Down the Rabbit Hole with Comic Creator Bunkwaa

Bunkwaa is an Australian comic book artist and cartoonist. The Newtown local merges his love of Sydney history and satire in his comic book series Spewtown, which parodies inner west living, culture and people. He is also known to dabble in street art, animation and painting. Creating images that are a sleight of hand journey into hyper-cartoon worlds, like a kaleidoscopic ride through pop culture’s archetypal collective unconscious. Full of character, worlds within worlds and faces within faces, Bunkwaa’s illustrations are a playful descent into the rabbit hole.

How did you get started in creating comics? Is it something that you have always done or wanted to do or something that happened organically?

The process of making comics was very organic for me. As a kid, I started drawing pictures in squares and putting dialogue into bubbles before I knew what comics even were. From a young age I discovered a love for telling stories with pictures. When I got older I realized that this process was very natural to me, so I started to take making comics more seriously.

What is it about comics and visual storytelling that you love?

That’s a good question! I think I mainly love the process. from the first inspiring idea to the finished product. Also, the audience reaction is something I love. If people didn’t enjoy the comics and encouraged me to make more I’d probably just move onto the next idea.

How would you describe or introduce your work to people?

Hyper-cartoons is what I call some of my work. My cartoon art is inspired by early animations, 80’s cartoons and even modern day comics. I like to see how many characters I can hide in an image. My hope is that the reader can spend hours viewing my work and keep discovering new things they didn’t previously see.

What are your major influences?

I’d say music is one of my biggest influences. I listen to music that is themed to the project I’m working on. I find music helps with the creative process. I usually create a “soundtrack” to the comic I’m working on in the form of a playlist of collected songs. 

Visually I’m still inspired by the cartoons I grew up watching, like Bugs Bunny, Road Runner & Coyote and Daffy Duck. The Far Side comics I grew up reading still affect me to this day!

What is your process for creating your comics? Do you write a script first or just start drawing an idea?

It all starts with an idea. from there I’ll write a script, design all my characters, then storyboard the action, and finally start drawing the art for all the panels. It’s a long painful process full of anxiety, but for some reason I love putting myself through it! The carrot on the stick for me is knowing that people will be reading and enjoying the comic.

I have a really loose process when it comes to creating comics. It seems everyone has their own way of creating comics, and it’s important that you make them in a way that feels right. I don’t think there is any right or wrong way to make them. I usually have a rough script to start with, as I find once I start drawing I come up with new ideas for the characters and story, so the scripting is a little flexible.

Do you compose the comics as a whole piece or go panel by panel?

I create the images outside of the panels, this gives me flexibility when it comes to decisions on what the composition will be. Keeping the same style running through your comic is important. I tend to draw different parts of the story here and there, rather than from panel to panel. I find this helps in keeping the comic visually succinct.

Do you use written word in your comics and cartoons? If not, is there a reason?

The written word is important in my work as it’s a great way to express what the characters are thinking and feeling and helps move the story along. Having said that, the parts of a comic where there is no dialogue are equally important. I like to rely on a mix of both.

Have you ever collaborated with anyone in your comics? If you could choose a writer to collaborate with, who would it be?

The whole of my comic book series Spewtown could be seen as a collaboration with the locals of Newtown. Many locals have inspired the characters from the comic, as well as local stories, history and places.

If I could choose a writer to illustrate for it would definitely be Patti Smith. She’s not known for writing graphic novels, she just has such an amazing way with words.

What advice would you give to anyone who might be interested in being a comic creator, visual storyteller?

Just get started making comics. If you already are making comics, keep making them. Each comic you make teaches you more about the process of making comics. I find, like with all art, it’s about doing. It’s easy to sit around and think about what you’d like to make, but in the end it’s about the daily hard work you put in.

I’ve often had young artists tell me they’ve written a script for a comic but it isn’t very good. I always like to remind those students that they are now in a much better position than they were before because now they have a rough script they can edit and rewrite, which is much better than staring at a blank page. Every struggle you take on in creating comics, you should pat yourself on the back for accomplishing. There is a lot of work in producing comics, the little steps you take each day are important.

Even if, at the end of a day drawing and making comics, you don’t really like what you’ve come up with, that’s okay. You spent the whole day practicing. The next day you can put all of what you learnt into your next drawings and stories. After years and years of making comics, I still learn new things.

Are you working on anything at the moment?

I’m working on an animation for a band called Totally Unicorn during the lockdown. Animation has been a good thing to step into as selling printed comics has become difficult during the lockdown.

Do you read comics and/or graphic novels? What are your favourites of all time?

Like lots of my comic book making friends I have a pile of unread comics on my shelf. I tend to collect zines and self published comics as I like to read what independent comic book creators are making. I have boxes of comics I’ve bought directly from the artists at Comic Con and Supanova year after year! Independent artists I’d recommend you keep your eye on are Louis Joyce, Sam McEwan and Charlotte Rose Hamlyn. there are too many to mention actually!

The first comic I ever bought was 2000AD. So many great artists have worked for the magazine. It’s filled with lots of different stories and styles. It’s a great resource for young storytellers and illustrators.

Are you reading any at the moment?

I’m reading Bazza The Bogan Barbarian at the moment. Mainly because I have the whole collection and have never had time to sit and read them. It’s really good. Totally begging to be turned into a film. It’s created by Silver Fox Comics.

What 3 comics/graphic novels would you recommend everyone read?

1) Maus is amazing. It’s a great example of how composition works in storytelling.

2) The Superior Spiderman. Incredible storytelling techniques.

3) Almost any graphic novel written by Alan Moore. He has an incredible understanding of storytelling through the medium of comics.

Check out these titles based on Bunkwaa’s recommendations

You can find more of Bunkwaa’s work on his Instagram page