Alex Norris of Dorris McComics on Monty Python, William Blake, inspiration and being misunderstood as a dowdy old woman
Take some bright colours, some of life’s common problems (ranging all the way from acne to unrequited love), some bizarre people and situations, and what you get is Dorris McComics. Alex Norris’s absolutely fascinating and often frighteningly insightful web comic, frequently dealing with comics – yes, this man breaks the fourth wall to perfection – and the creative process, will leave you wondering how he manages to seamlessly blend the ordinary with the profound. Every time.
Read on for an exclusive with Eye.
1.‘Dorris McComics.’ What inspired that name, or what would you say it stands for?
I remember reading somewhere that Monty Python chose their name because they wanted people to think that they were some slimy television personality, and I think I was going for something similar.
I wanted everyone to imagine I was a dowdy old lady drawing really bonkers comics. That’s not really the case any more, but I will definitely explain who “Dorris McComics” actually is at some point…
2. What inspired you to start this web comic? When did you begin?
I made a full comic book with a friend when I was about 10. I still have it now and its hilarious to look back at it: the comics are mainly rip-offs of Beano strips, or influenced by adverts and television shows, and I would make them up panel by panel. One was called “Dippy the Bus Kangaroo” based on the TV show Skippy the Bush Kangaroo (which I had never seen) and it was about a kangaroo that did guided coach tours to ridiculously dangerous places and the tour bus always crashed. It was totally crazy.
I started “Dorris McComics” when I was at university. I had a boring office job over the summer and spent a lot of my time reading through archives of “Life in Hell” and “Hark, A Vagrant” and “Dinosaur Comics”. I started to draw comics in my lunch hour and post them online. I drew comics for the university paper the next term and then it eventually grew into what it is now!
3. What do you draw inspiration from?
I studied English Literature at university so I read a lot of novels and poems. I particularly love William Blake and when I’m feeling stuck for an idea I’ll often flick through his illustrated poetry for ideas. The final comics don’t really resemble anything in his poems, but his love of gestures and symbolic images is definitely in there somewhere. I really avoid the pretentiousness of more arty comics I read, which is why I love webcomics as a medium. I can approach quite a big idea in a completely unpretentious way.
I also love television at the moment, it’s in a really good place. I remember first watching Adventure Time and thinking it was exactly the kind of cartoon I’ve always wanted to make: weird and silly, but also sensitive and interesting. There’s so many good cartoons coming out of Cartoon Network and Frederator at the moment. Arrested Development is another one of my faves- the way it is so intricately written and yet unafraid to be really silly. They push the boundaries of what you can get away with in a live-action sitcom, with all the bodily transformations and outrageous plot-lines. Also, the self-obsessed characters misunderstanding each other is exactly the kind of thing I like to write!
4.Who would you say is your biggest support?
I love the support on each of the different social medias for different reasons- I’m a spotlight blog on Tumblr now and that’s amazing because people get so excited about things over there. And I love people on the Facebook page for their interaction! But mainly its my friends and family: I need to have people around to discuss ideas with, or to tell me whether a comic is good or not before I publish it; I get totally jaded! They’re all really supportive.
5. Have you always been interested in drawing or doodling? Do you remember the first thing you ever drew?
Yeah I draw obsessively, but I don’t feel like I’ve really cracked drawing for comics yet. It’s kinda unnatural confining things to tiny boxes and repeat them over and over! But I’m getting better all the time. I was looking over some drawings I did in school when I was around 6, and I’m amazed by how detailed and perceptive they are: I was drawing the inside of my house with all the patterns on the tiles and things on the shelf where they’re always kept, all from memory. And I would get in trouble all the way through school for doodling obsessively on my books and on the desks- when I was 15 I even hurried through my exams so I could draw huge pictures on the desk after I’d finished.
6. What is the most satisfying response or message you’ve received from your fans?
I like it when people say they’ve been inspired to make their own comics, those are my favourites. But I also get messages saying my comics about love and heartbreak (strangely) helped them through a break-up, I never thought my comics would ever help anyone! I also like it when people analyse my comics in massive depth- this happened especially when my comic was posted to the “r/woahdude” subreddit, everyone was totally wracking their brains.
7. Would you say you have a target audience, or do you cater to everyone on the Internet?
Hmm, I never planned this, but I think because I love both gag-based webcomics and more arty comics, my stuff has become a blend of the two, and I get responses from both communities, which is nice! I’ve never really thought about a target audience, I just draw the comics I would like to read!
8. Your art style is very simple, clean and stark. Have you ever tried adapting any other style? If so, why did you not stick to one of them?
Yeah, the flat and simple style is mainly something I’ve cultivated for Dorris McComics, because a lot of the jokes are quite weird or complicated and I wanted to get my message across quickly! But my other drawings are a lot looser. I am working on some longer-narrative comics that are a lot more detailed and nuanced, because that style suits that genre better. And I find the looser, detailed style far easier to draw! Drawing Dorris McComics can be quite difficult because often the lines have to be in exactly the right place for a visual gag to work, and having so few lines means that the ones you do draw have to be perfect.
9. If you could be anyone or anything you wanted, who or what would you be?
My ultimate goal is to write for cartoons, as a storyboard artist. Or even live-action television- I just find the process of writing for television with collaboration and working under limitations very appealing. With online streaming and crowd-funded independent studios popping up, television is such an exciting medium at the moment, and I’d love to be part of it. But, although it can be lonely at times, I love the comics medium and I’ll always draw them. My dream growing was always to be a comic writer, so if I met my ten-year-old self I think they’d totally dig what I’m doing.
10. Tell us about your fondest childhood memory.
My two younger siblings being born is quite vivid in my mind. Having a new baby in the house, receiving all the attention even though they look all pink and weird, it’s a strange feeling as the oldest child. But I soon got used to having them around and I was unbelievably excited when my sister took her first steps. I also remember being horrified by my brother’s still-attached umbilical cord, and pulling it off, which was really gross (sorry).
Interview conducted by Mohona Bhadra