated by his field of study, if a little underwhelmed by the line of work it led him into, the London-based artist started drawing comics in his spare time and it wasn’t long before he was receiving commissions from friends and commercial clients. Earlier this year he took the leap and started working as a designer full time.

Continuing to make his own work under the moniker Stumpy Comics – including our recent Antiheroes campaign – James recently published a series telling the story of key figures in the scientific revolution, called On the RevolutionSarah found out more.

What’s Stumpy Comics about?
StumpyComics is the name of my comic website, named after one of my first characters – a down-and-out pigeon from London with a missing foot. I have solo as well a collaborative pieces on there, and I try not to limit myself to any one subject. Strips range from political (War of Similarity/Armsrace), sci-fi (Planet 5379), philosophical (I Did it God’s Way) to scientific (On the Revolution). It’s a fantastic way to express oneself artistically without being pigeonholed, and they can be made within an hour or over several months. It can be extremely challenging but is ultimately very rewarding.

You’re working on a new anthology, On the Revolution. What’s it about?
I left a science-based job to start working as a graphic designer full time. I was wary about giving up too much on my science background and wanted to keep the science side of my personality alive, so I decided to create a series on the history of the scientific revolution. Each chapter is five pages long and they focus on specific, key figures during this revolutionary period of human history. These include Copernicus, Kepler, Brahe and Galileo. More are planned, with Newton the next to be tackled. The aim is to get people to understand what science is and how this amazing human invention has shaped human development over the last 500 years for better and worse – but mainly for the better.

Why did you choose to focus on astronomy?
I didn’t necessarily pick astronomy per se. This hunt to understand our origins and place ourselves within the universe – god-made or not – ultimately resulted in astronomy being one of the first sciences, and therefore this topic was really chosen for me. I see myself continuing the series into other disciplines such as chemistry, biology and even my old friend geology.

Anything you discovered about the figures you look at that you’d like to highlight?
There were many many facts that I wanted to include, that I couldn’t due to the tight limit I set myself on page count. But saying that, one of my favourite stories was of Tycho Brahe, a Danish nobleman who got into an argument over a mathematical formula and decided to resolve the issue by duel. In the subsequent fight, he had his nose chopped off and from then on wore a – depending on the story’s teller – gold or brass nose that he polished regularly. He was also known to have a pet moose.

Also, much of the history people attribute to Galileo is in fact not true. He didn’t invent the telescope. He didn’t drop weights from the Leaning Tower of Pisa and he wasn’t tortured by the Spanish Inquisition. But I think what he actually did do makes those myths redundant anyway.

How did you find the experience of drawing our antiheroes?
I had a really fun time doing the series of drawings. There were obviously many I recognised – Einstein, Gandhi, Malcolm X, Snowden – but I got a real kick out of being introduced to those I was unaware of. Learning about their struggles or fights they are still waging is very inspiring and they all deserve the title of ’antihero’. And to my mind, hero.

Who were some of your favourites?
Of those that I already knew, one of my favourites has to be Jon Stewart. I’ve watched the Daily Show for many years and have grown a bit man crush on the guy. I’m going to miss him dearly when he leaves in a few weeks. Of the lesser known, Aaron Swartz, whose incredible intelligence and moral dignity that ultimately led to his suicide is such an emotional story. He achieved so much in his short life and it is something to celebrate and to be inspired by.

Are there any graphic artists you look to for inspiration, or recommend looking up?
As I’m sure most people would attest, inspiration can come from many places, be it other artists, writers, the environment or even random people in the street. But particular graphic artists that I find inspiring would definitely include Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth), whose artwork has a sublime technical accuracy, a heavy dose of melancholy and an almost fanatical attention to detail. I also love Gemma Correll’s work, whose sketchy cartoon style belies the subtleties of the art form, along with her wicked wit and excellent use of language – mostly puns.

Check out the first installment of On the Revolution below. Read the series in full at Stumpycomics.com.

James Evans is a London-based graphic designer and comic artist. Find him at JamesEvansIllustration.com.

Sarah Illingworth is a freelance journalist and Editor at Impolitikal. She has an MSc in Poverty & Development from the University of Manchester. Read more by Sarah.