In the early installments of Frankie Boyle and Mike Dowling’s “Rex Royd” comic from Titan Magazines’ “CLiNT” magazine, the titular billionaire scientist inventor finally found a way to drive his cape-wearing superhero foe mad, murdered God to help free Eve from his captivity and powered up one of his employees with a rare form of PCP.
“I wanted to try do something that came from the heart,” Boyle said. “The state-of-the-art in comics always seemed a bit linear, these stories with clear subtexts. I mean, I enjoyed them at the time, but it all seems a bit prog rock now. You’d get these stories with subtexts about nuclear war being bad or something, it seems so unambitious in a way. ‘The Filth’ by Grant Morrison was a really exciting moment for me, in terms of seeing how comics could be more evocative, psychological, funnier even. Max Thunderstone! That was incredible.”
Best known in Britain for his shocking stand-up comedy and its sometimes contentious translation onto panel-based TV shows, Boyle said that his work in “CLiNT,” though shocking, was is an attempt to stretch out into the medium he loves, and it will continue when the magazine relaunches this May. “I guess I wanted to do something that might be like different sections from an overall story you didn’t see all of? That’s how comics were to me when I discovered them. Ploughing down some stack trying to find the end of a story arc and getting the end of another. I just fucking love comics, I don’t know if that comes across enough. Are you a writer or artist? Have you written or drawn a quite shit comic? I’ve read it and enjoyed myself.”
At turns complex, offensive and maybe even obtuse, “Rex Royd” has already seen its share of strange plot twists, but Boyle was happy to spill the beans on a few more turns coming in future installments. “Rex is Earth’s antibody that it creates to deal with [alien superhero] Proteoman,” he explained. “In most other realities, Proteoman goes nuts with power and destroys or enslaves Earth. Rex had his mind blanked and a supervillain personality imposed, to give Proteoman something to work against.
“I’m keen to develop the whole thing in the least comic book way possible. Even just giving big plot reveals in an interview like this! There are ‘Learn to Read with Spider-Man / Batman’ books my kid has and I’m thinking of doing a Rex one that would just explain everything in stupidly helpful terms. I can’t really take the artifice of ‘Watchmen’ or something seriously. You get a first page where the blood is being hosed off the street as the detectives turn up to investigate. It’s a crime scene! In a way comics have, for a long time, been as silly as TV.”
Along for the ride on the page are Eve — yes, the real Biblical one — and Royd’s right hand man Alan Black. “Eve has a complex relationship with Rex. He rescued her from (sort of) an abusive father, so he’s a bit of a father figure. He likes working with someone he is inspired by but can’t, in all decency, fuck. Alan is betting on Rex if you will. He’s worried that he’ll be left alone in the universe after all life has died. He feels Rex could work out how to destroy him.”
Though don’t draw any connections between those characters and Boyle’s real life collaborator Dowling (who also launches the new “Death Sentence” in “CLiNT’s” return). “Rex is kind of different!” the artist laughed. “There’s a certain deadpan quality to Rex that’s interesting to draw and there’s a lot of layers to Frankie’s script. It can take a few readings, for me and I expect the reader to, to get to the meat of each episode. The result, I think, is something that’s not like any other comics out there. That makes it a lot of fun to draw.
“Initially, I thought we’d be doing a straight inversion of Superman and I’d be drawing a lot of anti-superhero action. Pretty much straight away Frankie dropped that in favor of dealing with more interesting questions about super-heroics and identity. As I see it Rex isn’t working against standard superheroes he’s working against the concept of supermen and deities in general. It’s interesting to try and realize a character who tries to rise above the strictures of our established, cultural gods yet is in danger of becoming one himself.”
Boyle agreed that the point was less to pay homage to classic comics and more to use those icons to find stranger and stranger visual and story ideas. “It’s complex, but you don’t necessarily need to follow everything,” he said. “I’m not asking the reader to work as much as have an open mind. In #2, you see Rex as a kid hear the news of the first Proteoman sighting as he is “activated” as earth’s antibody. He draws a mustache with mud over his reflection. I mean it’s great if a reader gets that, but hopefully it’s visually arresting enough to carry someone over a couple of panels anyway.
“[Things are] going to develop in a tremendously saddening way! The next installment starts as Episode V of an alien invasion saga, with humanity living in a 1950s suburban reality. Kid Detective, a fucked up ’90s superhero sidekick, watches our new reality on his black and white telly, looking for some kind of crack in this heavily-armored culture. That’s how I feel these days, like one of those ’90s supes transposed into a clean-cut age. Rex Royd is unapologetically psychoanalytical. Sorry.”
Dowling added, “I haven’t really been shocked by anything I’ve had to draw, but then I’m fairly liberal minded. Not sure what I’ll do when Mohammed becomes a regular character, mind. It seems like there’s an almighty fight with Proteoman coming which I can’t wait to draw. In a way that fight happens almost every issue between Rex and facets of the Proteoman character. It’s not a fight that Rex can win with direct force alone though, so like all good fights it’ll require a lot of cunning and probably something really devious!”
Still, the artist feels up to the task. In a recent strip that contained flashbacks into a more standard comic book reality, he revealed, “Recently Frankie suggested that certain pages could have a Dan Clowes quality about them. I did some research and Clowes said that it took him seventeen years to learn his inking style. I had one morning to try and figure it out! The storytelling stuff is really interesting. There’s non-sequiturs and all sorts in the mix. The overall effect can be quite tricky to get right and there’s necessarily a certain amount of disorientation and ambiguity which you don’t want confused with bad storytelling!”
“Dowling is my Alan Black,” Boyle said. “It is his enthusiasm and support that helps me to eventually submit scripts. He understands it as an emotional comedy, I guess. Very difficult to tell an artist where the humor is supposed to be, I guess you’ve just got to be on that wavelength. Comics generally do comedy incredibly badly. Those little funny adverts they had in ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ were, in their own way, as bad as anything that’s ever happened.”
But as for the bad world of Rex Royd, more black comedy and blistering sci-fi is on the way. What’s next? “Rex’s holographic basketball court where stars of yesteryear play shots they never made and comfort Rex as he weeps at the beauty of it all,” Boyle promised.
Stay tuned later today for the conclusion of “CLiNT” week with an exclusive preview inside the relaunch!