Paul Gravett talks to Paul B Rainey about how life led him to create There’s No Time Like The Present, a graphic-novel project that has taken him seven years to complete, and how he got to Now. Six-part series
Teatime on the Planet of the Apes
Paul Gravett: I’ve realised that I really discovered and got into comics through seeing their TV versions first—”Thunderbirds” in TV21, Hergé’s Tintin cartoons, the Batman TV show. Was it Planet of the Apes on the telly that got you to buy the PotA comic—how did it change your life?
Paul B Rainey: I loved the Planet Of The Apes TV show when I was a kid. I remember that it used to be on ITV on Sunday nights. Technically, Sunday is a school night, and my bedtime was supposed to be at eight o’clock. I loved Planet Of The Apes so much that my parents, who were normally inflexible about such things, allowed me to stay up until 8:15 so I could watch the whole episode. Anyway, one day, during children’s TV, I saw an advert for the new Planet Of The Apes comic and bought a copy a couple of weeks later. I loved it! Planet Of The Apes was a Marvel comic and, as everyone knows these days, Marvel are very good at making you engage with their other product. Planet Of The Apes might have been a licensed comic but it ran these editorials which would say things like, “if you like Planet Of The Apes, then you will LOVE Spider-Man Comics Weekly!” I remember making my way through their entire line but liking particularly The Mighty World Of Marvel Featuring The Incredible Hulk or, as me and my friends called it, “Marvel Hulk”.
Paul Gravett: What was your family background and childhood like? Any cartoonists in the family?
Paul B Rainey: I’m the eldest of six children. Unsurprisingly, we’re Roman Catholics. In my formative years, my Dad was an electrician but when I was around nine years old, due to illness, he switched careers and became a salesman of double glazing, stone cladding and cavity wall isolation. I’ve never understood why he gave up a reliable wage for the unreliability of self-employment to, apparently, reduce his work stress. Anyway, when I used to walk into the house with a pile of new comics, he would tell me that his Dad’s nickname for him was ‘Comic Cuts’ because he always had his head in a comic when he was a kid. As far as I’m aware, he never made any, only read them.
“Older boys would say they had stopped reading comics during their teens because they had discovered girls,
before rediscovering comics again during their early twenties.
It was as if girls were just a phase for them,
whereas comics were the real thing.”
Paul Gravett: What was Milton Keynes like when you were young? Was it like living in the city of the future?
Paul B. Rainey: It was like walking around a big muddy field with occasional pockets of densely populated, new council estates. I remember as a lazy teenager being frequently woken up by the sound of diggers. I moved here over thirty years ago and it’s obviously grown a lot in that time. I used to imagine that as an old man in Milton Keynes, I would be able to say to young people, “I remember when all this was fields” and it’s come true!
Paul Gravett: What part did reading comics play in your growing up—were they a solitary guilty secret or shared communal fun with friends?
Paul B. Rainey: I’ve been thinking a little about this recently. I’ve often thought that I was obsessed with comics when I was growing up but, these days, thanks to the internet, I have daily access to something new about comics almost constantly. As a child, before the internet, or before it came into common usage, it would be days, sometimes weeks, at a time without a new comic to read. Having said that, I loved TV and I loved pop music but I loved comics more.
I was always OUT about my enthusiasm for comics, which some of my friends weren’t. In my early teens, I started buying fanzines and often they seemed to be put together by older boys, who would say stuff like they had stopped reading comics during their teens because they had discovered girls, before rediscovering comics again during their early twenties. It was as if girls were just a phase for them, whereas comics were the real thing. How strange.
Paul Gravett: Were drawing and storytelling always important to you as a boy and if so, how did you develop your skills at them?
Paul B. Rainey: Although I was one of those kids who had at least two other kids in his class who were better at whatever it was than him. My spelling was, and is, appalling and that just seemed to unbalance the perception teachers had of my writing ability. As an adult, I’m obsessed with making sure that the writing is as good as I can make it. The great thing about both writing and drawing now is that I feel that I continue to improve.
“My parents came home from that parents’ evening and informed me
that I wasn’t allowed to read superhero comics anymore,
which is the worst thing that that teacher ever did to me.”
Paul Gravett: When did you make your first comic? Did you make your own magazines or story books? Did you keep them to yourself or show them to family, teachers or classmates?
Paul B Rainey: I remember working hard on a strip called The Three Captains when I was around nine years old. In it, Captain Marvel, Captain America and Captain Britain teamed up with each other, probably after having a fight. I showed it to a teacher who later told my parents that I was obsessed with superhero comics, which probably explained my poor spelling, and that I should be discouraged from reading them. My parents came home from that parents’ evening and informed me that I wasn’t allowed to read superhero comics anymore, which is the worst thing that that teacher ever did to me; much worse than those occasions when she sadistically shut my fingers in my desk, for example. (It was a Catholic school).
Paul Gravett: Who were your formative influences from comics? Was the British Beano tradition or 2000 AD part of them, or were you more affected by American Marvel/DC comics?
Paul B Rainey: Initially it was Silver Age Marvel Comics. I loved, and continue to love, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Later I fell in love with 2000 AD (in spite of that teacher, not because of her). I feel I have definitely been influenced by John Wagner and Mike McMahon. From an early age, I’ve been fascinated by comics and, I suppose, have always de constructed them to some degree.
Paul Gravett: Were you good at art and English in school? What were your best subjects? Were you into playing sports?
Paul B Rainey: I always enjoyed English Language at school but was constantly being graded at a C because, I presume, of my poor spelling. My best subjects were Art and Maths. I wasn’t that bothered about competitive sports mainly because I was worried about accidentally breaking my glasses but I played football in the street occasionally (I was pretty good in goal).