Diggle Says "Cheese" for "Snapshot"

These days, it seems as though most people can't go a few seconds without checking their cell phones. Hundreds of thousands of people plan their days, talk to friends and play games with them, making the loss of a phone more than a mere inconvenience. But what happens if you lose a phone full of incriminating proof-of-kill photos taken for shady underworld clients? And what happens to the poor person who stumbles across the phone when its owner wants those photos back? That's the premise of "Snapshot," a new creator-owned comic by Andy Diggle and Jock debuting in 2000 AD's "Judge Dredd Megazine" #322, on sale March 28 in the UK and April 11 in North America.

Diggle and Jock are perhaps best known for "The Losers," the Vertigo series which spawned a film of the same name starring Idris Elba and Chris Evans. After "Losers," the two went on to team together on "Green Arrow: Year One" for DC Comics and "Lenny Zero," set in the world of Judge Dredd, for "2000 AD."

With "Snapshot," the team takes to the pages of "2000 AD" sister-title, "Judge Dredd Megazine." Diggle spoke with CBR about "Snapshot," returning to the publisher where he and Jock got their comic book start and how Diggle used some creative accounting to kick off his writing career.

CBR News: You and Jock have a long history together. How'd you first meet?

Andy Diggle: I was the assistant editor of British sci-fi anthology comic "2000 AD" back in the late '90s, and one of my responsibilities was reviewing the unsolicited writing and art submissions -- the "slush pile" -- which was literally three feet high when I first arrived. We found a few rubies in the dust during that time -- Frazer Irving, Mike Carey, Laurence Campbell, Boo Cook -- and Jock was one of them. He'd done this amazing Dredd headshot which just knocked me out. As soon as I was given editorial responsibility for "2000 AD's" sister title, the "Judge Dredd Megazine," I hired him to draw an episode.

The "Megazine's" 10th anniversary issue was coming up, and I wanted to commission Frank Miller to draw a special cover for the issue. But my budget was incredibly tight -- most of the "Megazine" was reprint at the time, as we couldn't afford to fill it with original material. So as a money-saving ploy, I wrote a 10-page story for free, and put the money I'd saved towards commissioning the Miller cover. The story I wrote was a fast, dense, twisty-turny future crime caper called "Lenny Zero," and I asked Jock to illustrate it. We hit it off, the readers loved it and we've been working together ever since.

Had you ever written any comics before "Lenny Zero?"

Just unpublished amateur stuff. I may have written an uncredited "Tharg the Mighty" story for "2000 AD" beforehand, but I think "Lenny Zero" was probably my first professional credit.

Were you surprised by reader reaction or the new career you jumped into because of it?

It did feel like something of a vindication, to be honest. I'd been champing at the bit to write for "2000 AD," but the then-editor wouldn't hear of it. Once I moved to the "Megazine" I could effectively commission myself, but what if I was no good? It's hard to be objective about your own writing. So I showed that first "Lenny Zero" script to former "2000 AD" editor Steve MacManus, pretending it was something I'd found in the slush pile. He gave it an enthusiastic thumbs-up, at which point I breathed a sigh of relief and revealed that I'd actually written it myself. I also sent it to a few writers I respected, including John Wagner, for an honest opinion. When John told me he liked my dialogue, I was walking on air.

So yeah, I was really pleased that the readers responded to it, but also surprised that it got my foot in the door to Vertigo as quickly as it did. Garth Ennis suggested I send it to Will Dennis, and he invited me to pitch for the "Lady Constantine" mini. Things moved pretty fast from there. I still owe Garth for that gold nugget of advice.

It always felt like a forgone conclusion you and Jock would do a creator-owned book together someday. Why did it take so long to actually happen?

My trouble is I'm a very slow writer -- much to the chagrin of my long-suffering editors! I found all my time would be eaten up on work-for-hire projects, just to pay the bills. I always had these grand plans for alternating company books with creator-owned work, but I was just too damn slow. That looks set to change this year, though. I'm getting my act together. Digital has really opened up all sorts of new possibilities, and I have several new projects lined up with artists. 2012 really feels like the year for creator-owned books.

Does this mean we'll be seeing fewer work-for-hire Diggle projects in the coming year?

I think it's healthy to keep a balance between creator-owned and work-for-hire, so I certainly wouldn't want to turn my back on the Big Two. It was nice to be welcomed back to Vertigo with a "Mystery in Space" short, and I'm hoping to be able to announce a longer project there in the near future.

Let's get into your first big project of 2012, then. What's the premise of "Snapshot?"

It's a thriller about this ordinary kid, Jake, who works in a comic store in San Francisco. He finds a lost phone lying in the park, and is horrified to discover it's full of digital snapshots of a murder victim. Then the phone starts to ring.

The phone was used by a professional hit-man to take "proof of kill" photos before disposing of the bodies -- and he wants it back! Jake suddenly finds himself framed for murder and hunted by this ruthless assassin. And that's just the first half of the first issue. There are a lot of twists and turns that I don't want to spoil.

Where did the inspiration for "Snapshot" come from?

It's been brewing for a long time. Years back, I was reading an article on a screenwriting website (I forget which, but it might well have been Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio's excellent Wordplayer.com) which suggested that any object in your line of sight could be used to generate story ideas. My digital camera was sitting on the desk in front of me, so I thought, is there a story in that? Okay, let's say somebody finds a camera and there's something dramatic on it. Pictures of a murder victim! Maybe a hit-man used it to take proof-of-kill photos but then lost it in a struggle, and then some random kid finds it, and then --

Before I knew it, I'd written several pages of detailed notes, and happily scampered downstairs to tell my wife that a complete movie outline had suddenly downloaded itself into my brain. Act structure, plot twists, everything. The digital camera had quickly morphed into a mobile phone, opening up all sort of dramatic possibilities. I even had the perfect title: "Snapshot."

I planned to write it as a spec screenplay. I knew there was little chance of actually selling it, but I thought it'd make a decent writing sample. And then, of course, I made the classic mistake -- I told Jock the story down the pub. He shot back with, "Mate, I'd love to draw that!"

Why hadn't I thought of that? It made perfect sense to do it as a creator-owned comic. And when Jock says he wants to draw your story, you say yes!

It'll run as eight 14-page episodes in the "Megazine," which we'll double up as four 28-page issues for the direct market. Short and sweet. I think the four-issue mini is probably my favorite format.

"Snapshot" is set in San Francisco, and speaking as a San Franciscan, I'd like to know how much research you did about the city and why you chose to set it here. I'm hoping it's more than just that this is where "Vertigo" was filmed, which seems to be the reason a lot of people set stories here!

My wife and I visited San Francisco years ago and we both fell in love with the place. We've even talked about moving there one day. For "Snapshot," I thought that easygoing, left-leaning, liberal San Francisco vibe was a perfect background for a hard, edgy thriller. It contrasts nicely with the darker places the story will take us to. Plus I really wanted to write a crazy demolition derby SUV-versus-pushbike chase through Chinatown!

Can you talk a bit more about the locations in San Francisco the story will take us through without giving anything away?

Without spoiling it? Let's just say we'll move from the rooftops of Nob Hill, down through Chinatown, and off to a mysterious gated community, deep in the woods upstate.

Did Jock travel here to scope out locations?

I wish our (non-existent) budget stretched that far! I'd happily have joined him!

What are you hopes for the project? Are you satisfied in it remaining a comic or, since this was initially conceived of as a screenplay, do you have your eyes on another film adaptation of your work?

At this point, I'd just like to see the comic finished, as it's taken years to get around to it. Obviously, if someone wants to throw us some money to option the film rights, that wouldn't suck, but you have to be realistic about the chances of that happening. It's like winning the lottery -- it's not a business plan. But it'll be nice to be in control of the property. My Vertigo Crime graphic novel "Rat Catcher" has generated a lot of Hollywood interest, but when producers and development guys approach me I have to say, "Talk to DC, it's their property."

Once "Snapshot" is wrapped, will you be contributing any more stories to "2000 AD" or the "Judge Dredd Megazine" in the near future?

Yeah, I've just done an old-school "Rogue Trooper" story with Colin Wilson for "2000 AD's" 35thbirthday issue, and I'm finally writing the sequel to "Lenny Zero." It only took me 10 years to get around to it! It's called "Zero's 7," a crime caper with a Mega-City One twist. Lenny recruits this oddball gang of perps to steal a billon creds from Justice Department, itself. The crew includes a sentient polar bear, a robotic ATM called Johnny Cash and one or two familiar faces from the history of Dredd's world. Ben Willsher's drawing it. I'm having fun with it, and I think it shows.

Do you have any other big projects coming up in the States?

I have a few things in the pipeline that we're not ready to announce yet, but the one I'm really excited about is "Doctor Who" for IDW. That's a lot of fun, if a little bit daunting -- Steven Moffat is a tough act to follow. And I'm thrilled finally to be working with Mark Buckingham, who's drawing my first two-parter. We've been talking about working together for years, so this is a pretty great way to start.

Finally, why do you love "2000 AD" and the "Judge Dredd Megazine" so much? When you talk to of Andy Diggle who may not have ever read either book, how do you sell them on them on trying the anthology format in order to experience "Snapshot?"

It's impossible to overstate the influence "2000 AD" has had on a whole generation of British comics and British comics creators. This is obviously a broad generalization, but you could argue that if American superhero comics are about hero worship, British comics like "2000 AD" are about iconoclasm -- questioning authority, subverting orthodoxy and championing the underdog. There is no "house style" for "2000 AD," which has always encouraged its writers and artists to develop their own voice, their own style. It's fast, dense, smart, weird, funny and incredibly violent. Really, what more could you want from your comics?

DITKO: A Play Honoring the Spider-Man Co-Creator Hits NYC This October

More in Comics