A few weeks ago, I posted a review of a new comic titled “Bodies”. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and I highly recommend it. Issue #2 hits comic shops TODAY. I decided to reach out to the writer of “Bodies”, Si Spencer, to see if he’s be interested in doing an interview with 4LN. Si generously agreed and what follows is our discussion of “Bodies”, his careers in both comics and TV, and delicious cheese! Enjoy!
4LN – How did you initially get your start in the comic industry?
Si Spencer – Through Adrian Dungworth, a friend who drew comics and was looking for a writer. We threw some stories together and the next thing I knew we were self-publishing SIDESHOW, an anthology title and hanging out at conventions. At the time I was aiming to be the Raymond Carver of comics which coincided with a brief sway in the UK where people were looking for a new, non-genre style of comic-book. I got lucky when a pile of my scripts landed on a desk at Fleetway around the time that the strip ‘Skins’ was pulled for legal reasons and they needed material fast.
4LN – Do you have a past project or character that you’re particularly proud of having written or worked on?
Si – I’m pretty pleased with my short stint on Hellblazer; I think I nailed my version of Constantine and he’s a character I really associate with. I like that he fails as often as he succeeds. Other than that, I’m more proud of moments or sequences. I’m enormously proud of issues 6 and 10 of Life During Wartime which were kind of standalone episodes telling the same story from two different points of view. And there’s a few speeches that I’m happy I got off my chest – I’m forever telling new writers not to polemicise but if there’s a soapbox to clamber up, I’m the first man on it.
4LN – In addition to your many years of comic book work, you’ve also done some writing for television as well. Do you find that the two are very different, or are comic scripting and television scripting similar to one another?
Si – The fundamental principle is identical for both – ‘don’t let the words get in the way of the pictures’ – but beyond that, comics are far more satisfying. Narrative and action are distilled to their purest form in a series of jumpcuts, dialogue can interplay against caption and image so that the reader can be taking in multiple thought processes, narratives and voices simultaneously in a way that would be just white noise on the screen. And of course comics are cheap to produce – in TV you put three helicopters into your first draft in the hope of winding up with a pushbike on screen. In comics you blow up planets.
4LN – Your newest project for Vertigo, “Bodies”, is a truly creative twist on the crime/murder-mystery genre. Can you tell us where the inspiration for the story and the concept came from?
Si – I’m going to have to make up a new backstory for this soon, I think – something involving a drunken mage, a basketball court and a hidden rock pool behind an ATM somewhere in Azerbaijan perhaps. The truth is I woke up with the pitch fully formed in my head. No idea what the story was, or the characters, just a single perfect pitch-line. Normally, story character and ideas come in one huge monumental splurge then you spend weeks trying to distil it all into a sentence that you can sell. With BODIES I pretty much sold the sentence and then had to start gluing concepts and characters onto it. The characters kind of created themselves as I started throwing ideas down and once you have strong characters in place, they tell their stories for you. Plus I’d had that sigil and that mantra around for a long time already as part of my personal life, so I wove them into the plot and structure which gave the whole thing a framework to hang on.
4LN – Do you work closely with your art team to capture the look of each era in the book, or do you just let them run with it and do what feels right?
Si – Normally I’m all for letting the artist have free rein; they’re much better at visual thinking than I am, but the very nature of the story of BODIES meant I had to be a lot more dictatorial because so many things across the time periods have to match up and resonate with each other. The team have been absolutely brilliant in indulging me and the majority of the best visual ideas still come from them – it’s been a bold experimenit that could easily have failed, but Meghan, Dean, Phil and Tula are just so immensely talented that they pulled it all together. Even then though things felt a little disjointed until Lee Loughridge came on board with his astonishing linking palettes – everyone’s work is individually that of four world class artists at the top of their game, but without Lee I don’t think the consistency and visual through-line would be there.
4LN – One thing I noticed when reading issue #1 (and reading your letter on the back page) is that you’re intentionally approaching this book from a standpoint of avoiding any misogynistic or bigoted content. Is this in response to things you see going on in the comics industry, the media, or the world in general? Or, maybe all of the above?
Si – It’s more a response to being a human being I think. And trying to write gooderer than I ever writ stuff before and stuff and that. The whole ‘stop the default killing of women’ debate has been going around for a while and during one of those debates it occurred to me that it’s not just misogynistic, it’s lazy goddam writing. Consider all the dramas you’ve seen or read with a ripped-up woman and replace them all with a giant pink bunny. After three weeks everyone would be saying ‘What? Another f**king bunny? Can’t you think of anything else?’ – and yet here we are still slashing up daughters with monotonous regularity. And I know I killed a lot of women in Vinyl Underground but I was trying to make a point about sex trafficking and modern day slavery which I don’t think entirely worked. Maybe that was the impetus I needed – it’s depressing to think that the minute I wrote ‘The corpse is a man’ in my notebook I actually patted myself on the back and thought ‘ooh that’s fresh, that’s new’.
4LN – What’s the most important piece of advice you feel could benefit an aspiring comic book writer?
Si – Write. Every free moment. Write. And then edit. Your voice is never as important as the story. Edit. Edit. Edit. Edit (Maybe I should lose one of those ‘edits’? What do you think?).
4LN – If you wouldn’t mind indulging us… Here at 4LN, we like to do a lightning round of random questions where I’ll toss one out and you respond with the first answer that comes to mind. Ready? GO!
What’s your all-time favorite dessert?
Si – Cheese
4LN – If you could pick any existing comic book character to reboot and reinvent, who would you choose?
Si – Brie Limburger – Man of Cheese. He fell in a giant fondue when he was a baby and came round in hospital with the ability to fight at room temperature. Seriously? I’m not sure – to my shame I don’t read a lot of comic books (or indeed anything) these days because I’m too busy writing the damn things. The ten year old hippy in me would love to rework The Forever People though, but I don’t think anyone would buy my version. Having said that, who wouldn’t want to write Batman? I’ve been really impressed with Richard Linklater’s high concept for Boyhood so I’m going to find a seven year old kid with really rich parents, execute them in front of him outside the opera then turn up in 2034 and film him.
4LN – What’s the biggest misconception you’ve noticed that we Americans have about you British?
Si – That we’re obsessed with cheese in some way. And that we all live in mansions and talk like people in Downton Abbey. Maybe it’s about cultural hegemony but most Brits can distinguish class and region in an American accent, but you guys seem to think we all sound like Hugh Grant and mope about in crumbling mansions fondling swans and tupping our servants… while eating cheese.
4LN – The zombie apocalypse begins and you only have time to grab one household item to use as a weapon before they come for you… what do you grab?
Si – Cheese-grater. Oh dear, I’ve just started laughing at myself now – the cheese thing started as a joke but when you asked the question I visualised my kitchen drawer and realised I own FIVE different kinds of cheese-knife. I need help. Seriously, I’m the least practical man on the planet – my tool kit is two screwdrivers, a pair of pliers and a hammer. I have more cheese knives than tools!
4LN – What’s your favorite non-comic book?
Si – That’s kind of an impossible question, but in the interests of promoting stuff your readers might not know I’ll say it’s close between the ‘Uncle the Elephant’ series by the Reverend J.P. Martin and ‘Billy Liar’ by Keith Waterhouse – that book is my ‘Catcher in the Rye’, the work that simultaneously enriched and ruined my life by making me want to come to London and be a writer.
4LN – Last question… Let’s say someone out there is still considering picking up “Bodies”, but they’re not fully convinced. What would you say to them to encourage them to check it out?
Si – I was going to say ‘BODIES -Does not contain cheese’ but that’s just asking for a snidey reviewer to bite me in the ass. Aside from the truly astonishing art and what I hope is a really fresh and original murder mystery, I’d recommend it simply for value for money. We’ve spent a lot of time making it the kind of book that merits three, four or five reads almost immediately and in fact you won’t really get the whole story unless you do. Things loop around and repeat and cross over, even on the covers – there are puzzles to solve everywhere, some for the sake of it as easter eggs, some vital to the plot. Plus its very nature means you’ve got Victorian gothic, wartime film-noir, contemporary cop-show and futuristic SF all wrapped in a massive supernatural occult thriller. How many 24 page books can you say give you all that?
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, issue #2 of “Bodies” is out today. Head down to your local comic shop and pick it up (along with issue #1, if you haven’t yet)!