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Saturday, 6 September 2014

Enter the Multiverse Event highlights #1 - Si Spencer interview

We recently had our first Event at my Comicbook Facebook Group, wherein a bunch of creators were interviewed. I'm gonna be presenting some of the highlights from the event here - kicking off with my interview with Si Spencer...

Sam Johnson: For those who don't know, I'm a comics writer, publisher of Actuality Press, and comics pimp, probably best known for Geek-Girl. Geek-Girl is 'Little Miss Popular' Ruby Kaye, who lands a pair of super-tech glasses (invented by brainiac college geek Trevor Goldstein) in a game of Strip Poker, she's granted flight, super-strength, and - due to a flaw in the glasses' programming - super-klutziness! And this is just the beginning of the changes the glasses will wreak on Ruby...

Geek-Girl #0's out and her mini-series is in the works. Here's a preview [art] page:

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Sam: Let's have our first guest, Si Spencer...

Si Spencer: Afternoon/Good morning all.

Sam: Hi Si, how're you after your birthday yesterday?

Si: A little shaky, but conscious, thanks.

Sam: Good, so why don't you introduce yourself, what're peeps gonna know you from?

Si: Currently, I guess 'Bodies' is the thing people are talking about, but there's a whole mess of stuff in my CV. Vinyl Underground, Books of Magick and Hellblazer for Vertigo.

Sam: You've been 'all over the place' in the UK, right? Eastenders, even!

Si: Judge Dredd, Deadline, The Creep, Harke and Burr over in the UK as well as some long stints in TV on Eastenders, The Bill and Grange Hill. I'm a whore. basically.

Sam: For those not in the UK or who haven't heard of them, Eastenders, The Bill and Grange Hill are/were all big UK soaps. What was it like working on those - how much creative freedom did you have, versus comics?

Si: Which, it's worth pointing out, are the exact opposite of soaps. There's obviously radically less freedom in TV, if only for budgetary reasons, but I guess it's the same as working on an existing title in comics.

Grange Hill was pretty free because I was series storyliner as well as one of the writers, so I planned the story arcs and characters for two years. The trouble with a continuing drama, though, is that you're tied into a mighty chain of constant butterfly effects; every script before yours changes the game, even while you're writing your own.

Sam: Ever get a go on Doctor Who?

Si: No, sadly not - though I'm not sure I'd enjoy the Dr Who experience, to be honest. Creator-owned writing is making me a little spoiled.

Sam: Well that brings us to your current book, Bodies, are you the creator-owner of that, then?

Si: I am indeed - it's MINE, ALL MINE muahahahahahahaha.

Sam: It's pretty new, on its second issue now, for those not aware of it, what's it all about?

Si: The high concept, while VERY high indeed, is very straight forward. Four time periods, four detectives, four murders - same M.O, same location, same corpse. Easy to write down in a single sentence, incredibly complicated to make work as a plot.

Sam: Did you come up with the high concept before you came up with the explanation for this body's omni-presence?

Si: Yeah, this entire project has gone pretty much ass-backwards. Normally you'd spend months fleshing out characters, plot and story and fill page after page with a bible and notes and plot arcs then kill yourself trying to distil it all into a single pitch sentence. In this case I woke up with the pitch in my head and nothing else at all.

Sam: And it was sold on the basis of that?

Si: Yeah, pretty much. Obviously it wasn't quite as simple as that, but once I pitched it to Shelly Bond at Vertigo we both knew that it was going to sell. It's one of those magic little bits of gold that only come along a few times in a lifetime. It was just a matter of finding big solid characters and letting them carve the plot for me.

Sam: So tell us about those characters... and the time periods they're in?

Si: 1890, we've got Edmond Hillinghead - a fan of some new hotshot writer called Conan Doyle. Edmond's passionate about justice and uptight about being gay. 1940 is Charles Whiteman AKA Karl Weissman, a Polish Jew who's fled the ghetto and joined the London police force, but he's the polar opposite of Edmond - he's taken control of the East End's crime gangs, exploiting the blackouts of the Blitz.

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2014 is the amazing Shahara Hasan - she's a fast tracked Detective Sergeant in the London Mets, as patriotic about England as she is devout as a muslim.

And in 2050 is poor beleaguered, baffled and gorgeous Maplewood. As far as we know at the moment she's a detective but it's hard to be sure because she's an amnesiac... in fact everyone seems to have lost their memories for some reason.

Sam: Let's go back to Shahara for the moment...

Si: That's my girl. She's kinda snarky.

Sam: A female cop - English(?) - Muslim?

Si: Yep. I'm guessing she's not going to be many people's favourite cosplay.

Sam: So this is a character straddling some divides in our current society.

Si: She's straddling what are perceived as current divides, but to me she exemplifies exactly what it is to be English. An 'imported' religion, an immigrant, a resident of our brilliant 'foreign' capital. She is just the latest incarnation of what quintessential Englishness is

Sam: Is this a character you're making any kind of statement with? Or does she just happen to be this and that, and the other?

Si: Well I'd hope my characters are characters first and thematic devices second, but yeah - she's the key to the whole book

Sam: She's certainly a standout in the first issue. How about Maplewood in 2050 - she doesn't seem to know which way is up?

Si: Yeah, she's a lot of fun to write. Given the narrative, I can't say too much about her at the moment because that's quite a slow-burning arc that really heats up next issue, but something has clearly wiped everyone's memories pretty hard.

Sam: Ah, so the amnesia's not specific to her.

Si: (frantically flicks through issue 2 to make sure he hasn't given a way a spoiler)...

Nope, it's okay - that's revealed in issue 2. It's a really tough book to keep track of.

Sam: I'm sure. The 2050 stuff's got some nice, almost fluorescent art by Tula Lotay... And you've got a great art team assembled for the book.

Si: An incredible team. I was always walking a tightrope with a project this ambitious and complex and it's the visuals that have pulled my ass out of the fire. Not just the incredible work of my four artists, but Lee [Loughridge]'s amazing colouring and the fantastic lettering.

All four artists have brought such a solidity to their eras - Dean [Ormston]'s 1890 feels like old copies of The Strand magazine. Phil [Winslade]'s 1940 is straight out of Cagney and Edward G Robinson. Meghan [Hetrick-Murante]'s 2014 feels like Crimewatch CCTV, and Tula's 2050 feels as ephemeral and illusory as Maplewood's memory. And then Lee has created these colour palettes which have a language in common across the four periods, while maintaining a distinct voice in each.

Sam: Now, obviously you can't give much away here, but this being a complex series... this body being present in four different everything built around solving that mystery, or does the book spin out in other directions?

Si: Ooh, the book spins in and out. There's a big reveal at the end of issue 2 that we're looking at an even bigger picture than we first thought. And without giving too much away, there's a certain amount of sleight-of-hand and misdirection around The Corpse. Sometimes the story you think is the story isn't the story at all. Let's just say this is NOT a whodunit (though we will find that out).

Sam: Intriguing. I haven't got issue #2 yet, but I'm on it on my next trip to the comic shop - assuming it hasn't sold out. #1's only available digitally now, after selling out, is that right?

Si: I'm hearing rumours to that effect - it's kind of weird because there seems to be a massive information gap between distribution and editorial. I'm hearing word of mouth that copies are hard to find, though.

Sam: Yeah, and #1's got that great cover...

Si: TWO great covers. Both with hidden easter eggs.

Sam: Oh, I wasn't aware of those, I'll have to have another look.

Si: The whole book is littered with them. I was pleased to read a reviewer who finished his write-up then couldn't sleep because 'something' was preying on his mind. He got out of bed, read the first issue again and totally rewrote his review. This book has LAYERS, man.

Sam: Well, on that bombshell, our time's up! Thanks very much for your time, Si, and good luck with the rest of Bodies.

Si: Thanks Sam, this was fun. Good luck with the rest of the day.

Sam: Cheers, good luck with your hangover. ;)

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