It’s Q&A time! You might already know of Nick Hayes from his previous work, including the beautiful The Rime of the Modern Mariner, a recasting of Coleridge’s famous poem which Jonathan Cape published in 2011. At last, Nick is back with a new book, Woody Guthrie: And the Dust Bowl Ballads.
What was the first comic you wrote?
When I was at university the local trendy clothes shop started selling rough-weave, rustic-styled beanies with the slogan FREE TIBET on them. I had set up a magazine with a mate, which included a well-balanced polemic we’d written on Fredric Jameson’s theory of complicit smiles, talking about how advertising was capitalising on Leftist ideals for profit, promulgating an ironic worldview on real life atrocities to sell more stuff. I felt this perspective needed something to balance it, and wrote a cartoon at the end of the magazine called ‘What a bunch of c*nts’ where they all burned in hell.
Who are your comic heroes and influences?
I don’t read a whole lot of comics. My heroes come from elsewhere. Nic Jones has the kindest voice in folk music, and I love his songs with my whole heart. Rob Macfarlane, Richard Mabey, Jay Griffiths, David Abrams, these are the voices on my bookshelf who mean more to me than just great writing, who have really affected the way I see the world, and act within it.
What was the last comic you read?
Polina, by Bastien Vivès, who is brilliant.
What helps you write?
What’s your favourite Woody Guthrie song?
With artists that you love, its less about individual songs and more about their entire perspective, the atmosphere they produce. Woody Guthrie’s atmosphere is one of playful, old-timer anarchy, that puckish sense of mischief whose tone and delivery, let alone the lyrics, represent a natural undermining of hegemony and status quo. I always loved the silliness and sarcasm of ‘Do Re Me’, and Woody’s version of the ‘Lonesome Road Blues’ (called ‘Going Down the Road’) has the best spirit to it. ‘Pastures of Plenty’ feels great to play and sing, as does ‘Pretty Boy Floyd’.
But really, the one that touches me the most is one that I hadn’t heard until recently. A very generous man by the name of Whiskey Mick, a pillar of the Camden busking movement, played me a Woody song in his garden as the sun was going down. Woody wrote the lyrics, and Billy Bragg wrote the melody; it’s called ‘Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key’. The lyrics are Woody all over - they are simple and plain and evoke a young love in the place he did a lot of his growing up. But they are also abstract and bold, and pure poetry - they sound so good to sing, and they harden like cement in your head. His lyric “there ain’t nobody that can sing like me” rings less like arrogance and self agrandising, but more like a celebration of the self, a strengthening of the soul. That song follows me everywhere.
Nick Hayes is the author of The Rime of the Modern Mariner, an updating of Coleridge’s famous poem and among the most highly regarded of recent British graphic novels. He has also published two collections of his short comics, Lovely Grey Day and 11 Folk Songs. He is the founding editor of Meat magazine, a periodical which has been showcasing new writing, comics and illustration for the last six years – and has won two Guardian Media awards.