Sign of the Hammer!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Impetigo Jones - The Big Scab

The most recent issue of Strontium Dog fanzine Dogbreath, #24, contains a five-pager by myself, artist David Broughton, and stalwart lettering-god Bolt-01 (who not only designed Impetigo a fittingly blistered logo, but who also did a superlative job with my overblown dialogue on the Doctor WTF strip, leading the eye across the page with incomparable skill. For that, my thanks.) Here’s some of the thought processes behind Impetigo Jones – ‘The Big Scab’.
Ambush on Smiley's World - Carlos Ezquerra
introduces Impetigo!
I’d long been a fan of the bad guys of the Strontium Dog universe – those lowdown verminous scum that served either as Johnny Alpha’s rivals or his quarry (or sometimes both.) Particular favourites were of course Max Bubba and his gang of outlaws: when I was younger, I’d customised a Warhammer miniature to look like Max, complete with a moulded Milliput head. Of Max’s reprobates, however, the one I always liked best was Impetigo Jones, who first appeared ambushing Johnny and Wulf in ‘Max Bubba’ / ‘The Ragnarok Job’. It must have been his bandaged aesthetic that did it, the pseudo-cowboy gear and the slightly mummified look being very visually distinctive, and, to my mind, damned cool. (I always liked bad guys with a cavaderous quality to them – Doc Death was another favourite.)
Having decided to inflict Impetigo on the Dogbreath readership, the first thing that came to mind was the punning conceit that Impetigo would have to be a scab-worker, breaking some kind of picket-line. From there, I was on a mission to cram in as many skin-condition related puns as possible. Somewhere, I’ve got a bit of paper reading ‘rash’, ‘itch’, ‘scab’, ‘scratch’, ‘flake’, ‘crust’ and so on. I got most of ‘em in too. I couldn’t see Jones working for a corporation for fun though, so I suspected he must have been blackmailed into it. Having established this, to make the adventure specific to him I realised he had to be working for a company that made skin products. At first, I thought the company might be mining for rejuvenating minerals, like a sort of intergalactic Body Shop, but that seemed a bit mundane, though I liked the subterranean aspect. Instead, I made the leap that the products were derived from the glandular secretions of giant moles. I have always found moles simultaneously endearing and alien – eccentric little velvet-furred gentlemen of the deep.
Hanging loose - Sag Kaden
Apart from moles, I needed Impetigo to face off against a foe who would have similar issues with cosmetics companies. Sag Kaden, his enemy for this piece, was very loosely inspired by a character from Philippe Druillet’s 1970s graphic novel, ‘Lone Sloane: Delirius’. In this story, intergalactic outlaw Sloane plans to rob the treasures of Delirius, a planet devoted to vice, from the vault of its governor, Kadenborg. Kadenborg was a bloated, saggy, dull-witted lump of a creature, so I felt he should lend part of his name to my anti-norm activist. David Broughton did a great job of giving Sag Kaden a malevolent, piggy-eyed, but rather dim countenance.

Of course, Jones and Kaden would probably argue that the real bad guy of the piece is Mike Muldiworp, corporate CEO of Topoderm. I saw Mike as the Victor Kiam of the story, the kind of chap who liked the product so much he bought the company. As you may have noticed, I like cramming linguistic gags into my strips, so Mike’s surname derives from the word ‘mouldywarp’, which is an archaic term for a mole (hailing in turn from the German ‘moldeworpon’ or ‘earth-thrower’.) And ‘topo’ is Spanish for – yup, you guessed it, ‘mole’ again (along with ‘derm’ for epidermis / skin, of course). So he’s Mike Mole of the Moleskin corporation that milks moles. Try saying that six times fast.

In need of a lift - Impetigo descends.
As noted earlier, art for this story was by the talented David Broughton. The range of facial expressions he brought to Impetigo in particular were great - by turns, Jones is angry, frustrated, fed-up, murderous, duplicitous, vengeful and victorious, and David hits every one of those notes. In fact, under his skilled penmanship, Impetigo reminds me hugely of a chap I went to school with, who spent most of his time grimacing and scowling horrifically, but whose eyes used to light up with pure evil whenever he saw the chance to do something wicked.
David also does good worms. And tech. And tunnels. And pretty much everything, really. I love his backgrounds to the panels – their detailed nature (but not overwhelmingly so) gives the strip a real sense of place and authenticity, anchoring the action very believably.
Anyway, it was good to dip into one of the darker corners of the Strontium Dog universe: I usually find the B and C-list characters of established strips the most interesting to come up with scenarios for, in part because their histories are underexploited and rife for expansion. It’s a theme I’d certainly like to return to.
Get your copy of Dogbreath #24 at the Futurequake Shop, along with various other fine publications from Futurequake Press.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Doctor WTF?! 2011 - Director's Commentary


Right, that's the convivialities done with.

Doctor WTF?! was the brainchild of the mighty Owen Watts. The remit was as strange and off-the-wall a story as possible, featuring an alternate Doctor. This was my first ever comic script, and reasoning that no-one might ever agree to let me do another, I decided to throw in as many mad ideas as possible, hence the title ‘Kitsch ‘N’ Sink’. I started out with no clearer idea than I wanted the Doctor to look like a Cyberman. That was it: I thought it’d make a striking visual that would make the strip immediately stand out. For a brief moment, I visualised a series of Who foes all fielding their own Doctor – I doodled a fendahleen wearing Tom Baker’s floppy hat and scarf. In the end, though, I decided that the Doctor wouldn’t actually be a Cyberman, but was using the helmet to keep his head from imploding after some strange trans-temporal incident. Once I figured out that the story was all about the camp and the kitsch, and the idea of lack of inspiration and ironic appreciation ruining things (a comment, methinks, on the likes of Sylvester McCoy’s first season), it made sense that the Doctor had possessed himself, becoming some kind of self-consuming ourobouros.

To counter this, I brought in Bosie. I studied Oscar Wilde at university many years ago, and was fascinated by Wilde’s complete self-destruction in the face of what he perceived as the beauty of Bosie, Lord Alfred Douglas. By all accounts, Bosie was a callous, self-centred, talentless, egotistical git, but he had one thing going for him – he was regarded as very good-looking. (Jude Law does him to a tee in the film ‘Wilde’, starring Stephen Fry in the role he was born to play.) Bosie was Wilde’s muse, so I figured he might serve a similar purpose for the Doctor. In keeping with the aristocratic quality Bosie brought to the story, I decided to put the Doctor in fox-hunting attire, which I thought would play off the Cyberman helmet well. Getting teamed up with the frankly bloody brilliant artist James Feist was a godsend – his depiction of the character could have been plucked straight out of my brain!
Anyway, a few words on the individual pages:
Page 1: My mother had a Beryl Cook jigsaw when I was a kid. It was of a painting called ‘Nude on Leopardskin’, and featured a buxom naked lady waving cheerfully. When we put the jigsaw together, we always put the nipples on last. Somehow, and without being told this, James picked that very painting to use for largest jigsaw piece in the bottom right corner of panel 3. Genius! I think James’s take on Bosie has something of a Paul McGann quality to it – I like the fact he looks much more like the Doctor ought to than the Doctor does.
Page 2: “Danger Doctor! It has Latin qualities!” This might be my favourite line in the whole comic (nothing like being easily amused by your own script, eh?) I originally wrote it in as a ridiculous-sounding placeholder until I came up with something better. I never did. This was the first panel of the strip James revealed as a teaser, and as soon as I saw it, I knew that whatever the quality or otherwise of my writing, the strip was going to get one hell of a lift from his interpretation of my deranged ramblings. The way Bosie is holding his umbrella in panel 3 is something I do, so I felt it was important he followed suit.
Page 3: I’ve since realised that ‘Uranian killing techniques’ was a subconscious homage to Devlin Waugh’s ‘Kem-Kwong killing techniques’ from the ‘Judge Dredd Megazine’ story ‘Swimming In Blood’. The similarities between Waugh and Bosie should be fairly apparent. ‘Uranian Poetry’ was 19th century verse about “the love that dare not speak its name” – Bosie was a big proponent of this. (The poetry, anyway - he gave up on the man-love eventually and got married.) History buffs will know that Bosie’s father really was the Marquess of Queensbury, the man who invented the rules of fair play in boxing, despite being an unconscionable bastard in his private life. The panel with ‘Wot no theorem?’ was James’s idea – originally, I was going to have Robot Monster from the film of the same name (a personal favourite), but James’s version clarified the plot much more elegantly.
Page 4: Kamikaze half-ducks – sort of a Coronation Street reference, alarmingly.  I was thinking of Hilda Ogden’s wall-mounted ducks here. Dunno why. I love the way the Doctor’s running up the hill in panel 3 – it makes me want an action figure of him.
Page 5: An eight-panel page, as I try to cram some kind of mad resolution into the story – it is to James’s credit that the page doesn’t look cramped and flows so well. The Harridan looks EXACTLY as I imagined her, but more attractive: just imagine her playing opposite Colin Baker in the 80s. Grace Jones was the main influence here: I liked the idea that the Doctor’s fiancĂ©e would have a masculine quality to her. As for the Doctor’s new head... well, it took me a while to figure out precisely what he would look like at the end. I tried to think what the kitschest thing going was, and then realised I’d already used most of my options in the previous four pages. (Vegas-era Elvis was in the running for a while.) It ended up as a teapot: quintessentially British but fairly eccentric, just like the institution of Who itself.
I think that calls for a 'Hurrah!'