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Kendal Calling: An Interview with Comics Editor and Writer John Freeman

John Freeman with Rian Hughes at a London Comic Con, pictured here with a copy of ‘Science Service’ a project for Belgian publisher Magic Strip, John's first commercial commission as a comic writer back in the 1980s. Photo: Steve Cook

John Freeman with Rian Hughes at a London Comic Con, pictured with a copy of Science Service – a project for Belgian publisher Magic Strip, John’s first commercial commission as a comic writer back in the 1980s. Photo: Steve Cook

Last year, in partnership with the Lakes International Comic Art Festival, downthetubes brought you a number of interviews with creators attending the event. We’re delighted to be able to run a series in the run up to their eagerly anticipated 2015 event this coming weekend (16th – 18th October), continuing the series with an interview with comics editor and writer John Freeman, who has been working behind the scenes promoting the Festival and edited their Lost in Space Anthology last year…

John Freeman is a writer, editor and creative consultant based in Lancaster. By day, he is currently editor for ROK Comics publishing a number of audio comics for mobile devices (Apple, available through the ROK Comics app and Android) including Team M.O.B.I.L.E. and The Beatles Story, the latter drawn by Arthur Ranson and first published in the British weekly Look-In in the 1980s. His past credits include editor of Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel UK and Managing Editor at Titan Magazines.

By night, he is editor of downthetubes.net, a web site devoted to British comics news and features web site that began back in 1999. He also works as a specialist PR advisor and copywriter for organisations such as the Lakes International Comic Art Festival and Lancaster Comics Day (Sunday 5th June 2016).

He is currently writing the online SF adventure strip Crucible, drawn by Smuzz (whose credits include 2000AD), lettered by Jim Campbell and working as creative consultant on the new Dan Dare audio drama series in pre-production from B7 Media,

Art from "Death Duty" (Part 4) written by John Freeman & Dave Hailwood, art by Brett Burbridge, lettered by Ken Reynolds

Art from “Death Duty” (Part 4) written by John Freeman & Dave Hailwood, art by Brett Burbridge, lettered by Ken Reynolds

downthetubes: What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?

John Freeman: I’m currently working on fine tuning the audio elements of Team M.O.B.I.L.E. #4 for ROK, written by Ferg Handley some time ago, drawn by Jesus Antonio Fernandez, coloured by Federico Blee and lettered by Jim Campbell. I’m also writing future episodes of Crucible with Smuzz and more WarWorldz stories for the digital anthology, Biodegradable. Dave Hailwood has a fine team assembled on those, including Brett Burbridge, who’s drawing Death Duty, which I co-created with Alan Burrows.

Crucible Episode 4 - PR. Crucible art by Smuzz. Crucible © John Freeman & Smuzz

Crucible art by Smuzz. Crucible © John Freeman & Smuzz

downthetubes: Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?

John: I think most creators will tell you their most proud of their current project and I’m no exception; I’m very pleased my SF strip Crucible is now available online via Tapastic, as its a project that’s gone through several incarnations. Smuzz has done some terrific work on this, not just on the art, but in terms of story and characters. Really, we’ve sweated blood!

Besides my comics work, I’m very proud of downthetubes.net. My aim was to create a space that’s supported the work of British creators and publishers and I think we’ve achieved that, despite finite resources in terms of time and people power.  I’m grateful to our readers for their continued and growing interest – and  I’m hugely grateful to the rest of the downthetubes team who have supported the site, especially the long-suffering Jeremy Briggs, who has put up with my garbled English and typos for far longer than anyone else.

downthetubes: How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)

John: I try and plan my week rather than my day and that doesn’t always go to plan. My focus is on what’s required on the editing front ahead of new writing. I’m full of admiration for the creators who’ve outlined their working day in the other interviews in this series. I’ve learn a few tricks reading them!

downthetubes: What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?

John: Creating new worlds from nothing and seeing what happens to the characters you drop into them. Working with a team.

downthetubes: And the worst?

John: The isolation. It’s easy to just sit and write, draw, whatever and lose track of the day and not see another single soul (unless it’s through Skype or Facetime). Luckily my partner grounds me in reality and the cats don’t let me forget they need feeding.

Really Heavy Greatcoat: 13th September 1988 - Aliens at the door. The Really Heavy Greatcoat © John Freeman & Nick Miller

A 1988 edition of The Really Heavy Greatcoat, a strip John wrote for many years, drawn by Nick Miller. The Really Heavy Greatcoat © John Freeman & Nick Miller

downthetubes: What most distracts you from getting your work done?

John: Social media. It’s part of my freelance work but it isn’t a one way street, and my friends post some wonderfully distracting items that drag me off in all sorts of wanders down the tubes of the internet.

downthetubes: Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?

John: It’s very easy to get published because you can do it yourself. The trick is to create something that people want to read, and get people to read it, because there is a huge amount of ‘clutter’ out there. I posted some guidance on marketing your comics which might be useful to aspiring creators – don’t rely on a Facebook post alone to get your work “out there”.

There also seems to be a distinct lack of guidance in the UK on that front, because nowadays a lot of British news stand comics are feature based and the comic strip is largely created elsewhere. I wasn’t joking when I liked comics editors to Redcar steel workers in a recent podcast interview – we’re an endangered species!

A page from "The Story of Aten" by John Freeman and Gian Marco Ibba, created for CJL Publishing, Italy.

A page from “The Story of Aten” set in a fictional town that looks uncannily like Lancaster, by John Freeman and Gian Marco Ibba, created for CJL Publishing, Italy.

downthetubes: Have you ever been to the Lake District before and if so what did you think of it? If you haven’t, what are you expecting?

John: Many many times, and sometimes when it hasn’t been raining. Take an umbrella. Don’t bite the locals.

downthetubes: Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?

Lost in Space Anthology - Cover

The Lost in Space Anthology, a Lakes Festival project aimed at promoting the comics form, edited by John

John: That’s hard, because I’ve been lucky enough to meet a lot of creators I’d admire. Will Eisner, in particular, who I helped get to Norway’s Raptus back in 2003. I’d like to catch up with some of the creators that helped inspire me to pursue a comics career back in the 1980s again, like Alan Moore and Alan Grant. Alan Grant won’t remember this but it was his encouragement at one of the London UKCAC conventions that encouraged me to keep going with my first fanzine, along with then Marvel UK editors John Tomlinson and Richard Starkings.

downthetubes: How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?

John: They get me out of the house – and out of the country in the case of the Malta Comic Con I’ve just been invited to. Seriously, it’s a wonder creators like myself have any social skills.

They’re a great way to see what’s currently being published in one place, meet creators, pick up ideas and also further encourage you to realise you’re not alone in your quest for comic creation (and, maybe, greatness). I’ve really enjoyed past lakes Festivals, which is one reason I got involved in promoting it and their commissioned projects.

I’m looking forward to the weekend, but I’m also looking forward to some of the announcements that may well get made about their future work – and some of the strands I’ve already discussed about the 2016 Festival.

downthetubes: What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?

John: Don’t make excuses. Just do it. Those pages won’t write or draw themselves. The only way to learn is by doing.

downthetubes: What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?

John: My favourite graphic novel in recent months has been Rob Davis’ stunning The Motherless Oven. I described it as Nigel Moleseworth on acid. If you don’t know who Nigel Molesworth is – Google it. Or just buy Rob’s book!

John Freeman (and friend). Photo: Sharon Tait

John Freeman (and Lakes Festival friend). Photo: Sharon Tait

• Find out more about John Freeman, visit downthetubes | Find him on Facebook Comic Con | Follow him on Twitter @johnfreeman_dtb

Events featuring John Freeman at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival:

Justice League: New Frontier Screening
Saturday 17th October 10.15am

John will introduce Darwyn Cooke, who will then introduce the film
FIND OUT MORE AND BUY TICKETS

Reinventing the Horror Comic: Si Spencer & Dix (interviewed by John Freeman)
Saturday 17  1.30-2.30 pm  Comics Clock Tower Tickets £8
FIND OUT MORE AND BOOK TICKETS

About News Team

News Team
This account features guest posts by a wide variety of comics industry professionals, often cross posted with permission from their web sites. Our thanks to them for their support.
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