Interview conducted 4th of June 2019
When did comics first enter your life?
I can’t really think of a time when comics weren’t around. I’m of an age where you were just given comics to shut you up pretty much constantly. I’d get Oor Wullie and the Broons annual for Xmas all the DC Thomson stuff, my Aunt Bessie used to buy me Look & Learn which had the Trigan Empire in it, I’d get reprint stuff like The Titans and Mighty World of Marvel if I was good when my Mum went down the High Street. Occasionally, the Post Office would get a batch of random American comics, usually DC stuff which I think was basically shipping crate ballast that was then hawked off to retailers for buttons. Comics were absolutely everywhere when I was a kid. When I was about 10 I was allowed to order my own and I started getting Warlord, Victor and Roy of the Rovers. But I read pretty much whatever I could get my hands on.
Do you remember the first time you were ever in a comic shop?
A proper actual comics shop? Yes, very vividly. It was Forbidden Planet in Glasgow I think in 1989 and I went up because I’d been mesmerised by an article in the heavy metal magazine Kerrang about what was happening in modern comics. I bought Watchmen, some Spectacular Spider-man, some Nocenti/JR Jr Daredevil, The Killing Joke and I think some Animal Man and Doom Patrol and that was me away.
When did you first meet Iain Laurie?
I met Iain in 1990 at assassin school. Neither of us had the stomach for murder as it turned out so we were put in their entertainment division.
You’ve gone on to work together several times what was the first thing you worked on together?
The very first thing would have been a terrible comic we did for a class module, graphic design I think. We did a dismal thriller and a weird surreal thing about a crime fighting chimpanzee.
The first time I remember seeing any of your work was in Wasted how did that come about?
We’d already been doing Black Cape on our own online for a while when we got asked to modify it for Wasted. It was just being in the right place at the right time. We used to hang around (as many did) at Jamie’s Hope Street Studios of a Wednesday while Wasted was brewing and just submitted the idea when they were looking for material.
After that I lost track of you for a while what were you up to?
I wrote a couple of plays, but mostly I was doing very unglamorous but nicely paid corporate writing work – I was basically a (dreaded) content provider for business sites who weren’t good at getting personality across in their social media. I still do a little bit of that now, so I don’t knock it, it’s always been good to me. But back then I was working on that pretty full on for a good few years.
Sleeping Dogs was your triumphant return to the comic world. How stressful was putting that first issue together?
It wasn’t too bad. Bloody expensive though. I was wary of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter at the time so decided to self-finance the whole thing. I saw John Reppion saying recently that it should possibly cost a minimum of around £5 grand to make a single issue of a book if everyone gets paid property and he’s not far wrong. SD was a few years ago and it certainly cost me in excess of £3 grand to make. So raising/saving the cash was probably the most stressful bit.
Were you pleased with the response to it?
I was blown away to be honest. I mean just because you want to be good at making comics don’t mean you are, eh? I had no idea if it was any good or if people would like it. Of course my mates said it was good, and folk like Iain and John Lees gave me tremendous feedback, but they’re still your mates at the end of the day. To get good reviews and have pros praise it and people buy it in decent numbers was amazing, and very encouraging.
Lautaro Capristo your collaborator on that comic is based in Buenos Aires I believe. How did you get together?
Again, blame Iain Laurie! I was moaning about not being able to find an artist for SD on the train on the way home from a night out when he just showed me Lauta’s stuff on Facebook and said “What about this guy?” I got in touch and it snowballed from there.
How did that work with you both being on the other side of the world? Did it give you any obstacles?
Not really. It was a bit of a pain getting money to him, but Lautaro was generally pretty great to work with. He really put a lot of himself into the book, took it seriously and had a lot of enthusiasm for the story, which you need to see in a collaborator on things like this. For me, he’s a huge talent.
You’re someone who appears to have Kickstarter down to a tee. How much time does a typical Kickstarter take up and did you have to do much research into the various pitfalls before you launched your first one?
To do a Kickstarter right, you do have to put in the time and be on your toes. Rather than research pitfalls as such, I basically sought the advice of lots of people who’d done well on KS before me like Tom Ward and the Madius Comics guys. So seek and take advice from experienced creators. Most will be only too happy to help.
What do you think are the biggest pitfalls in Kickstarter’s that people should look out for? Did you learn anything from doing the first that you managed to take forward when you announced your next one?
You have to be very careful you’re not blasé about costs generally and particularly postage costs. You can get fixed prices for most things like printing but when you’re launching your first KS, you have no idea how many backers you’re going to get, right? So how do you calculate post? Rule of thumb, your postage costs will be about a quarter of what you raise in total, maybe more. You have to be very careful that if you add a stretch reward (something extra for the backers made with money you raise over and above your target) that it’s something that DOES NOT INCREASE YOUR POSTAGE COSTS or you can end up totally screwed. I’ve seen people go from softcover to hardback as a stretch reward for example and get absolutely blasted on postage.
Your Kickstarter’s have all been fully funded incredibly quickly. That must be a massive confidence boost knowing that people not only have confidence in you and your collaborators in delivering a finished comic but that you have a following?
Yeah it’s a very nice reputation to have. But quite a lot of people who use KS a lot fund really quickly as well. People like Mike Garley or Sarah Millman, people who generally deliver the best comic they can when they say they will. I think that’s what builds trust with folk, after your comic appealing to them in the first place of course. A track record of reliability and not mucking folk about is invaluable. I suppose it’s difficult for me to imagine my stuff has any kind of following really, because in UK indie comics we’re never really talking about big numbers, but it is genuinely wonderful to see folk coming back to read new issues of Alex and checking out the new stuff. Keeps you going really.
Tell us the inspiration behind Alex Automatic and how you hooked up with the wonderful James Corcoran?
After Sleeping Dogs, James got in touch and asked if I’d like to work together. I’d been a fan of James’ for a long time so asked him what kind of stuff he’d be into doing. He had some preliminary work on an Alex type character and we chatted about that and how we liked Gerry Anderson stuff, TV 21 and all the great old ITC shows from the 70s. So I went off to try and think of a way to make that kind of idea not cheesy and just a pastiche of that and Alex Automatic is what we came up with.
I know a lot of people were thrilled that Alex wasn’t a one shot. How many issues can we expect to see from you both?
At least 12 issues worth, but probably more. Right now, we have 3 issues out with a one-shot related spin off. There’s bound to be more side projects and spin-offs along the route of the core book, which roughly breaks down into 12 issues/chapters. The first arc will wrap with a 52 page (of story) double issue this year. We’re then planning a trade of the first 5 issues with a ton of back matter. How we tackle the second half of the story is a bit tricky. With rising print costs etc. we might do the whole second half of the story as a TPB, or we might try another format. Whatever keeps the costs down. Sadly I think the days of the cheapish 24 page indie print floppy are probably numbered. Hope not, but it looks that way.
You’ve written for theatre and radio in the past have you changed your writing process as you move from one creative outlet to the next?
Yeah, you have to. When you’re writing for someone else say on a content thing or radio essentially you’re writing to a brief, so you have to stick to that. You’re giving clients what they ask for in a professional setting and you don’t have much freedom. Theatre you have that freedom but it tends to be a collaborative exercise where you’ll often co-write. I was often involved post-script as well directing and that’s when theatre really becomes a lot of fun when you’re working with the actors, shaping the roles and seeing what works and what doesn’t. That collaborative aspect is a lot like comics to be honest. The real fun in comics is when everyone feels they can chip in their ideas and it all becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
Comic or otherwise who are your influences as a writer?
Comics wise I think my biggest influences would be the comics I came back to when I was a teenager. So writers like Grant Morrison, Ann Nocenti, Garth Ennis etc. who were pushing it a bit in the mainstream were an influence but I also loved stuff like Peter Bagge’s Hate, Eightball and Love and Rockets and a bit later the wave of confessional comics from Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly. Looking back a lot of that confessional stuff was terrible but it seemed different and interesting back then.
Other than comics I think my biggest influences would be the big TV drama writers of the 70s and 80s, like Alan Bleasdale, Dennis Potter, Carla Lane, Pinter, Alan Ayckbourn, Willy Russell, Franc Roddam and folk like that. TV back then was teaming with really well written drama and comedy drama by really big names who later faded away from TV and I was at an age where I was soaking “Boys from The Black Stuff” and “Auf Wiedersehen, Pet” up.
Novels wise I like John Braine, Keith Waterhouse, Angela Carter, Ursula K. Le Guin, Hubert Selby Jr, but I’m a very casual reader in as much as I don’t feel I have to read “important” books and I’m not into any huge series of books either. I often just end up reading stuff that’s recommended to me. I really enjoy noir and crime novels as well, particularly the Parker novels, James M. Cain, Hammett stuff like that. Amazing level of writing, absolutely tight as a drum.
Other than that we’re probably looking at David Lynch, John Carpenter, Chris Morris, Vic & Bob, the usual suspects for guys of my vintage I suppose.
From Sleeping Dogs onwards there are a lot of different things going on in the lettering of your comics has that been in the scripts?
Yes, I’ve always worked with very good letterers, so I’ve always felt confident experimenting there. For me, it’s every bit as much as aspect of comics as anything else and can be a really versatile and useful way of compressing or stretching time, or conveying mood and emotion as well as information. I’m not one of those people who thinks that good lettering should be invisible or not noticeable in some way. A lot of people have a lot of daft rules about what’s good and bad stylistic technique in comics. Generally speaking, people with really, really rigid writing “rules” should be completely ignored.
Iain has a very unique style that I personally love. He’s a complete one off and should be treasured because of it. I couldn’t imagine anyone other than him bringing The Edge Off to life with you. What was the genesis of that story?
Iain and I often two-hand things Iain could frankly pull off easily on his own, but we like working together and I think he feels I can do structure and dialogue pretty well. However Iain’s as good an ideas guy as anyone I know. He really brims with stuff. So The Edge Off basically stemmed from him wondering what it would be like if I wrote a fairly standard thriller/action script and we then ran it through the mill of Iain’s art style and imagination. So I wrote a draft and we had a couple of unsuccessful attempts at it. Then we had a good chat, a couple of re-writes, it clicked and it was done a few weeks later. But Iain and I on comics are just two mates who grew up watching the same stuff making comics we know we’ll like without really worrying about audiences or anything. A bit indulgent and arty but the fun is mainly just in collaborating on something fun with your pal.
What projects do you have coming up we can look forward to?
Well, there’s more Alex Automatic coming as I mentioned, House of Sweets, a new comic with Iain is coming on, our take on an off-kilter pastoral horror. And I have Heart of Steal, an action comedy with art by Katie Fleming coming soon too – that’ll probably be the first one ready actually, so look out for that. Lots of other stuff I’d describe as in the pipeline as well, but too early to really talk about yet!
Fraser thanks for the chat!