Every year, in the countdown to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in October, we bring you a series of interviews with guests at the event. This “Festival Focus” for 2019 is with Simon Spurrier, who describes himself as "a writer of actual words", currently working on new television and comic book projects.
His comic book credits stretch from 2000AD and "Judge Dredd" to X-Men Legacy, The Sandman and Star Wars. His creator owned books include Cry Havoc, Angelic and Eisner Nominee The Spire.
He's published several prose novels, the latest being Contract and A Serpent Uncoiled. His absurdist-noir novella, Unusual Concentrations, was shortlisted for the Shirley Jackson award and is available online.
What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?
Simon Spurrier: Writing way too much, as aways. Let's see now...
There's The Dreaming for DC, with lead artist Bilquis Evely, which is the vanguard title in the Neil Gaiman-curated Sandman Universe canon.
For Marvel, I'm doing Star Wars: Doctor Aphra with a variety of artists - the current arc, "A Rogue's End", is handled by the inestimable Caspar Wijngaard.
I'm launching a new creator owned series for Boom! Studios off the back of the insane success of Coda. Not allowed to say much more about that just yet.
Various other projects on the slow burner awaiting announcement...
... but I think the biggest thing coming directly down the pipe is the long overdue relaunch of Hellblazer. In late October, there's a special one shot (with Marcio Takara on art), with the improbably longwinded title The Sandman Universe Presents: John Constantine, the Hellblazer, which sets up the crafty ways we're wrangling John Constantine - foul mouthed, guilty-hearted and extremely sneaky - back into a Mature Content horror title. That's followed by a new ongoing Hellblazer book from November, with lead artist Aaron Campbell. It is extremely beautiful.
Which comic project you've worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Simon: The naff but truthful answer is that I'm always most proud of the Next Project In Line. Usually as soon as it's published all I can see are the flaws. But in a few cases I've gone back after a series has ended and been pleasantly surprised. The Spire stands out, as does Coda.
It's notable that in both cases I was working with genuinely visionary artists - Jeff Stokely and Matias Bergara respectively. I find the quality of a collaboration often stands as the metric for success.
That said, I've had some really moving conversations with readers who claim one or another of my books has helped them through tough times. Most often it's the run I did on X-Men Legacy, which in a certain light is a sort of rumination on living with mental illness. Setting aside all the granular self-critique, it's difficult not to be proud about making a bit of a difference to someone like that.
How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Simon: I'm pretty regimented, when schedule allows. Stages of the writing process are apportioned to different days to keep me on a minimum one-issue-per-week turnover. One day to figure out the story beats and sort them into a full paginated outline, usually with a rough sense of how many panels I want to assign to each page (so one can get a sense of the pacing of the issue at a glance); the next day to figure out the rough action in each panel (though this sometimes needs a second day, for very fiddly issues); the next day to go through laying down precise dialogue; the final one or two days enjoyably hammering-in panel descriptions.
Depending on the density and complexity of the specific comic, or how oversubscribed I might be, an issue might take anywhere from four to six days. But I like to separate the layers out like this so there's a sequence of definitive goals, which usually correspond to the end of the working day. Gives you an incentive to work hard and get the chance to knock-off early, I guess. Not that it ever seems to work like that.
What's the best thing about being a comics creator?
Simon: Collaborating with ridiculously talented people while not simultaneously being obligated to wear any trousers.
And the worst?
Simon: It doesn't pay well enough to afford a personal shopper, so you do indeed sometimes have to wear trousers.
What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Simon: Social bloody media. Interviews (never give an overworked writer the opportunity to wax prolix about themselves, it's not fair).
Worrying about whether or not to put on some trousers.
Do you think it's easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
Simon: I think it's a million times easier to "get published", in as much as the definition of publication must now be assumed to include web comics and other DIY angles of approach.
Ironically, as a result of the above, it's perhaps a little bit harder to "get published" in the older sense, which is to catch the eye of someone in position to actually pay you for what you do. There's a loooot more material out there jostling for editors' attention, so it's more important than ever that your visual samples, written pitches or verbal approaches really do the job.
Have you ever been to the Lake District before and if so what did you think of it? If you haven't, what are you expecting?
Simon: Love it. Spent several extremely memorable - and/or drunkenly fuzzy - holidays in the region. Most recently a long weekend getaway with a large group of other comicky and comics-contingent geeks, swimming in Ullswater, drinking too much gin and playing silly games. It's a great patch of the planet for hunkering-down with cherished people and forgetting the workaday grind.
Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Simon: I would've loved to meet Will Eisner. Moebius too. I'd probably be too overawed to even ask questions, but folks like that just sort of leak brilliance.
A couple of hours simply talking bollocks in the pub can be quite transformative, in my experience. I've had the very great privilege of spending some time with Alan Moore, for instance, and it transpires there's a particular level of genius which is so unselfconscious, so indiscriminately generous, that one can't help feeling infected by it, like a contact-high. I think if you meet your heroes with any sort of checklist in mind, or any sense of self-serving hunger for advice (or worse yet, any sweaty desire to impress), it comes across as entitled at best or obnoxious at worst.
Often that old maxim about "never meet your heroes" hinges entirely on the clause "unless neither you nor they have an agenda."
How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?
Simon: See above note re: a couple of hours simply talking bollocks in the pub.
Panels and signings and all the rest of it are a lot of fun, and definitely help maintain the illusion of professionalism, but catching up with other creators, getting to know editors and retailers, and meeting readers face-to-face is priceless, in my opinion.
What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Simon: Make some comics. Then throw them away and make some good comics. Then throw those away and make some great comics. Then, and only then, do you go looking for publishers.
But look, as much as we'd all love to pretend it's a simple meritocracy, and Being Good equals Being employed, it's just not that neat and tidy. You definitely have to be good, but you also have to be visible and to have supporters and advocates and reliable collaborators. Becoming part of a community - whether it's via your local LCS, joining a crew of aspiring creators who meet at the pub, or linking to an online group - is at least as important as slaving away in a dark room. You never know who'll get you that first gig, and by what roundabout route.
What's your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Simon: I've been very impressed by Something Is Killing The Children by James Tynion and Werther Dell'edera. Just the right level of tension and talky for my tastes. First couple of issues should be in all decent comics stores by the time the Lakes Festival is happening.
Simon, thank you very much for your time. Looking forward to seeing you again in Kendal!