Creating Comics: Alec Worley and Dani talk “Black Beth”, Rebellion’s new sword and sorcery special

Black Beth & The Devils of Al-Kadesh, Rebellion’s ace Treasury of British Comics Special, is on sale now in all good comic shops and UK newsagents, and downthetubes caught up with writer Alec Worley and artist DaNi to talk about the project…

Black Beth - Final Cover

Alec Worley is an award-lacking author from South London. He writes comics, prose and audio dramas with swords, fangs and lasers in them. He’s probably best known for his work on 2000AD (“Judge Anderson” and “Durham Red”) and Games Workshop’s Warhammer universes. 

Dani was born in Athens, Greece in 1992 and studied sculpturing in Athens School of Fine Arts. With credits that include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Wonder Woman and much more, as well as much comic cover art, she is also the creator and designer of Tales from the Strips, a self-published series that won the Reader’s Choice Award at the Greek Comics Awards 2015.

downthetubes: Firstly, congratulations on Black Beth & The Devils of Al-Kadesh. How did the commission come about?

Alec Worley: We revived Black Beth exactly thirty years after her first (and last) appearance in the 1988 Scream Holiday Special (and over forty years after her original – unpublished – commission by IPC’s Jack Le Grand). The first revival story Dani and I did was called “The Magos of Malice”, which appeared in Rebellion’s 2018 Scream & Misty Special. Our short, “The Witch Tree”, followed in 2020’s Scream & Misty Special.

Scream & Misty Special 2018 - Black Beth
Black Beth in “The Magos of Malice”, from the 2018 Scream & Misty Special

These two stories were both pretty well received, I understand, and I’d already been politely asking (that is, begging) editor Keith Richardson for the chance to run a longer story for Beth. So when Keith offered us the chance to do an entire one-shot as part of Rebellion’s Treasury of British Comics slate, I was pretty much over the moon.

DaNi: Thanks! Black Beth is really special for me, so when Keith Richardson told me they were planning on doing a one shot with Alec, I just couldn’t say no!

What appealed to me was her wild and dynamic character and her badass appearance. Who wouldn’t want to draw a fierce black-haired girl with a helmet and a sword, in a world full of dark magic?

It was also great that we would get to tell her story in more than a five or six page short, which she deserves so much.

downthetubes: Was there a specific brief to the story, or did you pitch ideas in response to a suggestion to write a continuation of what had previously been published?

Alec: I was given free rein, really, but I specifically didn’t want to anything that required a ton of continuity-baggage. Here’s the premise: avenging knight Black Beth and her blind companion Quido roam the land combatting evil, directed by their mystic patron Moldred the cinder-witch.

That’s all you need to know. I wanted anyone to be able to pick this up and enjoy it straight away.

downthetubes: DaNi, did you chose a particular approach to the style of art on this book, which reminds me very much of US publisher Warren’s output, and Heavy Metal of course…

DaNI: My art style has slight changes in most of the comics I work on, depending on the mood of the story and the genre. With “Black Beth” I usually approach the art with looser lines and a scratchier vibe than usual. It just feels more suitable to her adventures.

downthetubes: Are there particular artists that influence your work?

DaNi: I haven’t been to any comics school so looking up to other artists and reading meticulously the comics that I liked has been the best university for me on the medium. Within the years, I’ve learned a lot from Eduardo Risso, Mike Mignola, Sergio Toppi, David Lapham and many many more… And I keep learning from every new comic that I read, I always catch myself studying every line and panel!

downthetubes: It’s quite unusual for a British comics publisher to commission a long form fantasy strip like “Black Beth”. How did you approach writing it? By that, I mean was it always going to be a long form tale, or did you come at it in terms of writing it in chapters initially?

Alec: It was always going to be a long-form tale, but I broke it up into scenes rather than chapters in terms of building the story. Gauging the size of a story is always crucial for me in planning to write anything, as you (literally) can’t afford to overdeliver and write a story bigger than the space that’s been given you. Scenes are what give a story ‘mass’, so to speak, and scenes are brought about by characters. Too many characters and the story quickly gets too big because you need to give everyone something to do. Having around five key characters in this case was plenty. You need to give the artist room to breathe. 

The previous two Beth shorts we did were only four-five pages long, so this was a good opportunity to open up the concept a bit. So, yeah, getting the chance to write a lengthy self-contained fantasy one-shot was a pretty unique opportunity.

downthetubes: At what point did you begin to collaborate on the project? By that I mean, was DaNi involved in what you wanted in the story from the get-go and began designing the look of the book before the script was in?

Alec: When I first pitched the revival back in 2018, I asked Keith if I could work with Dani, with whom I’d worked previously on another Scream & Misty story called “Fate of the Fairy Hunter”. For me, Dani’s the perfect successor to Beth’s original artist, Blas Gallego! We retained Beth’s design, but made her in her late teens as the books are intended primarily for a YA readership. 

We also based her on a Black Sunday-era Barbara Steele. Quido too we made younger (and hotter) and based him on Liam Hemsworth. Dani reinvented Moldred, the witch, as this crazy beast lady. She has such an amazing eye for design, I’ve always just told her to go with whatever she wants to do when it comes to the other characters and monsters.

DaNi: There is a collaboration and trust between us at all creative levels of the book. Alec wrote the script and characters and left me so much space to play with everything, and start drawing the pages. 

There’s always a nice waltz happening between the writer and the artist which gets better and better the more you work with someone and I believe the key is to have faith in each one’s part. It feels like we are totally in tune with Alec on our Beth stories!

Black Beth by DaNi
Black Beth by DaNi

downthetubes: I’m assuming that in the creation of this latest story there is the beginning of quite a lot of world-building around Black Beth and the characters featured in the story, material that you have come up with that doesn’t necessarily feature in the story but is useful background for you as the creators. How vital is that aspect of a project like this, do you think? Is it important or is some of the development on the fly?

DaNi: I can’t reveal any behind the scenes action, sorry! (Grins). The truth is we do get into some serious details when creating a story and this is something that happens with every comic. Most of it doesn’t even make its way to the page, but it’s always important for me personally, in order to get me into the right drawing mood.

Alec: I made more notes on the characters than I did on the world. I based the setting loosely on medieval Southern Spain, so there’s this Moorish/Arabic influence there, but all that’s really just a springboard to create a separate secondary world. I wanted parched landscapes with lots of mountains and scrubland. So I sent Dani a lot of pictures of Almeria, where they shot the original Conan the Barbarian and most of the Spaghetti Westerns. (Fun fact: The tree on which Arnold gets crucified in Conan is still standing, and we used it as ref for the tree in Beth’s second short “The Witch Tree”).

So, I’d rather maintain a strong sense of atmosphere than keeping tons of notes and weighing everything down. 

Photo reference: the tree used in the Conan film is still standing, and features prominently in the 2020 Black Beth story, "The Witch Tree". Photo by EscorTribal
Photo reference: the tree used in the Conan film is still standing, and features prominently in the 2020 Black Beth story, “The Witch Tree”. Photo by EscorTribal
"The Witch Tree', a Black Beth story by Alec Worley and Dani for the 2020 Scream & Misty Special
“The Witch Tree’, a Black Beth story by Alec Worley and Dani for the 2020 Scream & Misty Special

When Robert E. Howard wrote the Conan stories, he didn’t care about continuity. All that stuff was imposed upon the stories by the fans. So I’d definitely be looking to keep that sense of looseness and flow going forward. Let the story develop naturally at its own pace.

downthetubes: Assuming, this latest outing for Black Beth is a success, where do you hope to take the character next? The short form stories that are part of the Special suggest you have some ideas in mind, particularly that she continues to trade a dangerous path?

Alec: That would depend entirely on what page count we get. I’d like to do more with Quido and explore the relationship between him and Beth, but to do that we’d need a longer project. Happy to do more little twisty tales, though.

DaNi: Beth has so many adventures ahead of her. I’m sure Alec’s brain is already working devilishly!

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

Alec: Not allowed to say. I’ve got another horror short with artist Ben Willsher coming out in Storm King’s John Carpenter’s Tales for a Halloween Night annual for this year. It’s a completely wordless story, about an encounter with a creepy mime in Central Park.

 John Carpenter’s Tales for a Halloween Night Volume 6, released last year and also featuring a strip by Alec Worley and Ben Willsher, is available from AmazonUK

I’m also working on another pitch for the next “Durham Red” for 2000AD, picking up directly after “Served Cold”. I’ve also just started a folk horror graphic novel for someone, but that’s all I can say for now.

DaNi: Right now, I’m working a book with some friends and hopefully it’s going to be announced soon. Also, many covers!

A Red Sonja cover for Dynamite Entertainment by DaNi and Brad Simpson
A Red Sonja cover for Dynamite Entertainment by DaNi and Brad Simpson

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

Alec: I have six hours during the day, five while my daughter is at school, and another hour after I’ve ‘ad me tea. To ensure I get those hours every day, here’s what I’m supposed to do: Get started no later than 9.15. Ten minutes exercise, a moment’s contemplation, then onto the day’s jobs from a list compiled the night before. 

I keep a kitchen timer to log how many hours I’m spending on what project and take a break every hour to do squats. (I’ve recently got one of those fancy kneeling chairs, which has saved my back but is now knackering my knees.) Tin of tuna and a glass of water for lunch. Every. Single. Day. Headphones on the whole time, listening to dungeon synth, retro synthwave, classical, or ambient horror. No social media allowed. Emails don’t get answered until the evening, if at all. Barely have time to maintain my website. No time at all to blog or promote anything. Newsletter? That’s hilarious.

That’s what’s supposed to happen, but here’s what usually happens…

Get late back from drop off. Skip exercise and get depressed about it. Get mired in email bullshit until 11. Panic now because it’s so late. Drink an inhuman amount of coffee until I’m on the verge of a panic attack and/or soiling myself then maybe get an hour in before my elderly neighbour knocks and asks if I can help with something. More email bullshit and write off the rest of the day. Get nothing done and feel terrible forever.

DaNi: I always plan my full week and organise things in my schedule so I know what I get to finish every day and hit those deadlines! 

My biggest struggle is to try and work office hours so when I’m done, I have the time to do personal stuff and get my creative energy going with drawings and experimentations outside of work.

Hellbent cover by DaNi, a project currently seeking backing on Kickstarter. Hellbent is co-written by DJ Wooldridge and Jayna July, and features art by Heather Vaughan (Kids on Bikes, Unmatched: Buffy the Vampire Slayer), colouring by Ellie Wright (Bettie Page Unbound, The Black Ghost), and lettering by Haley Rose-Lyon (Insider Art)
Hellbent cover by DaNi, a project currently seeking backing on Kickstarter. Hellbent is co-written by DJ Wooldridge and Jayna July, and features art by Heather Vaughan (Kids on Bikes, Unmatched: Buffy the Vampire Slayer), colouring by Ellie Wright (Bettie Page Unbound, The Black Ghost), and lettering by Haley Rose-Lyon (Insider Art)

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

Alec: The best thing is doing what you love, not only what you love, but the thing you feel you were built for, expressing yourself in truth, and impressing strangers when they ask what you do. (‘2000AD? Is that still going?’) The worst is the crushing knowledge that you’re being supported by a partner who works twice as hard as you at a job about a hundred times more necessary to humanity than yours. No sick pay. No time for anything except work.

DaNi: Well, each and every comics creator I’ve met have gotten into comics because they love the medium so I believe the best thing is getting to do what you love each day. The worst thing is that sometimes you end up hating it briefly because of the stress it brings along but in the end of the day it really doesn’t matter because… comics!

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

Alec: You ever see that Mitchell and Webb sketch about working from home…?

DaNi: My cats, I guess? They are always complaining about more food and jump on the pages while I’m working! Also, replying to emails.

Downthetubes: Is there a particular comic or a particular project you’d dearly like to have a crack at, that you haven’t yet?

Alec: I never managed to crack Commando. I took several goes and the editor at the time, George Low, was amazingly helpful and supportive. I really prefer longer-form graphic novels these days, to be honest. You get to use comics’ full vocabulary. I would love to do something of my own that’s a bit more grounded and personal.

DaNi: I would love to do an erotic comic at some point.

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

Alec: If you’re looking to become a full-time commercial creator (as opposed to someone not looking to turn a profit or make a living. By the way, I believe that if you create comics then you’re a comics creator, regardless of whether you make a living out of it or not) then don’t think of yourself a “freelance comics writer/artist”. There’s no such thing! At least not when you’re starting out. You’re a “freelance writer/artist” who works on various projects, ranging from subediting, proofreading, writing marketing copy, audio scripts, comics, etc, etc. 

You simply will not survive as a business if you focus your efforts solely on comics. You need to take on a variety of work. You’ll always be juggling between higher-yield shorter-term (and usually less fun) projects and those longer-term lower-yield projects that you really want to do or might pay out a decent royalty or get you somewhere you want to be further down the road. 

Once you’re better and quicker at what you do, you can exert slightly more control over that workload percentage. It’s really tricky to know how to approach these things because the industry is so bloody opaque. 

Plus, writers tend to be full of shit. Promoting ourselves and making ourselves appealing to readers and editors often means those coming into the industry aren’t seeing the true picture of what it’s like to work in this space.

I wrote a blog a while back that expands on a lot of this stuff, if anyone fancies a read.

DaNi: Work and practice hard and never stop. This industry is like working out, you have to train constantly or else your drawing muscle weakens and it’s harder to bounce back after a big break. 

Also, actually, working out helps a lot… so many of us in comics have back and neck pain, so take care of yourself!

Black Beth 2021 Promo

downthetubes: If this latest Black Beth project is a success, is there another non-2000AD character owned by Rebellion you’d really like to get your hands on, and create a story in a similar format?

Alec: I’m running out, to be honest. I’ve already worked on Anderson and Durham Red and Hook-Jaw. I’d love to rewrite “Age of the Wolf” from top to bottom. I’d also love to do a big Anderson epic.

DaNi: It would be fun to create a new character!

Alex, DaNi, thank you both very much for your time when you’re both so busy. All the very best in all your projects!

Black Beth & The Devils of Al-Kadesh is on sale now from all good comic shops and UK newsagents, and the 2000AD web shop

WEB LINKS

• Alex Worley is on Instagram @mralecworley. You can also go have a poke around on his website: www.alecworley.com

Books by Alec Worley from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)

My Future Shock Hell: Breaking Into 2000AD (And What I Learned While Doing It)

• DaNi is on DeviantArt, Facebook and Instagram

You can buy art from DaNi on Cadence

Conan by Blas Gallego
Conan by Blas Gallego

• A self-taught fantasy art master, Blas Gallego, who lives in Barcelona, Spain, has spent much of his life in the pursuit of his passion for painting, but in the UK is well known for his comics work, for DC Thomson, on newspaper strips for the Daily Star, and girls titles such as Pink and Misty.

Fiercely independent, in recent years, he has focused on creating oil paintings, posters and book covers, largely for the US market. He’s regarded as one of the European grandmasters of pin-up and erotic art, both in illustration and comics

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.



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