Black Ship Interviews David Siddall

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Black Ship Books: What was the inspiration for Jack 1979? Was the original concept sparked by a single moment of inspiration or did it develop gradually over time?

David Siddall: Well, I think JP had been playing with a variety of story ideas for a while, and the Jack concept seemed to stick. From a design perspective, what JP was looking for and what I’d been skirting around in sketches kind of coalesced. A lot of the stuff I’d been doing to that point had been very slight-framed characters, as I was sick of the ‘standard’ comic look and I wanted to put something together that just looked more ‘normal’. I’d been working on a couple of my own stories which featured overweight characters, older characters, different female body types, ‘ugly’ characters basically, from the perspective of the industry standard. I’d been trying to find something that would allow me to work with a kind of brutish character to see if the style I’d been developing would translate to that more ‘normal’ heroic silhouette.

When JP was describing what he wanted, it all sounded like a direction I was moving in myself, so I just ran with it. Originally Jack was going to be bald, but with the amount of action that was going to take place, I thought some little whisps of a severe short-back-and-sides would help me illustrate the energy a little more. But the Jack you see in the book now just pretty much happened, first draft. I think it just worked. We’re still exploring who Jack is, though, and that’s where we need everyone’s support for the Kickstarter. We’ll only be able to explore the man by continuing the series.

BSB: Do you think it’s problematic having a protagonist based on an actual serial killer? Especially as Jack is portrayed as a hero in Jack 1979?

DS: For me, thats not how I read it, and that’s not how I understood the pitch from JP.

Jack, our character, is the guy the police are looking for because he’s been spotted leaving the murder scenes, but he’s not the killer. That’s a central part of my attraction to the story and I suppose it’s got a little to do with my love of Spider-Man. For me, Spider-Man is a character who has been maligned by the press, who has picked up a reputation that he’s not intended but is driven to do what he does because of the circumstances he’s originated from.

The killer, as far as our story is concerned, is Cage. I can understand how people might have a problem, and to a certain extent, we’ve probably used that ‘shock value’ in order to get some attention but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

BSB: What research of historical events did you do before beginning this project?

DS: To be honest, I did only passing research. I Wiki’d the Ripper murders, Google Image searched for references of building styles and clothing, but only as far as putting my head in somewhere approaching the right place. We’re not writing a historical story; it’s fantasy. Jack the Ripper is such a part of British culture, but it’s been so mythologised that it’s just a Bogeyman now.

The core that made it work for me was that there were so many conflicting reports from the time and everything seemed so confused, added to the fact that nobody has any idea why the murders started or why they stopped. That gave us room to work and a springboard. I worked out a back story with JP for Jack, which puts him into context and Jack is around thirty-five in the book. He’s been around. That particular time in history could be considered the birth of the modern world we know today. He grows up just as the world is changing into something unprecedented and I think that’s very exciting from a storytelling point of view.

BSB: When Jack first faces the monster, it possess the body of a prostitute And of course, your character Jack was inspired by a man who murdered prostitutes in real life. This may lead some readers to think you’re demonizing female sexuality. What’s your take on that?

DS: I think the treatment of female sexuality in comics is a valid and important issue. When I first read the script, it was an issue I raised with JP and I’m very aware that, especially at the moment, it’s a very big deal. As far as I’m concerned, most of the depictions of women, their bodies, their wants and their needs across popular culture from comics and games to films, TV and advertising is embarrassing. But I feel that way about masculinity and men too. I think in many comics it stems from lazy or uninspired writing. It’s not that anything is being demonised, it’s just lazy characterisation. Maybe it’s a limitation of the serial format, and the series format could change that. Arya in Game of Thrones has me hooked, she’s fascinating and her relationship with The Hound is really intriguing, and the Cersei character is awesome. Then you’ve got pretty much the whole cast of House of Cards, and Will Graham in Hannibal is a great male character too.As far as our story is concerned… I think it’s a bit of a strawman. I mean, Cage possessing the prostitute serves the story. It’s a reference point for the era and Jack the Ripper. Given the limited space we’ve got to work with in the ‘floppy’ comic format we were never going to be able to take a peek at her life, her needs and ambitions. Our first issue had to have impact and there was a lot to get across in a limited space.

Hopefully, if we can run a successful KS campaign, we’ll get the opportunity to look a little deeper into aspects of the environment around the cast. We’ve got a lot planned, and a lot to reveal, and I think the cast of characters we’re working with gives us a lot of opportunities. I think we’ve established a way of telling our story that means that, while we may not be able to dedicate a whole issue to following supporting characters to flesh them out, we’re never prevented from revisiting a situation, or the moments leading to something we already know about.

BSB: Many masculine male characters (such as Lono from 100 Bullets and Mr Hyde from League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) are portrayed as rapists and dangerous brutes. So I really enjoyed the fact your character Jack was a positive portrayal of masculinity. Was that your intention when you created him?

DS: For me, absolutely. I know I’ve drawn everything in a cartoon style, but it’s a big thing for me to then be able to make those characters ‘real’. When I started working with JP on this, I was interested in the contradictions we could build into the character. The way he is publicly perceived vs. his internal life, the brutish way he looks vs. his sensitivity and altruism. This is the conflict that will drive his journey and hopefully allow us to present a character who isn’t just a plot device when something needs punching into oblivion. I really hope we get the opportunity to tell this story and present a character who isn’t just a positive archetype, but an authentic personality including all the failings that ultimately make us human.

BSB: The book has a great art style. It’s simplistic yet skillful. It has a kind of Bruce Timm meets manga feel to it. What inspired this style?

DS: Thanks! Pretty much Bruce Timm and Manga really! Ha!

To be honest, there’s almost too much to think about that got me to this point in my artistic development, and I’m still a long way from done!

I grew up watching Transformers, He-Man, Ghostbusters, M.A.S.K, Visonaries, Voltron. I just soaked that stuff up like a sponge as a kid. I used to watch the original animated Transformers: The Movie every Saturday morning on VHS.

My local newsagent started getting X-Men comics, Spider-Man compilations and reprints and then suddenly there was Joe Madureira. I managed to get hold of copies of Manga Mania which ran reprints of Adam Warren’s ‘Dirty Pair: Fatal But Not Serious’ as well as Gunsmith Cats. It was pretty much downhill from there. My art teachers turned me onto Alberto Giacometti and Lucian Freud as well as doing research on the Old Masters and artists like Boris Vallejo, Julie Bell and Frank Frazzeta. All of it just bubbled away and became what I do now. There’s Jamie Hewlett in there, Scott Wegener, Cory Walker, Ryan Ottley, Romita Jr, Ed McGuinness… heavy metal album covers, film posters, movies, cartoons, adverts.

Some of it is visual inspiration, other bits are approaches to concepting or just thinking about how a line might work. Sometimes it’s a mindset. For instance, Lucian Freud is that for something to be beautiful it must be truthful, and truth is ugly. Transformers is that fighter jets that turn into squabbling robots is both awesome and funny.

BSB: Will the final book be in black and white or full colour?

DS: If we’re successful with the Kickstarter project, we’ll be doing a full colour book. The preview we sent out was just pencils and lettering, as between JP and myself, that’s as far as we could get. As we got closer to a finished book, JP found Joshua Jensen and Jeff Graham to complete the team. I don’t think there’s ever been any real intention to release a black-and-white book. All being well, we’ll have two fully completed pages to show off exactly how it’ll all look when it’s finished, and having seen it, it’s… well… I love it, at the very least.

BSB: Part of Jack 1979 is set in 1888. Was it difficult capturing the ambiance and setting of this time?

DS: Well, to put it into perspective, the opening shot of 1888 went through about six different versions, and was the last panel I ‘cleared’.

But yeah, it was tricky. It’s not something I’ve drawn before as I’ve always kind of drifted into sci-fi but when I was doing visual research I just found everything to be really confined and close, and being from the North West of England I’ve pretty much spent my entire life around the same buildings that were around in the Victorian age. There’s a surprising amount of the architecture that still survives in really good condition, to the point where, unless someone pointed it out, you’d never know. I’ve always lived in mill towns, so the ‘warren’ of terraced buildings and backstreets is a pretty familiar thing to me.

I’m kind of counting on JP to give me a really good heads-up on LA though, flights out there to do reccy aren’t cheap!

BSB: Both the writing and the art stood out. It was one of the things I admired most about the book. In my opinion, many indie and small press books lack the originality of Jack 1979. Instead, they try to ape Marvel and DC’s titles without adding anything new. Do you think that indie books have become more cookie-cutter in the last few years?

DS: That’s very nice of you to say. You’re going to make me blush! Can we use the originality line?

I think it’s swings and roundabouts to be honest. There’s a lot of really good stuff out there. I’m really picky myself (my wife says I’m a snob), but I’m not anti-Big 2 or pro-Indie. As long as I enjoy it, I’m not concerned with having read the latest books, I just want to find good stories, told via artwork. Everyone wants to write a ‘capes’ book because it’s such a huge part of the landscape of comics. I’ve got my own versions of a ‘capes’ book sat on the back burner myself and creating superheroes was pretty much how I cut my teeth and found I really wanted to draw comics. I think that the current digital landscape has allowed writers who have had these ideas to get their work out there. I mean, there is also a fair bit of garbage being published, but that’s no different than in the film industry, or literature or music.

I really enjoy Joe Mad’s work whenever he does Spidey or Wolverine, because I think he’s got a real feel for those characters and I will read anything that Adam Warren ever puts out (and if your readers haven’t already got Empowered and Dirty Pair they need to do so immediately). Empowered is, in my personal opinion, one of the single greatest pieces of sequential storytelling ever created. But then, I also love Beaver and Steve. As long as the writers and artists have done their best work, I don’t care if it’s capes, slice-of-life, autobiography or whatever. I don’t care who published it.

BSB: I noticed the violence in your book was tastefully handled and there was no sex. Apart from some bad language, this book seemed aimed at quite a broad audience. Will it carry a label saying something along the lines of “For Mature Readers” or not?

DS: It’s a tricky one. It is violent, and there will be adult themes and content, and the style I’m working in could be attractive to younger readers, so it may end up having to carry some kind of content warning. But at the same time, I’m not big on censorship. I think those kind of content warnings only really act like a honey-pot to younger readers. Kids want to do what the grown-ups are doing, and those kinds of stickers are just a big sign that says ‘Read me! This is what Grown-Ups read!’ If we can pick up a wide fan-base I’ll certainly have no complaints. For me I want everything we do in the book to have consequences, that’ll be what sets us apart I think, and it’ll be what makes it more than just gratuitousness. There’s nothing wrong with having sex and violence in a comic, even very graphic stuff. They’re like any other form of literature or art, but to be of genuine objective value I think that you have to illustrate that actions have consequences. They mean something.

That’s what I hope will become apparent the further we can go with the book, so it’s not adult content for the sake of it (if/when it does show up).

BSB: The creative team seemed to work well together and produced a high quality book. How did you all meet and have you worked together on any projects prior to this?

DS: Again, you’re making me blush! But nope, this is the first time we’ve all worked together! It’s been awesome! Everyone is really receptive and encouraging, and I really hope that we’ll work together on lots of projects! JP and myself met on the Digital Webbing forums, which as most aspiring comics creators know is an absolute gold-mine of information, contacts and projects. Jeff Graham, the inker, is also on DW. In all honesty I don’t know how JP found Joshua Jensen (colours) but I’m glad he did!

BSB: How do you intend to go about promoting this book? If you’ve already taken steps to do so, can you please break them down for us?

DS: Well, we’re running a Kickstarter to get this one off the ground, and it’s become a valid means of publishing a comic. It’s very inspiring to see readers wanting to directly fund the creation of content, and having all kinds of projects in one place is great from a user’s point of view. I think it’s the same reason Facebook, Twitter and the like have been so incredibly successful. They condense everything into one place. Hipsters won’t like it, but then, they don’t really ‘like’ anything…

We’re hoping to land reviews and interviews which will hopefully spread the word that the book and the KS exists. Initially we just starting cold-contacting people to see if they wanted to read the Preview. I’m on Twitter (@tehcrashedmedia) so most days I’ve been posting something to do with the book, either snippets of panels from the pages or screen grabs and photos of what I’m working on at the time. I just blitzed it. Some people got back to us, some didn’t but it got the word out initially and we’ll just have to see if we can build some momentum.

We knew we were going to do this as a KS rather than shop it around to publishers first, so I thought that actually getting the pencils and lettering finished would give us the opportunity to try and get reviews and testimonials on the campaign page, a kind of internet word-of-mouth. After the launch I’m probably going to be stood outside the comic book shops I know handing people flyers. And bugging people on Twitter. Joe Madureira still hasn’t returned my messages…

BSB: Can you tell us more about Jack’s mysterious body-hopping antagonist?

DS: Well… I can only tell you so much! Cage is the sadistic monster that Jack has been on the trail of when we come into the story. He’s been responsible for the horrific murders of the prostitutes, and Jack is dead set on finding some way to stop him. Cage also has a companion in tow called Calhoun, who can channel and act as a vessel for Cage.

Jack refers to Cage as a ‘demon’ because Jack doesn’t have a reference point, he doesn’t know what else ‘it’ could be. You know… This is really difficult without actually talking about the events of the comic or the story we’re planning on telling!

I’m hoping that if we can be successful with the campaign, we’ll be able to explore what Cage actually is and look at his motivation. I’m not very big on the ‘pure evil’ kind of bad guy. Everyone does what they do for a reason. Perspective is a big thing for me as a creator and as a ‘consumer’, and I like to play with that. Revealing something from one perspective will lead the reader to form an opinion, but then later I like to go back and look at the same thing from another perspective and explore to see what else can be found, what it tells us, and what shadows it casts.

BSB: Jack ends up being transported to a more modern era. How is he going to cope with this? Will he adapt or remain a fish out of water?

DS: In all honesty, I’m not sure at the moment! JP has the plot worked out, and Ive started to sketch up scenes for the next part of the story. I think Jack is always going to be a bit of a lone wolf, but that severe jolt from his own time, to the world of 1979 is going to be coupled with a lot of other challenges, but I can’t say too much! I don’t want to ruin the story for people!

This is one of my favourite things about the book. We get to play with elements of other comics we’ve grown up with but do them in our way, free of the baggage of continuity from other titles. For me, some the major reference points are Spider-Man, Batman and Captain America. I think there’s elements of all three that we can reframe in our own way, timeless ideas about duty, belonging, grief and consequence without all the spandex and exposition and info dump-y dialogue.

BSB: The book ended on a nail biting cliff-hanger. When can we expect the second book? And will all the volumes be available as both print and digital?

DS: Well, the first issue is a kind of hell-for-leather introduction to the world and the cast, kind of a full issue ‘cold open’. The consequences of Jack’s actions are going to start to be felt in the next one. Even if Jack doesn’t realise it, he’s made choices that are going to set him on the path that’ll take him to 1979. At the moment though we’re focusing on running the Kickstarter campaign, getting the word out and hopefully raising the money to complete the first issue, so we need everyone’s help and support! As I mentioned, JP and myself are already putting together the groundwork for Issue 2 right now and I’m hopeful that we’ll be hot on the heels of the debut. I’ve got some full-on, properly crazy ideas.

I’d love to be able to put the book out in both digital and print, as each has its own merits. Kickstarter offers us the chance to be able to do that, and to be able to directly connect with readers.

LJ Phillips
About LJ Phillips (82 Articles)
LJ Phillips is an ex-bodyguard and professional artist who has had three solo exhibitions. He has also published numerous articles and pieces of short fiction. His interests include Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, over-analyzing pop culture and staring into the abyss. Currently he lives in SA and spends his free time working on his various creator-owned comics.

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