There are exciting times ahead for fans of classic British comics as 2000AD publisher Rebellion expands its “Treasury of British Comics” line in 2019, taking full advantage of the huge range of characters and comic titles it now owns, from tentpole football legend Roy of the Rovers to much-missed humour titles such as Buster and Cor!!.
John Freeman caught up with Rebellion’s Senior Graphic Novels Editor Keith Richardson to talk to him about the company’s plans for 2019, which it was revealed this week not only include a humour comics collection, Funny Pages, for Free Comic Book Day on 4th May, but an all-new Cor! & Buster Special, out at Easter, featuring strips by Abigail Bulmer, Ned Hartley, Cavan Scott, Lew Stringer and many more.
John also talked to Keith about his work on the first new Battle-inspired comic, Sniper Elite: Resistance…
downthetubes: Keith, thanks for talking to use about the Treasury of British Comics and other Rebellion projects. What’s your role at the company and what do you most enjoy about the working day?
Keith Richardson: I’m the Senior Graphic Novels Editor at Rebellion. I oversee/collate and edit all of the trades, commission covers/introductions and extra back matter where needed. I put together the release schedules, which then get presented to the Publish Manager for final approval. That means that about 95 per cent of the schedule consists of books that I want to put out!
Another part of my job – I far more interesting aspect of it these days – is commissioning the majority of specials that we release. Nothing quite beats being involved with creative teams making something new. Days when new scripts or art come in are very exciting.
downthetubes: What will be your main focus in 2019 with regard to making the most of the classic British characters Rebellion now owns?
Keith: You’ll be surprised to hear this, but not much! We work almost a year in advance in regards to scheduling, so by the time that we had acquired the rest of the old Fleetway archive, the 2019 schedule had already been finished. 2020 though – wow…
downthetubes: How do you decide on what to reprint given the huge choice of material Rebellion owns? “Marney the Fox” was a wonderful choice in terms of the quality of art by John Stokes and story, for example, but it might not have been what many expected as it didn’t seem to have the same kind of nostalgia factor of, say “Leopard from Lime Street” or “Roy of the Rovers”?
Keith: Many , many different factors go into deciding what to put out. We look at market trends, gauge interest from retailers and distributors in titles and specific creators. I grew up reading a lot of this stuff, especially the material from the seventies and eighties, so I have a fair amount of confidence in what I believe will sell.
Something like the “Leopard from Lime Street” is a story I myself and wanted to see collected for an Ice Age! It was the reason that I bought Buster.
In the case of “Marney the Fox”, I hadn’t remembered reading it before, but both myself and the Publishing Manager were blown away by the gorgeous art. John Stokes’ work just demanded to be seen again.
downthetubes: A lot of fans are of course wondering when we’ll see characters from the pre-1970 comics you acquired from T1 Media come on stream – are you looking at both reprints and new takes on the characters?
Keith: I’m going to be all space monolith on this one…
downthetubes: Talking of “new takes”, can you tell us if there will there be more from The Vigilant in 2019? And if there is more on the way, will it include the pre-1970s heroes and villains?
Keith: The Vigilant will return in 2019! We always intended to have more. Some pre-seventies heroes and a villain will make an appearance… it may not be for long though…
downthetubes: How did the Sniper Elite: Resistance project come about and at which point did you decide to incorporate Battle’s “Rat Pack” into the story? Which, I have to say, was a good idea because, as you’ve noted elsewhere in this (minor spoilers) interview over on Doom Rocket, it gave the book more visibility as far as comics fans (who might not know the game) were concerned…
Keith: The management wanted to get a Sniper mini series out, being as it is our most successful games franchise – it just made sense. I was approached to commission and edit the series – I had already overseen a couple of Sniper and Nazi Zombie Army one-shots in the past. I asked if I could pitch to write it instead. They rather generously allowed me to do so and liked what I had in mind.
The Rat Pack were in my story from the very beginning. The cross company synchronicity made sense – we own Battle and here we were putting out a war comic. Also, Sniper Elite has a large and rabid fanbase, but a large proportion probably aren’t comic book readers.
If the series goes down well, I see no reason why we couldn’t have another series with Karl teaming up with Major Eazy or facing off against the Death Squad. And of course, I’m hoping to see the Rats or Darkie’s Mob turn up in a Sniper Elite game.
downthetubes: For me, Sniper Elite: Resistance worked really well, mashing Rebellion’s game with Battle’s “Rat Pack” – it did feel the characters had a chance to breathe, story-wise, while The Vigilant was quite a frenetic tale. Are you looking at other standalone US-format series now you’ve tested the water with Sniper Elite?
Keith: I’m glad that you liked it John – I certainly had a blast writing Sniper. The Vigilant was initially envisaged as a three-issue mini series and that was changed by powers higher than me just before I was due to commission it. Then the whole thing was put together in three months! It was a hard project to work on and I’m immensely proud of what the three Simons (Furman, Coleby and Bowland) and Len O’Grady achieved in that time.
The Vigilant is a passion project and I always intended for there to be more. I want to kickstart a new universe with these deliciously odd and remarkable characters that is a little like a jigsaw – you may not get everything right away, but the pieces will fit satisfyingly into place as each new story comes out. Some people have said that it was hard to follow and a little dense, but enjoyed it nonetheless.
I remember the first time that I went to Forbidden Planet in Denmark street and bought the third issue of Crisis on Infinite Earths. I didn’t have a scooby about what was going on and why there were several versions of some characters, but I loved it! Well, we have started in the middle of our own Crisis and once that is resolved the next Vigilant story might very well be much slower paced and focus on fewer characters.
Simon Furman sees them operating very much like Marvel’s Defenders. Members will come and go, some characters will be left out of specific missions that they aren’t really needed for and so on. I’m really excited by the next Vigilant offering and hope for plenty more in the future.
downthetubes: The archive characters Rebellion now owns is overflowing, but while many of the collections have been your adventures and girls comics stories, you now own hundreds of disparate humour characters, from “Billy Bunter” and a personal favourite, “Mowser”, through to the likes of “Captain Crucial”.
Given that Beano is still going strong, what are you planning for them?
Keith: There are big plans afoot for our humour characters in 2019 – the state the world is in at the moment, we could do with a few more laughs. Free Comic Book Day is going to be an important date with our Funny Pages collection.
Plus, with our Cor!! & Buster Special, this Easter is going to serve up some rib-tickling comic fun as well…
downthetubes: The reaction to the new Roy of the Rovers has been fantastic and the graphic novels (and books) seem to be going down a storm. Talking to people at Rebellion, I gather even you were a bit taken aback by the interest in the character. Do you think ROTR is the kind of property that helps Rebellion build its audience, beyond the comics community – and, if so, what’s next?
Keith: We have been overwhelmed by the great response to Roy. In hindsight, it should have come as no surprise considering that we have one of the best current British comic writers at the helm. Rob Williams has brought Melchester Rovers to life for a whole new generation of readers.
I’m sure that ROTR, being a football book does expose us to a new audience which is a great thing. The plan is to keep on releasing three original graphic novels and three fiction books a season – beyond that, who knows? ROTR opens up a whole new world of business opportunities and deals that haven’t been available to us before.
It’s exciting – the crown jewel in the archive, in my opinion.
downthetubes: Of all the characters and strips you’ve been ploughing through in the last two years (if not longer!), do you have any particular favourites you’re keen to get back out there?
Keith: I finished “Johnny Future” – a story from Fantastic – just a few weeks ago. Luis Bermejo is surely one of the finest comic artists to ever grace the medium. In Fantastic, his work sat alongside Jack Kirby’s and Steve Ditko’s and surpassed them both – again, in my opinion.
downthetubes: Finally, given the news last year of the new Rebellion Studio development in Didcot, are there any characters in the “Treasury” beyond 2000AD that you think are crying out to make the leap to other media?
Keith: One or two – Black Max, The Thirteenth Floor, Fran of the Floods, Faceache, Frankie Stein, Disappearing Trix, Hit Kid, The Spider, The Sentinels, Crabbe’s Crusaders, Danny Doom, Doctor Sin, The Leopard from Lime Street, The Four Faces of Eve, Marney the Fox, Prisoner of Zengar, Dr Mesmer’s Revenge, Hire-A-Horror, Kid Kong, Gums, Roy of the Rovers, Sub, Billy’s Boots, Death Wish, Adam Eterno, Charley’s War, Sugar Jones, House of Dolmann, Fighting Mann, The Two Faces of Janus, Matroc the Mighty, The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire, Kids Rule!, Steel Claw, Grimly Feendish, Micky Marvel’s Multi-Gun, Mytek the Mighty, Justine the Justice, Land of No Tears, Beattie Beats ’em All, The Dracula Files, Mam’selle X, Winner Loses All, The Sludge, Death Squad, Phantom Viking, Jason Hyde, Steel Commando, Sweeny Toddler, Draculass, Deadly Headley, Rat Pack, El Mestizo… can I stop now?!
downthetubes: Ha! Keith, thanks very much for your time and we look forward to Rebellion’s classic titles and new projects in 2019!
• The Cor! & Buster Special goes on sale 17th April 2019 price £4.99 and will be available in all good newsagents and through comic shops (Diamond PREVIEWS order code FEB191918)
• Find out more about the FCBD 2019 all-ages Free Comic Book Day title Funny Pages from Rebellion here, which marks its eighth year as a Silver Sponsor of Free Comic Book Day – and check out this preview here
• The Treasury of British Comics titles are all available direct from the publisher via treasuryofbritishcomics.com – and all good book shops, physical and digital