Ben Raza’s exclusive interview with comic book legend John Wagner
One of the country’s biggest comic conventions comes to Bedford next weekend, when NICE 2014 takes place at Bedford Corn Exchange.
The event on September 13-14 will feature some leading names from the world of comics who will be speaking to guests and signing merchandise, as well as discussion panels and sales stalls.
There will also be a cosplay competition, where guests can come dressed as their favourite comic, movie or video game character and have the chance to win their share of £500-worth of prizes.
For more information or to buy tickets visit http://nicecon.co.uk/
> Ahead of NICE 2014 the Times & Citizen met with comic writer John Wagner, who has been a leading light on the British scene for the last 40 years, graduating from Whizzer and Chips to Roy Of The Rovers , to Doctor Who and 2000AD.
He will be at the convention with his collaborator Carlos Ezquerra who will be flying from Spain.
This is what he had to say.
T&C: How did you get into the comic industry?
JW: I started as a raw ‘editorial assistant’ at DC Thomson, the company that publishes The Beano – and at that time many more comics, boys’, girls’ romantic. From there straight into a freelance career.
T&C: You’ve written on everything from Whizzer and Chips to Roy Of The Rovers and, of course, 2000AD. That’s quite a mix - how different is it writing for the different audiences and age ranges?
JW: Some of the younger strips can be pretty moronic if you don’t fight against it. I always tried to find something that interested or amused me in a script and believed that enjoyment would carry over to the reader.
I was often accused of trying to ‘slip through’ subversive content. My approach to strips for older age groups doesn’t vary much from that – tell a good story with good characters and never write down to readers.
T&C: What have been the highlights of the different types titles?
JW: I don’t remember any of my efforts for young readers with any fondness. Obviously working for 2000AD is where I feel happiest.
It’s hard to pull a strip out of my time there and say, yeah, that was a high point. Dredd – Strontium Dog – Button Man – Al’s Baby and all the others, they’ve all had their pleasures.
I never particularly enjoyed working for American titles, though two or three of my editors there were excellent and that does make a big difference. And seeing A History of Violence brought to the screen was very satisfying.
T&C: Do you enjoy being able to evolve characters over time, or do you prefer to keep to the core of the individuals?
JW: Sure, I let them evolve, but not too much and not too fast. I’m wary of changing too much for fear of losing what made the strip popular in the first place.
T&C: You grew up in Pennsylvania until the age of 12, but then moved to Scotland. Do you think that mix of cultures is reflected in your work?
JW: Yes, I think it’s given me a kind of mid-Atlantic outlook. I feel Scottish and if anyone asks that’s what I claim to be, but I read mainly American fiction, watch mainly American TV and still take a big interest in events there.
T&C: Something else that stands out from your career is that you took time out - according to Wikipedia you even worked as a caretaker of an estate in the Scottish Highlands and dredging on a barge.
Did you come back refreshed from those sorts of experiences?
JW: I came back desperate for money!
T&C: *I know that you also had a mixed time working on Doctor Who. What was that like?
JW: I’m not a big Doctor Who fan so it wasn’t pure pleasure for me, though I think the stories came out pretty well.
I didn’t have any interest in carrying on past my short stint.
T&C: The legendary Dave Gibbons was a part of your time on Doctor Who magazine. How does he compare to the people you’ve worked with over the years?
JW: Dave’s a great draftsman, and if it’s clarity you want (and generally I do) he’s a definite go-to guy. He’s also a superb storyteller, which to my mind is the real ‘art’ of comic art.
Too many concentrate too much on drawing pretty pictures and the story can get forgotten. With Dave the story flows, leading you on smoothly and naturally with no need to turn back and peer at some murky masterpiece to try to figure out what the hell is going on.
Unfortunately I haven’t worked with Dave enough and what I did do was usually at arm’s length – I’d write the script and forget about it, no real collaboration except through his interpretation of my words. The results weren’t bad though.
T&C: And the last word. You’ve been described as “Romantic but not emotional,” “Unsentimental and laced with mordant humour,” and as writing
scripts that read like “exciting telegrams”. How would you describe your work?
JW: I find it difficult to define my work, just too close to the subject. I love ‘exciting telegrams’ though – I think this probably refers less to the content and more to the brevity of my picture descriptions (and often my dialogue).
I don’t like to tie an artist down too tightly, so I figure if I describe just enough to convey the scene along with any significant detail it allows ample room for his own creativity.
It’s also less work and I’m quite lazy.