¦ Features ¦ Ian Edginton
A well established
comics writer before he even started at 2000AD, Ian Edginton has had a great impact
on the comic in a few short years. From the critically lauded Leviathan through
to the continued success that is the Red Seas he has established himself as one
of the best writers currently working for the comic. We caught up with him to
find out more about his work in and out of 2000AD.
did you originally get into writing, and into comic writing specifically?
I’d always been
a comic book fan right from way back in the mists of time when I was about seven
or eight. I started out on the Odhams editions of Wham, Smash and Pow which ran
reprints of the early Marvels – Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man, Jack Kirby’s Hulk and
Fantastic Four. These ran side by side with wonderfully weird home-grown strips
such as Leo Baxendale’s Eagle Eye Junior Spy, co-starring Grimly Feendish and
George’s Germs. I also read a lot of the more traditional stuff from back then
– Valiant, Victor, Hotspur, Buster, Whizzer and Chips. Looking back, I think these
were probably the last hurrah of the uniquely British comic. It was a sort of
transitionary period where the effects of the war and echoes of Empire were still
being felt but the transatlantic influence of the US really hadn’t settled in.
Eventually I gravitated
to the British Marvel reprints but finally put them to one side when I discovered
beer, girls and clubbing. The only comic I bought religiously was 2000AD. It wasn’t
until the eighties comic book renaissance with Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Frank
Miller’s Dark Knight and Los Bros Hernandez Love and Rockets that I got back into
comics in a big way. I’d also started dabbling in writing my own stuff, a few
articles, some short stories, poetry (God forbid!) when, after reading the first
couple of issues of Deadline and finding it right up my street, I decided to take
a crack at comic writing.
I had a few ideas
bouncing around but knew I needed an artist. As luck would have it, the guys who
ran the comic book franchise in the Virgin Megastore in Birmingham showed me an
indie one-shot called Eat in or Takeaway produced by young turks Steve Pugh and
Phil Winslade. They had Steve’s number, so I gave him a call. We met up for a
drink, in fact many drinks. Actually I don’t think I have ever been as drunk as
I was that night. I was so drunk I could see through time. Afterwards we became
good mates and haven’t looked back. We created a daft comedy sci-fi strip called
Downtown about a dead private eye kept alive by all the caffeine he’d drunk and
his sexy, sassy sidekick based on a girl I fancied at the time.
The Deadline crew
of Steve Dillon, Brett Ewins, Jaime Hewlett and I think Phil Bond were doing a
signing at Nostalgia and Comics, so we decided to give them our a sample of stuff
and see what they thought. I gave them my script and Steve gave them his artwork,
we hadn’t had chance to get it lettered up. I think we shuffled around, mumbled
a bit then skulked off, thinking they’d bin it and that would be the end of that.
We were totally
gob-smacked when they called a few days later and said they wanted the story we
gave them and did we have anymore! Myself, Steve and Phil Winslade went down to
the offices in London where we met Steve and Brett. I owe a big debt of gratitude
to those guys, Brett especially. They treated us like professionals, talked seriously
about the art, the story and the work in general. They’d gone out on a limb to
set up Deadline and we got our first insight into comics as a business. Ironically,
Steve and I ended up only doing two stories for them in the end. Steve was scooped
up to work on Grimjack for First Comics and following the reprint of the same
two Deadline shorts in Dark Horse Presents, I was offered a Terminator mini-series
by them and so began my gradually ascent up the slippery slope of the comic book
How does an
average day's work pan out for you?
I’m usually up
about 7.30/8.00ish. A cuppa and a shower, then I’m at my desk from 8.30/9.00 onwards.
I actually write everything long hand. I’m a real Luddite, I prefer pen and paper.
My notes have lots of scribbles in the margins and arrows linking up various bits
of plot and character. If you saw my notebooks you wouldn’t have a clue what was
going on. Tell the truth, if I don’t type the stuff up pretty soon afterwards,
I can’t read my own scrawl either. It’s only when I get down to the typing everything
comes together. All the disparate bits and pieces get pulled together in an (almost)
I’ll break off
for lunch and maybe half an hours kip. I’ll then work ‘til 5.00, do some domestic
house stuff and then get a couple more hours writing in later on. One new habit
I’ve really got to break myself off, is reading in bed until about 2.00 or 3.00
in the morning. I’ve got a huge pile of new books I’m trying to work through but
it’s buggering up my sleep pattern. So many books, so little time!
a significant amount of work for Dark Horse on their movie tie-ins – working on
characters as varied as Predator and Xena. When taking on characters like these,
What restrictions are you faced with? Is it easier or harder working on a pre-definied
I personally have
never found it to be a problem, you just cut you cloth according to what’s required.
It’s the nature of the job. If you want to work, you just have to stay flexible.
When it comes to writing licensed material, all you really need to do is stay
within the defined reality of that world. Star Wars, for example, is quite rigid
- all the stories, the comics, novels, movies and cartoons exist in a single,
linear continuity that you can’t deviate from. In practice, it’s not quite as
draconian as that, there’s plenty of room to weave fresh stories in and around
the established continuity, plus there’s always Lucasfilm looking over your shoulder
letting you know how far you can go.
Xena on the other hand had such a flexible format, playing fast and loose with
Greek, Roman and Norse mythology, I had a great time. So long as the main protagonists
stayed in character I did pretty much what I wanted. As for Aliens and Predator,
they each have a thread of continuity as set-up in the films and you can free
form around them.
The only restrictions
that you can’t deviate from in any major way are the Alien and Predators basic
biology or nature. The Predators always hunt and the Aliens are goo-dripping nasties
who exist solely to kill and make baby Aliens.
the toughest job I ever had working on a character in a pre-defined universe wasn’t
movie or TV related but a big name, long standing superhero character. The hoops
I had to jump through and constant, on-going revisions were maddening. The editor
wanted major changes after the outline that had been approved by the people upstairs.
I eventually ended
up writing a full-script, sixty-four page graphic novel no less than three times,
each version radically different from the previous one because the editor kept
changing his mind. Licensed work aside, it made me determined to want to write
for my own characters these days.
What do you
do to get up to speed with the continuity behind such licences?
If it’s well-known
films or TV series such as Star Wars, Star Trek or Xena, chances are you’re already
pretty familiar with their background. If you’re jumping on in the middle of the
run as I did in Xena, the publisher, in this case Dark Horse, will send you the
previous issues to date to get you up to speed. If it’s something like Star Wars,
which currently has a huge back catalogue of comic stories, you may get sent photo-copies
of any reference that’s pertinent to the corner of the Star Wars universe you’re
writing about. The rest is up to you but fortunately there are dozens of useful
internet sites listing all the characters and continuity which makes the research
considerably easier that it used to be.
It starts to get
tricky when you’re asked to work on a new property where the film, TV or game
company want a comic book spin off but are incredibly tight-lipped about their
product. At the moment, I’m working on mini-series based on a new on-line game
and have had to sign a none disclosure agreement before even putting pen to paper.
A classic case in point I can talk about though, is the series spun off from Tim
Burton’s Planet of the Apes film. At the time, there wasn’t the vaguest notion
that it would do so badly. In retrospect, I don’t think it’s an awful film. Flawed,
yes but uniquely idiosyncratic, which is what you expect when you ask Tim Burton
The security around
the movie prior to it’s release was incredibly tight. When I was approached to
pitch for a series based on the film, I didn’t get to see a script or even an
outline. The only thing I knew was that it was a new take on Planet of the Apes
and that was all. Even Phil Amara, my editor at Dark Horse couldn’t come out and
directly say what it would be like, so we’d end up playing this strange version
of twenty questions and I’d have to read between the lines of his responses to
glean some workable information. Even though I couldn’t get to see a script, I
was bizarrely sent a big, fat folder full of all the costumes, props, special
effects and set designs along with photos of the same!
Aliens vs Predator, what was your impression of the film version?
I really wanted
to like it but it felt incredibly flat. The special effects were fine, it was
the human element that let it down. You just didn’t feel anything for them. Their
contrived back-stories, such as they were, served only to get them to the Predator
pyramid, after which there followed the now customary, clichéd running around
in the dark, being nabbed by an Alien exactly when everyone, except the characters,
seemed to expect it.It was a hugely missed opportunity. There was nothing new,
nothing exciting, nothing different. Director Paul Anderson was given the opportunity
to play with some of the best toys in the business and he made them boring! That
takes a rare gift.
Given how much
of the comic book source material is plundered un-credited for the film, I don’t
understand why they didn’t adapt the original Dark Horse, Alien’s v Predator series
in the first place? It’s a superior story which is paced exactly like a film.
2 – how was it creating a sequel to something that had been written by another
writer – as well as having to maintain two high profile characters?
I was fortunate
in that when I was offered the job, I’d become friends with Ron Marz who’d written
the previous mini-series. We chatted about how he’d approached his version which
gave me some useful pointers for mine.
I didn’t want it
to simply entail people running around poorly lit tunnels, being snatched by Aliens
to face a gooey and unpleasant fate. Although there is a certain amount of that.
Batman is a detective, so I wanted him to do some detecting. As well as having
to deal with the present threat of the Aliens, I wanted him to have to find out
how they came to Gotham in the first place. I then put a twist by him discovering
that not only had they been in Gotham for over a century, residing as eggs in
a walled up brownstone basement. In fact they’d been on Earth for millennia stored
in a subterranean extraterrestrial ship/city beneath the Arctic - sound familiar?
In addition, there’s an ageless survivor from the original expedition that found
them and who’s after them still.
In 2000, you
worked with Warren Ellis to revamp X Force. How did you approach the co-writing
gig and what are your memories of the experience? What did you think of Milligan's
reboot that followed?
That was a very
weird time. It began as a dream job which rapidly turned into a bloody nightmare.
As far as I understand it, Marvel had asked Warren to write three X-titles for
them, X-Force, X-Man and Generation X. They were to run under an alternative,
umbrella title of Counter X. I don’t think he really wanted the job but he agreed
to write a years over-view for each book, plus plot the first four issue arc of
each series. He also recommended a writer for each series, myself on X-Force,
Brian Wood on Generation X and Steven Grant on X-Man. All went according to plan
but after the initial four issues, when I came to work up Warrens outlines for
the rest of the year, Marvel said, “You can’t use that character or that scenario,
or that place, etc, etc.”
Overnight, I was
faced with having to write the book on the fly, almost from issue to issue because
this big game plan that we’d all been given was suddenly worthless. It was horrible,
here was this chance to write an X-book, a highly desirable gig and it was turning
to shit. What didn’t help and what I didn’t realize at the time, was the massive
power shift that was happening at Marvel. It wasn’t simply one of their periodic
rounds of sackings, it was a cull, a night of the long knives, It was the dawn
of the Joe Quesada, Bill Jemas era, these were huge tectonic shifts. My editor,
Jason Liebig, was quite rightly very vocal about the way certain things were being
done and so made himself and by association, all of us a target. His sacking was
inevitable and I found out that I was no longer on X-Force by reading about Pete
Milligan and Mike Allred's revamp of the book on the internet. By then I was just
glad to be out of it and chalk the whole thing up to a white knuckle ride of an
experience. If I’m honest, I much prefer Pete and Mike’s run on X-Force to my
own, shaky tenure, although I can’t help but envy the opportunity they were given
in being allowed to take the book in such a radical direction. I was peeved for
a little while, but then you have to put it behind you and move on. It’s just
the nature of the business, that’s all.
Your teaming with Matt Brooker (D'Israeli) has produced some
of your most critically acclaimed work – how did you originally hook up?
It was way back
in (I think) the late Eighties. We were paired up by Don Melia and Lionel Gracey-Whitman.
They’re probably most well know for co-editing Strips Aids, the charity comic
jam for the London Lighthouse Appeal. They also co-edited a comic art monthly
called Heartbreak Hotel and a free, broadsheet newspaper style comic called BLAMM!
put out a couple of issues of BLAMM!, in which they ran my first ever comic story,
The Legion of Normal People drawn by an artist called Grokk. They wanted another
story and I pitched them God’s Little Acre which has now been reprinted in the
back of the Kingdom collection. Unfortunately BLAMM! folded before it could be
run but Pete Hogan who was the editor over on Revolver, Fleetway’s new monthly
took a shine to it and ran it in issue two. Sadly Revolver went pear-shaped with
issue seven, thus commencing Matt and my career as the Typhoid Mary of comics.
I think we’ve killed about four companies altogether?
takes War of the Worlds as it's starting point. How did the idea come about –
were you a fan of the original book?
of the Worlds was the first science fiction novel I read, closely followed by
John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids. I remember being totally gripped by it. I
think it was the imposition of the extraordinary onto the everyday that grabbed
me. I read it back in the Seventies. Around the same time, I remember hearing
stories from my grandparents about how they’d been bombed out of their home during
the war. Fire and smoke and domestic debris sticking out from mounds of rubble.
The entire back of their house had been sheared off by a blast so that it looked
like a giant dolls house. I think I had these images in my mind when I read the
book. It made it all seem that more real.
One of the things
that stuck with me, was whatever happened to all the Martian technology? As well
as the War Machines there were the Handling Machines that built them and these
strange, woodlice type devices that shored up the pits the Martians used as their
bridgeheads. Not to mention talk of them building flying machines! Where did it
all go? It was an idea I filed away for later reference, much later as it turned
had a troubled gestation – having been originally produced for site Cool Beans
World – and then converted to print for the Megazine. I believe it was adapted
further for the hardback collection – what are the main differences between the
The Cool Beans
version was to have been like a little movie in many ways. It had music, sound
effects, zooms, pans and dissolves. There was even going to be some limited animation
of the War Machines. A lot of the work was done and in the can when Cool Beans
shut down production, in somewhat deeply dubious circumstances it later transpired.
Matt and I retained the rights to our work and to his credit, (2000AD artist)
Nick Percival who was our liaison at Cool Beans and who’s dad ran the company,
saw their swift return back to us. I got in touch with Alan Barnes over at the
Megazine and he offered to give us a home.
The rest of the
burden then fell squarely on Matt, God Bless Him! Each monitor screen’s worth
of art equated roughly to half a comic page, so he reformatted all the artwork
to fit. Some of the pages had several versions of the same panel in which (for
the Cool Beans version) we would have zoomed in or pulled out of a scene. There’s
an example of this in the Scarlet hardcover, where the scene of the explosion
in the pub was condensed down to just a couple of panels.
I think at the
time, the Megazine also changed it’s page size, so the artwork came in a tad too
small. Matt came up with the idea of doing these Boy’s Own, page headers complete
with a Lion and Unicorn masthead. We spent a chuckle-some morning coming up with
the copy for these. When it came to the Dark Horse version there wasn’t room or
need for them so they had to go, which was a pity. I did nip and tuck the foul
language a little and a page got trimmed towards the end in order to balance out
the page count more than anything. It’s still there but at the end in Matt’s note’s
Like the later
Leviathan and even the Red Seas, Scarlet Traces has a slightly twisted period
England setting. Do you enjoy playing with English mythos?
Like anyone who
grew up reading comics and has since been fortunate enough to make a career out
of working on them, the Holy Grail was to work for the Americans, writing superhero
books. For ages that’s what I wanted do and have had some success doing it but
to be honest, I’m happiest with the kind of work I’m doing now.
The older I got,
the harder I found it to find an interest or empathy in writing about American,
spandexed characters. I’d still love to do a big, four-color, fat-fingered Jack
Kirby style Fantastic Four or Silver Surfer yarn, or a self-contained, stand alone
Superman or Batman piece, mainly to feed my sense of nostalgia for the characters.
On the whole though I don’t think I have the energy, interest or enthusiasm to
write a regular superhero book anymore. It’s not the work so much that puts me
off so much as the fact it all comes with obligatory company politics and an agenda.
I just can’t be arsed. Of course, that could all change overnight. I may be shallow
but I’m not stupid!
I like the quirky,
slightly surreal, disturbing with menaces aspect of the English literary mythos.
Pipe and slippers gothic. There’s an intellectual edge, to English and British
horror and science fiction that’s more about story than spectacle. I know that
sounds snobby but if I’m not engaged by the credibility of a story, no matter
how far fetched or fanciful it is, it’s lost me.
There’s a whole
raft of literary influences that have colored my work over the years raging from
Mary Shelley and MR James, to HG Wells, John Wyndham, Nigel Kneale, Alan Bennett,
Raymond Briggs, Clive Barker, Stephen Baxter, Kim Newman, you name it. I think
it’s all about atmosphere. It’s as much about the council estate as the country
Britain is a strange,
contrary little country. We’re very domestic and insular in some respects yet
a century or so ago, we ruled a great bloody chunk of the world. We have a huge
superiority complex, only we don’t like to talk about it.
What can we
expect from the Scarlet Traces sequel?
It’s roughly forty
years after the events in Scarlet Traces and the war on Mars is still raging.
However, it’s bleeding the British Empire dry of money, men and materials. The
nations of the Empire are being brutally stripped mined of their resources, prompting
open political rebellion and their threatened secession. There are acts of terrorism
at home and abroad and the other world nations are bringing pressure to bare on
Britain to stop waging a war of the worlds on their behalf.
the mystery of why so few servicemen have ever returned home from Mars after four
decades. The protagonist this time around is Lady Charlotte Hemming, a beautiful
but bolshy, news photographer in the mold of Margaret Bourke-White and Lee Miller.
We also see the return of Robert Autumn, our Boy’s Own hero from the first series,
although he’s very different from the last time we saw him.
It’s taken a while
to get the story sorted out because I didn’t think there was one. I couldn’t see
where we’d go after the end of the first series. People kept asking what happened
next and I didn’t have a clue. A fair few people were quite vitriolic that the
hero lost and the bad guy won. It was mostly American readers if I recall. I wonder
what that says about anything?
Matt and I bandied
ideas about for a sequel for ages but it was only after watching a documentary
on Lee Miller that a story began to ferment. Lady Charlotte herself was a character
from the original series that we didn’t have room for. She was initially cast
as Robert Autumns emancipated lady friend. A snake breeder, markswoman and creator
of crosswords for the Times. She’s changed a bit since then but she’s still a
you produced part of the No Man's Land year long crossover, one of the few such
big company crossovers to use more esoteric creators. How did that job come about
and would you like to write more Batman?
I don’t remember
the exact details of how it came about. I think it was just a case of dropping
a line to Jordan (Gorfinkel) who was editing those Bat-books at the time, introducing
myself and sending him a copy of the black and white Caliber edition of Kingdom
of the Wicked as a calling card.
He was looking
to put ‘unconventional’ teams on the books in small story arcs and we fell neatly
into that category. There was a large, overarching storyline for No Man’s Land
and we had to move the plot from Point A to Point C. How we got there was up to
us but we did have to hit certain marks along the way. The best fun I had during that
time, was that I had Batman break the Penguin’s nose. This meant that in all the
follow-on stories , he had to talk as if he had a bad cold! It was a real thrill.
The first time I wrote the name ‘Batman’ on the page, I just stopped and looked
at it and thought, “I’m writing Batman!”. I got a similar buzz when I wrote my
first Judge Dredd story. I’d like to write more Batman should the opportunity
arise. I have a few ideas for pet projects written up and put to one side for
that fateful day!
Your work for
Crossgen appeared to come to a rather bitter end going by your interviews with
Newsarama and Rich Johnston. Given your experience there, would you be more wary
about working for smaller publishers?
Bitter is an understatement.
I was fucking furious. I don’t want to go over all the gory details again. they’re
out there on the web anyway but I almost lost my house over the whole affair due
to the money I was owed. I scraped through by the skin of my teeth but I know
there were others guys who worked for them that weren’t so lucky. I know readers
don’t tend to have much sympathy when writers and artists moan, the consensus
being that we’re lucky to be doing the job we’re doing, so shut the Hell up! However,
I dare anyone not to have a few sleepless nights when you’re facing the immediate
prospect of your family losing the roof over their head.
On the other hand,
as a cathartic experiences go, I heartily recommend ringing up a multi-millionaire
at home, early on a Saturday morning and swearing at him like a lagered up Millwall
It hasn’t put me
off working for small publishers, I’m doing a couple of things for some at the
moment. You just have to aware of the shifty bastards that crop in this business
like any other and that they can just as easily work for the big boys as well
as the little ones.
impression of the American comics scene at the moment?
I’m quite bi-polar
on this subject, so you’ll have to bare with me. This is my own, personally jaded
perspective of course but there’s a big chunk of the market that’s overpriced
and stultifying dull. The price of a clutch of comics and a small clutch at that,
often costs more than a new DVD, a hardback novel or several paperbacks. The old
money making machines of crossover and deep continuity have been cranked up again,
along with an assumed knowledge of sundry B and C stream heroes and villains that
make the would-be new reader turn and head straight back out the door.
It feels that attempts
to draw in a young, fresh readership have stalled and instead the focus is now
on parting long established, older fans from their money, especially as they’re
likely to have a larger, disposable income anyway. How many versions of the same
graphic novel are the public expected to buy for God’s sake?
Working in the
business and reading comics, is a little like working in a biscuit factory. After
a while you get sick to death of the damn things but you really notice when something
different comes by. I love Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly’s Superman. I religiously
pick up Sleeper, 100 Bullets and The Losers.
I like Brian Woods,
DMZ, Demo and Supermarket. Also Ronnie Del Carmen’s Paper Biscuit, Frank Cho’s
Liberty Meadows and Chicanos by Carlos Trillo and Eduardo Risso. I’m chuffed to
bits to see some old style, cynical old bugger Warren on Fell. I recently tracked
down all the issues to Joe Casey’s Godland and Frank Espinosas Rocketo. They’re
I’ve also become
something of a Marvel junkie. On recommendation I’ve been working my way through
a slew of their trades and I’m mightily impressed. I especially like Dan Slott’s
She-Hulk. Funny book, iffy art in parts but the writing carries it through. I
really enjoyed the first couple of Brian Michael Bendis Avengers trades and Ed
Brubaker’s Captain America: Winter Soldier.
I recently picked
up Damon Lindelhof’s Ultimate Wolverine v Hulk which is a hoot and Warren’s Nextwave
which is hysterical, especially the bit where we discover that after all this
time Fing Fang Foom has no genitals but is constantly horny, which is why he’s
always roaring and stomping on things. So there are some gems out there, it’s
just a matter of wading through all the crap to find them. Which is pretty much
how it’s always been!
You don't appear
to have tackled many traditional superhero books recently, the Establishment with
Charlie Adlard probably being the most obvious recent example. Are you interested
in that genre or are you happier in other genres?
I have a couple of superhero projects in the works at the moment. They’re my own
characters, so I’ve got a bit more leeway than I would have if they’d been some
of the more established faces. I don’t have anything against the genre but the
mainstream characters are such corporate properties now, that it’s tough trying
to do anything genuinely different with them. You can still tell good stories
but the parameters under which you’re allowed to work seem to be narrowing all
Having been out
of the superhero game for a while, writing everything else but superheroes, I
quite fancy having another go now.
X-Force and The
Establishment were something of a sharp learning curve for me. The Establishment
was an especially bizarre, bitter-sweet experience in that it actually started
out as a completely different project altogether. It was originally meant to be
a hardcore, UK crime book which got transmuted into a super-team book, part of
the Wildstorm universe. Charlie wasn’t the original artist. It wouldn’t be fair
to name names, but a lot of the spadework was put in by another well-known comic
artist who was unfairly and unceremoniously dumped at the eleventh hour. Actually
it was more like the eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute. It was around the time
Wildstorm were having problems with The Authority and The Monarchy.
of a phenomena in that he can knock out pages at a rate of knots which I think
is why he was asked to come onboard, so we could dodge the bullet of those troubles
they’d had on the other titles. We’d worked together before on a Blair Witch one-shot
so we knew each other well enough. However, I got used to The Establishment or
The Ministry as it was initially called, looking one way and it then appeared
another. It was disappointing but that’s the way it goes sometimes. I wasn’t about
to take my toys and go home because of it. The first couple of arcs were great
but then I was told there was some grumbling about the obscure, British cultural
references and we were then asked to shoehorn in a new guest character who was
going to be launching off into her own book the following month. This we duly
did except her book didn’t show up until a good couple of months later than expected
and people were left scratching their heads wondering who the Hell this walk-on/walk-off
It was around issue
eight we were told the book was going to be cancelled but we were given a few
issues grace to wind everything up which is rare.
I had storylines
and sub-plots which tied into Wildstorm continuity and were going to gradually
be resolved in year two. However, since there was now an impending end to the
book, I tried to squeeze everything into the last few issues. In hindsight it
wasn’t such a good idea but I was determined to try and wind it up the way I’d
intended. It was a salutary lesson. Sometimes you just have to step back and let
British comics writers, you came quite late to 2000AD having already had significant
US success. What made you want to work for the comic?
Nostalgia and cold,
When I was starting
out, the then customary route for a UK writer was to cut your teeth on two-thou
then get head-hunted by the Americans. I did a couple of bits and pieces for Revolver
and the Megazine, then went straight onto The Terminator and Aliens for Dark Horse.
I missed out on my two-thou apprenticeship and to be honest I’m glad it’s worked
out the way it did. I don’t think I was ready back then.
These past couple
of years working on two-thou have been great. I’ve been able to tell the kind
of stories I want to and that I’d be hard-pressed to find a home for in the US.
I love the eccentricity and the diversity and okay, there are some strips I read
in it that I really don’t like but the point is Matt Smith is trying new things. I
don’t think we realize how much of a creative life-line two-thou and the Megazine
really are. If, God-forbid, they should ever go, that’s it! There’s nothing to
It was when I was
having all the trouble with Cross-Gen that I seriously thought about sending stuff
in. As I said before, lack of money had become a serious issue. I’d got a draw
full of outlines that I’d intended to submit for a while but never got around
to it, so I just fired them off. It also helped that Scarlet Traces was about
to be reprinted in the Megazine. I was fortunate that most of them hit the mark
and I’ve not looked back since.
A huge chunk of
the credit must go to Matt Brooker, Steve Yeowell, Steve Pugh and Mike Collins
for doing such a cracking job and making me look good!
Nostalgia was another
major motivating factor. Like most of us, I’d grown up reading two-thou and working
on it was dream come true. I do still get that buzz. It’s not diminished at all.
We’re all still fan-boys at heart. I remember doing a signing at the Bristol convention
a few years ago and finding myself sitting next to Dave Gibbons! I was a tongue-tied,
grinning fool. I kept on nudging Steve Yeowell who was sitting on the other side
of me and going, “It’s Dave Gibbons!”.
was it to make the move into telling stories in 5 page chunks?
Tricky at first.
It’s a little like writing Haiku, trying to tell your story in such a confined
space. Because of the larger page size, you can get away with a couple more panels
than you could if it was a US format comic but it can be a slippery slope. You
find yourself trying to cram more and more in.
The way to deal
with it, is to work on your story-telling. It forces you to look at the mechanics
of the process. Strip away all the fat but know when to leave some in at just
the right time. It’s a real education. To my mind John Wagner is the master, he’s
the sensei! He makes it look so effortless.
(Rennie) is giving him a run for his money.
The only thing
I’m really loathe to do, especially if I’m writing a series, is recap the previous
episode. If it was a monthly book fine, but in a weekly comic, I’m not going to
spoon feed you if you can’t remember what happened a week ago. Re-read the bloody
pirate genre with the Red Seas seems like a bold move that you managed to pull
off – and seems especially prescient as it came before the success of Pirates
of the Caribbean. How did the series come about?
If things had gone
according to plan, Red Seas would have appeared years before Pirates of the Caribbean,
way back in the late ‘80’s. Red Seas was going to be the last project published
by Epic, the Marvel imprint with Phil Winslade as artist.
However Phil was
part way through Goddess over at DC and it became obvious as time went on, that
it was going to take him a considerable while before he’d be free.
Marie Javins, (who
was the Epic editor on the book) and I, discussed replacement artists and had
one lined up, ready to roll. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be, decided to pull
the plug and shut down Epic early.
worked out in my favor in the long-run, as I don’t think the series would have
had quite the longevity and variety that it’s had over at two-thou.
Much of the
character development in the Red Seas appears to be coming to fruition in the
current series, with characters like Isabella taking centre stage again and Dr
Orlando Doyle having been referred to in the last series. How do you go about
weaving the character's future storylines into current ones and how much of the
future story arcs do you have planned out?
Some of it’s deliberate,
long term planning and some of it’s seat-of-the-pants, making it up as we go along.
Not very professional, I know but there it is!
As I mentioned,
the original outline for the first story, Red Seas: Under the Banner of King Death,
had been worked out many years before. When it ran in two-thou and people seemed
to like it, it was then Steve and I had to sit down and work out what we were
going to do next. The whole idea under-pinning the concept of the Red Seas is
that it’s a fun, action, adventure yarn that gambols along. I wanted it to be
in a similar vein to all the movies I grew up with, the Ray Harryhausen films
feature strongly naturally, Jason and the Argonauts, the Golden Voyage of Sinbad,
Valley of the Gwangi but also lesser known works by Jim Danforth such as Jack
the Giant Killer and The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao. Not to mention King Kong, Mighty
Joe Young, The Most Dangerous Game and so on.
We jumped straight
back in with Twilight of the Idols but it became clear it couldn’t be just sold
on spectacle alone which’s where the Meanwhile short story came in. It gave us
the opportunity to give some of the minor players such as Mistress Meryl some
shoulder room and elevate them from being more that simply walk-on/walk-off bit
players. It was also fun to drip-feed in some back story, give you part of the
picture that you had to build up for yourself over time. I’m not big on spoon
feeding the reader but you do have to put some effort in.
Steve and I decided to slacken the pace a little to give us some insights into
our characters. It also helped that Matt let us make it part one of a much larger
story arc than we’d had before, which took some of the pressure off.
was met with, it seems, less than stellar reception from the 2000AD readership.
What's your impression of the strip, looking back on it now?
I love it and will
stand by it ‘til the day I die! It was stupid, sexy, science fiction. There were
monsters, gun-toting grannies, the heroine ran around in her t-shirt and knickers
most of the time. It wasn’t meant to be Watchmen, it was just supposed to be a
laugh! Steve Pugh’s art looked amazing. I don’t really know why people were so
vociferous about it? I’m mean, in it’s lifetime there have been some strips in
two-thou that have been real stinkers. Honkers in the extreme. I don’t think Interceptor
came even close to matching them.
Steve and I were
quite gutted at first, not necessarily because of the negative reaction, fair
constructive criticism is fine but from what I recall some of it was quite venomous
and there’s no need for that. It’s pretty intimidating. I do take it personally
because it’s my work and for better or worse I stand by it. If you were in a pub
and someone spoke to you like that you’d chin ‘em, so why are we expected to be
gracious and just take it?
Then you realize
it’s only coming from a tiny handful of hyenas amongst the on-line community,
who in turn make-up a small percentage of the two-thou readership. So in the end
we just thought ‘ You know what, we’re bigger that this, let them have their fifteen
In reality though,
we want to do the Jay and Silent Bob thing and find out their names and addresses
and go around to their house to give ‘em a kicking.
It felt that
Interceptor could have carried on, as a lot of plot elements were left adrift.
Was there an intention to produce a follow up?
There are another
two series worth of stories in the draw. I’d love to go back and do some more
and I know Steve would. However, we’re both wary about getting kicked in the nads
again so we’ll have to see.
tackled Rogue Trooper, a character many writers have struggled with given that
it's difficult to add drama to a character whose main storyline has already been
played out. How did you approach the character and will you try writing him again?
I went back to
the Cam Kennedy and Dave Gibbons stuff I loved the first time around and tried
to do something in that vein. Like writing Dredd, is was a pure nostalgia trip
for me. I’m most certainly go back again if asked.
I don’t think Rogue’s
necessarily been played out, more that certain aspects of the original story have
run their course but there’s still a plenty of mileage to be had, all it requires
is some lateral thinking and bold strokes.
Interceptor and a 2 parter for Judge Dredd saw you working with Steve Pugh, another
artist who you seem to have an ongoing partnership with. Are you planning any
more work together?
At the moment we’re
working on a mini-series for Dark Horse called Hellgate:London. It’s based on
an on-line game from Flagship Studios and set in a near-future London which has
been devastated by the fact Hell has opened up beneath it. Cut off from the rest
of the country, it’s overrun with demons of all shapes and sizes. The only thing
protecting the public from them are an updated version of the Knights Templar.
It’s not Lord of the Rings but it’s a hoot to write. I’ve just finished a battle
scene where our three heroes face off against a sea of zombies!
to Interceptor, Leviathan was met with overwhelming praise from almost all the
readership. Leviathan gave the impression that a lot of work had been done to
create the setting. How much untold backstory remains?
It was a case of
mighty Oaks springing from tiny acorns. It began life as a neat, nugget of an
idea but as I was putting the story together more and more ideas for the back-story
of the ship, crew and passengers began emerge. It started off as this little thread
of a notion and as I began to work on it this bloody colossus emerged! So much
so, it started to become quite a distraction. There were so many ideas spinning
off from it that they were starting to distract me from the core concept. It really
did take on a life of it’s own. The Leviathan became a world in itself.
Matt and I want
to go back and tell some more Tales of the Leviathan, longer pieces, one or two
episodes or perhaps a five part mini-series. Something like that. I especially
want to tell the heart-breaking story of the ship’s zoo and what happened to the
animals. As and when though is down to kindly Uncle Matt (Smith).
criticism with Leviathan, and later on American Gothic, was that everyone wanted
it to be longer – do you ever feel constrained by the limitations in the episodes
allotted to a weekly serial?
I think that’s
the only complaint I’d have about working on two-thou, you could always do with
a bit more elbow room. Having said that, when you take on the job, you know what
you’re getting in to and work to fit within the framework you’re given. Writing
for two-thou is definitely a unique discipline. It forces you to really concentrate
on your story-telling.
much of your work with D'israeli has undergone some tweaking when collected –
can we expect any changes or additions to the upcoming Leviathan collection?
I think the Bert
and Ernie cameo is definitely for the chop. That was a three-in-the-morning, throw-away
gag that should have never made it past my frontal lobe. I don’t know exactly
how much room we’ll have to play with but we do want to expand on some sections.
I might tweak the story a little but it’ll mostly be visuals, to give Matt more
room to play.
I haven’t spoken
to Jon (Oliver) yet but I’m assuming the collection will include all the Tales
of the Leviathan as well. I’d like to try and wrangle it so we have an original
ToL in there, something solely for the trade.
How did the
idea for Kingdom of the Wicked come about?
The core of the
idea started back in the early eighties. I’d read an article on people who’d created
their own imagined realities. These weren’t just stories but fully realized, intricately
detailed worlds down to the agriculture, architecture, social calendars and so
on. Not only would they know the names of everyone who lived in their worlds but
their back stories, their relatives, some even went as far as creating daily newspapers
for their towns/cities/worlds.
The kind of minds
behind them were equally diverse, such as Peter Ustinov, Fredrick Nietzsche and
the Bronte sisters. While these were created mainly for amusement and recreation,
others were done as exercises to maintain the creators sanity. An American officer
who’d been held prisoner for two or three years during the Vietnam war built and
ran a hotel in his head. He started off with the land being bulldozed and created
the entire construction process, even down to knowing the names and families of
all the workers. When his hotel was finished, he went into the same detail with
Likewise, a Russian
university professor who’d been imprisoned in the sixties, built and ran a castle
in his head. I was really struck by the notion of creating such a detailed world
inside your own mind. The question then was what to do with it? Around the same
time, I read another piece about a Brazilian baby, a girl, who’d been born pregnant
with her twin.
After that, I put
the two together and out came Kingdom!
Matt Brooker and
I had worked together on the God’s Little Acre short story for Revolver and were
looking to work on a longer piece, so Kingdom seemed a natural. We found a home
for it with Dave Elliot over at Tundra UK. I knew Dave from way back when he’d
introduced me to the people at Dark Horse and Tundra were also in the process
of putting out a Lazarus Churchyard collection from Warren and Matt so we’d already
got a foot in the door. However, the best laid plans…
Traces before it, the recently re-published Kingdom of the Wicked had a somewhat
problematic gestation. What can you tell us about that?
In a scenario that
seems to have dogged our working partnership, Tundra UK folded before the series
came out! We were retained the rights though and I tried to find us a new home.
Vertigo seemed like a natural but we were overwhelmed by their disinterest, even
when we offered them the book for just the production costs. After spending a
couple of years on the thing, all we wanted was to see it in print.
Reed over at Caliber took us in for which I’m eternally grateful. It was only
a black and white edition but to have it out on the stands made all the difference.
My next goal was to get the full color version out there which took slightly longer
until Dark Horse came to the rescue.
On the back of
the success of Scarlet Traces, we just happened to mention that we had another
ninety odd page graphic novel ready to go and would they be interested? My next
aim is to get Kingdom turned into a radio series or (fingers crossed) a movie.
Your work with
D'israeli in particular can be notable for some particularly gruesome moments
-Fuzzbox's fate in Kingdom of the Wicked and the Steward's death in Leviathan. How
much of this is in the script and how much of it is D'israeli letting loose?
I have to confess
much of the nastiness is down to me. I can be an unpleasant little bugger at times.
Apparently the scene in Kingdom where the Teddy bears are machine gunned had all
the girls (and some of the guys) at Tundra in tears. I thought, ‘My work here
I almost always
defer to Matt when it comes to the art. I trust him implicitly. Occasionally we
might talk through certain scenes, especially if I’m after something in particular
but mostly I leave him to his own devices. There’ve been times when I’ve given
him an almost incidental piece of panel description and he’s turned it into this
absolute jewel of a scene!
What was the
inspiration behind American Gothic?
It was the simplest
of ideas. It’s a point of history that people emigrated to the US to start a new
life in order to escape religious persecution and intolerance in Europe. It’s
no great leap therefore to include those off-shoots of humanity who are in fact
the root races of European myth and later horror stories.
It seemed quite
logical really. If someone kept on trying to drive a stake through your heart,
lop your head off or set fire to you. The chance to pack up and move somewhere
else safer, say on the other side of the world would be a definite plus.
Are there any
plans for an American Gothic return?
I’ve got plans
for at least another two series. One is about the travelers interaction with the
characters and creatures from Native American mythology. The second is basically
a huge slug-fest including a lost colony of Vikings, Chinese dragons, evil Oni
and despicable rail road bosses.
How did the
idea for adapting Richard Matheson's Hell House come about? How do you approach
adapting a book like this? Do you stick as close to the original as possible or
diverge where necessary? Would you like to attempt I Am Legend?
Jeff Mariotte who’d
been my editor on The Establishment had moved from Wildstorm to IDW and asked
if I’d be interested in adapting Hell House? We’d often discussed our favorite
books and authors, so he knew I was already a huge Richard Matheson fan. The job
was a great honor in itself. The only thing that artist Simon Fraser and I did
have to change was the incident with the ‘stiffy Jesus’ more of which in a mo’.
When it came to
adapting the book, I read the novel a couple of times before breaking it down
into four chapters, one for each 48 page issue. Because it was an adaptation of
a Richard Matheson novel and not an Ian Edginton comic, I wanted to stay as true
to the book as I could, using as much of the actual dialogue as possible. I only
trimmed the text and excised or truncated scenes for the sake of space. I deliberated
over whether to run internal monologue captions for the characters but it would
have been a logistical nightmare trying to work them in without it being confusing.
The book is not
without it’s disturbing images as well as plenty of sex and violence. The only
scene we had to censor though was the ‘stiffy Jesus’. By this time Jeff had left
and Chris Ryall had taken over. Like Jeff, he’d told us to just go ahead and adapt
the book full on, however there is a scene in where a life-size, crucified Christ
sporting an enormous erection crushes and violates the female protagonist. Chris
decided we really shouldn’t show Jesus with a stiffy, not if we didn’t want to
find burning crosses in our lawns and inboxes full of hate mail. So Jesus got
was allegedly supposed to be drawing Hell House – what made you go with Simon
Fraser in the end?
It was all down
to Charlie really. It was a lot of work for not much in the way of remuneration.
Plus I think he was concerned that since it was an adaptation and not our own
book, Richard Matheson’s name would be on the cover but not ours. Which’s a fair
point I suppose.
I was chuffed to
bits to be working with Simon. I liked his stint on Dante and he’d been on my
list of artists I’d wanted to work with for a while. That’s still hopefully on
the cards when we can both find the time!
If someone wanted
to start out as a comics writer – what advice would you give them?
When I was starting
out you’d either submit to two-thou for a Future Shock slot or target some of
the home grown indie/small press publishers. Although it didn’t seem it at the
time it was probably easier back then, there were more titles to aim at with BLAMM,
Revolver, deadline, Electric Soup, Warrior even Marvel UK.
Now, I’d self-publish.
Don’t wait for publishers to discover the creative genius that your are. Hook
up with a couple of artists, get stuff out there. Submit to the smaller publishers
as well as taking advantage of the trawls for new talent that companies like Dark
Horse and Tokyopop run. Earning money is nice but exposure is everything!
Establish an on-line
presence, not to bitch and slag others but to showcase your work. Show how professional
you can be. Windows of opportunity open all to infrequently, be ready to exploit
them. If a company wants you to work for them, they’re going to be investing time
and money in you.
They want to know
you’re worth their risk.
I know a couple
of people who have been on the cusp of breaking in for a while now but have embraced
the convention bar scene all too vigorously. They’re lovely guys, I invited one
to my wedding but the persona of genial piss-head does not encourage a multi-million
dollar company to invest in you. Get famous, make loads of cash, then piss it
Read. Read. Read.
Books, newspapers, not comics, well not all the time! If you manage to chat to
an editor, especially an American don’t necessarily talk funny-books, unless that’s
why they want to talk to you. Show them you’re an informed, well rounded individual,
not some psycho shut-in.
Keep on writing.
Go over other writers stories, ones you like and see what it is that makes them
work. Similarly go over the ones you think are dire and look for why they don’t
work. In the early days you might start off emulating the writers you like, copying
their style. That’s no bad thing, we all started somewhere, it gives you a jumping
on point, something to work with. The goal then is to move on and find your own
A couple of books
I’d recommend are Story by Robert McKee, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style
and Stephen Kings’ On Writing. I like the King book, not because it provides any
great technical expertise (actually, it does but that’s beside the point) but
because all those doubts, worries, insecurities and second guesses you might have
about your work, just as easily apply to a multi-million dollar best-selling author
as they do to someone starting out. Comic-wise I’d recommend the Will Eisner stalwarts,
Comics and Sequential Art and Graphic Storytelling as well as Peter David’s Writing
for Comics. At the end of the day, you have to ho,d your nerve. You’re putting
yourself out there and asking people to pay good money to buy your work and that
of all though…don’t give up your day job. Seriously.
Brass Sun is
a fantasy epic about a clockwork solar system and its inhabitants but that’s a
little way off yet. There’s a very good chance it will have a home in a market
outside of comics but I don’t want to say anymore for now.
In the more immediate
future, Steve Pugh and I have Hellgate: London coming out from Dark Horse.
Scarlet Traces: The Great Game should be out any time now after which
Matt and I will be jumping back over to two-thou to crack on with Stickleback.
Set in a mythic Victorian London that’s part Penny Dreadful, part Edward Gorey/
Burton it’s a sort of nod to series like The Spider in that it’s primarily about
the bad guy – Stickleback.
He’s the Pope of
Crime and called Stickleback after the secondary rib-cage he has growing from
his back. The ribs are stunted and jaggedly snapped off, hence his name. He’s
surrounded by of equally exotic cohorts such as Black Bob, Tonga and Fiery Jack.
After that, if
Matt and I haven’t keeled over and died, we should be back over at Dark Horse
to start on Gothic. In a nutshell, it’s Mary Shelly’s Doc Savage. It’s
going to be centered around a pre-Universal Monsters cast of creatures from 15th,
16th and 17th century folklore and fiction. Some you’ll
have heard of, some you most definitely will not.
I don’t want to
jinx anything by going into to great a detail but I also have clutch of crime
books in the works with a couple of US publishers as well as mini-series about
the Viking Longship discovered beneath a shopping mall way out in the American
Ian Edginton's next
series, Stone Island with Simon Davis, starts in prog 1500