“Punishment teaches self-control. There is no other way!” says Billy, the protagonist of illustrator Nathan Cowdry’s latest offering Shiner.
After experiencing some deeply troubling events in his life, Billy thinks he’s learning how to deal with hard truths in the correct manner. Thankfully, Billy encounters a Slipknot fan, Kat, on a park bench who teaches him the solutions to life’s insolvable questions.
Gender, morality, sex and religion form the basis for Shiner. By encapsulating the illustrator’s distinctive manga-inspired realities with newly-developed and sparkly-eyed characters, Nathan has been working hard since we last spoke to him in 2015. “I’ve done odd jobs here and there, comic events and exhibitions, but basically I’ve been totally preoccupied with drawing my comics,” he explains. “My productivity is prone to taking sudden dips sometimes according to forces in and out of my control, but I try to keep some kind of momentum with art and I’ll always be working on something.”
Having recently released two zines, Soft Touch and Faraway Beach, his latest addition demonstrates that Nathan is a cartoonist with a precarious way of storytelling. “There is a juvenile streak in my work that is always there — it is constant in all my work,” Nathan tell us.”There are subjects or images that are uncomfortable for some people and it can turn a lot of people away. I might be on a few ‘black lists’ but I want my work to be completely honest. I need the rough edges. I can’t edit based on how I imagine people might react to my work, so I just leave it all out there and hope people are charitable enough to see it for what it actually is.”
Alongside a “liberal use of alcohol, music and reference material”, Nathan makes sure to push himself out of his comfort zone to achieve his new illustrations. “I’m careful not to draw what comes too easy to me, when I go into autopilot mode the end result is always horrible. Do the harder thing and concentrate. Thats how you get better, I think,” he says. Nathan’s method has led to a huge body of work that consists of Japanese ‘shoujo’ and manga cartoons, all the while enriching his passion for comics. “I never gave it much thought before now, but with alt-comics and self publishing I think the main appeal probably comes from the narcissistic idea of having complete creative control in a medium. I get to decide every aspect of production from start to finish, and if it’s rubbish I’m only accountable to myself.”
Shiner branches away from Nathan’s usual output, which usually involve an irregular narrative depicting random moments from intimate relationships. Now, his most prominent theme, alongside a new-found liberal use of Biro, is the ability to express his own values and worries in his artwork. “You should listen to those audio books I sent you, it’s about recognising negative thought patterns, and learning how you can reconstruct your brain,” says a large-headed creature to his counterpart on one of the spreads. We then ask Nathan whether this was a representation of how he perceives the world: “Putting worries and fantasies onto paper helps to compartmentalise them… Maybe things become less threatening if you draw them as cartoons. I don’t really think about it enough."