I know people will want me to get straight to the 2000AD stuff but sod ‘em. One of my all time fave graphic novels is White Trash which last year I FINALLY managed to get another copy of (frigging ex stole my original). Could you just say a little on how that book came together? It seems to be one of the first things you did yet it’s fully painted and 100+ pages.
It was originally to be a series for Blast magazine, one of the brave (but short-lived) attempts to get an adult newsstand comic off the grounds in the early 1990s. Blast folded with issue 7 – which just happened to be the issue that I made my professional comics writing debut in, with the first episode of both White Trash and a weirdo Sherlock Holmes story. Both projects were picked up by Tundra UK, which was starting up just then. Tundra UK went the same way as the rest of the early 1990s UK comics boom (although they did throw some great parties along the way) but they did manage to put out White Trash as a four-issue mini-series (and subsequent collected graphic novel). A lot’s happened since then – and Martin’s sadly no longer with us – but it’s still a work I’m really fond of, even though it now feels like it was written by a totally different person.
Knowing Axl Rose can be a bit of a princess and keen to call out his lawyers at the drop of a hat, were there ever any problems or feedback arising from one of the main characters in White Trash being such an obvious riff on him at the time?
Martin Emond was a big G’n’R fan, and the Axl Rose thing was his idea. It worked really well. Martin did hear that Rose had seen the comic and liked it, but I don’t really know any details. The only legal problems came from the Presley estate, who initially gave permission for some song lyrics to be used, and then withdrew permission when they actually saw the comic. The print run for the first issue had to be pulped, and a slightly different version – with amended cod-Elvis lyrics – put out.
You currently have Absalom running in 2000AD with awesome artwork from Tiernan Trevallion. Did you have any say in choosing your artist for this and how much collaboration is there in the overall look and design of the strip?
I knew I wanted a change of style from Caballistics, but didn’t have any suggestions – – I’ve officially joined the old fogey brigade, and don’t really know who’s who among the young droids these days. Tharg suggested Tiernen, I looked at some of his work, and the rest was a bit of a no-brainer.
As most people know Absalom spun out of Caballistics Inc. Was it always your intention for Harry to get his own series at some point or did he just grow on you?
Caballistics went into retirement, but I always enjoyed the universe we created for it. I always liked Absolam as a character but I didn’t want to do any more team-based stories for 2000AD – it’s just murder trying to effectively develop multiple characters and storylines in a story told in 5-page episodes – and it occurred to me more and more that good old Harry might be a great character for a strip in his own right. One slight name change later – I just preferred his name spelled that way, and it seemed to match the slightly different new take on the character – and the pitch was off to Tharg. Of course, it did end up as something of a team story, albeit one with one main central character with the secondary characters very much grouped around him.
Reading Absalom prompted me to go and buy the two Caballistics trades as I missed them first time round and I loved the work you did there with Dom Reardon. Are there plans for the two of you to return to this at some point?
Dom and I were talking at the recent Bristol con about doing something together again. As to whether it would be Caballistics-related……that would be an ecumenical matter…
Harry Absalom comes across as a real grumpy old sod whereas you always present yourself as such a bright, cheery and outgoing person. How do you achieve this balance? (Yeah, this is my slightly piss takey question as I’m sucking up WAY too much here)
It remains an eternal mystery to me where the inspiration for Harry’s caustic misanthropy comes from…..but I do seem to find his dialogue easy – and fun – to write. I think some of his comments probably push at the upper limits of what’s doable in 2000AD. They are self-censored before I send the scripts in, and there’s a couple of things that merited a last-minute “Hmmm…maybe not…” before it’s sent off to Tharg.
You are a pretty regular poster over on the 2000AD forums and have even been known to participate in the dreaded “Prog review” threads. How do you generally find interacting with the readers?
I usually feel dirty and soiled afterwards, and wished I hadn’t done it. I (mostly) wisely stay out of discussions of my own work, lest we witness one of those epic creator meltdown events, a la Tony Lee.
At the time of writing you also have a Dredd story on the go with Lee Carter. As someone who has been writing Dredd on and off for over 15 years, has your take on the character changed at all over this time?
It’s got better, that’s for sure. Ohh lordy, lordy, those early Dredd stories of mine, buried away in the collective pits of shame that were the Mega-Specials and the 1994 Yearbook…
I have an obsession with asking this of any Judge Dredd creators, so apologies…. The Stallone movie. What do you think?
I’m totally unbothered by it. It seems to send some fans into some kind of fairly pointless frenzy of group hate, though, with people competing to say the mostly stupidly OTT thing about it. It was years ago. No-one really cares about it. Move on.
Looking through your creator CV you’ve worked with most of the great 2000AD artists (and PJ Holden). Is there anyone out there you haven’t worked with that you’d particularly like to collaborate with?
Have I? I’ve never really thought about it. [Goes away, thinks about it.] Carlos, Ian Gibson, Jock, Frazer Irving, Frank Quitely….errmm…some other people I can’t think of. Yeah, maybe I have. Some of them, anyway. I think Henry Flint has always annoyingly eluded me, though. He did once do a Missionary Man episode, and he was once going to do a series with me that – for various reasons – ended up happening with someone else. (And wasn’t very good, in the supposed “Rocket Fuel!” version that ended up appearing in the prog.) But, one day, he will be mine. Oh yes.
As well as writing books and comics you’ve also branched out into writing for games including Rogue Trooper and Splatterhouse. Excluding the fact it probably pays a hell of a lot better, how does the process compare especially looking at something like Rogue which you’ve also written for 2000AD?
It does pay better, but comics are definitely more fun. Like the movie and TV industries, game creation is a hugely collective/collaborative process, with so many other people and factors all having an effect on the story and dialogue as it appears in the finished game. In comics, it’s usually only those annoying gits of comics artists who are going to sully your vision of crystal-clear narrative perfection. Bastards.
I know you are also a games player. Does writing for games make you look at them differently now or can you still just go along for the ride?
I mostly just get annoyed at the length of cut-scenes, especially in Rockstar games. “You’re not Quentin Tarantino. Please make these generally unlikeable characters stop talking on and on and just get to the point where I find out which other generally unlikeable character I have to kill in order to complete the next mission.”
I’ve read you have a Doctor Who audio book/play coming out from Big Finish dealing with Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor so I have a multi part Dr Who question. Was his Doctor your choice to tackle or was it assigned, is this something we’ll be seeing more of from you in the future and how hot is Karen Gillan?
Yeah, The Doomsday Quatrain, co-written with my friend Emma Beeby and out in….errrr….September, I think. It’s a Seventh Doctor story – that was the slot available, so that was the Doctor we wrote for. It was fun, and hopefully we’ll do more. Writing pitches for the new series of Eighth Doctor stories at present, which are more New Who than Old Who.
On the subject of Karen Gillan. I dunno….Now that the novelty of her legs has worn off, I found her quite annoying this last series, with that kind of Scottish accent and delivery that tends to emphasise straight-out bad acting. (Be grateful you’ve not been exposed to more Scottish-made dramas or sitcoms; they’re full of this kind of cringeworthy stuff.) Also, she’s got a bit of a flat plate-face, like she’s just accidentally ran full-tilt into a set of sliding doors or a Perspex glass bus shelter. (I once saw someone do this in Glasgow, many years ago. It’s still about the funniest thing I’ve ever seen…)
Lastly, can you give us any hints about stuff you have in the pipeline and if people do want to keep up with what you’re working on is there a preferred place to do this?
You mean like a website or Twitter account? Good Lord, no. There’s enough shameless and boring self-publicists in comics as there is, without me adding to the tedium tally.
So, now on with a (brief) bit of shameless self-publicising;;
Currently just finished an Absalom one-off story for Prog 2012 and the first issue of Monsterology, a creator-owned series that PJ Holden and I are doing for a publisher on the other side of the pond. Cryptozoology, Cryptogeography, Parapsychology, Fortean Studies and all sorts of fun and spiffy stuff that I’m really enjoying writing. PJ’s done the best art on it that I’ve ever seen from him – blimey, who knew the little spudmuncher had it in him?
No more Dredd in the pipeline at the time of writing, but I think it’s time to chase up – and tie off – some of the loose threads I left before I took my Long Walk. Tharg and I have been communicating on and off for a while about me doing a somewhat major re-take on an old 2000AD character, and it looks like that might finally be happening. He’s not so much Old School, as Classical Age… Although, probably, I’ll land some big video game gig, and that one will be shelved for another year or two again.
Hopefully doing something for Strip after it launches, and talking to a few publishers about some more creator-owned projects. There’s also a TV thing that I was invited to pitch for, and am waiting to hear back on.
Monsterology Preview Image. Art by PJ Holden, Colours by Steven Denton
A big thanks to Gordon for taking the time out to answer these questions and especially for indulging my White Trash love (now where’s my Absolute Edition??). Also thanks to PJ for providing the stunning pic above. Looking forward to more Absalom and Monsterology and am hoping its not too long before we see Mr Rennie back on Dredd as the Brain Bloom story that just finished rocked. He’s wrong about Gillan’s face though… just for the record 🙂