And summers came, and the days went on and on. Looking for tadpoles in the burn, playing football on the green, dressing up and building go-karts and just being a kid.

One of the wonderful things about Rachael Ball's new graphic novel Wolf – and there are many – is its evocation of "child time." Those sunlit days and long evenings that were once yours to own. "The land of lost content," as the poet AE Housman once had it, "the happy highways where I went, and cannot come again,"

All childhoods have shadows too, though. And Ball's story does not shirk from them. Her protagonist is Hugo, a small boy with big eyes and an ever-present hat, who lives with his mum and his older brother and sister and the memory of a beloved father and more sunlit times, times he is desperate to return to.

And so, over the course of a summer, Hugo, his siblings and their new friend decide to build a time machine out of junk. But that means stealing it from the scary next-door neighbour and her even stranger son.

Ball's earlier graphic novel The Inflatable Woman was named as Best Graphic Book of 2015 in the Guardian. Wolf is a more than worthy follow-up.

Crafted with just pencil and paper, it is a graphic novel full of love and loss, grief and resilience that in the end has a real punch and power to it.

Here Ball talks about the very personal origins of Wolf, Tory cuts and the magic of comics.


Rachael, what are the origins of Wolf?

Losing my Dad as a child has had a massive impact on me. I always knew I wanted to tell some kind of story about it.

When you lose a parent as a child you get to experience this enormous loss and there's a sense of no longer growing up in an innocent world anymore. You know the worst can happen.

Also, you would imagine that when you are bereaved as a child you probably grow up talking about the parent a lot, but, actually, you don't so much. Children are very aware of not upsetting the remaining parent.

So, in many respects my Dad became a bit of a shadowy figure. As time goes on we asked fewer questions about him. I remember my Mum saying you can ask whatever you like about your Dad. And I no longer knew what to ask her.

Kids are often thought to not feel the loss of a parent as an adult as well and I wanted to show the hidden power of a child's grief. Unfortunately, I didn't have many memories of my Dad so one option was to write a story about the impact of losing my Dad has had on who I've turned out to be ... But that seemed to be a different story entirely.

I decided, instead, that I would focus on grief and what that does to a child and a family, whilst also asking questions about where we go after death. Then show a child trying to apply sense to something impossible

It's a story of loss and resilience. How hard was it to strike the right tone?

I think the whole of the story was a balancing act between different elements; whether it was sadness and humour, reality and spirituality and, yes, loss and resilience. I redrafted the last scene several times in an attempt to get it right. I think I got there!

Every character is visually distinctive. Did you model them on real people?

A little … Hugo reminded me physically of one of my brothers as a child. The Mum - although facially she doesn't look like my Mum - her physique, some of her character and some of her mannerisms were similar to my mother's. It was good for me after my Mum died to spend time recreating her as I was thinking about her so much. That was an act of love. Sonia sometimes reminded me of a friend I grew up with. I came up with Sonia when I was planning The Inflatable Woman. Then she didn't get used so I was glad she found her place in Wolf.

I think as you plan what your characters would or wouldn't do, you get in touch with memories and observations of people you know, and the characters then borrow aspects of them.

Is there something about the comic form that lends itself to stories about children?

I suppose in the sense that adults and children grow up with cartoon or comics mediums the story doesn't require explanation. They can, I would hope, just slip very readily into that world. Cartoons are a very immediate visual language. I was keen when working on the chapter with Hugo's gang playing outside the house in the evening to capture the memories I have of playing as a child; the times when you get so caught up with the imagined game that you are all playing that the rest of the world just drops away.

The power of the imagination of other kids can totally freak you out and those I wanted to convey those fears and feelings creeping into the children's play. Memories of playing outside in the evening are almost eerie and a bit magical to me and comics as a medium are great for that. You can really go to town showing your reader exactly what you want them to experience. As opposed to the written word where the reader is a little more in control of how they interpret the author's words.

Pencils, why?

The medium felt totally right for the themes of both my graphic novels. The range of tones, delicacy, force and detail you can achieve with pencil is great for nostalgia and atmosphere, and the simplicity of the pencil is powerful.

It's also a very efficient medium. When I was working on both books I was keen to be able to work where ever I could; trains, buses, in bed, at my desk, on holiday. And I wanted to be able to do it without the faff of lots of materials.

What else do you want to tell the world about Wolf?

There's a spiritual element that kind of leaked under the door whilst I was making the book, probably coming from losing my Mum. The shock of that and my interest in Buddhism, which developed after my Mum died four years ago. My acceptance of a Buddhist approach to life felt like a relief. So, I also wanted to make sure there was an experience of something 'other' coming into the story. A feeling that our perception of the world is just one of many realities.

Why do you love comics?

I don't think I knew just how much I loved them until seven years ago when I got back into cartooning.

I grew up reading comics, so it seems odd that it wasn't clear to me that being a cartoonist is what I should be doing.

I think I lost my way a bit and when I found my way back to writing I got a rush of excitement at the notion of being able to pull all these different elements and skills together. Creating comics is like being the director, a whole cast of actors, the set designer, costume maker, author, a graphic designer, choreographer; the whole team of your own production. You never need to be dependent on anyone else to create, you can just do it! It's an amazing medium!

I particularly love being able to combine the image and text in different ways, so you can convey a very different message depending on the tone of that moment in the story. Plus, it is also a very organic medium. The graphic novel takes so long to make you have a lot of room for the ideas and concepts of the story to mature as you do. Like a simmering pot … A great stew!

Who are your favourite comic creators?

Jillian Tamaki, Posy Simmonds, Roz Chast, Lynda Barry, Nick Abadzis, Brecht Evens, Wallis Eates, Giles, Eric Hesselberg (Kontiki and I), Claire Bretecher, Renee French, Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet (Beautiful Darkness is a wonderful book!), Marjane Satrapi, Lorenzo Mattotti, Ludovic Debeurme and many I am sure that I've forgotten!

What's next?

Well I have a few projects on the go at the moment.

A graphic novel called The Patsy Papers, which is my first venture into the world of the political. I was an art teacher in two comprehensive schools for 16 years, so I experienced first-hand the increasing pressures on teachers over the years and the effect that has had on kids. Be that academic pressures to achieve (which have gone through the roof); the insane pressure on training teachers and, more recently, the effect of austerity on schools under a Tory government.

On a personal level the last school I worked at was brought to its knees effectively by a combination of being a small Church of England school competing with too many grammar schools in the area, a tightened budget and then a new Head being given free rein to do whatever she saw fit with the behaviour policy of the school. The effect was disastrous, and the school is now in the process of closing down.

The effect the Tory party are having on our state schools is on a par with what's being done to the NHS and I felt strongly that I wanted to do something in response to it.

The story centres on Patsy, a newly qualified teacher, who starts teaching at the same time as the arrival of a new Head. It's very comical, but dark as well. And there are elements of the medieval combined with elements from Macbeth at the same time. I'm looking forward to getting down to it.

I'm also currently writing a picture book for young kids called Lil Pea and the Robot and developing a graphic novel for kids with Chris Spencer Baker and Matt Finch (who recently published Apollo with SelfMadeHero).

There's a fairy tale called Shadows I wrote several years ago which I would love to see published at some point.

I also teach a 'Develop a Graphic novel' course at the House of Illustration in London and do courses on writing kids' books at the Art Academy and teach kids cartoon workshops at the Cartoon Museum.

If you could build yourself a time machine when would you travel to?

I know I would go back not so many years! I would want to sit in my Mum's kitchen and chat to her again. I can't imagine a better use of a time machine than to revisit the people you have loved and lost. And then to meet them before you were born when they were young and get to know them. That would be great too! To visit my parents, grand-parents, great grandparents as children or young adults. That would be fascinating.

Wolf by Rachael Ball is published by SelfMadeHero, priced £15.99.