Titan Books have just released their edition of the collected Albion, Wildstorm’s welcome revival of many British comics heroes owned by IPC. The trade offers the complete story – with some sprucing up of some of the art in places and a wonderful collection of original stories featuring some of the characters in the new adventure, culled from various annuals and other sources.
In the first part of an extended feature marking the release of the Albion collection from Titan Books (hot on the heels of Wildstorm’s edition last December), John Freeman talks to writers Leah Moore and John Reppion about the story…
downthetubes: John, if you had to pitch Albion to sell it to new readers, how would you do it?
John Reppion: Okay, here goes (cue gravely voice over): America has always had it’s heroes but where are ours? Who, these days, has ever even heard of Tim Kelly and the Eye of Zoltec or Jim Hollis the Rubberman? It’s almost as though these characters never even existed. But then, maybe that’s what they want you to think… Albion is the story of perhaps the greatest comic book cover up in history; a journey into a world were what happens on the page is a mere shadow of what happens off it.
downthetubes: Sounds good to me! How did the Albion project and this return of so many British comics characters – characters who haven’t been in print in the UK for years — come about?
Leah Moore: I blame Shane Oakley for everything. He was speaking to Dad [Alan Moore] and saying he really wanted to do a comic with the old characters from British kid’s comics, and Dad being the genial old soul that he is said he’d see who owned them. Shane had the idea that he could somehow buy the rights to the characters but when dad spoke to [Wildstorm editor] Scott Dunbier and asked him, Scott said that maybe Time Warner AOL (the conglomerate that owns DC comics, IPC magazines and most other things too) already did.
Unbeknownst to Dad, Shane or Scott, Bob Wayne was speaking to Andrew Sumner at IPC magazines. Andrew is a huge comics fan and wanted to try and get the old characters out of the dusty old cupboard they had been languishing in. Bob is a fan of British comics too and was happy to take the idea away and figure something out. Scott spoke to Bob, they sorted it all out so dad plotted it, we wrote it and Shane drew it, and even got Dave Gibbons on the covers and the rest is history.
John: After we’d had our initial big meeting in Alan’s house and talked the whole thing through we had this basic structure and about half an A4 pad’s worth of notes to work from. Alan had already pitched his version of the series to Wildstorm (essentially just a very basic outline with beginning, middle and end points) so we just talked about how to flesh that out and chop it up into issues.
Alan more or less just gave us beginning and end points for each issue with a list of important things to include and then Leah and I were left to our own devices. The characterisation, voices and the ways in which the characters interacted were all left up to us with both Shane and Alan throwing in ideas here and there.
There are lots of visual references in the book that Leah and I didn’t actually write in ourselves because we knew that we didn’t need to; we just had to make sure that we gave Shane enough space to add his own texture to the series.
It all sounds really rigid and regimented but it wasn’t like that at all; it was a very organic thing and a real team effort.
downthetubes: Were there any characters you wanted to use but found you couldn’t because IPC didn’t own them?
Leah: There were a few characters we weren’t allowed to use, and I think Andrew had a hell of a job sifting through them all to say which ones we could use or not. Basically if we put someone in a major role he’d figure out if it was okay, and if it wasn’t we’d change it or find a way not to ever say who they were. That way no-one could be put out by anything.
Using the DC Thomson ones would have been brilliant. Imagine Desperate Dan doing porridge with Biffo the Bear… frightening after lights out….
downthetubes: What prompted the decision to set the characters in the present day, some of them much older than their original versions, rather than revamp them, as Dave Gibbons did with Thunderbolt Jaxon?
John: The idea with Albion was that all these characters had been missing from the real world as long as their comic book personas had been out of print. Because of the sheer volume of individuals involved and the scale of the whole thing we didn’t really feel that it would really be possible or even appropriate to try to squeeze in origins for the existing characters; we really wanted to just “carry on” from where the old comics left off in some sense.
That said, we did do a fair bit of re-imagining and re-interpreting in Albion and, in the end, it is kind of an origin story. You have to acknowledge and understand what’s gone before, bring things full circle, before you can move forward and speculate upon the future, I think.
downthetubes: You concentrate pretty much on the boy’s comics characters; did you consider any female characters besides Bad Penny?
Leah: We tried to put as many in as we could but the girls comics were even weirder than the boys! The blind ballerina would have been great, or one of the detective ones.
I don’t know how many of them were IPC to be honest; I think they might have been mostly Fleetway.
That’s a bit of a cheat isn’t it? I would have loved it if Twinkle had turned up in a fight with a sock full of pool balls, but it wasn’t to be. I love the girls we have put in, but I think most of them are ones we can’t name explicitly. That puts the kibosh on explaining how many we used too.
I don’t think that the comics that weren’t “Girls comics” were only for boys, I think they were just comics and then there were “Girls comics” added in because girls are not much into fighting and catapults and like ballerinas and plucky adventuring… swizz I say.
downthetubes: Did you remember the characters that eventually starred in Albion from reading them while younger, or did you have to immerse yourself in piles of old British comics?
John: A bit of both really; we were both more familiar with the humour strips because those were the ones that continued to see print into our childhoods but we also had a kind of peripheral awareness of characters like Mytek the Mighty and The Spider.
Strangely enough, some of the very few comics that I still owned when Leah and I moved into our current flat were old issues of Valiant and Vulcan which I’d purchased for pennies when I was a kid. As luck would have it though, we had a bit of a clear out about a month or two before the whole idea of Albion came up and I sold them on e-bay.
Shane was really, really helpful sending us tonnes and tonnes of photocopies, annuals and comics (he’s since told us that his spare room is now surprisingly spacious whereas our office is filled with boxes and files full of old issues of Shiver and Shake and Monster Fun).
We also discovered www.internationalhero.co.uk and became good friends with Stuart Vandal, who proved to be an absolute gold mine of information (and a very funny and nice guy).
The research aspect of the series was really fun actually; finding out these snippets of information and taking them as a jumping off point, working out all these little connections or possible connections between characters. It was really exciting trying to knit all these seemingly disparate ideas and characters together into the one universe.
Leah: They get you hooked on the softer stuff first, and then you move on to harder things. I began reading Pippin as a very tiny child, and treasure my signed sketch of the gingerbread boy by Colin Wyatt (where is he now? I’d like to say thanks!) And then it was Buttons (a Postman Pat and friends type thing I think) and then Twinkle with the paper dolls on the back. I used to glue them to cereal packet cardboard so they stood up better and make my own clothes for them. You can’t have a half assed shoddy job on a paper doll you know, even if you are eight.
After Twinkle I was getting Beano, Dandy, Beezer, Buster, Topper and, occasionally, Whizzer and Chips — quite a comics habit for little un. I got annuals every Christmas and still have the Beano/Dandy 50-year anniversary one.
After I got a bit old and jaded I got Oink!, which was fantastic. “Burp the Alien” used to really make me feel sick, and “Pete and his Pimple” was revolting. I don’t have the flexi disk anymore but I still have my pig pack badge somewhere!
John: Neil Gaiman was kind enough to write the introduction to the Albion trade for us and he described the book as “[…] every bit as misshapen and unpredictable as the comics it was formed from. Something funny and serious and nostalgic, something very odd indeed.” I think that’s pretty much spot on. Even if you don’t focus on the prevalence of humour strips in UK comics, you’re still left with something very “wacky” (for want of a better word) and out there. British characters just seem a lot weirder and more unpredictable and in a way that makes them a little bit more realistic.
British characters like The Steel Claw and The Spider used to regularly switch back and forth between being criminals and crime fighters, not because of some mad doctor’s evil plan or symbiotic alien costume but because they felt like it. How cool is that.
It was great being able to write British characters and not have to worry about Americanising everything to make it easier for our friends across the pond to understand (although, there are those who would argue that we should have done a bit of that I suppose). There is a certain perverse pleasure in writing a comic book for an American company featuring only one American in a cast of hundreds [“Zip Nolan” from Lion – Ed] and which is kind of about how US comics destroyed our industry. Subversiveness is another important ingredient in British comic books, I think.
downthetubes: Did you find yourself discovering favourite characters as you wrote the series?
Leah: Grimly Feendish is very cool to write because he’s like Uncle Fester but not as wacky. He’s really creepy and mad. I liked Danny a lot, just because he’s so well meaning but crap. He’s a nice lad whereas Penny is possibly psychotic. She needs a few hours of counselling that one.
I loved writing Zip Nolan the best. His lines are class. I still laugh out loud at him even when I’m not reading it.
John: I’d say that the response we’ve got has been overwhelmingly positive but I think that’s because Albion has a kind of Marmite type effect on people; you either love it or you hate it. Happily not many people have taken it upon themselves to come up and tell us how much they hated it so we’ve got lots of nice, head-swelling praise!
That’s not to say that there haven’t been bad reviews but most of that I’ve read or heard basically falls into the category of “didn’t get it”. To me, if you didn’t get it then it wasn’t for you in the first place so that’s cool. It’s a legitimate reason not to like it; it’s the reason I don’t like Strictly Come Dancing.
“We’ve been very pleasantly surprised at the amount of “old school” comics fans (the people who used to actually buy Victor, Valiant and Vulcan) who have told us how much they’ve enjoyed the series. These are the people who we were worried about offending or, more accurately, disappointing but it seems that, simply by treating the characters with respect, we’ve managed not to tarnish their childhood memories. Indeed, our goal was to make Albion nostalgic whilst adding a new dimension to the characters and, happily, a lot of people seem to feel that we’ve succeeded in that.
Leah: Well, we know it did because on every comic’s forum people were saying “We like this, but where is it?”, “It’s off the pull list”, “It’s not being ordered”, it’s not this etc. The thing is, the trade is out, most people don’t even notice the individual comics they just grab interesting trades. I think it’ll do okay.
It’s a shame the delays were so bad because we had a lot of momentum there and feeling it deflate around us was very odd. I would have liked to have had more conversations about what people thought of the comic and less about where the hell it was and why it was so late. That kind of sucked.
downthetubes: What’s next for Albion? I gather there’s talk of more mini series by the creators but will there be another Albion mini?
John: We would love to work with the IPC characters again and we’ve got more than a few ideas about the adventures they might have in the future. Ultimately though, it’s up to Wildstorm and it seems like they’re moving off in something of a different direction now that ABC is all over with. Still, if the trade does well who knows? We’ve certainly got our fingers crossed.
downthetubes: What are you working on now?
Leah: Blimey, what aren’t we doing… we’ve never been so busy. We’re running about like headless chickens, to be honest.
There’s Witchblade: Shades of Grey, a six part mini with Stephen Segovia first one out this February, from Dynamite. There’s our zombie mini series Raise the Dead which has Sean Phillips and Arthur Suydam on covers, and Hugo Petrus doing the art duties, it’s a very cool book. That’s from Dynamite too and the first issue is out in March.
We have a little serial in Dynamite’s Savage Tales called “Battle for Atlantis” with art by legendary Pablo Marcos and genius Stjepan Sejic, which we have seen the pencils for the first eight pages of and it looks amazing. Proper fantasy comics.
We’ve also have done an adaptation of an Edgar Allen Poe story for “Nevermore” for Self Made Hero with James Fletcher, it was lots of fun to do it, and James is a great artist. Plus, there’s a script we’ve just written a script for 2000AD fan favourite PJ Holden which he is working on as we speak (we can’t say who for yet, but it’s very very cool!).
downthetubes: Leah, John, thank you very much for your time.
Some time ago, we created this t-shirt as a joke — but people are STILL demanding to be part of comic writer JOHN REPPION’S ZOMBIE ARMY! Now you can buy the gear from our cafepress store! (And people have…)
By Alan Moore, Leah Moore, John Reppion & Shane Oakley
For decades, children all across the British Isles thrilled to the exploits of their favourite heroes such as The Spider and The Steel Claw, stars of cherished comic-books such as Lion and Valiant. But the comics, and their heroes, disappeared…
Now Danny, a young student, and Penny, who claims to be the daughter of a forgotten hero, is investigating the disappearances. Meanwhile, in an isolated castle, a group of jailers watch over ‘criminals’ with peculiar pasts and bizarre names and abilities.
Is it all real? Are Danny and Penny delusional? Albion has the answers, in this epic tale that reintroduces these classic characters of yesteryear.
About Leah Moore and John Reppion
In addition to Albion, Leah Moore and John Reppion’s combined credits include Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Raise the Dead and Witchblade: Shades of Gray for Dynamite Entertainment, Book Of Monsters – The Horror Beneath for Dark Horse, “Monsters Anthology – Lusca” for Accent UK and Wildstorm’s 2004-5 Wild Girl mini series.
Leah Moore is also an illustrator whose work includes the cover of Puny Earthling’s Puny Earthling #1 and she has written two short stories for the 2007 Royal Mail Christmas stamps first day cover and presentation pack which will be released in November 2007. Her solo strip scripts include Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales #5 – “King Solomon Pines” and Tom Strong #19 – “Bad To The Bone” for America’s Best Comics.
John Reppion’s credits include various zombie related articles and reviews for the online sites Revenant Magazine , book reviews for Fractal Matter. Other articles include The End Is Nigh #1: Zombies – “Theological Dead End”, The End Is Nigh #2: War – “The Gods Of War” and “Megiddo”, The End Is Nigh #3: Watch The Skies -“It’s Raining Them!” for End Is Nigh and more.
• John Freeman’s 2005 interview with Andrew Sumner about the Albion project first published on Comic World News
2007 Creator Interviews
Albion Guides and Annotations
• Comics Should be Good offers a quick Albion primer called “An Unnecessary Guide to Albion” and the AFB Blog has a brief but excellent guide to the major characters in the story here – but if it’s a full checklist, notes, links and more you’re after then your best port of call in the brilliant “In the Fifty Pee” web site, now archived on Wayback Machine, which includes issue by issue Albion Annotations by Pádraig Ó Méalóid, Damian Gordon and the Bash Street Contributors: Issue One | Issue Two | Issue Three | Issue Four | Issue Five | Issue Six | Annotations for the Collection
• International Hero
A terrific guide to British comic characters