Saturday, 11 October 2008

Knowing Me Knowing You

Alex Finch interviews Massacre For Boys writer Chris Denton.

What was the initial idea behind setting up Massacre For Boys?

Steve and I were both big comic fans as kids and we did quite a few of our own strips together. Last of all was this Walking Wounded story, The Resistance That Went Mad. A pastiche of all those great Battle, Victor and Commando comics we loved. Fast forward ten years and we still liked this particular strip and wanted to publish it. Just for the hell of it.

So I looked seriously at how to to go about self-publishing, found Smallzone and we put what became Walking Wounded #0 together. At that point we didn't have a brand name. I liked Clergyman Comics but Steve wasn't keen. He preferred Stickman Comics and we did actually put that on the back of the issue.

However then we found out there are lots of web-strips and suchlike all going under the title "Stickman Comics". So we needed a name again. I'd put in "originally published in Massacre For Boys" as a throwaway joke for the inside front cover. Just to pretend this was reprint material really. But Steve liked it, I liked it, so Bingo! And the name's stuck.


And has that changed in any way?

Yes, because we decided to it properly. We chatted and talked through all these ideas we used to have and had been dormant really whilst we flirted with film-making and went to university and generally spent our time on other things. Publishing something from our formative years brought that all back into focus and we agreed to develop Massacre For Boys into something that was genuinely top class. We're not there yet by any means, but I think with each new story we get better and slicker.

What would you say your main influences are?

Obviously Alan Moore, the only bona fide genius the medium's ever produced, Neil Gaiman who's the only person who's got close to being as good as Moore. I love 2000AD, naturally and particularly the 80s vintage. My most cherished comics memories were probably provided by Scream! There's also more unsung stuff such as Union Jack Jackson, Spaceman in a Spitifire (Which is my favourite ever issue of Commando), Computer Warrior from Eagle and One Minute Murphy that I literally wouldn't be writing what I'm writing if I hadn't read.

Let's not forget that I have consumed plenty of DC and Marvel superheroics, and some of that's probably rubbed off too. More eclectically, there was this Star Trek annual by Peter David that was amongst the most perfectly written comics I've ever seen and that's stuck with me even if neither Trek nor David's work interest me much now.

Outside of comics, I am a bit of a cineaste with fairly wide-ranging tastes. I am not sure how far I'll be believed, but the films of Powell and Pressburger have influenced my comics work more than just about anything else, except possibly the prose of H P Lovcecraft or the entire ouevre of Hammer Horror.

Walking Wounded takes us into a quite unsual comic's genre - what attracted you to this?

Well, it has started out as a pastiche of 70s British war comics, although we are gradually moving away from that. I like this genre for several reasons, not least of which is the possibility of depicting a major struggle between good and evil that actually happenned and that's just about in living memory. It also helps that the British were fairly unambiguously heroic, so you can portray them positively without coming over as a nutter.

Interestingly enough, we found that trying to push Walking Wounded #1 at least year's Thing as a "pastiche of 70s British war comics" was a great way not to get a sale. It seems this is not a genre that is particularly well loved or missed. We did much much better with the surely immortal phrase "Nazi Zombie Action!!" and if I'd had any sense I'd have put Nazi zombies into issue 2 as well because that is surely what the public want to see.

At least we have included a super-powered Nazi assassin!

The other characters that feature on Massacre For Boys, like The Holt Brothers and Bosher's Goals, are very different to those found in The Walking Wounded - is the idea to be as diverse as you wish to be?

Kind of. Bosher is really a Walking Wounded spin-off. It's the same kind of idea applied to Roy of the Rovers style football strips. I've got plans for more Bosher stories in the same web-strip format and I really love the way Steve's art works on a football strip. Unlike me, he has no interest in the beautiful game, but he's just so suited to football comics it would almost be a crime if he doesn't illustrate any more!

I'm not sure we're ready to do Holt Bros yet, and indeed we are putting off work on the first issue of that for a while. It's not a pastiche of anything, and only very loosely fits into the "Massacre for Boys" camp. In fact it will probably not appear under that label at all in the end. I think the world needs an Edwardian paranormal detective series, but we are fine-tuning our skills on Walking Wounded first because we want the Holts to be professional quality, and professionally published.

We have more Massacre for Boys characters waiting in the wings. Jimmy Baker Animal Hatmaker makes his debut in the 2008 Thing Anthology. It's quite a silly one-joke concept but it's also probably the most commercial strip we'll ever do. Jimmy will definitely have further adventures. There's also this superhero character we've got called The Crusader. He patrols a middle-American city in the 70s and is quite a lot more rubbish than standard costumed avengers. We used him for a very short mobile comic but there's a lot more to come.

The master plan, if you can call it that, is to connect all the Massacre strips with a single background story that spans all of them. I don't want to give too much away about this except that medicinal jam and Napolean Bonaparte are both heavily involved.

And of course The Holt Brothers featured in Judge Dredd The Megazine, how did you feel about that and their small press section in general?

I felt pretty good about it! In truth it was an opportunity that came up too early, but you have to grasp these things when you can because they may never come round again. I think I'd written the first half of Walking Wounded #1 when I broke off to work on the Megazine submission, and Steve ended up drawing it before working on Walking Wounded #1 at all. The lettering in both is a bit ropey because we simply did not know how to do it. With the latest issue Bolt-01 has taken over lettering duties and it looks so much better, so I kind of wish we'd had him on board before.

There was about an 18-month gap inbetween having the story accepted for publication and it actually appearing in the Megazine. That was a very nervous time, I can tell you, as I was pretty worried the slot would be cancelled before our turn came around. There were also quite a few other period horror small press stories and absolutely no war-related ones. This made my theory that a Holt Bros effort would be a more distinctive bet then using the Walking Wounded seem rather ridiculous. When it did finally happen I was actually pretty distracted by the birth of my son, which was almost simultaneous, so didn't really get to enjoy it then, although it is something I can savour now as a lifelong ambition achieved.

All in all I thought the Holt Bros strip worked very well and was not out of place amongst the pro strips by any means. I know there have been some misgivings expressed about the Megazine's small press slot, not least because they get people's work for free. However I think it's fantastic because of the exposure it gives to work like ours that would otherwise struggle to reach a wide audience. I am not really in it for the money and don't care about not being paid for that script. I'm sure Steve will be working for Rebellion properly soon. In any case, it's not quite true to say the Megazine got it for free, as they sent us a very welcome pile of graphic novels when that particular issue hit the shops.

How do you feel about the small press industry?

Largely positive. There's a thriving scene, fuelled by the reach of the web and the low cost of digital printing. To be honest we couldn't have done very much ten or fifteen years ago because the print quality would have been so low. Now, however, the only prerequisite is an artist of sufficient talent and you can make extraordinarily slick comics for peanuts.

Of course, not everyone who does this is an undiscovered genius, but there are some great comics out there. I feel an honourable mention must again go to Bolt-01 who co-runs Futurequake Press, which is pretty much the small press flagship.My favourite small press title is probably Zarjaz! and they've now taken it on, adding to what was already an impressive role-call of comics. There are plenty of others doing interesting things as well, off the top of my head, and by no means exclusively, Monkeys with Machine Guns, Bob Byrne, Edd Egg, The Goldfish Bowl and P J Holden.

And If you could change anything about your experience in the industry so far, what would it be?

That 2000AD would have accepted my "Paulie and Zue" Futureshock. It was great I tell you, great!

What can we expect from Massacre For Boys in the future?

At least one more issue of Walking Wounded and probably several. I'm thinking it will be a six issue run and I'm already well into writing number 3. We've got plans to bring out a collection of our existing work as Massacre for Boys in Colour, which will probably be done to mark an appearance at a big comic show, possibly Birmingham. Some more Bosher, eventually, and perhaps a Jimmy Baker book.We're also going to broaden our horizons and do stuff that's outside of Massacre for Boys. If we can just think of a damn name....

Alex Finch is a writer, researcher, actor, stage manager and former celebrity Text Jockey.

This interview first appeared on the old blog, but I wanted to make sure it also has a home here.

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