You are very active in and supportive of the comic medium in general. How did you get involved with projects like the cartoon classroom?
Cartoon Classroom - http://www.cartoonclassroom.co.uk/ - was kind of unfinished business related to my involvement with The London Cartoon Centre, which, at it's height, was the only full-time evening school of cartooning and sequential art that Britain's ever had. The LCC grew from a series of creative workshops - including one I ran - that a charity called The Portobello Project started in the mid-80's to help inner city unemployed folks get some useful training in arts- oriented occupations.
Despite various valiant fund-raising efforts the LCC ran out of cash after some years and had to wrap up it's operations, but a small amount of raised funds came in late from Oxford's Caption group. This could have been used to pay for one last short-run class, almost in tribute to the memory of the LCC. But one of the LCC's ex-tutors, Steve Marchant, had the great idea that it could be used to set up something which would be of more lasting value than a short-run class, and which would still, in a real sense, be a kind of continuance of the LCC's work. The idea was a website that aimed to centralise all the information available on the study of cartoon and comic art in the UK and Ireland : a site that would direct anyone interested in those arts to places that were - unlike the LCC - still offering training through books, associations, art college courses, and other means. The site would also direct libraries and schools to tutors who specialised in teaching these specialised skills. So, it was created and launched last October. I helped put material into it and I add more when it's needed.
The biggest problem we have with it is simply getting the word out about it - because simple time-saving comprehensive lists of email addresses of schools, art colleges, libraries, etc, are just not readily available unless via marketing organisations at a high price. And we're a non-profit resource. But we keep trying and sometimes succeeding, and hopefully we'll reach all those areas we need to reach before very long.
Why do I get involved in such things? Because I think that what we do in the area of cartooning and sequential arts is undervalued, and it's an art form that is under-represented by those with it's best interests at heart, and badly represented by those who don't really care about it's place in the cultural landscape. I want to help change that situation if I can, by becoming involved with any organisation which professes to have the same views as I do in that regard.
The Society of Strip Illustration, Cartoon County, and the re-jigged Comic Book Alliance are other examples of such organisations I have tried to help with, or am trying to help with now. For my sins.
2 I really enjoyed your novel Kickback and personally feel it would make a great ongoing series, do you have any plans for a follow up?
Well, if enquiries had been followed up, and overtures been capitalised on in attempts to initiate a movie of Kickback, then it would have been clearly in my best interests to follow up Kickback with a sequel, because there's at least a book's worth more to be said about our vulnerability to corruption, and I'm sure I would have enjoyed finding a way to portray it. But without the guarantee of the wide readership a movie incarnation would elicit, it would be too much of a gamble to spend another 18 months to two years on a sequel that might struggle in the constricted retail and distribution market that non-superhero stories have to tolerate. Of course, a well -publicized sequel would direct folks to the first under-publicized original, and fix the problem you're aware I've been having for years of trying to make people aware of it - so there is that to take into consideration. But I really can't say I'm enthused to do a sequel right now. I'm really glad you liked it so much, though : )
3 Would you be interested in seeing Kickback turned into a movie or TV show considering it seems perfect for that type of interpretation?
A movie, of course. An episodic tv show, I'm not sure of. A serial drama, sure. Dark Horse have the options on all that until August of next year. I hope they make the most of the time they have left on their contract to get something going.
4 Kickback is quite obviously not a super hero book, do you feel the market as a whole needs to look beyond capes and tights if it is to survive in the long term?
I don't know if the market feels it needs to, which is the important thing. I hate the way the superhero has become the dominant genre in the industry, but the major publishers are happy to keep them in that position, and the concept alone of the ' superheroic ' figure is still a popular one - look at the movie adaptations. And Heroes and Smallville. Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim. Not conventional spandex, but still ' super ' power. In a different wrapping is all. Are superheroes a serious liability for the major publishers of comics? I don't see any signs of that. And they won't shift their course until there are such signs.
There is a widening of the character base in comics, though. There is a wider range of stories and subjects for stories, which is good, and it's good to see that things like Losers and Walking Dead have benefited their creators through movie adaptations, etc. So you don't have to be a licenced lycra type to be adapted for the screen. That fact by itself will mean that new creators of sequential art will feel freed of the need to jump on a superhero bandwagon. More Cowboys and Aliens rather than more masked musclemen.
But what I'd like to see happen in the publishing of strips as a whole is a determined attempt to widen the readership of ' comics 'as a wide entertainment medium ( by that I don't mean getting more people to accept and read superhero comics, which is the only move industry execs seem to have considered ). But this can only be done by a major investment in market development, and this can only be financed by a big company. And as no big company I know of in the business looks like it has the desire to invest in such a thing, I doubt it will ever be done.
5 How do you think the industry has changed over the last 20 years and do you feel its for the better?
Well, freedom from the Comics Code should have freed the industry to explore it's power to expand and mature, but this has not happened. What Vertigo did has been great but hampered by it's place in an industry which has limited retailing and distribution capabilities, and limited aspirations in terms of it's market and it's artistic values. So, too much time has been invested in making fantastic characters ' real ' and not enough time has been spent in making ' real ' characters fantastic.
Good things have happened - especially in the quality of reproduction - but in general, in the main, we can say that it's much the same as before except different.