Toon in to the world of comics

Edward Ross with some of his artwork. Picture: Julie Bull
Edward Ross with some of his artwork. Picture: Julie Bull
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IT is something parents the world over will be able to resonate with – the overwhelming feeling of fear and awe as you bring your tiny, helpless baby home for the first time.

While many would struggle to find a way to communicate such a roller coaster of emotions, artist Edward Ross found a simple, yet powerful, medium to express one of the most important moments in his life. The medium of the comic strip.

Edward Ross cartoon

Edward Ross cartoon

Edward, 27, has made a name for himself with his unique talent to simplify some of the most complex subject matters and make them easily digestible to a wide audience.

From fatherhood to stem cell research, no topic is too complicated for Edward to break down into simple boxes and describe through a series of eye-catching drawings and short, to-the-point statements.

He is one of a band of cartoonists trying to get the message across to people that comics don’t just need to be about men who wear their underwear over their trousers.

Comics are about everyday life, and everyday scenarios which everyone can empathise with.

Edward Ross cartoons

Edward Ross cartoons

“You don’t have to be into superheroes to enjoy comics,” explains Edward, from Portobello. “There’s something for everyone and people are starting to see that.

“At the comic fair in Charlotte Square, people were coming in saying they hadn’t read a comic before and hadn’t realised comics were like this, and hadn’t realised the medium had this potential.

“People are opening their eyes to the possibility that they could enjoy comics.”

This year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival had a particular focus on comics and graphic novels, with the new strand Stripped incorporating more than 40 events celebrating the genre, and big names such as Neil Gaiman chairing a series of hugely popular events.

As a relative fledgling in the industry who has managed to carve out a niche for himself, Edward was invited to speak at the festival.

“There were a lot of questions from people interested in how to get into comics.

“The powerful thing about comics is that people aren’t really doing it to make money, they’re doing it out of passion.

“There are a lot of people who self-publish their comics, but it’s challenging. Finding an audience for your work can be quite hard. The publishing industry is suffering, although comics are essentially on the rise.

“In the last five years there’s been a huge growth in interesting comics in the UK and America. Some publishers in the UK are really starting to take comics and graphic novels seriously.”

Edward self-publishes his series of film comics, called Filmish, and has just published the fourth instalment based around the theme of food in films.

He explains: “Filmish is sold in cinemas and comic book shops. It sells like hotcakes at The Filmhouse, because it’s talking to film fans about something they love and giving them new insights.

“I take the readers through a different theme each issue. The most recent one is food and film. It might seem like a weird subject at first, but there’s a really interesting use of food being used by filmmakers to show the relationship between characters.

“In Citizen Kane, you see Charles Kane sitting with his new wife, side by side, round the table, very much in love. It cuts through time, and as they grow older and more estranged, they are sitting at opposite ends of this long table.”

Edward’s “day job” sees him work for a number of research bodies, who employ him to draw cartoons focusing on various scientific topis in a bid to convey complicated issues to a young audience in a simplified way.

One of Edward’s employers includes the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine, which commissions him to produce short, 20-page comics on topics such as Scotland’s progress in stem cell research.

He has also produced comics on malaria, and the way the disease is transferred between mosquito and human.

“People are always looking for ways to talk about science in interesting ways,” says Edward. “The whole point of these comics is to give children, young adults, and even adults an interest in science.

“It’s good for everyone to be informed about it. The comics are under 20 pages, so little things that people can read fairly quickly and can be read online or in schools.”

Edward first started writing comics when he was seven years old. Skipper, the cat who lived in a skip, was the star.

“As a kid, I was really interested in drawing and reading a lot of comics like The Beano, Oor Wullie, Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes. I made up my own cartoon character and sold comics to my family for 10p.

“I looked back on them recently and they’re not terrible, but I think my family were being very supportive.”

Even now, Edward is still being supported by his family – but this time in an entirely different way.

His 16-month-old son Niven was the inspiration behind his Grow series, featuring little snippets of insight into the life of a couple expecting a child, then the first chaotic months of life as a family.

“In the first months, everything is a bit of a blur. There are little moments of melancholy, and there’s all those really nice things that are one-offs and never going to happen again. I talk about that and give voice to some of those experiences.”

Edward’s next project is to take his “hobby” – Filmish – and turn it into a full-length graphic novel. “I’m just trying to step into the next phase of being a comic book maker,” he says. “It’s a big undertaking and I’m at the foot of the mountain.

“I also want to keep doing the science comics. Balancing that with family life and doing a full-length book will be interesting. It’s going to be a busy couple of years.”