A few years back, my brother Steve and I contributed to a Ron Smith tribute book. I remember particularly admiring a strip in the same comic by an artist called Bhuna (aka Neil Roche), so I approached him out of the blue to see if he was interested in working on Massacre For Boys. Happily he was, and we collaborated on Emu War. Basically I had the idea that it would be funny to treat an obscure Australian historical event which had been sardonically named “the great emu war” as if it was a genuine military conflict. I’m not sure now if the strip was actually all that hilarious, but Neil did a great job bringing the emus to life. I was really happy how it turned out.
Some months later Neil made it known that he was looking for a writer to work on a long-form comic he was planning to illustrate. He was asking for pitches for a 4-part series. Usually, I’m not interested in that kind of thing at all, I like to do my own stuff. However, I had enjoyed working with Neil and the brief was pretty open. So I brainstormed some ideas (essentially coming up with the plot to issue 1, if I recall correctly). Neil liked them, and we started from there.
The biggest challenge is to strike the right balance between hero and anti-hero. The core Killing Moon characters are all paid killers, but they are also the series protagonists. So they need to be murderous but in a sympathetic way. The easy way out of this is to make all the victims totally irredeemable scumbags, but I wanted to be a bit more interesting than that. To be honest, I’m not sure if I would ever have written about a band of assassins if left to my own devices. Otherwise, I’ve found I actually enjoy the constraints associated with coming in on an existing fictional universe, without having to create absolutely everything from scratch myself. Necessity truly is the mother of invention.
Q. And what were the highlights of writing the series?
Going to the pub with Neil.
The longer version of this answer is that he has made it a tradition to launch each issue at Thought Bubble, which as you are likely aware, is a really well-regarded comics festival that runs every year in Yorkshire, generally during the autumn. Now I live in the South-East so Yorkshire isn’t the most convenient for me, but I did make the pilgrimage to see the second issue come out. There I met Neil in person for the first time and caught up with many comics friends new and old, both at the show and at the pub afterwards.
My other main highlight is working with the team that Neil’s put together, and of course Neil himself. It’s always a pleasure to handover a script and see how Neil interprets it. I have to say I love Darren’s colours too. Indeed, I persuaded him to help out with Massacre For Boys. He’s such a big talent, it’s no surprise to see The Phoenix snap Darren up. Of course there’s also Bolt-01 (Dave Evans) on letters and consulting editor Richmond Clements, I’ve known both Dave and Richmond for many years, they are each of them legends!
Another thing I love is the pin-ups. Neil organises all of those, so I basically get to see them when they’re done. The artists involved are phenomenal. Neil McClements, SKD, David Frankum, Alan Byrom, the list just goes on and on. All part of the team, and when I put all the names together like this I see it’s more than just a team, we’ve become a community!
Also, a more prosaic highlight for me is that Neil takes care of the publishing side of things!
Q. It's now being collected together as a complete graphic novel, can you tell us more about that?
Well, we completed the series and are now putting it all together as a trade paperback (do people still use that term?). The book also includes the original Killing Moon, which was created by his brother, and that is a really interesting read. It’s nothing like the new one, but at the same time you can tell they are closely-related.The way I view it is that the classic Killing Moon are the Justice Society and the current Killing Moon are the Justice League. When I saw Neil’s wraparound cover for the book, which has both versions, I was strongly reminded of Earth-1, Earth-2 and generally how great the DC multiverse was before Crisis.
Oh, and it’s important to say that we’re doing this as a Kickstarter. Crowd-funding is so important for independent comics, and for independent creators. This is going to be my first campaign, and I’m really excited to see how it goes. As an aside, if fully funded this will be my first published book, a personal landmark that I am very keen to reach.
Q. The graphic novel will also include brand new material, what do you have planned on that front?
Brand new for this collection will be a story called The Prologue That Comes At The End. We are going to go back in time to Merstburg Castle before the events of the first issue, and see the pivotal moment that everything that comes after/before was set in motion.
Sorry that’s a bit vague, but I’m trying desperately to avoid spoilers. One thing I can be definitive on is that the Skeleton Mayor is in it.
Q. And once published, do you have any plans to revisit these characters in the future?
I don’t want to pre-empt any announcements, but yes, I’d love to write some more. The way it’s plotted in my head, I’m about half-way through the story I want to tell. Simple maths would say that means four more issues / one more book, but an important caveat is that it may very well not work out like that.
Separately, Neil and I have been working on a story outline set many years in Killing Moon’s past. Hopefully we’ll get to do that one, as well.
Q. It's been over a decade since I last interviewed you, how has the small press industry changed for you during that time?
Well, I’ve given up exhibiting at comic conventions for a start. Steve and I had some good time doing those, but in the end it just became soul-destroying. Three days behind a table at London Super Comic Con in Islington was the final straw. The few visitors who wandered up to the small press area were, almost without exception, totally disinterested in Massacre For Boys. Since then I’ve had a much better time going to such events purely as a punter.
Q. Massacre For Boys had supposedly come to an end a couple of years ago but we hear rumours you've written new material recently, can you tell us about that?
The high concept of Massacre For Boys is that it’s a single story pretending to be an anthology. We got to the end with The Last Stand, and that remains the end of the story. However, despite that, Steve and I seem to be working on it again, alongside Bolt-01 (did I mention he was a legend?) and others. There are two main reasons we’ve gone back to the well one last time. Firstly, we want to put it together into a collection. It was always meant to be read as a single entity, we want to make it much easier for people to do that. Given we started more than a dozen years ago, and, for example, switched page formats after two issues of Walking Wounded, there’s a lot of cleaning up to do just to get the book into publishable shape.
Furthermore (love that word), although I was very happy with the end, I was less satisfied with the middle. There are quite a few important elements of the story arc that either didn’t work, didn’t appear at all or simply got lost amongst all the other strips. So now we’re fixing all those problems, and when they are fixed we are going to put out a book, The Massacre For Boys Book For Boys, and that will be the final and completed and best version of Massacre For Boys.
Q. And do you have any other comics related plans?
I think Killing Moon and Massacre For Boys are enough for any man!
Having said that, I do have a short ghost story set to appear in this year’s Hallowscream. It’s being illustrated by Ken Best and the work in progress I’ve seen so far is really promising.
Q. Finally, if you could interview yourself, what question would you most like to ask? And what would the answer be?
The question would be “My friend Serena Williams thinks you’re a genius and she'd really like to have dinner with you to discuss all the things she loves about your work. Is it okay if I give her your phone number?” and my answer would be “Yes, I am always happy to have dinner with a fan. As long as they have a minimum of 23 grand slam singles titles.” This is why I cannot interview myself.
Alex Finch is a former celebrity text-jockey, and the impresario behind Comedy To Watch.
Additional credits: Artwork by Bhuna, with colouring on Killing Moon by Darren Stephens