The concept behind Nelson is quite unique: A 43-year old tale about the life of Nel Baker, born in 1968, as told by 54 British creators, published by Blank Slate Books, in a 252-page collaborative graphic novel. (Is that enough numbers for you?) Did I mention that all profits from the book go to Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity? To mark the book’s recent release, Woodrow Phoenix (who co-edited the project with Rob Davis) took the time for a recent email interview. Once you’ve read this interview, be sure to enjoy CBR’s Mark Caldwell’s interview with Davis, as well as CSBG’s Greg Burgas explaining why he ranked this book as one of his best graphic novels of 2011.
Tim O’Shea: In the afterword for this book, you noted that there is “an invisible jigsaw in this book that you could put together if you knew where to look for the pieces. A secret history, a kind of group autobiography, comprised of memories and reflections from each of the creators of Nelson.” Did you always see the jigsaw pieces, or did the pieces reveal themselves to you as you compiled the book?
Woodrow Phoenix: Those pieces gradually made themselves apparent as we put the book together, really. Because the idea with the story was to ground it in recent history through the eyes of Nel, our protagonist, many of us used bits of our own lives. Things that we remembered, that we had seen or been told about, personal family history or items that had been in the news at the time. We based our stories on them or did ‘what if’ fictional riffs with them and Nel. You’ll notice a lot of real events are alluded to in the backgrounds of strips. There are a lot of pop music references, for instance. Before the late-1980s and cable & satellite TV, songs that were in the charts were the only music you’d hear on local or national radio and everybody had to listen to the same three or four stations because that was all there was. So they are a really good indicator of moods and styles in 1970s and 80s Britain, and most people used them for texture in their stories.