While William Shakespeare suggested that all the world is a stage, these days, we are more prone to imagine our lives cinematically—the hero, love-interest or even villain in our own everyday narrative, often accompanied by a chatty internal monologue. Writer and illustrator Jordan Bolton taps into this idea to create his highly successful 'Scenes from Imagined Films' comic series; providing glimpses into familiar worlds that tug at the heartstrings while making us ponder life's big mysteries. Here the Chester based artist discusses the inspiration for his comic, overcoming self doubt and how Bambi inspired a lifelong interest in 'the unspoken sentiment'.
Hi Jordan. Do you remember the first film you ever saw?
It might have been Bambi. The thing I remember about it is sitting on my grandparents floor next to my sister and crying. It’s strange because I always remembered the scene where Bambi’s mother is killed as really gruesome and tragic, but I watched it again recently and it's really subtle; you don’t even see her get shot, you just hear it. Nobody says she has died but even to a child who hasn’t seen a film before it communicates everything, which is what amazing filmmaking does in that it gives you enough pieces to plant an image in your head and lets you create the story.
Your ‘Objects’ and ‘Room’ film poster series suggests an interest in the places we inhabit or the objects that are sometimes extensions of our character. Where did your interest in these things come from?
I liked the idea of showing a film by using just the props, by not including actors or story – just presenting a different way to experience a film and how it would reveal certain characteristics that the viewer might not get from watching it.
Posters from the 'Objects' and 'Room' series
There is a meticulous process to those early static assemblage posters, showing your ability for model-making, props and photography. Are these skills self-taught or did you study in a particular field?
I am self-taught. One of the reasons for the photographic approach is because I didn’t really have any drawing or painting skills, but I wanted to make art. I had just gotten a phone with a camera and had never really taken a photograph before, so it was amazing to me how I could point this device at something to capture it. I started taking more photographs, so when I began to create posters it seemed the best way was to make the objects from the films then photograph them.
I think one of the reasons it took me so long to write or draw is because I felt like that was something you had to be qualified to do. I probably would have started making the comics years ago if I had not been so intimidated by the idea of writing -- now it’s probably my favourite thing to do.
I personally spotted the influence of illustrators like Chris Ware and film-makers Yasujiro Ozu and Terence Malick in your recent ‘Scenes from Imagined Films’ comic series. Less so stylistically but more in using a restrained and emotive tone to your work. More specifically your comic reminded me of the film-maker Chris Marker and his film ‘La Jetee’ comprised entirely of still images with a staccato, poetic narration overlayed. Can you tell us a little about where the idea for your comic came from and what you were hoping to achieve when first creating these short illustrated stories?
I used to work mainly from poster commissions, but after Covid hit I stopped getting commissions and needed to think of something else to do. I wanted something where I was in complete control and not reliant on anyone else giving me the work, so I started writing small scenes and drawing them which is where 'Scenes From Imagined Films' came from. The first ones I created felt much more like basic storyboards but now they have developed into their own thing, somewhere in-between a comic, a poem and a film.
'Right Now' (Scenes From Imagined Films Issue 1)
"I think one of the reasons it took me so long to write or draw is because I felt like that was something you had to be qualified to do. I probably would have started making the comics years ago if I had not been so intimidated by the idea of writing; now it’s probably my favourite thing to do."
There’s a rhythmic method used in your comics that reminds me of micro or flash-fiction that often uses repetition or simple variation to tell a story. What is the thinking behind this simple use of language in relation to the images? Is it about stripping ideas down to their bare bones?
I can only put 10-12 words in each panel and my longest stories are 36 panels, so that forces me to carefully choose what I say in words, what I put in the image and then what is just hinted at by the combination of the two. I try to provide fragments and allow for the emotion to be created by the reader rather than me telling them how a character feels. I guess a bit like Bambi.
One of the reasons I rarely show faces is because people naturally read emotion into faces, and so by not showing them or expressing directly how a character feels it allows the reader to create the emotion themselves.
Leading panel from 'Reunion' (Scenes From Imagined Films Issue 1)
"One of the reasons I rarely show faces is because people naturally read emotion into faces, and so by not showing them or expressing directly how a character feels it allows the reader to create the emotion themselves."
The themes of your comic series seem to be universal—finding that balance between the microcosm of our personal lived experience and the macrocosm of the bigger ‘stuff’ of our collective human existence. Do you feel this is what’s resonating with people and what is proving to be so successful about the comic?
The quote I always think of is “In the particular is the universal.” Yasujiro Ozu films feel very universal but they are also very specifically about family in early 20th century Japan. People all over the world still watch them because, although their situation might be different, the feeling is the same. To me, art is a form of communication which at it’s best conveys what it's like to be a person other than you, and connects people to each other in a way that crosses the usual boundaries.
What do you think makes these stories particularly cinematic?
I guess it’s that these are stories which need to be told visually as the visuals are a key part of the story. Most of the comics probably wouldn’t work if they were just written out.
What is the illustrative approach you use to create the imagery? And where does the imagery come from? Are they photographs or movie stills that have been illustrated or created from scratch?
When I’m writing a story I make notes of what images could accompany them, so when I start drawing I will usually just sketch out what I see in my mind or I will create the scene physically and photograph it; using the photograph as a reference.
How would you describe your creative practice as a whole? Are you a designer that illustrates, an illustrator that designs, a visual story-teller or something entirely different?
A visual story-teller might be the most accurate one as I spend most of my time writing but it's always writing that I intend to draw.
Leading panel from 'Blue Sky Through The Window Of A Moving Car' (Scenes From Imagined Films Issue 1)
"To me, art is a form of communication which at it’s best conveys what it's like to be a person other than you, and connects people to each other in a way that crosses the usual boundaries."
Who’s work inspires you and why?
Chris Ware is the one who made me realise the scope of what comics could be. Before I read his work I just thought comics were always jokes or about superheroes, and he showed me that the language of comics is its own art form that is still only in its infancy.
I’ve always been interested in experimental film, particularly the stuff happening in New York in the 1960s, but after watching them I would usually feel impressed rather than emotionally engaged. A lot of experimental film to me feels very theory-based, as if it was made just for film students and other filmmakers to watch.
The filmmakers who really affected me were Jonas Mekas and Chantal Akerman, because they were making films that were experimental but about everyday situations and feelings, particularly the Akerman film News From Home, which is just lots of long shots of New York while a narrator reads her mother’s letters. Seeing that film for the first time was like coming across a new language; it suggested that you can be experimental as well as being sentimental.
Leading panel from 'Miracle' (Scenes From Imagined Films Issue 1)
Which film has had the greatest impact on you personally and why?
Probably News from Home, although my favourite film is Edvard Munch by Peter Watkins. It has a really unique way of editing and cutting between scenes that isn’t just visually interesting but emotionally engaging. I’m always looking for that in any piece of art, something that feels new in terms of how the story is told yet familiar in terms of the story it is telling.
See More of Jordan's work and buy 'Scenes From Imagined Films Issue 1' from www.etsy.com/uk/shop/JordanBoltonDesign
Find him on Instagram @jordanboltondesign