Mark Sutherland’s creation is an anti establishment big wave charger who has survived the last decade in the jungle only to recently reappear in a new publication.
Can you tell us a bit about how you ended up living on the Mid North Coast?
We moved up here about fifteen years ago, from the South Coast. The house we had down there was already too small and my wife, Rose, was expecting another child, so we looked around for somewhere we could have more room but still be near the beach. The price for real estate down there had gone crazy, but the North Coast was still pretty affordable. And the warmer weather is pretty good, too.
Where did the inspiration for Gonad Man come from?
I was working for Tracks magazine, writing and doing illustrations, and Andrew Kidman, the editor of Waves magazine, had the idea of starting a comic strip. Waves and Tracks were published by the same company. Andrew already had the title worked out, and conceived him as a sort of super hero. I decided he should be more human; that he should have flaws and be a normal person, basically – just one who could surf really well. The main inspiration came from watching Gilligan’s Island as a kid; it provided me with a context that was already established, but which wasn’t real. This allowed me to invent scenarios and play around with it as much as I wanted.
What is it about?
It’s really about the difference between the fantasies that surfers like to entertain about themselves and the reality of being a human being in the modern world. Waves’ readership was mostly teenage boys. Teenage boys are frustrated in almost every way – they’re not kids, but they’re not men, so they dream a lot about being the sort of man they imagine they’d like to be: fearless, uncompromising, sexually prolific and wildly talented. Gonad Man is all those things, but he still has all sorts of problems stemming from those behavioural traits. That’s what I wanted to show, I guess; that there’s no getting away from yourself, no matter how fearless or talented you might be. It’s heavily autobiographical, of course (insert canned laughter).
When and where did he first appear in print?
He first appeared in print in 1993, in Waves, and ran for about six years.
Gonad Man has been published across several mediums; can you talk about that journey and how it has helped him has survive?
Well, he’s really only appeared in the magazine, and in a couple of books of Collected Adventures that we’ve put out over the years. I have copies of that, too. There was a brief foray into animation, at one stage. I was working with a TV company in the late ’90s to try to develop the comic into a cartoon, but it never quite came off. That’s the one that got away; that would have made me rich.
In a world of digital production, you still hand draw your cartoons. Can you tell us a bit about that and your background and training?
Well, I trained as an animator, back in the early ’80s. I’d always loved drawing and was always torn between comics and fine art. I loved comics as a kid and drew them constantly. Then, as I got older, I became really interested in oil painting. When I left school, I started out wanting to be a painter but, after a couple of years, I realised I couldn’t draw well enough to be able to paint the things I wanted to paint.
My dad worked in advertising and got me a job in an animation studio, where we made TV commercials, mostly. I started out as an assistant animator, drawing fifty drawings a day; if they weren’t right, the boss would just toss them in the bin and tell me to do them again, which was probably the best lesson I ever learnt. After a couple of years, I’d become a lot better at drawing, so I quit to have another crack at painting.
I moved to Queensland with my girlfriend and won a few art competitions, and made a bit of money. But cartoons sort of called me back. I decided to make an animated short film; it was about surfing and the drug culture that I grew up in and was pretty well-received when it came out. It got shown at the Sydney Film Festival, but it didn’t make any money. I was back in Sydney, driving cabs for a living, and that’s when I started doing the odd illustration for Tracks.
Recently you released another instalment of his adventures; how long did this take to produce?
When I stopped doing the comic in the magazine, in the late ’90s, I was drinking pretty heavily and not in a very good place. The comic just sort of fizzled out, and it became a cause for regret that I had let it come to that point. So a few years later, after I’d sobered up, I had an idea for a storyline. I wrote it out and it was really funny, so I decided to draw it up. I guess you could say it was an attempt at redemption, for myself as well as for the character. It took me seven years, in the finish.
It would probably be quicker to do it all on a computer, but I wouldn’t know where to start, even if I wanted to. It wouldn’t look the same. I like drawing, so using technology to sidestep the drawing process doesn’t make any sense to me. I would much rather sit at my desk with a pen in my hand than sit at a computer.
Where can people find out more?
They can go to my website and order the books. I also have a few books at the Comic Book store in Sawtell, Coastal Curves surf shop in Nambucca and the Nambucca newsagents. Also Yamba Revival, in Yamba.