An Interview With Sam Garton, The Illustrator Behind The Adorable Otter & Robot Suicides

I first met Sam at Tumblr, where I immediately was attracted to the dark yet whimsical works…

Mr. Gerald Beaufort, the rat, making plans to break in:

A robot suicide:

A dog who finds scary movies too scary:

But Sam, it turns out, is more known for his role as The Otter Keeper, the creator of I Am Otter.

Tell us a little about yourself, Sam… Did you go to art school? How long have you been doing I Am Otter?

I’m 28 and have an office job by day but also work as a freelance illustrator. I graduated from Derby University with a degree in illustration in 2005. I’m obsessed with otters and I enjoy putting sweets in the freezer so they last longer (especially jelly tots). I’ve been doing I Am Otter for about 2 years now!

How would you describe I Am Otter in terms of a project?

I am Otter is a website dedicated to a modern day domestic otter who lives with her Otter Keeper in the London suburbs. Nobody (not even me) can quite remember the day I became obsessed with an otter and decided to dedicate a rather unhealthy amount of time to her. I have a theory it happened when walking to work one day but you can’t be too sure about these things.

It’s a basic html site but I have also got quite into flash recently, so there are games and interactive elements too. At first you could be mistaken for thinking the site is directly aimed at children, but upon closer inspection you’ll find there is plenty of humour that will appeal to adults too. The site also has a built in blog where you can find lots of mini Otter stories, which I update frequently.

When did you start your shop? When did you feel you (and Otter) were ready for a shop?

People would ask me to buy prints so I decided eventually a shop was the best option, sadly me and Otter don’t get too much custom these days and there is a monthly fee. I keep meaning to change over to etsy or a free service but I spent quite a long time customizing this one so I’m reluctant to change for that reason.

What’s the story behind your Tumblr… Not only is the art different, but it’s rather orphaned from the rest of Otter’s world.

Well believe it or not I haven’t always drawn an Otter and her Teddy!

I’m actually very fond of a darker palette and enjoy more sinister and serious themes. There is just no place for that in otters world and so I really wanted somewhere I could be more myself and not be tied down. There is also the fact that lots of kids follow Otter and I wouldn’t want to scare anyone. 🙂

It’s gone well so far, but I’m still getting used to using Tumblr which is very different from WordPress.

The otter series is rather unusual… It’s almost like a graphic novel, more than an art series, isn’t it? Did you plan on this narrative sort of storytelling from the start, or did that evolve more organically?

It all sort of evolved organically to be honest. I Never set out with a master plan. I just started drawing otter and after a while my imagination just took over – I then had to keep drawing her to get the stories out of my head!

I never thought I could write particularly well (and I’m not saying I can) but it was quite a surprise how much I enjoy writing the text that comes along with the picture. I now feel the pictures require the story and vice versa. It does take me a while though – I’m constantly re-writing sentences to get the pacing right and I’m very picky over the words I use.

Do you have any plans to do this sort of presentation with the darker works? Any plans to sell prints of these works?

I would always sell prints to anyone who wanted them. I have my special printer I invested in and it creates great prints.

Sadly printing, packaging and trips to the post office take up time! And after doing otter shop for a while I’ve begun to find the whole process a bit tedious. But, unfortunately, I also have a bit of a dislike for the third party printers. “We print on anything and post to your customer” – great! “We also take 70% of your profit” – not so great. And I don’t like to use them either.

If I sell anything, I like the customer to be happy and get a good deal. It’s almost impossible to do this and make it worthwhile with the middle man too!

How do you feel the commercial aspects, selling prints, running sites, etc., have affected or impacted your work?

The creation of the websites and learning software like Photoshop are half the fun for me, if I’m honest. I guess they have impacted on my work in so much as I don’t do as much drawing because I’m learning WordPress or trying to make a new flash game for Otter. But If I didn’t do this, then it’s not like anyone would know about Otter in the first place!

And, like I said, the process of selling prints is a bit of a pain. I’d rather spend the time learning/drawing something new.

Do you feel more obligated to produce new works or, in the case of blogging, new posts?

I start to feel guilty after a week or so goes by with no Otter story. Half of this is because I know a few fans really enjoy the stories and are waiting for the next; the other half is that I actually feel bad for Otter! I need to make up her next adventure to keep her world alive… and I take this responsibility very seriously. 🙂

I don’t think I’d ever be able to stop writing about Otter… It would make me feel too sad?

As an artist, what is your definition of success?

For me success would be to make enough money out of my art that allowed me to do it full time! This would be fantastic as I have so much in my head I want to get out, but just not enough time. I’m sure this is the same for most artists. And I envy the ones that get to that level very much.

It also makes me very happy that my work can affect people in a positive way. For example, I get really nice messages from people saying that reading about Otter has really turned around a bad day they were having, or similar things to this. I’m not sure my darker stuff has this affect on people but hopefully it still invokes a positive or inspiring reaction of some kind.

It sure does, Sam; it inspired this interview.

 

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