Going into this interview I had heard that Gordon Rennie isn’t the sort of writer you ask for a cuddle. He also isn’t the sort of writer who spends his day gossiping on Facebook or posting photos of his dinner on Twitter. What he does do, in my humble opinion, is write interesting stories that have genuine edge. This (hopefully) is what interviews should be like. Not those yawn-riddled back slapping exercises which are in reality thinly veiled advertising that we seem to get these days. I chanced my arm with some cheeky questions in our back and forth and he came out swinging. Exactly how we like it.
Over the last couple of years I have really been paying attention to his writing. This has culminated in being asked to review Robbie Burns: Witch Hunter and Aquila for DownTheTubes. Both are excellent examples of his writing and explore areas rarely exploited in the comics medium. He has a few new projects on their way, as you can read below so I thought the time was good to ask him for an interview.
Gordon has worked extensively for 2000AD with writing on Dredd, Missionary Man, Vector 13, Inferno, Rogue Trooper, Caballistics Inc and many, many more. He has also worked on some licensed characters, Predator and Starship Troopers for Dark Horse Comics. With the explosion of creator owned projects at Image Comics and the like I can see him fitting in there perfectly with a project soon. His writing breathlessly explores grim and often super violent areas that exercise different areas of my comic reading brain. You could easily see characters like his Robbie Burns adventurer or even Caballistics fitting in with some Mignola Universe crossovers, for example. And a book like Missionary Man was out ‘westerning’ Hickman’s East of West or Kelly-Sue DeConnick’s Pretty Deadly years before they appeared.
As you can see below, he’s strongly opinionated with huge amounts of passion about his trade. He’s a little spikey in his honesty; a creator who seems to prefer to allow the work to speak for itself…
DownTheTubes: As an opener, I thought I would ask how you got into writing and what over the years has shaped your style? Growing up are there any writers that you followed or especially enjoyed? In general where to you get inspiration?
Gordon Rennie: I don’t know. To be honest, I hate talking about the ‘writing experience’ thing, and hate listening to anyone else talk about it. Ex-Tharg David Bishop once invited me to talk to his comic-writing course students at Edinburgh’s University. Apparently, my entire Q&A lasted almost as long as just one or two answers from a certain fond-of-his-own-voice UK comic writer they’d had in the week before. I haven’t been asked back.
This is off to a flying start, isn’t it?
DownTheTubes: (Heh) How do you approach a new subject? How long does a story take to unfold or gestate before you put it on paper or pitch it? Is there any particular process you follow until you’re happy with a script or an idea?
Gordon – It really does vary. Jaegir was about four years in the making, just percolating away and mixing various things I wanted to say or was unsatisfied with in my own or other people’s work in the Rogue Trooper universe. She was also a he, almost right up until I sat down to write the first script, and changing the character’s gender – despite Tharg’s doubts on this – is what really makes her as a character.
Angelic, which is running in the Judge Dredd Megazine as I write this, was way different. I was watching the Hannibal TV series, and liking the way the series has deliberate small continuity glitches in it from the very beginning, which grow as it goes on, so that – by the end of the second series – it’s abundantly clear that it’s set in its own very alternative continuity completely divergent from the later-set books and movies. I thought it would be interesting to do something similar with some classic Dredd villain. And the chance to annoy the continuity bores should never be passed up on. The Angel Gang, who had by this point just become fairly hackneyed comedy redneck psychos, seemed an obvious choice to develop into something with a little more grit and depth.
I think I’d found an artist and was writing the first script about two weeks later. Punk comics in motion.
DownTheTubes: I absolutely loved the recently repackaged Aquila and the graphic novel Robbie Burns: Witch Hunter. Your writing often makes use of historical and literary characters. What’s the motivation behind your use of them? (And, when are we going to see the next Burns volume?)
Gordon: I really like history. And know a lot about it. Or bits of it, anyway. I find the past far more interesting than the future. (So, naturally, I write for the self-proclaimed ‘comic of the future’). I like the idea of stuff going on in the past that we don’t know about, or that’s been hidden from us. And it’s fun playing about the facts.
Robert Burns’ most famous poem is “Tam o’ Shanter”, about a drunk meeting a coven of witches on his way home from the pub. Burns was no stranger to late nights at the pub. Therefore, “Tam o’ Shanter” is based on something that actually happened to the poet.
Speaking of which…
The next Burns book is in the works. It’s set during Burns’ time in Edinburgh, when he’s a critical and financial success, and the hit of Edinburgh literary society, being invited to aristocratic dinner parties etc. He’s older and wiser, and probably having what would prove to be the peak point of his life. His witch-hunting days are behind him – something embarrassing from his teenage years that he doesn’t want his posh new Edinburgh friends to know about. However, strange things are afoot in Auld Reekie and he gets dragged back into it all. Assisted, this time, by a teenage Walter Scott.
Basically, it’s about these two giant figures of Scottish writing – and they did meet when Scott was about 16 – being Batman and Robin in 18th century Edinburgh.
With Aquila, I wanted to do a big, supernatural historical epic, so he’s a near-immortal who lives through all these famous events in Roman history – the Spartacus rebellion, the rise of Christianity and the fall of Nero, the eruption of Vesuvius etc. And I get to write lots and lots of Roman stuff, which is my favourite period of history.
DownTheTubes: Your work with 2000AD is extensive to say the least. What is it that keeps bringing you back there? Any favourite characters or storylines do you have by yourself or others?
Gordon: I keep on coming back because they hire me and are reliable payers. And because you can pretty much do what you want on 2000AD, that being its beauty as a multi-genre anthology title. Storywise, I still love Zenith, Flesh, early ABC Warriors, the big best Dredd epics like The Cursed Earth, The Apocalypse War, The Pit and Total War.
I don’t tend to re-read old thrills these days – my own, or anyone else’s – but I’ll always happily quote Necronauts as a stand-out favourite piece of my own 2000AD work. I also modestly think I’m writing the best stuff of my career at the moment, on strips like Absalom, Aquila and Jaegir.
DownTheTubes: Do you read many mainstream comics? Who would you like to write from the big US companies, if any?
Gordon: I don’t read any monthly comics these days, and haven’t for a while. I buy the occasional graphic novel, but that’s about it.
Writing for the US companies? Oh, I don’t know – I’d most likely be inclined toward something supernatural/magical, like Zatanna, Vampirella or Doctor Strange. Experience has taught me straight-up superheroes really aren’t my kind of thing to write.
Oh, and Shako. One day, Tharg will let me do my killer polar bear reboot strip. Oh yes, he will. Or Flesh, which needs not so much a reboot, but rather more something like a railway spike booted hard up its arse.
DownTheTubes: Your Wikipedia page quotes you as saying a few years ago, “I got fed up with comics…” I suppose what I want to ask is, what did you mean? And has that changed?
Gordon: I think I got fed up with Dredd. I was the heir apparent then, but I seemed to be waiting around for a job that showed no signs of falling vacant, and working on a strip that I really didn’t think was going anywhere. (And I still don’t think is going anywhere; hundreds of millions more Mega-citizens dead, the city in ruins again… and nothing really changes). I’m much happier these days not writing Dredd, and concentrating on strips featuring my own characters.
And you shouldn’t believe everything you read on Wikipedia. For instance, I was never a music journalist in my life…
DownTheTubes: What would be your dream project? Any artist, company and subject? Who are you dying to work with out there?
Gordon: Doctor Who. it still bamboozles me that I’m not writing one of the new Who comics that are out now.
Not reading US mainstream comics, I’ve no real idea who’s hot and who’s not. This side of the pond, Henry Flint is always the one who got away. I have worked with him – on two fairly forgettable one-off Missionary Man and Dredd episodes, but it would have been great to have actually have done new and fresh with him.
DownTheTubes: What have you got coming out soon? Any new projects you can tease us with? Titan are repackaging White Trash soon. What else can we expect to see?
Gordon: As I write this, the new series of comedy strip Survival Geeks – co-written with my Burns collaborator Emma Beeby – is about to appear in 2000AD, and Emma and I are also working on a series of the Edwardian paranormal investigator strip The Alienist. There’s also new series of Absalom, Aquila and Jaegir in the works, as well as Book 2 of the Department of Monsterology, the creator-owned series that I’ve been doing with PJ Holden. It’ll be published as a complete graphic novel from Renegade Entertainment, probably some time later this year.
Unearthing golden oldies, Titan are republishing the White Trash book I did with the late, great Martin Emond, back in the days of yore. That’s out in April. Hopefully the Elvis Presley estate lawyers have forgotten about it by now. Blank Slate are also going to publish Orson Welles: Special Agent, a Hollywood pulp noir short graphic novel that Woodrow Phoenix and I did back in the early 1990s, but which has remained a lost gem until this day.
DownTheTubes: Gordon, many thanks.
AfterWord: I personally would love to read a Doctor Who by this guy. May I also be the first to ask why this guy isn’t writing a comic based on Peter Capaldi’s Doctor? If there was ever a perfect fit, it’s these two acerbic Scottish talents!
I really have to thank Gordon for this interview, his work (and his replies in interview) are a breath of fresh air in a current climate of over hyped events and pre-prepared press releases. There are newly formatted US versions of Aquila coming to a comic shop near you soon and a wealth of 2000AD collections available to buy at all good bookshops. A highlight for me will be the anarchy of White Trash when released in a few short months by Titan Comics.
• You can find Titan Comics at www.titan-comics.com
• Blank Slate can also be found at www.blankslatebooks.co.uk
Many thanks for reading.