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Between the Panels: Cartoonist Ned Barnett on Flying Solo, Making Art from Life, and the Joys of Weightlifting

“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.

While cartoonists and comic creators find inspiration for their work in a variety of places, Ned Barnett may have the market cornered on a graphic memoir — Dreamers of the Day — growing out of a non-comics-related research trip to Oxford University. Ned’s other work includes web comics like Social Distancing, the graphic memoir Hallo Spaceboy, and appearances in different anthologies.

First off, the basics…

Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): I’m a cartoonist — I do all of the things!

Your home base: Cambridge, MA


Social Media

Instagram: @TheNedBarnett

Twitter: @TheNedBarnett

Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: What attracts you to making comics specifically over other art forms?

Ned Barnett: I’ve always loved drawing and writing, and comics is a unique medium that lets me combine the two to tell stories. The combination of words and pictures is powerful, and I adore it.

KS: Because the arts can be such a gamble as a career choice, I’m always interested in where the seed of inspiration came from. Can you pinpoint an “a-ha” moment when you knew you wanted to embark on this path professionally, or was it something more long simmering?

NB: I’ve always wanted to tell stories professionally, but initially I wanted to be a novelist. I started seriously making comics about three years ago. After the warm reception of Hallo Spaceboy, I left my full-time job to focus on comics. I do still have a part-time office job, and my husband works full-time in tech.


KS: At what age did reading comics first become an important part of your life?

NB: I grew up reading newspaper strips pretty exclusively and would race home every day after school to read them. We didn’t have comic book stores near where I grew up, so I was limited to what was included in the paper and each month’s Disney Adventures.

KS: Do you remember first discovering the larger comics world?

NB: While doing my MSc [Master of Science], I started to read tons of comics, particularly Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I read voraciously, and everything I can get my hands on!

KS: Fanbase Press launched the #StoriesMatter initiative this year to highlight the impact that stories can have on their audience.  What was a particular comic story that really resonated with you as a reader?

NB: Melanie Gillman’s As the Crow Flies is one of my favorite comics. Their work opened my eyes to what comics can look like — I love their use of color pencils and focus on small, intimate stories.

KS: Can you remember an early, “serious” piece of art you created? Not necessarily comics…

NB: The first big project that I shared and debuted publicly was a short film I made as part of my MSc thesis — it was an adaptation of 1984 I made with a couple of friends. It was weird and I loved every minute of it. It was my first time really experimenting with visual storytelling.

KS: Let’s jump ahead to two of your more recent projects, starting with Dreamers of the Day. You’re a character in the story, as well as the creator, and I’m wondering about how you built the foundations of the project. Were you keeping track of these events as you lived them with an artist’s eye, thinking that maybe you could use it in your work? Or did the inspiration to turn life into art come after the fact?

NB: I did not go to Oxford with the intention of making a book about my experiences, but shortly after arriving I realized that I had the beginnings of a comic there — it was about when I was waiting to get my reader’s card for the Bodleian Library when I realized I’d have to take an oath to protect the library and its contents. This isn’t something that everyone experiences.

From that point, I took notes about what I did each day and any thoughts I had, along with doing some drawings in my sketchbook. After coming home, I sat down and plotted it all out on index cards so I could rearrange and add/remove easily. It becoming a graphic novel was more of a surprise, as I thought Dreamers would be 28-36 pages long.

KS: Besides his general awesomeness, how did you choose David Bowie as a character for Hallo Spaceboy?

NB: Hallo Spaceboy came from a comic I wrote for Melanie Gillman’s graphic memoir class at the Center for Cartoon Studies in 2017. I wrote about the day he died, and how that stuck with me. Fast forward six months and I pitched a comic to an anthology called “David Bowie is my gender identity.” When that did not get picked, I decided to write a third personal piece about Bowie and package them all together.

KS: You’ve also been involved in a few anthologies. What have you learned about the nuts & bolts of the comics-making process that you maybe didn’t know beforehand?

NB: Where I primarily make comics by myself, working on anthologies has taught me about the importance of communication, both within your team and with your editor/anthology organizer. Comics is very much a team sport, even when you are a generally solo creator like myself.

KS: What’s your process between completing something and the public seeing it? Do you have a trusted reader (or readers) who give you feedback?

NB: My process depends on the project. For my web comics, I post what I’ve made with no edits — the idea is that they are very rough and spur of the moment, with little changes. For my longer works, my husband and I will sit down and work through any story issues together.

KS: Tell us a little about your current workspace or studio setup.

NB: I live in an apartment in Cambridge, MA, so I don’t have a huge amount of space. My studio is in the front third of our living room. It’s surrounded by windows, so there’s plenty of natural light and plants. I primarily write and draw by hand, so I have a big desk and a drawing table where I can spread out and work.

KS: What about music or any other background noise while you work?

NB: It depends on which stage I’m in while making comics. I tend to only listen to music while I’m inking, as otherwise I can get distracted. Brian Eno’s Music for Airports and Max Cooper’s One Hundred Billion Sparks are the only exceptions.

KS: Looking back on your comics journey thus far, what’s a particular moment of pride that stands out for you?
NB: Dreamers of the Day was named one of Multiversity Comics’ best graphic novels of 2019 — I am incredibly proud of that! It was such a surprise and a wonderful way to end the year.

KS: To step away from comics for a moment, what’s a passion/hobby of yours that has nothing to do with the business?

NB: I am such a nerd for weightlifting, particularly power lifting (heavy squats, deadlifts, and bench press). I started lifting about four years ago and I fell in love with it. With the gyms closed due to COVID, I have had to step away for a few months, but I’m looking forward to picking it up again in the new year. Yoga is filling the exercise void for now — I find it has a similar mind-body connection to weightlifting.

I’m also a huge history nerd, but that’s very apparent in my comics!

KS: What’s a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at with awe or admiration?

NB: Reimena Yee’s The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya is incredible. Reimena’s use of carpet patterns throughout the story, how her research makes the work sing but never overpowers the story. It’s a beautiful book, and I aspire to create a book that fills my readers with as much wonder and joy as The Carpet Merchant does for me.

KS: Finally, tell us what you’ve got on the drawing board currently.

NB: Better Off Ned is a slice-of-life web comic about being trans! It’s a cute, silly comic about my day-to-day life and relationships with friends and family. I update it sporadically. I like it because I am so used to making work about serious topics, and Better Off Ned lets me lean into humor and newspaper strip storytelling.


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