Sunday, 5 October 2008

Massacre in the Megazine

In September 2006 I penned an article for the main Massacre for Boys website that was supposed to coincide with the publication of our Holt Bros story in Judge Dredd Megazine. By the time the strip actually saw print the article was well out of date so I never published it. However, looking back it is quite interesting, and so I am presenting the piece here:

In January 2006 Steve and I were already working on a Walking Wounded strip, the soldiers versus zombies WW2 "epic", Island of Terror. I had written about half of it when I came across news of the forthcoming Small Press segment of Judge Dredd the Megazine on Bugpowder. Basically, the offer was that self-publishers could get about 6-pages of their work showcased in the UK's second greatest comic. There was some controversy amongst the small press community about whether this was a good thing, mostly it seemed because contributors to the segment were to be unpaid.

Holt Bros panel

However. as new entrants to the comics world and 2000AD fans to boot it was an opportunity too good to pass up. We discussed the possibility of submitting a portion of Island of Terror or indeed a specially written Walking Wounded 6-pager but much as we love those characters they are a bit limited in their appeal, relying as they do on some kind of familiarity with 70s British war comics. So we turned instead to the idea that we were always planning to use after doing an issue of Walking Wounded: a pair of Paranormal Investigators based in Edwardian London called the Holt Brothers.

The requirements for the story were actually quite complex. It had to function as both an introduction to and a trailer for Holt Bros, but also we were determined that it would be a standalone story in its own right. There's no way we wanted to disappoint Megazine readers with some incomprehensible beginning to a tale they would never finish. The plans I had for existing stories were all much longer, so I had to come up with something else that could be slotted in before the first issue of the Holt Bros comic proper.

Looking at my ideas for the series they were pretty action-horror orientated, so I decided to focus on a different aspect of their world and go for a dose of detective fiction. The concept of The Locked Room is that a basic mystery is established and then we see how such things play out in the Holts' world. For my own amusement, I derived the names of all the supporting characters from the world of Dr Syn. I came up with a quick first draft which got the story about right but was light on characterization. A second pass fixed that and it was over to Steve...

I was expecting the artwork to be dark and moody, full of shadows and fog. However, Steve decided to accentuate the detective elements of the strip rather than the gothic ones and instead he came up with panels that are bright and rich, full of period detail. It's a decision that was absolutely right. Laying on the Hammer pastiche from the word go would have been a massive mistake, much better to tell the tale on its own terms.

The prospect of exposure in a professional magazine forced us to confront the thorny issue of lettering. Previously Steve had hand-lettered our work but that was not likely to impress reigning Megazine editor Matt Smith. Steve has a friend that can letter to professional standard so approached him about the work. Initially he agreed but then pulled out, whuch was probably to the good as Steve then took on the duties himself, this time using Photoshop. It wasn't his favourite ever assignment but Steve took to it like a duck to plum sauce and the end results are pretty fantastic.

The strip was ready by the end of March and I submitted it to Matt on the 31st. Happily, it took him about 30 minutes to reply in the affirmative. We were delighted, not just for the exposure but also because this was the first real validation of our efforts to progress in the comics world. Suitably heartened we returned to Walking Wounded. Once we're finally done with that (not long now) it'll be time to return to the Holts, starting with a rather promising scenario featuring killer spiders in Whitechapel...

Chris Denton 14/09/2006

Of course, by "not long now" I obviously meant "By the end of the decade. Possibly."

You can read the Holt Bros story that appeared in the Meg here.

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