One of the highlights of the new Monster Fun Halloween Spooktacular, a new Special laying the trail for the launch of a bi-monthly, ongoing comic next April, is the revival of “Wiz War”, which first appeared in the now Rebellion-owned weekly title, POW!, back in 1968, then moved to SMASH!, and featured two feuding sorcerers, Wizard Prang and Demon Druid, originally drawn by Mike Brown.
While, unfortunately, there aren’t any plans to continue the strip, at least for now, in the new ongoing title in 2022, its appearance does highlight just how many characters and strips could utilise from their massive archive, and it’s great to see writer Kek-W and artist Lew Stringer deliver this new take. (I’m sure there are many other past strips they could be asked to turn their hand to in the future, as well, given opportunity).
I caught up with writer Kek-W to ask him about the project, first asking him what were his earliest memories of the original strip…
“I read and enjoyed it when I was young, but until I read Lew’s recent blog-post, I’d only remembered it being in SMASH!,” he tells me, “even though I also read POW!.
“I love the ‘Spy Vs Spy’ style vibe of the strip, of two equal and opposing magicians battling it out and trying to undermine or out-do one another,” he continues, “and the craziness escalating with each tier of the strip. It’s a perfect recipe for daftness.”
Why did he and Lew both want to bring back “Wiz War” and how hard was it, I wondered, to persuade Treasury of British Comics and Monster Fun editor Keith Richardson to let them do it?
“Well, I’d wanted to do something with Lew for ages,” Kek reveals. “He’s a total master of the form, one of the UK’s greatest cartoonists.
“I think it was about three to four years ago that we started talking about possibly collaborating,” Kek continues. “Originally, I’d suggested a short creator-owned humour strip – then ‘Wiz War’ came into the frame. I wrote an outline for a possible one-pager while, bizarrely, sitting around for a few hours in hospital waiting to be anaesthetised for an operation. Most of the gags in that outline ended up in the final strip.
“In the end, Keith offered us a two-pager which allowed Lew and I more elbow room and to put in yet more sorcery-based puns and sight-gags!
“Due to publishing lead-times, budgets and the covid epidemic, it’s taken about three years from us conceiving the strip to it being published. I love what Lew’s done with this!”
Over on his blog, Lew reveals he pitched the idea for the ‘Wiz War’ revival to editor Keith Richardson last year, hoping it might be feature in the new Smash! Special. In the end, the new Smash! took a different to the original, but Lew is pleased that ‘Wiz War’ features in Monster Fun, “A much more suitable home,” he says.
Most comic readers are more likely to associate Kek’s comics writing with adventure and horror, so I wondered if was writing this humour strip was a nice change of pace, or should we be reminding downthetubes readers about other humour work he’s done that I wasn’t aware of… and if so, where can they read it?
“Yeah, I’m probably better known for doing Horror, SF and Fantasy in the UK,” Kek concedes, “but I love writing humour, from slapstick comedy to satire and surreal pastiche, the dafter the better. With everything going on in the world right now, we need some laughter and light to keep us all sane!
“I’ve written a number of satirical humour pieces and strips for AHOY Comics in the States, the most recent being a 12-pager with artist Alberto Ponticelli called “Ms. In a Bottle” which can be found in trade collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Blood.
Plus, there’s “Conspiracy Dog, the character I co-created with Polish illustrator Łukasz Kowalczuk, is, er, ‘a gruff, chain-smokin, poop-sniffin’ pooch chewing on the trouser-leg of Truth,” Kek notes. “He’s a paranoid cross between Fox Mulder and Hunter S Thompson, but a dog. There’s probably still some stray copies floating around via online comic-book outlets. There are English and Polish editions of that.
I’d love to find a publisher to reprint CONDOG and some other humour strips Łukasz and I did to make them more readily available in the UK,” he tells us, “along with some new Conspiracy Dog tales.”
“People won’t be aware that I co-developed some film and TV stuff last year during lock-down,” Kek also teases. “One was a Brit-based comedy action-SF series which we’re looking to land. I’ve literally just finished the third draft of a film that’s being co-developed with a UK director that’s a strange, unsettling existential comedy. More on that when it hopefully moves forward. And I’m writing an incredibly daft Brit comedy pilot called The Retaliators. But, yeah, humour is entwined in my DNA along with horror.
Going back to the original “Wiz War” artist Mike Brown worked on a lot of strips for the “Power Comics” range, so I wondered if Kek-W had other favourites by him?
“I’ve got a faint memory of a ‘Bash Street’-type strip called ‘The Group‘ that had a big-beaked Ringo Starr lookalike in it,” Kek laughs.
I round off our quick interview to note how that it’s great to see Monster Fun back on newsagents shelves, and ask Kek-W for his thoughts on the regular, new ongoing title from Rebellion. Was there really any scope for it, I wondered, playing devil’s advocate?
“Yes, definitely!” Kek-W enthuses. “I don’t think there’s just a scope for it, I think there’s a need. Like I said earlier, we’re all in need of some comic relief and belly laughs right now. I’d also like to see something new and contemporary in the vein of Mad.
And what would be his top three strips or characters owned by Rebellion he would bring back to appear in it?
“Grimly Feendish,” he shoots back, without hesitation. “Fuss Pot. Frankie Stein,”
Aside from reviving great British comic characters, and hopefully there will be more on that front in future, what new stuff is Kek working on at the moment that he can tell us about – and where and when will be able to see it?
“I’ve written some bits and pieces for Rebellion and elsewhere, but they haven’t been solicited yet, so I’d best not say anything until they are,” he teases. “But I’ve also been busy writing new creator co-owned episodes of ‘The Screaming Hand‘!’, beautifully illustrated by Conor Boyle. I’m really excited about this series. It’s wonderfully nuts! We’ll be releasing those when we get to the end of our first season.
“I’ve also been working on new creator-owned characters and series off and on over the last year or two,” he reveals, “with Charlie Gillespie, Warwick Fraser-Combe, Eoin Coveney, James Cocoran and Louis Carter. All in various stages of development. It’s some crazy, fun stuff with amazing art. Can’t wait for people to see this stuff. There are also a bunch of other things I’ve written – humour, horror, SF – looking for illustrators and collaborators. Never a dull moment!
Finally, I ponder: “Hire a Horror” versus “Scream Inn“? Who would win the match between the two great classic strips?
“Offt!” Kek grins. “That’s a close one… ‘Scream Inn’, I reckon, by a witch’s nose or a demon’s whisker!”
The Monster Fun Halloween Spooktacular is on sale now from all good newsagents and comic shops across the UK | Read John Freeman’s review here
• Kek-W – who you can find online on Tumblr and Twitter – is the writer and co-creator of The Order and The Fall of Deadworld for 2000AD. He also wrote Cap’n Dinosaur for Image Comics with artist Shaky Kane, as well as contributing to Wired magazine and Commando. He lives in Yeovil, South Somerset.