It shouldn't be a surprise that, on the heels of September’s successful release of The Best of Milligan & McCarthy, there might be new work from Brendan McCarthy published by Dark Horse: On Wednesday, the four-part story The Deleted begins in Dark Horse Presents #32, dealing with the possibility of uploading the consciousness into a virtual world.
It's rare that I interview a creator who can provide answers that open with the phrase, "Myself and Brett Ewins, Bryan Talbot and Alan Moore were the first people to start off the new era of comics in the U.K.," so while I had the chance, we discussed more than his new story, thanks to McCarthy's willingness to give his time (and samples of his myriad works, past and present).
Tim O'Shea: You have a new short series coming out in Dark Horse Presents. What’s it about?
Brendan McCarthy: Yes, it’s a short piece – four episodes of eight pages, making a total of 32 pages in all. It is a mystery thriller, set in a virtual world. It’s about the possibility of uploading consciousness and what that could mean for people with Alzheimer’s, for example. Can the mind be preserved before it disintegrates beyond repair? In a way, it’s a teaser story for a bigger adventure, and The Deleted gives a taste of what the strip could go on to explore further, in ideas and visuals.
The co-writer Darrin Grimwood is a new name.Why use an unknown writer to write the script with?
Darrin is primarily a screenwriter with some accomplished screenplays to his credit. And like many screenwriters, he loves comics and wanted to get into the field. I mentioned The Deleted story idea and it struck a chord with him, so I thought it would be fun to try out someone who would be fresh to the comics scene, with a new "take." I like to adopt an experimental approach sometimes, and this little project felt like a good starting point to kick something off with Darrin.
There’s a lot going on visually in The Deleted. Does the script always come first with you?
In this case, a loose first draft was used to illustrate the story and as I drew it, the words were refined to work with the art in the best way. Mostly paring things back, seeing what work the art is doing so that the script can be spare and lean. The bizarre crumbling hotel that the protagonist wakes up in reflects the Alzheimer’s theme, which becomes more apparent as the story moves along.
Dark Horse also recently published The Best of Milligan & McCarthy, a superbly produced and designed retrospective of your classic strips created with Peter Milligan. How did it feel to see all your "greatest hits" back in print after so long?
It was a relief to finally get that material back into the public eye and see it acknowledged as a crucial part of the '80s "British Invasion" comics. Much of it had been overlooked because it has been out of print for so long. But the strips were of such high quality and had influenced so many British creators that it felt criminally negligent that classics like Rogan Gosh, Skin and Paradax weren’t available to younger readers who had never seen them – and not forgetting the more obscure, yet very wonderful shorter strips like Rudcliff and Williams, Hollow Circus and Mirkin The Mystic. They really are from a bygone age. They have such a different feel to them to what is going on now. The biggest difference of course, is that they weren’t all gagging to be made into films immediately! Beautiful comic book characters could act out their peculiar stories without worrying if they were making the grade as "IP" for the movie business.
As soon as I’m into about three pages of a comic these days, I can tell if it’s been engineered to be a "movie franchise," because all the clichés of movie storytelling are apparent. Christ, I wish I’d never read that Robert McKee book on how to write screenplays! (Just think: For all his filmmaking knowledge, McKee thinks Apocalypse Now is a really terrible movie!) There’s a "sameyness" about film stories a lot of the time and that’s because everyone has read the same "screenplay formula" books, so a commercial cookie-cutter style starts to emerge. ... Less so in cable TV, which is where the better writing seems to be taking place now.
It’s funny that in the '80s, everyone wanted to be Alan Moore, but now everyone wants to be Mark Millar and get their comic turned into a movie. Mark is some kind of genius in getting his comics optioned.
Most people know you as an accomplished artist. But you are credited as the co-writer with George Miller of the new Mad Max movie, Fury Road. When did writing become as important as drawing for you?
I started off writing my own material in comics when I was younger, but when I teamed up with Peter Milligan, he was obviously better than I was so I deferred to his superior wordsmithery. But we haven’t worked together for about 20 years, and eventually I took up the keyboard again. Initially, I would write things that were needed for various TV shows and films I was working on – quick new bits, gags, etc. – but not the whole screenplay though. The third story arc of Season 3 of the TV series ReBoot was mine, as was the famous "Bad Bob" episode.
I met George Miller in Hollywood about 15 years ago, and we chatted for hours and got on very well -- I think I knew more about the Mad Max films than he did! For most people Star Wars was the great movie trilogy, but for me it was Mad Max. I pitched him a pretty crazy idea for Mad Max 4, which intrigued him enough to ask me over to his studio in Sydney and throw around ideas for a bigger story. And that evolved into me writing it with him. It was a natural progression. He taught me heaps about writing for films, which is a bit similar to writing comics. And because I’m a comic book guy, I could also design things as we went along. And we found that the design influenced the action. ... The whole thing was a great big creative feedback loop. I discovered that you don’t have to write sitting alone in a room with a computer. That doesn’t suit me, it puts me off. We wrote together at a big electroboard every day, words and pictures intermingling, and then would type up the day’s output and put the pictures in order next to the text ... and eventually 100 blank pages became a very loose first draft. Overall, we spent about 2 years rewriting the script and honing it down through the storyboarding and storyreel processes. It was a very organic and visual way of working. A pretty idiosyncratic way of screenwriting I’d say – and crucially, a lot of fun.
Any new projects coming up that you may like to talk about?
Like most creative people, I have a superstitious belief that talking about something too much before it is a reality can jinx it. ... So I won’t talk about the five million ideas and stories that sit in dusty folders on shelves waiting for their turn in the spotlight.
I can say that I particularly enjoyed doing that DC Comics Solo issue from about eight years ago. I was pleased with how it came out and really enjoyed working on it, and playing around with those classic DC characters. It’s a way of working I would like to return to again, and I have put together a storyline so that a 100-page comic in that style can be produced.
I had a fleeting conversation with Peter Milligan a while back about a sequel to Rogan Gosh called Karmanaut. Whether we ever get round to doing it is another question!
I’ve been continuing to work on my ‘fine art’ digital paintings, pastels and collages. I think a new extended edition of my ‘visual autobiography’ Swimini Purpose will need to be published in the next few years, as there are lots of new, unseen pictures building up on my hard drive. A new, definitive and final edition.
Any comics you read on a regular basis?
None, I’m afraid. I live in the wild west of Ireland these days, and comic shops are not to be found around here. I look at clouds far more than comics! I go on comiXology now and then and catch up with all the bestsellers, just to see what’s happening. Sadly, quite a few of those "movie pitch" comics bore me so much that I can never actually finish an issue. Last comics thing I did was to reread all the Sock Monkey comics I have by Tony Millionaire. I really love those books. The man is a genius. God, I wish I’d produced those beautiful stories. Absolute classics.
Sometimes I follow creators and check out what they’re up to. I will look at anything drawn by the magnificent Frank Quitely, for example. But with writers, it depends on the book: Jason Aaron’s Scalped I really enjoyed, but can’t get into his recent Marvel stuff. I’d like to see Garth Ennis do something new and substantial again, as he can be a great writer, rather than all that Walking Dead-type zombie stuff, which I find unreadable. A lot of the bigger writers seem to be treading water it seems. I think that there are lots of interesting creators working in the indie comics scene. I like the NoBrow material quite a bit.
But there doesn’t seem to be any "must read" monthly comic that seems completely plugged into the zeitgeist, and is the essential comic of its era. I can’t think of one ... Saga?
Would you publish your comics directly onto the Internet?
The Internet can be a hazardous place. There are vast armies of PC brownshirts on the left, and insane crackpots on the right out there. ... Trying to have a rational conversation with anyone on social media, for example, is almost impossible. I have learned never to engage with people I don’t already know, as you will likely be wasting hours of your time arguing with some political zealot. And who gives a flying fuck what they think anyway? So I’m not sure about comics on the 'net. ... I find the extremism of the legions of lunatics on the web to be disheartening. Let’s call them "mindless ones" after Steve Ditko’s enraged hordes, from his classic Doctor Strange strip. That’s a good description. These overly indoctrinated laptop warriors hiding in their tissue-strewn bedrooms seem to lack any balance or restraint.
Apparently I was their target recently for creating an "insanely racist" character in a Spider-Man comic – because, crime of crimes – I wrote his dialogue in the spoken idiom of a "gangsta," a type of speech that has been heard in a million movies or rap records and videos over the last few decades. In the same strip, another black character is also featured, a female aborigine who saves the day, and who speaks in a broad Australian accent. But the PC police didn’t mention her for some curious reason ...
I was dating a very lovely African-American lady while I worked on that strip in the U.S. at the time. She thought the "rapper" character was goofy, and the sequence where he bashes the Vulture was pretty funny, as it was meant to be. I trust her views far more than I would some daft politically correct wanker on a website read by five other lonely souls. These idiots are forever throwing about words like “racist” and “Nazi,” and my own personal favorite, “crypto-Nazi.”
Guardian-reading lefties are just as dishonorable as right-wing Daily Mailers, in my experience. It would be nice if these self-righteous androids had ever expressed any interest in my work – which has been far more original and forward-thinking than most of the bland super-fun churned out over the last 30 years.
Apart from the PC police and the usual frothing wingnuts, the 'net certainly can offer a platform for getting new material out there. But the problem we all face is how to make it pay. Astonishingly, I still find myself having to earn a living. I thought I’d be polishing my Rolls by now. I’ve been lucky in that my movie work pays for the comic work. And I love doing both. But in the near future at least, I will stick to being published in print and with digital editions following on.
How do you see the comics industry moving ahead?
When I first started out, over 35 years ago, there was absolutely nothing going on in comics in Britain, around 1976. It was the end of the hippie underground comix era and there was an empty void. Punk rock was just happening and with it, exciting self-produced fanzines.
Myself and Brett Ewins, Bryan Talbot and Alan Moore were the first people to start off the new era of comics in the U.K. with non-corporate "indie" comics work. The magazine Warrior was soon to follow, and then later, Deadline broke a bunch of new talents. 2000AD had acted as a magnet to galvanize all the aspiring comics weirdos lurking in the British hinterlands, and most of us passed through its pages at some point.
From those early attempts (not forgetting the '80s U.S. creators) has come all of what we see now ... I do think a lot of the subversive elements in comics have been weeded out (as in the post-X-Factor music industry) as creators now want the big corporate movie deal, and the big money and fleeting prestige that it brings. Which is pretty boring when you think about it.