Sign of the Hammer!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Genesis and Catastrophe (Without the Catastrophe.)

Well, by now, Paragon #9's got into the hands of the general public, and while I've yet to read any reviews, those who have commented on my strip have been pretty positive, which is always good for the ol' ego. Here's a few thoughts about the strip's genesis, and that of Nero himself.

The whole thing came out of Chris Cronin's desire to put together a pulp-style comic. Fresh from having written my Dr WTF?! strip and not having been told to go away and never darken the door of comics again, this seemed like a golden opportunity. I suggested writing a Doc Savage-style character, which grabbed Davey Candlish's attention, but in between my suggesting and his being grabbed, I'd changed my mind and wanted to write about a dwarf detective instead. Cheekily, I suggested the Doc Savage type for Paragon instead, and Dave agreed, finding himself also roped into drawing the dwarf detective as well. (More on him in the future.)
As such, I came up with Spencer Nero. His first name derived from both that doyenne of Englishness, Lady Di, but also from Spencer Tracy, who in 'Bad Day At Black Rock' struck me as a pinnacle of the heroic. Likewise, Nero's surname hailed from both the Roman emperor (and was, as such, intended to indicate the character's dark side) but also from Franco Nero, Italian star of 'Django', a wonderfully hapless cowboy hero, sporting cool in bucketloads.
On the surface, Spencer would be the classic 1930s pulp adventurer, but I wanted him to have a really nasty side to give him a bit of an edge. No less an authority than Dredd-scribe John Wagner has said that it's always better if your hero has a bit of range and room to be a bastard. In Spencer's case, the two seemed incongruous, so I decided to make that a plot point - he puts on a mask and behaves differently, afterwards distancing himself entirely from what he's done. This inevitably led to my obsession with the Roman god Janus surfacing, and then everything seemed to come together when I realised that Spencer epitomised British (and Roman) hypocrisy - noble ideals in principle but with a bloody, domineering undercurrent and a 'might makes right' philosophy in practice.
After that, it was just a case of finding a foe for him. Dr. Von Zero was plucked straight out of a WWII role-playing game I'd written and run, whilst the use of a lost Aztec tribe with a mystic stone probably has its roots in an Indiana Jones comic I'd been given as a kid in the 80s, where Indy had to avoid being fried by solar lasers focused through Aztec gemstones embedded in the roof of a prison chamber. As for Mr. Alabaster - I think his name comes from a line in The Police song 'Wrapped Around Your Finger', whilst his tarot obsession seemed a good way of shoehorning in some occult antics of a non-Roman variety. He's become a character I've grown to enjoy writing, particularly once I got a handle on his relationship with Nero - Alabaster in fact exploits him ruthlessly for his own amusement, but uses his matter-of-fact way of dealing with eccentric subject matter to make it all seem necessary.
And there you have it. As Gary Larson once said, after recounting the origins of his career as a cartoonist: I have no idea of how much interest any of that is to you, but it's in your brain now and you're stuck with it.

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