Wednesday, January 15, 2014

LITERARY LEAH MOORE & JOLLY JOHN REPPION

Literary Leah Moore & Jolly John Reppion stopped by the Recondite Pictures lot to hold court and let us a peek into the minds of the successful husband and wife comicbook writing team.

How do you connect emotionally with readers?

John:  That’s a good question but I suppose the answer is kind of boring – you have to write for yourself. You can’t second guess what the audience is going to want or react to, really. You just have to write stuff that you yourself would enjoy reading. You have to set up stuff, step back, and walk back around that corner (as it where) to see how it will hit you. You have to create characters who have a voice and a story you can believe and relate to on some level, which is no mean feat. You have to give a crap about the characters or else no-one else will. Or if they do, you’ll have no idea why.

What does every 22-page story need to deliver to satisfy the reader?

John:  A beginning, a middle, and an end. Sometimes, people (ourselves included, on occasion) forget that, especially in a larger story, but there’s really nothing more important than those three things. Those are the hooks that drag you through a comicbook into the “what happens next?” zone.

How do you write a 22-page issue as a team? Walk us through your process. How long does it take?

Leah:  The short answer is TOO LONG. Do *not* set up as a husband and wife comic writing team because it means you write every script by committee! The longer answer is this:  We block out the issue using whatever notes we had in our pitch, sometimes these are really brief, just a "We eventually discover..." kind of a note, or sometimes we've jumped in and blocked it out really tightly. Whichever, we sit down and figure out the issue, so the first page is an orphan not a spread so that can be your little intro scene, or if you need room, you can have three pages for it. The last page is an orphan, so that is your big reveal splash page, and of course if that's at the end of a scene, then you need the spread before. Those two bits of any comic are usually known first, so we put them in first. Then, we chop the remaining pages up according to how long the scenes are. Usually a minimum of two pages a scene, as we do not normally like to change scenes halfway through a spread. We do sometimes, but it is awkward unless you have a perfect way of doing it. Hopefully, the action neatly breaks itself down into little two and four page blocks, and we get our list of spreads done. Then, I draw twenty two pages into the workbook, number them and write whatever it says on the list above them to remind me, and then we dive in. We used to talk it all through as we went page at a time and consider it all and then draw the page out roughly, and then move on. These days we have zero time because:  Children. So, I go through and draw it all out and then show it to john and talk him through it. We change stuff all the time, using address labels to cover the old versions, and just drawing on the top. Roughing more than eight pages in one day is unusual, so like I say, we are SLOW, but we get it done as fast as we can, and then somebody starts typing. If one of us just knows how the first scene flows, that person starts it, if one of us just really cannot be arsed, then the other person does it. If we are pushed for time, then I type it because I can type faster. We sometimes swap over so the other person has a go at the typing for bit, but these days with lack of time and everything, we pretty much just try and plough though before a child gets ill or falls over or needs bathing or something. Parenthood is more pressing than the harshest editor. A harsh editor *and* kids would kill us stone dead.

What is the hardest thing for you to write?

Leah:  I find fighting really really hard to write. I can do it, but I end up choreographing the whole thing to make sure it plays right. I hear those stories about marvel scripts saying "These guys fight for eight pages" and it makes me ask two questions:  1. How can that be called writing 2. How can I reshuffle my whole style so that i can do that and get paid the same money as i do now. Fights are hard, but when they are done well its very satisfying. My two favourite fights we've written recently are: The 'Jaquelyn-Giantslayer' one-shot we had out last year, which was in part, a woman in huge magical armour having a brutal sword fight with lots of giants. Best fun ever to write. The other is the fight in Sherlock Holmes - Liverpool Demon which ends in a hyena pit. I will say no more, but i am very proud of that.

Do you ever write stories you love that nobody else gets? What do you do when that happens?

John:  Ha, sometimes it can feel a bit like that, yeah. There’s really not much you can do other than start over explaining yourself, which is never a solution, really. The truth is there are always (some) people who relate to what you write. Often, even when something is really successful, readers take something different from the writing than what you intended. That’s the beauty of doing anything creative – once it’s out there, it’s up to those who read the stories to interpret them in their own way, using their own frames of reference. If a story means something to a person, relates to an experience they’ve had, or can imagine, then that’s valid.

Leah:  We once did a story which was a prequel to an obscure Hammer film, and was about as subtle and unexplainy as they get. We loved it, but we did have a few people saying "huh?".

There are so few publishers. What do you do when everyone says no? Have you ever pitched a project a second time to the same people? How did you make that work? Tell us about it.

John:  We’ve spent most of our career as work-for-hire writers so we really haven’t done all that much pitching (in comics, at least) compared to a lot of other people. Recently, we pitched a comic series which turned out to be very similar in terms of plot to something else (a film, actually) which neither of us were aware of. The Editor was really good about it;  told us what he liked and what he thought we could build on. We went away, reconfigured the whole thing, and came back with an idea which was ten times better. It was accepted straight away. Now, that was possible because the Editor knew what he liked and told us, and then we were able to build on that. That’s how it should be but sadly it doesn’t always work out that way.

What do people need to remember to have successful writing careers?

Leah:  Depends if you mean successful as in lucrative or successful as in you write lots of comics and improve as a writer and enjoy youor life.  I am an expert on the latter, and not so much on the former. I would say trust your instincts. If you like the look and feel of a project and you can afford the time and energy to do it, then go for it. If you have no money or time, then see if there's a smaller way to be involved. Do stuff for free if you can, for mates or just small press stuff. It's good practise, great way to meet people to work with and you end up with a portfolio of awesome stories to show around. We crashed in on comics because we started doing ABC comics first, and then worked our way back to Small press, but it was still great experience. I think whichever way you start out, just try and get as much experience under your belt as you can. good or bad, it will all help. Also:  Be nice. It doesn't cost anything to treat people nicely, and I feel it encourages them to do the same to you. It doesn't always work and some people are just asshats, but hey.

Is there anything that bothers you about the writing in some comicbooks? How could this be improved?

Leah:  I can't stand million balloon splash pages. A big huge splash page with a long string of ever decreasing balloons on it, sometimes interrupted by someone else, oh ack I hate it. Chop the page up a bit, or have them say less. Its a pet peeve, and I'm certain now I've said that sombody will find that we did just that in 2005 and I'll look ridiculous!

What are some of the biggest influences on your writing?

John:  At this point, I really have no idea. I feel like everything I read and watch and listen to is an influence. When we enter into a new project we sometimes have an idea that it’s got to have a certain style or whatever and we’ll have something in mind in terms of a writer, or a book, or a TV show but, to be honest, that kind of fades out as we get more into it and it just becomes us writing.

Leah:   Late 80s and 90s comics because dad used to get comp boxes through, so there'd be all these sacks of free comics laying about and I'd pull out any that looked interesting (I did judge a book by its cover). From that time I can remember Appleseed, Gen 13, Power Pack- that was amazing! I'd write that now! - any and all Hernandez (I met Jamie H. not long back and stammered like Porky Pig from sheer nerves), all the cool old comics dad had, like Herbie (not the car) or Little Nemo, or the big EC hardcovers, Two-Fisted Tales and Crime suspense stories. I loved Mad. I have a copy I did in Rapidograph of the Mad Bat-mite character, which I was very pleased with. I loved Cerebus (pre weird Sim wig-out). I also loved Agatha Christie, Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Diana Wynn Jones, anything i could get my hands on really.

What comics do you currently enjoy reading?

Leah:  I do not have much chance to buy or read at the minute, but I really love Fatale by Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker. I am a huge pulp fan, so its right up my street, and Sean's stuff is so gorgeous I'd buy a cereal box if he drew it. I am really getting back into 2000AD since we started writing Black Shuck for them. I have a lot of affection for the whole thing, the characters, the history, the look of it, its just a lovely thing to be a part of again, and it really feels like home!

What are the main themes of your work?

John:  I suppose we have strong female characters in a lot of our stories. The first book we wrote together – Wild Girl – was about a teenage girl discovering she had this power to communicate with animals. Most recently we’ve written Damsels which is a gender-flipped action fairy tale where the princesses and witches are the powerful, flawed ones and the Kings are more the cute victims. Myths, legends and folklore played a big part in both those series, and they’re also themes that run through a lot of our work. Outside of comics I’ve written for Fortean Times, Darklore, The Anomalist, Strange Attractor Journal and other Fortean publications so I have a deep interest in all that kind of thing.

What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

John:  Aside from making a living (which is very important when there’s no one in the house with a “normal” job and you have three kids), I suppose it’s as simple as keeping people entertained and making them happy. When we wrote our Sherlock Holmes series for Dynamite and we were plotting all the twists and turns, we knew that we were going to have people reading the finished books and asking “Wow, so he did X?” or “That was Y all along?”. That’s such a nice feeling; to know that you’re amusing and entertaining people just with your ideas.

What are some short term goals that you set for yourselves?

Leah:  Pay the mortgage. Find something that pays out royalties worth a damn. Find a project that people really connect with. Hustle hustle! I am also trying to squeeze in writing a novel, but that really isn't looking very 'short term' at the minute.

What should people seek out in the back issue bins to get a good introduction to your writing?

Leah:  I would say either of the Sherlock Holmes trades, or Wild Girl is a good start. It's where we started, so it's rough and kind of meanders, but I think we were really having fun with it and it shows. Never collected, of course, so it'll be a mission to find them!

What do you have coming out now and in the future that readers should look for on the stands?

John:  The collected edition of our latest Sherlock Holmes mystery The Liverpool Demon (Dynamite Entertainment) has just been released. We have stories in the DC Comics digital first Vampire Diaries series. We’re in the current issue (#4), #7, and two more. Leah wrote a story for Gail Simone’s Legends of Red Sonja series, which is in #3. We also have a nine part series Black Shuck coming up in 2000 AD.

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Scott Amundson co-writes the upcoming ongoing series BANG IN THE CITY with Dheeraj Verma (TRANSFORMERS:  FALL OF CYBERTRON).

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