Sign of the Hammer!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

You're the doc, Doc!

Dogbreath #25 comes barking onto the scene this month, pausing only to scratch itself and sniff another fanzine's rear, and within it is a 6-pager by myself and artist David Broughton, focused around 'Strontium Dog' villain Doc Death. Some of you may remember Doctor Lionel Death, who was the main antagonist in 'Bitch', the story that so memorably introduced Durham Red to the Strontium Dog universe. Whilst this errant S/D agent met his end at fangs of Miss Red, I always thought he was a fantastic character, with a distinctive, bug-eyed appearance, excellent taste in headgear, sparkling dialogue and a memorable trademark (he views torture as an art form.) I particularly enjoy writing well-spoken or verbose characters, so he seemed an obvious choice to frame a story around.

A quick re-read of 'Bitch' revealed one key piece of background information about Doc Death: he got his degree in torture from the University of Santiago in Chile. I certainly hadn't realised it at the time, but this was clearly a Wagner / Grant swipe at the Pinochet regime of the 1970s and 80s, whose torture-friendly dictator our beloved Maggie Thatcher was only to eager to cosy up to. As I explored this fragment of Doc's history, it eventually became clear what an odd little loophole this created in the Strontiverse. As Dogbreath's editors pointed out, if mutants could be routinely educated to degree standard in Chile, why didn't they all just move there, instead of off-world? It was decided that Doc (and his newly-invented tutor, Henry Hojeda ) had to be special cases. (Hojeda, incidentally, was very loosely patterned around Roald Dahl's sadistic, finger-lopping character 'Man From the South', played in the 'Tales of the Unexpected' tv series by Jose Ferrer.)
So having decided to bring Doc back to his alma mater, I had to come up with a problem for him to face. I liked the idea of having him torture someone who was conventionally impossible to actually torture - but who would this individual be? After a quick web-search to find things associated with Chile, I was left surprised (not for the first time) by my own ignorance: I hadn't realised that Easter Island was off the coast. It was at this point that the idea of bringing a Granulan into the strip (from the story 'Stone Killers') occurred. A silicon-based life-form who couldn't actually feel pain seemed the perfect nemesis, and if he happened to look like one of the iconic stone heads of Easter Island, so much the better.
And so the stage was set. The most enjoyable part of the scripting (apart from Doc's endlessly piquant dialogue) was trying to figure out the different torture methods Doc would try (and fail) to use against the Granulan, along with said Granulan's nonchalant (and frequently rather bitchy) retorts. Readers might wonder what aspect of Chilean life the Granulan was spying on and who he was working for: your guess is as good as mine. On the one hand, I figured that it didn't matter to Doc in the slightest - he was only interested in the torture process, not the actual information gained, so it wasn't actually important. On the other hand, in retrospect I think I could have tied it all together elegantly by suggesting he was trying to find information on Henry Hojeda.
Now for some words on the art. Having collaborated with David Broughton several times now, I've learned something: he is a master of detail, and remarkably talented at not only including every  precise reference that's in a script, but many more of his own, besides. For instance, the panel description for the Dean's office (page one, panel three) includes this:
Some manner of militaristic portrait hangs on the back wall, possibly one of Bernardo O’Higgins, one of the founders of Chile.
Well, do a quick web-search for Bernardo O'Higgins and look at the Dean's wall - that's O'Higgins, all right! Things like that may not be vital to the plot, but they really add to the flavour and atmosphere of a strip, even if only appreciated by a select few. More obviously crowd-pleasing were David's additions to the graduating year-group in panel one of the same page: a few very suspicious and familiar characters there! For my money, one of David's other great strengths is his amazing skill at drawing technology - I'd envisioned the Granulan kept prisoner by fairly basic manacles, but instead David amped up the tech factor and delivered a marvellous containment ring of cyber-circular majesty. Glorious!
'Blood From A Stone', then - one I really enjoyed writing and am largely happy with. I'd vainly like to think I managed some vague approximation of Wagner and Grant's infamous 'hard-edged lunacy' - ridiculous antics but with an edge. Either way, if you fancy a feast for the eyes, capped off with the ever stellar lettering work of the mighty Bolt-01, Dogbreath #25 is available at the FutureQuakePress shop: get 'em while they're hot (but not stone-baked.)

No comments:

Post a Comment