Watson, Andi

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Andi Watson

Born October 1969 (Kippax, Yorkshire, England)
British author, illustrator

"I guess I noticed women got a raw deal in comics, and they still do."

Few graphic novelists are as skilled at capturing the ins and outs of relationships as British author/illustrator Andi Watson. In graphic novels like Breakfast After Noon, Slow News Day, Dumped, and Love Fights, Watson expertly reveals the slow and grudging process by which people fall in and out of love. He uses words to explore the gulf between what is said and what is meant and pictures to reveal the meaning that resides in silence. Watson has earned critical praise both for the realism of his dialogue and for the retro style of his illustrations. Like many graphic novelists who receive recognition and awards for their serious or experimental works, Watson has also dabbled in writing for other, more mainstream titles. He has penned several stories in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer graphic novel line, and he co-wrote stories for the short-lived Namor superhero series published by Marvel Comics.

Working-class beginnings

Watson was born in 1969 in the Yorkshire, England, town of Kippax, on the outskirts of the larger city of Leeds. By the time of Watson's youth, the region was going through a transition brought about by the decline of the British mining industry. Watson came from a working-class family, and both of his parents held down full-time jobs in what was an area suffering from increasing unemployment. Like many kids, Watson was a fan of comics from an early age. He told Lindsay Duff in an interview for the Ninth Art Web site: "My first contact with comics was way back before I could read; Peanuts and Disney strips in the Daily Mirror. Then Brit humor comics, Beano (not Dandy), Whizzer and Chips, and all the rest, and Star Wars reprints, which I read until I was 13 or so and then stopped reading comics altogether."

Best-Known Works

Graphic Novels

Skeleton Key 6 vols. (1996–2000).

(Author only) Buffy the Vampire Slayer 5 vols. (1999–2000).

Breakfast Next Door (2001).

Slow News Day (2002).

Dumped (2002).

The Complete Samurai Jam (2003).

The Complete Geisha (2003).

Love Fights 2 vols. (2004).

Comics, thought the teenage Watson, were something that one gave up as he grew older and turned his attention to more mature interests—yet it was not immediately clear what Watson's interests were. "For a long time as a kid I wanted to be a mechanic, which is a big joke as I'm the least practical person on the planet," he told Sequential Tart interviewer Wolfen Moondaughter. He entertained the idea of ending his education after finishing secondary school (the English equivalent of high school), but realized there was one thing that he was always good at: art. "I was always drawing so don't know why I didn't realize art would be my thing," he told Moondaughter.

Watson attended Liverpool Polytechnic (now named Liverpool John Moores University), graduating in 1992 with a bachelor's degree in graphic design and illustration. It was while attending art school that Watson rediscovered his interest in comics. This time, however, it was not mainstream comics that Watson enjoyed. Instead, he found himself attracted to Akira, by Katsuhiro Otomo (1954–), one of the first manga (Japanese comic books) published in English, and to Love and Rockets, an American comic book series by Gilbert Hernandez (1957–; see entry) and Jaime Hernandez (1959–; see entry) that was proving that comics could treat adult interests. Still, he told Duff, "[I] never considered creating my own [comics] until years later—which is weird as I was always into stories and images inspired by the written word."

Opens door with Skeleton Key

After graduating college, Watson worked for a time as a video game developer and a commercial illustrator, providing drawings for a children's animation series and for a variety of businesses. Yet more and more, he devoted time to drawing comics. His first published work was Samurai Jam, which was published for four issues in 1993 by the American independent publisher SLG (Slave Labor Graphics). Though short-lived, the comic led to his creating a more successful series. Watson told PopImage Web site interviewer Christopher Butcher, "[I] was wondering how I could do something that totally pleased myself, wouldn't put off y'r typical comics buyer and would work for anyone unfamiliar with comics." The result was Skeleton Key, the story of a female high school student in Saskatchewan, Canada, who discovers a key that allows her to open a door to anywhere. That door to anywhere allowed Watson to take his two strong female characters on a variety of adventures. "I kind of poured all my love of myth, fairy tale, folk tales, pop culture, Japanese culture, comics, and all the other stuff cluttering my head at the time into that series," Watson related to Sequential Tart's Jennifer Contino. But it also allowed him to develop his strengths in depicting relationships. The ongoing series, appropriate for all ages, was published as graphic novels beginning in 1996 and reached five volumes in 2000.

Watson followed up with Geisha, his first work that was intended to have a beginning, middle, and an end (as opposed to the episodic nature of Skeleton Key). Geisha, published by Oni Press, tells the story of an android artist named Jomi who tries—not too successfully—to fit into a society that doesn't like androids. Working on this graphic novel freed Watson to think about creating more self-contained graphic novels, and these would make up the bulk of his work in the years to come. They didn't necessarily help him make a living, however; publishers didn't want to take risks on trying to sell a new story, and readers often were hesitant to pay for a story they knew little about. Luckily, Watson had received enough favorable reviews and comments about his work that he was able to pursue his career on two tracks: to pay the bills, he worked on several existing series for established mainstream publishers; and to pursue his real interests, he worked on a series of increasingly well-developed graphic novels.

Hits stride with Breakfast After Noon

Watson followed Skeleton Key and Geisha with several longer works that have earned him a stellar reputation in the field of graphic novels for older teen and adult readers. The first, published serially and collected into a graphic novel in 2001, was Breakfast After Noon, the story of a young couple, engaged to be married, who discover that they've been laid off from work at the local pottery factory. The pair—Rob and Louise—react very differently to the setback: Louise retrains and moves on with her life, while Rob wallows in self-pity, sleeping late, avoiding the agony of job-seeking, and alienating everyone around him. Anyone who has ever tried to solve a problem by not talking about it will sympathize with the slow erosion of the pair's relationship and rejoice when the pair reunite. The story was well reviewed: Matt Fraction, writing on the Artbomb Web site, called Breakfast After Noon a "quiet little marvel" that is "somehow both elegant and charming in the same stroke without feeling affected or trite," and Don Mac-Pherson, in a review quoted on the book jacket, wrote that "This is one of those rare comic books that any reader can be proud to pass along to a non-comics-reading friend to show that the art form is far more versatile than one might expect."

In Watson's next two works, Slow News Day and Dumped (both published in 2002), he continued to explore the mysterious workings of human relationships. In Slow News Day, an aspiring American screenwriter, fresh out of college, joins the staff of a small English newspaper, where she butts heads and eventually falls in love with the embittered and cranky head reporter. The American and the Brit are instantly harsh with each other (their language is sometimes harsh as well), and their frequent clashes and cultural misunderstandings—he calls it football, she calls it soccer; she wants to work late, he's off to the pub—only delay their mutual realization of how much they care for one another. In Dumped, Watson pairs two twenty-somethings, Debs and Binny, who meet at a party and, over the course of the book, work out their insecurities and fears of growing older as they fall for each other. Matt Fraction, reviewing the work for Artbomb, wrote that "In the hands of a lesser cartoonist, Debs and Binny would come off as shallow … little twits; Watson elevates both them and Dumped into a caring sketch of young lovers damaged and eager to be fixed."

Into the Mainstream

Graphic novel and comic book publishing in the 1990s and 2000s is generally divided into two distinct worlds: there are popular series titles, usually based on superheroes or other established characters, that sell many copies and make a lot of money; and there are independent titles that, while they may attract critical attention, have a hard time finding an audience and don't make very much money. Graphic novelists who only publish independent works are often stereotyped as "starving artists" who sacrifice financial rewards to preserve their art. Luckily, a number of graphic novelists have figured out how to succeed in both realms, producing series titles for the money while simultaneously developing their own, more personal works on the side. A good example of the success of this approach is Andi Watson.

Watson has worked on two popular series: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Namor. The former were graphic novel spin-offs of the popular TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and were published in 1999 and 2000 by Dark Horse. Watson's other mainstream work came on Namor. Namor the Sub-Mariner was one of the original characters in the Marvel Comics superhero universe, and the title has been published intermittently since 1939. In 2003-2004, Watson co-wrote the script (with Bill Jemas) for a twelve-issue run of the series, and in it he explores Namor's dual commitments to the worlds above and below water.

Work on series titles like Buffy and Namor brought Watson an above-average pay-check, but it is not his first love, as he reflected to Michael Farrelly in an interview for the Web site Bookslut. With series books, Watson commented, "You work within parameters, you're using other people's property, characters, situations, often other people's stories laid out for you. You have to respect that, it's not yours." At the same time, he continued, "It's cool I get paid." Watson's real love is working on his own stories: "With my own work economic considerations don't come into it. I have an idea I'm really excited about and I HAVE to express it." And, he told Moondaughter, "There's such a freedom and satisfaction to doing things totally your own way."

Perhaps influenced by the work he had done on the superhero comic Namor (see sidebar), Watson set his next work in a world in which superheroes make regular appearances but are mostly a distraction to Jack, a comic book artist, and Nora, who works for a magazine that chronicles the exploits of superheroes. In what is becoming the distinctive Watson style, Jack—described in volume two of the graphic novel as "the male equivalent of the lonely lady with an apartment full of cats"—and Nora must fight through the distractions posed by work and the outside world in their quest to nourish their romance. By the end of 2004, Watson had published two volumes of graphic novels in the series; more are expected as he develops his characters with even more attention to detail and characterization than ever before.

With a number of critically acclaimed graphic novels under his belt, Watson has carved out a niche for himself as a writer who is unusually skillful at portraying the humor and the difficulty in modern romance, and as an artist with a distinctive style that often draws comparison to magazine illustrations from the mid-twentieth century. Watson's works are not strictly autobiographical, but they are certainly modeled on his life experiences: the agonies of declining industry of Breakfast After Noon were lifted directly from his childhood; the cross-cultural antagonisms of Slow News Day reflected his own experiences as a Brit working in the United States; and the emotions of young adults coming to terms with adulthood and parenthood that permeate his works are very much a product of his own life. (As he told Farrelly, "I've spent the last couple of years drawing 400 pages from the world around me.") Happily married and a loving father who spends a great deal of time with his daughter, Watson seems likely to continue mining the stuff of his life in order to turn out graphic novels that find both laughter and emotional insights in the situations of everyday life.

For More Information

Web Sites

Andi Watson.http://www.andiwatson.biz (accessed on May 3, 2006).

"Andi Watson." Artbomb. http://www.artbomb.net/profile.jsp?idx=6&cid=91 (accessed on May 3, 2006).

"Andi Watson." Read Yourself Raw.http://www.readyourselfraw.com/profiles/watson/profile_andiwatson.htm (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Butcher, Christopher. "All About Andi." PopImage.http://www.popimage.com/industrial/061300watsonint.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Contino, Jennifer M. "Andi Watson's Shining Little Star." Comicon.http://www.comicon.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=36;t=004304 (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Contino, Jennifer. "From Geisha to Namor: Andi Watson." Sequential Tart.http://www.sequentialtart.com/archive/mar03/andiwatson2.shtml (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Duff, Lindsay. "Hold the Front Page: An Interview with Andi Watson." Ninth Art.http://www.ninthart.com/display.php?article=210 (accessed on May 3, 2005).

Farrelly, Michael. "An Interview with Andi Watson." Bookslut.http://www.bookslut.com/features/2003_06_000451.php (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Jozic, Mike. "Andi Watson: Fighting the Good Fight." Silver Bullet Comic Books.http://www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com/features/107292766021840.htm (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Moondaughter, Wolfen. "Breakfast, Skeletons, and Slow News Days." Sequential Tart.http://www.sequentialtart.com/archive/july02/awatson.shtml (accessed on May 3, 2006).