Scott Montgomery is currently the chief sub-editor on DC Thomson’s long running Commando war digest and has had a varied career in British comics.
In the ongoing downthetubes’ interviews with DC Thomson personnel, Jeremy Briggs talks to him about his work for war, humour and science fiction comics as well as his first novel.
downthetubes: Could you tell us what your current job at DC Thomson is and what it involves?
Scott Montgomery: As Chief Sub, my duties include assisting Calum Laird, the editor, in the publication of eight Commando books every month.
I’m involved at all stages of the process; including reading incoming story synopses, script and art commissioning, cover design, script editing, and production (ie: getting the inside artwork, feature pages and covers to press on time each week).
Although there are only two us, we’re helped by an army of freelance writers and artists; as well as balloonists, layout artists, printers, despatch, tea ladies, etc, etc, etc, all of whom are indispensable. I’ve been on Commando since September 2006.
downthetubes: Prior to joining the team you wrote an issue of Commando. How did this come about?
Scott: I worked as a sub-editor on The Dandy and always quite fancied having a go at a Commando story. I wrote up a synopsis and sent it to the then-editor George Low. Luckily, he liked the idea and I set about scripting it in my spare time. That was back in Summer 2005.
The story was published in March 2006 as Issue 3894, Acting The Hero… It was about a David Niven-esque film star who works with the RAF, researching a role in a moral-boosting Wartime movie about the Battle Of Britain, but ends up shot down in France and on the run from the Gestapo! Good fun to do, I hope it was fun to read.
downthetubes: Who illustrated your Commando and what was it like to see the finished result?
Scott: Veteran Spanish artist Manuel Benet drew it and I loved his work. The best thing about writing comics is definitely seeing them brought to life by the artist.
downthetubes: Does being a writer yourself help or hinder the work you do as chief sub?
Scott: I’m not so sure about hindering it, but I suppose I can sometimes be a little reluctant to interfere with a writer’s work. I would rather be like this, though, than tearing scripts apart, vainly thinking that I can re-write them and improve them. Editorial staff never change anything purely on a whim however, once we’ve bought a script we are responsible for helping to make it the best it can possibly be.
downthetubes: You worked with previous Commando editor, George Low, before his retirement. What was it like to work for him on a war title, having come from a humour title?
Scott: Although I missed the people in The Dandy office, I settled in to Commando right away and it was a joy to work with George. His professionalism, commitment to and knowledge of what made the stories work was just incredible. He’d been involved in DCT publications from joining as a teenager just out of school until he retired in September 2007, a real inspiration and a thoroughly nice man too.
George still keeps in touch with us Commando whippersnappers and he’s enjoying his well-deserved retirement.
Calum (who was a Chief Sub on the Dandy when I was there) is continuing right where George left off and I’m really pleased to still be a part of these brilliant little comic books.
downthetubes: Taking you back to your childhood, what comics did you read and were Commando and the other combat picture libraries amongst them?
Scott: I have two older brothers so there were lots of comics around when we were at school. There were many more on sale back then so we’d get ones that the covers appealed to us, rather than following them week in, week out. We did indeed read Commando, although they weren’t really ‘comics’ to me. They were different, like little illustrated ‘books’ and you were always guaranteed a genuinely good, action-packed read.
We loved things like Dandy, Beano, Topper and my favourite ‘funny’ was Nutty. Roy Of The Rovers and Warlord were amazing on the boys papers side of things. I also liked Buddy, which had kid superhero Billy The Cat in. However, I discovered 2000AD aged 9, in September 1981 and am still reading it today. Absolutely mind-blowing stuff, so exciting to read, and I have been hooked ever since.
downthetubes: Your first published work in comics was for Marvel UK’s Doctor Who Classic Comics. What was it and how did it come about?
Scott: I’d loved reading so much that I thought it might be nice to try my hand at writing. I submitted story ideas to 2000AD, Beano, Dandy,Football Library, etc and everything was rejected (but with some nice letters from the editors). I went to the Glasgow Comic Art Convention (Glascac) in 1992 and top writer Alan Grant revealed that he got started in publishing by selling puzzles to newspapers – so I decided to copy him!
I submitted some basic puzzle ideas to Doctor Who Magazine, then part of Marvel UK. They got back to me, asking for some more material and they saw print about 18 months later in Doctor Who Classic Comics in Autumn 1994 under the banner ‘K-9’s Conundrums’.
Seeing something I’d written appearing in a professional magazine was terrific (and I got a cheque that had a picture of Spider-Man and The Hulk on it!). Then I did various text pieces for Doctor Who Magazine and freelance journalistic stuff followed in my spare time (I was an office worker) from there. I’ve got the editors, Gary Russell and Marcus Hearn (and Alan Grant!) to thank for that.
downthetubes: You then wrote for a variety of genre magazines. What magazines and what sort of articles were you writing?
Scott: My work appeared in publications such as 2000AD, Comics International, Dreamwatch, Starburst, Cult Times, Shivers, Comedy Review and Doctor Who Magazine. I’ve also contributed to some Scottish newspaper titles, the Weekly News, the Sunday Mail and others. It was all arts-related stuff. On the sci-fi side of it, interviewing actors who’d appeared in Red Dwarf, Doctor Who and so on. For non-genre things like The List it was reviewing books, theatre shows, live comedy and interviewing stand-ups like Jack Dee, Mark Thomas, Armando Iannucci and so on.
downthetubes: You have continued this journalism in addition to the current day job. Where have your articles been appearing recently?
Scott: Throughout 2007 I wrote “The Dredd Files”, a regular, ongoing monthly feature about classic comic strips for Judge Dredd Megazine. It’s on a break at the moment but I’d be happy to come back to it whenever I get the call.
I’ve been working on a novel (my second) all of this year so that’s taken up all my spare time, but I’m hoping to finish it by December or early 2009.
downthetubes: You have been with DC Thomson since 2004. How did you join the firm?
Scott: I met then Dandy editor Morris Heggie in May 2003 at the Bristol comics convention and he mentioned that he needed someone to write a Bananaman story for an upcoming annual. I scripted the story (although it appeared in the weekly comic as a four-pager instead) and then went on to do some more (see below).
The Dandy was about to go through its first major revamp (with lots of extra pages) for years, so the company was on the lookout for a couple of new sub-editors. I applied for a job and eventually got it (even though I’d written for the comic I still had to go through the usual, rather lengthy, recruitment process, which involved a written application letter, two interviews and a journalistic test!).
I wanted to make sure there was no favouritism and get the job on my own merits. However, there’s no doubt that I wouldn’t be working in comics without Morris’s encouragement. I’m eternally grateful to him for giving me the chance to write my first proper stories and get my foot in the door, so to speak. He’s very modest, though, and will probably be embarrassed reading this, a true gent.
downthetubes: The first title that you worked on was the Dandy. What was your job on the title and what characters did you work on?
Scott: From July 2004 to August 2006, I was a sub-editor. As well as the weekly comic, I also contributed to Spring and Summer Specials, three Annuals, Ollie Fliptrik Club Newsletter and www.dandy.com. This involved writing weekly scripts for characters such as Blinky, Cuddles & Dimplesand Hyde & Shriek, as well as numerous text feature pages.
Other stuff included scripts (some just one-offs and fill-ins) for Desperate Dan, Bananaman, Brassneck, Corporal Clott, Winker Watson, Korky the Cat and plenty of others!
It was really great fun to do although keeping brilliant, prolific artists like Nick Brennan, Nigel Parkinson, Tom Paterson and Steve Bright et al, stocked with scripts was a huge, never-ending challenge! All the work was divided between the various subs. You’d write roughly three characters per week, as well as feature pages.
downthetubes: Some of those characters are long standing Dandy favourites whilst others are much more modern. How difficult was it to get the tone of writing the older characters with much more of a background history to them?
Scott: The older characters I remembered from when I read them years ago. It was just a matter of updating the stories to appeal to young, modern readers while trying to remain true to the spirit of them. For example, Bananaman is a bungling, idiotic superhero and has been for over 25 years, so you just go with it. There’s a huge amount of material to be got from that.
One that I pleased with was an update of Brassneck, the robot schoolboy, a strip originally from the 1960s and that I always liked in 1970s Dandy annuals. I wanted to see if he still had some mileage. With Morris’s go-ahead, artist Nick Brennan and I set about bringing the old Brassneck into modern times, partnered with the grandson of his original owner, Charley Brand. DC Thomson has got a wealth of old characters that could possibly be updated in that way.
Personally, I loved things like Jimmy Jinx (a boy who is influenced by his conscience, in the form of a Devil and an Angel) from The Topper and Bertie Buncle & His Chemical Uncle (a lad who gets into trouble when messing with his scientist uncle’s inventions). Anyway, Brassneck was pretty popular and continued in the comic for a while after I’d moved to Commando, an example of just how superb and enduring some of those old characters are.
downthetubes: Some of these newer Dandy characters may be unfamiliar to our readers. Could you tell us a little about them, particularly Ollie Fliptrik, as he was popular enough to have his own club?
Scott: The Dandy made a real effort to invent some new characters that today’s kids could relate to. I wasn’t involved in their creation as they were established when I joined. Jak is a normal, contemporary school kid and Ollie is a skateboarder who was very popular with readers, meaning that he got his own fan club. I was a member of Desperate Dan’s Pie-Eater’s Club when I was very young (I may look like I’m still a member but have been working out and on a diet, honest). In these child-obesity times that would never happen now!
downthetubes: In addition to the comic strips you were writing prose stories for the Dandy. Where did these appear and did you find it more of a challenge in writing text stories for what are essentially visual characters?
Scott: Only a handful were done, usually for annuals, newsletters or specials, but the format wasn’t popular. Still, text stories were a chance to try something else. It was good to try to think in terms of ‘words’ rather than ‘pictures’.
downthetubes: From an outside perspective, there would seem to be little commonality between Dandy and Commando. How did you transfer from one to the other and how different are the two jobs?
Scott: Like any large company, staff changes happen regularly. A member of Commando staff was taking early retirement, so having already scripted a story and knowing the material well, I seemed like the obvious choice, but it did happen quickly. Both offices are very different, and at first it seemed like starting all over again in a completely separate job.
Apart from the actual content, the main difference is that on the Dandy you’re writing scripts but in Commando you’re editing other authors’ work, which is extremely interesting. Commando has many more pages to proofread and so on. The similarities are that both have never-ending, ongoing schedules that require a lot of time, effort and teamwork to keep up with.
downthetubes: Outside of DC Thomson, you have also provided sketch material to BBC Radio Scotland’s satirical comedy series Watson’s Wind Up. Could you tell us a little about the programme and how you came to be writing for it?
Scott: It’s a topical programme that airs on Friday nights, taking a look at the week’s news, usually in the form of sketches or fake headlines performed by comic actor Jonathan Watson and two other cast members. I was familiar with the show but saw through the BBC writers room website that people could submit ideas.
It’s quite tough to get stuff on air so it can sometimes be a little hit-and-miss. If you fail to get something broadcast one week, you look straight ahead to the next episode. It’s another good challenge trying to come up with relevant, funny material right away. I’ve contributed to four series and hoping to do more when the show returns in January 2009.
downthetubes: After humour and war comics, magazines and radio came a crime novel from publisher Telos. How did this come about and is the crime genre a particular favourite of yours?
Scott: The book was The Long, Big Kiss Goodbye, a hardboiled detective story featuring down-at-heel 1950s New York sleuth Jack Sharp and was published last year.
I’m a huge fan of the genre and authors like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and James Ellroy, but Chandler in particular. The Long, Big Kiss Goodbye was originally meant to be a kind of knowing parody of that kind of book, including pulp novels by Hank Janson, which Telos were re-issuing. However, the publishers, Stephen James Walker and David J Howe (quite rightly) pointed out that the book was heading towards all-out spoof territory.
I toned it down and it soon resembled a pulp novel in its own right, but undoubtedly one that owed a huge debt to what had gone before.
Although it was very hard work the Telos guys were great and I was under no pressure. I just had to concentrate on delivering the manuscript.
downthetubes: To conclude then, is there one area of writing that you haven’t already attempted that you would like to try your hand at?
Scott: It’s always nice to try something different, whether in terms of genre or form, but I’ve no real hankering to write a play or a TV drama (mainly because it’s nigh on impossible to break into those areas, but am open to any offers!).
Seriously, I prefer publishing, where there’s a better chance that your work will actually appear at some point. I’d love the new novel, a whimsical kind of thing (a bit like Andrew Collins or Danny Wallace, I hope) to come out at some point, we’ll see what happens. I just wanted to write something that was a world away from the first book and not stick to any one kind of genre. However, my career is with Commando editorial and I’m fully committed to my work here.
I’m very lucky to work on comics that I enjoyed reading as a child. This is my dream job, although sometimes I wonder if I could’ve dreamed of a less hectic one!
downthetubes: Scott, thank-you for taking the time to talk to us.
First published in May 2007, Telos Publishing re-released this novel in 2020 for Kindle and in paperback editions
Sultry Kitty O’Malley arrives at the office of flatfoot turned gumshoe Jack Sharp, with an offer he can’t refuse, and a body he can’t resist. Our down-at-heel hero soon realises that dames might be the death of him, very soon…
Meet Jack Sharp – private detective, smooth talking and hard living.
Meet Kitty O’Malley – femme fatale, beautiful and deadly.
Put them together and what do you get? Crime! Intrigue! Passion! And …Cigarettes! Booze! Hangovers!
Think you know hard-boiled fiction…! You don’t know Jack.
“Please feel free to visit, where our brilliant digital projects team have put up all kinds of Commando features,” says Scott, “cover art wallpapers and creator interviews.”
Lambiek Artists Profile Pages
This interview conducted by Jeremy Briggs was first published on 20th November 2008 and was regenerated for the downthetubes web site on 3rd August 2021
All images © DC Thomson except Doctor Who Classic Comics © 2021 Panini UK/BBC and Scott Montgomery © 2007 Calum Laird