An Interview with Paul Carroll: Turning Roads, the Irish Comics Scene, & Paul's Love of Spreadsheets
Paul Carroll just successfully funded Turning Roads: An Irish Folklore Anthology on Kickstarter. Paul discusses putting together the anthology, making comics during a pandemic, the importance of staying organized, plus many of his other ongoing projects.
Jimmy Gaspero: Paul, I want to thank you for taking the time for this interview. Full disclosure, I backed Turning Roads: An Irish Folklore Comic Anthology on Kickstarter. I find the idea of updating myths fascinating, and I admit I have a soft spot for Ireland, having visited twice and instantly fallen in love with the place and the people.
What was your inspiration and interest for putting this anthology together?
Paul Carroll: Thanks for having me! There are a few different sources of inspiration behind this particular book. In terms of organising an anthology at all, it goes back to Thought Bubble in 2019. On the back of the publication of a horror comic twist on a beloved children’s TV show, talk began between some of the Irish and UK creators about publishing an anthology of similarly dark stories. By Christmas that year, I’d spoken to Dearbhla Kelly about the idea of an Irish comics anthology. Those conversations put the idea in my head. Six months into the pandemic, with things still not letting up, I decided to follow through on the idea of organising an anthology of comics. Limit Break Comics, the collective I set up with Gary Moloney and Gareth Luby in 2018, was already in the process of beginning to work with other people, so I opened up our doors for Turning Roads.
When it came to Irish myth specifically, aside from wanting a uniquely Irish take
on a comic anthology, I’ve been in love with the folklore for many years. My first
stint in self-publishing was with a series taking Irish myths into the 21st century.
Those books never really went anywhere in terms of reaching their audience, but
the passion for the source material didn’t quite go away. Turning Roads was my
opportunity to embrace the myths again.
JG: Can you tell CBY readers what the process was like gathering together creators for
the anthology? I understand pitches were submitted through Patreon? What criteria
did you use for selecting the stories that you wanted to include?
PC: I used Google Forms to accept pitches. Because it’s free and just about everyone
has an email address, it was easy to take information and files from people for
portfolios. The Limit Break website hosted the info for potential creators to read
through, so they knew what they’d be getting themselves involved in. I gave it a
six week window, and that’s one of the few parts of the entire process I’m still not
sure how to improve upon next time.
In terms of criteria for selecting stories, I looked at the portfolios for every creator
involved as a starting point. I can’t think of a single instance where the portfolio let
anyone down, except where the artist’s style might not have been a fit for the tone
of the story pitched. The other two things I had to look at were the pitch itself and the myth being addressed. I didn’t want a lot of crossover between stories and how they addressed
the source material. Out of the 18 comics in the book, only two address the same
mythical creature and they’re nothing at all alike in their approach. These two
areas combined are the main reasons I had to reject some people. Either they
weren’t quite addressing the myth in the light of project proposal, or someone else
had a more interesting take on it. It wasn’t an easy process, of course, and telling people that they didn’t make it into the book was a painful process. It taught me a lot about what it’s like being in the Editor’s chair, though, and any rejections I’ve received since have hurt a little bit
less knowing the considerations that have to be made. It’s almost never personal.
JG: Your own story in the anthology is “Dusk and Dreaded Night” with art by James
Killian and colors by Triona Farrell (whose work on titles like Crowded is
extraordinary). What can you tell us about your story and what drew you to it?
What was it like getting to work with Triona Farrell on your story?
PC: The story is a take on the Irish myth of the Dullahan - the headless horseman.
Myself and James put a sci-fi twist on it, to create a cybernetic horseman with a
mechanical horse, who comes as dusk hits by tracking cell phone signals to find his
target. We kept as much in as possible as is indicative of the Dullahan myth, from
the use of the whip to the speaking of the person’s name to draw out their soul.
I have a morbid fascination with gods and figures of death from across mythology.
There was no escaping this one. As I’m writing this, I’m still waiting on Triona’s colours. I may end up screaming when they hit my inbox. I’ve been wanting to work with her for the longest time, having met her back in 2015 before she was getting recognised all over for her
colours. She’s always been a big supporter of Irish comics, and from the moment I
started putting my prose work in front of people she’d been encouraging me to start working on comics. I consider myself incredibly lucky to get to work with her on this story – and I got to make James freak out at having his work coloured by a pro! That was a fun conversation.
JG: Did you have any particular favorites from the Turning Roads submissions that
you care to mention?
PC: I try not to have favourites! I picked every story for a reason, and while some
creators had me jumping with excitement from the moment they pitched to me, I
can’t drop names for whose submissions I like most. That said, I’m dreadfully excited to see Gary Moloney and Colin Craker’s take on the Giant’s Causeway. But then, it does have Mechs in it.
JG: The first stretch goal for the campaign was a cover designed by Declan Shalvey.
How did Declan Shalvey become involved in the project?
PC: The very simple answer is that I just asked him. I’d taken part in his class in the Irish Writers Centre in the past, and we’ve been on good terms since, so from his point of view, it was a case of whether or not he had the time to do the cover, rather than whether or not he was willing to. (As far as I can gather, anyway!). We had a short discussion about it, which included me sending him some ideas for what sorts of covers I liked that he’d done in the past and why, so he could work out for himself what he’d like to contribute. In the end, he settled on the fairy fort, part of Irish folklore that still comes up in the news every now and then. (I wish I could say I was joking about that, but sometimes Irish clichés are real!)
JG: Will Turning Roads be available at some point for anyone that missed out on the
PC: Absolutely. I planned fulfillment for backers by August – ideally before that – to
coincide with what should be Dublin Comic Con. Given the sorry state of Ireland’s
vaccination programme, it’s unlikely we’ll get a physical convention this year, but I’m still aiming towards a virtual launch around the same time that the convention would have been going ahead. The book will be available then through the Limit Break store, and through some retailers in Ireland if they’re able to keep their doors open long enough to take a small press book.
JG: It may be too soon at this point, but any plans for a follow-up anthology or
something similar in the future for you?
PC: I think I’d need to check my messages to confirm the timing, but I’m 99% sure that
Turning Roads was still funding on Kickstarter when I decided I wanted to do
another book next year. It won’t be exactly the same, but the process of putting together the anthology and getting to celebrate so many different creators is too much fun to pass up.
JG: How would you describe the Irish comics scene? And how has the COVID-19
pandemic affected the Irish comics scene generally, and your work, in particular?
PC: I hesitate to say we’re a close-knit group, because I don’t want anyone to feel like they can’t get involved, but we’re supportive at the very least. We had a few
bumps along the way, of course, as any community might as it starts getting bigger and people start talking more, but we’ve managed to overcome them. The fact that so many people from the Irish community pitched stories to the book was a testament to the sort of trust that we have in each other to do a good job.
The pandemic has been awful for the comics scene from a commercial point of
view, with a lack of conventions to help us reach new and old audiences alike, and there’s an air of loneliness about not getting to spend time with one another at events. It became our own weird sort of normal to go to these shows, big or small, to hang out with friends and meet readers of our books.
Online hubs definitely took some of the edge off not seeing other people in a physical space, of course, and I think some of us have gotten closer than we might have otherwise, simply from lack of time and energy and the sort of things life throws in the way when people can leave their houses properly. My own work has slowed down, from a production perspective. A lot of that comes from being a writer who relies on artists to get the work done, and the rest comes from managing my own mental health in the middle of a pandemic. (And a tiny bit from the two-week spell when I was fighting COVID myself!) I’ve had scripts out with writers for a while, with delays across the board, but I’ve never felt like I could put pressure on anyone to hand them in (with the exception of Turning Roads, of course) because I understand what it’s like to be trying to make something creative when the world is shut down around you. Sometimes it’s just too difficult to get started.
Thankfully there are some projects coming to the point where I can start teasing
them and releasing them, but this whole pandemic has been an exercise in empathy
and patience to try not to contribute to the stress levels of my collaborators. As much
as I love making comics, it’s not worth hurting other people over.
"...this whole pandemic has been an exercise in empathy and patience to try not to contribute to the stress levels of my collaborators."
JG: There are several writers and artists either originally from or based in Ireland
whose work I love, most recently Scarenthood by Nick Roche and Chris
O’Halloran. For those looking to get into more Irish comics and creators, other
than your own work of course, who else should CBY readers check out?
PC: Oh, this could take some time! I’ll limit it to stuff that’s easily available. In terms
of work available in your friendly neighbourhood comic book store… Half Past
Danger by Stephen Mooney & co., published by IDW, is a great war comic, with
some comedy and some dinosaurs. Bog Bodies by Declan Shalvey, Gavin
Fullerton, Rebecca Nalty and Clayton Cowles, published by Image, is a dark crime
story set in the Dublin Mountains. Eoin Marron was artist on his own creator-
owned title with Ollie Masters, Killer Groove, published by Aftershock; it’s a neat
little crime story with a musician at the helm. Most recently, Write it in Blood from
Rory McConville, Joe Palmer, Chris O’Halloran and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou is a
cool modern crime noir by Image; the creative team are joined by Declan Shalvey
in Image’s new title, Time Before Time, which I understand to have more of a sci-fi
twist than a lot of the other Irish work that’s come through mainstream publishers.
For small press work, three readily available works to look at online are Fate by
Anthea West, Ship Wrecked helmed by Aaron Fever, and Hugh Madden’s
adaptation of Treasure Island. Fate and Ship Wrecked are both all-ages titles, with
the fifth volume of the latter starting soon, and a trade paperback coming soon on
the back of a Kickstarter campaign. I’d also add in Valerie by Rebecca Reynolds,
which is one of my favourite comics to come from an Irish creator in the last
couple of years.
Outside of webcomics and the books published through Limit Break Comics, the
easiest way to sample more Irish comics is to look at the work by Back Pocket
Comics, the Cork Comic Creators, and Rogue Comics Ireland. Between us and
them, there’s a wide range of approaches and styles - more than you’d expect from
a country this small!
JG: Turning Roads was your second successful Kickstarter campaign after Plexus #1,
what advice do you have for other creators preparing to launch on Kickstarter, and,
yes, we can talk about The Spreadsheets.
PC: Y’know, I literally made notes on this when I finished the campaign for Turning
I have three bits of prep advice to get started.
First of all, give yourself more than 72 hours before the intended launch of your campaign to complete the setup, otherwise, you risk delays and lose any opportunity for a pre-launch page.
Secondly, plan your finances properly. That’s where the spreadsheets come in.
Accounting for all of the project costs, including fulfillment, is vital. There was a
point during the Turning Roads Kickstarter campaign where I would have lost
money on fulfillment because the very early version of the spreadsheet didn’t
account for it properly. I know for a fact that I’m not the only person who’s
forgotten to account for postage correctly, so I made sure to include it in the
version of the spreadsheet that went live.
And thirdly, give yourself time to get press! I need to take that bit of advice myself
in the future, because I ended up having to manage half a dozen interviews and a
week-long curation of another Twitter account during the Kickstarter campaign,
instead of having things prepared in advance.
When it comes to setting up the page, then, I’d advise people to have some work to
tease with, especially if it’s a longer comic, and to use the add-ons function on
Kickstarter. It really helped my backers for Turning Roads to pick and choose what
they wanted, whether they were looking to get some of the merch with the Early
Bird tier or picking up books from the backlist from Limit Break Comics.
Finally, for anyone working with a large team, build in more time than you think
you need. My own schedule for Turning Roads allows for delays from creative teams in case of emergency. You don’t want to be one of those comic Kickstarters that missed its fulfillment period because pages are late.
JG: The Spreadsheets, which are available on Gumroad for free/pay what you want,
not only cover Kickstarter campaigns, but tools for Convention Finances,
Inventory Tracker, Podcast Guest Organizer, Submission Tracker and, my favorite,
Save the Cat! Beat Sheet. Now I know just how serious you were with your
Amazon.com author profile when it lists your obsessions as “tea, foxes, and
spreadsheets.” What led to the creation of all of these spreadsheets? Is this way of
staying organized you’ve used previously, in school for example, or were these
PC: Yeah, I really love spreadsheets! They weren’t a big part of my school life,
because I did an Arts degree to be an English teacher followed by a Masters in
Multimedia, but through a twist in fate, I ended up working in an investment bank
for a few years. That’s where I got my training in Excel, and from there I ended up
in a role that required me to continually learn more about the programme and its
applications. While I ended up hating the job I was in – the particular part of the
finance industry I landed in isn’t quite my cup of tea – I loved working with the
spreadsheets. I’d made an early version of the spreadsheets on my Gumroad a few years prior, but when it came to these ones, I wanted them to be focused and specific, with a
guidebook for those who get lost looking at Excel. That’s the teacher inside me
coming out. Helping people to understand a tool that I find useful just made sense,
and it didn’t matter to me when I was making them whether people wanted to pay
for them or just download them and make proper use of them. Aside from the
Podcast Guest Organiser, the rest are things that I was already using, so I decided
to put them out into the world.
JG: Before we get into your other comics work, also available through Gumroad and
your website are Pocket Prompts, another tool for writers to use as essentially a
jumping-off point to work on their craft. How did you develop Pocket Prompts?
PC: With a spreadsheet. I’m only half kidding. I used Excel just to keep track of what I had where, and which side of cards went with what. The basic idea was just to create a portable deck of cards with prompts covering plot, characters and settings. As much as possible, I leaned towards making them as general as possible, so as not to alienate people who don’t write SFFH. A rom-com writer friend has a deck and makes good use of them, so I know I succeeded in that part at least. The actual production of them just involved getting them printed double-sided on business cards and organising them into decks. They’re an incredibly basic product, but by keeping them simple and not making them a bespoke item, I’ve found them more likely to be used.
JG: You are a co-founder, along with Gary Moloney and Gareth Luby, of Limit Break
Comics and a writer on Meouch, Plexus, and Life & Death. In reading these three
issues, I noticed that the artist is typically listed first on either the cover or in the
credits, which isn’t typical in comics. How did that come about for Limit Break
PC: With each book, there’s a different approach. Life & Death was published with an event in mind – we launched at Small Press Day in 2018, with Dublin Comic Con a month later. It was very much a case, for the first few months, that everyone buying a copy was already meeting the writer. It made sense to then make sure people knew who the artist was on each story.
Plexus followed the more traditional credit approach of putting the writer first
because it was going to Kickstarter – people might have forgotten by the time they received it who they had gotten it from, so I needed to remind them who I was. It was very much a marketing issue, while making sure to at least still include the others’ names on the cover.
When it came to Meouch, we put Gareth first at my insistence. That book came
from a conversation he had with me about wanting to do a book together. The
original idea of a cat that’s an assassin was his, and my job was to develop it from
there into a character with a storyline. Since he’s the one who got the ball rolling,
and the protagonist is based on the cat he had at the time, it made the most amount
of sense to me to make sure people knew who the artist was.
JG: To try and sum up three very different comics, Meouch is about Frankie, an
anthropomorphic cat assassin that is equal parts bloody violence and delightfully
silly cat puns, Plexus is three science-fiction comics written by you with different
artists, and Life & Death contains four short horror comics written by you with
different artists. Additionally, for some of the stories in both Plexus and Life & Death,
you handle colors and letters and, for the Life & Death story, “Wake the
Dead,” you handle the art as well. What are your influences as a writer that led to
the creation of these comics? What made you want to tackle some of the art duties
as well? And can we expect more Meouch and Plexus in the future?
PC: Each book is tackled differently. Life & Death was my first one, and I was very
much in the mindset of trying to make comics without bankrupting myself. It’s a
book that looks at survival for half the stories, and what it means to be alive in the
other half. Handling the art on one of those stories was a scary experience, but by
the time I came around to it, it made the most amount of sense to me – comics were
something I wanted to make, and even if I only ever illustrated one, I would know
how it was done.
With Plexus, I wanted to carry on as much of the work in colours and lettering as I could. Partially this had to do with budget, because my contract in work had an
undetermined end-date, and partially it was because I loved the work on Life & Death and wanted to keep improving. Rebecca handled everything on "Glitch" after
the script, which I was more than happy to let her do.
Meouch is a different ball game altogether. I’ve never lettered something that long,
and neither myself or Gareth felt comfortable trying to manage the colouring work
on the book. Enlisting the help of trusted creators was a decision that made sense at
the time, and we’re glad to have done it. Thankfully, I can say that both Plexus and Meouch will have future issues! Two stories for issue 2 of Plexus have passed the art stage, and a third is with an artist. Meouch is currently in the pencilling stage, which Gareth has almost completed, and once it’s inked it’ll be sent to a new colourist for the team.
JG: You are a writer for The Wren by Button Press Publications. Is your approach to
making comics different if you are tackling writing someone else’s characters
rather than ones you have a hand in creating?
PC: There’s a bigger challenge in trying to match the tone of the book with what came
before, while still trying to put my own spin on things. Jason Browne, the artist and
owner of the book, has his own vision for the general plot, so writing the script is
usually done under his guidelines for an overall story, and I need to fill in the smaller details. A lot of it comes down to needing to know the source material well, so we’ve ended up having several lengthy conversations just about the worldbuilding and the narrative to date, aside from everything he’s planning for the future of the character.
JG: In addition to being a co-founder of Limit Break Comics, you are a co-founder of
Cupán Fae, described as a “caffeine-filled home away from home for fantasy
writers in Dublin,” through which several short story anthologies have been
published, you’ve also published several of your own novels including The Black
Pages series and The Rebirth Cycle series, and you are the owner/designer for Red
Fox Cards, a greeting card company. How do you balance all of this?
PC: I would say it’s a lot like juggling, but really it’s a case of putting down a few
things to pick up others depending on when things are happening. Red Fox Cards
is new, so hasn’t had production clashes with the Limit Break Comics or Cupán
Fae yet, both of which usually fight for attention when it comes to prepping books
for conventions. Generally, though, it just comes down to seeing what needs to be
done by specific dates, what sort of workload is required, and what I can or can’t
do. The biggest challenge to date was preparing Plexus #1 at the same time as
Cupán Fae’s sci-fi anthology, Fierce New World; the only way to accomplish it
was to hire a flatter to take some of the work from me while still keeping within
JG: Do you have a specific role with Cupán Fae? How would you describe the types of
stories readers can expect from the Cupán Fae anthologies?
PC: Aside from being an admin for our community spaces, my role in the group tends
to focus on anthology production, which includes formatting and cover design.
Helen and Kat, my co-founders, help in the management of the books in terms of
timeline and editing rotas, and both are involved in different aspects of the group
that we picked up during the pandemic as we took a break from producing
anthologies. It makes for a nice team, and we share a lot of responsibility with
regards [to] decision-making for what comes next from Cupán Fae. The stories in the anthologies are a bit of a mixed bag, particularly our first book, Dublin’s Fierce City. Where that book focused on SFFH stories set in Dublin or with characters from Dublin, the others have taken specific focuses on what they address. When we’d published it, we decided to focus on specific themes or genres thereafter. 2019 saw the publication of our superhero and sci-fi books, Fierce Mighty and Fierce New World respectively, whereas 2020 was the year we covered LGBTQ+ stories and a mix of punk subgenres in Fierce & Proud and Fiercepunk.
JG: Tell me about Red Fox Cards and why you wanted to start a greeting card
PC: At the start of the pandemic in Ireland, you couldn’t get into the city centre if you
lived in the suburbs. My choices for cards for birthdays were sorely limited to the
options at the local newsagents, which left a lot to be desired. From that frustration,
and from getting tired of seeing the same designs in larger shops every year, I
decided to start making my own cards, putting things on them that you don’t get on
the high street. As I write this, it’s coming to its first birthday, and I’ve expanded
the product range from greeting cards to include bookmarks, stickers, zines and a
few assorted other bits – including my very own enamel pin!
JG: For any readers that want to keep up-to-date with Paul Carroll news, you have a
website, a newsletter, and are active on Twitter. Signing up for the newsletter gives
you access to the short story "Wasted Time" and a collection of short stories from
Tales of the Fantastical Vol. 1. Anywhere else that CBY readers can check out
more about you and your work?
PC: You’ve pretty much covered it! I would say Amazon or Goodreads, but my name
tends to drag up work by other people as well, so the direct approach through my
website is probably the best way to find anything I’ve worked on.
JG: Thank you so much, Paul.
PC: Thanks for having me!