A fairly new came to come up in the UK comics industry is Brett Uren, who is hoping to release an anthology collection of comic book stories called ‘TorsoBear,’ which is presently seeking funding on Kickstarter.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Brett and asked him a few questions about his career in comics to date as well as ‘TorsoBear.’
SFP: How did you find your way into the world of comics. And what was the attraction of writing for you?
Brett Uren: Really, comics for me have always been there, in the form of Asterix books, the strips of Jim Davis and Bill Watterson and others. So as a boy I made my own, highly derivative strips. I tried to illustrate most bits of creative writing I did at school. The marriage just seemed natural.
As for my adult foray into comics, I tried doing much the same thing with Kuzimu, making it up on the fly, drawing the story as I saw it. Only gradually, getting out of the vacuum of working solo, did I see the efficiencies of separating the elements. So, after 4 or 5 years I actually started to write proper scripts, and actually enjoyed the immediacy of getting ideas fleshed out and readable.
Now, in my 30s, it’s the first time in my life where I have far more completed scripts than I have drawn art. Art is still my first passion, but it is obviously the more time-consuming aspect of the modern graphic medium.
SFP: You did a horror comic called Kuzimu back in 2007, which used African Folklore as part of its basis. What can you tell us about that title and is it out anywhere in trade paperback?
Brett Uren: Kuzimu is a funny one to nail down, one reviewer called it an attempt to describe the ineffable, and I think that they were right. It was a left-brain journey through a world of dead souls where sorrow, memory and the hallucinogenic properties of the sub conscious mind.
The basic concept is that a Maasai boy once had the ability to interact with the dead across a dimensional divide, eventually dying himself and his memories becoming lost. The Maasai believe that the dead reside underground, but can escape back the surface in the form of a snake.
The character, now a snake-man named Pt’eros, had to navigate a wasteland of the dead, between warring factions, set upon by his memories and fears in the flesh, trying to reassert themselves, as if there was a truth his mind could not contain.
We got to previews with it via 215 Ink, so there may be some print copies still going. I’ve seen a few on eBay for sure. You can get a PDF/CBR of it from my digital site – http://bretturendigitalcomics.bigcartel.com
To be honest, that series was very much a document of my growth as creator, and as such has a few big flaws that I’m now very much aware of.
But I can’t dislike it, it was based on characters and plot I came up with as a teenager, and I’ve never produced art as rich and detailed since that time. My current art style has a greater efficiency to it.
SFP: Another book you did, which sounds fun is ‘The Vale,’ which mixes present day British culture with soap operas and monsters, which sounds a little crazy. What else can you tell us about that and can you see it ever becoming a full on series or you happy to leave it as a limited sort of thing?
Brett Uren: Well, The Vale basically tries to speculate on modern Britain and its culture by asking, what if the bad guys won?
Many horror stories, particularly those of Lovecraft, tend to paint a picture of dread things seeping into our world, looking for a way in.
Well, what if they found a way? Would that really be it for the world?
Many years after an invasion of Elder God-type creatures, British people have integrated with the beasts and magical beings, like we did after invasions like the Romans/Vikings/French etc.
So, in post-crash UK, we have trolls and elder beasts stood in line with humans at the job centre, creatures and people drinking side-by-side at the pubs, checking their mail on magically-powered ScryTech smartphones.
The aim was to write a series that was wholly familiar with a fantasy twist, departing purposefully from where Kuzimu was left. I wanted it to be funny and truthful. In fact, many locals have told me the The Vale, despite its ridiculous themes, is funny because it could be true.
Plus, a lot of people like Shugg. He’s the son of an elder god who befriends the main character, Jan Czernowicz. Shugg tends to try an over-compensate in being like humans and affects hip-hop/urban culture speech and fashions. He likes dubstep, hitting on girls and getting drunk, not all that mastery of the world stuff. In his words ‘Dat ting iz total breeze, blud’.
I’ve produced four issues of the 12-page issues of The Vale so far, with a story arc and scripts already written for a further 3. After my latest project, it’ll be a fun world to go back to, every issue set in a different local town with focus on a pub in particular.
I’ve been told, it’s like Harry Potter played out like Shameless.
SFP: Your new project, which is on Kickstarter right now is ‘TorsoBear,’ which you are called a fluffy noir anthology book. It looks like a lot of fun. What can you tell us about it and what perks are included for those that wish to pledge?
Brett Uren: Well, Torsobear has been a strangely magnetic project to begin with. I was trying to branch out and become more involved in the indie scene, as I’d made friends at cons and signings and it was a delightful breath of fresh air working with people for a change.
It was my second pitch to Magnus Aspli and Glenn Møane’s digital anthology, Outré. Torsobear, the original 8-page short was an attempt to get away from blood-soaked horror and eldritch tensions.
It was an experiment to see how you could prickle the emotions of the readers with just friendly, warm tropes turned upside-down. No gore, no terror, no swearing or sex, just writing about toys and playing with their implied innocence.
In it I tread the well-worn themes of police dramas. Ruxby Bear is a teddy detective fresh off of graduation, and his rascist old wooden solider partner, Hazbrow (calls them ‘fluffbags’), takes him to the scene of a brutal bear dismantling. Only the torso remains, Black Dhalia-esque in nature. This pushes Ruxby slowly into despair, as his fuzzy worldview is repeatedly shattered. Ruxby himself is kind of a Teddy Ruxpin-come-Brad-Pitt-from-Seven character.
It was the first thing I’d created that was generally quite well-received. I wanted to move forward on that basis, feeling like I was being told that after a few attempts, I was starting to get some things right.
But I have an 18 month-old, and we know how that goes – So, the only way I could think to expand on the world of Toyburg without neglecting my family was to get help. Like Outré, if I could convince some others to help me with the book, maybe I could put some more ‘yarns’ out there without putting undue pressure on my private life.
The other ‘yarns’ that the teams we selected have put together spread out into the wider world of Toyburg, making it a living place… even if it is a dangerous place to be.
The Kickstarter for the book is structured for anyone to pledge. You can get cheaper digital books, the print book with poster/shirt/Kuzimu and The Vale add-ons, or up at the higher end you can get original artwork, yourself drawn into the book and even a handmade plushie of the protagonist, detective Ruxby Bear. It’s a meta-toy… a toy of a send up of a toy.
SFP: From what I have seen of ‘TorsoBear’ and read. It very much looks like the sort of animated cartoon you would see on a Christmas Morning where all the toys come to life and save Christmas from whatever villainy is out there. Is that the sort of vibe you are looking to hit with the book?
Brett Uren: It may draw from that kind of plot trajectory in the beginning, but Torsobear is primarily about the loss of innocence.
The main theme is that you never end up in the same place you began, that even if the darkest threats Ruxby and Habrow will face are dealt with, it will have cost them greatly, and left its mark on them to carry forward.
SFP: You have a lot of great British talent involved in ‘TorsoBear’. How did you go about recruiting such fantastic writers for the book?
Brett Uren: I asked Glenn, who had edited the original short, to help with editing the book. His expertise and eye for detail is what gave the first story it’s balance and polish, so how could I not ask him to help me do the same?
A couple of guide documents later and a couple of posts on Penciljack.com and Digital Webbing, and the rest has been a blur. Creators flocked to it and I’m blessed that massive talents such as Cy Dethan, Brockton McKinney, Janos Honkonen, Saoirse Towler, Carlos Zamudio, Mick Schubert, Faye Harmon and Nic Wilkinson are on board.
There are many others too, making up a huge network of new friends and trusted comic companions.
Some of them are marketing experts in the daytime, so thy have been instrumental in turning an idea into an actual plan.
It’s not just British talent either, for example Joel Cotejar is from the Philippines, so this is a truly globe-spanning endeavour – only made possible at all by the power of the internet and social media.
I can’t say exactly why all these amazing people have elected to go with me on this, but I’m grateful they are. We’ve put together a pitch package with samples of completed pages to get publishers attention post-campaign. I have to say, that they carry the book with their unique yarns. If it is a success, it will be down to the team as a whole.
SFP: As a comics writer I can only assume that you also read comics. What at present in the world of comics are you really excited to be reading and what comics creators new or old do you get excited about?
Brett Uren: Well, Watterson’s reveal of being the artist for Pearls Before Swine just bowled me over. It made me feel seven years old again. A friend leant me a trade of Garth Ennis’ run on Punisher, which is going down smooth as Preacher. Ennis is peerless in what he does.
Craig Robinson’s Habibi was as much an awakening for me as Batman: Judgment on Gotham or the Carnage: Mind Bomb one-shot. All of them are excellent personality studies, but the bravery and emotional fragility of Robinson’s work just tore down all my expectations. He tackles Arabic culture, ancient transsexual traditions, subtle encroachment of a wasteful western culture into the east – all in a wonderfully fluid visual way, without any fat.
I also get excited about friend’s books from our little indie circle. I just drew a 21-page comic for Jon Scrivens’ blackly funny ‘Little Terrors’ series (http://www.littleterrorscomic.com), also grabbed new issues of Steve Collier’s Kaiju Steel, David Leach Saves The Universe (an autobiography, he calls it) & Mike Garley’s The Kill Screen.
The Kill Screen in particular I am shocked isn’t on shelves in stores, with an Image logo on it or something. There are some seriously cool creators out there, so I’d encourage those have staved off going to conventions to get out there. A real cornucopia of wonders awaits you in comics alley.
- You can learn more about ‘TorsoBear’ and make a pledge at: www.kickstarter.com/projects/bretturen/torsobear-yarns-from-toyburg
Written By: Ian Cullen