Sign of the Hammer!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Genesis and Catastrophe (Without the Catastrophe.)

Well, by now, Paragon #9's got into the hands of the general public, and while I've yet to read any reviews, those who have commented on my strip have been pretty positive, which is always good for the ol' ego. Here's a few thoughts about the strip's genesis, and that of Nero himself.

The whole thing came out of Chris Cronin's desire to put together a pulp-style comic. Fresh from having written my Dr WTF?! strip and not having been told to go away and never darken the door of comics again, this seemed like a golden opportunity. I suggested writing a Doc Savage-style character, which grabbed Davey Candlish's attention, but in between my suggesting and his being grabbed, I'd changed my mind and wanted to write about a dwarf detective instead. Cheekily, I suggested the Doc Savage type for Paragon instead, and Dave agreed, finding himself also roped into drawing the dwarf detective as well. (More on him in the future.)
As such, I came up with Spencer Nero. His first name derived from both that doyenne of Englishness, Lady Di, but also from Spencer Tracy, who in 'Bad Day At Black Rock' struck me as a pinnacle of the heroic. Likewise, Nero's surname hailed from both the Roman emperor (and was, as such, intended to indicate the character's dark side) but also from Franco Nero, Italian star of 'Django', a wonderfully hapless cowboy hero, sporting cool in bucketloads.
On the surface, Spencer would be the classic 1930s pulp adventurer, but I wanted him to have a really nasty side to give him a bit of an edge. No less an authority than Dredd-scribe John Wagner has said that it's always better if your hero has a bit of range and room to be a bastard. In Spencer's case, the two seemed incongruous, so I decided to make that a plot point - he puts on a mask and behaves differently, afterwards distancing himself entirely from what he's done. This inevitably led to my obsession with the Roman god Janus surfacing, and then everything seemed to come together when I realised that Spencer epitomised British (and Roman) hypocrisy - noble ideals in principle but with a bloody, domineering undercurrent and a 'might makes right' philosophy in practice.
After that, it was just a case of finding a foe for him. Dr. Von Zero was plucked straight out of a WWII role-playing game I'd written and run, whilst the use of a lost Aztec tribe with a mystic stone probably has its roots in an Indiana Jones comic I'd been given as a kid in the 80s, where Indy had to avoid being fried by solar lasers focused through Aztec gemstones embedded in the roof of a prison chamber. As for Mr. Alabaster - I think his name comes from a line in The Police song 'Wrapped Around Your Finger', whilst his tarot obsession seemed a good way of shoehorning in some occult antics of a non-Roman variety. He's become a character I've grown to enjoy writing, particularly once I got a handle on his relationship with Nero - Alabaster in fact exploits him ruthlessly for his own amusement, but uses his matter-of-fact way of dealing with eccentric subject matter to make it all seem necessary.
And there you have it. As Gary Larson once said, after recounting the origins of his career as a cartoonist: I have no idea of how much interest any of that is to you, but it's in your brain now and you're stuck with it.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Falling Towards Apotheosis

So for all my banging on about Spencer Nero like he’s the second coming, it’d be remiss of me not to mention what else appears in Paragon #9. Matthew McLaughlin and James Corcoran contribute a prehistoric Jikan tale with a delightfully Hammer / Amicus sensibility, the art for which is truly lovely, Corcoran’s atmospheric swathes of black being a particular highlight. The same writer also teams up with the mad, bad and dangerous to know Louis Carter (that’s bad in the sense of Byronically wicked, not a critique of the art!) who illuminates this month’s outing with some wonderfully stylised robo-philosophical musings. And explosions. Carter’s art is lovely stuff – I could absolutely see his robots as animated figures in some peculiar cartoon. Meanwhile, Davey Candlish couples (ooer, missus) with Alan Holloway for a violent western outing, ‘No Compromise’. There’s something about the western genre that Davey just seems to excel at – crumpled gunslingers must be one of his favourite subjects. And the strip’s first line, about how a stranger ‘rowed into town’, is a very witty conceit.
And finally, there’s Dirk Van Dom and Stephen Prestwood’s ‘Icarus Dangerous’. There’s a lot to like here, not least the muscular,action-packed art, which plays around with perspective (as is suitable for a flying hero) and which has a real weight and power to it. Gorgeous stuff. Of course, I’m a sucker for mythology too, and the whole ‘Greek myths in space’ thing makes me think of 'Ulysses 31', the best cartoon ever. Meanwhile, little references like Icarus suggesting his dad would enjoy the local architecture give the science-fantastical fusion a charming grounding. And despite the fact that several months pass between issues of Paragon, somehow ‘Icarus Dangerous’ manages to keep up a breackneck pace, rattling along with all the vip and vigour of a weekly-scheduled strip, full of energy, pressure always piling onto the hero.

The strip also made me muse on the likeability of the lead character. One of things I enjoy about this series is that Icarus is a bit hapless. I love characters that screw up or aren’t entirely sure what they’re doing, particularly if it’s their own fault. I find it a trait that’s extremely easy to identify with: indeed, one of my all-time 2000AD favourites is Ace Garp, a past-master in the field of creative balls-ups. In the case of Icarus, he seems, to paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt, to be doing the best he can with what he has where he is, but that clearly comes with a few bumps along the way. So much the better – in my experience, readers love seeing characters on a learning curve. Look at how popular the teenage New Mutants were with Marvel fandom when they debuted in the 80s. For a character so strongly associated with the concept of ‘the fall’, it’s a sharp move by Dirk Van Dom to give Icarus this slightly blundering quality, whilst at the same time reminding us that we fall to rise.
Indeed, the whole notion of haplessness is one that’s going to become more apparent in my own character, Spencer Nero, in forthcoming stories. In his first outing, he’s uber-confident and doesn’t make many mistakes, but as I tease out the darker aspects of his character, you’ll see how his arrogance increasingly makes him put his foot in it. In a script I’m writing at the moment, set in India in the time of the British Raj, I take this to an extreme, and Spencer becomes pretty much sole architect of his own problems.
Anyway - Paragon #9. Go buy. Bye.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Nero Unleashed!

Well, he’s broken his bonds and now he’s out there, as Paragon #9 explodes onto the scene! Will the innocent comics-buying public take Spencer Nero’s swaggering, egotistical pulp antics to their collective bosom? My fingers remain crossed – at the very least, Davey Candlish (and, for a special one-page bonus outing, David Broughton) can be guaranteed to make it a rip-roaring artistic ride! More on the genesis of the great man soon – where he came from, where he’s going, why he’s called Spencer Nero, and which fundamental human trait he is supposed to embody. (Hint: it's not a good one.)

Friday, 11 November 2011

Hold Ya, Thrill Ya, Kiss Ya, Vril-Ya

It's brittler, Hitler!
Owen Watts takes a firm grip of Louis Carter’s proud output, and behold! Crazy Fox-o-vision (in conjunction with Carterscope) presents this little teaser for Dr WTF 2012. Yup, it’s your friend and mine, Hauptmann Who, in ‘The Reich Stuff’. (Also by me. And yes, I know it's not an original pun, but I was specifically thinking of the similarly named song by Robert Calvert.)
Anyway, over on Louis’s blog, you will find a brief discussion of the relevance of Bovril to the Third Reich, but does it play a significant role in our story? Or is this merely some uncanny Element X which has bobbed, atavistically, to the surface of Louis’s unfathomable subconscious?
The answer to one of those questions is 'Yes'.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

The Lord of Beginnings Opens a Door...

Splatterhouse Blues: Artist Davey Candlish unleashes Janus.

Hold on... what the hell’s going on in this panel from ‘Spencer Nero and the Island of the Naztecs’, due soon in Paragon #9? Who is this creepy, blank-masked psycho? What’s he got to do with jolly 30s adventurer, Spencer Nero? And why is he punching a hole through some poor creature’s skull?
Be warned.
Janus is at the gates.
And, as Caligula used to say, oderint dum metuant.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Zero Hour

Zero (not) the Hero - art by Davey Candlish
A little preview for 'Spencer Nero and the Island of the Naztecs', coming soon to Paragon #9. Who, you ask, is this angry, hawkish-looking gentleman with the monocle and the cigarette holder, drawn with such consumate skill by Mr. Davey Candlish? Why, this is Doctor Zigmund Von Zero, Spencer's sparring partner for his first outing. An aristocratic member of the notorious Thule Society... what could this fellow's political allegiance possibly be? Answers on a postcard to 'Nazi Competition, Department of Contigency, Whitehall'.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Covered In Glory

Over at Paragon's site, Davey Candlish unveils the cover for issue #9, and it's a cracker, as Spencer Nero takes on a malformed band of naughty Naztecs. I've seen this cover at various stages in its development, but Steven Denton's colours really evoke the lurid pulp sensibility that Dave and I were trying for. Loving all those eerie unearthly purples.

The triplicate tag-lines are my own attempt to harness some of that mad, daft pulp energy - as Dave points out, these things always seemed to come in threes. It appears I have a faint obsession with the word 'ungodly', though. Probably all that Lovecraft-reading as a teenager.

Anyway, enjoy.


Monday, 10 October 2011

And I was thinking how the world should have cried on the day Jack Kirby died...

A bit of cross-blog fun – over on his corner of the web, the inimitable Louis Carter, my new partner in time-crime for 2012’s Dr WTF?!, has previewed some of his preliminary designs for the ‘good’ Doctor and his sidekick. Louis’s work on ‘Halo and the Gryphon’ in Dirk Van Dom’s excellent Vanguard #1 was recently described on Comics Bulletin as “stunning” – well-earned praise indeed. Anyway, Louis has some kind words for my script, which are much appreciated, as is the chance to see his take on some of my loopy concepts. Got to say, even at this stage, the attention to detail is just lovely – check out the intricate jacket braiding. In fact, in regards to the sidekick, Louis has taken my initial idea and absolutely run with it, adding in a few visual flourishes of his own. Just as with 2011’s Dr WTF?!, I know that no matter how my script goes down, it’s going to look bloody gorgeous. Owen Watts says he paired up Louis and I on the basis of mutual lunacy. From where I’m standing, it’s looking like a marriage made in glorious madness.

Spanish Carter Magic?

And the Kirby reference? Well, it’s an object lesson in how a writer can casually bung a line into a script without thinking about how it might screw with the poor artist’s brain. My script mentions a guitar and sound-system looking like the sort of thing Jack Kirby might have built – but nowhere did I bother to say what that actually meant. Hell, I’m a huge Kirby fan, but if you asked me “What defines Kirby Tech?” I might have struggled once I’d got past “shiny, lots of buttons”. Thankfully, Louis went above and beyond the call of duty and got hold of some rather natty guidelines, the results of which are beautifully evident in this pic I’ve shamelessly ripped off from his site.
May the madness continue!

Monday, 26 September 2011

The Thing of Shapes to Come

 A little update on what I’ve been up to on the scripting front:
Well, I completed my script for 2012’s Doctor WTF?! a wee while back. My goal – to make it even loopier than last year’s effort and outdo myself in the sheer ridiculousness stakes. It’ll be a while till we see if I’ve managed it – look out for sentient asteroids, gestalt reincarnation and a Doctor gone very, very bad. Not to mention an earnest request that you beg a character’s pardon while he expresses his affection for a friend. Physically. Oh, and umlauts.
Next up is one of two new strips for Paragon, co-created with Davey Candlish, a man best described as the David Bowie of the small press, in the sense that his artistic style never sits still (and not in the sense that he’s a glammed-up lad insane.... although...) It’s a 19th century buddy-movie-style double-act with a musical theme, a lot of mutually disrespectful banter and a slightly sinister undercurrent. And that’s all I’m saying for now
But most imminent of all is Spencer Nero, also for Paragon, and also with That Man Candlish. What’s that all about, I hear you ask? Well, the year is 1936, and Spencer is a pulp-style adventurer with a Charles Atlas physique, who nurses a serious and somewhat unhealthy obsession with Ancient Rome. He’s a civil servant – in fact, he’s The Civil Centurion, the roving half of the two-man Department of Contingency, based in Whitehall. His boss, Mr. Alabaster, is a tarot-fixated pipe-smoking oddity and together they combat peculiar threats to British interests across the globe. Oh, and then there’s the business with the mask.... but if you want to know about that, take a look at Paragon #9 in a few months. I’ll be sure to get some preview art and other Spencer-related goodies up nearer the time, but suffice to say, I was absolutely honoured when Mr. Candlish awarded Spencer an inaugural cover to celebrate his debut.

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Doctor Is In (No, Not That One...)

Well, I was originally going to mention my upcoming strip for Strontium Dog fanzine Dogbreath in a casual, off-hand sort of way, as part of a general update on what I'm up to, script-wise.

But then David Broughton, who I teamed up with for my Impetigo Jones strip, sent me this absolute cracker of a specially-drawn preview pic:

And that settled it.

Bloody brilliant work, right?


If you cast your mind back to 'Bitch', the S/D strip that introduced Durham Red, you may recall that Johnny and Red's chief rival in the hunt for Ronald Reagan was none other than fellow Dog, Doc Death. With a gentlemanly turn of phrase and a degree in torture (quite literally), Doc was an absolute stand-out S/D villain. Well, he was until Red apparently murdered him at the end of the story, in a typically Wagner / Grant 'create memorable foe, kill 'em off without a second thought' fashion.

But Doc is finally getting his turn in the spotlight in a future issue of Dogbreath, as David and I team-up once more to dredge the depths of wickedness.

We'll try and do some good guys next time. Honest.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Review for 'Impetigo Jones'

Over on Everything Comes Back To 2000AD, podcast stalwart Flint and guest Luke Foster review the latest Zarjaz and Dogbreath issues, and give the thumbs-up to my Impetigo Jones story in the latter. Cheers for the kind words, lads – as regular listeners to the podcast will know, Flint’s a very honest reviewer, not one to dish out plaudits indiscriminately, so praise from him is much appreciated.
Listen to the podcast here.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Impetigo Jones - The Big Scab

The most recent issue of Strontium Dog fanzine Dogbreath, #24, contains a five-pager by myself, artist David Broughton, and stalwart lettering-god Bolt-01 (who not only designed Impetigo a fittingly blistered logo, but who also did a superlative job with my overblown dialogue on the Doctor WTF strip, leading the eye across the page with incomparable skill. For that, my thanks.) Here’s some of the thought processes behind Impetigo Jones – ‘The Big Scab’.
Ambush on Smiley's World - Carlos Ezquerra
introduces Impetigo!
I’d long been a fan of the bad guys of the Strontium Dog universe – those lowdown verminous scum that served either as Johnny Alpha’s rivals or his quarry (or sometimes both.) Particular favourites were of course Max Bubba and his gang of outlaws: when I was younger, I’d customised a Warhammer miniature to look like Max, complete with a moulded Milliput head. Of Max’s reprobates, however, the one I always liked best was Impetigo Jones, who first appeared ambushing Johnny and Wulf in ‘Max Bubba’ / ‘The Ragnarok Job’. It must have been his bandaged aesthetic that did it, the pseudo-cowboy gear and the slightly mummified look being very visually distinctive, and, to my mind, damned cool. (I always liked bad guys with a cavaderous quality to them – Doc Death was another favourite.)
Having decided to inflict Impetigo on the Dogbreath readership, the first thing that came to mind was the punning conceit that Impetigo would have to be a scab-worker, breaking some kind of picket-line. From there, I was on a mission to cram in as many skin-condition related puns as possible. Somewhere, I’ve got a bit of paper reading ‘rash’, ‘itch’, ‘scab’, ‘scratch’, ‘flake’, ‘crust’ and so on. I got most of ‘em in too. I couldn’t see Jones working for a corporation for fun though, so I suspected he must have been blackmailed into it. Having established this, to make the adventure specific to him I realised he had to be working for a company that made skin products. At first, I thought the company might be mining for rejuvenating minerals, like a sort of intergalactic Body Shop, but that seemed a bit mundane, though I liked the subterranean aspect. Instead, I made the leap that the products were derived from the glandular secretions of giant moles. I have always found moles simultaneously endearing and alien – eccentric little velvet-furred gentlemen of the deep.
Hanging loose - Sag Kaden
Apart from moles, I needed Impetigo to face off against a foe who would have similar issues with cosmetics companies. Sag Kaden, his enemy for this piece, was very loosely inspired by a character from Philippe Druillet’s 1970s graphic novel, ‘Lone Sloane: Delirius’. In this story, intergalactic outlaw Sloane plans to rob the treasures of Delirius, a planet devoted to vice, from the vault of its governor, Kadenborg. Kadenborg was a bloated, saggy, dull-witted lump of a creature, so I felt he should lend part of his name to my anti-norm activist. David Broughton did a great job of giving Sag Kaden a malevolent, piggy-eyed, but rather dim countenance.

Of course, Jones and Kaden would probably argue that the real bad guy of the piece is Mike Muldiworp, corporate CEO of Topoderm. I saw Mike as the Victor Kiam of the story, the kind of chap who liked the product so much he bought the company. As you may have noticed, I like cramming linguistic gags into my strips, so Mike’s surname derives from the word ‘mouldywarp’, which is an archaic term for a mole (hailing in turn from the German ‘moldeworpon’ or ‘earth-thrower’.) And ‘topo’ is Spanish for – yup, you guessed it, ‘mole’ again (along with ‘derm’ for epidermis / skin, of course). So he’s Mike Mole of the Moleskin corporation that milks moles. Try saying that six times fast.

In need of a lift - Impetigo descends.
As noted earlier, art for this story was by the talented David Broughton. The range of facial expressions he brought to Impetigo in particular were great - by turns, Jones is angry, frustrated, fed-up, murderous, duplicitous, vengeful and victorious, and David hits every one of those notes. In fact, under his skilled penmanship, Impetigo reminds me hugely of a chap I went to school with, who spent most of his time grimacing and scowling horrifically, but whose eyes used to light up with pure evil whenever he saw the chance to do something wicked.
David also does good worms. And tech. And tunnels. And pretty much everything, really. I love his backgrounds to the panels – their detailed nature (but not overwhelmingly so) gives the strip a real sense of place and authenticity, anchoring the action very believably.
Anyway, it was good to dip into one of the darker corners of the Strontium Dog universe: I usually find the B and C-list characters of established strips the most interesting to come up with scenarios for, in part because their histories are underexploited and rife for expansion. It’s a theme I’d certainly like to return to.
Get your copy of Dogbreath #24 at the Futurequake Shop, along with various other fine publications from Futurequake Press.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Doctor WTF?! 2011 - Director's Commentary


Right, that's the convivialities done with.

Doctor WTF?! was the brainchild of the mighty Owen Watts. The remit was as strange and off-the-wall a story as possible, featuring an alternate Doctor. This was my first ever comic script, and reasoning that no-one might ever agree to let me do another, I decided to throw in as many mad ideas as possible, hence the title ‘Kitsch ‘N’ Sink’. I started out with no clearer idea than I wanted the Doctor to look like a Cyberman. That was it: I thought it’d make a striking visual that would make the strip immediately stand out. For a brief moment, I visualised a series of Who foes all fielding their own Doctor – I doodled a fendahleen wearing Tom Baker’s floppy hat and scarf. In the end, though, I decided that the Doctor wouldn’t actually be a Cyberman, but was using the helmet to keep his head from imploding after some strange trans-temporal incident. Once I figured out that the story was all about the camp and the kitsch, and the idea of lack of inspiration and ironic appreciation ruining things (a comment, methinks, on the likes of Sylvester McCoy’s first season), it made sense that the Doctor had possessed himself, becoming some kind of self-consuming ourobouros.

To counter this, I brought in Bosie. I studied Oscar Wilde at university many years ago, and was fascinated by Wilde’s complete self-destruction in the face of what he perceived as the beauty of Bosie, Lord Alfred Douglas. By all accounts, Bosie was a callous, self-centred, talentless, egotistical git, but he had one thing going for him – he was regarded as very good-looking. (Jude Law does him to a tee in the film ‘Wilde’, starring Stephen Fry in the role he was born to play.) Bosie was Wilde’s muse, so I figured he might serve a similar purpose for the Doctor. In keeping with the aristocratic quality Bosie brought to the story, I decided to put the Doctor in fox-hunting attire, which I thought would play off the Cyberman helmet well. Getting teamed up with the frankly bloody brilliant artist James Feist was a godsend – his depiction of the character could have been plucked straight out of my brain!
Anyway, a few words on the individual pages:
Page 1: My mother had a Beryl Cook jigsaw when I was a kid. It was of a painting called ‘Nude on Leopardskin’, and featured a buxom naked lady waving cheerfully. When we put the jigsaw together, we always put the nipples on last. Somehow, and without being told this, James picked that very painting to use for largest jigsaw piece in the bottom right corner of panel 3. Genius! I think James’s take on Bosie has something of a Paul McGann quality to it – I like the fact he looks much more like the Doctor ought to than the Doctor does.
Page 2: “Danger Doctor! It has Latin qualities!” This might be my favourite line in the whole comic (nothing like being easily amused by your own script, eh?) I originally wrote it in as a ridiculous-sounding placeholder until I came up with something better. I never did. This was the first panel of the strip James revealed as a teaser, and as soon as I saw it, I knew that whatever the quality or otherwise of my writing, the strip was going to get one hell of a lift from his interpretation of my deranged ramblings. The way Bosie is holding his umbrella in panel 3 is something I do, so I felt it was important he followed suit.
Page 3: I’ve since realised that ‘Uranian killing techniques’ was a subconscious homage to Devlin Waugh’s ‘Kem-Kwong killing techniques’ from the ‘Judge Dredd Megazine’ story ‘Swimming In Blood’. The similarities between Waugh and Bosie should be fairly apparent. ‘Uranian Poetry’ was 19th century verse about “the love that dare not speak its name” – Bosie was a big proponent of this. (The poetry, anyway - he gave up on the man-love eventually and got married.) History buffs will know that Bosie’s father really was the Marquess of Queensbury, the man who invented the rules of fair play in boxing, despite being an unconscionable bastard in his private life. The panel with ‘Wot no theorem?’ was James’s idea – originally, I was going to have Robot Monster from the film of the same name (a personal favourite), but James’s version clarified the plot much more elegantly.
Page 4: Kamikaze half-ducks – sort of a Coronation Street reference, alarmingly.  I was thinking of Hilda Ogden’s wall-mounted ducks here. Dunno why. I love the way the Doctor’s running up the hill in panel 3 – it makes me want an action figure of him.
Page 5: An eight-panel page, as I try to cram some kind of mad resolution into the story – it is to James’s credit that the page doesn’t look cramped and flows so well. The Harridan looks EXACTLY as I imagined her, but more attractive: just imagine her playing opposite Colin Baker in the 80s. Grace Jones was the main influence here: I liked the idea that the Doctor’s fiancĂ©e would have a masculine quality to her. As for the Doctor’s new head... well, it took me a while to figure out precisely what he would look like at the end. I tried to think what the kitschest thing going was, and then realised I’d already used most of my options in the previous four pages. (Vegas-era Elvis was in the running for a while.) It ended up as a teapot: quintessentially British but fairly eccentric, just like the institution of Who itself.
I think that calls for a 'Hurrah!'