Rees Finlay…Through ‘The Blue Flame’
Welcome to Emporium Purgatorio’s ‘Artist’s Edition’. Here we are exploring Rees Finlay’s comics & art, particularly through the lens of his upcoming work, ‘The Blue Flame’.
Somewhere between ‘Fight Club’ and ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’, The Blue Flame explores love, loss, guilt and what it means to battle your demons.
We mean Artist’s Edition articles to give a face to that particular artist and insight/exploration into the exact mechanics of birthing a comic as an Indie Artist. Rees has been drawing comics “as long as [his] cloudy memory cares to traipse back to” . He’s also been a part of or witnessed every facet of the comics industry: from beginning his own Indie Comic Publishing imprint, to having one of his “heroes”, Alan Moore, read his work.
If you are willing to step through the ‘Blue Flame’ into Rees Finlay’s world, this writer is willing to wager that you will return deeply affected…
Kindling aka Backstory
Rees Finlay was born in the city of Coventry, England, most widely known for St. Michael’s Cathedral and The London Taxi Company. He has pictured it for us as, “…the industrial mecca of the country back in the day, but sadly took a heavy bombing during World War Two and we still haven’t gotten round to tidying up.” Coventry is the second largest city in the West Midlands. While being “very much a middle-of-the-road sort of town” with many attributes, there are certainly some darker corners one can find. But that’s ahead of us…
[Coventry was]…the industrial mecca of the country back in the day, but sadly took a heavy bombing during World War Two and we still haven’t gotten round to tidying up.
Coming from a nice area with “ a relatively nice upbringing”, Rees has been practicing his comic craft as far back as his memories reach. He has vivid recollections of childhood coloring contests and making his own comics, having once won what “…was this sort of pop-up tent based on the animated series of Batman…”. But the one that started the affair with mainstream comics seems to be an issue of ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ which Rees bought for 50 pence at his local Forbidden Planet store. He recounted his ‘comic trigger’ and not knowing which issue it was during an interview for ‘True Believers Comic Festival’. After “[Stuart Mulrain, the organizer] went all Sherlock” sleuthing out ‘Spider-Man Adventures #3′, Rees reacquired the comic. It now resides on his desk as a “reminder and a belief” that he treasures.
The idea that my dad taking me to grab a comic book with my pocket money is responsible for putting me where I am now is a nice belief to hold onto. The book may be worthless…but what it represents is everything to me.
Rees is now 24 years old, and it’s almost two years to the day of that description. The Phoenix Initiative (an award winning redevelopment project) is now moving to phase two. The midlands is now described as a great area for art, comics, and expression. A highlight of which is Fargo Village, an independently run ‘shopping center’ that hosts some of Coventry’s most accomplished artists. One of these artists is the incredibly talented Al Davison (Muscle Memory, Hellblazer), who with his wife Maggie offers many of his creations at Fargo.
EmpPurg: I think you might have smartly summed up ‘comics’ itself by stating that it’s what the comic represents to you is where the importance remains. My own was ‘Taboo’, from Steve Bisette, with Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s ‘From Hell’ story within. Local comic shop. No idea what it was about at the time, but the name and cover art are still as vivid as ever.
You mentioned the amazing Al Davison and his work on ‘Hellblazer’ #101 with Paul Jenkins. Alan Moore has also been noted as a major influence in much of your press. Having previously said that you, “try not to let [your] idols influence you to the point of imitation”, what as a comic artist is it you take from your influences?
RF: While their work is amazing and inspiring and breathtaking and thought-provoking and everything else a comic should be, I like to retain the outlooks of these artists when approaching my work [as opposed to mimicking any particular style]. In the case of Al Davison, the man is an incredible fighter, letting nothing stand in his way and turning his hardships into art. Alan Moore has a similar mindset; his hard work and dedication to the craft and ensuring each work is unlike any other is equally inspiring.
I often find myself watching lectures, podcasts and talks with my favorite comic creators and their advice always boils down to, just make comics. And its as simple as that for me these days, no comparing to others, no trying to be like someone else, lets just make a comic, yeah?
While recent travel thoughts are possibly coming to fruition with a visit across the pond to the States, Rees has yet to travel very far from his birthplace. And that is just fine with him. He’s settled into his first flat. His family, whom he speaks highly and fondly of, including parents, brother, sister, and their children, all live within walking distance. “Work is steady, friends are wonderful. I can’t have paradise, but a lot of things are too damn good to keep wallowing about the less than good aspects”.
Fanning the Flames aka ‘The Blue Flame’ Begins
Rees has been gracious enough to share most of the proof pages for ‘The Blue Flame’, giving us at EmpPurg early access to his emotionally charged and engrossing journey. I would hesitate to call this comic autobiographical; ‘The Blue Flame’ seems to share an artist’s soul (I’m not using that word blithely) with more honesty than any comic I can recall.
This is the autobiography of Rees Finlay, he makes comics……or at least he used to, following a tragic accident his leg barely works, everyone he ever loved has gone and his passion is lost. He is broken. In his darkest hour a mysterious figure appears before him. She is the blue flame, and she is here to lead Rees on a journey through his memories to show him the painful truths that put him where he is now.
To begin, there are no soft strokes within ‘The Blue Flame’. It avoids the common trappings that many ‘autobios’ seem to so easily fall into. The ‘Rees’ we journey with in ‘The Blue Flame’, as well as the ‘real’ Rees Finlay, is not looking for answers. At least not in the traditional sense of someone having an epiphany or ‘finding’ themselves and then recounting through their art the path that led to that those realizations. Rees and his (Savior? Foe?) The Blue Flame seem to interact as if what is recounted would never be found by anyone. Not necessarily a straight path with a final destination, but something that was absolutely needed to be let out for fear of the alternative.
The most personal project from Damn Dirty comics, the blue flame has been an incredible and emotional journey from reality to page.
The Blue Flame is 4 years in the making, and the final comic from indie label ‘Damn Dirty Comics’ a 150 page graphic novel that is set to be our magnum-opus as well as our swansong.
If you are wondering what could be the impetus and actions that could lead a man from the happy beginnings recounted above, to the beautiful art of life and death moments lived, ‘The Blue Flame’ is your spirit guide. Or possibly more…
RF: The origin of the flame is a pretty grim one. [I] had a pretty good time on the small-press scene in 2015, but was rather absent in 2016. [I] was in a rather bad accident at the end of 2015, and it knocked me off my metaphorical horse so to speak…lost relationships, work, [spending time in those darker parts of Coventry].
‘The Blue Flame’ started with me hid away in my parent’s spare room in the late summer of 2016, my lowest point. In a bid to get ‘back on my horse’, I was just jamming, improvising sequentials…I guess in my head the scariest thing i could conjure was (for me) the morning I woke up and couldn’t walk. It grew from there…At first it was a few bits of art for personal catharsis, then it was shared with friends for feedback. Now its a 150 page graphic novel exploring my devils and my deeds.
…a complex and surreal and painful look at the last 4 years, a confession, a love letter, a sick exercise in self-hatred, you choose.
EmpPurg: Were your parents actively involved in or aware of what you were doing in summer 2016 in their spare room? Did you share your initial art with them and what was driving it?
RF: Not at all, how could I tell them? Y’know, my engagement had just resolved, I was going through a charade of unhealthy relationships and encounters. I was in a personal hell of my own creation and my confessions were my catharsis.
My dad is a strong silent type, I don’t really know how he feels about what I’m doing, but he’s a great man, he’d talk sense into me if i strayed TOO FAR off the path. My mother, me and her have become very close after the….disengagement?….is that the word?…our comedy live streams on Facebook are infamous. However, she won’t read them, who would want to see their son go through all of that? Alone, unable to share it until now? I wouldn’t wish that upon her, or anyone who cares for me, so would never force her to read this. However my younger sister gets pages regularly and her reactions are overwhelming, but fill me with hope…
The initial art was driven by my own drive to become relevant to myself again. Self-loathing can quickly take hold and make you acknowledge your insignificance. I did it for me to stop me doing other things.
EmpPurg: Was the accident that hurt your leg a result of the downward spiral you were in, or a catalyst for more?
RF: I guess the cause? But maybe if you build yourself so high you can do nothing but fall…I got cocky, I got arrogant…Maybe the accident was karma?
I was driving to a book signing for High Priestess #2 in Devon when it happened, we were so excited. Devon holds so many good memories, so the idea of doing a signing down there was incredible. We (me and my partner at the time) decided to pull over for some lunch, a combination of bad weather, little knowledge of the road system and the distraction of being excited caused my attention to drop, as i turn right into the car park a truck hits me at full speed on the drivers side. My partner was okay, a bit shaken but fine. I however, my head smashed into the window at great force and my whole right side was throne into the hard, bumpy plastic of the car door.
We still made it to the signing, the whole weekend didn’t feel real, like a dizzy dream. On the final day we sat on the bench on the cliff top where I proposed the year before. Knowing nothing would be the same on the return to Coventry…
The Blue Flame character herself doesn’t seem to be a direct corollary to a specific person in Rees’ life during this time. He describes her as a McGuffin during one conversation. If so, this just adds further credit to Rees for the depth of meaning portrayed with ‘merely’ pen strokes and minimal language.
It’s an eerie and often uncomfortable feeling immersing oneself within ‘The Blue Flame’. I felt almost voyeuristic after just the first few panels. This is raw. This is real. This is a comic that does what all great art should do: it make you feel.
EmpPurg: You spoke of the depth of the emotion you were trying to put onto paper being directly related to the finished art. Do you feel the results are ‘better’ or just ‘different’ on the pages and images that were the toughest to put out there for the readers?
RF: Well, when you’re retrospectively recounting your past, you’re gonna feel something, naturally. Could never have predicted what parts got an emotional reaction out of me, though, I guess I thought the nicer memories would be a…relief for me while drawing the bad ol’ days.
From what I gather from feedback it translates well onto the page, as it’s very much charged by my emotion. You can tell in the art what days I was struggling. Any other occasion and I’d go back and fix it. But I feel I should leave it in. Warts and all. So probably not better, but necessary.
…probably not better, but necessary.
TO BE CONTINUED….
With the Kickstarter campaign for ‘The Blue Flame’ days away, Rees Finlay making final prep for Birmingham Horror Con, and the mystery of The Blue Flame yet to be divined, Emporium Purgatorio will be revisiting this amazingly engaging tale often. (And if you are lucky enough, there just might be some free comics left here to wet your appetite…)
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