"The Black Dossier," the long awaited next chapter in the "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" saga, is finally here, and Kevin O'Neill, the London-born artist who has lent his artistic talents to each installment so far, is promoting the book in comics venues up and down the American west coast. This past Saturday, O'Neill headlined a signing at Earth 2 Comics in Sherman Oaks, CA.
In a day and age when sketches typically fetch a pretty penny on the convention circuit, O'Neill treated all comers to gratis sketches and still found the time to talk to CBR News about "Black Dossier."
How did you get involved in the first "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen"?
I rang Alan up about something else; I hadn't spoken to him in a long time. At the end of the conversation, he said, "Oh, I've got this project you might be interested in." And he told me what it was, these iconic characters grouping together, and sort of the origin of all the kind of pulp characters and comic super groups and so on, and I thought, "Yeah, I'm in. That's definitely for me."
I didn't know I'd be doing it for so many years. It might have just been the one series, but we both really enjoy it, you know? And we realize now, we can do anything with it. We just have the core of Alan and Mina and we just fit fiction all around it. It makes it exciting.
Tell us about your process for depicting characters that are so iconic?
I always go back to the source material as far as possible. Like on the Drummond character, I re-read the original books, and then I talk it over with Alan, and if the characters are much older like Drummond is, we talk about what kind of state he'd be in. He's not a pleasant character, but he's marginally more likable than the character who's a bit like James Bond. So that's basically it, it's going back to the source, if it's a literature source.
With other things it's just arriving at perhaps a different look that hasn't been done before, like with Nemo. "The Mysterious Island" mentions the Prince Dakkar stuff, and the Indian background. Nemo's always been a white man, or usually has been a white man. Doing an Indian character, going back to the roots of Verne, was much more interesting. That opened up a lot of new stuff for us, even the look of the Nautilus.
There's sometimes a version of what people would expect. Like Sherlock Holmes was only a short sequence in the earlier novel, but I knew people had certain expectations. And I think we carried that off well, and Alan's writing on that sequence was quite beautiful.
I try to be true to the author's intentions. The "War of the Worlds" material, the HG Welles stuff, we did a big timeline of what's happening during the course of the book itself, and where our stuff can fit into it, so we're not really contradicting anything in the book. So that's what it is, and it's fun, it's not like homework, if you know what I mean, it's always enjoyable.
What has been your reaction to Moore's notoriously detailed scripts?
At first it was daunting, they are incredibly detailed. On "The Black Dossier," when I tidied up my studio, it was the first time I'd put all the scripts into one place, because it'd been written over a number of years. And the finished "Dossier" was bigger than a telephone directory, it was a monster of a thing. If that had all arrived at the same time, I doubt if I could've started the book, it would have been so formidable. It's great, Alan's an artist as well, he can draw, so he writes from an artist's perspective, and his sequential continuity is second to none, there's no one else in the world who writes like him.
We talk a little bit. Like for "The Black Dossier," I sent him years ago some stuff about Florence Upton's Golliwog character and the Dutch Dolls, and we said, "Yeah, this will be cool, we'll get them in sometime." And they just happened to fit perfectly into this story. So that was cool. But generally, Alan will write it, and he'll always put a note in saying, "If you see a better way of doing it, change it," but it seldom happens. It's a perfect blueprint in script form.
Do you get all the references Moore puts into his stories?
Believe me, yeah, I'm getting better at it. But some of the obscure 19th century pornography, Alan's got a big collection of that stuff that he'd have to explain to me; who these characters are in the first novel in the Invisible Man sequence when we first meet the Invisible Man. But generally I'm familiar because we were born in the same year; we've got the same reference points, being born in 1953. And this book is set in '58, so it's our childhood we're writing about, really, in a very grim, still post-war Britain, which is interesting and totally different from the American '50s experience.
We understand the pair of you are going to be doing another installment?
Yeah, we're doing a third series for Top Shelf, it's called "Century," it'll be three interlinked books, 72 pages each. The first one is set in 1910, the second is set in the '60s, and the third one will be in the present day, and it will be collected to form a greater story in collected form. And after that, we'll just jump about, we'll do different time periods, whatever strikes our fancy.
Can you say anything about the move from Wildstorm to Top Shelf?
I think it was almost inevitable. Things were becoming a bit fractured and uncomfortable for Alan, and it's one of the rare books that we actually own, so we can move it away if we want to. And [Top Shelf publisher] Chris Staros did a fantastic job on "Lost Girls." "Lost Girls" was not an easy sell in America, and the way he supported the book, promoted the book, and the production values are absolutely stunning. So it's an honor to work with them.
Now discuss this story in CBR's Wildstorm forum.