2 Dec 2020

Legally blind illustrator, Richard Fairgray

From Nine To Noon, 11:30 am on 2 December 2020

Richard Fairgray is a creator of comics and picture books and he's been making his own books since childhood.

Richard Fairgray - Black Sand Beach

Richard Fairgray - Black Sand Beach Photo: supplied by Penguin RandomHouse NZ

Growing up in Auckland, the award-winning author now spends his time between Canada and Los Angeles.

His books have been published internationally in Australia and the United States, with foreign language editions published in Korea and Turkey.

Born completely blind in one eye, and with only three percent of vision in his other, Fairgray told Kathryn Ryan his lack of vision has played to his advantage when creating entire new worlds for his comic books.

“A lot of my style is very dictated by the fact that I only see in two dimensions, I have only one working eye and even then, it only works a tiny little bit.

“My way of making sense of the world as a kid was to draw it because I could turn 3D things into flat things and so a lot of the time the weirdness of the shapes I use and the perspectives I use are me trying to still figure out ‘oh I wonder what that does look like to other people’.”

Fairgray’s titles are many, including the comic series Blastosaurus, and Ghost Ghost, and multiple picture books, including My Grandpa is a Dinosaur.

He says comic book creation has always been his obsession, as well as ghosts.

“I’ve always wanted to be a ghost, that’s really my biggest goal, so I’ve been obsessed since I was a kid.

“My first book I ever wrote actually, I just learnt to write and I wasn’t very good at it yet, I was three, and I wrote a book where Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck were meant to meet to go to a haunted house together and Mickey doesn’t show up, so Donald goes into the house and meets the ghost who is lonely and has no friends, so Donald shoots himself in the face so he can stay there forever and be friends with the ghost.

Richard Fairgray

Richard Fairgray Photo: Imprint - Holiday House supplied by Penguin RandomHouse NZ

“That got me in a lot of trouble with my kindergarten teacher Janet, who was a lovely lady most of the time, but it was really exciting because I had made a thing and I had written a story and then I got into trouble for the story… idea that it had an impact on someone in some way was a really nice feeling and so I just keep doing it ever since then.”

By the time he was seven, Fairgray had already ‘published’ his first book.

“When I say publishing I mean self-published photocopied books, but Ghost Ghost ran for two issues back then and then another nine when I was an adult because I found the original… the original art had all been peed on by a cat and left in a school backpack under the stairs at my mother’s house, so it wasn’t in great shape.

“So, I redrew it and it became my highest selling book which was sort of upsetting because I had written it when I was seven,” he jokes.

Fairgray's latest book has been inspired by some of the North Island's west coast beaches, it is called Black Sand Beach, Are You Afraid of the Light?

He says it’s a tale based on the ghosts he saw growing up.

“The lighthouse in the book and the beach itself is based on Potu Beach [in the] Kaipara Harbour, you leave Dargaville and head into the middle of nowhere and arrive at a scary lighthouse. It [the lighthouse] didn’t work very well because it’s like the oldest lighthouse in the country and so there was always a lot of spooky ghost activity and we used to spend all our summers there because my dad and my aunt had built a house up on poles at the beach there.

“It was up on poles because there were cattle stampedes and you had to allow the cattle to come through under the house and so there’s a story sort of based on that where it’s definitely not a cow that they find trapped in one of their hammocks the next morning, again loosely based on us finding an actual baby cow trapped in a hammock one morning, which is a weird thing to wake up to when you’re a kid, it’s a screaming that you’ll never forget.

“That’s my New Zealand remake of Silence of the Lambs right there.”