STARBURST: What’s the history behind getting together and wanting to create comics?
Mike Sambrook: We will stand aside for a moment and let some of the incredible artists we’ve collaborated with tell you how we managed to coerce them into our weird world.
Living in another country meant that meeting up was not an option. I knew Nick from when we were part of an anthology called Everybody's Cursed in which we did separate stories. I got talking to him and Rob on Twitter, and they invited me to contribute to Papercuts. I was starting to gain some traction with the comic work, so I was delighted to become part of the Madius family. Then came the process of trading ideas and sketches back and forth until we came up with the final product that was The Perplexity. Brian Burke The Perplexity Issue 3B
Mike sent me message asking if I was interested in working with them on an anthology. I was about to give up working on comics, but the script for Slaycation reignited something and really clicked. Working with Team Madius has been a delight the whole way through, and they keep sending me these fantastic scripts to work on, so I hope to be a part of it for years to come. Rosie Packwood Slaycation Issue 3A
I bumped into the Madius comics crew when I first became a host on The Awesome Comic Podcast. They’re a shining light of excellence in the world of small press comics. Dan Butcher F.P.S Issue 3B
I was asked if I still wanted to work on comics. I said “hell, yeah”. One phone conversation with Rob, and the Forebearer started to roll. I’m now a servant of Madius. Darren Smith Forebearer Issue 4
How difficult is it to deal with the practical tasks needed to produce a printed comic?
Rob Jones : Surprisingly easy, to be honest, and as we’ve moved forward as a group it seems to have gelled a lot faster and more productively than we could have imagined. We all have set positions and roles we fulfil; I am the mouthpiece, I make a lot of the promo stuff, am usually the first point of contact for reviewers and such, I do the lettering for each of our comics (unless they’re hand lettered) and other behind the scenes stuff too.
MS: I’m the one who sits there painstakingly scouring over the finished books making tiny tweaks and changes. I find it really hard to let go, so they tend to be wrestled off me by Rob in the end. I also handle a good chunk of the promotional side of things with Rob; helping to update social media, reaching out to artists, liaising with collaborators and generally trying to get the word out about all things Madius. When I’m not editing or promoting, I’m usually found writing. Rob and I handle the bulk of the Papercuts writing with the majority of the stories either being written by him, or me, or us both. My passion will always be for the writing, though. The rest of the jobs are a necessary evil to allow me to tell the stories I’m desperate to share, but I’d be lying if I said it would be easy to hand over editorial control to anyone else.
Nick Gonzo: I get a reputation for being a lone wolf within Madius (I’ve put out three titles completely solo with me on art and writing duties so far) but I’d like to think of myself as much a part of the workings of Madius as much as Brad, Mike and Rob.
MS: Without a doubt.
NG: I do a lot of sourcing of promotional materials and , as Chief Financial Officer, try to keep us out of debtor's prison. Make sure you do a tax return if you’re trading as a business, register as a company, work on contracts - it's all important stuff. I want to make sure we are original, and constantly doing the best job we can. For me, finding other people to work with is a tough cookie. I’m always concerned that as we want to be ethical as possible in our dealings, I want to make sure that every deal we do with artists is beneficial. Personally, I’ve always wanted to make comics and I’d been doing it solo for years, making books like Punk Rock Apocalypse in zine format on the art department photocopier. After a few bevvies I had a go at Rob on Twitter about the way artists get left out in the rain when books are reviewed, and instead of blocking me like he should, he decided to start a comic book company with me. I bought him lunch to apologise.
RJ: And then we have Mr Brad Holman, who is both an artist (he draws our comic Average Joe ) and a design and print guru extraordinaire. He has given us our branding, our distinctive look and has set up every book we’ve worked on. He’s a diamond and rarely sings his own praises, so we’ll do that here.
MS: Yeah, you won’t hear a word from him in this interview but he is a giant piece of our pie. He’s our invisible wizard.
RJ: From a printing side of things, we have been really lucky. UK Comic Creative and Comic Printing UK have been tremendous in helping us out, as has Jay Martin at CAF printing and Spin Print. Again, we’re lucky to have Brad, who has a vast knowledge and a whole host of experience in that world.
What advice would you give anyone thinking of starting up in comics?
MS: Dive in. You won’t feel ready. You won’t be ready. But it is the only way to get ready. Yes, you should think everything through, make sure you are staying true to yourself and making work that you are proud of, but it’s better to make a something rather than a nothing. At least you can edit a something and try and beat it into some sort of shape. That’s where the real learning comes in. Writing your way out of messes you’ve made teaches you a lot. Other than that I would recommend making friends with people who are already doing it. Comics folk are the most generous, friendly and sharing people I’ve ever met so I’m positive if you reach out there will always be an abundance of supportive people willing to lend an ear and any advice they can. Including me.
RJ: Go with it. Comics are a wonderfully inclusive medium, an awesome way to tell stories, to make lifelong friends, and a great way to be expressive. Plus, there is no greater feeling than meeting someone who enjoyed something you created, so get creative.
NG: Just do it. If you build it they will come, but get things into people's hands as affordable as possible. Want to make a 5000-page epic about spacefaring intestinal worms? Do a webcomic because no one will print it, and doing it yourself will cost a bomb. And help one another. So many people in indie comics think that the success of your friends means there’s less for you, but that's a lie.
Artists, if you can't write, find a writer to collaborate. Writers, find your artist and produce comics. Try to accept it might not be great at first but it’ll get better each time. Paul Moore Vampire Wonderland Issue 3A
Be prepared to accept the fact that you're not going to become the next Frank Miller or John Romita Jr. overnight, and that you're going to make numerous mistakes as you go, but it will all be worth it. Every spare moment you get, draw. Never give up. Rory Donald Cast Adrift Issue 2
The best advice I can give to anyone who is considering comics as a hobby or career, is to make comics. So many of us have an idea that they'll get to “one day”, but in order to be a creator one must start somewhere. Another bit of advice is attend conventions anytime you can; you'll get valued advice from creators and it's a sweet opportunity to network and meet possible collaborators. Brian Burke
Make them. I cannot stress this one enough. Don’t sit around thinking about it or telling people you have an awesome idea for one. Make the comic. Then make more. Dan Butcher
Don't procrastinate – you won't know unless you try. Also, get active on social media. I was lucky enough to meet Rob and Mike through Twitter after they saw some of my work, and after building up a rapport I was asked if I was interested in drawing a story. Rob had real faith in me, and I hope I repaid that via the art. Stephen Weafer – Mary – Issue 1
Go to the small press and serve your time, foster relationships, develop your style and build a reputation and professional attitude. Jim Lavery Together Forever Issue 2 & Valkyrie Issue 4
Find a hiding place away from all distractions. Find your own style, try not to copy other artists (just borrow bits from them). That's about all I can really say, as I'm just starting out myself. Mike Smith Profits of Doom Issues 1, 2, 3 & 4
Who are your influences?
MS: Writing wise, I love horror. I’m a giant fan of classics like Lovecraft, James, and Stoker. Stories that get under your skin and remove any possibility of sleep; hopefully, some of this shows through in Horrere. Comics wise I love everything, which seems like a bit of an overstatement but it is worryingly accurate. I try and keep my reading varied because I try to keep my writing varied too. I think it’s always good to try and pull influences from as many places as possible, which I suppose leads me to things like games, music, film and television.
RJ: Well, there's Terry Pratchett, Warren Ellis, Rick Remender, JMS, Brian K Vaughan, Mark Millar, Tony Moore, Robert Kirkman, Scott Snyder, Hunter S Thompson, Monty Python, Eddie Izzard, Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey, Stewart Lee, Yahtzee Crowshaw and Stuart Ashens. I love all those guys in equally heaped spoonful measures.
NG: I started out bottle fed on 2000 AD comics, so people like Bryan Talbot and Brett Ewins were always my favourites, alongside the crazy stuff Kev O’Neill did on Nemesis the Warlock and Metalzoic. Big influences later in life came with Mike Mignola’s pacing and his use of establishing shots in comics and focus on scenery and atmosphere, and the maddening detail of Geoff Darrow. When it comes to writing I’m a Matt Fraction fan, but take influence from Michael Moorcock, Hunter S Thompson, China Mieville, all people with their own sense of personality and individualism.
I’ve had different influences at different times, my earliest was John Buscema and British artists Cam Kennedy, Brian Bolland and Mike McMahon. Alex Toth's work is a masterclass, there are other masters like Frank Bellamy, Al Williamson, Alfonso Font and Massimo Carnevale, current artists whose style I love are Goran Parlov, Greg Tocchini and Chris Samnee. Paul Moore
My earliest influences would be Frank Miller (I grew up reading his run on my personal favourite Daredevil), John Romita Jr who I was lucky enough to meet at last years LSCC, the boys from Brazil Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba, Rick Remender, Michael Bendis, Grant Morrison, Frank Quietly, Moebius, Guy Delisle, and more recently (I'm a little ashamed to admit I'm very late to this party) Mike Mignola. Rory Donald
I get a lot of inspiration from the artists of the Underground Comix movement (Crumb, Shelton, etc), as well as various Showa-era manga artists (Tezuka, Ishinomori, etc). Outside of comics, I'm really into schlocky 80s horror films. Angela Sprecher A Roll of the Dice Issue 3A
From an art perspective, I adore the work of Jock, Greg Capullo, Sean Murphy, Declan Shalvey, Damien Worm and Ben Templesmith. I love ink washes, grey tones and lots of ink splatter. I’m also studying a lot of old movies to help with my storytelling skills from an artist’s perspective. Cinematography plays an important role in sequential storytelling and I really want to expand my knowledge for the next story I get to draw. Stephen Weafer
How do the smaller conventions help you as creators?
RJ: Sometimes the larger cons tend to be more a place where comic-related merchandise can be sold. We've been lucky in that the smaller cons we’ve gone to (Digicon 2 in Doncaster and Atomicon 2 in Hartlepool) have had an emphasis on comics; myself, Nick and Mike Smith were even given a hour to chat about comics on our first panel at Atomicon. These type of cons give us an excellent opportunity to whip up a bit of local enthusiasm for our work. They help get the word out to local shops, local people, which in turn helps to spread our message a bit further. Facebook and Twitter are all well and good, but having a local base of fans makes life a lot simpler, and means we can continue to build upon that. I think this is where smaller cons are helpful, and I hope to see the organisers of said events starting to really get behind local creators. At Digicon, we were chatting with Rachel O’Connor and Rob Luckett (BOOM!’s Regular Show comics) and at Atomicon, we were chatting with Jeff Anderson (2000 AD and Transformers) and it’s great for making those kinds of connections too, simply because at larger cons you have much less time to chat to the other pros.
MS: Our experience has been exclusively positive, if at times a little surreal. I don’t think I will ever forget trying to sell comics at Digicon whilst about three feet away from our table an ex-WWE wrestler is power slamming an angry mulleted man in spandex. Unique to say the least. Talking with the creators at the smaller shows is always brilliant and it is a great time to network and also to try and build local fanbases. We are making a real effort to visit the same events year on year to hopefully build on the work we have done in that area previously. We are aiming to work with local comic shops to allow fans access to our books close to their homes; although we offer online ordering, it's hard to beat the feel of visiting your local comic shop. On top of that we love to support the retailers where we can because without them, we’re all in a mess.
NG: Smaller conventions give you an opportunity to connect on a closer level. People have more time to linger, and you get to have great conversations with the people who have read or about to read your stuff. They also give me an opportunity to shout the message of inclusion a bit louder. I want everyone in the world to make comics, and I will instruct people to do exactly that. I met a sixteen-year-old fan at Doncaster who wanted to make her own comics. I gave her the big sell, told her to go forth and within days she was posting her comics on Twitter. That's the benefit of small cons wrapped up in a little box there.
Papercuts and Inkstains has a great sense of humour, how difficult is it to get that comedy element so right?
MS: I think we have to fight to keep the humour away rather than worry about how we can inject it in. The key thing is we try to make each other and ourselves laugh. If we’re laughing, that’s a good sign. Then obviously on top of that we are working with the best artists in the industry. These guys can take our babbling and turn it into comedy gold. We are so lucky to have these guys make us look funnier than we are.
RJ: We aren't afraid to write a joke that'll make you groan, and it can be difficult to move away from that warm, gooey, joke-laden centre at the centre of our comic writing sometimes.
NG: For my story in Papercuts 1, I finalised the last page in Rob’s living room. We try and work as closely as possible, but that usually takes the form of I do whatever I want and he watches. When I’m writing my own stuff, like Furthermoore, I just try to make myself laugh; if I’ve done that, I’m halfway there.
I just do what feels right and makes me laugh, basically. The only big rule I have is that if it doesn't make me laugh while I draw it, no one else is gonna laugh while they read it. Angela Sprecher
As an artist, I draw the most emotion from expressions and body language so the readers can have a solid connection with the characters. I try and pull characteristics from people I've met in real life and inject them into the characters so they feel more genuine. If I want the audience to adore a character, I'll put in a quirky trait from a good friend. Or if I want readers to feel more hostile towards a character, they'll be peppered with irritating traits from a less likeable person. It's a great way to add a little extra flair to payoffs. Rosie Packwood
Scripts need to inspire your art, so when they're genuinely funny it makes the whole process flow smooth. Darren Smith
Mike and Rob produce very visual scripts, it’s easy to translate their vision, and the ideas come through so clearly the end results speak for themselves. Jim Lavery
Straight from the get go, the characters burst to life off the pages of the script. When illustrating these guys I almost see it in my mind as a film, so the humour and comedy come quite easily. By knowing each character's quirks and mannerisms, I can use it to portray their emotions, given their faces are always covered with their hoods. Mike Smith
What made you decide to publish two issues of Papercuts & Inkstains simultaneously?
RJ: The plan was to release one big issue for Thought Bubble last year, but we had some behind the scenes mishaps and instead of delaying, we thought we’d release a double whammy, with connecting covers by Rosie Packwood and an inks/colour combo of Mike Smith and Jim Lavery. This way we could ensure that no artists were left waiting for payment with us sitting on their work for a future issue.
MS: We had this grand plan for a giant whopping 60-page single issue, which in our heads seemed like a great idea, but apparently staples have limits. We took a risk and went with two separate simultaneous books and were blown away by the response to them.
RJ: It worked really well giving us two distinct books to put out, and allowed us to see what reception a Papercuts book without Profits of Doom would get, and it was a warm and positive one, so it also showed us we aren’t one trick ponies.
What can we look forward to in the future from Madius?
MS: We just want to keep growing and growing, telling the best stories we can and working with the most talented collaborators out there.
RJ: We have a lot planned for future issues, including an eventual change into colour, as well as an idea to collect all of Profits of Doom into a little hardback. Similarly, with the other strips we have in Papercuts, we’d love to see them all collected into a trade paperback. We also have up to issue twelve written and planned too, so we aren’t going anywhere. When we see the work that’s being turned in for future issues, it makes us pinch ourselves and say “hold on a second, we all did this?”
MS: We can't wait for everyone to see the stories we've got lined up. Even if we stopped writing today, we would still have at least two years worth of releases ready to go. We love to try and stay ahead of ourselves and make sure we are always pushing to improve as hard as we possibly can.
RJ: Forebearer 2 is in the planning stages, and we’ve picked some more 80’s bands to riff off for content, while Jim Lavery is elbow deep in a secret project, so it may be a while before there's more Valkyrie. First and foremost is our Kickstarter project Griff Gristle.
MS: Here be Monsters! A story of love, loss, beards, whisky, sea shanties and a boat load of ghouls and ghastlies. This is a story written by Rob and I and drawn by the ever brilliant Rory Donald.
RJ: The scope we have for the continuation of it is huge; we’re buzzing to get this out to the world. Then there’s a series which myself and Nick Gonzo have penned, called Furthermoore which, like Profits, is very Pratchett in tone, lots of wordplay and absurdist comedy, and that’s being drawn by Darren Smith, so we’re excited to bring this project to the fore, too.
The Kickstarter campaign for Griff Gristle finished with just under £2000 over its target. You can buy Madius Comics from here.