Friday, 11 August 2017

SECTOR 13: FANZINE INTERVIEW PART 1


So here we go with something rather different for my blog and a first for me really.  I never thought I'd get to the stage where I'd be interviewing anyone for the site, but here I am with some great ones lined up over the next few months (indeed, there's one I was meant to get around to months ago!) but I'm starting off with what is undoubtedly the perfect first interview to kick them off, with people I knew already, in a pub, over a Guinness and with a whole load of fun thrown in.

A few years ago I started collecting 2000AD and was instantly entranced with a certain part of it: the universe of Judge Dredd.  After a year though I found I was constantly letting issues build up by the dozen and, in a time when I had decided to cut back on a lot of luxuries to get on top of my finances, I couldn't justify continuing my subscription.  But I promised myself once I was in a better place I'd be back!  Sure enough last year, debt-free, I decided I wanted to get reacquainted with Joe Dredd and asked for the first volume of the Complete Case Files series of graphic novels for Christmas, a series I'm now collecting one-a-month, reading his story right from the very beginning.  Look out for them to be covered on the blog soon... with a little catching up to do since I'm on volume five!

Back when I collected the weekly Progs though, I met up now and again at a monthly meet with fellow fans in Belfast for a few drinks of a Saturday afternoon.  Fast-forward to the Enniskillen Comic Fest this year, my first comic con (and a big turning point for the blog) and not only had their meets grown somewhat but they'd also released the first issue of their own comic, Sector 13: Belfast's 2000AD Fanzine.  Obviously I bought it and just three days ago I finally got around to writing it up.

Image (C) Discover Northern Ireland

I wanted to review it as part of a series of posts about the comic which would include a conversation with the team behind it.  So once the blog went through a bit of a redesign (which is still ongoing) and the Relive Oink! section was completed I arranged to meet them at one of their weekly jaunts to The Parlour bar in Belfast where they were gathering to work on the next issue.

From week-to-week the turnout can vary and, while it was initially disappointing not to see 2000AD artist Ryan Brown there (who I'd met during a pre-show session in the same bar before a screening of Future Shock a couple of years ago, and who I can confirm is an absolute gent), it was a superb night and the team were very open and honest about the making of Sector 13.  They welcomed being interviewed for The Oink! Blog and it was a pleasure to do so, although for the most part it didn't require a lot of questioning on my part, they simply opened up and we chatted away.

From left to right: Pit Crew Cosplayer (and cover star) Simon McKnight, Script Droid Andy Luke, Art Droid Jawine Westland, Editorial Droid Peter Duncan and Script Droid Laurence McKenna.  Lifelike aren't they?

While the rear of the first issue gives specific roles to the people involved it's very much a team effort and it was clear everyone involved works closely together in any and all capacities to produce this superb comic.  After chatting at length with the lovely Jawine and looking at all of the equally lovely drawings she was working on right there in the pub she unfortunately had to leave early, so the following interview was with the remainder of the team above.  It's rather lengthy and so I've split it into three distinct parts.  Part two will focus on the gorgeous photo story Justice Perverted and part three on the Northern Ireland small press scene and how they're positioning Sector 13.

PART ONE

This initial part focusses generally on Sector 13, where it came from, its creation and future.  Over the course of these three posts you may notice quite a bit of asterisk usage, this is a family-friendly blog after all but hey this is Belfast!  Plus, after a video of some friends and I playing Overcooked on the Nintendo Switch (and my own choice language) was posted on Facebook I can't really say anything..... but anyway, I digress.  On with the show!

Me: So where did it all begin?  When did you decide to work on a fanzine and how long did it take to put this issue together?  Tell me about its inception.

Peter Duncan (Editorial Input): We decided we wanted to do something and then the fact the Enniskillen Comic Festival was so 2000AD-orientated it almost became that this was what we were doing as a group for the festival, so that's where the deadline came from.

Simon McKnight (Pit Crew Cosplayer): I think it was the start of the year when we really nailed down the bits.

Me: So it only took you those few months to put this all together?!

Andy Luke (Script Droid): It felt like f*****g forever!  Jesus Christ!

Peter: Simon's right, it really only started in January, it only really coalesced in January, definitely.

Simon: With the help and advice from people like Ryan (Brown) on going to the printers and stuff, I think that helped a lot.  The momentum behind the group was there and if it'd been a smaller group we could easily have fallen apart, but having the Enniskillen deadline was something that drove us and kept us going all the way.

Peter: The person who is missing today is Mark (McCann, writer W.D. McQuaid) because Mark wrote two of the stories and ran his artists and they were working right up to the last minute.  He had difficulty in artist wrangling in some ways, but that stuff got done and Ryan almost ran an online helpdesk for them.

Peter with writer Mark McCann aka W.D. McQuaid with the
Sector 13 stand at the Enniskillen Comic Fest, where I first met
Peter over a mutual love of a piggy pink publication

Laurence McKenna (Script Droid): Literally the Wednesday meetings were insanely interesting and fun from probably about March onwards, almost like a professional meeting.

Peter: The artists got masterclasses from Ryan, they really did.  I'm not sure Ryan really understood how good those were...

Laurence: ... and fairly brutal masterclasses I might add.  As you may have seen already tonight (referring to some very funny chats before the interview), we're fairly caustic about what goes into this but at the end of the day this is the only way it'll work.  But it's not ill-intended, it's not negative, it's literally to extract as much f*****g water from that dry stone as we possibly can, you know.

Peter then points out the spelling error on the front cover which apparently shows my copy is from the first printing, although he does go on to point out this makes up the majority of all sold so far.

Laurence: The one thing that we did say was we did give a guarantee as a group that we would, as a platform, make it as professional as it could possibly be, hence the production qualities in terms of the paper, in terms of the print quality and whatnot.  We really did say, "If you guys can deliver us good work we will boost that in as much as we possibly can".  That's the one thing we're very, very proud of.  Probably an awful lot of people way before that print came were probably going, "It's going to be a f*****g colour-photocopied-sheets-stapled-together fanzine", you know.  That was never our intention.

Andy: That's the way I like to do my comics, as cheap and nasty and from the minute I joined this group there was just this sense of reaching out to me as a creator, this is what I do full-time, these people saying to me, "We want to support what you do and look out for you".  I'm not a 2000AD reader like a lot of the folks here but it was very much about recognising my talent and waving the flag around at it.  If I'm prepared to turn in good work I know these people will get it out to as many folk as they can.

Laurence: You know at heart this group is a 2000AD-loosely-focussed group.  But 2000AD isn't Judge Dredd, it isn't Strontium Dog.  The thing we all love about 2000AD is the D.R. and Quinch, or the Future Shocks or the weird wee funny stories that appeared for a few months and we loved forever and that's where the likes of Andy come in.  2000AD allows for more than just a run of heroic stereotypes or anti-heroic stereotypes, it's more than that; it's broad, it's all-encompassing and that's why Andy just dovetails into this.

Andy: Yeah it's the attitude.

Laurence: Yeah it is... sorry, I spent five minutes talking there and Andy distilled it all into one phrase.

Peter: But there's other people who we wouldn't have got this done well without, so we had John Farrelly (pin-up Art Droid) who designed our inside front cover and drew Fitztharg (cousin of Tharg the Mighty) and the printers at Cathedral Graphics went above and beyond.  So we turned into them files that weren't all the right size and files that didn't have the proper bleeds on them and the printer did that graphic design for us.  We learned so much by what we did wrong but we were very lucky that we'd people who helped us.

Laurence: Hence the well-honed, professional machine you see here.  (Everyone laughs)

Evidence of the well-honed machine in #1

I mention how surprised I was by the quality of something calling itself a "fanzine", that it's something you'd expect from a Judge Dredd fan club for example, thinking back to the quality magazines I used to receive from the 007 Fan Club years previous.

Laurence: Exactly Phil, it's a 2000AD fanzine and 2000AD to me, growing up in the 70s and early 80s was a big, A4-sized f*****g cornucopia of colour, delight and fear, uncertainty and disturbance and brilliance, you know.  2000AD has to be professional, it has to cast out of it, it has to jump out of the pages.

It's important to note at this point the team couldn't say enough great things about 2000AD and its owners Rebellion before (and after) this actual interview.  Indeed the comic itself is in the best shape it's been in many, many years and this is thanks not only to the huge gamut of writing and artistic talent the comic has but also to its editor Matt Smith.  Listening to the comic's podcast called The 2000AD Thrill Cast whenever Matt is interviewed it's clear to any listener just how passionate he is about the comic he overseas and the amount of work he puts in to ensuring each Prog is the best it can be.  In fact I've personally just finished listening to one episode which acts as an introduction to writing for Judge Dredd and the writers and artists contributing say the same about him.  Rebellion was definitely something I wanted to ask the team about.

Me: Have you had any contact from Rebellion?

Laurence: Yeah, Matt Smith (2000AD Editor) was basically extremely surprised we'd put a fanzine together without his authorisation (everyone laughs).  Mind you, he was even more surprised when I told him that Michael Molcher (2000AD PR Droid) had even us permission (more laughter).

Me: Now can that be mentioned on the blog?

Laurence: Aye, fire away!

Peter: And that a copy of the fanzine appeared on his desk as quickly as we possibly could, because I'd posted it the day we got it.

Laurence: We haven't heard back from their lawyers (laughter).

Peter: But to be fair about 2000AD, they have a few rules.  They don't want you to mess with their properties, so you're not doing something outrageous.  They say we don't make a profit.  But there's ourselves and then there's Zarjaz and we're not associated with 2000AD in any way.  It's not that we're 'tolerated', I think they welcome the fact that people like their characters enough...

Laurence: I think they probably know that this is in essence a work of love.  The thing that you see in front of you is a work of utter love.  Days and weeks and months spent over each frame in that, it's a work of utter love.  I think Rebellion did get that.

Andy: Is it really a 'zine though?  As that could sit on the shelves alongside 2000AD.

Peter: That's the question.  I think it really is a fanzine, though I'd refer to it as a small press comic.  You could call it a small press comic which is like what Lew (Stringer) does.  Lew's comics are really good quality, they're really well printed and if you look at the moment there's a complete revolution in the small press.  It's the thing I'm most interested in at the moment, the small press stuff.

We get to discussing comics in general and how I've come to be interested in the small press too, initially from the Oink! team, then at the Enniskillen festival I met Jenika Ioffreda and started reading Vampire Free Style.

Laurence: You do know Phil, Jenika has undertaken to do work for us as well.

Me: Has she?

Laurence: She's gonna do the nicest Judge in Mega-City One (laughter).

Peter: She's agreed to do a Misty-type story for Splank too (Splank is a new small press title being put together by Peter which I'll be covering soon), because one of the first things she did and had published was a story for what was the equivalent of what Sector 13 is to 2000AD; there was the equivalent for Misty at one stage.  There were two Misty summer specials brought out by an amateur crowd and Jenika did one of the stories for them.

Me in Enniskillen with two contributors to future editions of
Sector 13, Oink!'s very own Davy Francis (who is doing a
humour strip for them) alongside Jenika Ioffreda

Laurence: It's great seeing Misty coming back as well.  (This is a reference to the brand spanking new Scream and Misty special coming from Rebellion this Halloween, in case you hadn't heard.)

Me: It seems Egmont didn't really do an awful lot with these classic comics, whereas Rebellion seems to 'get' them, understand them and so far is doing them justice.

Peter: I did hear that Black Max is going to be reprinted from Thunder, which is just this beautiful strip about a World War German fighter ace with his tri-plane and his giant bat!  It was the most wonderful comic strip.  Stuff the story, just the visuals!  I think it was Eric Bradbury.

Laurence: I think it was, actually.  It's almost like that old Marvel strip they had in Star Wars Weekly with the dude who was part of some future federation who lived on this ice planet, he had no eyesight but he had this hawk who flew around.

Me: So is Zarjaz still going?

Peter: Zarjaz is still going, yes.  I'd say it's been going on at least ten years.

Laurence: Yeah, I'd say ten, twelve years then.

Me: Do you see yourselves as having the same longevity and how often do you see Sector 13 coming out?  Once a year?  Twice a Year?

Laurence: We don't know, we're probably... physically we're probably going for twice a year.  If there's enough work and enough momentum... we probably couldn't do it more than three times a year.

Simon: It's about getting the stories and the artwork done.  The backlog of that is we're so far behind we can only really do it every six months.

Me: So when it's ready it's ready.

Laurence: There's no full-time editors or teams, all of this is done here.

Me: So you going for Halloween?

Laurence: Yeah, we're going for Halloween.

Simon: I think it's really important to have some sort of landing date otherwise it's too easy to let it slip and then it ends up next year sometime.  You gotta have a go and everyone has to be on board.

Laurence: There's enough momentum.  We released that one in May and we could do it roughly every six months.  We meet here once a week, a lot of people can't come, there's obviously issues with any creative enterprise.  Like, there's people who are creative and cooperate, there are people who are creative and don't cooperate, there are people who are not creative and don't cooperate (laughter).  So you've all of that.  The bottom line though is we have deadlines.  Tonight surprisingly enough is one of those deadlines, the next deadline will be at the end of August and the final deadline will be the end of September.  There'll be a lot of work in-between that but it's really really, really, really hard work pulling this stuff together.  You get an awful lot of setbacks you know, but you also get an awful lot of huge boosts.  You look at people's artwork and go, "F*** that's brilliant!", like we have for Adam Brown's poster (for #2)!

The Future Shock tale takes advantage of two completely
different art styles from two talented artists, namely
David Yeh (left) and Duncan Vaughan (right)

Me: Was it a group decision to have two completely different artists for the Future Shock story?

Laurence: No that's all creator-based, they can do what they want within the context around that.

Peter: That was Mark's decision, the writer.

Laurence: As long as, basically, it's not infringing on any copyright laws or laws of the state basically, we don't really give a s*** and to be honest with you, we'd be borderline laws of the state as well.

Peter: Our main concern would be we don't want to offend Rebellion where they'd tell us to stop.

Simon: If you don't come up on their radar at all ever again, then you're doing it right.

Laurence: Our next conversation with Rebellion is going to be "cease and desist".  Which is not a conversation we want to have.

Me: They've been fine with Zarjaz all these years.

Peter: Yeah and we want the same relationship with them.

END OF PART ONE

The next part of the interview is up now and focusses on how the team put together a photo story of such high quality for their first attempt.  It's not simply a matter of taking some shots and throwing on some speech bubbles you know!  Click on the link at the bottom of this post for a fascinating look at how it all came about with the help of Ryan Brown.

Also, if you fancy some more to read you can check out these previous posts:

To buy your own issue click right here:
Complete write-up on the comic itself

Meeting Peter and Mark, Lew, Davy and Jenika and discovering so much!

VAMPIRE FREE STYLE #1: DON'T MICIA IT!
A review of the first issue in Jenika's series

Then for the reviews of Lew Stringer's small press titles covered so far:

2 comments:

Simon said...

Brilliant stuff loving the review and seeing how much we all swear.

PhilEdBoyce said...

You were very well behaved Simon. I can always add in a few asterisks to your answers though!