¦ Features ¦ Dan Abnett
Interview Part 1
Interview by Richmond
new Sinister Dexter collection
is nothing if not prolific, with many original series under his belt as well as
successful re-launches of old time favorites like Durham Red and the VCs. Dan
took some time out from writing every comic in the world to answer a few questions
Let’s start with
a question right out of left-field. What made you want to write comics?
Because at age
eleven or twelve, that’s what I did. I wrote and drew my own comics. When,
at the end of my college career, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, comics
was something to try. So I took the plunge.
Can you tell
us how you got started in comics?
I wrote to Marvel
UK when I was out of college and they offered me an interview. I thought they
were just being nice to me, but it turned out - coincidentally - that they were
advertising for two editorial trainees and assumed I was answering the ad. I got
one of the positions and worked there for several years as a trainee and then
an editor. It was really valuable experience. The pay was... let’s say not
great... so everyone subsidised their earnings by doing some freelance - lettering,
colouring, scripting, whatever they could do. I wrote an Action Force strip on
spec that was accepted, and from that point on, doing scriptwriting at weekends
and of evenings became my other job. Eventually, I quit the day job.
You said you
used to draw your own comics too, so was becoming an artist ever a possibility?
Almost, but not
quite. Maybe, if I’d kept at it and really, really worked. Far too late
now. I went with my strength. I play guitar too, not too badly, but I’m
never going to be a band.
You seem to
write a colossal amount of stuff. I’m guessing to do this you must have
to write to a pretty strict working regime?
Yes. Very focused.
I expect a minimum of 2000 words per morning and five pages of comic strip script
per afternoon. I seem to produce my best stuff when I’m under a little pressure.
You write in
a load of different genres, from horror to superheroes. Do you have a favourite?
No, not actually.
I love writing the novels and they’d probably be what I would choose if
I could do only one thing, but there are some things that I’d really miss.
Sinister Dexter, for example. I love writing that. And working with Andy Lanning
on the superhero books for the US. We’re still doing that together after
all this time because it’s so much fun bouncing ideas off one another.
with what you can do plot ways and with the character itself, is it to work on
such a huge character as, say, Superman?
by Abnett & Lanning
(image by Ed McGuiness)
Inevitably huge, but different for each ‘huge character’. I’ve
found writing for Dredd, Batman and Dr Who very intimidating because of what has
already been done with them. Writing Legion of Superheroes was a monumental task
because of the scale of the continuity (all those characters!). Superman, ironically,
has been an unexpected pleasure (also Majestic, by extension, for the same reason).
I've never been a huge fan of Superman or Superman-type, all-powerful, invulnerable
heroes. I’ve never understood the dramatic appeal compared to, say Batman,
but writing them has opened up real creative doors. Somehow, because Superman
is so ‘impossible’, anything is possible.
many comic jobs, you have in your time, been editor of Toxic! And Strip. How does
being an editor compare with writing?
Learning the basics
as an editor has, I think, stood me in really good stead as a writer. It’s
made me quite self-critical, in a very useful way, and I’d like to think
it’s made me receptive to editorial input. Editing had its moments, but
writing is definitely the thing for me.
Can you ever
see yourself going back to editing? Maybe even as Tharg?
simply not good enough an editor. And some of my experiences of the industry in
the old days were pretty awful. They were invaluable as lessons, and armoured
me very well for being a freelancer. But I’d not much fancy going back now.
Do you have
a preference between comics and novels? And have you ever thought about stretching
your wings into screenwriting or stage plays?
I prefer writing
novels to comics, just. Screenwriting just doesn’t have the same appeal
(for me) as novel writing. Having said that, I did write a Dr Who audio for Big
Finish this year, which was a play by any definition, and I really enjoyed doing
What about doing
a Big Finish Dredd adventure? Or does your busy schedule just not allow that?
That might be
interesting. Though I’d rather do a SinDex or VCs audio... ;)
You work for
a number of different publishers. How do they compare with each other, in respect
to the amount of leeway you are given to do your own thing with strips and characters?
subject to company approval, whatever you’re doing and who ever you work
for. I guess a creator-owned project for Dark Horse or DC (just for example) gives
a little more leeway, but those opportunities seem to be rarer these days. On
a level playing field, though, 2000AD is about as creatively open as anywhere.
Matt (Tharg) knows what he wants, but there is a buzzy feel about 2000AD, a sort
of “where can we go next?” type feeling.
Your work with
Andy Lanning has been, to say the least, successful. Have you ever tried to lure
him over to 2000AD with you?
We tried, one
or twice. Not sure why it didn’t work.
How does it
compare writing yourself and with a partner, and what are the mechanics of the
working relationship? Who does what?
think I could write with just anyone, but several people over the years - Andy
most successfully and extensively - have proved to be great fun to collaborate
with. It’s great for comic work, because you can throw so many ideas around,
fling things out and then shoot them down. We can push each other, inspire each
other, and also tell each other when something’s dumb. It can be a very
entertaining process - probably why Andy and I still do it fifteen years later.
I doubt the process would work at all with something like a novel. Andy and I
get together once every couple of weeks for a day and brainstorm, developing pitches,
ideas, beat sheets. When something’s approved at beat sheet level, I take
it away and script it. Andy’s very much an ideas person rather than a script
mechanic. When it’s written, it goes back to him for a read-through and
then on to the editor. Unconventional, but we’ve made it work so we’re