Sean Michael Wilson

BA (Hons) Social Sciences 1992
Comic book writer

2017_Sean_Michael_Wilson_680

What are your favourite memories? 

For me, I was really diving in at the deep end. I didn’t have any family support to tell me what it’s like to be at university or how I should study. Around then the politician Neil Kinnock questioned why he was the first in 'one thousand generations ' to go to university. 

He said that a year or so before I started university and, as it goes, I’m the first person in my family to ever go to university. So the dominant memory of my first year is just learning how to be a student. 

As to a favourite memory, the Sociology lecturer, Mike Scott, saw a Franz Kafka book in my bag, and asked me about it. I said 'I just bought it today. I couldn't really afford to buy it, but I love Kafka.' He smiled and said 'That's what I like to see – students impoverishing themselves for art!' He said it as a half joke but with some pride. 

What influenced you to pick sociology?

I made that decision somewhat late in the day. I thought I was going to study politics. I’m still interested in politics, but I didn’t really understand what it was then as an 18 year old kid. Rather, what I’m interested in is society in general which I realised in the first year. 

So what happened was that in the first year you had to do five different subjects, sociology, psychology, economics, history and politics then you narrowed it down so that meant I focused on sociology and psychology in the third and fourth years. 

I really got into it during the course actually because, as I say, my family had no background in that at all so I didn’t really know what I was getting into. But I got more and more into it, and by the time I was in third and fourth year I was very interested in it. 

Sometimes people are surprised and say ‘did you study English Literature?’ I say ‘no.’ Well, they ask, ‘did you go to art college?’ I say ‘no, I studied sociology and psychology’ and people think ‘huh? Aren’t you a comic book creator?’ I say ‘yes’ and they don’t automatically think there’s an association there, but that’s what comic books are about. Comic books are about psychology and sociology. 

You have characters interrelating and connecting, that’s psychology. Modern day comic books, or graphic novels as they are often called now, are not like the Beano or Superman, the old image of comics for kids. They are on very sophisticated themes nowadays, so they’re often on topics of history or sociology or psychology, for example how someone copes with a condition like Alzheimer’s. Comic books are basically illustrated psychology and sociology, if you want to put it that way.

2018 Comics 

How has your degree helped you?

Basically, what I do as a comic book writer, it’s like writing a dissertation each time. The amount of research, the amount of thinking and the amount of words is roughly like doing an honours dissertation. A dissertation is normally 10,000 to 15,000 words. That’s roughly the number of words that are in each of my comic books. This sounds like I’m showing off, but it’s as if I’ve done 30 dissertations by now. 

Because my books are on history, sociology, etc, I have to do research for them so what I learned in GCU is how to take complex information and put it into a more simple or summarised form and do that quickly. Now, that is a key skill. So I learned that in university. 

A book we did called ‘Portraits of Violence’, which I think has been added to the university's social sciences reading list, is directly influenced by what I studied at GCU. Some of the same sociological and psychological theories are in it. In this case, it’s really bringing to fruition the kind of things that I studied. I feel like I brought that study into full circle and there’s something kind of pleasing about that. The book just won a medal in the 2018 'Independent Publisher Book Awards' in the USA, which is nice. 

Are you glad you came to GCU and if so why? 

I’m glad that I chose it especially at that time when it was officially Glasgow Polytechnic. I feel glad that I went to a place which was a polytechnic and then a new university because, despite the snobbery then against polytechnics, I think the standard of teaching there was good. I learned information and techniques on the course which I still use. So I’m glad I went to GCU.

Read more about Sean here

What does your job involve? 

Creatively, the first thing you have is an idea based on something you might find interesting. So, the second stage is that you work up to pitch it to the publishers. Normally that has to be a short synopsis of what the idea is, who the characters are and what the flow of the story will be. 

The publisher will go for it if they like it as a story, they like the art and if they think it can sell. Many times they like the story and the art, but they don’t think it will sell so they reject it. If you’re lucky enough to be accepted then the next stage is finishing the script. 

Then the artist takes my script and it becomes a blueprint or guideline for how they do it. It’s similar to how a theatre or film is made. The artist will bring it alive based on your script and, depending on the relationship between the artist and the writer, the artist will change things because they often have an idea which you did not have. It’s a collaborative process. 

The last stage is, of course, the publisher puts that all together into a finished book. 

Proudest professional achievement? 

For me, I wanted to be a comic book creator since I was 12 years old. In Edinburgh, where I grew up, I fell in love with comic books as an art form by buying one called 2000AD. Along with a bunch of other friends then, I wanted to be a comic book creator, but I was the only one foolish enough to keep the dream alive! Even though it’s not a better option financially - and I had other options - I decided to do that because it was something important to me, a meaningful activity. I’m quite happy I took that route. 

I’ve recently received the International Manga Award which the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs gives out every year. I’m the first British person to get that, so that’s also nice. But I'm proud of all my books. On a personal level a proud thing was the double page spread the Edinburgh Evening News did on me a few years ago. I say that because my grandparents read that newspaper every day when I was a kid. They would have been proud to see the big piece on me and my books in it. Sadly, they both died before that came out. But I can imagine my granny seeing that article and saying 'Oh, yer an awfie clever laddie!' 

Did you join any clubs or societies? 

Well, at that time, the student union was one of the main gig places in Glasgow. It was one of the top five venues for all the Glasgow and Scottish bands to play so bands like Primal Scream, Teenage Fan Club and the Pastels played there. 

Primal Scream started to become big in the middle of my course. My friend, who was in the same course as me, came up to me in the university library and told me they were now in the top 10 in the charts and I was really surprised. Most of those bands were very local Glasgow or indie Scottish bands. 

So I used to go there a lot and I worked there for a while, I was one of the student staff members. I was just helping out during the gig type thing at events. That was a special time for Scottish music, the mid and late 80s. There were a lot of indie style and 60s influenced style Scottish bands. The student union was one of the main centres in Glasgow so it was a lucky time to be there. 

What advice would you give to current students and new graduates? 

We have to balance the realistic necessity of making money with doing something which is interesting and meaningful - something that you wake up in the morning wanting to do. 

I get up in the morning and think, ‘ah, I need to write down that idea’, and wanting to do some more work on my books. But too many of us are stuck in work that feels pointless. Stuff we really don’t want to get out of bed to do. But, in the short term, in the present situation, the best we can do is to figure out some study and work that can combine the need to make money with having something worth doing and meaningful to us.

What are your future plans, both professionally and personally?

Well, I’d be happy and lucky if things continue much in the same way as now. I've had more than 30 books published so far, but it's still not easy because publishers might not like the next idea or they don’t think they can sell enough. So if I can continue doing good books which I enjoy making and which are meaningful to me then I’ll consider that a win. 

Check out Sean’s comic books here https://seanmichaelwilson.weebly.com/

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