WILL McPhail's debut graphic novel is called In. It's a story about pretentious coffee shops and human connection (and the lack of it) sketched out in subtle monotones and splashy colours. It may also break your heart.

In tells the story of an illustrator called Nick who struggles to communicate with family, friends or pretty much anyone. What follows is a beautifully drawn love story and family drama, with a slice or two of social satire thrown in for good measure.

McPhail, a Glasgow University zoology graduate, is a pigeon-obsessed cartoonist for The New Yorker and In certainly has the kind of sly, wry sense of humour you might expect (and enjoy). But it offers up much more. Here, McPhail tells us about his work, sex scenes in comics and his favourite coffee shop in the capital.

Will, can you introduce yourself to the readers? (Where are you from, where do you live, what do you do, what's your favourite coffee shop, who was your first pin-up and what do you love and hate, that kind of thing.)

I'm just a boy, standing in front of a John Lewis, asking it to let me know when Le Creuset egg cups in matt black will be back in stock. I'm also a cartoonist and writer from Chorley, Lancashire, who now lives in Edinburgh. My favourite coffee shop here in Scotland's sunny capital (oh no, now it's raining) is a place called Little Fitzroy [in Easter Road]. They know my "usual" and they don't mind too much when I change it to stop them getting too close to me, emotionally.

Which was scarier? Sending your first cartoon to the New Yorker or sitting down to work on your debut graphic novel?

Definitely The New Yorker. I had no idea that I was supposed to be scared of doing the graphic novel and I had lots of help from some incredibly smart people, so I just tore into it without a backward glance. Whereas I had been aware of the lore and the legend of The New Yorker for years. For cartoonists it really is the Everest, and so sending off my first batch of rubbish jokes by post from my mum's house felt like a big step. Also, I hold the noble belief that you should follow your dreams in absolute secret so that if you fail, nobody will ever know you tried – submitting to the magazine was the first time that I had to publicly admit that this is what I wanted to do with my life.

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What was the origin of In?

A person called Heather Karpas, my saviour and guardian angel, emailed me one day to ask if I'd ever thought of doing a book. I lied and said "Of course! I never stop thinking about it. I'm thinking about it right now!". What I was actually thinking about was how we don't give parrots enough credit for having mastered the power of language. Or whatever. And don't say they're just repeating sounds because that's how it all starts with babies. I then ran out and bought 14 Moleskine notepads, had a series of panic attacks, and eventually a book happened.

What percentage of you can be found in Nick and vice versa?

There's some superficial stuff that we share: we have a similar job, similar face, we're both straight, white, soft boys. But Nick's character is definitely different to mine. Each character in the book has their own mechanism for obscuring their true inner self: Nick's is his tendency to observe rather than take part, [Nick's mum] Hannah's is that she has been defined by her motherhood, [Nick's possible girlfriend] Wren hides herself with humour. And in that respect, I actually see more of myself in Wren.

In a way the message of the book is that old EM Forster line, "only connect." Is that fair?

I don't necessarily see the book as an instructional call to connect with people. Or to do away with conversations about pine nuts. It's more of an attempt to describe the feeling of those transcendent, beautiful and strange breakthroughs when the happen.

How good at connecting are you?

I definitely haven't mastered it! And unlike Nick I'm not always desperate for it. That might become exhausting for everyone else. I will only say that the key to everything is listening. Shut up and listen.

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You move between black-and-white wash to full colour for the moments of revelation. Is that how those moments feel to you?

Yeah. That was my attempt to describe how completely different a genuine connection feels to whatever performative conversation was happening before it. I've always been a lot more comfortable expressing complex ideas visually than with words, so I guess that's what happened naturally.

I have to ask about the sex scene in the book. I loved the humour of it. A reminder that sex can be funny. That gets overlooked sometimes.

Totally! From a purely physical perspective, sex is the most objectively absurd thing in the world. Bouncing on top of each other with a serious face? Insane. That scene in particular is obviously all about performance – one of the main themes of the book. We're rarely more performative than we are on a first date and although that's one of the most enjoyable parts of the book, what you're seeing beneath that humour is Wren and Nick shutting each other out.

The story moves from social satire to human drama. It took me by surprise. Did you always know where your story was going to go?

Yeah, I knew pretty much right away. I had this idea about being able to explore the worlds within people and the very next thought was that one of those worlds had to be threatened. Hopefully, the more observational stuff tricked you into caring about the serious stuff.

What's a typical day in the McPhail household?

At the moment it's a lot of Googling myself to see if I'm the new Stephen King yet. But usually, its 12 straight hours of staring at a blank piece of paper waiting for my sense of humour to return from 2019.

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What was your relationship with cartooning growing up?

As a kid I read Calvin & Hobbes exclusively. I know every word, every line, every sledge ride. So, my formative years essentially looked like me trying to rip off Bill Watterson. Then I discovered The New Yorker and began the joyful process of finding my own voice and coping with rejection!

What has doing the graphic novel taught you about what you do?

I learned a lot about pacing. That doesn't really exist in single panel cartoons and so when it came to the novel it was hard to get my head around how long it took to draw a panel (chuffing ages) vs how long it takes the reader to process it (0.32 seconds).

Who are your favourite cartoonists?

Liana Finck, Zach Kanin, Emily Flake, obviously Bill Watterson. Too many more!

Finally, pigeons. Why?

I'm not entire sure why. Pigeons, aka the Rock Dove, aka Columba livia (see? That £30,000 I spent on a zoology degree was all worth it) fascinate and gross me out in equal measures. I live in the squalor of a city because I like fancy coffee and going on hot dates in cool bars. I don't know why pigeons want to be here. Can't they do whatever they're doing here in the beautiful open countryside? Just fly somewhere nice you idiots!

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In by Will McPhail is published by Sceptre, priced £18.99