Creating Comics: The Return of “First Men on Mars” – exclusive interview

One of the most impressive-looking but, unfortunately, unsuccessful crowdfunding comic projects we’ve featured here on downthetubes in recent years is the steampunk SF adventure First Men on Mars, from E.M.PRESS Publications, thankfully now revived. We caught up with the independent publisher’s cofounder, Paul L. Matthews, to find out more, ahead of the relaunch on 18th April 2023…

E.M.PRESS Publications - First Men on Mars - Updated Cover

For those who came in late, can you give us the “Elevator Pitch” for the E.M.PRESS Publications First Men on Mars project?

E.M.PRESS brings you First Men on Mars #1. This steampunk opus details an ill-fated British military expedition to Mars. Our first issue in this limited series of 48-page, full-colour comics features work by some of the UK’s best comicbook talents.

How and when did you and your team come up with this exciting steampunk-inspired project?

First Men on Mars began as a pitch by myself which I originally sent to Accent UK. This first pitch was a written as a conventional comicbook narrative, which chronicled a failed Victorian expedition to Mars. However, Dave West, now with Time Bomb Comics, suggested changing the structure to a series of testimonies by an assortment of characters. From that point, I restructured the script to give us the First Men on Mars we see today.

Who’s involved in delivering art, story and other elements of the project?

We’re extremely lucky to have an astonishing team working on the series. Thanks to our art director Gary Erskine, we have interior art by Mike Collins, Paul McCaffrey, Ian Richardson and Gary himself. We also have a host of variant covers by Gary, Ian and Paul as well as Lee Carter, Staz Johnson and Tiernen Trevallion. Add colours by John-Paul Bove and Yel Zamor, and lettering by Annie Parkhouse, and you can see why we’re so excited!

That’s an impressive team. How did you get them all together?

It’s all Gary’s work. He and I bumped into one another by chance at MCM Comic Con in 2020. At that juncture he and I had only met a handful of times at conventions such as Thought Bubble, but Gary being Gary, he remembered me and we chatted, which was great. I’d been working on the script for First Men on Mars for some time at that point, so I decided to pitch both the script and the concept of Erskine and Mathews Press to Gary in the weeks following this chance encounter. Gary, thankfully, decided to give it a go, and duly assembled the team you see today.

E.M.PRESS Publications - First Men on Mars - Dragon Attack!

You previously tried to bring First Men on Mars to fruition back in 2021. What did you learn from that crowdfunding attempt that you could share with others attempting to get comic projects off the ground?

In terms of creating a Kickstarter, I can only tell people what not to do! Obvious examples include: don’t take your product to market before it’s ready. The modern crowdfunding market is one which favours slick, well-produced and professional comicbooks with lots of polished artwork. You have to, therefore, make sure you spend lots of time creating the best looking project you possibly can.

Also, don’t be afraid to seek – and heed – the advice of professionals and those who’ve successfully crowdfunded projects, regardless of what arena they’ve found success. After all, the principles of preparation, presentation and participation are just as pertinent whatever product you’re peddling!

E.M.PRESS Publications - First Men on Mars - Plant Men Promotion

How have you adapted your approach for the new Kickstarter?

The most obvious changes include spending a lot longer promoting the Kickstarter ahead of its launch (which is 18th April, by the way!) and reducing the amount of pages so we can lower the funding goal.

We now also have lots more artwork and variant covers ready to show off as soon as the Kickstarter launches.

We’ve also simplified the pledges, add-ons and stretch goals to make it easier for potential backers to choose what they want and in which combinations.

Do you think many comic fans understand the costs involved in creating quality comics projects like First Men on Mars that aim to use the skills of some incredible and in demand talents?

I won’t speak for anybody else, but I certainly didn’t. This whole experience has been a real eye-opener for me. It’s made me appreciate the longevity of the likes of 2000AD and indie publishers like Time Bomb Comics.

The vast majority of the money we hope to raise for First Men on Mars is ringfenced for the artists, colourists and letterers … and rightly so. I do a bit of drawing on the side and I once worked as a concept artist in digital gaming, but I’m constantly amazed by not only the skills people like Gary, Paul, Ian et al possess, but also the speed with which they can produce such incredible work!

I was once invited to draw a trial piece for 2000AD and, after wrestling with a five-pager for a month, I realised I could never be a comicbook artist. The likes of Gary, Ian, Paul et al are gods, and they deserve more money for their skills, if anything!

  • E.M.PRESS Publications - First Men on Mars - Battle Troops Schematic
  • E.M.PRESS Publications - First Men on Mars - British Carrier Schematic
  • E.M.PRESS Publications - First Men on Mars - Flying Machine Schematic

Obviously, the first issue of this project may just be the start of an ongoing saga, what are your plans beyond this?

First Men on Mars will be a four issue mini-series. I don’t want to give anything away vis-a-vis a sequel because, well, that’s predicated on there being any survivors, right…?

As for other series, we have other projects in mind, but everything hinges on the success or otherwise of First Men on Mars. If it’s a hit then we’ll keep on firing, but the costs are such that we can’t produce series of this quality if we’re not recouping our outlay and making enough to invest in future projects.

E.M.PRESS Publications - First Men on Mars - Art by Mike Collins

There’s clearly a lot of support for this project, from a wide range of comic fans, but are you exploring other avenues to develop the IP beyond the comic?

Well, that’s the dream, isn’t it? Films, video games and toys based on First Men on Mars would be amazing, and I have contacts in other industries that could make that happen. Right now, however, I need to focus on making the comicbook so good it deserves its own range of novelty merchandise. Especially aprons. I need an apron with Gary’s artwork on it. 

Finally… life on Mars? Yes, or no?

Yes, it’s one of Bowie’s finest. The Laughing Gnome, not so much.

Paul, thank you very much for answering our questions and the very best of luck with the new Kickstarter.

E.M.PRESS Publications - Logo

Check out E.M.PRESS Publications revived First Men on Mars Kickstarter campaign here

• E.M.PRESS Publications is online at: www. | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Visit E.M.PRESS Publications News Page

E.M.PRESS Publications bring you only the best in comics and graphic novels. Presented by some of the world’s most talented artists and writers, their forthcoming titles are guaranteed to “thrill, chill and fulfil.”

Written in the spirit of HG Wells and Jules Verne, First Men on Mars details a failed Victorian mission to Mars. With art by some of the U.K.’s finest comicbook artists – including Gary Erskine, Ian Richardson, Paul McCaffrey and Mike Collins – this steampunk mini-series promises wonder, intrigue and excitement.


Paul L. Matthews

A writer with credits in the tabletop gaming and comicbook industries, Paul is now a co-founder of E.M.PRESS Publications. He lives in West Yorkshire with his wife and an assortment of other animals.

Gary Erskine

E.M.PRESS Publications - First Men on Mars

Gary Erskine has worked in the comic industry for near thirty years for MARVEL, DC Comics, Vertigo, Dark Horse Comics, IMAGE, IDW and more. He has worked with writers such as Mark Millar, Garth Ennis, James Robinson and Grant Morrison on books including The Unwritten, Hellblazer and War Stories. He has also worked on Grindhouse with Alex De Campi. During his career he has drawn characters as diverse as Judge Dredd, Starman, John Constantine, Dan Dare and Captain America. He has also contributed to licenses including Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Transformers and Terminator. He mentors film students on storyboarding, teaches workshops at schools and libraries and is currently writing and publishing ROLLER GRRRLS.

E.M.PRESS Publications - First Men on Mars

Gary has also provided storyboards and concept design work for the games and film industry and also works commercially with clients including D’Agostini, SONY, EA Games COLORS, Team GB British Cycling, J League and the Joshua Agency. He has also contributed a short story to the successful Metal Made Flesh series for Subversive Comics, working with writer Cy Dethan on a piece entitled The Final Piece Of Me. Recent work includes the companion graphic novel to the Frontlines series of sci-fi novels by Marko Kloos, written by Ivan Brandon for Jet City Comics. He has also drawn covers for Sabrina, The Teenage Witch and Adler.

Outside comics, Gary also hosts character Design workshops for schools and teaches storyboards for film students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. More recently he has also provided workshops for the Prince’s Trust. He has also produced educational and promotional work and talks for various universities including Glasgow and St Andrews.

Paul McCaffrey

E.M.PRESS Publications - First Men on Mars - Sample Art by Paul McCaffrey

Paul McCaffrey has worked as a freelance illustrator since he graduated, working mainly in children’s educational publishing. His clients have included, amongst others, NME, Vox, Punch, Deadline, Empire, CUP, OUP and Attack! Books.

Since making his small press debut in Omnivistascope, Paul has drawn Craphound for IDW, followed by Zombies vs RobotsAdventure and Fugitoid. He has also drawn a fill-in issue of MARVEL’s Vote Loki and a back-up strip in DC Comics’ Men of War. More recently he has drawn Fawkes of the Air Ministryas written by Martin Cater for Aces Weekly and they have subsequently produced Captain Scarlet and Joe 90 strips for Network.

He has produced a number of covers for Titan Comics as well as drawing Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula 1895: Seven Days in Mayhem.

Following his collaboration with the award-winning Lavie Tidhar on controversial children’s book Going to the Moon, the pair began work on Adler, which was finally published at the start of 2020’s pandemic.

He lives in the UK with his wife and cat and far too many books than is good for him.

Mike Collins

E.M.PRESS Publications - First Men on Mars - Sample Art by Gary Erskine

Principally Mike provides storyboards for TV and films, including Doctor WhoGood OmensHis Dark MaterialsThe WitcherSherlockKnightfallWarhammer 40KIgam OgamClaudeHana’s Helpline and Horrid Henry.

Recently, Mike was the artist on the critically acclaimed graphic novel retelling of the first moon landing, Apollo. He has also worked on several Doctor Who graphic novels for the BBC and IDW, and he’s the creator of the first ever Welsh language graphic novel Mabinogi, a companion piece for the Cartwyn Cymruanimated film of the Celtic myths.

For over 30 years, Mike has been creating comics including Spider-Man and Transformers for Marvel UK and has worked for Marvel, DC, 2000AD and many other publishers. In that time he’s written or drawn characters including Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, Flash, Teen Titans, X-Men, Captain Britain, Judge Dredd, Slaine, Rogue Trooper, Darkstars, Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt and more. He currently draws a series of noir crime fiction graphic novels –Varg Veum– in Norse. 

Mike is committed to using comics as an educational tool, running workshops in schools and libraries throughout Wales, targeting ‘reluctant learners’ and was heavily involved in the Read A Million Words In Wales initiative.

Ian Richardson

E.M.PRESS Publications - First Men on Mars - Sample Art by Ian Richardson

Ian Richardson’s comicbook career started in 2001 with British comic 2000AD. Since then he has worked with publishers such as IMAGE, Platinum, Dark Horse, Zenescope and Marvel UK. More recently, Ian has worked on The Unthinkables for Unlikely Heroes Studios and enjoyed a very successful Kickstarter campaign for his first Art Of… book. Ian continues to work for 2000AD on Judge Dredd and more.

Yel Zamor

Yel is a British illustrator, dreamer and colourist with fond Eastern European Roots.

Nicknamed the ‘Rainbow Wrangler’, their collaborative efforts span a decade in the comics industry. During this time they have worked for independent publishers Markosia on The Interactives and Hero: 5-9, and with Subversive Comics on Super Robot Mayhem. Yel has also worked on various books for major publishing companies including the Revolutionary War: Warheads for MARVEL, Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight for Dark Horse Comics, FRONTLINES: Requiem for Jet City Comics / Amazon and cover work for Archie Comics.

Their designs and graphics can be seen in online and mobile games like Catamancer, an entirely cat-themed magic strategy card adventure from Frostbolt Games.

Yel’s hobbies delve further into the creative skills of costume & prop crafting, sculpture, and resin casting. They can be seen showcasing these skills at various conventions around the country in cosplay at competition level.

They are hopelessly obsessed with archery, studying Olympic Recurve style and battling in local London tournaments.

Yel is owned by four cats.

Annie Parkhouse

Annie Parkhouse has been lettering comics for major publishers since the 1980s. She is now the primary letterer for Rebellion Publishing’s 2000AD and Judge Dredd Megazine.

Check out E.M.PRESS Publications revived First Men on Mars Kickstarter campaign here

• E.M.PRESS Publications is online at: www. | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Visit E.M.PRESS Publications News Page

E.M.PRESS Publications - First Men on Mars - Holstein's Map of Mars

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  1. New “First Men on Mars” steampunk comic Kickstarter #1 ramps for launch –

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