This week sees the full launch of British comic creators Simon Furman and Geoff Senior’s creator owned story To The Death as a full digital package of 18 weekly web episodes, so how could we not catch up with them both and find out more about it?
Simon Furman is a writer for comic books and TV animation, his name inextricably linked to Transformers, the 1980s toy phenomenon. He has written literally hundreds of stories about the war-torn ‘robots in disguise’, for Marvel Comics (US and UK), Dreamwave and most recently Transformers: Infiltration, Escalation, Beast Wars: The Gathering and more for IDW Publishing. His other comic book credits include Doctor Who, Dragon’s Claws (co-created with Geoff), Death’s Head (ditto) and She-Hulk.
He’s written for shows such as Beast Wars, Roswell Conspiracies, the animated Dan Dare series and X-Men: Evolution and is lead writer and script supervisor for The Matt Hatter Chronicles as well as working on the upcoming The Chimeran devised by Gary Kurtz and Paul Goodenough. Recent/current writing work includes StarCraft (for Wildstorm), Transformers: Nefarious (for IDW), Terminator — Revolution (for Dynamite), Ronan and Death’s Head 3.0 (both for Marvel) and Transformers UK. He is also the author of numerous books, including Rad Robots, Transformers: The Ultimate Guide, You Can Draw Transformers, Transformers: Top Trumps and a Doctor Who audio adventure for Big Finish, The Axis of Insanity.
In the world of feature film, Gold Circle has optioned a feature script co-written by Simon and film journalist Mark Salisbury, Devil’s Due.
Artist Geoff Senior, another creator indelibly linked with Transformers, has extensive background in comics and book illustration. During his time working for Marvel UK and IPC/Fleetway he worked on titles such as 2000AD, Transformers, Doctor Who Magazine, Death’s Head and Dragon’s Claws, and characters such as Judge Dredd.
During the late 1990s, building up a solid reputation with London’s top agencies and producing storyboards and visuals delivered within the tight deadlines often demanded by the business. Geoff’s traditional techniques, digital colouring and numerous artistic styles have provided artwork for high profile campaigns including Birds Eye, EON, Guiness, Camelot and many more.
downthetubes: What are you currently working on and where can people see it?
Simon Furman: Our new digital comic book, To The Death, the epic new sci-fi saga from myself and Geoff. The first episode is free-to-view at www.to-the-death.com and subsequent episodes are being released weekly to subscribers.
downthetubes: How did you come up with To The Death and what inspired it?
Simon: Both of us wanted a creator-owned project where we could just cut loose – in terms of both story and art. So we took Dragon’s Claws, the series Geoff and I did for Marvel UK in the 1980s, as our thematic template and then just went ballistic with the kind of gritty, future Earth/future war story that series epitomised. Then we threw out the standard comic book limitations of panel/ page/ page-count and expanded the viewing experience to a series of full-screen panels, where the story could just run to its natural length, and every ‘panel’ or frame was given the same dramatic emphasis.
It’s hard-edged, violent, and showcases Geoff’s amazing kinetic artwork to the full.
downthetubes: How long has this project been in the making?
Simon: Probably from inception to full launch, between three and four years. For a start, it ended up being a lot bigger proposition than we originally envisioned. Each episode is between 70 and 80 full frame panels, and there are 18 episodes. So you do the math.
It was a lot of work, especially for Geoff, and we had to squeeze it in between bouts of other work. But it’s been a labour of love for us both. And I think the end result is well worth every drop of blood, sweat and tears.
downthetubes: Has it involved a lot of world building in terms of both story and design, and did anything change in a major way as a result of your planning with Geoff?
Simon: Everything in To The Death is from the ground up, a whole (future) Earth (and world) had be envisioned and designed. Though it started with the story, everything else grew from Geoff’s amazing visualisations of this meta-industrialised Earth (ruled by a trio of conjoined corporations) on the brink, a spent force of a planet with 12 billion people clinging to it for dear life.
And the story definitely evolved to fit the amazing visuals Geoff was turning in. They were inspiring to say the least. But we went in with a deliberately skeletal/malleable framework, because this was always designed to be a true team effort. I threw stuff out, layered new stuff in, and I think the end result is something very new, and yet chillingly possible (despite the sci-fi trappings).
Geoff Senior: ‘World building’ is certainly true and it’s enjoyable to do. Of course it would always be better to develop further but you have to take it to a point and ride with it.
I was very wary of foretelling the future as everyone always gets it wrong. I didn’t want to go down the ‘hover vehicle’ route too much as I’m disappointed they aren’t here in 2016 which is what many predicted a while back. I wanted to keep the ‘future’ a bit more basic and gritty.
I saw ‘our’ world as being a place where certain technologies are limited to a few in power with the ‘gaming’ aspects open to the masses.
I wanted Drayagin and his crew of ‘Pacifiers’ to have a rough edged gladiatorial feel rather than slick.
downthetubes: It sounds like you’ve fully embraced the mobile generation with the single panel presentation of this story, which is serving a lot of creators well on platforms like Tapastic for example. Did this involve a change in your normal writing style?
Simon: It did. Again, so as not to limit Geoff’s vision or contain his storytelling, I wrote To The Death as a series of loose screenplays, with largely holding place dialog. Geoff was then free to adapt and re-pace, expand or contract as he wished. Then I would come back in later and totally re-work/ expand/ strip out the dialog and captions as necessary, to give it the best possible flow and story integrity. It worked a lot like the old ‘Marvel Plot-style’ method of scripting, where much more of the emphasis is on the artist.
downthetubes: If you had to fast pitch To The Death at a movie producer, what would it be?
Simon: A lone warrior — Aleksy Dryagin – locked on a doomed collision course with the nigh-on omnipotent powers-that-be, on a future Earth teetering on the brink of total catastrophe. Everything’s been taken from him, and that makes him the single-most dangerous beast in this over-industrailized jungle.
downthetubes: How do you both plan your days as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Simon: I work a fairly regimented, eight to five day. I try not to clutter my working days with any distractions. I go to the computer, deal with emails, a dab of social media stuff, put out any fires, then go at whatever’s top of my ‘to do’ list, often chopping and changing tracks throughout the day.
I’m very focused, laser-guided really. If I need a break, I stretch my legs and breathe the sea air. Normally that clears out any ‘blocks’ and I’m ready to go again.
Geoff: I would jump onto To The Death at any opportunity between the advertising work. I even managed to get some done whilst on trips to China to visit my wife Luzheng’s family though it’s always easier here in my studio where I work on screen. Having a young daughter means no set working time for me!
The advertising work is slowing somewhat at the moment, maybe because of Brexit? This gives me chance to work on To The Death more though.
downthetubes: What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
Simon: Without a doubt, that I love what I do. If I wasn’t doing this as a career, I’d be doing it as a hobby, in my spare time, so it’s kind of win-win. And apart from loving to write, I love comics, and this was always kind of a dream of mine – except it wasn’t, because I had no clue really as a kid you could make a living doing this. 30 years plus now. I count myself as very lucky indeed.
Geoff: It’s great fun to draw comic characters and the chance to tell story. I especially like the way the web gives me the chance to open up visually and tell story giving a more ‘cinematic’ experience. There are no comic ‘page’ restrictions where you have limited space. I can really unleash on the web.
downthetubes: And the worst?
Simon: There’s not many downsides, but I guess the lack of any guarantee what you’ll earn in a given time period is a negative. You tend to overcompensate and take on too much. It’d be great to have a bit more of a consistent pace to things, instead of continually spinning plates. But it’s a minor niggle.
downthetubes: You’ve worked together on so many projects, but a lot of downthetubes readers still rave, understandably, about your work on Transformers but especially the original Death’s Head for Marvel UK. If you had the chance, would you work on the character again and which is your favourite DH story?
Simon: I’d always want to do more Death’s Head, especially with Geoff. I/we both feel very paternal towards the character, and in a very egocentric way I just think we understand him best.
I’ve got lots of favourites, but my top three (in no particular order, would be: the three interconnected (motto) stories in Death’s Head #1, his meeting with the Doctor in Doctor Who: Crossroads of Time [Doctor Who Magazine #135, collected in A Cold day in Hell] and The Body in Question Graphic Novel.
Geoff: Death’s Head would always be a pleasure to work on.
downthetubes: I know it wasn’t a great time, but could you tell us anything about the Death’s Head story that became a Road Not Taken when Paul Neary looked at developing a new book for Marvel UK in the 1990s?
Simon: This is the Death’s Head comic that never was. Geoff and I were working on a new four-issue series, which saw Death’s Head under sentence of death, in the electric chair (or futuristic equivalent) and how he got there, what he’d done, etc. It guest-starred the Fantastic Four, I believe. At least a couple of issues were written, one drawn, when Neary pulled the plug.
It was a great shame. Especially as Death’s Head II ended up so unalike the original character. To my mind, the world could have tolerated two DH series. And now… it’s kind of lost. No idea what happened to Geoff’s artwork. Yeah, a great shame.
downthetubes: What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Simon: Interviews. No, just kidding. Mostly just other work.
Geoff: Life in general!
downthetubes: What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Simon: Have a Plan B, or at least broaden your scope. Right now, my comics work amounts to To The Death and odd bits of Transformers or Transformers-related material. I’ve moved much more in screenwriting (spec movies, pilots and so forth), most significantly as part of the team on CITV’s Matt Hatter Chronicles (the animated TV show), on which I serve as head writer, script supervisor and co-showrunner. And I’m doing a lot of work in games right now. And Part Works. I also just finished my first novel. So my overall advice is diversify. Love writing first and foremost and then maybe specialise in comics.
Geoff: STOP WORKING SO CHEAP! Have some respect for your ability and what you do.
I’m shocked at how low the rates are these days. Many artists would make more money working in fast food outlets.
If illustrators keep working for lower and lower rates, it’ll just kill the industry and drive anyone of talent to work in other areas. You could throw a shoe down most streets in the UK and probably hit a solicitor or banker who earn fortunes but never hit a comic book artist. Rarity is usually highly valued but not in this industry.
Sadly, it’s artists accepting ridiculously low rates that are often the cause (end of rant).
downthetubes: What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Simon: Most of what I read these is past stuff from previous decades (I’m really enjoying the Master of Kung Fu omnibuses), but my current pick would be James Roberts’ Transformers More Than Meets the Eye series (or Lost Light as it’s going to be). What a fun and clever comic that is. Available from all good comic stores, etc.
Geoff: Is it just me who doesn’t seem to have time to read comics or watch all those great TV series that people keep talking about ?
I struggle to check Facebook (sorry to anyone awaiting a reply!).
I did come across Jock’s work though and love what he’s doing.
downthetubes: What do you hope readers will most like about To The Death and what do you most like about the project?
Simon: I hope they’ll love the sheer energy and scope of it. It’s like a movie, but one with the biggest budget you can imagine (it’s even drawn like a full colour, high resolution movie shooting board), it begins in Episode One (requiring no past knowledge) and ends with a bang in Episode 18. Complete in and of itself. It’s a wild, unchecked, full throttle ride, that – like all sci-fi should – holds up a warped mirror to the world we live in today.
I just love that we had the freedom just to do it at all. Succeed of fail, win or lose, it’s our story, our vision. In other words, we did it our way!
Geoff: Freedom to tell a ripping story with Simon after so many years. I’m really wishing for To The Death to reach a wide audience and above all enjoy the ride!
downthetubes: Simon, Geoff, thank you very much for your time and the very best of luck with To The Death and all your future comics projects.
• Simon Furman is also online at simonfurman.wordpress.com
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.