Introducing: Stephen Crowe


Stephen Crowe is a Brtish-born illustrator living in Seattle who has “an intense love-hate relationship with James Joyce.” His work has appeared in the International Herald Tribune, Modern Painters Magazine, Vestoj, The Atlantic Online, Her Royal Majesty, and the James Joyce Literary Supplement. He will illustrate Joyce’s Dubliners for new Paris-based Irish press, De Selby Press. He contributes The City to gorse, the origins of which he discussed in a recent interview with The Honest Ulsterman.

It was while doing research for Wake in Progress that I first encountered a book called The City by Frans Masereel, which is a series of 100 woodcuts capturing all these unrelated city scenes: factories and revolutions, traffic jams and murders, all kinds of things. I was fascinated by it: the stark black and white, the crazy perspective, variety of characters, the undertone of violence. I kept this little book in my pocket all the time. Most of the pages I did for chapter three are based on Masereel’s woodcuts.

At the same time, I’d been thinking for a while about some ideas for a comic, and I gradually came up with the idea of a city inspired by Masereel’s as the setting: somewhere between a real place and a nightmare. Masereel’s city is based on Paris, but I wanted mine to feel like a place on the brink of collapse, so I put it somewhere in Austria-Hungary after World War One. I started populating it partly with characters based on Masereel’s grotesques, and partly with types pulled from turn-of-the-century fiction.

It’s still in the early days right now – I’m learning how to write and draw a comic as I go – but I want it to grow into a kind of mythologised version of interwar Europe. I’ve always loved the way that the Coen Brothers reuse genre tropes in their films, and I’d like to achieve something similar with borrowings from Eric Ambler and Graham Greene. It’s not that much of a stretch. You can see in some of Greene’s work, such as The Ministry of Fear, that he was already trying to turn a spy thriller into a Kafkaesque nightmare, so he’s really beaten me to the punch.

Issue one of gorse is out now.