Monday, 29 June 2009

All The News That's Fit To Print

Right sooooo much news this week. I don't know if it's ever been so busy! Let's get on with it then, or we'll be here all night.

Zoo Keeper
Cover Artist Confirmed

Just too late for last week's blog we got confirmation that we have a cover artist signed up for Zoo Keeper by Ben Morgan.

He's just got to get that pesky Batman and Robin Reborn out of his way and then...

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Zoo Keeper will be sporting a Frank Quitely cover, and we most certainly do give a damn.

Quarantine Artist Signed

The quarantine team is now complete, with Monty Borror signed on as artist.

Writer Michael Moreci saw this sketch arrive in his email box:

And said: "Wow. Absolutely nailed it. This is probably as close as I get to giddy. " which is always a good sign.

Monty has worked with us before, of course, in Layer Zero, and I've been itching to put his talents to use on a full length book for a while.

Monty recently won a Bronze medal at the 2009 Independent Publisher Book Awards in the Horror category for work on Cold Blooded Chillers with Bob Heske.

Butterflies and Moths

Not content with only one happy writer per week we put smiles all over Corey Brotherson's face by causing these to show up in his mailbox.

These characters sketches are the work of Jennie Gyllblad a young artist I met at the Bristol Con back in May.

Jennie had come along to the show as a visitor for a look around in the afternoon as she lives locally, although she hails from Sweden, originally. Falling into conversation with Stephen Downey as he was sketching at the Insomnia table she let slip that she was an aspiring comics artist, currently an illustration student at UWE, Bristol and just finishing her second year.

Stephen, sharing the Insomnia love, immediately sent her home to gather together a portfolio in whatever form she could, and promised he would find me for her to talk to by the time she got back. Difficult as that was in the craziness of the con he did find me, find the now returned Jennie, and brought us together.

With only 15 mins til the doors closed we headed to the Mercure bar where I first got to see the mad talent that is the work of Jennie Gyllblad.

Her colours are dazzling, and the intuitive use of space and form in the layout was incredible. The expression and emotion in her characters gives you the feeling of something alive looking back at you through the panels. It didn't matter that she didn't have a business card printed (she wrote me her email on a scrap of paper), or that I had her work in a pile across both our laps and not in the smartest portfolio case money can buy.

Her talent and her passion radiated from every word she said to me, and from every image she showed. That's what's important.

Welcome to Jen, and a big thank you to Stephen Downey for encouraging her to show her work. It's great to see people who have got into the industry holding the door open for others.

Conway Signing

This week we welcome two new faces to the Insomnia Original Graphic Novel fold, Sean Michael Wilson (writer) and Adam R Grose (artist) who are the creators of Conway:

"By trying to financially help his grandmother, a young Scottish man gets in over his head with Irish gangsters.

On the journey that follows he begins a loving relationship, steals a large amount of money; and finally resolves the life long tension between himself and his grandfather.

Sean is a comic book writer from Scotland, now living in Japan. His work is mostly mature stories: biographical, historical, slice of life, though sometimes also fantastical stuff, especially magickal stories, collaborating with artists such as Sakura Mizuki of the popular RING horror series and Mike Collins, art on Superman, Batman and Harry Potter, etc.

Most recently Sean has been working on books for Classical Comics (The Canterville Ghost, Sweeny Todd and Wuthering Heights), Top Shelf (The AX alternative manga collection) and NBM Publishing (the Hong Kong based Story of Lee).

He has recently been contracted to write a long historical manga, based on the classic bushido samurai text HAGAKURE for Kodansha in Tokyo. They are the biggest publisher in Japan, therefore one of the biggest in the world. Samurai Japan being one of my personal interests I'll be snapping this up myself, even if I have to brush up my (very!) rusty Japanese to read it!

I met Adam in person for the first time at Bristol this year, although we had been in touch before this as he is a contributor to Layer Zero (with a story in the 09 Choices volume, and and one in the upcoming Survival for 2010).

When Sean first got in touch about the project, he didn't know that I knew Adam already and really loved his work, so that was one of those lovely coincidences that the universe is kind enough to throw out every so often, when I've been good.

Adam divides his time between writing, drawing, painting and teaching.Following exhibitions of his paintings in a variety of galleries, cafes and shops he continues to create paintings exploring the relationship between the image and the viewer. His current work is focusing on a variety of abstractions and the figurative, exploring themes associated with politics, war and religious iconography, from a humanist perspective.

He began writing the 550 page graphic novel Cosmogenesis: The Chronicles of Quongo in 1998. The series was collected together as a Trade Paperback in December 2007 and released to rave reviews. It has been compared to the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, Franz Kafka and Joseph Campbell in its scale and depth of this epic mythological tale. The saga contains many hidden codes that readers can decipher, leading to a deeper understanding of human history as told and written down in myths and expressed in celebratory rituals.

His current projects include The Dragonfly: An Eleanor Moreau Mystery, a Detective Story told in twelve chapters. Chapter One is currently available online at Clown Press. This will see print as a graphic novel in 2010.

A fantasy piece called Phoenix: A Warrior's Tale with Tony Suleri (who will be making his Insomnia debut in Survival), is to be published in September 2009 and a larger graphic novel which will explore hidden knowledge based on the origin of human civilisation and how this links to current political events and modern popular culture is in the works.

Crowley Signing

The next Vigil bio-graphic novel has now been signed up and it will be Crowley: Wandering The Waste by Martin Hayes.

Martin says:

"The first Crowley book I ever read was The Magical Diaries of Aleister Crowley: Tunisia 1923 edited by Stephen Skinner. That would have been around 1997 or 98, when I was nineteen or so.

I’d always been fascinated by characters who were surprising and unusual – Peter O’Toole, Bon Scott, Harlan Ellison, Alan Moore, William Blake, David Lynch. Anyone who set out to do interesting things, their way, and who didn’t care what the world thought of them. And if they got smashed off their face on drink and drugs while doing it, then so much the better. That's probably why Crowley caught my attention.

Over the next five or six years I read pretty much every Crowley book I could get my hands on, even the early poetry . . . “The burden of caught clap. How sore it is!”

When I heard that Insomnia were starting a new line of in-depth, historical graphic novels, I immediately knew that if I got the chance then my subject would have to be Crowley, Perduabo, The Great Beast 666, The Wanderer Of The Waste, The Wickedest Man In The World.

He's the only subject I'd be willing to expend this much effort on. There will be an awful lot of research involved, but at least I know that none of it will be boring"

And this is what we will be in for:

"Aleister Crowley was a man out of time, born too soon to a world that was not ready for him. Raised among the conservative Plymouth Brethren, he soon shook off their grim shawl of enforced piety and embarked upon a life of sexual adventurism, drug experimentation, and a serious and lifelong study of the occult.

He was a man of extremes and opposites; a formidable chess player, a world traveller, a noted mountaineer, the giver to humanity of a new religion for the aeons, a victim of venereal disease, a British Spy (or treasonous wastrel), a drug fiend, a poet, a prophet, a spoilt child, and someone who would become known in his own lifetime as The Wickedest Man In The World."

Martin’s short stories and comics have appeared in places like Nature, Neon, Futurequake, Wasted, and The Stinging Fly. He’s also currently working on an original graphic novel, Project Luna 1947 with artist Jim Boswell, to be published by Markosia.

Burke and Hare

As another book draws to a close I'm currently enjoying that "I love it when a plan comes together" moment as the final lettering layer is applied to the pages.

See what I mean?

Burke and Hare, it turns out, is now in the "eagerly anticipated" slot (even by someone's non comics reading Dad who knows the history) and it was receiving a lot of interest at the Waterstones signing on Saturday. Can it be time to start the pre-orders sheet for the Birmingham launch already?

The Big Fat Cancertown Weekend

Cy, Alasdair and I had a good time at Chelmsford Waterstones. This was our first bookshop signing (rather than an event or convention) and it was a very civilised affair.

The nice calm bookshop atmosphere meant that people could hang around and talk for much longer without there being some kind of pandemonium in the background, and we had some incredible conversations with people ranging from fairytales to chaos theory - via superheroes, surveillance culture and sexuality.

As always at events there was a certain amount of discussion with creators about submissions and ideas they have - so watch this space for more.

I've already mentioned the interest in Burke and Hare, and we also had some flyers for Kronos City, Unbelievable, Damaged Goods (and just how hard it was to find a page that would work on a flyer at an "all ages" event was harder then you realise!) and The Ion Monger's Daughter. The reactions just went to reinforce what we knew all along - we've got some amazing talent working with us. Thanks guys, we're honoured to be along for the ride.

Meanwhile, far to the North...

Crawford had a whale of a time at the Dundee Literary Festival by all accounts. He started the day by looking in on David Bishop’s creative writing workshop for an injection of Thrill Power, involving creating a 9 panel page to show the whole story from a choice of Jaws, Star Wars or The Wizard of Oz in only 5 minutes... not as easy as it sounds!

The event was held at Dundee University and Crawford had a good chat the art curator there and it looks like there may be original work from our creators on display there in the future.

Cages, Cancertown and Layer Zero: Choices were on display at the Insomnia and Borders stand, and after a quiet start, with most people in the lecture theatre listening to Ian Hague who’s writing a thesis on Comics and the Linearity of Time followed by talks from Emma Vieceli and Mel Gibson (no, that one, the other one!), things suddenly got busy in the afternoon with a lot of interest in the preview books,
containing pages from our upcoming titles, Burke and Hare in particular.

I was very pleased to hear that a good number of creators who attended the event are very interested in what we’re doing and several had very promising ideas which I’m looking forward to seeing.

Crawford’s talk was the last slot of the afternoon and after a few technical hitches, and despite the latest of the hour he was well away. He had a lovely shiny slide show and received lots of positive comments afterwards about so, as I thought, his nerves about it all were misplaced.
He says:

“It was great talking with lots of people who were involved in the industry and getting their opinions about what’s happening to the medium and the industry, and the compliments about what Insomnia are endeavouring to accomplish.”

He also managed, in between all that, to sort out the local Borders stocking our books, so you’ll be able to find them there now, should you ever find yourself in need of something to read in Dundee.

Meanwhile, across the sea…

Over at the Q Con things were going well with Stephen Downey and Andrew Croskery sketching and selling as fast as they could.

The Kronos city colouring competition went down a storm. The winner was Kieran Devlin with his trippy psychedelic version of the page. In Andrew’s words “It's funktacular!”

All the other entries will be posted up on the Kronos City blog for you to see as soon as Andrew can get them scanned in.

Stephen got a lot of sketch commissions, some of them bordering on bizarre. His first was a pirate fighting a ninja and a dinosaur, which he subsequently challenged Andrew to draw and that will be up on his blog very soon. They also designed some fun characters including Belinda the Depressed Banshee, Rosie the Troll Pimp, Mortimer the dapper skeleton and an unnamed pumpkin head man who gets attacked my birds who want to eat the creamy insides of his head.

You can see some sketches and photos over on Stephen's blog.

Apparently there was a lot of interest in Layer Zero from budding creators – so I’d better get the call for submissions out for the next one very soon!

To top it all off we found Cancertown had received yet another great review, this time from John Freeman at Down The Tubes. He said:

"I described to someone asking me what it was about as a "rip-roaring mindf***".

Now, that is a cover quote for the second printing!

He continued:

"The overall feel of the book is distinctly unsettling but rivetting -- a graphic novel you'll find yourself wanting to read in one sitting...While this is still early days for Downey, with the right guidance I can easily see him making the jump to, say, drawing for Vertigo or other publishers. Good luck to him -- and Cy, too, whose potential as a writer is, frankly, enormous."

You can read the full thing on Down The Tubes.

And Finally...

  • Alex Willmore and Lauren Anne Sharp, our Kronos City art team have been illustrating for Paranormal magazine this month. Pop over to their blog for a look at the pages.

  • The technical gremlins that were plaguing sci-fi pulse last week and now been dispelled and you can hear Simon Wyatt's interview from the website.

  • Kev Crossley, artist on Sidhe by Rachel Robbins, has a 4 page "Artist Insight" feature in this month's ImagineFX magazine on designing insane aliens.
I did say there was a lot of news!

Monday, 22 June 2009

Cancertown Triple Header

Saturday 27th of June 2009. Three separate but linked events in three separate but linked countries. No longer able to operate just as one team, this is day we split apart and operate as The Cancer Cells.


In Ireland we will have Stephen Downey hosting Insomnia's table as a guest at the Q Con (the annual Gaming Convention hosted by Dragonslayers, the Queen’s University Belfast Gaming and Anime Society.) He'll be sketching and selling copies of Cancertown (with display copies of Cages and Layer Zero from 6 on the Friday night and all day Saturday.

One of the competition prizes is a set of Cages, Cancertown and Layer Zero as well as an original A3 sketch by Stephen, seen below.

Having begged Stephen until he sold me a page of original art (the final page of chapter two of Cancertown, if you were wondering) I can tell you that this is really something worth having.

Andrew Croskery will be on hand to help all weekend and you should go and talk to him about Kronos City which is just zooming along. I saw some more pencils today and they are amazing. We'll also be running a Kronos City colouring competition with a graphic novel of your choice up for grabs as a prize for our favourite. We'll put the winner and any special favourites up on the blog.

For more details check out Stephen's blog and the Kronos City blog.


Insomnia Overlord Crawford Coutts has been invited to speak at the Dundee Literary Festival alongside such luminaries of the comics world as David Bishop (Tharg to mortals such as we) and Warren Ellis.

He will be on at 4.50pm for anyone who is around and will be speaking about Insomnia, the developments in the UK comic industry and its changing readership.

He says:

"I'm very excited that Insomnia has been invited to be a part of the Dundee Literary Festival. Dundee was well known for its historic 3 J's - Jute, Jam and Journalism. In the past decade all three had all but disappeared for the future "Interactive Media". It's great to be a part of re-embracing the journalistic origins of the city and returning to the printed page and the great art of story-telling in all its forms of literature."

There will an Insomnia table on the Sunday with previews on show and books for sale. Throughout the festival you will also be able to get our books from the Borders stand.

He's a Dundee boy himself, so this will be something of a homecoming for the "Local Boy made good".


Cy Dethan, Alasdair Duncan and I will be in Chelmsford for the first of the Waterstones signings from 11am-1pm.

Organisers often ask for some background to help them promote the events they are putting on and encourage people to come along - so here is Cy, talking a bit about Cancertown:

"My primary focus right now is on prying open whatever doors I can jam a foot in, and using those opportunities to tell the best stories I can.

I've had a phenomenal run of luck in my short time in the industry, and some influential and talented people have been saying very nice things about my work.

Of course, the responsibility now is to somehow live up to that. I'm busy out in the trenches, paying my dues.

The big milestone I've hit with Cancertown is that it's my first creator-owned book. Since there isn't a licence or established continuity to adhere to, I've been given an astonishing amount of freedom in where I can take the story.

That freedom, combined with Stephen Downey's ability to keep pace with every insane idea I could throw at him, has really served to kick the training wheels off our collaboration and allowed us to explore the story in a much more comprehensive way.

Cancertown has really benefited from Stephen's gift for horribly distorting an image while maintaining its essential character. The book requires a number of key locations to be rendered in two distinct forms, one for each of the "realities" represented throughout the story.

Stephen has the Quixotic ability to look at a giant Ferris wheel and consider, just for a moment, that it might contain giant jellyfish/eyeball creatures that latch onto your chest and suck out your personality. That, fundamentally, is what makes him the right guy for the job."

And here is Stephen:

"People have asked me a lot what was the initial appeal of the project and I'd say that right from the beginning it was the concept outline and the range of things I'd get to draw. I was hoping the script would live up to the high concept and after reading chapter one I was itching to get my teeth into the project.

I think the high concept allowed Cy (Dethan) to keep me on my toes. He has managed this really delicate balance of alternating real-world and Cancertown scenes at just the right time so that after working a bit more methodologically on drawing the real-world London, the scene changes just as I'm itching to go crazy with the pencil in the much more monsterous Cancertown version. Then, just as I feel the need for straight lines and ink work again, Cy is just about to reign it back in again. I think this is something readers will relate to as well.

The story is filled with an alternate corroding world, monster gang lords, beautiful women, a little burnt girl and one angry man trying to find his place amongst all this, so to say there were interesting visuals to come up with is an understatement.

I always read visually so when I'm devouring a new script from Cy I'm imagining the scene as I go along (and often reimagining as the script adds layers to the scene). I often revisit these scene and change the 'camera angle' around to get the most dynamic or best storytelling view.

Its almost like Cy has planted little seeds in my head and the world grows out of them by themselves (and of course as Cy feeds them new scripts). There were a few things like a "looking down through a whirlwind of daggers a hundred foot tall" that I had to figure out a way to convey, but its usually the case that there are too many angles and interpretations that I want to draw rather than lack of them. Although I ended drawing every dagger in that worldwind so I wasn't hoping to draw that more than once!

I get asked about particualr highlights in the projects, and an unexpected one was probably just seeing the improvement in my own art from the first pages until the last. As the book builds to its climax in the last few scenes I had gotten to know these characters inside out (some literally) and was able to create a finish to the last chapter that I wouldn't have had the ability to do as effectively when I first started the graphic novel.

It's also a delight to see your artwork coloured and lettered by great talent (thats Mel Cook and Nic Wilkinson respectively), its a surreal tranformation seeing a penciled/inked piece of art turn into a comicbook page."

So there you have it - and if that doesn't encourage you to come and see us at whichever event is closest to you, I don't know what will!

Burke and Hare: The Musical

Well, not quite, but we are very pleased to have been approached by an Edinburgh band, Static 18 (who, we learn, are three drunken reprobates from South Queensferry, who aim to bring their own brand of noise to the Edinburgh scene and beyond!), wanting to use a panel from Burke and Hare as the cover for their demo album Infamous Crime.

In their own words they are:

"Some kind of cross-breeding experiment between Punk, Ska aand Metal!"

You can have a listen at their MySpace or Facebook pages, go on, you know you want to.

And my favourite artist quote of the week is from the blog of Will Pickering himself:

"Crowd scenes are a bit like tattoos: they can look great, but you need to be a particular kind of crazy to put yourself through the pain of getting them that way, and one careless line can ruin everything."

We feel your pain, Will, but you're nearly done, and the results are worth every bit of the agony.

Michael Moreci News

Some news just in from Michael Moreci, writer of the upcoming Quarantine, and The Police Channel short story for Layer Zero:Survival

This Sunday Michael will be speaking on a panel that is part of the annual Think Galacticon. The panel will be at Roosevelt University, from 1030-1145 a.m.

He and others (including Third Coast Comic's Terry Gant) will be discussing "ANARCHISM AND THE SUPERHERO: ANTI-CRIME DIRECT ACTIONIST OR ENFORCER OF THE STATE?"

When he was invited he leaped at the topic.

The description reads like this:

"Let's talk about superheroes. From Alan Moore's Watchmen and V for Vendetta to Warren Ellis's The Authority to DC's Superman to Marvel's Captain America there are a variety of perspectives on the superhero and politics."

Oh yes, we bring you creators who know their stuff.

Also, if you pop over to Michael's blog you can catch a preview of the first lettered page from his short 'Underworld', which will be seen in Something Wicked out this Autumn.

The art is by the excellent Keith Burns, who is currently doing pencils and inks for Garth Ennis's Herogasm (and a fill in for The Boys) - not to mention the cover for our very own Quarantine, and the art for Michael's story, The Police Channel in next year's Layer Zero: Survival.

Back to clearing the mound of emails now, back in seven, with, fingers crossed, some exciting news.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Burke and Hare: Under The Skin

As promised this week we catch up with Martin Conaghan for a peek inside the creative process that lead to Burke and Hare, and from there, the idea of the Vigil "bio-graphic novels" imprint.

Before we start, though, Burke and Hare is now available to pre-order on Amazon.

Right then - Take it away Martin...

You've been crafting Burke and Hare for a long time now. When did you first become interested in the story.

My earliest recollection of Burke and Hare was from my childhood, where I had been given the impression that the Irish duo were graverobbers.

And you've been working on your version for around 15 years, is that right?

Yes, back in the 1990s I was approached by Caliber Comics in the USA to submit an idea for their proposed 'Gothic' line of graphic novels, and among the suggestions was an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's short story 'The Bodysnatcher' - which I picked as my book.

What was it that inspired you to choose Burke and Hare in particular, and why has the interest stayed with you for so long?

After digging up some research of my own, I soon found out Stevenson's story was pure fiction - albeit classic stuff.

His story depicted a couple of 19th century Edinburgh graverobbers who resort to murder to keep up the demand for medical cadavers - but when I found out the true story of Burke and Hare, I realised I had stumbled on something much bigger, and more shocking. As far as history is concerned, the duo never set foot in a graveyard with the intention of stealing a corpse...

Burke and Hare were murderers - plain and simple.

So, from what originally appeared to be nothing more than a ghoulish bedtime story, I found myself immersed in the history of Enlightenment Edinburgh of the 1820s and the case of Britain's most prolific serial killers, which has more twists, turns and horrifying moments than most modern horror fiction.

What do you hope your work will bring to the Burke and Hare story now?

The biggest misconception about the case has persisted for over one hundred years; that Burke and Hare were graverobbers-turned-murderers. The misapprehension can be almost entirely blamed on Robert Louis Stevenson for his depiction of the duo in The Bodysnatcher.

Almost everyone I speak to about the case provide anecdotes about graverobbing, and it's something that has never truly left the public's consciousness.

Everyone knows who Burke and Hare were, but few people know what they did.

Our book will rectify that - but it will go further than the traditional biographies of Burke and Hare's deeds, in that it will depict their actions visually without overly fictionalising the story or embellishing it with exaggerations.

An awful lot of research has gone into this book in your search for historical veracity. Can you tell a little more about that?

For me, the research process has spawned over 15 years. I started the book in the 1990s, but it was never published because Caliber ceased publishing. In that time, I've uncovered new books written about the subject, movies, documentaries, TV dramas, plays, audio plays, newspaper articles and individual anecdotes.

While researching the case at Edinburgh University I was able to take a look at one of the original anatomical sketches made of one of the later victims - and, of course, we got to stare into the face of William Burke himself when the medical faculty at Edinburgh University granted us permission to view his skeleton.

Life masks were also taken of the duo (with Burke's death mask also being taken), so we had the opportunity to gaze right into their faces as they would have been in 1828.

Will and I also wanted to make sure that our story was as faithful as possible to the era, with proper visualisations of the Edinburgh streets and accurate representations of all the real-life figures that appear in our narrative.

In one case, Will went to the extraordinary lengths of finding a national portrait gallery image of all the MPs in Westminster in 1829 in order to find a headshot of Sir George Sinclair - who only appears in five panels in the book. It was important for us to make sure that people could really grasp a sense of the era, rather than just being lazy about it and guessing our way through the artwork.

You mention that Burke and Hare have made appearances in many media over the years. Why did creating comic version of this particular story appeal to you, and what can it offer that is specific and different?

You can give the reader the opportunity to stop mid-narrative and go back (or forward) in the story and review what they have witnessed, or glimpse the future before it happens. Even with a DVD, a viewer can't jump to the end of a movie and contextualise it with the start - with comics, the reader can see, feel and watch the characters move from one scene to the next - and go back and review it over, and over again until they see things they didn't see the first time around.

It appealed to me because it was all true, and it flew in the face of the perceived knowledge about the case - so I wanted to address history properly and present an account of the facts in as straightforward a fashion as possible, in a very accessible medium.

You made visits to Edinburgh, where the majority of the Burke and Hare story takes place, in the course of your research. What was it like to walk the same streets as your characters?

Edinburgh is a mesmerising city, split between the dark, cavernous Old Town and the bright, clean New town - so it's the ideal location for a story like this. Of course, we sampled some of Edinburgh's famous pubs and wandered through the old town archways, which really give you a feel for the haunts Burke and Hare must have frequented.

Will and I went on a couple of Edinburgh jaunts - wandering the streets frequented by Burke and Hare and visiting the locations that still remain to this day. However, many of the original buildings have been demolished and replaced, so we had to find illustrations or photographs that approximated 19th century Edinburgh, and in some cases we simply had to make a guess

Does the fact that Insomnia is also based in the city have any bearing on the book being offered to, and then published, by them?

Insomnia have strong links to Scotland, and Edinburgh, so it seemed logical to offer an Edinburgh-based story to a company that was actively seeking out fresh ideas and original concepts.

How do you view Burke and Hare now after spending so much time in their company? Have they been unfairly treated by history?

Personally, I find it difficult to view Burke and Hare under any other light than pure evil. Much of the anecdotal evidence points towards Hare being a bit of an unpredictable psycho, with Burke being an affable bloke with a good line in patter and song. However, it's a mistake to try and view people as devious and callous as Burke and Hare in any other light than pure, evil villains.

They murdered 16 innocent people in cold blood and denied them the dignity of a proper burial. Worse still, their victims suffered the ultimate indignity of being publicly dissected for the purposes of medical science.

They lured their victims to a lodging house with the offer of free booze, got them drunk, smothered them to death - then carted off their lifeless corpses to Dr Robert Knox at 10 Surgeon's Square in Edinburgh, where they were dissected in the name of science for an agreed fee - and they did it 16 times in 12 months.

What they did was unforgivable, in my view - it doesn't matter if Burke was a good singer or a great storyteller. The 1970s biographer Hugh Douglas described them as "fiends out of Hell." Few would disagree with his assessment.

Did justice prevail in the end?

Burke was hanged for his crime - while Hare was given immunity from the law in return for turning King's Evidence against his accomplice - and his body was publicly dissected, with his bones being kept on permanent display in remembrance of his crime.

However, the injustice of it all is that Hare was given his freedom for grassing on his accomplice - while the medical establishment carried on their work with impunity. However, even though Dr Robert Knox was never charged with any wrong-doing, his career as a medical lecturer deteriorated badly after the events, and his punishment lasted for the rest of his life in every sense.

Was there anything good to come out of this dark little episode of history?

If there's anything to be learned from what the duo did, it's at the heart of our medical establishment - their behaviour brought about changes in the law as it relates to the donation of corpses for medical science.

You work as a journalist for the BBC. Have the skills and techniques you have developed while there helped you in the research process at all?

Burke and Hare really required a thirst for historical facts, although I'm not particularly a history buff, I love trivia and I'm obsessed with facts. However, the most important skill I've brought with me to comics is my experience in production and journalism at the BBC.

The Beeb's disciplined approach to detail, writing, fact-checking and whittling down information to its purest form has taught me more in the past 10 years than anything else. the BBC is also one of the world's greatest storytelling organisations - whether it's news, sci-fi, drama or radio few others can beat the BBC. You quickly learn how to tell a story well.

Much, if not most, of entertainment media is based in fiction. How did you approach bringing real people to life, and did you find the fact that they had once lived helpful or a constraint artistically?

Fictional characters usually need to be based on real-life characters in order to sound believable - or they require a fertile imagination to breathe life into them.

With Burke and Hare, everything was there for us to use; court transcripts, official confessions, newspaper reports, individual accounts, sketches, court drawings, broadsides and fiction. All we needed to do in terms of bringing the duo to life was wind them up and let them go.

In many ways, we could have left the artwork unlettered and readers would still understand the story. It's so vivid and real that you can almost smell the backstreets of Edinburgh.

It was difficult to understand what life was like in the 1800s. Of course, it's really not much different from life now - except we have transport, technology and consumerism running our lives.

The poverty played a big role in people's lives - but they didn't know anything else. They spoke to each other much as we do, they ate, drank, told stories, sang songs, moaned, read books, played games and had relationships. To them, they only knew their time - we have the benefit of history to make sense of it all.

I simply wrote the story as I saw it; these two men took advantage of Edinburgh's poor waifs and strays, then murdered them. I wanted to capture that in our story, and I wanted people to see how terrible and sad it was that 16 lives were extinguished through pure greed and malice.

Language , grammar and social conventions are always changing. How did you approach the idea of getting an authentic sound and feel of the times, while not letting that intrude into, or disrupt, the actual storytelling?

Language was an area that I wanted to get right, but not to force it down people's throats. Burke and Hare were Irishmen, so they would have had thick accents that were not influenced by television or radio. However, Irish people often speak politely and pronounce their words with clear diction - they just happen to do it with a melodic charm.

Similarly, the Edinburgh folk of the time - from the street urchins to the upper classes - all had their own ways of speaking, with common slang and Scots variations of words like about/aboot - so I've tried to convey the various accents as faithfully as possible without overdoing it.

There must have been times when there were no recorded sources to rely on. How much did you allow yourselves to "fill in the gaps" with fiction, and was it ever tempting to "spice things up" for a more satisfying story?

Inevitably, there are gaps in stories like this. History is the version of events everyone eventually agrees on, and the history of Burke and Hare is full of claim and counter-claim. All of the official documents are still available to view in the national library, but many of the individual accounts of the time are no longer available. So, we had to make some leaps in terms of filling in the gaps.

It was necessary to fictionalise some individual encounters or dialogue, and we inserted some fanciful notions of our own in order to propel the story forward. However, we did so with a strong sensibility towards the facts, the available research and strong hunches.

I have to admit though, it was fun taking liberties with tenuous links to other historical events and making them my own.

It can be too tempting to get carried away with the lives of people who are no longer around to refute your claims, so we had to find the balance between comparing all the facts and deciding which were the most accurate and simply telling a coherent story.

I think we found the balance by leaving certain aspects of the story to the reader's imagination and letting the visuals tell other important parts of the tale.

The artwork in Burke and Hare is stunning. It is as if the script has sprung to life on the page. You must have worked so closely with Will Pickering it may be hard to tell where one of you ends and the other begins now. Tell us a bit more about that.

All good creative partnerships are based on compromise. People think compromise means giving something up, but for me, it means getting something you didn't have before you formed the partnership.

I can't draw, but I can write - and Will is a fantastic, imaginative artist. He's also a placid, easy-going, contemplative, and educated character - which makes him perfect for a book steeped in research and history.

In terms of how we've worked together - I sent Will the script, we met once and discussed what could work - then we made the Edinburgh trip. Apart from that I've left him to it. My scripts can vary between detailed panel descriptions, to nothing at all describing a scene - and Will understands what the story needs.

I always feel the burden of effort is often on the artist in a comic, but, of course, the writer needs to create the thing in the first place - but Will's contribution is arguably more substantive than mine. I only have to write it - he has to make it come to life.

The book design is incredibly distinctive and is already attracting a lot of attention. Did you have a concept in mind for the look of the finished product from the start?

It was important for me that the book looked and felt 'of the era' - that it had the hallmark of the 19th century - from the cover logo, to the interior fonts, the lettering and the loose, scratchy or 'engraved' feel to the artwork. I'm somewhat obsessive about how these things look, so I've been involved every step of the way in terms of design and layout - including Rian Hughes' amazing cover and logo, and the beautiful handwritten style of the lettering.

And the obligatory comics creator interview question: Who are your influences, and what are you reading right now?

It's no secret that we were heavily influenced by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's 'From Hell' in creating Burke and Hare. Of course, Alan Moore is a genius, and Eddie Campbell is one of the most original talented artists in comic-book history - so there's no comparison.

I'm a big Grant Morrison fan, but I love Alan Moore, Pete Milligan, Mark Millar, Brian K Vaughn and Robert Kirkman - all great storytellers who fully understand the comics medium and produce stories that play to its strengths.

I'm currently reading 'Scalped', 'The Walking Dead', 'Kick-Ass' and 'Hellblazer'. My favourite artists are Frank Quitely, Steve Yeowell, Duncan Fegredo, Charlie Adlard and Sean Phillips.

To sum it all up then, what do you think is the appeal of Burke and Hare for comics readers?

I believe it appeals - not just to me - but to a wider audience - because it contains so many of the basic themes of classic fiction with the added bonus that it's all verifiable and true; murder, intrigue, cover-ups, conspiracies and mystery. The story had such an impact on the people of Edinburgh - and beyond - that it still resonates over 180 years later; our medical educational establishment is founded on the basis of Burke and Hare's crimes, and people still fear the idea of being kidnapped and harvested for medical science.

Burke and Hare will be released on 6th of October.

And that has got me all ready for my visit to Bodyworlds this week

Kronos City, Now in Colour

Last week we had the first page of pencils for Kronos City. Now you see how they will look in glorious technicolour.

The colours are by Lauren Anne Sharp who has just graduated from the North Wales School of Art and Design.

Lauren was recently highly commended in the Macmillan awards for Children’s Picture Book Illustration. This is one of the most important of the awards for work in children’s books and has become something of an institution, being the only award of its kind that gives students an opportunity to work creatively to a professional brief and, if they are successful, to exhibit their work before peers and publishers at the annual winners and commended entries exhibition.

Kronos City now has a blog of its own where you can follow the book's development.

The Indifference Engine Update

The art team has now been signed up for The Indifference Engine by Cy Dethan.

Robert Carey will be the penciller, Melanie "Cancertown, Average Joe" Cook will be doing colours, and letters will be by me, Nic Wilkinson.

More on this as it happens - for now here is a link to the story outline on Cy's website.

Unbelievable Interview

Don't forget to listen in to Sci-Fi Pulse Radio on Sunday June 21st for an interview with Unbelievable creator Simon Wyatt.

Off on holiday for a week now, but when I return I will have news of the Cancertown Triple Header.

Be afraid.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Judging A Book By Its Cover

(Click on the image for a larger version)

That little beauty, ladies and gentlemen, is the Rian Hughes cover for Burke and Hare, by Martin Conaghan and Will Pickering, with letters by Paul McClaren who joined the team recently.

I've been almost at bursting point for the last week waiting until I could post this. Isn't it fantastic? The lettering you see on the front is actually an extract from Burke's original confession in his own handwriting.

Those among you with sharp eyes will have noticed some exciting words on the front that say:

"Introduction by Alan Grant". They do refer to one of the founding editors of 2000AD and the creator of Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog, and the writer of too many comics for Marvel, DC and Dark Horse to mention, among other things, yes.

And on the back "Bonus Gallery featuring art by" above the names:

  • Frank Quitely (All Star Superman, We3, The Authority)
  • Gary Erksine (Dan Dare, Jack Cross, JSA Strange Adventures)
  • Colin MacNeil (Dredd)
  • Stephen Daly (Ballykissangek storyboards)
  • Dave Hill (Gabriel)
  • David Alexander (The McBams)
  • Alex Ronald (Dredd, Lobo)
  • Stuart Beel (computer games)
  • Lynsey Hutchinson (Skeptic)

Next week I'll be posting Martin's answers to some Burke and Hare questions I put to him a short while ago where he says things like:

"We got to stare into the face of William Burke himself when the medical faculty at Edinburgh University granted us permission to view his skeleton"


"They murdered 16 innocent people in cold blood with and denied them the dignity of a proper burial. worse still, their victims suffered the ultimate indignity of being publicly dissected for the purposes of medical science"

Check back in 7.

Cancertown News

As mentioned last week the Northern Irish launch of Cancertown at Belfast Forbidden Planet was incredibly well attended, helped by this news article appearing in the paper just the day before.

(Click on the image for a version large enough to read.)

Not even pausing for breath Stephen was up and about again spreading the word at the 2D Northern Ireland Comics Festival in Derry, where he was a guest artist.

Huge thanks to Aimee (Stephen's girlfriend, better known as the inspiration for the mysterious and dangerous Babyface to Cancertown readers) and his brother James (the face of Crosshair!) for helping out on the stand all day and selling lots of copies to unsuspecting readers.

Andrew "Kronos City" Croskery was also on the Insomnia stand for the first time and beginning the promotion for his upcoming book with his flyers causing quite a buzz by all accounts. More about what Alex and Lauren, the art team, got up to recently and the first page of pencils, down below.

I am reliably informed that Cancertown was given a very complimentary (and completely umpromted!) mention in the Electic Micks panel.

Stephen got to hand Bryan Talbot his copy of the book, and apparently "boogie" with him later on. I have been promised pictures!

While all this was going on in Ireland, across the sea, at the very Eastern edge of England Cy and I were doing a signing at the shop of our sponsors, Whatever Comics.

We have known Manny Armario, the owner of Whatever, for many years, and as always it was great to visit. As well as signing new copies this time we had the the novel experience of people bringing back copies they had previously bought to be signed, and to chat about the book, which was a fantastic experience. We also signed some reserve copies for people who couldn't make it on the day.

The idea of a one shot prequel was floated, and as all the team are interested, watch this space! Huge thanks to Kim Britnell for the suggestion. You may be seeing more of Kim name around, as well, as she is an artist herself and we talked about "stuff". In a weird co-incidence it was Kim's grandmother, Councillor Iris Pummell, who organsied the Essex book festival where we ran the comics workshops a few months back. Small world.

Returning from our glamourous pasty lunch we even found a little queue waiting for us to get back. Not as big as Stephen's Belfast queue, but pleasing and surprising none the less!

Later in the evening we caught up with Oliver "Dead Goats" Masters, and had a brilliant in depth chat about his book, and discovered he and Cy had a very useful shared interest but I cannot reveal it for risk of spoilers at this stage.

We also caught up with Laurence "The Punisher" Campbell, and got him to sign our copies of "The Punisher: Naked Kill", which features Manny himself as a character, what with Laurence being a local boy, too. We also talked about a project, more news on that as and when.

Finally some interview and review links that came out just too late for last week's blog:

  • Stephen Downey inter interviewed on

  • A full review on Sci-Fi Pulse

    "Cancertown leaps out of the page at you, grabs you by the jugular and doesn’t let you go.

    One thing that grabs you right away about Cy’s writing style is that he is the absolute prince of darkness when it comes to one-liners"

  • Waterstones Bookseller review which says:

    "A fantastically dark and twisted tale that drags you through a strange and bizarre world that could be the product of one man's brain tumor. Gloriously written with punchy dialogue and arresting visuals"

The weekend of the 27th/28th of June will see a Cancertown Triple Header, as we have simultaneous events in 3 countries!

  • In England we have Cy Dethan signing at Waterstones in Chelmsford
  • In Ireland we have Stephen Downey at the QCon XVI
  • In Scotland we have Crawford Coutts at the Dundee Literary Festival

Kronos City News

While their writer was busy promoting at the 2D Festival Alex Willmore (penciller) and Lauren Sharp (colourist) were interviewed for the Resonance FM programme Strip! while visiting the Manhua exhibtion. They talk about their work on Kronos City, a short story called Wolf Like Me for the Accent UK Victoriana anthology they are doing with fellow Insomnia writer Michael Moreci, and about his upcoming Insomnia book, Quarantine.

Then they hurried home to send me the first pencilled splash page showing the city itself:

Andrew received it while still at Derry and was so pleased he said "I got very smiley and giddy, and I think my eyes teared up a little."



A huge congratulations and big round of applause for Monty Borror, Layer Zero contributor, who's work on Cold Blooded Chillers with Bob Heske just won a Bronze medal at the 2009 Independent Publisher Book Awards in the Horror category.

You can read more about it on his blog

Things seem to be going from strength to strength for Monty.

I hope to be working with him on a full length project very soon.

And that's me all typed out for this week.

See you in the funny pages.

Monday, 1 June 2009

A Peep Behind The Ion Curtain

A few months back we announced the signing of The Ion Monger's Daughter by Matt Gibbs, with art by Larry Watts.

If you didn't see the announcement the story goes like this:

Victoria Cross wants to see the stars. Against her father's wishes, she leaves the family business to embark on a journey to her mother's home world. Robbed, ensnared by the criminal underworld, arrested and conscripted into the army as a convict, her bad choices turn her dreams into a nightmare.

And now, drum roll please, the first chance to see some of the stunning concept art:

If you click on it you can see a larger version. It hurt to even reduce something so lovely to the larger size.

Matt says:

"It's great that Insomnia has hooked Larry and me up to create The Ionmonger's Daughter.

I was thrilled when he agreed. Larry was my first choice of artist after seeing his awesome sketch work and sequentials.

Right now, I'm about halfway through the script and Larry is producing concept sketches as we explore the look and feel. We're trying to paint a believable vision of the future, a sci-fi backdrop that enhances but doesn't dominate the story.

I'm enjoying the subtle differences between film and comic scriptwriting. In film you try to inspire the director, provide a blueprint from which the creative team can build. Although you can kick start the process, you might not been there at the end.

Comics feel more holistic, your job is still to inspire the artist but the difference is you're the mainstay of the creative team. Together you fill the roles of writer, director, DOP and editor."

Larry says:

"Ionmonger's Daughter has been a great project so far.

I think what I find most appealing about the IMD is the opportunity to imagine a future and travel to all these exciting and vastly different places with our protagonist Victoria Cross.

Matt Gibbs has done a great job crafting a story that I believe communicates on many levels, it has adventure and sci fi elements, but it's also a story about growth, dreams, survival...things I think everyone can relate to.

Right now I am working on chapter 1 and concept work for chapters 1-3. The team has been great to work with, and everyone at Insomnia has done a great job putting the right people together and keeping us all on track- while providing a great atmosphere to keep us happy and creative."

And seeing these first roughs (yes, as far as Larry is concerned these are "roughs"...I know...) I am going to be doing my level best to keep them as happy and creative as possible.

Imagine FX Gets Serious As Cancer

That was the headline of the full page spread on Cancertown in the July edition of ImagineFX (available from newsagents now).

I have been a subscriber to IFX for a long time (and I highly recommend the magazine and it's helpful forums to any artists out there) so was very excited when they contacted me to do piece a couple of months back.

Given the magazine has profiled such luminaries of comics as Dave Gibbons and Simon Bisley I had expected we would get maybe a sidebar mention, or a small section of a page, so we were blown away to see this.

That was not the only press coverage this week for Cancertown, as the Irish Times did a piece on Stephen Downey which, coming out the day before the Northern Irish launch at Belfast Forbidden Planet, couldn't have been better timed if it was planned.

Stephen had a fantastic day, even beating the "sales per minute" avarage of the almost legendary Bristol con launch. Selling 56 copies in 2.5 hours means that a book was snapped up every two and half minutes!

A queue was already forming when Stephen arrived and some lovely people waited patiently in it for an hour and half. There was a great deal of sketching (and even a list of around 20 sketches to be completed later and sent on), and signing, and lots of beer afterwards by all accounts, but you can read more on Stephen's Blog, and see some of the pics from the day.

Next signing is at Whatever Comics, our sponsors, in Canterbury with Cy Dethan on Saturday 6th of June 11-4.

New Signings

  • Oz: The Fall of the Scarecrow King now has an artist signed up, the very talented Barry McGowan, who came to show us his portfolio at the SPEXPO a few weeks ago.

    Barry is an illustrator from Strabane, County Tyrone, and before his trip to Oz he was the artist on Rosemary Herbb: The Return, written by Stephen Paul Coffey and launched at the Dublin City Comic Con in November 2008.

    You can see some more examples of his portfolio over at his MySpace page while you are waiting for me to post up the first Oz concepts, which will be here very soon, or read an interview with him on Jazma Online.

  • Zoo Keeper by Ben Morgan asks can too much knowledge work against your humanity?

    John is a botanist and he’s alone in his garden. There’s only John. And them…

    Emerging from his year long studies in a bio-dome John finds a world over run by pets we once owned, animals we once hunted and creatures we have never seen.

    Now it’s up to John to save the human race. For a scientist and a pacifist, recreating the most violent species on the planet is against everything he has ever believed, but the world is a changed place. Morals and logic will have to be discarded if John is to play the cat and mouse game of survival.

    More on this very soon
Fallen Heroes Screen Adaption

It was confirmed this week that Fallen Heroes by Barry Nugent has been optioned for a screen adaptation by Celtic Films, the production company behind Sharpe, Hornblower and The Saint to name but a few of their credits.

You can find details in the "Projects In Development" section of their website where it says:

"Fallen Heroes" tells the story of an unlikely team, numbering a professional thief, a Government agent with a tragic past, a vigilante priest and a university tutor with an encyclopedic knowledge of the occult. In a thrilling global chase, they attempt to track down and destroy an ancient cult bent on world domination."

Which sums it all up very nicely.

The contracts have all been signed for the comic adaptation, and we are currently searching for the right artist for the project.

More as we have it.

In The Body Bag

There is so much exciting news about Burke and Hare come through in the last day or so, that I am going to save up most of until next week, where there is space to go into detail.

Not least I was literally just sent the first breathtaking draft of Rian Hughes cover with the immortal words from the writer "when you see it you are going to wet yourself!" and he was not far wrong.

I really, really, want to share it, but I must be patient, and wait until it's properly done.

It is an incredible feeling to be working with such a lot of supremely talented creators.

Speaking of which, I can confirm now that Burke and Hare will feature a foreword by Alan Grant, the creator of Judge Dredd, and its picture gallery will be graced by a contribution from Frank Quitely.

More dark secrets revealed next week...