Robert G. Fresson’s wonderfully bright, vintage comic-inspired illustrations

Robert loves American comics from the 20th century and Ukiyo-e prints from Edo Japan, and we love his colourful and expressive combination of both.


Robert G. Fresson’s illustrations are delightful spectacles heavily influenced by graphic art of early 20th century comics and, fascinatingly, Ukiyo-e prints from Edo Japan. 

He draws inspiration from American newspaper comics by Wisor McCay and Rea Irvin in particular, and is an avid collector of Boy’s Own Annuals from the 1940s. Wanting to adhere to organic artistic methods as much as possible, Robert uses off-white paper and CMYK colour separation in his creative process.

This is evident in his style – self-described as measured line work with expressive characterisation, and bold, warm colours. Often images of heightened reality, Robert’s illustrations feature dream-like landscapes and capture a sense of adventure.

Image: Robert G. Fresson

Alongside his work for an impressive editorial base such as The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Guardian, Monocle and GQ, Robert creates his own comics regularly for Avaunt Magazine and was thrilled to have “centre-stage” for an in-depth comic for New York Times Voyages Magazine. His first children’s book is expected to be released at Christmas. 

Following a recent signing with JSR, we wanted to know what makes this genius tick, the traditional methods behind his lovable vintage aesthetic, and probably less importantly, why (to our slight disappointment) he no longer lives in a house boat.

Image: Robert's Esther & Chai comic for Avant Magazine.


Miriam Harris: What’s the best part about your illustrations? 

Robert G. Fresson: "In my opinion it is the mood or feeling you get from looking at them. I'm not a virtuosic draftsman but I think sometimes my illustrations leave a trace in people's minds."

MH: Tell us about your creative process.

RGF: "When I started developing this style I wanted to work with as few digital means as possible. I liked how things come out of analogue print processes like screen printing and off-set lithography; printing in CMYK separations onto off-white papers. However, over time it became apparent that I would need to find a faster way of turning around an illustration. So I experimented with trying to mimic the effects of the above print processes using Photoshop. I think this became more streamlined over time. Now I do all my line work by hand with pen and ink and technical drawing tools, onto paper... then I colour digitally."

Image: Robert G. Fresson

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MH: Where do you draw inspiration? 

RGF: "I love looking at American newspaper comics from the early 20th century - Winsor McCay and Rea Irvin particularly. And of course artists from the ligne-claire tradition pioneered by Hergé. I'm into Surrealism too... the quiet kind like Magritte and Tanguy and De Chirico."

Image: Robert G. Fresson


MH: Almost all of your illustrations are based on real-life. Is this a conscious decision? 

RGF: "I think it is to do with telling a story - I feel much more comfortable with the narrative possibilities of recognisable elements: figures, landscape and objects. I'm sure a better storyteller could use abstract forms and still guide us through a story arc...not me. I sometimes play with the abstract when I doodle absent-mindedly, but as Robert G. Fresson the work stays consciously figurative."

Image: Robert G. Fresson


MH: How are the Esther & Chai comics created?

RGF: "The stories are based on little sketches I write that are stream-of-consciousness, slightly surreal things framed around this idea of a boy and girl on adventures in the spirit of Enid Blyton. It's tough because as comics they will have to be condensed to fit onto one page - so I have to be quite succinct and I am learning about how to do that. The comics develop each time (they come out every six months or so) and I think I am getting better overall (although they also make me more keenly aware of my limitations). I am so grateful to Avaunt Magazine for giving me the platform to create these strange little episodes."

Image: Robert G. Fresson

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MH: What’s been your favourite project so far? 

RGF: "I think making a comic for the New York Times Voyages Magazine (about deep sea explorer William Beebe, can be read here) was my favourite experience insofar as it combined my interest in telling a story with historical research. I was given a lot of creative freedom and essentially a chance to perform centre stage, which is not the usual position for an editorial illustrator such as myself."

Image: Part of Robert G. Fresson's comic for New York Times Voyages Magazine.


MH: What are you working on right now?

RGF: "Hopefully something again for the New York Times Magazine and a non-fiction children's book is due to come out at Christmas time. My first actually!"

Image: Robert G. Fresson


MH: Also, do you still live on a boat in Bath? That’s amazing! 

RGF: "Alas no. I sold it last year. Though Lazy Daisy was my home for five years in the end she was too much for me to handle. I gave her a beautiful paint-job and cleaned out the bilge. She is now chugged by a window-fitter from Radstock eminently more qualified to maintain such a mutable way of life."

Image: Robert G. Fresson

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Image: Robert G. Fresson


Image: Robert G. Fresson