I recently had the pleasure of speaking to Neil Gibson, the inspired author of Twisted Dark, a series of comics for adults, and other titles such as Tortured Life. Find them at neilgibsoncomics.com. The series itself is absolutely fantastic, and I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy:
What was your inspiration for Twisted Dark?
I’m a very depraved man. No, Twisted Dark actually the very first thing I ever wrote in my life. I was a managing consultant, posted on a project in Qatar, and in the evenings there, the project wasn’t that demanding. So I finished work at about 7, had some free time, so I thought since I had no friends and family around that I’d try writing something. I’ve loved comics since I was 23 when I started reading them, so I thought I’d try writing one. At first I was a bit paranoid about writing stories that were boring, so I wanted to write something that would shock, and that I would find more interesting. That’s how Twisted Dark came about.
How would you describe the series in 10 words?
Awesome, amazing, brilliant, cool, wonderful… buy it! Well, it’s a series of short stories that are all connected and make you think.
I really enjoyed the copies you sent me, and at Telford MCM I could clearly see that they’re becoming popular. However, I also enjoyed Tortured Life, which is extremely dark as well; now, tell me about The World of Chubb Chubb.
Hahaha, well that was originally a gift to my Mum. I thought she’d find it funny, and she passed it to her friends, my sister loved it, so I’m actually going to get it redrawn, and relaunch it under the same title. Bearing in mind the light side of things, I’m also writing a series called Twisted Light, so all the stories have twists and make you think, but they all leave you smiling and happy instead.
How did you get to know your comic team?
Oh that was a nightmare… Basically, as I told you, I was out in Qatar, and some of the team I actually haven’t met yet, because we met on chatroom forums, I’ve posted things on different community forums, and I went through various artists. I’ve had to fire 7. It’s all a matter of finding people who think a lot, who make it on time, and listen to me; to do what I want rather than what they think is more interesting. It’s not even a case of leadership, it’s just about listening. The most important of those three, however, is reliability. If they don’t get there on time, it’s not worth the hassle, even if they’re brilliant artists. I have a very aggressive schedule I want to keep to, and that’s the priority. One of the key phases was getting feedback feedback. It was the very first thing I wrote and I didn’t know what I was doing, I found that people actually liked this stuff, I thought “hey I should probably make this stuff properly”. Twisted Dark is quite nice because it’s a series of short stories, so I got to try several different artists, and I picked the ones that I thought were the best. So I picked one, his name’s Caspar [Wijngaard] and I work with him on my ongoing series. He’s the Lead Illustrator of our company; there’s a new guy called Jake who you can see in Volume 3 which is out in two months; I’m gonna be doing an ongoing series with him as well; and as I find artists who meet all those three criteria, I’ll branch off and do lots of series. I aim to have 5 different titles out by July.
What is it like being a comic writer as a profession?
Well I’m one month into it, so it’s quite exciting, it’s actually liberating because a lot of people hate their jobs. I was really lucky in my last one, I got paid very well and I really enjoyed it. But even though I enjoyed being a consultant, I love doing this. Every day I wake up and I go down in my pyjamas and the very first thing I do is start working. I check my emails, I check feedback from artists, I start working straight away.
Twisted Dark has been related to the game Heavy Rain (PS3), which follows four storyline threads which are all linked together by the actions of a serial killer. Would you ever consider slightly further along the line, perhaps interlinking your comics with an iOS format?
Absolutely, I think that’s the way forward. I liken my business to a restaurant – bear with me here! With a restaurant, the most important thing is quality of food. Second is the décor, if it looks ugly, most people aren’t going to go there. The third important thing is the service, if you have a nasty waiter, you have a bad experience. So those are the building blocks, but the crucial ingredient, which is not directly linked, is location. You won’t know what exists if it’s too far away; you won’t go there in the first place. But once you’re there, then the other three take place. Now, for comics, I believe the most important thing is the writing, which is the food, the second is the artwork, which is the décor, and the service is the lettering, because sometimes lettering is overlooked. Whenever anyone gets confused as to which bubble to read next, the object has failed. I always make sure I double check all the lettering myself. The last thing, location, refers to marketing. So, my priority right now is to produce as much content and different stuff as I can, and at the same time split my time between that and marketing, so that I can push it out to as many people as possible, talk to as many interviewers as possible, to get it known. I believe it’s something I definitely want to do, however right now my priority is content. I actually had a chat with Mike Carey, who writes The Unwritten, which is the best ongoing series ever. He also wrote Lucifer. One of his chapters in The Unwritten, which is all about choosing which way the story goes – Almost like a Fighting Fantasy, then? – I’m surprised at how well it actually works in that way, the routes you follow have two meanings depending on which route you’ve actually taken. I thought it was very clever. So I chatted to him about whether he could convert it in the future to digital, and he’d never actually thought about it. It’s a niche in the technology right now, and I’d love to be the one pioneering it. But I’m simply not famous enough yet to take that risk right now.
I spoke to Neil Rennison [Tinman Games] recently about his iOS interactive fighting fantasy books, and they’re currently quite successful on the App market.
The difference is, with fighting fantasy books, the quality of the writing is not great. Now that’s fine if you’re 12, because it’s exciting and fun, but if you want something more sophisticated, it’s very difficult to do. I like that idea for a comic book because you can take different routes, but it is very hard to create an engaging, intellectual, adult-orientated book in that fashion. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but from my perspective, the work you have to put into it, and the time it would take to make a good interactive book that became enormous, you’re looking to have written about four normal books. The problem with comic books is, most people who’ve never written them assume they’re just for kids. With a fighting fantasy book, even if it’s brilliant and intellectual, people will read that and think “oh, that’s amazing,” but getting people who haven’t read them in the first place to try it is so difficult. I actually have a vision of making people read comics more, because there is a lot of good stuff out there.
We met a Telford, was that your first exhibition, or have you been to comic cons before?
Telford was my third in the UK. At my very first convention I didn’t really know what I was doing, but we sold a lot of books, and then Telford was small in comparison. We were the last ones to arrive, we sold out, then were the first ones to leave. We simply could not bring enough books, in total we sold 70 copies to go with the 216 we sold at the London Super Comic Con.
I expect to see you at the London MCM in October, will you have Twisted Light out by then?
I hope so! I’ll probably have Twisted Light out, we’ll have Volumes three and four out, we’ll have Tabitha out, which is the new ongoing series, which I think is the best work I’ve done so far, we’ll hopefully have issue two of Tortured Life out, and we’re bringing a new series out soon too. Now that I’m not working full time I can just write a lot. Well that’s the plan anyway. Look for me there!