Following on from my interview with John Ridgway about his contribution to STRIP Magazine this month I had the opportunity to speak to editor John Freeman about his role in the creation of the UK’s new adventure comic anthology. Subscriptions to STRIP are now available through the Print Media website online and the first issue should be hitting comic shops by the time this article is published. It would be difficult to measure the contribution that John Freeman has made the publishing landscape of British comics in the past decade but it is not an exaggeration to say that he might be the person best situated to make a new venture like this a success.
Starburst: For anybody that hasn't heard about STRIP yet could you please tell us what to expect from STRIP Magazine?
John Freeman: STRIP is a monthly, all-out action adventure anthology title. It's aimed at an "all ages" audience, so Hookjaw aside, don't expect the same levels of in your face violence you may find in other comics. (I've always found the suggestion of violence and its effects has more impact than showing it full on - let the readers' imaginations work a bit).
It has the kind of mix of strips older comic fans will recall from British comic titles like Valiant, Lion and Eagle but done in a modern style, with the emphasis, I hope, on delivering good art and story.
We also have a number of features in the magazine, all devoted to British comics and upcoming book titles.
In term of creators involved, it's also a mix of creator-owned and Print Media-owned or licensed material. So among other strips, we have Warpaint, a modern take on Native American mythology, from Phil Hester and John McCrea and sword and sorcery adventure in Age of Heroes from James Hudnall and John Ridgway; Black Ops Xtreme, which I was asked to write, drawn by PJ Holden; and Hookjaw, from Action - and we're looking at other "British classics" for that spot, too.
We also have a 'Strip Spotlight' section, highlighting the work of up and coming creators. The first story, by David and Graham Stiddart is simply knock out, reminding me of the work of Keith Watson, who drew a number of Dan Dare stories for Eagle.
What level of involvement have you had personally with the creation of STRIP Magazine?
I've been in on this since Day One, back in February 2010 when I got in contact with Bosnian publisher Ivo Milicevic about his plans to reprint Dan Dare in his SF magazine, Plavi. Things sort of spiralled from there. (Mostly upwards).
The UK has been particularly unforgiving of late for homegrown comics, how did this factor into the inception of STRIP?
There's no point in pretending there's an easy way to make a comic a success, especially in a market place where digital publishing is on the rise and there is plenty of competition for comics. You have to focus on publishing what you feel is the best title you can produce. We've set a fairly low price point, there are some great creators involved. There have been hiccups along the way getting to point of publication - most of them are beyond our control but part of the learning curve for a very small company with big ambition. Interest has been huge - and we've had offers of help from many different people and companies.
Readers will inevitably compare STRIP Magazine with 2000AD, CLiNT and Judge Dredd Megazine but in terms of promotion and trying to make it a success, I've been watching what DC Thomson have been doing with Commando over the past two years, building its subscription base and developing an e-edition of the title. The editorial team have done their utmost to promote the title to the "core audience", making sure their fan base know new issues are on sale, and seen subscriptions rise as a result.
2000AD are now taking the same approach and really pushing the brand as much as possible via social media, PR to comics web sites etc. As editor, I'm fully expecting that it will be down to me to help push the title as well as get the next edition out, and our graphic album range, too.
What sort of a story will Crucible be, your first contribution to STRIP?
Crucible is a strip that's been in development for a very long time. Smuzz, who's drawing it, is a creator I've known since the 1980s, back when we sold fanzines at the Westminster Comic Marts and got our initial breaks into comics publishing as a result. It's going to seem like a traditional fantasy adventure, with characters engaged to recover a missing artefact, to start with. But I can assure you it is science fiction. Smuzz's art is simply stunning, in my opinion, and we've got the resourceful Kris Carter doing the colouring.
What inspired the decision to include Hookjaw in the anthology?
It's one of those strips from Action, a 1970s comic that caused no end of controversy, that British fans of a certain age remember fondly, along with the likes of Dredger (which also featured in Action), Steel Claw, Robot Archie... I think Ivo wanted to launch with a 'classic' that not only had great art, mostly from Ramon Sola, but an engaging story of corrupt oilmen and other bad guys getting their comeuppance that's still relevant today.
Moose Harris has written a great piece about Action for the first issue, by the way, which firmly gives Action its place in the spotlight. I think what happened to the title had an impact on British comics as a whole, which we're still feeling today.
Am I right in thinking that STRIP will be associated with the launch of a number of original graphic novels, not limited to collections of work first published in STRIP Magazine?
Yes, and we've already published Iron Moon by Stephen Walsh and Keith Page, plus the first volume of Mirabilis by Dave Morris and Leo Hartas, with the second volume in production. Coming soon is a "weird western', Frontier, by Jason Cobley and Andrew Wildman. We initially plan to publish probably six hardback collections/albums per year.
Is there one particular contributor to STRIP whose work you'd recommend or perhaps that you feel deserves wider recognition?
I can't really single any one creator out - they're all good! - but I will say that John Ridgway is an inspiration in terms of his continued energy and drive, and fervent love of comics. I've really enjoyed working with PJ Holden on BOX.
Your website Downthetubes is noteworthy for being an incredible advocate for comic creators in the UK both new and established. What is it that drives you to put in so much effort celebrating the work of your peers?
I started DTT back in 1999 because I felt there wasn't much coverage of British comics out there. There still isn't, although the main comics web sites such as Broken Frontier and Comic Book Resources do interview and report on the work of British creators. After that, you've got Lew Stringer's blog, Steve Holland's Bear Alley, Terry Hooper's Comic Bits Online, but then we're into forums like ComicsUK and 26Pigs, and blogs devoted to single British comics. So I hope DTT will continue to be a bit of a 'melting pot' covering what's out there on British news stand, although given how busy I am with STRIP and ROK Comics, I don't get as much time as I'd like to work on it!
Downthetubes remains one of the nation’s most valuable resources for keeping abreast of developments at every level of the comic industry in the UK, with an emphasis on providing a platform for creators to promote their work on a level playing-field. We recommend that you take the time to familiarise yourself with John Freeman’s good work there and wish him all the best with STRIP Magazine, which will hopefully find a whole new audience yet to experience the most imaginative and ambitious medium in the world!