Hi Sean. When you are doing your comics for Starburst does the editor give you the idea for the comic or do you pitch the idea to the editor? Hi Will. Simply put, I come up with whatever ideas amuse me and if the Starburst team likes them they make it into the issue.
Would you like to work on the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip? I’ll work for whoever’s paying! Starburst and DWM are very closely linked to my formative years as a Doctor Who and fantasy movie fan. I first became aware of Starburstthrough those full page ads that the Weekly ran, around about 1980. It seemed very adult and sophisticated compared to pictures of Mandrels on the front page. Male readers of a certain age fondly remember its ‘Fantasy Females’ issues. When I started buying it there was a regular colour strip called Tales from the Rim by Paul Neary, who also created a brilliant one-off strip called Timeslip for the Weekly. So it’s a thrill to be in the resurgentStarburst, as it would also be if anything of mine ended up in DWM – especially since I’ve been buying it since Day One. I lived up North when it first appeared and my cousin Chris, a photographer, went to Stretford Arndale Centre and got some great pics of Tom Baker at the launch being mobbed by adoring kids. One of them ended up in DWM after I sent it in. Funnily enough I was in a pub here in Brighton with some cartoonist pals a couple of years ago and I was introduced to a mate of theirs, a Northern bloke who really seemed to know his comics. Through a booze-addled haze I gradually realised he was Dez Skinn, original editor of both titles! I muttered something about ‘Sez Dez’ (his regular Marvel column back in the day) and after his face betrayed the look of a man collared by one too many rabid fans at conventions, he soon realised I didn’t want a strip of his leather jacket to take home and sleep with.
Which do you think is easier to do, write the script for the comic or draw the comic? It sort of balances out over both in terms of peaks and troughs. I always have quite a few ideas for strips but as the deadline looms one tends to leap out and tickle me more than the others, funnily enough. Once I’ve written the script it tends to get revised and pared down as I’m sketching the panels. As I usually work to one page I’m trying to trim the lettering down a bit. If you look at my first Starburst strip, which I’m pleased with in the sense that I crammed in 11 Doctors on a crazy deadline, it does look hideously cluttered. I love the drawing side of things, especially as it entails pictures of the Doctors and various monsters – I could quite happily draw them all year long. The only hard part is trying to squeeze it into my schedule. I currently work full-time and have recently become a dad so free time is something of a luxury. Every writer’s dream is to make the transition to creating stories all year long but realistically I don’t think that’s going to happen quite just yet.
Would you consider, if offered, writing for Doctor Who in any other media than cartoon spoof? Definitely. It’s always been a dream of mine to create original Doctor Who content, so that’s a no-brainer. Who wouldn’t? I’ve actually co-written a spin-off comedy pilot that’s just crying out for a series. That would be a great way in. Now there’s just the small matter of getting it commissioned! If that doesn’t happen I may turn it into a strip one day as the material is already there.
When did you decide you wanted to write and draw cartoons? I’ve never really decided upon any kind of career plan. I’ve just haphazardly indulged a passion for creating stories in various different media over the years. It just so happens that I got the offer of working on the Harry Hill strip and the Starburst strip within a few months of each other last year. Before that I’d done nothing resembling comic strips for over 20 years! When I was little I loved drawing cartoons – it’s my first love really – and I had a passion for English comic titles that hasn’t gone away. Back in the late ‘80s I was paid to draw cartoons by a local newspaper but I then moved on to other creative pursuits. From then on I was still being inspired by the strips I was reading in the likes of 2000AD &Dr Who Magazine and always thought ‘I wouldn’t mind a crack at that one day’.
How are you involved in the new printed version of Starburst magazine? I’ve been asked to continue with my monthly Doctor Who strip and I’m chuffed to see it in print. The magazine looks great and is clearly the combined product of a great deal of love. It’s the detailed, informative and slightly irreverent read that I remember enjoying back in the day.
A none Doctor Who question now, what is it like working for The Dandy?
I didn’t really have anything to do with the Dandy editorial team, as Nigel Parkinson (Harry Hill artist and main writer) approached me via a friend – or was it vice-versa? – with a view to lightening his load on the scripts. I loved working on the strip but it demanded a fair bit of material – each frame had a gag or was a set-up to one – which the wages simply couldn’t cover. If you’re drawing a strip the pay’s bearable but if you’re only writing it, and it’s the Harry Hill strip especially, then you’re getting a rather depressing return on your efforts because the stories were so busy and took varying degrees of time to work out. But what I loved about the strip was that the format was limitless. With a character as dynamically absurd as Harry you could take him anywhere and meet anyone. In that way he resembles a certain space/time traveller. And I marveled at the work Nigel produced every week. He’s a brilliant talent with a superb comics pedigree. So apart from the pay I found it a very rewarding experience and hugely exciting to begin with. Much has been written about the so-called artistic decline of the modern Dandy but I take the firm view that since its latest relaunch much of the content has been fresher and funnier than any mainstream kids’ comic since the brilliant Oink!What method do you use to draw? Do you for instance draw on the computer or draw on paper and then scan onto your computer? I’m so old-school I’m practically prehistoric! I scribble in pencil on paper and then go over the sketches in ink, either with a pen or brush. Then it’s a scan and basic colouring-in job. Although the colours are quite flat-looking I do give them a lot of thought. I quite like the simplicity of the result but I know if I got into drawing with a Wacom tablet and using the likes of Manga Studio then the process could be speeded up. I just need the time to play around with these devices and I’m the complete opposite of a gadget-freak. But you can’t beat that initial burst of sketching out roughs on paper. For me, the most satisfying surface to work on is thick newspaper pulp in biro. Not very practical though.
Where do you get your ideas from? What inspires you? There’s a little old man who lives in my loft and every Thursday I let him down for tea and crumpets. After he’s eaten he leaves me three ideas in a manila envelope. They’re usually rubbish but there’s often the scrap of an idea I can develop. Does anyone really know where ideas come from? I think you’ve just got to be inspired by whatever you’re exposed to. Deadlines really help. For instance, I used to run a comedy club with some friends and I performed there each week. Because the act was constantly on my mind everything around me became potential material. Suddenly every scenario was seen through ludicrous spectacles. Otherwise, it could be a story in a newspaper that sparks off an idea – something that can be presented in a manner that stimulates by feeling original in its presentation. With the Doctor Who strip I’ve got nearly 50 years of material to lampoon so it’s never long before something amusing pops up, e.g. a 70s version of Doctor Who Confidential. When the weather was really cold I was thinking of the Ice Warriors and their design. It’s a pretty iconic look but some of the choices are quite odd. Where does the creature begin and end? What’s organic and what’s armour? This inspired me to think of the reasons why they looked that way: what if they really hated the cold and had crappy eyesight? Their claws are about as impractical as it gets unless they’re caught up in a snowball fight. A favourite, recurrent theme is dragging the fantastical into the mundane. The Adric Agent Goldstar strip came from a chat on Twitter with fellow Starburst scribe Andy Weston about the differences in cool between companions old and new like Adric and Amy Pond. Using ‘80s TV types, I went as far in the opposite direction as I could with the Alzarian oaf and turned him into a kind of hard-bitten supercop. With a fetish for difficult maths equations, naturally. Probably the most popular strip has been Steven Makes the Tea, where Steven Moffat applies his complex, viewer-baffling machinations to the simplest of tasks. Generally I’m inspired by most media – including the really dreadful. There’s nothing like a bad film to get you motivated sometimes. Going to the countryside is wonderful for emptying all the clutter and making room for some fresh new ideas. Music’s also a massive inspiration and I often worked my comedy routines around certain tunes. At the moment my 2 month old son Joseph is my biggest source of creativity. I’ve had three solid ideas for children’s books since he’s been on the scene. Which makes up for all those 4am feeds!
Do you think you could do anything other than drawing and writing? What did you want to be when you were growing up? I’ve always got to be doing something artistic as I’m useless at mechanical or technical things. Having said that I know how to put the nuts and bolts of a story together. Getting its engine to run smoothly is a different matter altogether! Growing up I first wanted to be an astronaut – nice and practical. Then, in order: a cartoonist, actor, footballer, cartoonist, actor, poet, writer, comedian, director and writer. It got a little confusing at times I can tell you. I’ve made films and plays before involving all these ambitions in some shape or form – aside from the footie and spaceships obviously. Directing is the most exhausting and all-consuming pursuit, but is by far the most rewarding. One day I’d love to just shut myself away, tinker away with music and paint on huge canvasses. My brother Dan is quite a well-known artist so it obviously runs in the family.
What has been the reaction to your work from your family and the general online community? My family has always been supportive in everything I’ve done, thankfully. I must mention my partner Emily as she’s the one that has to put up with all my creative fits and starts as well as the unsociable hours. My nephews are particularly talented (as well as being bigDoctor Who fans) so we always have great fun batting ideas and nutty artwork about. I’ve had some very positive feedback from fans and comic creators on Twitter which is always encouraging. Through Twitter I was asked to write an article on Tiger comic for the Broken Frontier website, which I loved, as Tiger was a mainstay of my youth.
What are your plans for the future? More strips. Developing Film/TV/Radio scripts. Children’s books. Sleep.
Thanks for your time Sean! It’s been great talking to you. 🙂 My pleasure.