This could be a lot of fun. I have the opportunity to interview Matt Hardy and Rob Jones from Mad Robot Comics. The chance to discuss their H.G Wells inspired new title cannot be refused, so I asked both gentlemen a few questions.
Paul: I like to start at the basics. What were the first comics you really enoyed, why, and how old were you?
Matthew: My first comic was a black and white UK reprint of Stan and Jack’s X-Men #1. I was 6 or 7 I think? In fact it was like a digest book so it may have been more than one issue of that run. It wasn’t their best work from that fertile creative period, but their characters really grabbed me - the idea of that world of super-powered misfits, the colourful powers and evil villains. BUT…. it didn’t get me into comics, mainly because at that time, you just couldn’t get many comics in the UK. It wasn’t until I was 9 years old and Transformers UK issue 1 hit - that got me into comics. Again objectively not a masterpiece of a book, but the world building aspects, the mythology they’d built for the book (to sell toys admittedly) captivated me. So I sort out more UK reprints of US books, then 2000AD, then US books and now I’m scarred for life…
Robin: Okay, my first comic was probably a copy of the Beano or the Dandy, my parents ran a newsagents and would get them in every week. I'd read through them both, enjoy them, laugh at the Bash St Kids or whatever nonsense that Dennis the Menace or Desperate Dan was us to that week, and then put them back for others to buy. However, for Christmas, we would receive the old Panini annuals, and I remember, Christmas 1989, I got the Real Ghostbusters annual, which collected a lot of stories, some prose, a guide on how to make a proton pack and trap and a whole slew of Ghostbusters comics within it. I unfortunately lost it to the annuls of time over the years until my fiance recently got me a copy of that and the 1990 annual as well for my birthday. It contained stories by a whole slew of Marvel UK writers and artists, including John Freeman, David Hine, Andy Lanning, Ant Williams, Lew Stringer and more. For a 4-5 year old, this created what those who enjoy Disney's Inside Out would call, a "core memory". I remember being so excited to read it, and to make the things inside and trying to draw all the characters.
Paul: Before your first published work gentlemen, did you have many knock backs or rejection letters. For most creators it is a rite of passage.
Robin: Before I started self publishing with Madius Comics with Mike Sambrook and Nick Gonzo, and then with Matt and I crossing over stories, I had only ever sent one story off to a publisher. This was to the late Dave Evan's Futurequake. The story was called Virtual Voyeur, and I was fortunate enough to have that picked up. I've never been brave enough to pitch to the bigger boys, instead, I've been happy to self publish work via Kickstarter to get a little bit of renown out there before I ever even attempt to pitch my stories around. This is probably the cowards way, however it's worked for me! The first proper, true knockback I had though was when I was lettering. Sometimes work wouldn't be used, or I would apply for lettering jobs and not hear things, or, the biggest stinger, be told I was going to letter a project, wait to hear from the creative team, then find out someone else had lettered it. That stings, I won't lie.
Matthew: I think like a lot of UK creators I pitched a couple of Future Shocks to 2000AD, neither went anywhere (but both pitches got reworked into well received books later on). It’s always disappointing to be rejected but I think it spurred my move into self-publishing very early on. I concentrated on putting out my own books for a few years. Recently I’ve successfully pitched to Heavy Metal and for a couple of creator IPs (under NDA) and I’ve got pitches I’m waiting to hear back on from a couple of larger publishers at present. If they are reading this - I’m lovely to publish I am
Paul: So how did you talented two people actually come to decide to work together? (Can we avoid Thunder Child for this question please?)
Matthew: Well Rob is the best letterer in comics (other best letterers are available) and he’d worked on a number of my self published books. But the real answer to that question is Hell in Stalingrad. Rob will correct me if I’m wrong on the details, but he’d written the start of a Demons mets the Seige of Stalingrad story and well we both enjoy co-writing with others, so Rob asked me to take a look at it. So I rattled off 40 odd pages of death, explosions and war crimes thinking Rob would pull it to bits (he’s the history buff that I’m not) and he loved it. So we wrote the whole thing - it took £11K on Kickstarter and we went ‘Hmmm, we should do that again!”.
Robin: Matt initially hired me as a letterer for his series Cadavers. We got on really well, chatted loads, and then I relettered his series, last exit to Brighton and a graphic novel he produced called Murder Most Mundane. We constantly threatened one another with working together, as we knew what destruction this would wrought on the space/time continuum, so to avoid that, we wrote about history.
Matthew: Man you have a better memory than me!
Robin: Like Matt said, I had a little idea about demons fighting soldiers, I did a history degree at uni and always wanted to use that for the basis of a comic story. I mentioned it to Matt, who then threw slews of paper, notes written on the backs of cigarette packets, his phone number on a napkin and various other bits he pieced together into a 40 odd page story, and then we tinkered, we tailored, soldiered and thankfully skipped the spying part to produce Hell in Stalingrad.
Robin: And again, as Matt stated, we took £11k on Kickstarter, and thought... "Hmm... We should do this again..."
Paul: Can you both offer any advice to anyone that starts a Kickstarter campaign for their comics?
Robin: I don't think there's hard and fast advice for Kickstarter. There's projects on there which take thousands and, to be honest, I struggle to understand why they do, and other projects which have great creators involved and a wicked story attached which fail. Ultimately, I think it comes down to networking, getting previews of what you have together, contacting press outlets, cultivating relationships with other creatives and being active and involved within the comics community which helps get Kickstarters across the line and made. There's no golden bullet. And people who have had much more success have written about their experiences, I know Dave Cook released a book about his experience with Kickstarter and what he did to bring about the success of Killtopia, so that's definitly worth checking out if you can. I think it comes down to bravery, being loud and proud about your book and being prepared to put the work in.
Matthew: I've run 16 successful Kickstarters. My advice would be "Are you insane? " I'll pretty much echo what Rob has said here - hard work is basically the underpinnings of a KS. You can have the best book in the world, but if your rewards are badly costed, your art is poorly displayed, your pitch is wordy, your postage is off and the point of your book is not clear - you will struggle. And even if you get all of this sorted, if you don't work to promote your Kickstarter - you will struggle. Having a following, a base of fans as a creator does help, but that shouldn't deter new creators wanting to use KS to launch their careers - all crowdfunders are a great platform to get your ideas to market. If all goes to plan I'll have 6 campaigns across a number of crowdfunding platforms this year along. But it's never easy money like a lot of people seem to think, and the margins to get a book to print get harder each year. So yeah, a little insanity is helpful.
Robin: Self flagellation is a good summary of what running a Kickstarter is like, so if you're into masochism then crowdfunding is for you.
Paul: Who came up with ThunderChild? H G Well creation is obviously public domain to enjoy and has seen a slight rebirth in recent years, I'm thinking of the BBC series and The Tom Cruise effort but who created the specicific storyline you are telling?
Robin: Storyline wise, it was both of us. However, I'll let Matt tell you how we came up with the idea as he tells it better...
Matthew: We disagree on how drunk Rob was when messaging me whilst he listening to the Jeff Wayne War of the Worlds. Rob's message was basically ‘Mate!!! Thunder Child!!! We should do Thunder Child!!!’ Rob says he WASN’T drunk and I’m going for VERY. Anyway I was intrigued, being able to do a WotW story, set during the events of the Martian invasion, but with a lot of leeway to tell our own version was a really good idea. Rob had written a great opening with the HMS Thunder Child departing for its journey up the Thames but at that time had a lot of other books I was writing, so sadly I sat on it. Then this thing called the Pandemic happened and like a lot of writers I was struggling for inspiration and as an exercise for the mind I wrote this massive conflict between the ship and the Martian Tripods (which in the end became the basis for issue 3 of the book). Rob and I then decided that rather than a Graphic Novel as first envisioned, it would work best as a 3-book series and I suggest we should start in the days before Rob’s opening - when the Martian threat was just speculation. So I wrote the outline, Rob and I created the cast, dialogued out the pages, I re-dialogued the pages, Fred re-dialogued our re-dialogues, and then Kevin and Simon actually made it into a really good comic.
Robin: I wasn't drunk, just high on the concept of a comic based around the Thunder Child. I had always loved Jeff Wayne's musical version of the War of the Worlds, I used to stare at the artwork on my dad's vinyl when I was a kid, especially that image of the tripod melting the Thunder Child's valiant heart, and with the imagery and story being so in the publics mind, and thankfully it being in the public domain, meant, as Matt has said, that we were able to use the story but also tell our own. It seemed like a great idea, one where we could muse on the themes of Empire, on government responses to emergency situations, on the human spirit and also on how many things we could blow up with a Martian heat ray.
Paul: I was going to ask as a follow up question if you are both fans of the legenday LP, but I have a feeling that may be redundant now. I assume you are both fans so instead I will ask your opinions of the various adaptaions of War of The Worlds.
Mathew and Robin I thank you both for your time