+ an interview with SCOTLAND YARDIE creator Bobby Joseph

The world is on fire and there have been so many Big Things happening in the past couple of weeks that I have written and rewritten this newsletter more times than I can count. Trigger warning for sexual assault and graphic violence – this newsletter contains a five-page comic strip based on the Steubenville rape case.

I could spend hours, days and weeks responding to the topics that have dominated social media recently, from the depressing but unquestionable need for the global Black Lives Matter movement and our complicity in creating a world where that sentiment needs to be reinforced, to the avalanche of revelations within the comic-book industry that so many influential men have used their positions of relative influence to abuse the trust of women and, in the worst cases, girls.

These things are literally all that I can think about at the moment and I’m sure there’ll be a point when I feel informed enough to respond to them, but as a white thirty-something man in England, living now in the least diverse region that I’ve lived at any point in my life, I feel like the best thing that I can do right now is listen.

Listening has always been an underappreciated skill, but in recent years debate on social media has encouraged us to reduce every topic to diametrically opposed polarities, scoring points and signalling to our tribe rather than taking the time to listen and change. It’s self-evident, to me at least, that what the world needs now more than anything is change.

I should, however, be abundantly clear that Black Lives Matter. I should also be crystal clear that men in positions of power should spend less time thinking about their dicks and more time asking themselves how to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

I hope that my past work can tell you everything that you need to know about my thoughts on things like sexism, misogyny and racism. 2015 marked the first year that I worked with John Pearson, my BLOOD MOON co-creator, on a comic strip, following our previous collaboration at the Orbital Comics CULT exhibition. CLICK BAIT, our short strip about two Japanese YouTube celebrities, was written in response to the Steubenville rape case. The anthology that we created it for never materialised and the strip was never published, which might have been for the best, because it was very rough around the edges and created to an incredibly tight deadline. If nothing else, CLICK BAIT illustrates John’s exponential growth as a sequential artist in the past five years!

CLICK BAIT by P M Buchan and John Pearson - Contains graphic sexual violence.

The same year was also the last time that I collaborated with Phillip Marsden, on a strip that we called BKIP, in response to the rise of white nationalism and populist politicians such as Nigel Farage, who trade on the politics of hatred, fear and division. This was a followup to our previous strip, THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION, a feminist fable (with fisting!) about the objectification of women, in which the protagonist is cursed to transform into a sex doll if he can’t learn to stop reducing women to receptacles for his penis.

There seem to be an unacceptable number of comic-book writers, artists, publishers and editors who need to learn this same lesson and accept that even if they were rock stars, this kind of behaviour would still be unacceptable, because people are not commodities to be won with their talent.

My playlist for the week is I Was Made For Lovin’ You, an escapist list of mostly 1980s pop that takes in a-ha, Aztec Camera, Thomas Dolby, Pet Shop Boys and ABC, with a few other catchy songs thrown into the mix.

The thing is, even I don’t wallow in darkness all the time. Sometimes all I want to do is watch the music video to I Ran by A Flock of Seagulls over and over again while I marvel at the fact that anybody at all could be a pop star in the 80s.

This week I interviewed the amazing Bobby Joseph, credited in the 1990s as creating the first ongoing British comics magazine for and about a black audience, in the form of SKANK, aka “The Black VIZ”.

Nearly twenty years later, Bobby has written for the Guardian, his work has featured on the BBC and in 2015 his comic strips featured prominently in the ‘Anarchy in the UK’ comic exhibition at the British Library in 2015. His SCOTLAND YARDIE graphic novel, co-created with Joseph Samuels, is a biting satire about the value of black lives in modern London, featuring diverse cameos by everyone from the clown prince Boris Johnson to the cast of DO THE RIGHT THING.

Currently, if you buy a copy of SCOTLAND YARDIE by following this link, all proceeds will go to Black Lives Matter causes in the UK.

1/ Which artist or piece of art has most inspired you in your life and why?

Gilbert Shelton's FREAK BROTHERS is just a revelation. I always find something new, just by combing through his work. If you want to write humour comics well, pick up anything done by Gilbert. His output is a masterclass of humour and satire. Alan Moore is another that ticks the boxes. Obviously, everyone adores his mainstream output, but as a humourist, I feel Alan is vastly underappreciated. THE BOJEFFRIES SAGA, MAXWELL THE MAGIC CAT, his piss-take of Frank Miller's DAREDEVIL from back in the day. Wow. He's on-point. At all times! I am also a sucker for Jaime Hernandez's LOVE AND ROCKETS. Jaime knows narrative in such a way, that his books will stay with you weeks after reading. Which is an amazing feat in this disposable culture we live in, and something that we as creatives, should always be striving for.

2/ What have you learned through experience that you wish you had known at the beginning of your career?

Just be me. Do what I do best. Write. Drink more coffee.

3/ What does the creative process look like for you – from generating an idea to getting it down on paper and releasing it into the world?

Ideas take time. They percolate a lot. I am always interested in challenging a form, an accepted perception, skewing, and recreating narrative that is different and entertaining to me. The SCOTLAND YARDIE process took about three to four years of getting it right with the artist. Joseph still hasn't forgiven me for the hell I put him through with the graphic novel. That said, I am confident that his drawing hand will heal in another few years. Doctors have assured me.

4/ If you woke tomorrow and were no longer constrained by time, budgets or even skills that you haven’t learned yet, what would you make?

Fucking Death Star man! But only for humanitarian purposes.

I’m P M Buchan, a comic-book writer and co-creator of BLACKOUT, LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI, LOVE WILL TEAR US APART, HERETICS, HANGOVER, BLOOD MOON and more. You can see my comics and find contact details on my website.

I’m limited in what I can do to change the world, other than doing my best to raise my children to be decent humans, but there is one thing that I can offer. If you’re a comic creator from a minority group who is struggling to get traction for your work, or feel like your career has been derailed by men in positions of authority, over the next month I’d like to offer some of my time on a video call to advise you about PR. I can offer things like teaching you how and why to write a press release (a class I sometimes offer to students at art universities) or advise you on the best way to get media coverage for your work and how to approach journalists and editors.

I have a short amount of time free during evenings on weekdays and don’t know how much demand there’ll be for my help, but I have been working in PR professionally for around a decade and have worked for clients as varied as one of the UK’s leading insurance software providers (think of what goes on behind the scenes to make price comparison websites work!), the UK’s leading flooring adhesive company (think hygienic hospital floor refurbishments!), to dementia specialist care villages and one of the world’s leading iPad digital graphic novel publishers. When you’re creating independent comics you need to temper your expectations about how much media interest to expect, but if you don’t already work in PR there’s sure to be something I can offer to help disadvantaged creators.

BLOOD MOON Chapter Two preview - Pre-coloured linework by John Pearson

Don’t forget to subscribe to John Pearson’s Patreon to be the first to read the complete Chapter Two of BLOOD MOON, which is coming soon, created with Aditya Bidikar and Hannah Means-Shannon. Take care of yourself. Remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, so don’t burn out unless you think it’s going to make a difference. And get in touch with me on Twitter @PMBuchan to discuss anything that you want to talk about from this newsletter.

Writing from the ❤️

Also SNIFF GLUE, WORSHIP SATAN + an interview with Konner Knudsen

BLOOD MOON Chapter Two, Part Two, is coming. Catch up on everything that’s happened to Owen Fitzwilliam and family since their ill-fated excursion to Trenance Apple Festival at and subscribe to co-creator John Pearson’s Patreon to be the first to read the full chapter we’ve called SNIFF GLUE, WORSHIP SATAN.

BLOOD MOON Chapter Two, Part Two preview by John Pearson

John and I have both been busy recently working on concepts that we’ve been asked to submit to a couple of different publishers. It’s possible that nothing will come of either opportunity, but being asked is always a welcome confidence boost, particularly while the world is falling down around our ears.

Last newsletter, when I was thinking about generating story ideas, I incorrectly credited Phillip Marsden for WHAT’S INSIDE A GIRL?, which I worked on with Jack Fallows (as a remake of an older strip I’d drawn myself). Phil messaged me to let me know my mistake, also sending me a photo of an unfinished strip that we began working on years ago and which I’d never seen before. That got me thinking about the period when I was trying to mine personal experience for story ideas but hadn’t found a good way to make it work yet. 

I created my first comic, EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT, during my second year of university, at a time when there was no reason that any artist should give up their time to draw my ideas because I had no way to demonstrate that I’d be any better at writing comics than they were. EIGTBA was a very literal account of how I was feeling at that time in my life – hopeless, despondent and lost.

Fun fact: after I’d given up on convincing anybody else to draw it, one of my housemates at the time stepped in and offered to help, but by that point I’d convinced myself that it was something I needed to learn how to do alone. That housemate went on to play pivotal roles in the development of games including Far Cry 4 and Wheelman, most recently acting as a Creative Director at Electronic Arts Montreal, leading the creative vision for the single-player campaign in Star Wars: Battlefront II. Given his prodigal talents, just think about an alternate reality where we’d teamed up and made comics before he relocated to Canada...

Not long after idiotically persevering at drawing EIGTBA myself, I started working in a Newcastle-based comic-book store called Travelling Man, a chain established in 1991 that has been nominated for Eisner awards three times. During my lunch breaks, I tried to read every graphic novel in print and there seemed to be clear water between successful superhero comics and manga, and alternative diary comics such as Jeffrey Brown’s EVERY GIRL IS THE END OF THE WORLD FOR ME and Liz Prince’s WILL YOU STILL LOVE ME IF I WET THE BED? I didn’t have anybody to collaborate with on more mainstream-syle comics, so that made slice-of-life diary comics looking like the only viable option.

The problem was that diary comics didn’t feel like they belonged to me. The most successful British diary comic at the time was British Comic Award-founder Adam Cadwell’s THE EVERYDAY, which was a gentle, meandering account of his social life and everyday observations. Diary comics were for normal people, not for alternative types who wore red nail varnish and eyeliner to ska-punk nights and sunny Mad Caddies t-shirts to goth nights, never quite fitting in anywhere.

I might have persevered, but the real problem was that cartoonists have all the tools at their disposal to document the minutiae of their everyday lives, whereas if I wanted to create diary comics I’d need to convince an artist to draw them for me.

TRUE STORY page one – Art by Phillip Marsden

I had a couple of aborted attempts with Phillip Marsden, who I met working at Travelling Man and who I co-created BLACKOUT with, along with Jack Fallows. Phil and I worked on an entry for a Colt 45 competition that involved submitting a three-page comic strip about a good time that we’d had drinking their beer. In our case, this involved documenting the true story of the time that I was kidnapped walking home from a nightclub by two girls who bundled me into their car and drove me back to their flat, where they stole my phone and we stayed up all night talking and smoking weed. In hindsight, there was probably an invitation there for me to do more than sleep alone on their settee, but nonetheless that’s all that happened.

The competition entry was unsuccessful. Because I had so many improbably tales from my misspent youth, I hoped that Phil and I would turn them all into comics, but he had better things to do with his time. See below an aborted attempt at a comic about being 16 years old and hanging around Old Eldon Square in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne with my friend Gav, an older punk who took me under his wing and was always happy to drink super-strength cider with me before we went to watch bands at the Black Swan. At a time when everyone else at my school was hanging around fields on a Friday night drinking alcopops, the Black Swan was the first place that I ever drank alcohol and became my home away from home for a couple of years.

Unfinished strip by Phillip Marsden & P M Buchan

Fun fact number two: the Black Swan is where I met another Newcastle teenager, Richard Dawson, who was part of our extended circle of friends, and who grew up to be one of the UK’s best-loved folk-influenced musician. The Guardian gave his most recent album five stars!

BLACKOUT IV cover by Phillip Marsden

The more literal comics weren’t working and it wasn’t until Phil Marsden and I created THE THREE COFFINS for BLACKOUT that I really found a way to make autobiography work for me. Set in the afterlife and filled with succubi and suicides, it took all my feelings of inadequacy, fear of missing out, fear of making the wrong decision and fear of indecision, and used them as fuel to create something new. That was probably the turning point when I realised that emotions, not events, were what I should be mining when I write. Emotional truth is what I care most about. I can’t stand stories where you know that the characters will eventually drop a ring off in Mordor, whatever string of coincidences and manipulations are needed to get them there. What I love are stories like SCALPED, where the characters are true to themselves and where plot is led by characters, not the other way around.

THE THREE COFFINS - Art by Phillip Marsden

That was where my writing style was born. I want to write in a way that’s emotionally honest, whatever the cost, because the world is full of bullshit and I don’t want to live surrounded by liars. Emotional integrity informs the majority of what I’ve written since BLACKOUT, where every strip is an inverse wish-fulfilment cautionary tale about getting what you wish for and everything turning to ashes in your mouth as a result. LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI began as a cautionary tale for people tempted to stray from the path of their relationships. I guess you could call it my adult version of Little Red Riding Hood.

Everything that I’ve written since builds on that core concept. BLOOD MOON is populated by a cast of characters who are tempted to do what’s easy instead of what’s right, to turn their backs on commitment and responsibility because it’s easier to pursue something new than it is to put in the work to fix something difficult.

The witches and ghouls and goblins that I write could be real or imaginary, but they’re not what interests me the most. What interests me is how people respond to the threat posed by monsters. What happens when a person reaches their breaking point, or feels pressured to do the thing they promised to themselves that they would never do. What’s left when you deconstruct the charade that we create to protect ourselves? I don’t know if I’ll ever find the answer, but I enjoy asking the question.

Each newsletter I speak to an artist whose work has inspired me and this week I’ve interviewed Konner Knudsen, a writer and editor of comics, short fiction and poetry who currently works as an Assistant Editor at Dark Horse Comics.

Konner is one of a new generation of professionals who are challenging the status quo in the comic-book industry. My money is on Konner to be the editor behind some of the most exciting new titles in the coming decade, after paying his dues and working on a string of successful licensed comics including Stranger Things, Aliens, Eerie, Creepy and American versions of one of my favourite manga series, Berserk.

1/ What drove you to become an artist and how have your motivations changed over time?

You know, I have written and deleted about five different answers to this question, because it is about deciding which moment was the moment, right? But all those answers boiled down into one truth: I was a lonely kid in rural Oregon with very few friends and a big imagination. So I started creating my own stories. Art (to me) is about sharing stories, emotions, and feelings. My motivation has never changed in that regard, it is a constant reaching out for connection.

However, I think there is a difference between creating art and “becoming an artist”. That moment happened when I was about half finished with a degree in psychology when I came upon the realization that I wanted to be a writer instead of a therapist. I began taking my art seriously, no longer just leaving my poems and short stories in notebooks to rot, but typing them up, seeking out critique. Investing time and sweat into my craft.

Then again, years later re-committing to being an artist when I decided to go back to school for comics after spending my mid-twenties working 40 – 50 hours a week in a very cold butcher shop at a horribly-cheap American grocery chain. It is really easy to lose sight of your creative goals when your day job feels like a pissed off elephant putting its foot on your back and pressing you into the mud... I decided, the risk was worth it and the debt was worth it, if it meant I could have more tools to tell the stories I wanted to tell.

I don’t think my motivation ever shifted; it’s always been about connection. It has always been me reaching out with my truth, hoping that others would relate or feel better about their own lives, even for a moment.

2/ How did your creative path lead you to start work as an editor?

Honestly, I initially became an editor because I was seeking out community. Before I was an editor at Dark Horse, I started a small regional lit Journal called Cascadia Rising Review with my writing group. We just wanted to figure out what the “voice” of the Pacific Northwest is, you know? Help other folks in our community share their work. It was great, and my friends have been continuing that dream.

In pursuit of honing my own craft as a writer, I sought out every possible avenue for learning that I could afford, which eventually led me to apply for an internship at Dark Horse Comics. I suppose in the pursuit of improving my craft I discovered I didn’t only want to tell my own stories but wanted to help other people tell their stories too. And of course, comics are wonderfully collaborative as a medium, and the world is full of passionate folks eager to tell stories together.

3/ Who or what has been the greatest source of inspiration across your career?

This is cheesy, your readers might hate it, but it is my father. You see, he is a fantastic oral storyteller (as was his dad), the kind of person you may find at any bar or pub. The noisy bastard in the corner with four or five people gathered around him laughing or on the edge of their seats awaiting the punchline.

As annoying as that person tends to be, you start listening, you lean in, you are hooked by whatever yarn he is spinning, and even though you might not admit it out loud, you were entertained. I grew up with that guy. He would come home at 10pm from a 12-15 hour workday and make up some fantastic tale from scratch just to get me to go to sleep when I was a kid. He has been there at every crisis, and every life-altering catastrophe ready to help, and willing to listen. He taught me how to always get back up after getting knocked down and never once told me to give up on my dreams.

4/ What kind of qualities do you look for in collaborators as part of your role at Dark Horse?

I seek out those with an extreme love for comics. People who are telling their stories in this medium because they can’t imagine telling them any other way.  Folks who choose to do things the harder way if it means the final piece will be that much better.

I look for people who are: flexible, determined, innovative, passionate, honest, and unique. People who get that glint in their eye when you start talking about the comics that inspire you. Those who see the alchemy of every page and aren’t afraid to jump in.

5/ What have you learned about making comics that you wish you had known earlier in your career?

That you don’t need anyone’s permission to make comics. You don’t need an agent or a publisher to approve of your pitch. You can literally sit at your kitchen table by yourself or with friends and make a comic by hand from scratch and print it out at a local library.

Also, don’t be shy about seeking collaborators, you never know what one of your peers might think of your work. Just taking that awkward first step of saying to a stranger or acquaintance, “hey, I really love your work on ______, it would be a dream to work with you on something someday.”

There might be other things, but they are small compared to these two. Take that leap, dear reader. Tell your stories, reach out!

6/ If you woke tomorrow and were no longer constrained by time, budgets or even skills that you haven’t learned yet, what would you make?

Oh boy, remember those piles of notebooks I told you about earlier? I have a story in there that has been waiting to find its way onto the printed page for way too long. I would finish making that, probably as a massive graphic novel.

This week’s playlist, Top Shop Tyrant, began as a compilation of my favourite new tracks released each week on Spotify over the past year or so, and grew into a catalogue of some of the best bands I discovered in 2019 and 2020.

From the timeless heavy metal of Bokassa to the stomping insights of IDLES via a handful of Japanese punk bands, Tropical Fuck Storm and the increasingly relevant political punk songs Die For The Government by Sharptooth and Hate Conquers All by Anti-Flag, I hope you’ll give this one a go and discover something new.

I started collecting links to some of the most interesting things I’ve found on the internet recently, for your amusement.

  • Since the coronavirus pandemic, museums have been increasingly active on social media, sharing virtual access to their collections. One of my favourite examples has been a tweet from Barnsley Museum that enticed museums from around the world to share the creepiest objects in their collections.

  • The Studio Ghibli museum is offering video tours during lockdown, revealing its secrets to those of us who have never been able to visit. We’ve more or less raised both of our children on Studio Ghibli movies, following a love affair that I had as a child with the US-dubbed re-release of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind as Warriors of the Wind

If you want to talk about anything discussed in this newsletter, say hi to me on Twitter. I’m P M Buchan, co-creator with John Pearson, Aditya Bidikar and Hannah Means-Shannon of the comic-book series BLOOD MOON, a contemporary English folk-horror set on the eve of the UK’s divisive Brexit referendum. I’m co-creator of HERETICS, LOVE WILL TEAR US APART, LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI, and BLACKOUT, and have written for magazines including The Times Literary Supplement, Rue Morgue, Starburst and SCREAM: The Horror Magazine.

The world is burning out there so take care of yourselves and make sure the people that you care about know that you love them. I’m so deeply embedded in UK politics that I don’t feel qualified to talk about what’s happening in the US right now, other than to say that #blacklivesmatter and that “'A riot is the language of the unheard.” Everything that I know about policing and the American legal system, I probably learned listening to the third series of the SERIAL podcast.

We haven’t had much of a history of civil disobedience in the UK in the past couple of hundred years, but I do know that tackling gross structural inequality and achieving meaningful change isn’t easy wherever you are in the world. Whatever you do, stay safe.

Apocalypse Romance

+ an interview with Lucy Sullivan & meditations on Helter Skelter...

Recently I reached the midway point in writing scripts for BLOOD MOON and my mind is circling around what I want to write next. I have around six pitches for graphic novels, ongoing comic-book series and European-style one-shots that I’m hunting for editors or publishers to work on with, but experience has taught me not to get too far ahead writing scripts before finding a way for the artist to get paid for their time. Otherwise, down that road lies the regret of pouring your heart into a project that nobody might ever see. Comics are not prose and a script that will never be illustrated is nothing more than a coaster for your drink.

I’m thinking about what I want to write next and this stage feels familiarly uncertain, as I prod and poke at recurring thoughts and concepts, feelings and images. I make no secret of the fact that in my head, everything I write is a love story, but I don’t know whether anybody but me would see my stories that way. When I first started pitching to publishers, I described my style as Apocalypse Romance – transgressive love stories about the difference between dreams and reality. I think that probably that still stands.

My first novel, which was how I taught myself to write, was a love story set at the end of the world, based on the John Keats poems LAMIA and the EVE OF ST AGNES. It was about feeling trapped in my home city, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, about feeling paralysed by indecision and a lack of conviction. But also, because it was my first novel-length story, it was also about everything else and must have suffered from the same kind of sprawling ambition and lack of focus that drags down so many first novels. Bret Easton Ellis, I was not.

If I’d known what a singular vision I had of growing up in Newcastle, of longing to escape at the same time as desperately trying to fit in with people who never wanted to leave, then I might have written a better novel. I suspect that those are concepts I’ll revisit one day.

BLACKOUT - WHAT’S INSIDE A GIRL? artwork by Jack Fallows

Our obscene horror-comix anthology, BLACKOUT, is probably the most honest appraisal of how I felt growing up in Newcastle, because thematically most of my strips in the anthology stemmed from fears around the drinking problems that I developed there. As an early teenager, I lost my way at school. I felt isolated, aimless and friendless, until the first time that I drank alcohol, which was also the first time that I went to a bar, the first time I kissed a girl and the first time I kissed somebody else’s girlfriend. My social life was transformed overnight and within a month I went from having no friends at school to hanging around with Newcastle’s punks, skaters and goths.

Alcohol worked brilliantly, giving me the confidence boost that I needed to grow into the person I’d always wanted to be. It worked brilliantly, until it didn’t. One day I had my first blackout, and it seemed funny, like a rite of passage, but they became longer and more frequent, until I couldn’t drink in my early twenties without losing any recollection of the night before. Then I started having these intense nightmares about blacking out and waking up to be told that I’d killed somebody and we’d buried the body somewhere and agreed to keep it a secret. I’d wake so disoriented that I couldn’t tell the difference between dreams and reality, wondering what had happened, where the body was and who else knew.

My next comic, LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI, was borne from my love of the poem of the same name by Keats, combined with an inescapable feeling that one of the greatest poems in the English language perpetuated and promoted the misogynistic myth of the wicked woman, which would eventually morph into film noir’s femme fatale. Surely nobody is just born evil? We can do wicked things out of necessity, or be shaped by our upbringing and circumstances to behave in seemingly wicked ways, but surely that’s not the same as being born evil?

LBDSM Chapter Four preview by Karen Yumi Lusted (work in progress!)

That line of thought led me down an avenue that I’ve never really escaped. I read Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry’s 1974 book HELTER SKELTER: The True Story of The Manson Murders, which was my introduction to a group of all-American teenagers who broke into a famous actor’s house and murdered her and her unborn baby. The more I read about Charles Manson and his followers, the more fascinated I became. They were not so much all-American teens, but a collection of individuals who were intrinsically damaged by parental neglect, hardship and cruelty, and whose lives were ruined when they fell under the influence of an older, charismatic self-styled guru whose own childhood was the most horrific of them all.

My second novel, which I still haven’t quite finished, is based on those ideas – what it would be like to fall in love with someone who became trapped in the orbit of somebody charismatic and profoundly broken, like Charles Manson.

Some ideas are so complex and compelling that a single story doesn’t feel like enough to address them. The Manson Family weren’t criminal geniuses, they were mostly kids, off their faces on LSD in the desert, starving in the desert while they waited in vain for stardom to come knocking. Their reign of terror ended because they were overconfident and none of them knew anything about discretion. But what if they hadn’t been stopped? If their cult had continued, what would it be like growing up in a family like that? That idea gave birth to HERETICS.

Preview from HERETICS issue zero, artwork by Martin Simmonds

As I’ve grown older my capacity to love has changed, accommodating more than just the romantic love that preoccupied my twenties. My one-shot, LOVE WILL TEAR US APART, was about the love of a parent, as was the short story that I also included in that collection, DRINKING BLEACH INSTEAD. That one was also about a world ravaged by a new strain of flu, which seems less fantastical now than it did then, sadly.

DRINKING BLEACH INSTEAD, illustration by John Pearson

BLOOD MOON is possibly an inevitable response to having relocated cities several times, and the realisation that it’s possible to give up one identity and find nothing to replace it with. BLOOD MOON is a response to the feelings of hostility and alienation that so many of us felt around the Brexit referendum. I’ll never forget the week before the vote, when I was posting campaign fliers through people’s letterboxes and realised how frightened I was that somebody would answer their door and confront me. We’ve lost the ability in England to disagree without shouting at each other and threatening physical violence.

BLOOD MOON is about the different ways that men and women love, the different love of a father to a mother, of a sister to a son. It’s about the resentment and anger that you feel when your child has needs that you don’t feel equipped to provide for, about reaching out for help and the world turning its back on you. It’s also about witchcraft and demons, I suppose, but isn’t everything?

What comes next is uncharted territory. The ideas are percolating, but there’s never any knowing how long these snapshot images, hunches and characters will take to bear fruit.

BLOOD MOON Chapter Two, part one, is now available to read for John Pearson’s Patreon backers. Created by John, Aditya Bidikar, Hannah Means-Shannon and me, this is the second part of our contemporary English folk-horror set on the eve of the UK’s divisive Brexit referendum.

Eddie Morrow and friends are hiding out in Trevarrion Manor, trying to escape the consequences of their actions, while Owen Fitzwilliam comes to terms with the pact that he made to avenge the death of his son, Harley. The noose is tightening as the demon draws nearer.

Chapter Two, part two is underway and hopefully after you’ve read part one you’ll see why I’m so excited, waiting for the dominoes to fall.

This week’s playlist has absolutely nothing to do with BLOOD MOON or any of the comics that I’ve ever written. The sun has been fierce here in Devon today, making me long for the days when we can head back to the beach and go out kayaking in the sea. Here are some of the songs I love to listen to on a hot, sunny day:

To accompany the release of her first full-length graphic novel, BARKING, I’ve interviewed Lucy Sullivan. Based in London, Lucy is a freelance artist, storyboard artist and critically-acclaimed animation director, based in London. She graduated from Kingston University in 2005 with BA (Hons) in Illustration & Animation, and has taught Life Drawing, Location Drawing & Observational Drawing for Animation at Kingston University, Westminster University & London College of Communication (University of the Arts London).

BARKING was successfully crowdfunded with Unbound with over 280 backers, was co-commissioned by The Lakes International Comic Art Festival and supported with public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England. Exploring the uncomfortable truths about how society reacts to a person in the grip of a severe mental health crisis, BARKING is reminiscent of the work of Ashley Wood, Ralph Steadman and Dave McKean. In short, it’s brilliant, as is Lucy, who’s currently working on INDEXED, a low-Fi/sci-fi comic written by the awesomely acerbic Scottish writer, Fraser Campbell.

1/ What first motivated you to want to work professionally as an artist and have these motivations changed over time?

Probably the greatest push was my Dad dying suddenly. I was raised in a pub, so worked in hospitality from about 18. By that age I had flunked out of 6th form college and decided to work bars and travel, driven by a passion for snowboarding. It was an enjoyable but fairly vacuous time. I kept drawing throughout and made myself little comics and illustrations but when I came home from New Zealand, after Dad’s death and my subsequent mental health crisis, I had to re-evaluate how I was living. I’d seen a psychotherapist and through that realised how important drawing was for me and decided to go to Uni to pursue it professionally. Initially, I was drawn to Fine Arts and Life Drawing but quickly realised that at Art School this is found more in Illustration.

I took my degree at Kingston School of Art which is a combined Animation & Illustration BA and fell in love with hand-drawn animation. I worked in that area for a while after graduating and taught Life Drawing at the same time before moving into Comics. I do find that I get driven by a particular idea and that tends to push me towards the area I want to work in, for example, when I was making BARKING (always intended as a comic), I took a course in Oil Painting to keep up my Fine Arts practice and that in turn will become an influence on my next comic. It’s a kind of rolling, changing motivation influenced by ideas and influences coalescing until they start to take a solid form.

Choosing to be an artist is the best decision I made in those dark days and I’m very grateful to have the circumstances now that can allow me to do it full time.

2/ What piece of art or artist has most inspired you in your life and how?

I have varied influence in terms of Arts & Artists and very open to new inspiration. However, I have definitely been somewhat obsessed by certain creators.

In terms of Comic Artists; Dave McKean, Taiyo Matsumoto, Eleanor Davis, Lorenzo Mattotti, Katsuhiro Otomo & Gipi are continually inspiring. I love painting and traditional artists too and can spend hours staring at a Caravaggio, Egon Schiele or Jenny Saville and there is nothing more relaxing than drifting into the world of Yayoi Kusama. I listen to music constantly, read books or audiobooks whilst working and have a broad tastes there too but a definite focus on science & speculative fiction and fantasy/horror genres. We watch a lot of film, animation and TV in our house too and find I’m as influenced by that as much as anything else and would happily spend a lifetime watching Studio Ghibli or Del Toro films.

I don’t think I could pick a singular work to encompass all of that. I am absolutely an amalgamation of influences throughout my lifetime stretching back to the 1970s and hope that continues throughout my life. If I had to name some mind altering creations that I wouldn’t be me without… Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, American Werewolf in London, The Dark Crystal, Tank Girl, Pan’s Labyrinth and Akira.

BARKING preview by Lucy Sullivan

3/ What one creative lesson have you learned that you wish you could travel back in time and tell your younger self?

Just get on with it! Stop worrying about what people will think, if it’s going to be good or not and just make it. I wish I’d followed my love of comics much earlier on and although I don’t think any good comes from regret it’s a nagging one for me. However, the other areas I’ve worked in, particularly animation and taught me a few rules I apply when I work as standard.

Never create for an audience, make your work as you intended it. Be brave enough to discard sections that aren’t adding to a project or as writers say ‘Kill Your Darlings’ and always understand and obey the rules of the universe you create. Other than that, make the bloody thing Lucy and stop procrastinating!

4/ If you could collaborate with anybody in history, living or dead, who would it be and why?

What a quandary! I couldn’t choose one though but instead add a time-travelling aspect where I could hop through eras and genres. Learn to paint in Medici era Tuscany or Successionist Vienna, then break all the rules at 1960s art schools with Hockney and Freud and follow it up make 1980s horror films with John Landis and 1990s experimental animation in Bristol and that all gets pulled together on an epic graphic novel with a great writer like Iain Banks in the style of Transition.

I’d be a happy creator. I’d also bite my arm off to work with Margaret Atwood, Max Porter or Nick Harkaway. I love authors whose work taps into my mind in a way that makes me feel like they merely articulated my thoughts but in a far more sophisticated and somewhat nightmarish way than I ever could.

4/ If you woke tomorrow and were no longer constrained by time, budgets or even skills that you haven’t learned yet, what would you make?

An animated feature film. It would be hand-drawn and painted, perhaps even with live-action sequences but mostly it would be epic in it’s sprawling, narrative arc in the vain of Akira. I would employ some favourite creators, writers, artists and composers to help develop it and bring to life. In fact my next graphic novel idea would be perfect for this and in many ways BARKING was animated in my head. I’d love a crack at a full-length animation of that too. It would take a lifetime but would be time very well spent. I do like being in full control of my stories as an artist/writer but I miss collaborating and working as a team, it would be great to be in a studio environment again and a collective immersion in a creating a singular work.

If you can’t wait to read BLOOD MOON Chapter Two, part one, sign up at John Pearson’s Patreon page and get first access, along with previews of his working methods and tons of other projects that he’s working on.

BLOOD MOON Chapter Two preview

Get in touch on Twitter @PMBuchan if you want to talk about anything in this newsletter. Take care of yourself and hang in there for better days.

All Roads Lead To Hell

+ an interview with HEAVY author Dan Franklin

One of the most beautiful things about comic-books is that there are no barriers to entry. To get started making comics, all you really need is a blank sheet of paper, a pencil and a pen. There are no monetary budgets limiting what you can put on the page and in theory, nobody can stop you from bringing your vision to life. However, the ease of entry can also lead to a lack of quality control. That same freedom can also become an obstacle that hinders your growth. To improve and identify your own weaknesses, you’ll need an editor.

One of the most significant moments in my career as a writer stemmed from one of the first editorial teams that I ever worked with, who opened doors for me that had previously been closed. That moment was working on the eight-page strip, ALL ROADS LEAD TO HELL.

DISCONNECTED Volume Two cover by Matthew Soffe (2012)

In 2012, UK comics felt like they were in a strange place. You could see it in the British Comic Awards (BCAs), which were established that year as an antidote to the bias towards creators working on mainstream US titles that had been championed by the Eagle Awards before their demise. Unfortunately for me and a lot of my peers, the nominees and judges for the BCAs reflected the dominant taste within British comics at the time, which leaned more towards autobiographical diary comics and an aversion to more overtly “genre” comics with fantasy, horror or sci-fi trappings.

This has been the case in the UK for years, with the majority of mainstream news coverage favouring more ostensibly noble comics, presumably because of the misguided notion that an art form’s validity is directly proportionate to how many people it can entertain. I’m joking, but only partially. There should be room for sensitive graphic novels about the end of the summer and historical biographies to be celebrated side-by-side with bubble-gum chewing comics about brash punks on space stations, but the remit of what seems to be deigned worthy of acclaim or scrutiny in the UK is still very narrow and feels fuelled by the same prejudice that values literary fiction over genre fiction.

Around 2012 was the period that I was working on the obscene horror-comix anthology BLACKOUT. I was intensely proud of what we had created, but it felt like I wanted to make comics that nobody in the UK wanted to read. The darker and more offensive the stories that I was writing, the more sweetness and light seemed to be celebrated and sought after by publishers. However, that same year, Lizzie and Conor Boyle set up Disconnected Press, to publish comic anthologies that gave a platform to some of the great emerging talent in UK comics.

In Lizzie’s own words, “There seemed to be a gap between self-publishing your work and being a comics pro, and we thought it was important to give creators a chance to expand their portfolios and their range and to reach a wider audience. We included ourselves in this: we were both aspiring newbies back then.”

They knew what they were talking about too. Since then, Lizzie has gone on to write for 2000AD's Scream & Misty and Cor Buster Specials and edited their Tammy & Jinty Special last year. Conor, one of my favourite creators in the UK, has drawn for Heavy Metal, Titan, the National Trust and Historic Scotland, among others. I’ve been hoping to collaborate on something meaningful with Conor for years, but the closest we’ve come to date was his inclusion in the HERETICS exhibition that we held as part of Thought Bubble.

When Disconnected Press was a new endeavour, I was trying to stretch myself and contribute to as many anthologies and group projects as possible. Lizzie and Conor edited and published an anthology called DISCONNECTED, pairing up writers and artists who had never met, so as soon as I heard about it there was no question that I’d try submitting something. The artist that they paired me with was, at the time, a relatively unknown illustrator and graphic designer called Martin Simmonds, who is now working with Joe Hill on DYING IS EASY for IDW, after a celebrated run on PUNKS NOT DEAD, also for IDW/Black Crown, with David Barnett, Aditya Bidikar and Shelly Bond.

I asked Lizzie why she first paired us up, beginning a series of collaborations that would stretch on for years. “The theme for the DISCONNECTED anthologies was ‘stories set in small towns’,” Lizzie said, “but we never dictated genre or style. That was up to the creators. So you had these wild rides through horror, mystery, romance, comedy and usually back to horror again.”

“We knew that you were always going to write us something dark and there's a tendency to look for the artist that uses the most black ink for those stories. But why not let horror be rich and lush? Martin's work is like walking through a rainforest: it's dense, it's humid, the world is closing in on you, but it's also beautiful and vibrant and alive. With the doomed teen romance horror vibe of the story, why not put those two styles together? We had no idea what it would lead to...!”

Our eight-page strip, ALL ROADS LEAD TO HELL, was lettered by Jim Campbell and featured in DISCONNECTED Volume Two. The cover of the anthology was even based on our strip, illustrated by Matt Soffe. Because of that strip, Martin and I also worked together on a two-page strip for Starburst Magazine, Martin contributed a cover to my pitch for a DOOMED ROMANTICS anthology of graphic adaptations of dark romanticism, and eventually we worked together on the series HERETICS, the zero issue of which was published by 44FLOOD.

ALL ROADS LEAD TO HELL distilled a lot of the themes that I still circle around in my writing, of death and rebirth and what lies beyond. Collectively, Lizzie and Conor were the first people to show me what an editor could bring to the table in a professional relationship. If they hadn’t take a chance on pairing me with Martin, there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t be making the dark art that I love so much today. Collaborating with Martin allowed me to prove that my ability to create disturbing horror-comedy would translate into something more serious and long-form. They were the first editors to take a chance on me in that way, setting me on the path that led to working with artist John Pearson on our current contemporary folk-horror, BLOOD MOON.

Editors who can connect you with creators you’ve never collaborated with before are invaluable. I’ve worked with some incredible artists, people who now regularly carry their own Image series or are commissioned by Marvel and DC for some of their top work-for-hire properties, but having chosen so successfully, that means that when I’m working on pitches to publishers I need to hunt down artists on the cusp of breaking through who are also looking for writers to work with.

BLOOD MOON Chapter One - Page 11, artwork by John Pearson

As an example, look at the work John Pearson and I are doing together on BLOOD MOON. Since we first came up with those ideas, John has contributed to multiple books for Image, including now colouring BLUE IN GREEN with Ram V, Anand RK, Aditya Bidikar and Tom Muller. If John isn’t on the cusp of breaking through to the big time, then I’ve never met anybody who is! It’s like trying to capture lightning in a bottle, being in the right place at the right time to find collaborators on a similar level to you, but editors are ideally placed to make those connections.

On Twitter yesterday Shelly Bond, former Executive Editor and Vice President of Vertigo Comics famous and founder of Black Crown, said “The best editors ask the right questions & most important: hold you accountable. Editing comics has always been an invigorating art form for me. Part conducting a symphony, part yanking out the guts of an old car. There’s no greater job on earth.” Which sounds like a pretty great summary of what an editor brings to the mix in comics. I’ve been fortunate enough already to work with some excellent editors, all of whom have taught me something that has improved everything I’ve written since.

Kasra Ghanbari used to make me read out all of my scripts over a video call while we were editing, a habit that really helps to streamline your dialogue and sift out any clunkers! And Hannah Means-Shannon, who’s currently editing BLOOD MOON, used to ask me to cut out, on average, about a million words on every page of dialogue that I had written, until I got the message and started to edit myself more ruthlessly before sharing scripts with her.

For ambitious, emerging comic creators with limited budgets, it feels like editors complicate the process of making comics by adding another person in the mix who needs to get paid for their time. But when you’re ready to take that next step towards improving your work, they become absolutely invaluable.

This week I’ve interviewed Dan Franklin, author of the recently released HEAVY: HOW METAL CHANGES THE WAY WE SEE THE WORLD. I first became aware of Dan’s work in 2013, when I narrowly missed meeting him at the launch of Panel Nine’s iPad digital graphic novel app, SEQUENTIAL. This was a year before Dan worked with author Rob Sherman on the interactive online fiction project, BLACK CROWN (no relation to Shelly Bond’s publishing label!), a grossly physical, Cronenbergian nightmare of a story.

In the course of his career Dan has worked as Digital Editor for Canongate and Penguin Random House, and later as Digital Publisher for Penguin Random House UK and Senior Commissioning Editor for Pottermore Publishing. I’m pretty sure he played an instrumental role in the online version of The British Library's Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition. And most relevant to my interests, he writes about some seriously dark and heavy music for The Quietus!

1/ What is the one realisation or event in your life that has most influenced your career to date?

It was being made redundant from my job in the publishing industry in 2016. It knocked me off my axis but spurred me to change my approach and become more dispassionate about work. I also got some good advice when I departed, which was to pursue something I truly 'owned'. As someone who specialises in digital publishing I often got co-opted into projects. It was one of the reasons I pursued writing harder as a second string. No book is published in isolation but when it's got your name on it, it's yours (under license! haha)

2/ What lessons have you learned in publishing or what hunches have you had that you wish more people would act upon?

I love the publishing world, but too often new entrants conform to the way things have always been done. There is very little active mentoring and practical career guidance, so young people have to learn by observation. That lends itself to doing things the tried and tested way: from the cadence of meetings to the types of books being published.

This has improved in the last five years with a generational shift across the industry, but as someone with a specialist interest in digital publishing I didn't like terms like futurologist or any crap like that. I want to be present and active in the 'now', anticipating the future. If more incumbents acted on this mindset I think the industry would have been better prepared for the disruption currently wrecking havoc. 

3/ What is it about heavy music that you feel makes it such a vital part of your life?

Well, I wrote HEAVY to ask this question and attempt to answer it! Even now, things occur to me that I could have included. There is (and I think this is essential) an ineffable quality to heavy music which defies explanation (like a lot of music to those that love it). But to narrow it down, it's a lot to do with the overwhelming sound energy of heavy music - there is no quarter given, it is 'All Out Life' as Slipknot put it.

I like the way that heavy music explodes small stuff into feeling like it is of all-consuming significance: it's quite solipsistic in that sense but also deeply life-affirming. And I like how it grapples with the BIG STUFF (power, death, sex, violence, anger, love, etc), in the same way as Greek tragedy, high opera, 19th-century Russian epic novels. You can listen to more intimate music (and heaviness can be intimate too), but it's just perfect for tapping into the emotional arteries. I'm very happy as a solitary listener to heavy music but I appreciate the passion of the community as well.

4/ If you could travel anywhere in time, what gig or musical event would you travel to and why?

This is tough. I would have loved to have seen Miles Davis and John Coltrane at their height (together or apart, either fine!) I'm lucky that a lot of the seventies heavy rock greats have reformed in one form or another, but to sit in on Pink Floyd recording 'Live At Pompeii' would have been mind-blowing (l've always wanted to be one of the shirtless guys manning the cameras you seen in the wide shot at the beginning). Also, I would have killed to see Pantera in some arena in the midwest of the US when they were at their peak in '96-'98. 

5/ If you woke tomorrow and were no longer constrained by time, budgets or even skills that you haven’t learned yet, what would you make?

I would love to create an experience that would last a lifetime. I have a pipe dream about putting on a weekender at the Minack Theatre in Cornwall - like a stoner/doom concert like no other (inspired by something like 'Live At Pompeii'). I have no experience of anything like that or how to go about it, but I have an inkling. Fuck it, I might try it!

BLOOD MOON is a contemporary British folk-horror set on the eve of the UK’s divisive Brexit referendum. BLOOD MOON is created by me, John Pearson, Aditya Bidikar and Hannah Means-Shannon. You can read the story so far online, with future chapters released to John’s Patreon subscribers first before being added to the main webcomic.

Normally, every newsletter I like to share a Spotify playlist that exposes you to the music that inspires me when I write. This week, however, it seems appropriate to share the link to Dan’s HEAVY playlist, designed to “impart something of the power and magic of heavy music”. Which is a cause that I believe is worth fighting for! 🤘

Stay strong during this period of isolation. We’re coping much better at home now after a period of adjustment, my writing has been more productive and I’ve found time to start playing through the new Final Fantasy VII remake, which has a save structure that’s very forgiving towards a dad who can only play in unpredictable 20-minute bursts!

BLOOD MOON chapter two is still on the horizon. I’m not hassling the others in the team, because we’re all managing workloads around coronavirus in our own ways and the world won’t end if the second part of chapter two takes another week or so. I finished writing chapter three and there’s some pretty horrific stuff in there, so it feels like the story is really ramping up. Every story that I write always escalates eventually into the Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe of “who will survive and what will be left of them?”

Things aren’t all rosy, there are people very closer to me with severe vulnerability to the coronavirus, but for now we’re all isolating, we have a garden with space for the children to play, and we’re reaching a balance that makes the days more manageable, even if it doesn’t leave any one of us much personal space. I hope you’re managing too, any way you know how.

If you want to talk about anything in this newsletter, hit me up on Twitter @PMBuchan.

The struggle is real

+ an interview with comic-book writer Steve Orlando

I’m fighting to retain a sense of normality in a week where the world is anything but normal.

Alongside writing comics, I work in PR and comms for one of the UK’s last independent arts universities. I’ve been in regular contact with Public Health England about coronavirus since January, though I didn’t really comprehend what a threat it would be. It wasn’t until something like 8 March 2020 that the UK Prime Minister unveiled a public coronavirus action plan and began to advise against non-essential international travel. It wasn’t until 23 March 2020 that a lockdown within the UK was initiated to stop people leaving their houses. How many lives could have been saved if we had acted sooner?

Weirdly, right before things seemed to tip over the edge with global events, I reconnected with an old friend from school who I hadn’t spoken to in 20 years, since he dropped out and mysteriously disappeared from the face of the planet. Talking to him has really cheered me, because his vanishing was a question that I’ve wanted answers to for such a long time. We’re both trying to be respectful of each other’s life choices, but it feels like I might be living in a high concept pitch for a Netflix original series – a Jehovah’s Witness and a Satanist reconnect at the End of the World!

I’m in a fortunate position to weather the coming storm, but all the same, life is difficult. I don’t mind the isolation, because I’m happy sat alone in a cave writing, but being unable to visit the sea feels inordinately hard. I relocated to Devon on the South West coast of England, far from family and friends, to have easy access to the sea, because it rejuvenates me and gives me a sense of peace and purpose. To have it so close, but not be allowed to visit the beach, highlights how depressing the immediate surroundings are outside my front door.

A lifetime ago in 2019!

Until very recently I was taking my children to regular family therapy sessions, because growing up in a house where Pathological Demand Avoidance is present has its own unique challenges, and shapes us to respond at times in unhelpful, painful ways. This is my nice way of saying that I’m trying to find a way to work full time and fit in time for my own writing, around home-schooling two children who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to communicate with each other without a referee.

I’ve been thinking a lot about death recently, which probably shouldn’t be a surprise given that I’m watching live trackers of the global death rate in relation to coronavirus. I always worried that in a situation like this I’d let down the people that I love by giving in to selfish regrets, like a petulant child filled regretting every opportunity that being a responsible husband or father caused me to turn down. Happily, that isn’t the case. I’m mostly pleased that I’ve crammed so much into each day and never stopped to rest.

If you’re sinking, as I had been, I can heartily recommend putting up photographs of happy times around the house, to remind you of all the good times. Whether you can afford to have photos professionally printed and buy some cheap frames online or you’re doing it yourself on printer paper at home, I’m finding it liberating to walk around the house and see photos from past comic conventions, from days out with the kids, from snow days and birthdays.

I don’t know what the world is going to look like at the end of 2020 or what kind of lives we’ll return to, but I can’t wait for the freedom again to decide for myself where to go and when. I want to drive to Newquay and watch the surfers at Fistral beach, to Tintagel to dream about the time of King Arthur, and to Boscastle to visit the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. I want to go out into the sea on a kayak and stay out there all day, circumnavigating the coastline and exploring distant islands. Find something to look forward to and hold on tightly to it while we get through this year. Today I’m going to confirm my place at Thought Bubble comic convention in November 2020. Hopefully I’ll see you there.

BLOOD MOON chapter two is still on the horizon. I haven’t had time to properly catch up with John or Aditya or Hannah yet, but John assures me that life finds a way, and I have his solemn promise that those are his own words even if they sound eerily familiar.

John gives up a lot of time to create BLOOD MOON and might never see any money from it, so if you’re eager to see what comes next, the best way to secure his time is commission some other work from him to keep the lights on while we put our nightmares on the page.

Here’s a sneak peek of what’s to come.

BLOOD MOON chapter two preview by John Pearson

American comic-book writer Steve Orlando recently left DC Comics after completing a four-year exclusive contract with the publisher that saw him writing A-list series such as Wonder WomanJustice League of America and Martian Manhunter. I don’t know him well, but he seems like a lovely guy. I’ve been on Twitter long enough now to have met a lot of comic creators like Steve online before they hit the big time, and he’s one of the people that genuinely loves the medium and continues to champion the other creators who he met on his way up. If that’s not the measure of an artist, to use your platform to amplify the voices of others who don’t have the same reach, then I don’t know what is.

And Steve is all about amplifying voices that haven’t been widely heard in comics in the past. His work has been nominated for a GLAAD Media Award, recognising his “outstanding representations of LGBT community and the issues that affect their lives”. His Midnighter series was named by io9 as "The Best Portrayal of a Gay Superhero in Mainstream Comics." So what I’m saying is that if you haven’t read any of his comics yet, you should really check them out.

1/ What first motivated you to become a writer and, as you face new challenges, have your motivations changed over time?

My first motivation was a love of the medium - going back to the mid-90s, when I would see editorial pieces about how stories came together and Marvel and DC, I knew I wanted to be part of that process. Hell, that's why I went to my first comicon at 12 years old, to try to start breaking in. Almost two decades later, I got the foot in the door. But I kept working because I knew, even if there were things I did to pay the rent in between, that writing and storytelling was the only thing I wanted to do. And now that I've BEEN in for some time, the challenges are of course different.

I have to push myself not to become comfortable in one place, with one type of storytelling, or one character. Or even one medium! Since coming to comics, I've found a new love of prose and screenwriting, and so now, the motivation is to always be on the hunt for the new: new formats, new genres, new storytelling and new ideas. Find the new ideas, express them in news ways, give readers the innovation they deserve, not comfort food.

2/ What piece of art or artist has most inspired you in your life?

Probably Bulgakov's MASTER AND MARGARITA, my favourite novel. In context, it's a powerful piece written in a time of creative oppression, acting as both an elegant farce about a society circling the drain of amorality, and as an ode to the power of creation itself. "Manuscripts don't burn" is a defiant mantra for every creator struggling to speak truth and push boundaries, and it's also a memento mori, especially considering this piece as published after Bulgakov died.

It's a reminder of the importance of the work, even acknowledging the battle could be pyrrhic, it may not reap rewards in our lifetime. But just like manuscripts don't burn, stories never die, and so that phrase becomes a constant inspiration to produce work you'll be happy to know will outlive you - even if you don't plan on checking out anytime soon.

3/ What does your creative process look like – if the comics that we’ve seen so far are the tip of the iceberg, what goes on under the surface that we don’t normally see?

Days and weeks of research and stress, mostly! I keep an idea board in my office, since it's common for me to have a lot of possible ideas in the course of researching whatever I'm working on for the day's topline. So the board is where I throw my random titles and ideas that I want to attend to later (such as AMERICA 2: AMERICONthey're not all winners yet). 

But when something is just at the outset, it's about consumption: reading as much as I can, watching as much as I can, finding a mood board of sorts to keep me focused on the right tone for story. So I decide what I want to say, decide the basic conflict driver, and then build characters around it that will intensify that conflict as much as possible. That process can be quick or it can be ongoing for months, depends, but the key is to not commence on the actual writing until the structure and power is in place so you're working with something that's as strong as possible. It's the pre-work here that's as important as the writing, so you know you're operating with a strong foundation.

4/ If you woke tomorrow and were no longer constrained by time, budgets or even skills that you haven’t learned yet, what would you make?

I've been lucky that a lot of the old answers to this question, I've been able to complete! MARTIAN MANHUNTER, KILL A MAN, DEAD KINGS, MIDNIGHTER AND APOLLO, they all would've been a potential answer at one time. Now? I'd love to do something similar to what Jasons Aaron and Latour have done with SOUTHERN BASTARDS. I'd love to do a longer story, ongoing even, about the place that made me the mad fool writer that I am today. And it'd probably be called LOST EMPIRE STATE. It's on my whiteboard right now...

My Spotify playlist for you this week is huge. HUGE. It’s called !, because this is the list of music that I used to listen to on my iPod years ago, and ! appeared on the list before everything else so it was easiest to find. This is probably what I was listening to about ten years ago, maybe, influencing all of my early comics. It only works on shuffle, because I couldn’t bring myself to add all of the songs to Spotify in order. But this is great stuff. There’s a lot of Esben and the Witch, which if you’ve never heard them before, sounds like the building crescendo of a pagan orgy. The whole list is basically a combination of beautiful female singers and crushing ugliness, so it juxtaposes the bleak dirge of a band like Denali with the screams of From Autumn to Ashes.

When I was growing up I was all about emo before it had a name, anything packed with the raw emotion of a man with a broken heart who didn’t have the vocabulary to do more than blame the woman who dumped him for being such a dick. I don’t know why music like this appeals to me, it just does, and I only love it more as I get older and discover the opposite side of the coin, songs written by women who wanted their man to be more than the disappointment that he was.

That’s it from me. I’ll keep these newsletters as regular as I can, for the sake of my sanity. You didn’t sign up to read my therapy, but I’m working so hard right now that all the self-care bullshit circulating the internet seems like white noise to me and writing is all I have left. What good are potted plants and bath bombs when I don’t have time to speak to anybody on the phone or sit down for more than five minutes?

Take care of each other. I hope you’ve got some financial stability in these awful times, or as much as any of us can hope for when we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. As a parent, when times are tough, I tell myself that every day that I can maintain a level of normality for my kids is a gift. Tomorrow the sky might fall in, but if today we’ve kept to our routines and I’ve protected them from as much as I can, then that’s the best I can do. Every good day that we achieve is an accomplishment that nobody can ever take away from us. Hang in there.

Hit me up at @PMBuchan on Twitter if you want to talk. Bearing in mind that my replies might take a little longer than normal!

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