Australian cartoonist Chris Gooch and his upcoming graphic novel ‘Under-Earth’

Chris Gooch loves the thick spine on his upcoming, nearly 600 page graphic novel Under-Earth

“That was a fantasy,” Gooch said. “I wanted to have a book that if you threw it at somebody and you hit them with it, it would really hurt.”

This upcoming book, slated for release in October, marks the third book published by Top Shelf Productions from Gooch, an Australia-based indie cartoonist who has done a wide variety of both short and long form comics that run the gamut on style, format and subject matter. 

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Gooch, now 26, received a bachelor’s of fine arts at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia in 2014 and has been regularly releasing comics for the past decade or so. His debut graphic novel, Bottled, released in 2017, and in 2019, Top Shelf Productions published Deep Breaths, an eclectic collection of short-form comics from Gooch. 

“Mostly, I just try to make comics that flow, that you can get sucked into really easily,” Gooch said. “They are really very easy to read and easy to fall into reading.”

Deep Breaths does an excellent job of displaying Gooch’s wide-ranging abilities as a storyteller and artist. In the comic One to Make Him Grow, Gooch dips into the sort of creepy, violent, youth-led storytelling you’d expect in a Charles Forsman comic. Mooreland Mates, one of the shortest stories in the collection, uses tight, pleasant artwork to tell the story of men who meet at a mental health support group. Curse You, Skullface!, by far the longest story in the collection, stands out as a badass, action-packed piece of genre fiction with incredibly stylish and wonderful art bathed in reds and blacks. 

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“In terms of Deep Breaths, it was a lot of experimenting and a lot of trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t,” Gooch said. “Deep Breaths  is a best of collection or whatever. There’s a bunch of shit that didn’t work as well or didn’t work at all, which is just not in there.”

Gooch wanted his upcoming comic, Under-Earth, which he provided to Sequential Stories for this article, to be a big departure from Bottled

“I like Bottled a lot, I’m proud of it, but I wanted to do something that was more overtly fun and messy,” Gooch said. 

Under-Earth takes place in a dystopian setting where prisoners are dropped in a landfill, forced to do dangerous mining work. The comic alternates each chapter between two sets of protagonists. Half of the book dedicates itself to a young couple who do thefts for the prison kingpin and the other half to a sheepish, non-violent man who befriends a giant, hardened criminal. 

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Gooch peppered Under-Earth with wonderfully detailed and cool one and two page splashes that look unlike anything out of Bottled or Deep Breaths. While Under-Earth plays with some interesting themes, it also features lots of enjoyable bits of action, albeit tinged with a sense of misery and darkness. 

Under-Earth has about double the page count of Bottled, making it his longest comic by far. He most enjoys doing long-form work, as long-form graphic novels are what he most enjoys reading. Drawing Under-Earth took about a year and a half, Gooch says, but he started writing it much before that. Gooch likes to write a future project while drawing a current project. 

“I always want to have something that’s written and finished completely before I start drawing it, so that I can sit down and know what I’m doing every day as opposed to feeling really stressed about not knowing where the story is going,” Gooch said. “I find writing very stressful, and I want to not mix the writing and the drawing.” 

Gooch has taken on jobs at places like supermarkets, call centers and museums for more income to supplement his comics work. Currently, Gooch is navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, studying creative writing to better his writing and storytelling. This takes the form of an honors degree, which in Australia means receiving government pay to continue your education. 

He’s also spending a lot of time making comics. 

“Mostly, I just stay inside and stay up late drawing,” Gooch said. “I try and spend the last hour or so of every night writing.” 

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all images courtesy of chris gooch. you can find his website here

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