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'The strip is a ridiculous exaggeration of my life'

The Shooting Bad Guys front cover
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Classical architect Francis Terry tells Flora Neville about his sideline as a graphic novelist

Looking for Spinoza, a graphic novel created by Classical architect Francis Terry, and featuring jail breaks, shoot-outs, love affairs and Venetian architecture is, Terry confesses, ‘a ridiculous exaggeration of my life… a kind of escapism.’

Franco Falconetto is the accidental anti-hero who winds up on the run from the corrupt Italian police, accused of murdering his uncle Mario while on the hunt for Ben Spinoza. In tow is a thuggish sword-swallower known as the Castrama, who has a penchant for Veronese.

Thickening plots in Udine

Thickening plots in Udine

‘Addictive,’ is how Terry describes drawing the strip. ‘You’re in complete control, which for an architect is quite nice. If you want someone to be eaten by a shark and survive that’s all very possible.’

What would Franco Falconetto be doing now? Terry frequently finds himself wondering as he sits on a train, driving through the drizzle. He notes down lines on his phone as they come to him. A wizened house keeper whispering, ‘I’ve got to tell you something, but I’ve got no evidence’; a confessional with a trap door into another world; a detective called Clackett Lane; a character of whom someone asks, ‘wasn’t he the man who spent years restoring a boat and the first time he took it out, it sank?’

As a graphic novelist, you’re in complete control, which for an architect is quite nice

In one as yet unrealised plot line, the Castrama is in his suburban home outside Minsk. It’s a hot day, and the land is very flat. Corn is growing in the surrounding fields. The Castrama and his friend are mending trucks in a garage, and the Castrama unfurls a beautiful roll of 20 spanners to find that one is missing. He goes berserk: turning everything upside down looking for this one spanner but he doesn’t find it.

Cut to an oil rig five years later, where the Castrama is working. There’s an emergency, the pipes are bursting and an oil slick is imminent. The Castrama whips on his underwater kit and helmet and scooping up his spanner roll, dives down to the pipeline to screw a bolt in place. Spanner after spanner fails to fit the bolt, and at the nail-biting last moment the Castrama realises that the spanner he needs is the spanner he lost five years earlier. The oil rig explodes.

Comics have always been of interest to Terry, who, though he prefers the look of Tintin, rates the Asterix and Obelix plots alongside Shakespeare. Other favourites are Posy Simmonds’ Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe, and Modesty Blaise, ‘a female James Bond’ drawn by Jim Holdaway. He has no time for Marvel though, which he dismisses as ‘tights and capes and underpants’. The architectural details in Looking for Spinoza are ‘extremely important’, he says. He wanted to combine ‘a graphic novel with a Merchant Ivory setting’, so of course ‘all the characters appreciate good architecture’.

A wedding in Santa Maria della Grazie, Milan

A wedding in Santa Maria della Grazie, Milan

Terry put down his pencil three years ago. To ‘tell a story through drawing’, he says, ‘is very hard work’; a constant balance of ‘composition, framing and phrasing’ that he spent a few years on. For now, the day job keeps him too occupied for illustrated escapes to Venice or Rome, but he plans to resume his hobby one day, suggesting: ’When I’m thrown into prison, I’ll carry on with it.’

Looking for Spinoza: a Shooting Bad Guys Saga can be seen at the Quinlan and Francis Terry Facebook page where it is being serialised – a page a week

The artist has taken a break...

The artist has taken a break…


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