An interview with Hexjibber
I recently had the chance to sit down with Andy Sykes [aka Hexjibber] and have a chat over a cup of tea and some biscuits about what he gets up to. The Culture Vulturists were after some form of blogged-out interview so we set out to talk business. Well, mainly business.
SC: Hello! Who or what is Hexjibber?
AS: I wanted to work under a name that isn’t just my name. I used to make pretend radio shows when I was little with a friend of mine called Zimmy – we were doing our own version of the X-men and he came out with the phrase “You killed Hexjibber!”. Later when I was a teenager I thought it would be really far out and psychedelic to sample these radio shows and that’s how I was re-introduced to it and I thought that it was a suitably nonsensical word.
Nonsense is good for people.
SC: Why Leeds?
AS: Well I am originally from here and I went away to see what other places are like – I studied interactive art at Manchester Metropolitan uni and really liked the course – it allowed me to do pretty much what I wanted to do.
I got sick of Manchester because it rained too much and everybody was too miserable, so I decided to come back to Leeds. When I got back I discovered that there is a really great thriving arts and music scene that I’d not quite paid attention to when I was younger. That’s kept me here: Leeds is big, but also small enough for everybody to know each other and collaborate and do cool stuff.
SC: Tea or coffee?
AS: Definitely tea. I mean, if I go to a cafe or something I’ll drink a coffee, because that’s what you do, but I am habitually addicted to tea. I’m obsessed with tea – there’s a thread of tea through a lot of my work. I don’t smoke and I don’t take lots of drugs so I like to apply the sort of mentality that people have with those things to tea instead. Like taking something bland and normal and having some sort of psychotic attachment to it. I’m a bit of a tea ponce too – I mix my own tea – half and half Earl Grey and loose PG tips in a tea caddy. So you’ve got that like, ‘brew, manly brew! and the ‘ooh, mm cup of tea!’ thing. It’s refreshing, but also got that, you know, beefiness of a cup of tea. If you could ever say a cup of tea was beefy.
Animation or illustration?
AS: Probably animation – I’m obsessed with animation – particularly Japanese animation. I’m a product of my time growing up when manga videos started releasing loads of material – I would try to get as much as I could get my hands on.
I think I’ve got a bit of a split in my personality – I think I’m quite a nice friendly person but I like quite brutal animation and music. I like 2D animation – I have done some 3D stuff but I’ve found that a lot of the 3D stuff that has been done is quite same-y. There’s some brilliant 3D stuff out there but I think a lot of it is quite homogenised.
SC: So would you say you’ve drawn quite a lot of inspiration from the Japanese style of animation?
AS: Certainly, I think that Japan has had a lot more of a graphic tradition than the Western world and there’s a lot of 2D graphic art that was hugely popular that has really filtered into comics and animation – hundreds and hundreds of years of distilled style.
SC: Do you remember your first animation? How did you get into it?
AS: Probably the first animation I did was after watching Rolf’s cartoon club – just rolling up a piece of paper onto a pen, then doing two frames – rolling the pen back and forth to animate.
Then I got an Amiga with Deluxe Paint on it, where you could do a whole 100 frames of animation! Before it crashed… I thought it was amazing. Despite drawing with a mouse and having super low resolution you could use brushes, basic vectors, loads of tools. I mainly made animations of fish, and a guy going down a ski slope.
Sometimes I would get halfway through an animation then realise I had done it too slowly and run out of frames, something that just wouldn’t happen now. Eventually I got Flash, things became a lot easier after that.
SC: Did you see the introduction of a computer / digitising your work as a bit of a push towards doing more?
AS: Totally – a computer is the difference between being one guy and being a studio – what Flash and computers did was enable me to do a lot of different jobs – you don’t need a camera man or in between artists etc. It didn’t take very long, you can do everything yourself (which can be a problem for some people – you can end up working yourself silly) but it is incredibly empowering as a tool and I don’t think that I’d be doing animation if things were still analogue.
When I can’t do something analogue, I will go to a computer and I will usually be able to get what I want out of it.
SC: So what would you consider your favourite tool?
AS: My Wacom graphics tablet is my favourite. It has transformed the way that I draw, with felt nibs it almost feels like you’re drawing with paper – so I have all the dexterity of a pen plus I can undo things infinitely – which can lead to problems in that you can become overly precious in what you do.
That’s one of the reasons I’ve started a new blog where I draw things very quickly and post them up straight away.
I’d really like a Wacom tablet that is a screen as well – I tried one in another studio once – it’s like a massive piece of digital paper and really beautiful.
SC: Do you think your new blog will help you get more work done?
AS: I think I struggle with having ideas and not doing them – like a ponce I bought a dictaphone and found myself recording hundreds of ideas – but I don’t like having an idea then thinking too much about the process and how I am going to draw it and not end up using it. If I just decide to pick up a pen and draw something it’s good for me and gets people seeing what I do. My work isn’t just about the animation and drawing but about the humour I put into it too.
SC:Where can people find your new blog?
AS: It’s at http://hexjibberhobbies.blogspot.com
It’s an effort to not be fussy about new ideas – just getting them up there, posting them to Flickr etc. – a low maintenance way of getting stuff online.
SC: Do you see the web as a useful tool in helping to distribute your work then?
AS: To an extent but I think that you can put too much faith in the internet. I mean, at the moment I’m sat here talking to you – and that’s really important – I’m trying to get out and meet people a lot more at the moment. I think that if you don’t know the real people behind things you can do as much internet stuff as you want but you won’t reach enough people because you don’t exist as a human being. I think there’s only a few people that can solely exist on the internet and be massively mysterious.
I think that the internet is massively important but you can’t just ‘do the internet’ and hide in your bedroom. Going out and talking people is also good for my sanity!
SC: What other artists and animators are you into at the moment?
I’m trying to think, there’s a lot of stuff out there on the internet. I think I’ve kind of got a retro obsession with 80s and 90s anime. I like a lot of graffiti art too. I also get a lot of inspiration from comedy shows – I like what Adam and Joe do a lot – their songs, skits, drawings and videos.
I always find this question the hardest!
I really like David Firth’s stuff – Salad Fingers for example. It reminds me a lot of Chris Morris, because you’re not sure if it’s supposed to be funny – a lot of it is quite terrifying and disturbing – but in an enjoyable way.
I think that as well as the good stuff there’s a lot of the same stuff that gets repeated.
Ooo, I’ve just thought of another thing – there’s a Scottish bloke that goes by the name of Swatrick Payze – he does some cool stuff. It’s almost like a little kid playing with action figures – it’s so different to other people’s work – instead of being really grizzly it’s got it’s own bizarre innocence to it. It’s not twee but it makes me really happy.
SC: Do you make an effort to draw for certain age groups or does it just come out?
AS: Well I’ve tried pitching my work for a very specific age before and even went to a few schools to research what the 11 year olds are into and what they found funny, that was quite strange.
I think I’m stuck in a vaguely PG zone – I’ve tried really grizzly and nasty stuff but it didn’t come out right so I’ve stuck with my style – I don’t think I’m about to do anything that wouldn’t be suitable for kids – although it might be a bit surreal.
SC: How did you come to make a colouring book?
AS: I was doing some black and white drawings for somebody and their kid was colouring them in and I thought, right, I wish I had a colouring in book, but colouring in books are for children so why don’t I make one for adults because adults love colouring in. They’re just not allowed to! So if I say that the book’s for adults then that gives people permission to do some colouring in – if they get caught doing it they can just point to the cover and say no, look – it’s a real thing suitable for adults.
I saw Ozzy Osbourne doing some colouring in to relax on his TV show and I thought well, if Ozzy Osbourne colours in then I want to make a colouring in book.
I used to have a book called the anti-colouring book – which was aimed at as doing away with the monotony of colouring in and encouraging more drawing – it seemed like quite a worthy book. I wanted to emulate that worthiness in some way. I wanted to make it a little questionable too – some of the instructions in there don’t make sense or are a little odd – to make people think instead of just following the instructions in there. Who’s to say that the author of a book knows what’s best for you anyway?
SC: What’s your favourite place for a pint in Leeds?
AS: Oooo, ermmm, I tend to go to the Angel a lot of the time – because there’s a huge mix of people in there – tramps, punks, metallers, families – all sorts of people that like a cheap pint. There’s a brill atmosphere in there and usually something interesting going on.
I’m trying to think of other places… I normally just go where I’m told!
Nation of Shopkeepers is quite nice – I went to a Leeds Alternative Press fair there – it had a cool DIY-y aesthetic. Nation is definitely one of those places I think well, I’m paying quite a lot for this pint, but the atmosphere makes it worth it.
SC: Do you have a favourite place in Leeds – a hidden gem that you think more people should know about?
AS: Probably my favourite place to go that isn’t crowded is The Hollies – just because it’s a really beautiful public space and it comes from an era of philanthropy that doesn’t exist as much any more – it was owned by someone who’s son died in the First World War. He was really sad about that so he donated this huge piece of land to the council and dedicated it to his son.
It’s a real asset to the area. I’ve been walking there and have even bumped into people doing LARPing there. Do you know about LARPing?
It’s Live Action Role Playing. A lot of the time I feel like a bit of an oddity going around wearing a biker jacket and talking into a dictaphone like I’m insane, but then somebody dressed as a ninja or a wizard will spring out from behind a bush and make me feel completely normal again. I feel like a bit of a buzz killer as well, I mean these are grown adults pretending to cast spells and magic at me and I seem rather immune to it all. It’s nice though. Definitely a warm, friendly space that seems a bit out of the way of the real world.
That’s one the things I like about Leeds – you don’t have to travel very far to feel like you’re out in the countryside – you don’t get that with a lot of cities.
SC: Do you find having time to yourself in the countryside helps with your work?
AS: Totally. I think I go a bit mental when I’m around people and cities too much. I like getting out and about, especially when I’ve spent ages behind a desk working. I’m not spiritual or anything like that but I like spaces that make me feel chilled out and where I can be quiet and have a think about things.
SC: Do you find that you create characters or draw inspiration from everyday things?
AS: Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff that I do that has come from something or somebody I’ve seen or heard in real life. I normally fictionalise it and make it my own – taking elements of what I experience and drawing from there.
SC:Do you have a favourite season of the year?
AS: Probably Spring, because that’s when I was born and I’d like to take ownership of that.
SC: If you weren’t drawing or animating, you’d be…
AS: Crying! Er, that’s really hard, I’m not sure. If I wasn’t making films or doing something creative I don’t know what I’d have ended up doing. Perhaps doing more teaching, because that’s something I’ve found that I can do and supports my current work. I’ve always been obsessed with making my own things – like radio shows starring me, or a comic about me, so I’d probably be in a band or something like that. Although the band wouldn’t be very good because I can’t play the guitar that well.
SC: Can you tell us more about Stupid Table?
AS: Stupid Table is an animation I made a couple of years ago. I wanted to tell a story of me in primary school and the trouble I had learning to read and write. Just because there seemed to be a kind of destiny for all of those people who had similar problems themselves. I thought that it was quite a fun and positive tale and wanted to share it.
The educational system seems to only cater for one type of learning – I like the idea that everyone can find their own sort of place in the world and there isn’t a right or a wrong way to learn. You just need to find your own people and your own way of doing things.
It was really nice that Stupid Table won the Best Short Short Award at Bradford Animation Festival because loads of people came up to me afterwards and said that they were on the stupid table as well.
SC: Finally, what are you working on at the moment?
AS: I’m working on a new book called ‘The Hexjibber Anti-Revision Book’ which is a sort of follow on from the colouring in activity book. It’s going to have colouring in but it’s also based around revision type activities, making what is essentially very dull into something that is fun and very absurd.
I’m also doing a drawing and animation event for Light Night this year – using a FriiSpray virtual graffiti wall in the window of Ha-Ha! bar in Millennium Square. The idea is to get people to draw things based on four themes: ‘once upon a time’, ‘then suddenly’, ‘then it got interesting’ and ‘then they lived happily ever after’.
Once people have drawn their ideas I will be taking the images and putting them up on the BBC big screen. So it’s a sort of crowd-sourced story going on in all sorts of directions for lots of people to see. It’s about people creating a big project by all working together and getting their pictures up in a public space, Nobody normally gets the ability to put their work up in a public space on such a big scale and I think that it will be a cool experience.
I’m also working on some animated shorts and generally tinkering around. And getting stuff up on the new blog of course.
You can find out more about Andy’s work on his website:
and you should check out his Colouring and Activity Book too. It made me laugh a lot.
Hexjibber is also on Twitter. Follow him for amusement.