Well, we're pretty excited here at Abaddon Towers today. It's taken a lot of pleading, a certain amount of cajoling, a libation of raw meat, and your reporter... entering into certain offices he would rather not discuss openly, but we have finally persuaded notorious manimal Al Ewing - beloved 2000 AD comics writer, jobbing DJ, humorous Youtube movie maker, renowned star of karaoke and four-times critically-acclaimed Abaddon author - to emerge from his isolated fortress in Yorkshire to answer several questions. Rejoice!
Abaddon: Hi, Al. Thanks for making time out of your busy schedule.
AE: Thanks, Dave, and sorry my schedule’s been busier than intended - I should have done this for you weeks ago.
Abaddon: It’s all good. You are, after all, a national treasure. Comics, novels, karaoke, short animated movies on Youtube. Is there no end to your talents? Do you sculpt? Dance the Rumba?
AE: I’m occasionally a panel guest on the Freaky Trigger show, Lollards Of Pop, on Resonance FM, as well as on its occasional ancillary shows. I’ll likely be a guest on the current season, so London listeners and visitors to freakytrigger.co.uk might want to keep an ear out for that. Plus I’ll be doing some DJ-ing at this year’s Thought Bubble in Leeds, along with Phonogram creators Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie and a bunch of other folks.
Abaddon: You DJ-ed at Thought Bubble last year, didn’t you? Ever gone (or considered going) pro with the DJing? Or is it strictly cons and socially?
to Take That at Thought Bubble 2009.
AE: All cons all the time at the moment - I occasionally DJ friends’ weddings, but there aren’t any on the immediate horizon, and since Poptimism breathed its last earlier in the year (hopefully to withdraw into a healing cocoon and evolve into something new and fresh) I’ve been lacking an opportunity to pretend to take requests for Disco 2000 into consideration with my lying face while cuing up yet another Robyn track.
Abaddon: So. Books. After six years’ writing credits for 2000 AD, you wrote your first novel for Abaddon, El Sombra. Talk me through that. Had fiction writing previously been a major ambition?
AE: In a way – I’d tried to do a couple for Black Flame, including a great idea for how to handle Chopper that I touched on in the 20th Anniversary Judge Dredd Megazine story I wrote recently, and one that eventually became my first entirely-written-by-me Dredd story. But I always figured writing novels would be boring, so I never gave them much thought. Two things changed - Sue Fletcher, an old friend from University, wrote a brilliant and critically-acclaimed novel called Eve Green that made me realise how much fun writing a novel would be, and secondly it became very clear to me very quickly that I can’t write novels at all to save my life. So what I do is write comics without any pictures in them, and pretend they’re novels, and don’t tell anyone the truth. And that seems to make all the difference.
Abaddon: But you’ve told us now. I guess you’ll have to kill me! Heh, heh.
...Ahem. So, er... what led you to put forward an idea for the Pax Britannia world, rather than any of the others? Did you start with Zorro and Nazis, and then work it into a steampunk world, or start with steampunk and populate it with Zorro and Nazis?
AE: The former. Originally, it was going to be a fantasy setting, with winged creatures preying on normal humans inside a giant Eyrie, and then I took a look at the bible for the fantasy world and realised that wouldn’t fly (Ba-dum tissch). Anyway, it kind of fitted better into the steampunk world – I’m not really a fan of steampunk as such, but out of the four possibilities, the four universes, that Jon Oliver was offering at the time, it seemed like the one where I could most easily explore that kind of pulp-action sensibility.
Abaddon: Then we had I, Zombie. In the foreword to the omnibus edition, you mention that John Doe first took shape in an unwritten comics epic called Bountyman that you outlined in your angst-ridden teenage years. Did Zombo spring from the same roots? Are talking zombies your “thing”?
AE: Zombo sprang from Henry – you’ll have to pick up the first TPB*, Can I Eat You Please, for an in-depth chat between me and Henry on the subject of his creation, but when you do you’ll see that Henry was the God figure who created the garden of Zombo and I’m the Satan who corrupted it and brought it around to my way of thinking.
I prefer talking zombies to non-talking zombies, but zombies generally aren’t really my deal – both I, Zombie and Zombo take the idea of zombies and turn them around into something else that the average zombie punter might not recognise so easily. Again, it’s using the genre on offer to talk about the ideas I want to talk about.
Abaddon: I think most of the authors on Tomes have subverted the genre. Forty years after Romero, you sort of have to. To be honest, I’m always surprised at how much very traditional zombie fiction (both prose and film) is out there.
So, third book and third protagonist: Death Got No Mercy’s Cade. Forgive me, but you’re just about the mildest, most contemplative man-mountain I have ever had the pleasure to meet. What made you decide to write about a force of unstoppable human carnage, and how do you feel you relate to him?
AE: I really wanted to write something incredibly violent, to be honest – I wanted to write the most violent thing I could imagine, and just have a load of fun with that. I don’t think it’s necessary for an author to relate completely to their character – you can see shades of my politics in Cade, but I certainly wouldn’t agree with how he handles most of his problems. It’s probably the least sympathetic protagonist I’ve written – he’s more of a spectacle than a character, really.
Abaddon: That helps. But why exactly did Scooby Doo have to die?
AE: He’s solving the Ultimate Mystery now.
Abaddon: Right. Er... And now you return to the scone of your first crime with Gods of Manhattan, the steampunk-superhero pastiche follow-up to El Sombra. Tell us a bit about it.
AE: It’s going back to El Sombra’s pulp roots. I basically got a little bored with the character – everything to say about him had been said in the first book, unless I wanted to cure him, which I didn’t. So I made him part of an ensemble cast.
In the third book – working title: Pax Omega – which I’m plotting as we speak, that ensemble cast is going to widen even further and I’m going to basically go to war with those nasty steam Nazis once and for all, so get ready for the final battle between man and mecha-fuehrer. There are possibilities beyond that - is it still steampunk in the year 1,000,000? How about the year 1,000,000,000? (Remember when a billion was a million million? I feel the humble billion has been devalued over the years, not to mention the trillion.) These are thoughts that have occurred to me. I’ll either take care of them in this book, if me and editor Jon Oliver can work out a way to make it sing, or I’ll chat with Jon Green about it in depth for an upcoming fourth volume. I’m still in plotting mode at the moment.
But back to the second book, on shelves now! It’s all the wonderful energy of New York wrapped up into a high adventure package, with superheroes, pulp-noir detectives, dazzling ingenues, breakdancing, polygamy, BMX detectives, just a taste of pulp-cover naughtiness and what happens when Ebony White grows up… my own little attempt to grow a Wold Newton universe in Jon Green’s backyard. Buy it!
Abaddon: Excellent plug, and neatly worked in. So... Ah, yes. Noted reviewer Smashy McFace recently quashed (largely imagined) rumours about you by insisting that you have proven yourself a “real human man.”** Care to comment?
AE: Smashy is secretly one of my oldest friends and he’s well known for that sort of talk. He’s quite wrong, as the fleshy ones will soon discover - to their regret. Lock your doors.
Abaddon: Thank you. And I’ve just realised I have something I have to do, so we must wrap up. Any final comments?
AE: Thanks to anyone who’s written a glowing review, or even a semi-tolerant one. Like all writers, I pretend not to read my reviews while secretly craving the smallest scrap of appreciation and being crushed by the tiniest criticism. So please, don’t crush me! Love me! Love me, I beg of you!
At this point, Mr. Ewing had to be physically restrained and sedated, signalling an end to the interview. Out thanks go to him for very kindly providing these words.
Gods of Manhattan is out now in the US, and will hit the shelves in the UK in January. It will also be exclusively available at the Thought Bubble convention in Leeds on the 18th - 21st November, at the Travelling Man stand (if you track Al down while you're there, you can get him to autograph it right after you buy it!).
*For “Trade Paperback.” Al is part of the “Comics World,” and they have all kinds of cool acronyms and slang. I guess it’s hip, or something.
**No, seriously. Search for him now.