As a little change, I had the chance to throw a few questions at writer Alec Worley whose most recent work – violent horrorfest Realm of the Damned with artist “Pye” Parr – is currently flying off shelves. We reviewed it recently and it’s a great bit of gory escapism featuring some guest appearances by a handful of your favourite black metal bands.
You’re probably best known for your work on 2000AD, but what was the first comic you scripted?
The first comic script I ever wrote was an adaptation of an Adrian Cole sword and sorcery story that I did for an artist friend. The first comic script I ever submitted professionally was a Spider-Man/Black Cat team-up I sent on spec to Panini UK back when they were doing originated Marvel stuff. The first comic script I ever had published was a rejected/tweaked Future Shock called “Dead Air” that wound up in a fine small press publication called Future Quake. First comic script I ever got paid for was a 2000 AD Future Shock called “Adventures in the War Trade” and the first script that ever got published was a Future Shock called “A Terrible Hunt” (Arf!).
You’ve created original series like Dandridge and Age of the Wolf as well as taking on established characters like Dredd and Sam Slade. Which is easier? Which do you enjoy more?
Swings and roundabouts really. I guess you have more flexibility with original characters because you can tailor them to the kinds of stories you want to tell, but then you do have to work out who they are and what makes them tick. And then you probably won’t know them that well until you’re a few stories down the line. With established characters I do my homework. For example, on the movie-Judge Anderson strip I’ve just finished for 2000 AD I re-watched the Dredd movie, made tons of notes, read interviews with the production team and the actors, as well as all the previous movie-Dredd comics, all to get a feel for the character and her world. So there’s a lot of legwork involved in terms of research, but by the time you start writing you know the character super-well and know exactly what you can throw at them to create drama. With ROTD it was a bit of both. The characters were really these kind of folk archetypes, like the King Vampire, the Frankensteinian monster, the Elizabeth Bathory/Countess Dracula, etc, so there was a fair bit of elbow room to do something original, and plan an interesting hook, like making the Mummy a gangster!
How does scripting comic strips compare to writing prose fiction?
Prose is proper writing. There, I said it. Comics scripting is hard, but you’re part of a team that includes the artist, the letterer, colourist and editor. Prose is proper graft, especially that initial first draft. Urgh! You have to write everything, you can’t just say ‘a zillion cavalry charge into a zillion footsoldiers’ and leave it to the artist. It’s all down to you, and you can’t hide behind anyone else if it screws up. Yeah, man. Hard!
Realm of the Damned takes place in a “possible” contemporary timeline where vampires have taken control. Age of the Wolf had a similar premise with werewolves, and Dandridge is a paranormal investigator. Is this an area of interest for you?
Yeah, horror’s always been my thing – ever since I was little. The challenge with it though is finding ways to play it in a different direction in order to make it scary or to make the story fresh and compelling. With ROTD it was the Black Metal angle – that was Steve [Beatty]’s idea – the idea of playing an entire story through that genre, that very operatic, romantic, scary genre and all the cultural baggage that comes with it via the Euronymous/Vikernes feud, the church burnings, etc.
How did the idea for Realm develop?
Pye came to me to say that Steve wanted to put together a horror book. He had some characters in mind and a basic idea for the world. He just needed a story. So I took a meeting, got a better idea of what he was after and pitched something that was pretty much what we ended up with, but it wasn’t until Steve suggested the Black Metal angle that the whole thing just clicked, and I could see it take off in my head.
How much input did you have in the “look” of the series, or was that pretty much Simon’s remit?
That was Simon’s thing totally. Initially we both wanted to go for a more humorous rockabilly vibe, if only because that was more in our comfort zone. But when the Black Metal thing came up, he switched gears for this more ‘blackened’ look. I love how some of the panels look like charred woodcuts. And his sense of design is just phenomenal; his layouts help tell the story in ways I never really thought of initially. Working with him on this is the closest I’ve ever worked with an artist on a project. Usually when you’re writing ‘full script’ on, say, 2000 AD you can’t guarantee you’ll ever hear from the artist, so you’ve got to make sure you’ve covered everything in the script and make your panel descriptions crystal clear. But with ROTD we were in constant contact, which allowed us to tweak things as we went along and make the storytelling that much tighter.
There are appearances by (and lyrics from) a handful of well-known metal acts in the book. Are you a fan of this style of music or was this something that just fitted in with the world you created?
I’m really just a Warhammer-addled goth, which is how I keyed into the Black Metal vibe. But I really drenched myself in that music, especially the early stuff like Emperor (In the Nightside Eclipse is just… wow. Like a crazy Tolkienian epic), Burzum, Mayhem, Bathory. I’ve honestly developed a bit of an ear for it now and am starting to find stuff for myself. (Really like Wolves in the Throne Room) I’m a total noob when it comes to music. Never grew up with it. I was that much of a dork. My thing was Games Workshop, horror movies and comic books. My only exposure to metal was the Sabbat disc Blood for the Blood God which came free on the cover of White Dwarf (#95, I think) and which was forged from pure awesome!
What made you decide to go for a protagonist called Van Helsing? Is it just a nice link to the classic vampire tales of old, or are you hinting that the original Dracula forms some part of the back story?
Again, it was really just to tap into the folk history of that character, so he’s called Alberic rather than Abraham. Black Metal has got this fascination for folk culture (which obviously can be taken to a repulsive extreme by guys like Vikernes). With Van Helsing it was about taking that very Hammer Horror idea of the father figure who’s there to protect you from what lurks in the dark. I wanted him to be all about how faith can bring about corruption. He’s essentially a religious extremist, and I really wanted to explore that kind of binary mentality that can only see the world in black and white, so he’s really got more in common with the Punisher than dear old Peter Cushing.
Are any of the other characters based on pre-existing people (factual or fictional)?
Nope. Again, wanted to tap into folk archetypes rather than actual people or characters.
What do you have coming up next? Is there likely to be a sequel to Realm?
Oh, yeah. The first book’s going great guns! It’s been great to see music fans responding so enthusiastically to something that might be outside their wheelhouse like a comic book. So yeah, I’m working on the second right now. Can’t say too much about it at this point though.
Alec Worley: official