Interview with Ian Edginton
By DJ Forrest
I loved the audio story ‘Army of One’ and the creature the ‘cuckoo’ which had pretty gruesome traits. I felt that I’d heard of this character before in some places but then perhaps its characteristics were similar to that of the bird, so hence the name I suppose. When you’re thinking of a character such as the ‘cuckoo’, how long does it take for you to conjure such a creature up and portray it in such a way that a Torchwood audience would lap up, and had the creature been a lot ‘gruesomer’ and you’ve had to tone it down for the audio??
Ian: To be honest, the body-hopping alien isn’t the most original of ideas but putting it in the context of the Torchwood universe, gave me the opportunity to put some interesting twists on the character and its origins, especially when he…she…it interacts with the team. I wanted to imagine how something that couldn't physically exist within the confines of our universe would go about exploring the place, so naturally it would ‘wear’ people as a kind of vehicle. However, all these new sensations came along with it and it loved them, so much so, it began using up people like batteries, like a joyrider steals and trashes cars, which is where the team come in.
The story centres on Gwen and Rhys with no involvement from Captain Jack Harkness. Why did you choose to write the story only involving these two characters?
Ian: I was specifically asked to do a Rhys and Gwen story set post Miracle Day which was fine with me. I love their family dynamic. I especially like Rhys, who’s an ordinary bloke having to deal with extraordinary things on a daily basis. I think it’s because he and Gwen are so grounded in the real world, as a couple and as new parents that it gives them such credibility. Where Jack’s this dashing, space faring immortal, Gwen and Rhys have to save the world but make sure they have enough nappies and baby wipes to boot.
Kai Owen is a brilliant narrator, and his ability to change accent for various characters was spot on, as not many narrators change their voice for different characters. Was Kai your first choice of narrator, or do you not have a say in who narrates your work?
Ian: Kai’s awesome. He did a fantastic job. I didn’t get to choose the narrator but I couldn’t have been happier with the result.
You’ve only been involved in the one audio story for Torchwood, how did that come about and would you write another for the series?
Ian: The simple answer is that I got a call one day out of the blue, asking if I’d be interested in writing an audio story. I’d be more than happy to do another. I had great fun working on Army of One.
Although the tv series shows no signs of returning would the tie ins still work as a separate franchise of the show, given that although we have no more Classic Who episodes coming out, the books and audios are still produced?
Ian: I don’t know, quite possibly. I don’t see why not. The audio dramas kept the Doctor Who flame alive in the wilderness years and Big Finish have some new Torchwood tales in the works so it’s definitely the way to go. I could easily see it coming back at a later date as Netflix or HBO show or something along those lines.
When writing for comic books, how much different is the style of writing? Do you have to cover it in much the same way as you would story board a screenplay or script? Given the artist needs to know how to portray the characters you write about?
Ian: The analogy with writing a screenplay is good one. A comic book script is basically, dialogue with stage directions. The artist is then the director or cameraman who interprets the best way to make the script work and look visually interesting.
With something like Torchwood, where we already know what the characters look like, I don’t need to describe them to the artist, just the scenarios they’re in, ie if it’s a spaceship or a cave or freaky factory. Even then, I’ll describe to the artist the kind of look and feel that I want but leave the ultimate choice up to them. It’s a collaboration and the artist would like to put their own stamp on the the project as much as I do mine.
Matt Brooker, (aka ‘D’Israeli, the artist on our stories in the Torchwood:Rift War collection) have worked together for years and I trust him implicitly so tend to be more hand’s-off and let him do his thing. If I’m working with someone new, I’ll talk over the project with them and send them some visual reference if there’s something I specifically want in the script. Some artists like to be given tons of detail and direction, others just want the barest narrative and be left to do their own thing.
When did you start writing for comic books and is it harder to write for an established comic with existing characters, or writing from scratch for a completely new story?
Ian: I started writing about 20-odd years ago. I was doing a day job working in the press office for an environmental charity and then writing my own stuff at night. About 15 years ago I took the plunge and went writing full time.
About the writing itself, when you’re working on existing characters, whether they’re from a tv series, film or long standing comic book series, you have to be aware of what’s gone before and stay within those parameter’s. It’s as if you’re borrowing some else’s toys for while and you have to play by their rules before giving them back. If you’re writing of your own characters, then you can pretty much write your own rules.
The Batman crossovers – because they’re not the true story of Batman, is that similar in a way to fan fiction? Fans write about their characters in Torchwood but are not allowed to publish them as it breaches copyright, how does a crossover between Batman and Aliens or Batman and any character work for publication, or are the characters less of an issue in comic books?
Crossovers between licensed characters belonging to different companies are negotiated by the licensing and legal departments of both companies concerned. It doesn’t matter that the stories aren’t part of the regular canon ie Batman v Aliens, they still the intellectual property of their parent companies. They’re not considered to be a poor relation of the main series either. Often such a crossover would be an ‘event’ book and have a strong team working on it such as Alan Grant, John Wagner and Simon Bisley on the Batman/Judge Dredd book.
How long did it take to put the Rift War comic book together and would you write more?
Ian: It wasn’t very long at all. I think I came up with the initial concept in an afternoon and then the actual meat-and-potato’s of the writing was over a couple of weeks. It was part of an already on-going storyline so much of the ground work was done. We could tell our story so long as he hit certain plot points along the way that carried the main story along. And yes, I’d love to do more!
Have you been tempted to write for Doctor Who?
Ian: I did a three part story for the Doctor Who monthly a few years ago entitled Universal Monsters, which took some of the classic horror movie tropes from the Universal and Hammer horror films and gave them a Doctor Who twist. The art was by Adrian Salmon who did a cracking job. More recently I have Doctor Who audio adventure coming from Big Finish in November. It’s called The Shield of the Jotunn and stars the 6th Doctor, Colin Baker and his new companion, Constance Clarke. I’ve talked to Titan Comics working on their Doctor Who line too, so we’ll have to see what develops?
What was the last book you read?
Ian: An English Ghost Story by Kim Newman and I’m about to embark on Get In Trouble by Kelly Link.
Who influences your writing?
Ian: Wow, how long have you got? It’s a very broad church, there’s Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury, HG Wells, Nigel Kneale, John Wyndham, Kim Newman, Michael Moorcock, Avram Davidson, Keith Roberts and many, many more. It’s a long list and it’s still growing!
Comic books inspire a generation. I grew up reading them from the Beano and Dandy to Commando and others, what were your first comic books that inspired you to want to write them as an adult?
Ian: Growing up in the 1960’s & 70’s I read things like Valiant, Lion, Hotspur and Victor but I also picked up Smash! Pow and Wham! because they reprinted a lot of the early Marvel strips like the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man and so on. The comic book that inspired me to write however was 2000AD. I’d been a reader from issue one and it was unlike anything else I’d ever read before. It was a formative book that set me on the path I’m on today!
Your comic books have that typical sci fi feel about them, have you written for any other genre?
Ian: I’ve been around so long I think I’ve covered most of the bases at least once! I’ve written superheroes, horror, fantasy, a ton of steampunk. I’ve also worked on a fair few adaptations of film, TV and game properties as well as adapting classic works of fiction into graphic novels. I have several projects in the works right now that are urban horror, hard sci-fi, outright fantasy and more steampunk!
When you’re not writing for comic books and audios, how do you switch off, relax, unwind? (or are you just like me and find that absolutely impossible)
Ian: I like to read or catch up with some movies, usually re-watching old favourites but with two young children around the place, my me-time is usually wishful thinking.
If you could portray yourself in any of the comic books you’ve been involved in, which comic book would it be and why?
Ian: Oh, interesting. I think I’d be Stickleback from my 2000AD series of the same name. He’s the pope of crime in a gothic, steampunk London except he’s also the hero too who saves the city from all sorts of Lovecraftian nightmares. Plus, it turns out he’s not the villain everyone thinks he is. It’s a disguise and actually he’s…well, if you’ve not read the series I don’t want to spoil it for you. I like him because people think he’s one thing but it turns out he’s something else. I like to wrong foot people, I like them to think that they know what they’re getting when actually it’s something different. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes not. Cryptic, eh!
Which object reflects your personality?
|Credit Joel Meadows|
Ian: A stone. Stubborn. Intractable yet can be quite attractive given a polish and buff up.
Army of One was a very long story, involving life in America, the cuckoo searching for Gwen Cooper and a lot of flashbacks of memory involving the full team, but it’s from Gwen’s memories these are pulled from. I enjoyed that part of the story, hearing the crass comments from Owen, the usual banter from the rest, Rhys being Rhys. I wish in a way that part of the story – Gwen’s flashbacks of those alien creatures had been a novel in itself, or even a visual story, as that just sounded ideal and I’d have loved to have seen them deal with this alien in an episode.
If it was possible to create another element of Army of One using the part of the story that involved the team, would you ever create that for another audio story? ( I would love to see or hear more of that – another reason to buy more of Torchwood )
Ian: I’d love to write more Torchwood, I had blast. I did pitch a story that featured Rex Matheson and in all honesty it was a cracker! It was one of those ideas that pops into your head in the middle of the night and you have to get up and write it down before you forget it. I pitched it and it got quite a way into the approvals process before it got spiked. I think it was because certain elements contradicted what was going to happen in Miracle Day so it was back to the drawing board. Luckily I got 2nd bite of the cherry with Army of One. So, all the way back to the point! I’d be more than happy to write classic the classic Torchwood team although I’m not to sure were the comic rights are at the moment?
When you’re thinking up your next story, what helps to stimulate the mind, be it films, movies, dramas, walks in the fresh air, music???
Ian: Going for a walk definitely helps. Reading a diverse a range of material does too. Histories, biographies, anything that takes my fancy. There’s a market stall by where we live that does house clearances and they always have an eclectic assortment of books. Some of it from the 1920’s & ’30’s and even earlier. If I like the look of it, I’ll pick it up just to see if it’s any good. It’s a bit like panning for gold, sifting through the dirt for the gems!
In the world of comic books, do the same rules apply as to those who are new to the game and although may have a great story to tell, it’s finding a publisher who will back a newcomer over a regular artist?
Ian: These days publishers want to know that you’re safe bet straight out of the gate.It’s not just about if you have a good story, they want to know that you can tell it well, that you know the structure, pacing and rhythm of telling a comic book story. They’re not into hand holding, they want to know that they’re going to get a return on the money they invest in you. When I first started, you would be given a short story or a back-up strip to cut your teeth on but not so much any more. In fact I think only 2000AD with their Future Shock short stories is one of the few places left where you get to take those kind of baby steps.
Regular creators tend to get picked over newcomers because they have a proven track record and are less of a risk. I’ve worked on books with new artists who, partway through, have realised this is actually hard work and you can’t just take a day off because you feel like it or your friends are going out, etc. The wheels fell off those books big time and luckily we managed to find an established artist who jumped on the take up the reins. The book went from being two months late to being finished ahead of schedule because he put the hours in and saved the book. If he hadn’t there was a good chance the book would have been cancelled and myself, the colourist and lettered would have lost a lot of money that goes to pay bills and feed our kids. You can’t forget at the end of the day, this is a job and you have to put the hours in, sometimes more than a regular 9-5 day job. Case in point, I get up around 5.30 am put in a few hours before taking the kids to school. I’ll then work until 3.00pm when I pick them up. Sometimes, depending on deadlines, I’ll work in the evening after they’ve gone to bed. Not very glamorous and occasionally hell on relationships!
That said, it’s not all doom and gloom. The best thing to do is publish stuff yourself on-line. It’s a perfect showcase and gives you a chance to build an audience. There are creators who work exclusively on-line and then do print collections of their work later on. If you can build yourself a sizeable following digitally, it encourages publishers to invest in you as they hope you’ll be bringing those readers with you. Obviously the tricky part’s getting paid but you can encourage voluntary subscriptions, sell prints or t-shirts of your work or even run advertising on your site. There is a lot of potential out there for getting things published, the old model of going to a print publisher has changed and the onus is really on you to push yourself and your work. It takes effort but it also means you can hang onto the rights to your material and negotiate deals as they come up.
Ian’s new Big Finish audio trailer Shield of the Jotunn can be heard now if you click on this link https://soundcloud.com/big-finish/doctor-who-shield-of-the-jotunn-trailer
Thank you so much for a wonderful interview Ian.