From his publishing debut “Calhab justice” in the Judge Dredd Magazine, to writing and creating the award winning and highly acclaimed comic series “Wolf Country”, Scottish comic writer Jim Alexander has had a long and colorful career.
On Free Comic Book day, I got the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Jim at Asylum for a quick interview, in which he discusses his incredibly diverse career and what advice he would give to aspiring comic artists and writers;
“Hi there. Could you tell me a bit about what first drew you to creating comic books?”
We’re going back quite a bit, actually. I think it was probably the inspiration that I got from reading comic books. I was one of those people who was brought up reading comic books, and then I stopped reading them and then I came back. Basically, someone recommended that I pick up ‘Warrior’ magazine. Alan Moore had been doing a number of strips, and I realized there was comics that still appealed to me into my late teens and early twenties. There was a part of it that I really wanted to emulate, and that is what drew me to becoming a comic creator and writer.
“Your publishing debut was for Judge Dredd Magazine How did that come about?”
I did. You have been doing your research. I sent in a few proposals, future shock type pitches to 2000 AD previously, and I got a couple of responses back that were fairly encouraging, still rejections, but they were a general invitation to keep submitting.
Based on that I got to know the name of the Judge Dredd editor at the time, a guy called David Bishop. It turned out that he was coming to one of the old Glasgow Comic Con, GLASCAC, which was organized by Frank Plowright. I saw him sitting down, he was about to eat his breakfast I think, and I asked if I could sit down with him and chat. I pitched to him what would later become “Calhab Justice”. I sent him some other pitches, and was that verbal thing, where we connected to that point. Played about with ideas, and banded other ideas about with each other. I sent in the proposal for ‘Calhab’, and I think it was accepted straight away, and that’s how it came about.
So, nothing has really changed in that point of view. It still means I want to be sending in pitches, I still want some sort of relationship and networking with other human beings that happen to be editors and publishers. So that’s how it came about.
“Can you tell me what challenges you face as a comic book writer?”
Challenges is quite a strong word. I think it’s just writing. At the moment I am writing books, and I have written screenplays before and prose. The issue with writing is that you want to make something that you can be satisfied with, and that you feel works. A lot of it is that you are hoping things come together, and obviously before you even write something, you think this is going to be absolutely brilliant, until you are in front of a screen and you have to make all these brilliant thoughts in your head come to life, and be something that other people can enjoy as well. So, there is not even really challenges of writing, because I would write any way, but it’s trying to distill that and challenge it in a way that people will enjoy, or get something out of it.
“So, what screenplays have you been writing?”
Well I did ‘Metal Hurlant Chronicles’, that was a TV series based on ‘Metal Hurlant’ strips that I had done, and I helped adapt the ones that were worked on. Especially ‘Whiskey in the Jar’, which starred James Masters and Michael Biehn.
So effectively there was the initial script, which was based on my comic strip that I had done originally, and then I done a major dialogue re-write on it. So, it’s got some of my favourite dialogue. You know, it’s hearing James Masters, Spike from Buffy do the dialogue is fantastic! So, I have done that and other film scripts as well, which obviously haven’t been successful in terms of being put to screen from page. I worked on ‘Wolf Country’, one of the comics for Planet Jimbot, and some a sample script for that and I did a treatment for that as well. Dealing with your own material, your own comic work as well is interesting because there is so many different considerations for when you are putting it to screen. For example, with ‘Wolf Country’ there are more characters, it’s more of an ensemble cast, and then when you are actually dealing with a more condensed television story arc, you have to jettison some characters and focus on how two characters interact and grow with each other. That was a major difference, because I ended up amalgamating two parts that were in the comic into one part. It turned out that it was a female character that got jettisoned, so I can sometimes appreciate, or understand, why female characters are so striving. They have much more prominence in comics, but tend to get jettisoned for the story arc between two guys, who usually start out not liking each other and then liking each other in the end.
That is obviously a gross simplification, but that is how TV tends to work, because the two characters need to be adversarial at the start, and then their relationship breaks down and they find some sort of mutual understanding. That is the major difference between doing comic stuff; you can write about whatever characters you like within the actual story arc and the plot.
“So, you started your own company Planet Jimbot, what is the history behind you creating it?”
Well I had been with another company, BHP, for a year and I really decided I wanted to go off and do my own thing with my own ideas. I was working with Jim Campbell, who was the letterer production guy, and I really wanted to develop that relationship to see where we could take it. It just made more sense for me to have something that was more geared towards what I wanted to write.
So, it was more of a cosmetic change. The comics would have probably looked the same no matter how we decided to produce them. Planet Jimbot just seemed the easier thing to do.It’s one of those, ‘It’s far too clever for its own good’ type of titles just in case anything goes wrong, that you can hide behind.
“Do you have anything planned next for Planet Jimbot? Or anything else?”
We are looking to do more ‘Wolf Country’ for Planet Jimbot. Now, I am concentrating on the novel writing aspects. I have done a novelization of ‘GoodCopBadCop’ which I finished last year. I am now working on another book, called ‘the light’, which postulates a world changing event, where on the day people wake up they know the day they will die and how it will shape the world. So, on one hand I am telling a regular story involving characters, and on the other hand I am doing a chapter where we look at the effects it would have on the world. So, it’s like a parallel world view to what we have at the moment. What effect would people on the world, if they knew they were going to die that day?
“So how do you come up with your story lines? I was looking at some of your Wolf Country before”
Well ‘Wolf Country’ came about because the original artist that I was hoping to be interested in the idea, I looked up his website and he had done a lot of Westerns with horses, and I had this idea of horses. Then I always loved this idea, well it’s a horrible idea in practice, of the legal settlements and Israeli legal settlements in the West Bank. I always thought that would be quite an interesting basis for a work of fiction, where you would have this settlement surrounded by a hostile environment that don’t want you there, and the reason why you have that settlement is for fundamental reasons. Religious or Zealot, whatever the justification for it is. So, I then thought of vampires and werewolves, and how it would be an interesting bridge to tell a story. Essentially, we have this vampire settlement in ‘Wolf Country’ that is surrounded by hostile tribes of wolves, and it’s there because of religious reasons. I just liked the mechanics of that, and because of looking at this artist’s website with the horses and wild west thing, I thought a final frontier story appealed to me as well. So, all these things came together, and ‘Wolf Country‘ was the result.
“Well I think it’s a good take on the Wolves and Vampires story”
Well it’s been getting really good reviews, and I think people do appreciate that it is a stepping point. It is quite good to have vampires and werewolves, but that is the starting point rather than the end point. Now that we have that starting point, it is much more interesting to me to develop these two mythical supernatural races. How would they work in a state building exercise? One is a more industrial based race, the other is a more nomadic travelling race. It’s been good fun actually.
“Now I don’t know if I heard correctly, but was Wolf Country petitioned for a TV Series?”
Well I actually worked with the people who done ‘Metal Hurlant Chronicles’, and they were looking for a pitch for Canal. So I did the treatment and premise for the TV version of Wolf Country.
I haven’t heard anything from them, but TV people are like that. You don’t hear from them as they are always juggling eight hundred different balls, and your stories are very small. It’s quite interesting and frenetic.
“Yeah, sometimes they get back in contact with you months later”
Well it will probably be years later now. In this case, I started it around the end of 2015, but that is just the way things are. I enjoyed doing it, and I think it is interesting to look at it from a different perspective. Certainly, some of the story threads that I picked up from the treatment, I am going to use in the comic as well. So, it has helped me to expand the Wolf Country Universe as well. Nothing is a wasted exercise in that respect.
“Do you have any advice you would give to someone who is looking to get into writing their own comics?”
If you want to write your comics, and you can’t draw, then make best friends with an artist. There is a lot of opportunities to get your work published now, it’s a lot easier than it ever has been. It’s something you should be looking at and trying to do at least once or twice in your lifetime.
So, I would definitely do it, there is always these like-minded people. You just need to find them. Find an artist out there, if it’s through social networks or conventions. Be focused and talk to people, be enthusiastic about your idea, because you need to sell it to the artist first before you sell it to anyone else.
From an artist’s point of view, if you are not confident in your storytelling abilities, and you feel it is keeping you back, then there are writers out there. You just need to find them somehow. But then, how do you find anything in life?
“A lot of searching!”
But you get there eventually. If it is going to happen, then it is going to happen. Everything is about work. All the glamour of doing a comic is great, but you don’t get anything without putting a bit of effort into it. Apply yourself, treat it seriously, then think about doing the next thing.
“Well thank you very much.”
No, thank you very much.
I would love to give a massive thank you to Jim Alexander, who was simply wonderful to speak with and took the time to answer my questions.
Also be sure to check out some of his current work! At the moment I have just began reading ‘GoodCopBadCop’. You can check what Jim is up to over at http://jimalwriter.blogspot.co.uk/