Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you get started in comics?
I think there are two routes towards getting regular work in comics: the inside route (approaching a publisher as a freelancer) and the outside route (self-publishing). With self-publishing, you’re making your own thing on your own terms and aiming to generate enough of a buzz about it that bigger comics-publisher-fish will come sniff you out. I got in via the inside route, going through the submissions window at 2000 AD.
Once that first Future Shock got accepted, I just focus-fired on writing more and more scripts, sending the next as soon as the previous one got rejected, until more and more landed. From there I graduated to my own series, then Dredd and so on. The scalps I won at 2000 AD led to me working on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Star Wars, and so on, and so it goes on fifteen years later. You’re constantly adapting, constantly learning and always juggling personal projects with more commercial (often non-comics) stuff that actually brings in money.
The crucial thing – the absolutely vital thing – to remember is to have a steady income while you’re working on your comics projects, especially when you’re starting out. I’m a full-time freelance writer, but I still have to balance the sexy comics work with all kinds of more commercial writing gigs that don’t sound at all sexy in Q&As like this.
What is it about comics that you love?
I love the immediacy of the medium, the way it can respond so quickly to real-life events. Movies and TV take years, novels take months, but you can turn a comic around in weeks (if you’re really quick). I love the way it brings art to life in such an immersive, collaborative way, and provides such a ready platform for so many different voices to tell the stories only they could tell.
I’ve referred more people than I can count to your blog post about the mathematics and reality of trying to break into comics via the Future Shock slot at 2000AD. Do you still think it’s a good route into the industry, and what would your advice be to anyone who’s reading this while chipping away at their own four-page masterpiece?
The submissions window at 2000 AD, which you can find right here, is still an excellent way to get in cold. If you know your WW2 history there’s also Commando, which is right here. Though do bear in mind that these outlets – like most outlets – have set windows that only open at certain times of the year. So get your projects ready to fire as soon as those windows open. And have three or four more projects in the chamber ready to go when that first one gets rejected.
If you’re a writer, whether you’re going the inside or the outside route, I believe there’s three ‘pillars’ to learning how to get better, which is really the only thing of any importance. You already know the first two: ‘read a lot’ and ‘write a lot’, but you also need to study a lot. And within that ‘study’ pillar there’s three more pillars to learn: 1.) the language (that’s grammar, syntax, punctuation, etc), 2.) drama (how to create characters, scenes, etc. Screenwriting books are your best bet for this), and 3.) your medium (whether that’s comics, prose, poetry, audio, whatever).
Devote yourself to learning the entirety of your craft, because being a great craftsperson is what will get you the work. It also makes you less replaceable. If publishers and IP holders start making extensive use of AI, it could well knock the bottom out of the writing market. Soon there may no longer be room for people who can’t be bothered to learn or who think having several thousand social media followers is more important than actually being good at what they do. As Andy Diggle once said of breaking into comics, “You get in by getting good.”
What are you working on right now / what do you have coming out this year?
One of the most frustrating things about being a writer is being unable to tell anyone about all the cool stuff you’re working on as it hasn’t yet been announced. I’ve got the latest series of Durham Red currently running in 2000 AD with art by Ben Willsher and letters by Simon Bowland. I’ve also got plenty more Kid Kong coming out in Monster Fun for younger readers, plus a few more Rebellion projects and a ghost story with David Hitchcock for John Carpenter’s annual horror anthology Tales for a Halloween Night. Plus my monthly essays of craft and genre stuff for my newsletter Agent of Weird.
What will you have for sale at the show?
Way more than I thought! Turns out I’ve got plenty of Star Wars comics and trades, plus back issues of Monster Fun, 2000 AD, Black Beth (which is the sword and sorcery saga I did with superstar artist Dani), and plenty of other 2000 AD trades and other stuff. (Cash only, though. Sorry. The Worley-Droid has yet to be digitised.)
And, of course, everything is signable. I’ve bought a special pen and everything!