Matthew Dooley’s debut graphic novel Flake is a joy. Set in a seaside town in England, it’s the story of a crossword-obsessed, unambitious ice cream van driver called Howard and his best friend Jasper, a crusading museum attendant who recycles his teabags. Howard’s problem is his half-brother Tony, who is also in the ice cream trade, and who’s aggressively angling to take over Howard’s patch.

It’s a story about pub quizzes, friendships and crazy golf. If it was a film, you could see Bill Forsyth directing it. If it was on TV, you’d file it next to your Detectorists box set. But as it’s a graphic novel, think of Joff Winterhart with a cone and a squirt of strawberry sauce.

Here, its creator talks about Flake’s origins and his cartoon heroes:

Hello Matthew, Flake is your debut graphic novel. Can you introduce yourself to new readers?

Hello! I’m Matthew Dooley, a 35-year-old sometime cartoonist based in London, but originally from the north-west of England. My favourite food is sausages.

How did Flake come about?

I won the Observer/Jonathan Cape/Comica prize in 2016. If your readers are not familiar with it, and are interested in making comics, it is a great way to get your work seen. Having won it, I decided to pitch an idea to the publisher, Jonathan Cape. It started with imagining an ice cream man stood on the top of his van, the sea waves crashing around him. I thought it was quite an arresting image, so I had to come up with a way of getting him there. The setting I had already, a fictionalised version of the north-west town I grew up in. That meant I already had a sense of the sort of characters that might populate it and the sort of story I wanted to tell.

In real life are you more Howard or Jasper? (Or are you a secret Tony?)

I’m somewhere between Howard and Jasper. It’s no coincidence that I share a predilection for crosswords and pub quizzes. I’m all for the quiet life, being left to get on with whatever my latest obsession or fad is. In many ways I could do with being more like Tony. I wish had his drive, it’s something I definitely lack.

When did you know you had caught the tone you were after?

I’ve been making comics for about seven or eight years and they’ve always had a downbeat quality to them. I don’t think there was ever a moment when I thought I’d hit upon a style or a tone, rather I think as you do it more you get better and arrive at a place you feel confident. I do like that space in between absurd and mundane, that’s where I feel comfortable and I hope that’s how Flake reads.

What is your own relationship to ice cream vans?

I’m a frequent customer, certainly in the summer, and an absolute sucker when I hear ice cream van music. It is so curious that there are four types of vehicles that play sounds as they drive: police cars, ambulances, fire engines and ice cream vans. It’s so incongruous. I also discovered that the music changes depending on which region of the UK you are in, almost like ice cream vans have regional accents!


And while we’re asking, what is your ice cream flavour of choice?

I do love a rum and raisin.

Facial hair in comics, discuss?

My drawing style is quite flat, plain, so I find facial hair useful as a way of distinguishing characters. I’d be lost without it. Also, I have released a few self-published comics in which I feature heavily. As the wearer and drawer of a beard, I’m very much in favour.


Who are your favourite cartoonists and why?

There are so many great cartoonists working at the moment. I particularly love the Canadian cartoonist, Seth. There is a quiet, unhurried, timeless quality to his work that means I often go back to it. Similarly, if in a slightly more offbeat way, I’d say the same of Tom Gauld. His book, Goliath, might just be my favourite graphic novel. Tom Gauld is particularly good at eking out humour from surprising places, and I’ll try and get my hands on anything he puts out.

One of the pleasures of Flake is your use of silent panels. How key is visual rhythm to what you do?

Rhythm is always a consideration. Dead panels are almost like comic punctuation marks. If you use them correctly you can make the reader linger on a moment or a feeling, maybe emphasise a point of crisis or sadness. And it can work in other different ways, like finishing a page with a punchline, it’s almost like a full stop. I’m also conscious to try and ensure that when you turn to see the next two pages that they make sense as coherent whole. This is all part of the odd writing process that makes creating comics unique.

Are you still working a full-time job as well as cartooning? Is there a living to be made from graphic novels?

I went part-time to work on Flake but am back full-time at the day job. There may be a living to be made with graphic novels, but I think that would be alongside many other things – teaching, illustration, shorter strips. Graphic novels are an almost perversely inefficient way of telling stories. My style is quite plain, but it still takes ages, mostly through repeatedly rubbing out my mistakes. I’m not sure I have the temperament to do it full-time anyway, it’s a very solitary pursuit. My day job is entirely unrelated, which I think went some way to keeping me sane

What’s next?

I’ve got a few ideas for another book, but they’re still percolating. In the meantime, I may put out some shorter, self-published stuff to make sure I don’t completely forget how to draw. I like the idea of a series of stories all set in Dobbiston, where Flake is set. One of the things I enjoyed about writing Flake were the tangents about the town. I think there’s loads more room to explore those.

Crazy golf or crosswords?

It’s got to be crazy golf. I love a windmill.


Flake, by Matthew Dooley, is published by Jonathan Cape, priced £18.99

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