This Week In Crowdfunding: Special Edition – Featuring Exclusive Merrick: The Sensational Elephant Man Creator Interview

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Merrick-cover

Merrick: The Sensational Elephant Man #1 cover

Every week I bring you crowdfunding campaigns that I think are worth a look, projects that I feel are worth your hard earned Paypal dollars. Every now and then though, one of those projects is so interesting, and intriguing, that I simply must get a little more behind the scenes, and if possible, talk to the creators involved. Merrick: The Sensational Elephant Man is actually a project I found out about while researching for Future Comic Rock Stars – Tiernen Trevallion, and I’ve been a little more than obsessed since then, as my excessive amount of emails to writer Tom Ward will prove.

From their Facebook page: “A gaslamp tale set in 1880’s London which steps between historic facts and figures and turn of the century folklore juxtaposed with the American superhero comic conventions of super powers, masks, secret identities and fantastic adventures.”

This project has been brewing in his mind for years, and with its Victorian setting, revisionist history, and pulp roots, it was just the kind of comic that latches onto my brain and doesn’t let go until I know everything about it. Merrick will surely resonate with fans of Mike Mignola, Steve Niles, Gary Gianni, as well as those into revisionist history and even those with steampunk leanings.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the writer behind Merrick: The Sensational Elephant Man, Tom Ward, just in time for the launch of their Kickstarter campaign. We talked about comics, history, music, and of course Joseph Merrick himself. I found Tom to be well spoken, charming, forthcoming, and downright funny at times. And he has even shared some exclusive previews with us, never seen anywhere else!

The Merrick: The Sensational Elephant Man Kickstarter campaign is live as I write this, so please go check it out and support it, and for you, our dear readers, issue #1 is now available for FREE download!

CBR = https://mega.co.nz/#!J94SFIhT!ogYwQR1WPFO9ocUrYhj0-hMrDeyJvqpCTCT8IvvD304

PDF = https://mega.co.nz/#!88YgxA7J!9IyKyHxwf6oiZileP8aro1ogX4y0N4z_unLHyEPy3_c

ISSUU = http://issuu.com/theelephantmancomic/docs/merrick-issue-1-digital

1549333_242068779301094_57374913_n

Merrick by Tiernen Trevallion

Were comics a big thing for you in your formative years, and if so what were your favorite characters or comics growing up?

I remember when I was a kid my Dad had a couple of Asterix books, Asterix and the Big Fight and Asterix and the Great Crossing. I loved those books, must have read them back to back hundreds of times, probably even before I could read properly. Then I discovered the library and I’d hunt down the rest of the Asterix stories along with Tintin; Captain Haddock used to crack me up.

Actually thinking about it now, with my love of beards, hard liquor and swearing I might actually inadvertently have grown up to pretty much be Captain Haddock, which is worrying. I used to get The Beano for years and my brother got The Dandy (kids comedy comics in the UK) so we’d swap them when we’d finished. Pretty much a world away from Merrick and the stuff I read now.

After leaving university did you have a career in mind, or were comics something you had always aspired to do with your life?

I’m more of a loose cannon than someone who’s ever had a long term plan or thought about a career. I scraped my way through university with a reasonable degree in Psychology, then went through a series of odd jobs while playing in punk bands. I’ve worked in warehouses, call centres, a peanut factory, I’ve gone door to door, washed dishes, been a sandwich artist for Subway, been an occasional gig promoter and worked a series of mediocre office jobs. Making a comic, to me, is just an extension of being a comic fan, it’s a natural progression.

Is this your first comic work, or have you previously worked in the medium?

 Nope, this is my first comic. I think it’s turned out really well and I’m really proud of the finished product.

Who or what are the biggest inspirations for or influences on your work?

Merrick is something of a melting pot of ideas and influences, obviously the core inspiration is the history, I’ve thoroughly read Treves’ reminiscences and The True History of the Elephant Man by Michael Howell and Peter Ford along with anything else I could get my hands on. There’s the David Lynch film and although our comic is very different I imagine it’s played its part. For the comic itself we tried to get the feel of the old Penny Dreadful books of the period, especially for the cover, It starts very much as a pulp revenge story but then fans out and brings in the classic Stan Lee and Jack Kirby superhero tropes of superpowers, masked heroes and secret identities and Lovecraftian themes of curiosity to uncover forbidden knowledge.

From a creators standpoint, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird and what they did with the first issue of Turtles and Dave Sims’ self publishing of Cerebus are hugely inspirational.

I know a lot of writers use music, especially classical or film scores, to set the mood while writing. Is this something you do, and if so, what types of music do you listen to while working?

I’m a huge music fan, I pretty much constantly have music playing no matter what I’m doing. Absolutely nothing gets me motivated and energized like fast punk rock. Stuff like A Wilhelm Scream, Strung Out, No Trigger, Polar Bear Club & Ignite just makes me want to stop procrastinating and get off my arse and do/make stuff. While writing Merrick I remember I was listening to Protest the Hero’s record Fortress a lot, it’s a pretty technical/complex metal record and it got the brain juices flowing. I was also listening to a fair bit of Iron Maiden who absolutely know how to set a mood.

Saying that, a lot of Merrick was written in public places. I was working on it wherever/whenever I could, at work, on trains and I did a fair amount of it in odd little pubs when I had a few hours to kill in the City Centre. I like the hustle and bustle of people around you, especially when some of those people are real characters themselves. At one point I had a mystery shopper job reviewing a hotel, I thought I’d be able to take my girlfriend but they said I had to go solo, so I took my notepads and laptop and got 2 solid days work done locked away in a free hotel room with no distractions.

What is it about Joseph Merrick, and the Victorian setting, that inspired you to create this comic? Did the tragic nature of the character just resonate with you, or was it something deeper?

Jussi Pylkas - Merrick in the lab

Unseen Merrick art by Jussi Pylkas

One of my favourite quotes from Treves reminiscences is:

“Those who are interested in the evolution of character might speculate as to the effect of this brutish life upon a sensitive and intelligent man. It would be reasonable to surmise that he would become a spiteful and malignant misanthrope, swollen with venom and filled with hatred of his fellow men, or, on the other hand, that he would degenerate into a despairing melancholic on the verge of idiocy. Merrick, however, was no such being. He had passed through the fire and had come out unscathed. His troubles had ennobled him.”

Joseph was a brave man, just a quick look on the internet and you can see how he’s inspired so many people. When I was initially thinking about the concept of the comic the whole thing was quite misanthropic and nihilistic, but the more I read the more I realized it would be a much more hopeful story. I think a lot of people can relate to being an outsider or feeling different. Being judged by or judging others by their appearance.

The Victorian setting is interesting because on one hand it was the birth of the industrial revolution, it was an age of science and discovery but then at the same time there was also so much still unknown, there were still people who believed in things like psychics, mediums, spiritualism, and still a sense of exploration and adventure. I’m from Liverpool which the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England has described as the finest Victorian city in the country.

We’ve got so many UNESCO world heritage sites because of the amazing architecture, which is regarded as some of the best in the world. There’s been a lot of gentrification now but when I was growing up there were a lot of rundown and abandoned Victorian buildings, factories, and warehouses it’s easy to imagine it as being Victorian London which is probably why a lot of the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes film was shot here.

Will there be cameos from other people important to Merrick’s story, such as Frederick Treves, Sam Torr, or Tom Norman?

Oh absolutely. Frederick Treves is probably as important in the comic as Merrick himself. In our comic Treves is not only a well-travelled master surgeon but an influential member of secret societies who can take care of himself. I was talking with Luke recently and I think Treves has become both of our favourite character.

Sam Torr doesn’t make an appearance yet, as our story begins after Tom Norman took over Merrick’s management, but there’s rich back story we can still draw from in the future.

Tom Norman who ran the show The Elephant Man was part of, is a big part of Issue #01. He comes off a lot better than his portrayal in the 1980 David Lynch film, from my research he seems to have been a pretty decent guy who genuinely seemed to look out for Merrick and had his trust.

Another two characters who do make an appearance are Harry Bramley and Bertram Dooley, these cousins were known as ‘Roper’s Midgets’ and toured with Merrick under his previous manager Sam Roper. Harry and Bert were good friend to Merrick and despite their stature would apparently defend him from public harassment, even knocking someone out for attempting to pull his cloak off as one story goes. I love those guys, I have plans to use their characters more in future arcs.

 Will you be bringing in any other famous people from that time period, real or fictional, such as Jack The Ripper or The Invisible Man?

Well, I don’t want to give too much away, but there is certainly going to be some familiar names and faces. Issue #2 widens the cast and introduces some new regular characters; Thomas Hardy, a renowned English poet and writer who was good friends with Treves, had a fascination with the occult and an interest in exploring tragic characters in his writing. And a young Conan Doyle, who would go on to write the Sherlock Holmes stories, an energetic character who is a keen boxer ready to explore the unknown and who lightens the air around his older companions, Treves and Hardy.

As for fictional characters, you can expect a glimpse of Spring Heeled Jack, who is something of an urban myth from the English folklore of the period, by the end of issue #04. There’s plenty more planned for the future. I’ve done a lot of research and found links between a lot of really interesting colourful characters, the more I read the more fascinating stuff I came across, but I’m going to hold my hand of cards pretty close to my chest.

7415330-015

Page from Merrick by Luke Parker

From what I’ve seen so far, this is going to be a good looking book. How did you find the fantastic Luke Parker, and did you have a style in mind or was this a collaborative effort?

I found Luke on the ZWOL.org ‘seeking comics artists/writers’ message board. I’d actually had  a previous artist on board for the project, but just after he’d started he was snapped up by a video game company to do character designs full time. I couldn’t blame him for going for the steady work but it burnt me out a little, going back to step one. The comic went on the back burner for a little while but I kept my eye on ZWOL in case anyone’s work caught my eye.

Luke had posted his portfolio in reply to someone else’s advert but when I checked it out I knew it would be a perfect fit for Merrick. I knew in my head that the style would have to be bold and a lot of heavy shadows and it clicked with what I saw on Luke’s site, I saw an Indiana Jones pin-up he’d done and I knew we’d be on the same page. Getting pages back from Luke they’re virtually exactly how I’d see them in my head when visualizing them during scripting, I think there’s only been a couple of occasions when I’ve asked to have something tweaked and even they have been minor things that he’s nailed second time.

I think you’re going to be seeing a lot of Luke’s work in the future, he’s working on an upcoming sci-fi comic for BOOM this year and has some work in an IDW anthology amongst other things.

I know that many people have found success through Kickstarter campaigns, big names as well as unknowns. Why did you choose this route?

I love Kickstarter, the concept of it is brilliant. I’ve kickstarted a fair few projects and I like to have a regular browse in case anything catches my interest. I like that not only can you get some cool stuff that might never get funding through other means because its concept isn’t ‘cool’ right now or whatever but  you feel like you’ve helped someone out and been a part of it. I think with comics being such a visual medium they’re perfect for Kickstarter.

I self funded the first issue of Merrick myself, putting my money where my mouth is as it were. I always wanted to put it out for free, we all put so much into making it that it deserves  to be seen by as many people as possible, it would be sad if it just sat on comixology or something and no one checked it out. By putting it on Kickstarter Merrick will either succeed or fail based on its own merits, if people like it and want to read more, brilliant, we want to keep making it! We just can’t afford to ourselves! It also means we get to keep complete control over every part of the project and offer them to backers as cheaply as we can as a thank you for putting their faith in us.

What is the overall goal of your Kickstarter campaign? Is it to pay the other creators involved, for printing and distribution, to produce more issues, or all of the above?

The money from Kickstarter literally breaks down into two parts.

1.    Pay for the printing and distribution of the comic and the other pledge rewards.

2.    Pay for Luke to keep on doing magnificent work producing the art, and for Nic to continue his excellent work lettering.

Unseen page from Merrick by Luke Parker

Page from Merrick by Luke Parker

As long as that can happen then I’ll keep on writing it as long as we have the support to continue. If we do make any other money it’ll go towards the creation of more issues. I’m lucky that my girlfriend professionally edits and I’m adorable enough to charm her into helping me out for free.

Besides the book itself, which looks very interesting on its own, what kind of unique rewards will you be offering through your Kickstarter  campaign to get backers?

We’re offering a lot of the standard stuff that can be found on most comic kickstarters, but I think that’s a good thing, quality over quantity. Obviously we have the digital and physical issues of the comic, we have a couple of A3 prints by Luke, a tee-shirt, you can get an original sketch off Luke or even pick up a page of the original work from the comic.

The most personal reward is the offer for you to have your likeness and name in the comic as a character, one is a Victorian villain who gets on the wrong side of the Elephant Man, and another is a nurse who gets a good telling off by Treves.

The highest tier gets you all the previous pledge rewards and a page in issue #02 dedicated to you. In the comic Treves will go out of his way to meet you in a gentleman’s club and thank you for your contribution and in real life if you make your way to Liverpool I’ll thank you for your contribution and take you out to the most ornate Victorian pub in England for drinks (it has a heritage protected status toilet!) and then on to a ghost tour of the city.

One quite unique thing that we’re offering is a digital ‘making of’ book. It will come in at over 100 pages and will document every step in the creation of issue #01, it will include the full script, concept sketches, the layouts, pencils, inks, colours and then final lettered pages all annotated with notes by myself.

Merrick pin-up by Jussi Pylkas

Merrick pin-up by Jussi Pylkas

Do you see Merrick as an ongoing series of single issues, or an original graphic novel?

Merrick has always been an ongoing series, from the start I have always had a definite vision of where the series would go and ultimately an end point. I’ve got notepads full of notes for future Merrick stories I’d like to do and which could be enjoyed as standalone collections but there’s an over-arc and a bigger picture that everything builds to.

Merrick seems like an idea easily suited to Dark Horse’s sensibilities. Have you tried shopping this idea around to publishers, or is self publishing the way you always wanted to go?

I did originally submit the first story arc to Dark Horse comics as they were the only publisher I could find that would accept script submissions, but never heard anything back. Obviously that was a huge long shot and I never really expected anything back.

We were actually recently approached by a publisher who was interested in Merrick but we turned them down. We felt at this point in time we wanted to build the comic ourselves, make sure we’d keep the freedom to do pretty much whatever we want with it and shoulder the responsibility of whether it sinks or swims ourselves.

 I know it’s a ways off, but do you have any other ideas you’re working on, or is Merrick it for now?


Oh, I have notepads and notepads full of ideas that I’m constantly adding to and fleshing out. Currently I’m trying to work out which ones to spend time on developing further after Merrick launches. Ultimately it will depend on finding an artist whose style I feel matches and makes everything click together in my head. Pretty much all the ideas I have are set in different locations and time periods so I’ve been toying with the idea of everything I do being part of a shared universe with only very very subtle interactions. Maybe a character will end up in the same location featured in another book but 200 years later, that kind of thing.

To compliment Merrick I’ve also been working on a Treves one shot. It’s pretty much just an out and out horror comic set during Treves travels in India before the events in the Merrick series, it’s really cool, it’s loosely based on his actual reminiscences and obviously I’ve embellished it a fair bit. I’m pretty excited about it. I’ve already plotted it out and done all the ground work so I’m going to put the full script together next because it will be a blast if nothing else.

 

Thank you, Tom, for the interview. All of us at FanboyNation wish you, Luke, Nic, and Merrick all the success in the world!

Contact: [email protected]
Twitter: @MerrickComic

Merrick: The Elephant Man, is a comic book brought to you by:

Tom Ward – Just a regular guy who likes comic books, punk rock, and DIY ethos.

https://twitter.com/highbrowtrash

Luke Parker – Specialising in strong detailed line work using pen and ink. Luke mixes paper textures and digital colour/techniques to create graphically striking images.

http://www.artofparker.com/

Nic J. Shaw – Nicholas Shaw is a freelance comic letterer, writer, and reviewer. And a very busy guy.

http://shawlettering.com/

 

//

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