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Home ¦ Features ¦ Ian Edginton interview

Ian Edginton - A 2000 AD Review Interview
30th July 06

2000 AD -  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.

Interview by Gavin Hanly

How 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. 

2000 AD -  Ian Edginton

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 biz. 

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) cohesive whole.  

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! 

You've done 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 universe. 

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.

Something like 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.

Funnily enough, 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. 

2000 AD -  Ian Edginton
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 to direct.  

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!  

Having written 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.  

2000 AD -  Ian Edginton

With Batman/Aliens 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!  

They’d already 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? 

2000 AD -  Ian Edginton
Scarlet Traces takes War of the Worlds as it's starting point. How did the idea come about – were you a fan of the original book? 

Absolutely. War 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 out. 

Scarlet Traces 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 three versions? 

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 section. 

2000 AD -  Ian Edginton

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 house.

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. 

Meanwhile there’s 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 game gal! 

2000 AD -  Ian Edginton
With D'israeli, 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 fan.  

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.  

What's your 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 a joy.  

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! 

2000 AD -  Ian Edginton

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? 

Funnily enough, 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 the time.

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.  

Charlie’s something 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 girl was?  

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 things go. 

2000 AD -  Ian Edginton
Unlike many 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, hard cash! 

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 replace them.  

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!”.  

How difficult 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.

Although Gordon (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 thing. 

2000 AD -  Ian Edginton

Tackling the 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.

Ironically it’s 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.  

With Underworld, 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.  

2000 AD -  Ian Edginton
Interceptor 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 minutes.’  

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.  

2000 AD -  Ian Edginton

You've recently 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.

Rogue Trooper, 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!

In contrast 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). 

2000 AD -  Ian Edginton
Perhaps one 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. 

Considering 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 running it. 

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… 

2000 AD -  Ian Edginton

Like Scarlet 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. 

Eventually Gary 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 is done.’ 

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!  

2000 AD -  Ian Edginton
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 the snip. 

2000 AD -  Ian Edginton

Charlie Adlard 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.  

2000 AD -  Ian Edginton
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 all away!  

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 voice.  

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 takes balls.

Most importantly of all though…don’t give up your day job. Seriously.  

What's next for you? 

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/ Charles Adams/Tim 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 Mid-West.  

Ian Edginton's next series, Stone Island with Simon Davis, starts in prog 1500

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Original content (c) 2002 Gavin Hanly (contact 2000AD Review).