I’ve been a fan of Oscar Wilde since reading ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ in my teens. Years later, when I began making comics, I started a graphic novel based on Oscar’s early life. Twenty years ago I showed it to the editor of Punch magazine. He was very enthusiastic, but asked how could I give the strip contemporary relevance. I replied, almost without thinking, ‘Perhaps he could be abducted by aliens and returned one hundred years later?’
‘Go for it’ was his response. I immediately phoned all my friends and relations to tell them all my thrilling news.
The following day, as I was on my way to sign the contract, I was phoned by the editor’s secretary to tell me that he had been sacked. All his projects were cancelled.
The darkest day of my life.
But I was hooked on the idea and wasn’t going to waste it, so I got to work. I showed the first few frames to a techy mate, Bill Hunter, who said I should put it on the internet.
The strip finally went public in 2003 and attracted favourable comments, particularly in Japan, where it was used as a language teaching aid. But it was laborious and unpaid work and having barely begun the story, I reluctantly shelved the project.
Eight years ago I received an email from Danielle Guerin who was one of the first and most enthusiastic internet fans. Now the editor of ‘Rue des Beaux Arts’, a French online magazine about Wilde, she was keen to run my strip. It was an invitation I couldn’t resist.
Now Oscar exists in both an English and a French language version, something I was very happy about as I’d long considered France the home of the comic strip, thanks to my childhood love of Tintin.
It was a long gestation, during the course of which I became computer literate. Hence the transition from the earliest frames, which involved pen and ink drawings on paper, carefully hand coloured, to scanned pen and ink drawings, with colour and captions added digitally.
Creating this graphic novel has been a fascinating process, requiring me to become Oscar at a certain level. At the end I feel as though I have absorbed his thinking into my own. I believe he is a very contemporary thinker. I envisage the strip as a drama. I had no idea how it was going to end when I made the first few experimental frames, and we have come through this journey together, making discoveries and stumbling across surprises en route. After living with him for twenty years, I have the same enthusiasm for his work as generated the idea in the first place.
The crucial thing is not to take oneself too seriously. This labour of love has consumed twenty years of my life, but as Oscar himself put it, ‘all art is quite useless’