Kicking Up A Storm: An Interview with David Lloyd

Kickback art by David Lloyd

Comics creator David Lloyd should need no introduction to readers of downthetubes. First springing to the attention of British comics fans in the 1970s, he’s perhaps best known for the Night Raven strip which first appeared in Hulk Weekly, created with Steve Parkhouse, and V for Vendetta, created with Alan Moore and (mostly) first published in the British monthly magazine Warrior

downthetubes: Can you tell me what Kickback is about, for those who haven’t seen the publicity?

David Lloyd

David Lloyd

David LloydKickback is about a corrupt detective in a corrupt force and how and why he decides to change direction. He’s a tough cop, but in all other aspects a regular guy – and he’s corrupt because everyone else around him is on the take. He’s just going down the same road as everyone else because it’s easier to do that than face up to his moral responsibilities.

It’s something we all do in life, I’m sorry to say – in little ways or big ways. If we didn’t, we’d have a much better world to live in.

downthetubes: Who do you think will buy the book and why should they buy it?

David Lloyd: Anyone who likes good, atmospheric crime-noir, a good police thriller, a good detective story with a psychological drama woven into it, and an action thriller – it’s all that.

downthetubes: What was the inspiration for the project?

David Lloyd: Well, I always wanted to do a strip that was like my favourite crime movies – things like BullitPoint BlankPrime Cut.

But the actual story inspiration originates from seeing a documentary on tv about airships. Something called an ‘axial walkway ‘ was described in it. It’s the central maintenance platform of an airship. It occurred to me that if you were on such a walkway, inside an airship, there’d be nothing to show you what direction you were going in, or whether it was the right one. Even on a plane, if you can’t see out of the windows, you don’t know if you’re going backwards or forwards. So I had this image of someone being taken somewhere by something, and kind of lost in the middle of it without knowing it. It’s a metaphor for the situation that Joe Canelli – the corrupt detective in Kickback – finds himself in. He’s going the wrong way and he’s got to wake up to it.

downthetubes: How long has the project taken to complete?

David Lloyd: I wrote a rough script in 1999, but I didn’t get time to sell it to anyone til 2003. I began drawing it in ’04, for its first appearance in France as a two-volume story – and finished it in September ’05.

Kickback art by David Lloyd

downthetubes: Are there any particular stories or non-comics genres that have influenced you in telling the story?

David Lloyd: As I mentioned, there are movies that influenced me. I’m impressed with the style and quality of storytelling that marks the best of classic crime cinema in France with movies like Le Samourai, and in the US with the work of directors like Don Siegel and Robert Aldrich, where visual detail is focussed on and script is sparse and serves it’s purpose, and isn’t a vehicle for the writer’s ego.

Of course the theme of corruption is a common one in movies – from Serpico to LA Confidential – so I’m bouncing off familiar walls with Kickback. But I guess my take on it is more from a regular guy’s perspective. I’m interested in why we’re all corruptible. Policemen aren’t more prone to it than anyone else. The stakes are just higher, that’s all.

downthetubes: What kind of reaction have you had to the story so far?

David Lloyd: I haven’t sought out reviews from previous countries of publication – France and Spain – although I know there have been favourable ones. I judge it’s effectiveness from comments I get at signings, mostly, imperfect though that method of assessment might be. Frankly, I’m amazed at the degree of success it’s had in France, because a very traditional style of artwork dominates the market there.

downthetubes: Kickback is being published by Dark Horse in the US. Has it been a difficult book for them to sell to retailers? 

David Lloyd: I don’t see why it should be. A while back, crime books were not easy to sell in the general market in the US, so I sold Kickback to France for its first publication. In France, crime stories are a staple diet for the comic readership. But things are different in the US now. 100 BulletsThe Losers, and others are joining classics like Sin City as regular sellers. And, of course, in this case, there is the added extra-value ingredient of yours truly. I haven’t short-changed a reader, yet, and I’m not liable to in the forseeable future.

downthetubes: You’ve spent a lot of time publicising the book yourself, is that something you would usually do and how hard has that been?

David Lloyd: I’ve seen a lot of things I’ve put hard work into swallowed up in the mass of comics and books that are issued every month in the US and UK. There’s lots of product on the market, and lots of good product on the market, and it’s almost impossible to guarantee that even just one copy of what I’ve slaved over, despite it’s quality, will be in every comic store for every customer to see. When it comes to ordering, there’s just too much material fighting for the store managers attention, and there isn’t enough publicity on the ground in any comic shop area to direct customers to any particular book in that store.

What I hope to do by publicising Kickback myself – and, shortly, touring with it up the East Coast of the US – is to assure store owners that I am being as helpful to them as they are being to me by stocking my book. I will do my best to spread the word of Kickback to all media areas I can access, so that customers will know where it is and come to buy it.

Is it hard to do? No, if you’ve got friends to help you with necessary information – and I like talking about my work. But it is time-consuming.

downthetubes: They do seem to have more of a reputation for film and TV tie-ins and manga than more traditional original graphic storytelling such as Kickback, so why Dark Horse?

David Lloyd: I’ve worked with Dark Horse a lot in the past, and I see Dave Land every time I go to San Diego – except for this year, I’m sorry to say. It’s good to work with people you know and trust, and the job DH did on producing Kickback was great. Made a cool package of it. A 92-page, comic-sized hardback with a grabbing cover. Couldn’t look better. And I think, style-wise, it fits quite well into their menu of products.

Kickback art by David Lloyd

downthetubes: You’ve long championed comics storytelling beyond the costumed superhero. Has that challenge gotten any easier in recent years?

David Lloyd: I can always find something to do that I like, so I’m not challenged too much, personally.

The major challenge is for the industry. Apart from the slight advance in the production of crime material, and the anthology books coming back a bit, we’re still dominated by the super-hero stuff.  It would be really healthy for the whole industry’s growth to change that situation, but it would mean re-structuring the industry’s elements, I think – and I can’t see a joint effort like that occurring in any circumstances short of a crisis. If the big comic companies in the US had somehow been able to understand and forsee the impact of manga on their industry, years before it became the phenomenon it has now become, that might have been a sufficiently loud wakeup call. Unfortunately, such was not the case.

downthetubes: Do you think there’s more acceptance of graphic storytelling in the US and the UK from the ‘literati’ than there was, say, ten years ago, with publishers like Jonathan Cape throwing their hat into the ring.

David Lloyd: The middle classes always have a spot in their hearts for the combination of words and pictures that we call comics, because they are naturally brought up in circumstances where art and literature are respected. But they only like comics that have very little ‘ pop ‘ or restricted ‘ pop ‘ appeal. Books like Persepolis or Maus rarely sit on the racks in bookstores with those horrible collections of superhero miniseries that pretend to be graphic novels. They’re in a special place where real books go.

Good for any creator who wants to make use of that market – and it’s a great market for the product that fit’s into it – but its growth won’t make the middle classes, the literati, the Establishment, or Joe Public gaze with any more respect on the comics medium as a whole.

downthetubes: There are huge changes taking place in all forms of media as the Internet and new media develops, do you think these will affect the comics business in future?

David Lloyd: Yes, but every medium has its own particular values that are the key to its success and make it attractive to people. The prosperity of any medium depends on those who can maximise the appeal of those values in any environment, whatever the competition may be for audiences in that environment.

downthetubes: You’re probably still best known for V for Vendetta, a work you drew over 10 years ago. Does that strike you as odd, given the huge amount of work you’ve done since, such as War Stories, Global Frequency et al?

David Lloyd: Well, most of my things – if they’re known about or seen at all – are in the comic stores for two seconds, and then become a back issue. Vendetta is a graphic novel that’s in every store all the time across the globe, and happens to have been written by one of the world’s greatest writers.

downthetubes: What are you working on at the moment?

David Lloyd Letting people know about Kickback.

downthetubes: Is there a comics character you’d like to work on but have never been given opportunity? 

David Lloyd: I’d love to do Nick Fury in its very earliest days version. Suited, and like a secret agent Mike Hammer, with all of Kirby’s gutsiness of approach. I suggested it to Marvel once. No go.

downthetubes: If the chance arose, would you draw them?

David Lloyd: That would depend on circumstances.

downthetubes: What one piece of advice would you give an aspiring comics creator starting out in the field today?

David Lloyd: Be yourself.

downthetubes: David, thanks very much.

• Buy Kickback from (Hardcover)

Read our review of Kickback

• Read a review of the Editions Carabas release of Kickback Volume One (in French)