Much deserved tributes aplenty have poured in for comic creator, comic editor, TV writer and author Si Spencer, whose sudden passing was announced by his family earlier this week. He was just 59 and his most recent work, the supernatural series “The Returners: Heartswood” drawn by artist Nicolo Assirelli is currently running in Judge Dredd Megazine.
Si Spencer’s work in British comics spanned titles such as Crisis, Revolver, Judge Dredd Megazine (creating strips such as “Harke & Burr” and “The Creep”), and he was an editor of Deadline – and created the graphic novel KLAXON, with artist DIX in 2015.
He also wrote Books of Magick: Life During Wartime, Vinyl Underground, Hellblazer: City of Demons, the award-winning 2014 cult hit series Bodies, and Slash and Burn, all published by American publisher DC Comics, under part of its Vertigo imprint.
As a TV scriptwriter, Si wrote for Grange Hill, EastEnders and The Bill. Although he was announced as writing for Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood, his episode that proved a road not taken, but he rewrote and published his original script as Torch, Wood & Peasants, as an episode of a show called Alien Sex Cops, under the name Webley Wildfoot.
Growing up in Sheffield, reading a variety of British comics including Beano, Fantastic, Monster Fun and Whizzer and Chips, Si was inspired to write by his secondary school English teacher, Viv Nicholls, and eventually discovered 2000AD.
“I gave up on comics in my teens and only came back to them in my twenties, when Tharg got me back into comics around 1979/80,” he told the 2000AD.com blog in 2018. ”I loved the Britishness, the total punk anarchy, the uniqueness of the art styles, the dynamism, the radical approach to old ideas. Just beautifully British.”
In a tribute to Si for the 2000AD web site, Michael Molcher notes he was introduced by a housemate to titles such as Warrior and Chester Brown’s Yummy Fur, Red Dwarf Smegazine artist Adrian Dungworth, who, together with girlfriend Mary Green, encouraged him to write comics. The pair launched their own self-published anthology title, Sideshow, which featured their work alongside both new and established artists such as John McCrea and Phil Winslade.
“Adrian was talented and had friends in the [comics] industry and a totally different attitude and expectation to me,” Si told Stefani Sloma in 2015, “and together with his girlfriend we started putting together a self-published anthology title called Sideshow (and this was of course way before the internet and cheap computer printing – this was old school). That was enough to both give us a little bit of exposure, some contacts and more importantly give me a little confidence and help me find a voice.
“At the time, Fleetway (2000AD’s publishers) were massively branching out with Crisis and Revolver, publishing non SF, political stuff and I sent them a whole bunch of short stories from my ‘Raymond Carver’ period. I just hit really lucky that I picked the one time to be writing wholly uncommercial non-mainstream stuff at the time there was a publisher looking for it. Next thing I knew I was a comic writer.”
During this period, editor Peter Hogan signed him up for the short-lived comic Revolver where two long series, “Stickleback” and “YoYo” were intended to run. Unfortunately, the magazine folded before they saw print.
He took over as editor for a year on Steve Dillon and Brett Ewins’ comics and music magazine Deadline from 1991, before handing over to Frank Wynne.
His debut for the Judge Dredd Megazine came in 1993 with the gothic “Harke & Burr”, painted by Dean Ormston. Other credits include a “Judge Death” strip for the 1991 Judge Dredd Mega-Special and “Mytek the Mighty” for the 2000AD Action Special, before co-creating “The Creep”, drawn by the late Kevin Cullen.
After winning a ‘New Voices’ competition with his play Tracey and Lewis, he began an extensive career in television, beginning at the BBC as script editor on cop show City Central and, as a scriptwriter, working on Grange Hill, EastEnders and The Bill.
“The patience thing is difficult,” Si said of the TV script writing and editing process back in 2008. “We do at least four drafts of every script. I have a very disciplined regime. I start at 7.00am and finish at 6.00pm, I don’t do any more work after that time. It’s different for everybody really. It’s a bit like doing your homework – some people do it on the night you get it and some people do it on the bus on the way to school.”
Years later he met Anglophile Vertigo editor Shelly Bond, who was a huge fan of EastEnders. Out of the blue, she called him to offer the chance to work on Neil Gaiman’s The Books of Magic.
Other work for Vertigo included The Vinyl Underground with Simon Gane; Hellblazer: City of Demons with Sean Murphy; the award-winning Bodies with Meghan Hetrick, Dean Ormston, Tula Lotay and Phil Winslade; and Slash & Burn with Ande Parks, and Max Dunbar.
Commenting on his shock passing, Shelly described Si as “a favourite writer fullstop” and “devastated” by news.
“He was inspiring, epic. His work on Bodies, Vinyl Underground, Slash & Burn and Books of Magic: Life During Wartime were career highlights for me. Clever wordsmith. Musical encyclopaedia. Bloody Genius. He will be greatly missed.”
While Si’s work appeared in publications on both sides of the Atlantic, back in 2015 he told downthetubes that the graphic novel Klaxon, created with artist Grimly Dix and published by SelfMadeHero, had “a special place in my heart right now because it’s such an individual and personal body of work and completely unlike anything anyone’s ever read before.
“It stemmed from something I literally plucked out of the air in what I thought was the Klaxon pitch meeting; it wasn’t intended as a dramatic planting-a-flag-in-the-ground declaration rejecting the past and starting a whole new movement. More of a scrambled-together explanation of the mental-editing processes I went through for the book to make sure it was completely original and how hopefully that would make it something no-one had seen before.”
Si returned to Judge Dredd Megazine with “HAVN” in 2017, working with artists Jake Lynch and Henry Flint, a series followed by “The Returners” in 2018, featuring art by Nicolo Assirelli, in which four different people in the South American city of Ciudad Barranquilla – academic Barrancourt, ex-Judge Mineiro, gangbanger Correira, and transgender street-walker Chavez – all awake from near-death experiences and discover that they can deal with the supernatural.
2000AD and Judge Dredd Megazine editor Matt Smith, a long running admirer of Si’s work, describes both “HAVN’ and “The Returners” as dark and unsettling, and “completely unlike anything else in the anthology.”
“Part of the joy [of writing comics] is, of course, the natural urge to create and solve puzzles,’ Si told Judge Dredd Megazine, ‘but in a broader sense writing fiction is playing God. Whether it’s something fairly low-level like The Sims or playing with dolls or toy soldiers as a kid or whether you’re looking at the deeper creative process of fiction, it’s clear that humans like to stamp their authority on things. We like to create worlds where things behave exactly as we tell them to, to impose order in a world of random processes and, best of all, create a world where that order is your order.
“Writers are just frustrated fascists, I guess; although that’s not strictly true because for me and I think most writers, the real joy is when the characters you’ve created start imposing their own wills and identities on proceedings and take the story off in new directions.”
Tributes to Si Spencer
“I met Si through Will Vigar, who recruited him to contribute to our Zombre anthology from Borderline Press and over the last half a dozen years we kind of got to know each other much better via social media,” notes publisher and writer Phil Hall. “He was a mega-talented writer, with a portfolio of excellent work and one of the most erudite human beings I have had the pleasure to meet.”
“He was an amazing writer of comics, soaps and songs, indeed I met him when he was ‘The Nearly Band‘ back on the pub circuit in Sheffield,” noted fellow writer Will Vigar on Facebook. “Hilarious, salacious, super-intelligent, he dubbed me ‘King Smut, the Sleaze Queen’ which was a title hard-won (hard one, fnarr) in a battle between the two of us, double-entendres being pretty much how we communicated. A terrible loss and my heart goes out to his wonderful wife, Colleen.”
“Strident, creative and incredibly intelligent but always friendly, funny and welcoming, Si will be sorely missed by everyone who knew him,” notes Michael Molcher for 2000AD in his tribute. “His inventive writing was filled with great characters, abstract ideas, enthralling phantasmagoria, and – above all else – a great sense of humour… Our sympathies to his many family and friends at this time.”
“He was a very talented writer,” adds 2000AD and Megazine editor Matt Smith, “with a rich imagination and sardonic sense of humour, and will be much missed.”
“A longtime writer of several Vertigo titles, from Books of Magick all the way to Slash & Burn, he was an influential voice for so many,” said DC Comics in a statement. “Rest in peace.”
“I worked with Si and Max Dunbar on Vertigo’s Slash & Burn several years ago,” says Ande Parkes. “Si was a brilliant & generous collaborator. He and Max even cut me (the inker) in for a bit of ownership. All but unheard of. RIP, Si. You’ll be missed.”
“I was incredibly lucky to work with him,” noted Max Dunbar. “…He was a fantastic collaborator, a brilliant writer, and an extremely nice person.”
“So sorry to hear about the passing of Si Spencer,” says artist Henry Flint. “I was fortunate enough to work with him on HAVN, he was very kind in his correspondences. His writing was wonderfully cinematic like a dark 70’s movie. He will be greatly missed. Love and thoughts to his family.”
“There wasn’t a week that someone didn’t confuse us for each other – always to my gain. There was no better fellow for whom to be confused,” notes writer Si Spurrier. “As clever and warm-hearted a mensch as I ever knew. And a cracking quizmaster.”
“Si’s stories were unique, never mainstream, didn’t please the majority – and he liked it like that,” comments author and former 2000AD and Megazine editor David Bishop, noting that Russell T Davies once told him “The Creep” was a firm favourite.
“Vertigo Comics was perhaps Si’s natural home as a writer of four-colour phantasmagoria. The Vinyl Underground was a treat, while Bodies had all the complexity and genius you would expect from Si.
“Hopefully Si is propping up a celestial bar with Steve Dillon and Tom Frame, and other British comics greats.”
“Si Spencer was an incredibly smart, funny and creative guy with an amazing memory for trivia and an interesting and generally pithily informed opinion on any subject that came up,” notes writer Frank Plowright. “For many, many people the world will genuinely be less colourful without him.”
“It seemed all the world’s knowledge, minutiae, insults, jokes and trifles flew from Si’s grinning head at once,” artist Grimly Dix, Si’s collaborator on Klaxon, told downthetubes. “pausing only for a drag on a cigarette or to order a drink.
“Beneath this was a great big heart full of love. Working with him was an experience I will treasure – knowing him was a joy from beginning to end.”
Si Spencer, 30th August 1962 – 16th February 2021
When a major network successfully relaunched a hit family SF show, they were anxious to find a post-watershed spin-off as soon as possible to cater for the fans who had grown up with their original series, but now wanted a more adult version of the same thrills. The bulk of this book contains an original commissioned script intended for broadcast that never saw the light of day. The rest of the book tells the story of how that script was commissioned, edited, re-edited and re-commissioned only to eventually disappear without trace; an insider viewpoint on how the television industry works as seen from a writer’s perspective.
‘Torch, Wood and Peasants’ contains the script and behind-the-scenes story of an entirely fictitious television programme and bears no relation to any real programme… honest guvnor.
A SCRIPT DEVIL’S DICTIONARY by Si Spencer
Si Spencer’s wry glossary of some of the key terms a script editor will use (with apologies to Ambrose Bierce)
• Arc – From Adam and Eve to the emptying of the Ark is an over-riding arc. From Noah being told to build an Ark to the rainbow is an interior arc.
• Audience Investment – They’ve paid ten pounds each for a visual spectacle involving people they care about. Why are you writing radio puppets?
• Crowbar – Okay, a crowbar is a viable weapon to kill the henchman but having the protagonist find it inside a bucket of milk is crowbarring it in.
• Hook – An empty warehouse but for two people arguing. Above them, an enormous hook hangs from an old frayed rope. The argument builds and inexplicably the hook begins to sway. The threads on the rope start to fray, one of the arguers pulls a gun, the rope snaps. Roll Opening titles.
• “It’s not this but…” – a multi-layered phrase used when attempting to suggest the elusive dynamic that the producer wants. It can mean “I have no idea beyond the cliché I am about to cite so PLEASE come up with something similar but totally original” or it can mean “It is EXACTLY this. This is what the producer wants. Please do it”.
• On the nose – In attempting to make a point about the difference in perceptions between courage and honour versus body image, Rostand giving Cyrano de Bergerac an insanely comical hooter is a tad on the nose.
• Over-egging the pudding – Remember you told me on our first date that whenever you ate egg-pudding you always felt good about yourself? Well to redeem the relationship that I inadvertently destroyed I have built an egg-pudding shop… in the shape of an egg pudding. Because Love.
• Seed – I realise that your closing scene where the now aged and dying protagonist cuts down a tree is the thematic key to the entire plot, but here’s the thing. This is the first time we’ve seen this tree. Did he plant it as a seed? Did he water it as a sapling? Did he save it from developers, carve his loved one’s name on it, fall from its branches and break his leg? We’ve never seen this tree before – who cares about this tree?
• Ticking Clock – Your protagonist has only an hour to fix the town hall clock so that he can persuade the long lost sibling to donate his kidney to your wife who only has an hour to live and is wearing an exploding wristwatch set to go off in an hour.
• Drama – right there.What are the stakes? – The protagonist has bet the entire orphanage roof fund that he can bed the love of his life but if she finds out then the relationship will be soured and they will never give birth to the child who will grow up to be Hitler.
– Via The Script Doctor