July 28, 2017

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Kickstarter Interview (Corsair by Nick Gonzo, Magician's House, Alexa Renée and Rob Jones)

Nick Gonzo makes up one quarter of the indie comics powerhouse publisher that is Madius Comics. As both the writer and artist on the fan-favourite 50Signal and the wonderfully weird Pictures of Spiderman, Gonzo has made a name for himself in the British indie comics scene. Gonzo's new project, Corsair, features artwork by Magician's House, colours by Alexa Renée and letters by his Madius compatriot Rob Jones.

Nick Gonzo sat down with me to discuss what sparked his obsession with comics, the horror influences he draws from and why he's taking a unique approach to launching his new series. The fundraising has already started and runs until Friday 25th August, so hurry on over and donate before it's too late.

WARNING: This article contains explicit images

Mark Dickson: What's your quick pitch for Corsair if people haven't heard of it before?

Nick Gonzo: Corsair is a sort of a mashup between a horror story and a detective story. It is a police procedural that happens to be about ghosts and folklore in England. Somebody described it as "Planetary but in England" if you're a fan of Warren Ellis, but I see it as an incredibly English version of Swamp Thing.

It's hard to explain, but it's a book about a guy investigating the weird folk tales of England and putting them in a contrasting state to the new and modern England. The entire central theme is about order versus disorder and the people caught in between. Disorder being the natural  England, Pagan England, and the so-called "order" being the modern Christian England. It's about the two identities that England has and how they don't sit next to each other very comfortably.

I did have something along those lines as a question. If you had to choose a genre for Corsair, would you call it a detective story or a horror story?

Gonzo: I would call it a horror story. The detective work is a framework for the horror. There are many great horror stories about cops in the same way that the horror series Condemned for the Playstation was all technically about cops - in all actuality it's a horror story. You know, the story of Silent Hill is not a love story because he loves his dead wife - it's a horror story because he goes to Silent Hill and it's full of crazy shit.

The fact that Corsair is an agent for The Order, which investigates and solves strange happenings, it's still a horror story because the things that he's investigating are horrifying. The first one is kind of a haunted house tale, but it's my version of a haunted house tale.

Your protagonist is very blunt, he's very gruff. He's very much a "guy's guy".

Gonzo: I wouldn't say so. He's a typical Yorkshire man, he's...when you say "guy's guy" I always get a misogynist in my head.

Somebody said that Corsair has a very Constantine-y vibe and in my head the character of Constantine and the character of Blythe Corsair are not congruous. In my head it's more like, if you've seen Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul, there's a character called Mike Ehrmantraut in that and I've just realised how much they connect in my head. 

Corsair has been around the block; he's seen everything and he's not necessarily shocked by anything anymore - he knows what the rules are to life. There's a scene in the first issue where he goes into a guy's bedroom and sees the guy's got a pair of handcuffs chained to his headboard and rather than comment on it, he's just like "That's just what the guy gets up to". 

I think that's one of things that I want to explore with the character of Blythe Corsair, because the idea is that he's old, he's not short-tempered, but he has very little interest in being pissed around. He doesn't want to play politics in The Order and his superior officer is regularly seen playing golf and working his way up the political ladder. Corsair would rather be out there doing what he's there for rather than try to get his name on the wall.

In the same way that the old fashioned detective is only interested in the true nature of the law, the badge or whatever it represents, Corsair is out there to do the best at his job that he can do and has no time for this brown-nosing around it. Calling him a man's man is reductive to his character, but he is the typical elderly Yorkshire-man who's happy for the world to keep going, but he just wants to keep his place in it.

So you've said that in the first issue, it's got a lot to do with a haunted house and that feels very much like classic horror. Do you have any classic horror influences that you're drawing from?

Gonzo: The thing is that the actual stories in it are very much drawn from folktales. One of my favourite things in life is that if you go on holiday in England and you go in the local gift shop, the local corner shop, they will have these small books that will tell you about the folk tales of that area. Go into a Waterstones in Leeds or Wakefield or Barnsley and you'll have books like "Murder in Leeds" or "Black Barnsley" , which is one that I own, that will tell you everything. 

I was on holiday in South Wales and they had one that was telling me all about the ancient folk tales of the Pembrook area and that kind of thing is where my inspiration for it comes from. The story's all about the folk tales of England, but I wanted to frame it in a very classic horror way and there's nothing more classic to me than a haunted house story.

To go onto the art, there's one splash page just after Corsair picks up the artefact that sets this story off. What were your notes to artist Stefani (a.k.a Magician's House) for that page and how much of it did you paint out for her?

Gonzo: The actual description of it is about 200 words. I had this 70s European comic book thing going on in my head, something like Mobius would draw, with a woman up-top, sort of like a genie, spectral god figure, and all of these other things going on. I wanted the sense of something that was very overwhelming, but we were also chucking in a lot of elements that will be developed, not just throughout this one episode, but throughout the whole arc that I have planned out.

I had this 200 word description and I did this shitty sketch for Stefani in, I don't think it was Paint, but it was Google Docs. I wrote it on a Surface Pro tablet and luckily I had the pen handy to draw this thing. I sent it across to Stefani and I got a message back from her saying "You're a lunatic".

She's not the sort of person who puts up with shit; you send her a script and she'll send you back a page. So I sent her this picture and she was like "I can see why you picked me to do the art for this". She actually ended up rearranging it, but she did an incredible job. It did end up being the focal point for the story for me - as soon as I saw that page, I thought "I know how to write this".

The script wasn't finished when Stefani started drawing it. I'd sent over a very detailed synopsis of the episode and lot of other episodes as well, but I was maybe sending her a a page a day of the script. She was probably on page 6 or 7, because that splash page is probably page 6 or 7, and seeing that image changed how I wrote the rest of the issue. 

I saw it and thought "This is the aesthetic I'm working with now".

So you've said that she took what you gave her as guidance and then went in her own direction with it. Did that apply to the rest of the book as whole? How much guidance did you give her?

Gonzo: You don't need to give Stefani much guidance. 

She's an incredible artist and she's also a staunch professional. She works incredibly quickly and incredibly well. She likes to be told what people look like in comparison to other people. She asked who Corsair looked like and I said "like Johnny Cash" and she then she comes up with a character design. There's a whole cast of actors ready for these people.

There are some moments where it's clear that she's very much an American, whereas this is an incredibly English book. At one point I wrote a scene that said "a factory on a canal" and she sent me back a picture of the Oscorp Factory from Spider-Man with giant pylons, huge oil derricks and I ended up having to send her photos of a typical Yorkshire textile mill; little brick built, long building, everything a bit run down. I really wish I could have implemented her drawing because the original piece was one of the most astounding pieces of art, but just utterly out of context for crappy middle England. 

If that's what factories look like in America, it's truly the land of the future.

So you've said that you see this in arcs and episodes. Do you call an episode one single story and that's like a few issues? How do you break the story down?

Gonzo: The whole idea is to Kickstarter all of it. I don't want to go through it issue by issue because I think that people who see an issue #2 are like "Well I've not read the first one, so I'm not going to back that". 

Working in indie comics, it's likely that you're never going to see people again. You'll see someone at a convention and they'll buy an issue #1 and they'll never come back and buy issue #2. I've bought so many issue #1s in my time and never seen the person again or ever looked them up. Sometime I'll look through my indie comic collection and then go and look the person up and find out there never was an issue #2, but sometimes I'll go back and buy issue #2 years later.

What I wanted to do with this is to create it so you could buy each issue and gain more from owning issue #1, but you could still read issue #2 and go "that's a good tale". If you watch an episode of the TV show Bones, even if you've never seen it before you can watch an episode and get it - you can look at that creepy guy and go "He's the murderer". However, if you watch a whole series of Bones, you get the fact that David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel totally have a thing. 

It's the same with Corsair. I wanted each episode to be a self-contained story. There will be characters and elements of it that will come back and if you've read all of it you'll be like "Oh shit - I get that". 

Each one is going to be of varying length and that's something you can get from self publishing: you're not bound by a set limit. If I want one issue to be 28 pages and the next one to be 50, then I can do that. Each issue is going to be their own individual length and, at the end of the day, each one is going to be their own individual story.

Do you see Corsair and The Order as the constant thing throughout all of it?

Gonzo: Yes - he's the investigating officer in all of this. Some of the episodes take place outside of his relationship with The Order, but it's all a continuing story. I've currently got six issues planned in my head.

The character of Corsair was actually invented by Rob [Jones]. Rob wanted to bring me on to do a co-writing thing with him and I ended up writing a script. The way that he writes with Mike Sambrook on things like Griff Gristle is that one of them will write a story and the other will go though and add bits and so on and so forth and it's very much a collaborative thing.

I'm way too much of a control freak for that to ever work.

I remember giving him my synopsis and Rob started writing in stuff and I was like "NOOOOOO. THAT JUST WON'T DO. THAT WON'T DO AT ALL". I wanted things a certain way and he wanted things another way, so we agreed to swap over after about six issues and he can explore the younger years of Corsair. 

It's funny because we originally thought of him as this gruff character, but when Rob came back to the idea after a long time away, he wanted him to be this optimistic, young guy. I thought that having this guy, not as an angry loner, but as a friendly older man, worked a lot more for his character and the themes that I wanted to explore. I think that's the reason for this division between the two of us and why he gave me the character first.

The nature of the way that his character has developed over the years gives us the opportunity to do both.

When I was reading it, because it felt like a horror film, I could almost hear the soundtrack underneath it. If you had to choose an artist to do the soundtrack for the Corsair movie, who would you choose?

Gonzo: I love soundtracks; I have quite the collection. I've thought about this.

If you look at the video on the Kickstarter trailer, it has some music on it that's specifically written for Corsair. My friend is in a band called Dogwood Flowers and he made a soundtrack specifically for the trailer.

In that vein, I think the band Xiu Xiu, who did a soundtrack for Twin Peaks as part of a retrospective celebration of David Lynch, something like that or the soundtrack to the original Silent Hill. It needs to be bleak, but also a great cacophony of noise when it needs to be; possibly with a mandolin involved.

There's the one question that I do normally ask, but I don't know if I've already asked you before. What was the first comic that you properly got into and why?

Gonzo: Probably 2000AD, but I have a humorous anecdote for you that popped up today.

I just bought Lead Poisoning, which is the pencil art of Geof Darrow. He's one of the first artists I really got into because there's a bookshop in Wakefield called Ottakar's that I used to go to. It was around the time of my parent's divorce, but I would go and take my paper round money, go to the graphic novel section, which was about half a shelf in the sci-fi and fantasy section, and pick a little graphic novel up. 

They'd have like Volume 10 of Y: The Last Man or Sandman on the shelf. All of the comics that I'd read had before that point were single collections and didn't need to be read in series, so when I started reading the last volume of Sandman I was like: "I entirely don't understand this".

They also had this copy of Hard Boiled by Frank Miller and Geof Darrow. Geof Darrow is an amazing artist - he did all of the concept work for The Matrix - and his artwork is obscenely detailed. Hard Boiled is a story of a detective who keeps investigating crimes and dying and regenerating over and over again because he's a robot character. It's insanely violent, like insanely violent.

Someone crashes their car into the supermarket and thousands of people die and there's guts flying everywhere. At one point, some guy crashes a car into the main character and he goes through a wall and starts crashing into this competitive sex event - there was like a wrestling ring full of people going at it and people walking around with chainsaws cutting people up.

How old were you at the time?

Gonzo: About 12 or 13. I was way too young for it and I would go up to it like it was pornography, look at a page, close it and then look around like "Is anyone looking at me?". Then I would open it up and look at it and then close it again. It was like people sneaking a peak at boobs in National Geographic at the dentist, but with horrific violence. I always used to look at stuff that horrified me like "that's disgusting" and then look at it over and over again.

I ended up buying it so that I could be disgusted in the privacy of my own home instead.

I also remember that I started trying to draw like Geof Darrow because I thought that if I stuck enough detail in it, I thought that it might distract people from the fact that I don't know how to draw things like a face.

That's one of my first memories of comic books. It wasn't my first book but it's a very strong memory that I still hold with me today.

Corsair is on Kickstarter until August 25th. Give Nick Gonzo all of your hard-earned money and you won't regret it for one second.