Graham Chaffe’s 1993 graphic novel Big Wheels is an unrecognized masterpiece. I often show snippets from this book in my class as a way to demonstrate how a cartoonist in a couple of pages can set a scene and explore a character with the images doing all the heavy lifting. Graham was nice enough to answer a few questions about the book. I was thrilled to learn he’s been hard at work on a new book (that he hopes to finish by early 2010) and even more thrilled to see a sneak peak (posted below!). — James Sturm
—Q: Big Wheels seems influenced by cinema as well as other comics. Any specific influences you care to mention?
Cinema is a big part of my life (and by this I mean that I see a lot of movies – no actual working exp w/film, here…) and naturally has been a big part of my creative process. I think of my books as paper movies and my layouts are an attempt to capture and control a certain, quiet tempo that I see in the film-in-my-head… If I had to pick a directorial style that most influences my comics, it would be one of the meandering guys: Cassevetes, Altman, Jarmusch… no real soundtrack, no real driving force behind the plot – just dialog and camerawork, mostly, I guess… Also, I steal a lot: without having the book in front of me, I can think of several movie references in The Big Wheels – Ironweed (hobos getting work in the morning) – Killing of a Chinese Bookie (that’s Ben Gazzera in the strip club) – In a Lonely Place (onscreen in the theatre) – Sunset Boulevard (old cat-lady actress) – Pennies From Heaven (using Ed Hopper paintings as set pieces) – M (child stalker guy – even orders a double brandy, like Lorre) …there are probably more, but I cant recall. Of course, there are more general influences (the noir genre, for instance – and the whole stream-of-consciousness structure, a-la ‘Slacker‘) that add more movie flavor…I think Big Wheels, being my first book, leaned pretty heavily on these ready-made bits to keep it going… I think my subsequent work is perhaps a little less derivative… still paper movies, but less rippy-offy…I hope…
Q: Why did you stop making comics?
I stopped making comics for 2 reasons: One – I can’t write for shit and have nothing much to say: all art, no story is the basic problem…should probably team up with a writer and do their stuff – or adapt the classics or some such. Two – I started tattooing full-time in ’94 and that has cut into my comics creation big-time – I just never have the creative energy, anymore…
Q: Tell me about the new work?
The new book is cause I met a muse and she got me all fired up to be creative again, painting, drawing, writing, the works…so now I’m doing a talking-animal story about a dog without any purpose in his life. Dogs are born followers, and his chronically stray condition is making him a nervous wreck – he has nightmares and envies his retarded bulldog pal who spends all day tied to a tree… As the story goes, Ivan (our guy) flirts with a semi-wild pack (led by a delusional Husky-type) and develops a conflicted relationship with the woman that runs the local bar… That’s about it really – very little gets resolved, the ending is ambiguous, and it’s unclear if he’s any better off at the end than he was at the start… Quiet and Small would be good words to describe the story…hope to have it done by early 2010.