Stephen Walsh is one of the UK’s most exciting Indy comics book creators and he’s been entertaining fans for years with his brand of very British humour/adventure. His recent collaborations with artist Keith Page have generated a great deal of excitement in the UKs comics industry and rightly so.
The Iron Moon, which is available to buy now through Print Media Productions, is a fun steampunk adventure, which features Charlotte Corday, who seems to get around a fair bit in the books of Stephen Walsh and Keith Page.
I recently caught up with Stephen Walsh and asked him about these books and much more. You can read what resulted from our e-mail exchange below:
SciFiPulse: First off can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into writing comics?
Stephen Walsh: I’ve written comics on and off for a long time, in between other stuff. Film and television writing is my other main thing, and that’s taken me away from comics for long stretches. But comics remain an itch that needs scratching.
My first attempt to work in comics was in the summer of 1988, when I sent the Mighty Tharg a different Future Shocks script every day for six weeks. No reply from the Command Module, as yet. But it’s only been 24 years. My first published comics work was The Acid Bath Case, illustrated by the phenomenal Kellie Strom, which was published by Kitchen Sink in 1993 and did very well in every way — except sales!
SciFiPulse: I’ve noticed from your work that there are many references to television in your books. For example, in London Calling you have Charlotte Corday communicating with a puppet of a wooden horse via her television. Which I spotted as a reference to Muffin The Mule. Do you have an ongoing bet with Keith Page in regards to how many pop culture things you can reference?
Stephen Walsh: Although we had television in Ireland when I was a kid back in the 20th century, I was far more interested in the erratic, ghostly, airborne, pre-digital TV signal struggling weakly across the sea from Britain. One could never rely on reaching the end of a programme without the image disintegrating or the sound dropping out. I thought it was permanently snowing on the BBC! I don’t think I ever managed to see all of a programme (let alone all of a series) so naturally I’d imagine what I was missing.
So I think the television influence in London Calling derives from wavy, rolling glimpses of wonderful, mysterious things like Ivor the Engine, Adam Adamant Lives! and The Day of the Daleks. In fact, so powerful is the imaginary version of that Doctor Who serial to me that I’m afraid to re-watch it on DVD for fear of displacing a personal touchstone.
London is the other key element in the mix. My earliest impressions of the city come from Gorgo, Konga, Seven Days To Noon and The Quatermass Experiment.
(I saw the Ealing film Pool of London again last night too and realised that I had seen it before at some formative age. The lead actress, Susan Shaw, even looks like Charlotte Corday…)
So, as we began to work on a story about mystified, amnesiac secret agents in London, all this stuff just seemed to walk right in and make itself at home. Our characters are adrift in a London that exists wherever Keith’s and my imaginations overlap. The people in the story occasionally twig that they might not be quite real, so it makes perfect sense to me that they’re receiving some of those old TV signals I mentioned, and that they occasionally enjoy a pint with Sid James.
SciFiPulse: Much of your comics work is in collaboration with Keith Page can you talk a little about how that collaboration came about and talk us through the shared creative process you have when working with Keith?
Stephen Walsh: I started sending the occasional script to Commando in the nineties and, after a while and a few very welcome lessons in story craft from then-editor George Low, they began to be accepted. So I was lucky enough to have scripts assigned to such wonderful artists as Denis McLoughlin, Gordon Livingston, Carlos Pino, John Ridgway and Keith Page.
Keith’s work really appeals to me. He touches base with the great British artists like Geoff Campion and Joe Colquhoun (as well as French artists like Jacques Tardi) but he’s carried that tradition into the present and created a style singularly his own. I made contact and we started to talk about working together outside Commando. We tried all sorts of things and submitted stuff all over the place. Keith had used the character of Charlotte Corday in various stories already and invited me to have a go.
We came up with a version of London Calling that’s substantially different from the published one, batted it back and forth across the Irish Sea for however long it was, reworked it hugely and were finally rewarded with the enthusiasm of Steve Tanner at TimeBomb Comics who brought the book out in a lovely edition in 2010.
We’ve had two books published together so far (the other being The Iron Moon). Two more have been completed “Paint It Black and the London Calling sequel, Squadron of the Screaming Damned) and we’re currently off and running on a third. I’m not sure how to describe the “creative process” except to state that when I told Keith I had an idea for a new Charlotte Corday story called Squadron of the Screaming Damned, all I knew then was that it featured aeroplanes flying through the sewers, he said “Sounds good. Let’s do it!”
SciFiPulse: There was a Charlotte Corday involved in the French Revolution who was executed in 1793 for her involvement in the assassination of Jacobin leader Jean-Paul Marat. Is your character of Charlotte Corday in any way based on her or is it just a happy coincidence?
Stephen Walsh: Keith came up with that name. I do remember asking him about the Marat connection but I can’t remember what his answer was. You’ll have to ask him!
SciFiPulse: I’ve noticed that you have two series of Charlotte Corday books running with two different publishers. She is in London Calling for Time Bomb Comics, which has a sequel due out soon and of course you have the Iron Moon, which is out through Print Media. Hows that possible without conflicts between the two different companies?
Stephen Walsh: There’s been absolutely no problem in having Charlotte stories issued by different publishers. The stories are owned by Keith and myself, so there’s no conflict of ownership. And the stories are so different that neither treads on the other’s toes. We’ve borrowed a few bits and pieces from Michael Moorcock’s toy box and designed Charlotte as a character with multiple existences, so there will be more stories both inside and outside of these established continuities. There’s one set in the 1970s that we’re both looking forward to getting to.
SciFiPulse: Iron Moon has been described as ‘Rorke’s Drift in Space’ could you perhaps talk about some of the other references that fans are likely to see in the book?
Stephen Walsh: The Iron Moon is a big, broad canvas space adventure that projects the crazed escalation towards World War One into a universe where the various competing powers have already ventured out among the stars. They’ve also dragged late 19th century earth culture out there with them, so we get to have moments like WB Yeats chatting with Madame Blavatsky on an interstellar cruise ship.
As with London Calling, Keith and I came up with a world, dropped poor old Charlotte into it and let her get on with revealing the story. Wherever (and whenever) she is, she’ll be a spanner in the works. So there’s obviously a bit of Doctor Who DNA in there as well.
The “Rorke’s Drift” sequence was something that popped into my head early in the process and was key in shaping the overall tone and shape of the book. Charlotte leads the surviving Royal Space Marines in a last stand against the Unknown Enemy who has constructed an army from parts of dead soldiers, animals and machines, seemingly just to amuse itself. Further adventures in this series are planned and we hope to get the chance to do them. So run out and buy a copy immediately!
SciFiPulse: Your background initially was in film. Could you talk a little about some of the film work you have done and how perhaps that may have aided you when it comes to writing for comics?
Stephen Walsh: I co-wrote the feature film, How Harry Became A Tree (2001) with the director Goran Paskaljevic, which starred Colm Meaney, Kerry Condon, Cillian Murphy and Adrian Dunbar. More recently, the feature Where The Sea Used To Be, which I also co-produced, has screened as a work-in-progress at a couple of festivals and is due to be finished in Spring 2012.
I was also scriptwriter and story consultant on director Sé Merry Doyle’s new feature-length documentary, John Ford – Dreaming The Quiet Man. Ford has been a huge influence on both my film and comics writing. I’m interested in visiting worlds, meeting the people there, hearing what songs they sing and seeing what trouble they get into.
SciFiPulse: Other than Charlotte Corday as the main character for both Iron Moon and London Calling, do you have any other projects in the works that you can maybe clue us in about?
Stephen Walsh: As mentioned, Keith and I have completed Paint It Black, which doesn’t feature Charlotte but takes place in the world of London Calling and concerns the ongoing adventures of the Metropolitan Police’s “V” squad. Paraffin Jack McNab is the main character in that one, another paladin of lost Londons with whom we visit both the 1950s and the future world of 1973. We’ve had a lot of interest in this story, and Keith’s art job on it is a revelation , but we’ve yet to place it with a publisher.
I’m also working with Keith on a story about the mythical Irish hero Cú Chulain, in which I’m already detecting a heavy Sam Peckinpah influence. And I don’t mean the blood.
Outside that, I’m collaborating with John Freeman and the Italian artist Giancarlo Caracuzzo on a series for Strip Magazine that I’m not allowed to talk about just yet. But very soon. And Giancarlo’s artwork is amazing.
SciFiPulse: Given that we see so many references in your work to television and film. Have you ever had any inclination to perhaps write for a tie in property to a television show like perhaps a one shot story for IDW for Doctor Who or something?
Stephen Walsh: A few years back, I sent some Doctor Who ideas to whoever was publishing the comic at the time, but I never heard anything back. Perhaps that was kindness on their part!
One of the things I like about working in comics and film is that, over and above the work I generate myself, you never know when an opportunity to work with interesting people or interesting material will pop up. So I’m always open to that.
SciFiPulse: Out of interest. The prediction is that we are going to see a massive change or the world is going to end on December 21 of this year. What do you think Charlotte Corday would do in an effort to save humanity from this dreaded date?
Stephen Walsh: I imagine that if Charlotte knew the world was going to end on the 21st of December, she would somehow get distracted and forget the date, then wander about wondering if the world had ended yet or was about to. It’s hard to tell sometimes. This wandering would probably involve a visit to a pub, a thwarting of the nefarious plans of Them Who Would Do Old London Down and certainly a fish supper afterwards.
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By Ian M. Cullen