I recently caught up with comics writer Colin Maxwell, to talk to him about his work on his first ever Commando, Issue 5371, still on sale in newsagents and available digitally here.
Colin, the winner of the Dundee Comics Prize 2017, the annual awards for short story writing, is the man behind independent comics publisher Maximized. His career includes working in photography and design for over 20 years, and he specialises in video editing and animation. He has worked in education for over 15 years, working both in the classroom and online.
In 2013, he began producing comic books along with illustrator Michael Philp. Their first comic, King Robert the Bruce and the Wars of Independence was published in 2014, coinciding with the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.
Colin’s stories have since been published in several anthologies, including the comics zine Bite Me, Swift at 350, Time & Space: An H.G. Wells Comics Anthology and Scrieve Issue 1, an anthology of Scots language comics).
Colin was commissioned to write stories for the long running Commando comic series published by DC Thomson Media earlier this year, of which “Five Little Soldier Boys“, Issue 5372, is the first.
Hi Colin, your first published Commando is available now. How does that make you feel?
Colin: It’s a dream come true. My Dad was a war comic fan and would buy Commando when we were away on family holidays. We couldn’t get American comics where I lived, but could get all the DC Thomson comics – Warlord, Victor, Hotspur, and of course, Commando. It’s amazing to be writing for a comic that was around even before I was born.
Let’s go back a bit then, when did the Commando team first approach you to write for them?
Colin: Gordon Tait, the Heritage Brand Editor at DC Thomson Media had a stand at the Defend Fife World War Two Festival in 2019 while I was there promoting my World War Two comic, Raid on the Forth.
At the time, Commando was bringing back characters from their back catalogue – Warlord, Braddock and Union Jack Jackson. We talked about those characters making a comeback and Gordon asked if I had any ideas for some stories. I did, of course, so he said I should send them in.
A few months later, they contacted me to say they’d like to commission one of the stories I’d pitched (which actually wasn’t “Five Little Soldier Boys”).
Do they give you any guidance on how to pitch an idea to them? Or is just “show us the whole script’?
Colin: I received a document explaining the script layout used for Commando, which differs a bit from what I’d been used to. I also received some sample synopses. A ‘pitch’ starts as a synopsis, which is reviewed by the editorial team before it’s commissioned or rejected.
Give us the “elevator pitch” for the story…
Colin: It’s Agatha Christie meets Commando. A squad of soldiers travelling through the Alps at the end of World War Two is caught in a terrible storm. Forced to take refuge in a creepy old mansion, the squad falls victim, one by one, to a mysterious assailant.
Was it your choice of era, or theirs?
Colin: All of the four stories I’ve had commissioned have been entirely my choice. I don’t know if any of the writers are ever asked to do a specific story or era.
Was there much back and forth between you about the script? How involved are they?
Colin: At the synopsis stage, there can be a bit of rewriting if some clarification is needed, or if the editorial team has some suggestions to improve the story. After that you write the script, taking on board any suggestions.
I expect there may be some changes done at the editing stage, but I have to wait until I read the comic to find out!
How long did it take you to write the script?
Colin: It was commissioned at the start of the year, with a deadline in March, but I think I submitted it in February. This was my second commissioned script, so I’d been through the process before and worked out a system for myself for plotting out the pages. I’m now writing scripts over a few days. It’s coming up with the story in the first place that takes longer – sometimes months.
How much do you feel that your small press work helped bring you to the attention of the Commando team?
Colin: I think having done some war stories of my own may have put me on their radar. It probably didn’t hurt that I’d already worked with Graeme Neil Reid and Ian Kennedy, both cover artists for Commando.
Did you see any of the art as it was being completed or did you have to wait until the end to see it?
Colin: I was sent a few pages from the comic back in May. I immediately recognised the art of Manuel Benet Blanes, who has been drawing Commando stories for many years. It was very exciting to see the artwork at that stage. A couple of months ago I got to see the cover art, also by Manuel. I sent him a wee message to say ‘thank you’ and he replied, just saying ‘thank you for such a great story’. I felt bad at making Manuel draw so many raindrops. It rains a lot in the story. I’m writing this a week before release, and I haven’t seen the whole book yet.
Do you have any other ideas that you’d like to pitch to the Commando team?
Colin: I have lots of ideas. As I mentioned, I’ve had four stories commissioned this past year, and I’ve also submitted a further four synopses in the past month. I’ve probably got the seeds of another three or four more stories rolling around in my head at the moment. I expect it will be Spring next year before we see another one of my stories in print, and it might be another that mixes the genres of murder-mystery and war.
Colin, thanks for taking the time to talk us through all of this – and congratulations on your other Commando submissions, I look forward to seeing your other stories in print.
Commando 5371: Home of Heroes: Five Little Soldier Boys
Story: Colin Maxwell | Art and Cover: Manuel Benet
• Available from AmazonUK here as a digital edition
Three words: gothic, murder mystery. That enough of a hook? When a bunch of soldiers get lost in a storm in the French Alps, their only refuge is an eerie chateau isolated in the hills… only this isn’t a refuge — it’s a house of death!
Marking a Commando debut by war comic writer Colin Maxwell, with gothic-esque art from Manuel Benet — the question is, will this troop survive the night?
• The Art of Ian Kennedy is available to order here on Amazon (Using this Affiliate Link helps support downthetubes, thank you)