|Pious. And hairy.|
The recently-published Spencer Nero Compendium Vol. 2 has some exclusive material in it - not least 'Spencer Nero and The Pack', with art by Ben Rose. 'The Pack', which sees Spencer Nero enlisting the aid of paranormal pooches to save Mr. Alabaster, has its origins in a 'Just William' story called 'A Few Dogs and William' - indeed, the original title was 'A Few Dogs and Spencer'. The stories aren't particularly similar - in Richmal Crompton's one, young William Brown wrongly thinks he's accidentally poisoned a dog and sets out to find the owner a new one - but both feature a quest for dogs and moments of canine mayhem.
All the dogs that appear in 'The Pack' are genuine creatures of myth and legend, of course. Saint Guinefort, The Pack's co-ordinator, may have first come to my attention in Fortean Times - his worship apparently continued right into the 1930s, when the story is set. The very concept of a Dog Saint is one that I wholeheartedly approve of - the pronouncement that "there is more faith and love in the heart of a dog than any priest could ever muster' is very much the voice of the author creeping into the story. On the other side of the good dog / bad dog axis, the villain of the piece is Black Shuck, an archetypal example of the 'Black Dog' phenomenon. The idea of phantom black dogs is one that has interested me since childhood, when I got hold of a copy of Tom McGowen's 'Encyclopedia of Legendary Creatures'. The art therein, by one Victor G. Ambrus, is the stuff of nightmares, and his red-eyed depiction of the black dog both terrified and fascinated me. Apparently, East Anglian black dogs are the worst, hence the origin of the shinbone that lures Shuck in. However, in an unfortunate example of random synchronicity, between my writing 'The Pack' and it getting published, 2000AD published a story called 'Black Shuck' which even features the fiery-eyed cyclopean version of the aforementioned haunt-hound. Just one of those coincidences that are all-too common in comics.
It's also worth noting that The Pack has been through more drafts than anyone realises. An early version, with Spencer's pal William Kitt in a more prominent role, involves Spencer accidentally feeding an artefact of the Sumerian dog deity Bau to his pet lion, Androcles. In this version, it's Spencer who faces Bau's vengeance, and has to form The Pack to protect himself. Another version, for which I have a complete script, substitutes Mr. Alabaster for Mandeep Chowdray, the Indian civil servant who works in the office next door, and gets a very brief mention in 'Spencer Nero and the Misapplication of Karma'. In this iteration, Spencer undertakes the quest solely to prove he's not a racist - unfortunately he ruins everything by being profoundly racist about the French, Irish and Chinese dogs he's recruited. I decided against this version - it was sounding a little too much like Father Ted - but I did like the way I wrote Mandeep, who proved witheringly contemptuous of Spencer, but charmingly so, to the extent Spencer failed to notice it. Maybe he'll turn up properly sometime - I think he works for the Department of Oversight.
Now for a few words on the art of Ben Rose. One thing I particularly enjoyed was the way in which Ben, like Louis Carter before him on a certain Dr WTF?! story, started slipping in his own visual gags, which both improved the story and made it significantly ruder. (Oddly enough, Ben's cartoony art and elongated, stylised figures actually remind me a little of Louis's work.) As I said to Ben at the time, if the original impetus for the story was the notion that dogs were great, the published version suggests that dogs are great, but also quite disgusting. Which I suppose is true. Examples of Ben's perversity-amplification (it's a super-power) include the source of St. Guinefort's distraction, the way Ben frames the bone-gnawing scene, and Spencer's reaction to the dogs 'making friends' off-panel. You are a sordid boy, Mr. Rose - I wholly approve, and am grateful you brought your own very apt ideas to the hairy proceedings! On a different note, Ben is the artist who's probably got William Kitt closest to how I imagine him looking - a bit effete and rather like a young Jude Law. It's all in the eyelashes. (Kitt has still never appeared looking the same twice between any two stories - it's starting to become a character trait that I may have to work into 'Spencer Nero' continuity.)
Hopefully 'The Pack' ends up making your tails wag - I like it a lot, and it's probably the least violent 'Spencer Nero' story I've ever written. Dogs clearly have a therapeutic effect.