‘Talking About Money’ with Greg Conroy

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The first time Greg Conroy‘s humourous illustrations caught my eye, they brought a wry smile. His simple, but effective artform tells a story, poking fun at skateboarders by highlighting the hypochrisies we are sometimes surrounded by. Our cartoon correspondent Jon Horner was sent to delve into the background of Conroy’s mission, paying homage to George Bernard Shaw who once famously said: “No, I am an artist, not a businessman; businessmen always want to talk about art, but artists only talk about money.”

Let’s start with Suburbs (Gregory’s stream of consciousness style comic about London, dog walking and Toby Shuall). How did that one come about?

Well, I’d just broken up with my ex. We lived together in Zone 1, right by Tower Bridge and I’d moved back to my parents’ on the border of Lewisham and Greater London, so I spent the first few weeks trying to find a local alternative to Southbank. Just somewhere to go and have a roll about. I’d just got a dog too, so I spent most of my days walking around the suburbs looking for spots with the dog. I was always stoked on Toby Shuall’s Head Cleaner section but started watching it obsessively when I moved home. it seemed a lot more relatable to me, back home in my late 20s.

The comic was sort of a visual diary I suppose. I had the thought process that’s in the comic going through my head all the time cos I was always out with the dog and always watching the section. With the other half of the book (that Jeremy Jones contributed to) I wanted something a bit funnier, making fun of the ‘deep stuff’ a bit.

So you were a proper Southbank kid then?

Yup, pretty much. Me, Henry Edwards-Wood and Faris Hassan went to the same school in Lewisham and all started skating the local carpark, then after a year we upgraded to Southbank. I’ve always preferred Shell Centre though. In the mid 2000s it would be ‘let’s skate Waterloo’, and I think its a bit sad that the new generation doesn’t have that. Southbank, Shell, lower Shell and, at a push, pigeon shit banks!

Where did drawing come into it? Was it something that came from skating and skate art or something separate that eventually joined up with skating?

My dad’s an artist (a proper one), and we didn’t have much money so, as a kid, we’d spend all day just drawing and making stuff out of cardboard boxes and paper mache. There weren’t many computer games as a kid, actually we had a black and white telly until the mid 90s. I remember going to a mate’s house and watching colour TV and getting proper tripped out, I thought it was only colour in cinemas! Haha!

My dad got me into it though, he lectured at Goldsmiths in the mid 80s but got laid off. He always encouraged us to draw, I was always super keen on cartoons and my older brother got me into comics early on. When skating came along I sort of fell off drawing religiously and skating became number 1, but it was always there in the background. Then I got back into it again heavily in my early 20s but never really wanted to show anyone. I was a bit embarrassed.

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What sort of things would you draw? I used to obsessively copy Beano characters.

Early on it was Asterix and Obelix and Tintin. We had loads of those books and I used to think they were amazing. I liked the Beano and Dandy but the drawings in Asterix were so great, really solid cartoons, they still stand up today. Then as I got a little older it was copying comics: Green Lantern, Superboy and Robin. I liked the teenage superheros, they had fit girlfriends and were always a bit jack the laddish, which to an 11 year old nerd is sort of the dream. You can tell I was popular at school! Then as I became a lot older, 20s, I got back into cartoons and sort of started to form a ‘style’.

I love the Asterix books! I used to get them at the library when I was younger and now I still keep an eye out for them in second hand book shops.

Yeah you can get so many good books in charity shops, for like 20 pence, I go for a dig once a month or so on the high street. Loads of great children’s books too. Anthony Browne the children’s book writer/illustrator’s work is what really lit a fire under me to get back into drawing in my early 20s.

Oh interesting, why him in particular?

His books can be read on two levels, he writes for a child to understand but there a visual hints and clues to a deeper story for the parent to see as they read. A lot of his books have quite adult content really, class issues and troubled relationships. I like things that have multiple depths and can be viewed simply or with a more significant undercurrent. I’m not sure if that comes off in my cartoons though, I’m sure most people go ‘haha, yeah man I think weed is cool too!’ and I’m thinking noooo, laugh at the stoner, not with him! Not that there’s anything wrong with it, I don’t want to alienate myself from skateboarding entirely, I’m not that dense! Puff away lads! Laugh with the stoner!

Hahaha! What was the process of finding your style like? Your work is really distinctive, was that a deliberate choice or something that sort of just happened?

There’s a guy called Walt Kelly who worked at Disney, he left and started doing a newspaper strip called Pogo which I personally think is the basis for all good cartoons. He’s the Gonz of cartoons. If you look at Robert Crumb’s early stuff as a teenager, im sure he was looking at him loads. And there’s a guy called Jeff Smith who made a comic called Bone. Jeff Smith says that his Bone character is kind of his take on Walt Kelly’s Pogo, and my characters are pretty much a vague rip off of Bone. It’s all a farce! I’m just nicking from other people. But realistically, I think most western cartoons end up back at Walt Kelly.

I always wanted to put my drawings out into some sort of public forum or do something with them, but for years I had no idea what I wanted to draw. I spent loads of time in Cide skateshop when I was younger and French worked there and I think he’s the best. I spent years trying to draw gory stuff like him, but it just wasn’t for me.

So after drawing French-esque stuff, what was your next move?

The French stuff was always half hearted. I’d start a drawing then give up halfaway through knowing it was just a poor imitation. That was around the time skating took over from drawing and I just doodled cartoons on post-it notes at work. Then I got really heavily into cartoons again, watching loads of them. The Studio Ghibli stuff is great, and Japanese cartoons like Conan Boy of the Future and Mysterious Cities of Gold, Japanese kids’ cartoons, that’s where the cartoon style started to develop. I was reading Bone over and over trying to pick apart how to draw good cartoons at that point too. It was quite methodical really, too bad I fell short of the mark copying them!

After reading Bone loads and tracing it back to Walt Kelly I just wanted to make newspaper strip style stuff. 3 panels or single panels, I got a bit obsessed and started to think that newspaper strip cartoons were the basis for ‘real’ cartoons and that cartoons should stay true to that. I still think that actually. Comics and animated cartoons are just an extension of those newspaper strips I think, a political or social story broken down for the everyman.

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What do you think about political or editorial cartoons?

They are the purest form of cartoon. I’m just not smart enough to do them, so I have to break it down to skateboarding, which I think I understand.

I don’t really see a lot of difference between what you do and what guys like Steve Bell and Martin Rowson do, I think you just exist in different contexts. It’s all about ‘speaking truth to power’, right?

Thanks! Yeah totally. I find the world in general, or more specifically humans, pretty hilarious. The way we conduct ourselves and what we think is important is so alien to me. I find most social interactions pretty funny in terms of the ridiculousness of what people think they are supposed to say, and skateboarding is exactly the same. It really is the silliest thing a grown man could do. Super rad but really silly.

I just want to make fun of people that take it seriously, growing up in the London scene is a big part of that. There was and still is a very big focus on ‘being legit’, and when you think you want to impress an older guy on the dole who gets left over trainers from his mate who’s sponsored it’s so daft. It’s all ridiculous.

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Hence ‘Serious Adult’?

Yup! Plug time! Serious Adult is pretty early on, but at the moment it’s half a crew/half a clothing company I guess. It’s just an outlet for something creative and fun. We’re putting a video together and doing a few runs of t-shirts to try and fund filming trips and get it out there a bit. Everyone that gets free stuff is into art and looks at skateboarding creatively and are all amazing skaters too. I hope we can make a short edit and get people stoked on having a laugh when skating. Everyone says ‘oh, skating’s just for fun’ but then HAVE to wear the right clothes and do the right tricks. Everyone filming for the video is creative and really has fun skating.

Who’s involved so far?

Jeremy Jones, Jaspar Woolf and Luka Pinto are stacking clips. We’re doing a trip to Sheffield on Saturday and I’ve spoken to Shaun Currie (who I used to know back in London and who might be the funniest skater in England) about it a little, so I’m hoping we can get some footage of him. Both him and Luka have filming commitments at the moment so it might just be a few tricks, I’m not sure, hopefully everyone can get 30 seconds and we can put a 5 minute video out. I’m hoping we can get some Lukas Kacevicius footage too, he rips Southbank and is always happy! Jasper’s been stacking clips, he’s killing it, and shout out George Toland for filming! He’s always keen to go on missions. The crew is coming together well!

So yeah, putting t-shirts out, hopefully more stuff when the money comes in. I just want to make money to take everyone on trips and make rad edits of them. It’s tricky trying to make clothes or a product from cartoons really. I don’t want to just put out a logo t-shirt, because who cares? Buy a Palace or Landscape one if you want to support a skateboard company. I want people to buy it because they think the designs are fun and they like the team.

Have you got many left of the first tee? it looks like most sizes are sold out on your website.

I’ve got about 3 left. I gave a lot out to friends but I just broke even, so the money has funded a smaller run of tees and the filming trip to Sheffield. I’m trying to do it properly, paying for travel, per diems, buying DV tapes. I don’t think people should do something for free, much like illustration.

Have you been approached by any companies to do stuff for them or approached any yourself?

I haven’t approached any myself yet, but I worked a few roughs out for Science, that’s sort of on hold for now I think, we couldn’t quite work out an idea that really grabbed both of us. I’ve been chatting with Matt Bromley from Blast, it looks like something will materialise there which I’m super stoked on, Matt’s a great guy and really thinks deeply about art within skating and Blast is my favourite company, I only ride their boards so I’m super stoked. And Bryce asked me if I wanted to do an exhibition at Parlour. It’s just talks at the moment, but hopefully that will come together soon.

I would like to do boards or graphics in general for companies of course, it’s every skate art nerd’s dream, I just don’t want to jump the gun. If someone’s stoked on my stuff I’d be really chuffed to be approached but it’s still early days for me I guess.

If you could do a board for one pro (doesn’t have to be a current one) who would it be?

Hmm, a tough one… Lavar Mcbride. He’s one of my all time favourite skaters and he was pro during a time when skateboard graphics flourished. You could really do something cheeky with it.

He’s from the right era, he’s the right skater, and you could definitely take the piss in those days. No logo boards then!

What do you think of the state of skateboard graphics at the moment.

There are some amazing people out there, but in general it’s so banal. Just really clean and sanitised and graphic design based. Skateboarding and cartoons really belong together, the 90s proved that. It was the best era for graphics, the most controversial and visually the funniest. I don’t understand how we have gone towards this logo board era. I see kids skating really creatively and having fun all the time, so why are the boards not a reflection of that? Todd Bratrud can put out something well drawn and funny, so what’s everyone else’s excuse? Paul Parker, Matt Bromley, French and other people do hold the candle of course, there are great people out there, but I don’t understand why some graphic designer that doesn’t skate is being hired to make a graphic for a mega-corp company and pass it off as a board. Just put a Monster energy drink logo on it and get the real money if that’s your goal.

James Jarvis’ Blast board is one of my favourites in recent years though, it’s great.

Maybe I should retract that graphic design stuff? Will I get in trouble?

You can if you want but I’m with you 100%!

Yeah fuck it. It’s true.

Also, I doubt Plan B were about to hire you to do a series. Sorry.

Haha! It’s great that you dont have to even say Plan B but we both know that’s what i was talking about in terms of logo boards. I hope Danny Way doesn’t find me and hit me, I’m fragile!

You aren’t gay are you? Then you’d be in real trouble.

That’s a different interview.

Hahaha! Next time.

I totally had sex with a girl this morning! I swear to god. It was great!

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Props. I think it’s fair to say that most people who know your work know it from Instagram. When did you start putting things up there?

The longlivesouthbank account put up a rough of a drawing I did for them and i had just got Instagram but didn’t really use it. I saw it had a bunch of likes and being naive didn’t realise anything they put up gets automatic likes so it felt very validating. That’s when I started putting my own stuff out there for the first time really. It felt nice to know people were looking at my stuff and found it funny, which is quite sad for a 28 year old man really. But that’s what Instagram is for.
I find it interesting though, I was chatting to Matt from Blast about it. People think that’s how it works, and I totally fell for it too – if you have likes you have a product, which isn’t true at all. There’s a far shout from 100 or a thousand or whatever people liking your drawing on the internet to handing money over for it on a physical product. It’s the same as skate videos. No one buys them and the market is completely turned on its head. I suppose Sidewalk cutting back from print is the same thing. The internet can be great to put something out there, but it makes us lazier as skaters I think.

Was it Insta love that that prompted you to make Suburbs? Or were you planning that already?

Hmm, I kind of wanted to make it and just put it on my shelf and forget about it but the insta love made me think maybe other people would want to see it too. It’s like when people get addicted to taking selfies. I avoided smart phones for years but now I’m totally sucked in. I’ve become the person I hate. Check me out on Instagram I need validation!

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Ha! Well I’m glad you made the jump to putting out a physical comic, and if Instagram helped make that happen then it can’t be all bad. Do you think it’s affected your style or your work in any way?

That’s interesting, because like I said I think single panels or 3 panels are a perfect medium for cartoons and that really lends itself to Instagram, so I would probably do the same thing either way. The next comic is longer and has a mix of single panels, 3 panels and longer comic stories so I don’t think it’s had too much of an effect.

But to a degree, maybe, I’m not sure. I really find it fascinating. It’s really narcissistic and the London scene has a lot of that (clothes, wanting to be seen etc, mainly in the younger generations) so I guess Instagram is a good medium for what I do, or what I’m trying to make fun of.

What’s the plan with the new comic?

It’s just an extension of the Instagram, with some 6 page stories thrown in and interviews with Jeremy Jones and French.

Sounds good! What stage is it at? Will it be out soon?

I just need to wait to see if I can do more than break even on the next run of t-shirts to put it out. For the tees the money model is: break even, keep some money aside for trips and some for the next run. If I dip into it to put the comic out I can’t put out another t-shirt run, because the return money on the comics is so much less than the tees, and if I don’t get a return we cant go on more filming trips.

Hopefully if the Parlour exhibition comes together I’ll sell/give away the comics there.

Good luck with everything! Anything else you want to add?

Shout out Greg Finch. He’s my favourite skater.

Find Greg at seriousadult.com

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