Writer Tony Lee has spent the last few years hanging around the edge of comics fame. A writer for almost two decades in a variety of mediums, he has travelled the world while carving a niche in book adaptations, quirky creator owned books and a variety of licenses including “X-Men,” “Doctor Who,” “Wallace & Gromit,” “Shrek”and “Starship Troopers.”
Claiming the next 18 months as his “breakout year” with books starring Judge Dredd, Warrior Nun Areala, Oliver Twist, Robin Hood and even the Three Musketeers, Lee teamed up with CBR News for a tour of his Birmingham studio before he invests in his Mark Millar-esque Scottish Mansion.
By Tony Lee
This started as a joke, really. I’d made a quip to [CBR Executive Producer] Jonah Weiland about how it was always an artist who showed his studio — well apart from people like Millar who simply showed you around the West Wing of their Scottish castle — and the next thing I know? I’m doing one myself.
Which is amusing in itself, because like many writers, my office? My studio? My place of wonders, my Sanctum Sanctorum where I spend hours toiling over deadlines? Yup, you’ve guessed it — it’s my bedroom.
It’s a common thing for many writers, and to be honest it’s handy for me. I get up, shower, brush my teeth, sit down (sometimes even after having a breakfast) and I’m ready for the day. I don’t need an art desk, I don’t really need more than my Treo 680 with small, thumb pad QWERTY keyboard if alls said and done, and I actually have a HP dv2000 laptop to use when I’m on the road — often I’ll sit in the pub or a coffee shop and write, but when I’m here — I’m here.
I live in a shared house in Birmingham, so the only non ‘shared’ area is my room. It’s easier to work here anyway, and is covered in memorabilia from comics and from my years travelling. I’ve pretty much stood on every continent bar one, and I’ve got a variety of things all over the place that echo that. It makes me feel comfortable to sit somewhere like this. And when I’m comfortable, I can write. Or at least surf the web, update Facebook and Livejournal and watch tentacle porn.
So without further adieu, welcome to my studio. Or, more accurately – welcome to Tony’s bedroom.
So we have the standard “the working area” picture. Actually (as you’ll see in a second) it’s a desk at the end of my bed, facing a wall filled with clipframes holding art. I keep everything I need close to hand here, with a double bookshelf next to my chair, where I keep a wealth of books, graphic novels, Dick Graysons and my printer.
1) My desk. We’ll have a closer look at it in a minute, but it’s a nice, small compact workstation. I don’t need much as I said before, and when I first moved here I had this monstrosity corner unit thing that not only made me manipulate my body into strange positions to get comfortable, but I also had a serious crick in my neck after a couple of hours using the damned thing. So out when the angled monitor, in came a flat screen and in came the new desk. It used to have a Simpsons cooler under it, but I now have a travel fridge (to the left, out of shot) so I didn’t need it any more.
2) My printer/scanner. It’s a Lexmark 1100 that I use most of the time to print out scripts for proofing. I also use this station for my editorial chores at Markosia, and I find it easier to read scripts when they’re in my hand. Currently it has the 144 page first draft of “Dodge & Twist” bound on top, I use it to compare against the pages of art I get emailed by Paul Peart-Smith every now and then. And I feel big and clever having it beside me on the desk. Sometimes I sit and stroke it. It’s very soothing. Go on, try it. Next to it are three figures — a Jack Sparrow, a Buddy Christ and a small Wedge Antilles figure. I love Wedge Antilles. He’s the unspoken hero of “Star Wars.” Far more than that farmboy.
3) My abs board. ‘Nuff said. Sometimes it even gets used, but less so since I started going to the gym several times a week.
4) My graphic novels. I have a whole load in boxes under the bed as well, but these are my favourites. It’s one of my faults — I’m incredibly self critical, and sometimes I need to be reminded why comics are my medium of choice. All it takes is a couple of these babies and I’m back in love with the genre – and off I go again. A long time ago I wanted a library/study type thing, and one day I’ll have that — but currently space is more important than style, and so everything is lumped onto these shelves — my camper van money box and salt shaker, my DVDs (I have most of them now burned onto my hard drive and packed in boxes — again for space), my limited edition 20th anniversary of “Doctor Who” K9 toy (surrounded by a Cyberman and Dalek), a replica blunderbuss and a picture frame with my parents in. As ever, the books are a bit all over the place.
5) These two box folders are my comics. A copy of every comic I’ve ever had published are in these two boxes. Down the line I’ll probably get a comics rack or something like Mark Waid has, but currently I’m small enough to get away with this. Any graphic novels I have come out go on the shelf beside, of course.
Stuck on the front of the boxes is a print of Francesco Hayez’s “The Kiss.” It’s one of my favourite pictures, and when I was writing “Robin Hood — Outlaw’s Pride” my then girlfriend Charly gave this to me to give me some positive ‘Robin Hoodesque-type’ vibes. When I finished the book, I kept it there. When I have my big Scottish mansion, I’ll have a larger version on the wall.
Ah yes, my collection of Dick Grayson figures. When I was a kid I loved Robin, as he was my age and he didn’t have powers — hell, I could be just like him! Well, apart from the wearing pants and pixie boots — I do that more these days than back then, of course. But as he grew up, he ditched the yellow tights and became cool. Unless you’re Dan Didio of course. Then he’s just fodder for the next crossover.
And as a drunken bet one day, I decided to collect something odd, unusual — something hard to find. It was suggested that, as I loved the comic “Nightwing,” that perhaps I should collect every Dick Grayson toy. After all, there couldn’t be more than what, five or six? After all, it’s not like the guy’s Batman or anything… Little did I know – San Diego ’05 almost crippled me financially. So from left to right we have First appearance Robin, First Appearance Nightwing, small Heroclix Robin, Knightfall Nightwing (who’s annoyingly larger than the others), “Hush” Nightwing, “Kingdom Come” Red Robin, and “Crisis” Earth 2 Robin.
I stopped when it got a bit too crazy and I was bidding stupid money for “Animated Adventures” maque figures. I might start again. Then again, maybe not.
Behind them I have some of the esoteric books I use in research, and a Bangkok dagger from an ex-girlfriend can just be seen to the left of the picture. Why an ex sent me a dagger is one of the many wonderful questions about my life that are best left unanswered.
Ah yes, the desk itself. This small area has been my base of command for over two years now, and I’ve written hundreds and hundreds of pages of comics script on it. In fact, thinking about it I’ve written over two thousand pages here in the last couple of years. And that’s not including the prose pages, pitches, treatments and columns. Wow. It’s when you look at this place in the light of day, objectively, it doesn’t look much, but I’m not joking when I say that without this place, I would not be where I am now.
Which isn’t anywhere special, to be honest.
1) The computer. I have a very old and slow desktop — it does the job, but when I need to boost the power, either for lettering or any design work, I switch to the laptop. I have a flat screen “17 screen for space reasons. As you can see here, I write in full script, and my program of choice for this is Final Draft. I find that I can work faster and with fewer mistakes on this, with a comic template created by Andy Diggle and re-jigged here and there by both Antony Johnston and myself. I’ve never been a mouse person, more of a trackball type, so I have this sitting neatly beside my keyboard.
2) “Inspiration Row.” There are some knick-knacks that keep me going when I feel a little frazzled, when things start to get a little bleak, and for a writer who’s not well known and pretty much on the cusp of anything worth doing, it can get bleak quite a lot. These pictures and items help a hell of a lot, to be honest. The row (from left to right) are as follows: a picture of me and Mike Carlin in his DC office in 2003 (taken by Bob Shreck) — this was my first time in the DC offices and I was trying hard not to be a drooling fanboy — and if that’s the case, then Mike’s office is NOT the place to be, as there are way too many cool things there to distract you.
Next to that is a picture of me and (then) editor Teresa Focarile at Marvel’s old offices, also in 2003. Beside that is my Marvel visitor pass from the same visit. It might seem hokey to have these there, especially as I’ve now visited both a couple of times when I’ve been in NYC, but I’ve always been of the mind that first times have power, and it’s enough to keep me focused.
Next to that is a picture I like of me in Cuzco, Peru — Cuzco is one of those places, and every time I look at it, it inspires me for some reason. And beside that is a photo poem made from book spines that I was given by Charly when we were together. She’s still one of my best friends, and we only split recently — and so because of this I’ll still keep this up, as it still means a lot to me. Although currently it also has a die cast metal Judge Dredd badge hanging in front of it.
Finally, at the far right are my passes — Expo passes, San Diego passes, that sort of thing.
3) My phone. Usually I use my mobile, as I’m often on the move, I even have a US cellphone sim for when I’m in the States — but I keep one just in case I need to call America from the UK, as it’s far cheaper on this. And hell, it’s a phone. I feel more like a professional with it. All I need now is a bulky fax machine and a photocopier and I’m sorted.
4) My PDA. Currently an Ipaq 3970, it (with the fold out keyboard that you can see to the left) used to be pretty much all I need on a daily basis if all’s said and done. It has Bluetooth and I have a wifi sd card that gets me online. I wrote all my SDCC diaries in 2006 on this, and it has been my life for many years. That said, I’ve recently gotten a Treo 680 (as I mention above) and I’m working a lot more on that. Usually it’s in my pocket though, so unlikely to be in the picture.
5) Wallace, Gromit and The Doctor. When I started writing comics again, I promised myself that if I ever wrote a character that had a toy, I’d buy it and display it. Since then I’ve really only written three licenses that do, and I’ll buy the “Shrek” figures when the strip comes out. When I got the “Judge Dredd: The Megazine” gig, the following weekend at a convention I bought my Dredd Badge. That said, I’m getting some “Starship Troopers” figures painted up as Tamari’s Tigers, and they’ll be going on there too. If anyone knows where I can get “Oliver Twist” or a more traditional “Robin Hood” figures, let me know!
6) My parents. My mother, Doreen Lee was my biggest fan throughout my entire writing career, now twenty years in length, be it radio, book or TV. In 2004 she passed away with cancer, actually about two days after the Cuzco picture was taken. She was my guiding force and my biggest critic, and she made me a better writer for it.
In the last months I would visit her and read her sections of my novels aloud, stories that would never be finished, but at the same time would bolster her up a little. She stayed long enough to see my first Marvel work, but couldn’t stay longer.
My father, Patrick Lee (not the artist) never “got” comics, but even so has been my staunchest believer in my work. Everything I write is dedicated to the pair of them.
7) My ‘help’ books. These are things I look at every now and then that help me out, be it structurally, inspirationally, or even books I’m currently adapting. At the time of the photo these were “Alan Moore’s Writing For Comics,” “Lettering The Comicraft Way,” “The West Wing Script Book,” “The Book of Romance” and “Robin Hood,” “Stephen King on Writing,” a “Starship Troopers” guide, “Raven’s Gate” and “Evil Star” (both books I’ve adapted), “Touching The Void,” “Starship Troopers” and the “Rough Guide to Superheroes.” I also have (and not on the shelf probably because I was using them at the time) Robert McKee’s “Story” and David Morrell’s “Lessons From A Lifetime Of Writing.”
8) Werthers Originals toffee candies. Mmmm. One of my few vices.
Because of the size and layout of my room, my bed also doubles as a sofa type thing to watch TV — hence the multitudes of pillows against the wall. I don’t get as much a chance to watch TV as I used to, though.
The shelf by the bed. I’ll go through these level by level.
TOP LEVEL — A “Wizard” oil burner that I haven’t used in about seven years, a shot cup stolen from ‘Sir Lancelot’s’ medieval bar in Budapest, a “Witch” candle I was bought a decade ago and haven’t had the strength to light yet (it’s too beautiful to burn), a Magneto helmet, a black Dalek and a small brass naval telescope.
MIDDLE LEVEL — A certificate to say I walked on the Great Wall Of China, a crystal ball with “three wizards” base, a paperweight from the Guinness Museum in Dublin, a Peruvian Cigar Box, a couple of alabaster Egyptian knick-knacks, a Peruvian chess board, a signed 2003 NY Mets team baseball (I love the Mets. Although being in the UK I barely get to see them play), a drinking horn, an obsidian knife from Mexico, Jordanian sand picture, small naval hand telescope and a box with my mother’s charm bracelet inside.
BOTTOM LEVEL — Nick Fury action figure (I love Nick Fury, and a large proportion of my first pitches to Marvel were Fury pitches) standing on a naval sexton box, bottle opener, a knick-knack from Petra, a Bobblehead Batman, a One Ring in its box, a “Rollerblade Rabbit” yo-yo (this was a game I created for a mobile company in 2001), a magic wand, Bobblehead Spidey, Bobblehead Robin, assorted bits and bobs and three Tigger statues around a Tigger snowglobe in a scene reminiscent of the three witches in “Macbeth.”
The area directly above my desk. This wall is covered in clip frames, about eighteen in total. I like original art, and I’ve tried to ensure I have as much as possible on there from my own work. I’ve been very lucky with the people I’ve worked with over the years, and much of it has been given to me.
1) My first clip frame is the cover of my first Marvel work — “X-Men Unlimited” #1, with the splash page from inside next to it. This is the only book I’ve done this to, but as it was a) my first Marvel book and b) effectively my first comic work in a decade; it was something I wanted to do.
2) The original pencils from the start of “The Gloom” #4, which never got released (but is coming out weekly from the 19th of October at The Chemistry Set). Art by “Two Drunk Guys In A Bar” partner Dan Boultwood, and it’s the first appearance of the “Eleventh Hour” superteam, a team that although set in WW2, we at one point were intending to revisit after “Hope Fall”s as a ’60s Steranko invention.
3) Sam Hart’s concept sketch for “Starship Troopers,” back in 2004. This was the first piece he ever did, and I’m honoured to have it on the wall.
4) Likewise this, the original concept of “The Gloom,” designed by me and Dan Boultwood in a convention bar at 4am, and used to sell the series to Rich Emms.
5) “Wildwood IV” conference poster, for an esoteric London conference held in a Masonic hall off Holborn from over a decade ago — I was one of the guest speakers on ‘Mediumship In The Wild Wood’. It’s the only conference poster I ever kept.
More of the same —
1) A print of a photo of a statue in Reykjavik harbour that I liked, taken by Tanya Baldwin. A very cold, but very beautiful country.
2) Picture of a Lappish “medicine drum” — these drums were used by the Shamans of Lapland for many centuries, and I was allowed access to one of their rites while visiting in 2001. Sitting in a swelteringly hot tepee with -21 degrees outside is a very surreal experience.
3) A page of pencilled and inked work by Len Kirk for our Marvel “Amazing Fantasy” story “Mark Hazzard — MERC.” Len is a scholar and a gentleman and I owe him many beers for this beauty, which he gave me at the 2006 San Diego. I got another one this SDCC past, but I haven’t put it up yet.
4) Also from 2006’s SDCC — a limited Jerry Robinson Joker sketch. Jerry has been an idol of mine for many years, not only because he helped create The Joker and Robin’s designs. And when it was announced that he was there for one day signing copies of a new sketch, I was one of the first in the queue.
5) Andie Tong’s Mr T and Jack Sparrow sketch. When I was having my 35th Birthday party, I had a pirate themed party at an ’80s bar. Andie designed the sketch for my flyers, and then about six months later I received it in the post, as a surprise gift.
Andie’s one of the best, most underrated artists in the business, and I did “Starship Troopers” #0 with him. He’s well worth checking out, and I’m glad to have him as a mate.
6) Concept art of Mr Tuggles by Bevis Musson for a children’s book we’re going to be doing together. At some point. I swear.
7) There’s a story in Bryan Talbot’s book “The Naked Artist” that tells about me being accosted by a stranger in a convention toilet in 2005 who seemed to learn my name by staring at my — well, my manhood while I was taking a leak. After confronting him to find out how he did it, I later discovered I had my name badge clipped to my belt, and he was reading that. Comics International loved the story so much; they used it in 2006 as one of their monthly cartoons. This is the original art.
1) More original art — this time by Mike Collins — the pencils of one of the pages from the first issue of my “Doctor Who” story. Mike gave it to me at a Bristol convention without me asking for it, and again, he’s another man I owe countless beers to.
Mike is one of the coolest people I know, and nobody yet understands how he can constantly be the last to go to bed at 6am and yet be so fresh at 10am the following morning…
2) “Casablanca” 75th Anniversary poster. “Casablanca” is my favourite ever movie. I don’t have the room for a full size poster, so this is the best I can have.
3) I was doing a Memorabilia show in 2006 and Mick Foley was one of the guests, so I managed to get a signed picture. I love wrestling. It’s America’s closest thing to pantomime. And Foley’s Cactus Jack got me through some bad patches when I was 21.
Funny enough at San Diego last year he ended up signing opposite the Markosia booth, and he recognised me from Memorabilia.
Unfortunately, he thought I was just some really enthusiastic stalker fan…
4) This is the poem “Footsteps,” about the man walking down the beach and talking to God. I’m not very religious, but when I was 21 I was paralysed from just below the waist down from some spinal trauma. At the time I was close to desolation and only this little Nun who kept visiting kept my spirits up. When I left, she gave me a postcard with this on, a story she had kept telling me whenever I was at my lowest.
I got better a few months later — and to this day, sixteen years on I still believe this woman, this Nun, and this poem helped me.
5) Al Pacino “Scarface” $200 bills. These were a promotion from San Diego 2005. I managed to snag a few and I liked the look of them in the frame.
6) A Pedro Delgado Jacob Crane sketch from our “Shadowmancer” adaptation.
One thing that isn’t up here in the photo but is now is Ryan Stegman’s original art from “Midnight Kiss” #4. he gave it to me last San Diego, and I just wanted him to know it’s still safe…
My media area. This is where I watch my television. I try to watch it every day, to have a break from writing — I’ll devour entire seasons of shows on DVD when I can. And of course, the wall behind is covered in tat.
1) My NY Mets pennant. I mentioned how I love the Mets, right?
2) A charcoal painting I picked up in a Peruvian market. This style of picture is everywhere, but I felt that the artist had really caught the aspect of it.
3) A wooden sword (in wooden scabbard) from Bangkok. I have several swords and daggers on the wall to the left of my bookshelf, but this was the first wooden one I ever had.
4) A limited edition signed print of the first costume design for Tom Baker’s Doctor (Doctor Who). It was a Christmas present and I’ve had it on the wall ever since. Tom Baker was my favourite Doctor until David Tennant turned up. I grew up with him.
I also have a signed Tom Baker book next to my signed David Hasselhoff book. No, I shit you not. I love Hasselhoff. I wanted to do a comic where he fights crime and sings songs at the same time.
5) Venetian jesters mask from, well, Venice. I felt it suited me.
6) Marvin the Martian figure. I know he’s looking at a very sharp sword type thing with a glint in his eye, but I try to ignore that when I go to sleep at night.
7) My TV / Media centre. I have a whole pile of wires here –DVD, video and satellite TV are the main things, but I also have my Xbox soft modded and connected to my network — which means that all avi’s and mp3’s that I have on my PC can be viewed / listened to on the TV trough a remote. Which is wired into my hifi. Which is great when American TV has shows that British TV doesn’t even believe exists, and I don’t have to squint at a tiny monitor to watch.
And of course it’s great for tentacle porn.
On top are a couple of trinkets — a wooden model of a motorbike — I like to ride and I’m just waiting to buy my next stupidly dangerous cruiser, Nazca Lines drinks mats and an Amethyst candle holder.
So there you go. My ‘office’ in a nutshell. It’s not big or clever, but it’s what I need to write books on a daily basis. I had been tempted to do this in a pub and send one picture in of a bar table with laptop on, or even just my Treo but hell, this has been a giggle.
Thanks for taking the time to visit my space, and I hope to see you all in a comic real soon.
Now discuss this story in CBR’s Indie Comics forum.
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