We wrap up our two parter with the Fred the Clown author by discussing Buster Keaton, Disney continuity, and actually writing superhero comics for kids.
Is there something about silent films that translate specifically well into the medium?
Well, I think I was interested in those kinds of films anyway. L’Association put out an anthology in 1999, which was all wordless stories. It was people from practically every country in the world doing a story. That was the first time I had actually done a wordless story, and I really felt like I had found something that I could do well. So I started pursuing that.
And the fact that I was already interested in people like [Buster] Keaton meant that I was going to draw from that well anyway.
What was your work like before that point?
Well, it had words in for a start [laughs]. I guess I was already sort of leaning in that direction, because The Goon Show radio show was a really big influence on me. That’s kind of what I like to do—and Python, as well. They’re slightly surreal and slightly absurdist humor. It’s definitely what I’m interested in.
Were you writing screenplays or anything of that nature, or was it always clear that these were going to take the form of comics?
I’ve always wanted to be a cartoonist. Since I was six years old, I’ve wanted to be a cartoonist. The fact that, in the last couple of years I’ve started writing for other people, is something I never expected to happen.
What are you doing, script-wise?
I’m writing Thor The Might Avenger, at the moments and writing and drawing the Muppet Show comic. Occasionally I have other artists do them.
Was Thor a big leap for you?
It was certainly exercising a different set of writing muscles. It’s a big jump in that I have to think in terms of a coherent narrative that’s going to last a year, broken up into these 22 page chunks that have to be self-contained, in a way. It’s a completely different set of writing disciplines, but that’s kind of why I find it interesting. It’s something that I have done before.
When you’re working with artists, are you writing with their strengths in mind?
I hope so, yeah, when I know who it’s going to be. I’ve been lucky with the collaborators I’ve had—particularly with Thor—the guy who I work with, Chris Samnee, is someone who can draw just about anything I throw at him, so the challenge has been trying to throw more and more interesting things at him.
It’s almost easier in that respect—you can do some things that you might not able to do were you drawing the book.
Yeah, probably. I’ve got one sort of furrow that I plow very, very thoroughly, whereas he’s got the entire field to play with.
Were you a superhero fan, growing up?
I’ve always read them. I sort of got out of the habit in the mid-80s. I burned out with all of the continuity re-writes and the universe shattering events. The fact that the content is totally inappropriate for children, when the subject matter is totally appropriate for children and nobody else—it just seemed like a cognitive dissonance thing that I couldn’t really get my head around.
How did you get into writing for kids? Was that something that had always interested you?
I pretty much fell into it. It’s not like I’ve always been writing stuff that wasn’t for kids. Even Fred the Clown, which goes some dark places, I’ve always kept away from nudity and swearing, just because I didn’t want to limit the number of people who could buy it. I was self-publishing, so why cut off a market? Although it was about loneliness and despair, a bit, so I don’t know if it was appropriate for children in that respect.
Is writing the Muppet Show a different experience, when you’ve clearly got children in mind?
Yeah, well, I’m writing it for me, really, and there are so many pairs of eyes looking at it, at Boom and Disney, that if I cross a line, they’re going to tell me about it, so I don’t worry about it too much. I suppose I have a vague idea of where the boundaries are, but I try to push it a little bit.
Are there character attributes you’ve got to abide by?
I’ve got the impression that I’ve got a relatively easy ride, because the Muppet license is not that big in Europe, so a lot of the licensees who look at this stuff don’t really care, whereas, with the Pixar stuff, they’re really on top of it. they’re micro-managing it. So I’m under the impressive that I’ve got a relatively easy ride.
Although that doesn’t stop them from asking that things be redrawn, the day before it goes press.
Is writing for the Muppets at all like writing for Thor, where you’ve got to worry about things like back story?
Well, the Thor book I’m writing doesn’t really have a long back story, because it’s sort of an all-ages re-invention of it. But yeah, I don’t worry to much about the history. I’m more worried about getting the characters right. When I was reading Disney books as a kid—Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck—all of the Carl Barks stories would start from scratch, every issue, and if he’d forgotten something that had been established in another issue, you really didn’t care, as long as the characters were consistent and believable within the context of that story.
That said, I try not contradict anything I’ve done.
But they’re certainly not blank slate in the way that Fred the Clown is a canvas for you to project stories on.
Well, Fred the Clown has sort of taken that to the nth degree. He’s not only starting from scratch, he’s reinventing the way he looks, the style he’s drawn in. That’s the kind of comic I’m interested in reading these days. The continuity thing is irrelevant, at best.
The more and more you work with other licenses, does it become more important to work on your own stuff?
Yeah, yeah, definitely. I had a Website that I was working on that I had to drop, on account of the workload. I’m itching to get back to that. Hopefully before the end of year, if I get ahead of schedule enough. Even if it’s just a half page a week. Something of my own is really important to have.