John-Paul Bove has written, coloured and lettered quite the range of titles in his time working in comics, including IDW’s ‘Transformers: Regeneration One’, 2000AD’s Judge Dredd, Panini’s ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ (based on the hit Nickelodeon series), as well as Doctor Who, My Little Pony and much more. At the end of this month, his first creator-owned project, UnEarth, will be debuting at the MCM London Comic Con. I sat down with John-Paul to discuss his new baby…
GS: Let’s do this! Starting at the very beginning (and arguably the easiest question); where did the idea for UnEarth come from?
JPB: Most likely a nightmare! I get lots of nightmare fuel for my stories… I think I was at a particularly boring conference and I thought to myself “If Heaven is a place on Earth then why not Hell?” Coupled with my love of Pompeii and the whole town not just lost but completely forgotten for a millennium or two the story just spun on from that. I find something very creepy about the idea that something very big and very important can just be forgotten.
GS: That’s because it is very creepy! Have you visited Pompeii at all?
JPB: Absolutely! My dad is Italian so I have been over there a lot. It’s changed now but when I was 4 or 5 I went, and back then they still had the plaster cast bodies exactly where they died. Families, pets, children exactly as they were the moment they died before being packed in with ash.
GS: That sounds eerie, and rather sad… I can imagine why that made such an impression on you.
JPB: It was like walking through a frozen moment in time. Being there in these people’s final, very human moments, not really understanding what was happening. I also visited the catacombs in Italy where early Christians literally hid underground to practice their religion safely. They had services down there and buried their dead in there… There’s a lot of history underneath us all the time and sometimes very important things happen with no-one to see or remember them. And the flip side to that, the horror aspect of that, is “there are things that should be left hidden”…
GS: The horror element to this book is very well written; was such a departure from the all-ages work you’re known for a purposeful choice, or just how the idea progressed for you?
JPB: Thank you! I think it’s a combination of things. Left to my own devices my stories tend to be slightly left field ideas; concepts or ideas that need to be fleshed out and written down. I don’t write just in one genre though I haven’t had a chance to show that off yet really. There’s a compilation of short stories I’m working on that will hopefully showcase a lot of the different styles and genres I like from tragedy to comedy, and sci-fi to teen drama!
For UnEarth it was always going to be a horror story, but I think, as a self-contained short story it works a bit like a film. There’s a sense of dread and tension that builds and culminates in a more traditionally horror ending.
GS: It has a very cinematic quality (we’ll come to Conor Boyle’s art in a moment!) and I personally felt that this book works perfectly as a one shot, with a very satisfying ending, or as an opening to a bigger story (e.g. This story happens, title card, and cut to present day…) Is there more to this story than we’ve seen so far?
JPB: There’s a few aspects of the story that could go forward or go back, but I think the best aspect of horror is that it plays on your mind after, that you don’t always feel that things are finished but you don’t know how it will end… Because of the one shot nature I could only hint at certain things but I wanted to give the idea that the reason Dantini is so keen on digging where no sane person would look was because he has been hearing voices, like something Lovecraftian calling to him. Conor’s depiction of him with a big strand of hair always sticking up always made me think of an antenna for his crazy thoughts! Tin foil hats were expensive in those days…
GS: Ha!!! I did get the distinct impression that he was a little frazzled, a bit manic in his ambition… Speaking of Conor, I notice you not only wrote UnEarth, but coloured and lettered it too! So, was it difficult to hand the drawing aspect to another, given your control over the rest of the project, and how did you decide upon Conor as the man for the job? Also, how do you have time to sleep or eat?!
JPB: I have, in my time, written, drawn, coloured and lettered, and drawing is by far my weakest aspect so there was always going to be a collaborator on that front. I actually wrote UnEarth in 2006/7 and a friend and I were going to produce it but life got in the way a lot there.
In the intervening years I had gotten to know Conor on the ol’ con circuit and had seen his work in a variety of places and also seen some of his con sketches which are both unique and sublime. I could see how much expression he had with inks and the sense of chaos and control he could bring with equal measure and I just thought the fit would be perfect.
In my scripts I try and give a healthy amount of control to the artist. I don’t tend to be too specific in terms of panel layouts and framing unless it is story dependant. Comics is a very collaborative medium and I find I get the most satisfaction when I am given freedom to create. As I’m often the colourist on the book and not the writer the more freedom I have to express the better the result and the more satisfied I am.
As for eating and sleeping, sadly the eating is very easy, it’s the sleeping and the exercising I struggle with finding time for!
GS: Maybe you need to get one of those standing tables, and jiggle about whilst you write?!…
JPB: Yes! Or a trampoline keyboard? Do those exist? Is this a dream?!
GS: They should! I kinda want one now…
JPB: Forget this comics nonsense! Let’s go on Dragon’s Den and live like Kings!…
Or at least a Marquis or a viscount.
GS: Ha! For some reason, I’m not convinced we’d really get that much dosh for a desk that causes people to barf on their work…
JPB: Maybe I could make a massive keyboard like how Indiana Jones spells out Jehovah at the end of Last Crusade?
GS: Heh, I would actually love that!… We’re great at staying on topic, eh? Back on track: there’s a raw quality to Conor’s art that fits the setting and atmosphere of the book perfectly. Without spoiling too much, how much input did you give him in terms of the look of the characters and creatures?
JPB: With the characters I left it very much up to Conor. I think the script just described Edward as young and a “Scholar” and Dantini as a guy with “mischief in his eyes”. He showed me a couple of designs to see if I was OK with them and then he was off.
Same with the, uh, less human cast… Some were described but ultimately it was Conor’s nightmares brought to life!
GS: I imagine it must be really exciting to see your stories and characters come to life like that, page by page, knowing you picked the right team. Though that team was mostly you ? Kudos on the colours by the way; I particularly enjoyed the gradual hints of ominous redness creeping in as the story unfolded. And that “Please…no…” panel was perfect!
JPB: It’s the first thing I’ve done in which I have been in control of every aspect of it. I got to choose the artist and influence every other aspect of production. So it’s a more personal, more risky book for me and a step I’m slightly overdue in taking. Also, working with a style as different as Conor’s is to my usual meant really getting to have some fun with the colours. Something a little bolder, a little bit more atmospheric than I have had the chance to do up until now.
GS: I very much look forward to seeing you push yourself more! I’ll let you go back to going about your business now (i.e. patenting the Trampoline Keyboard), but one final question; where and when can people get their mitts on a copy of UnEarth?
JPB: Well it’s launching at MCM Expo at the end of May in London. After that the comic will go on sale online at http://unearth.bigcartel.com I’ll also be making the script available too. And I’m also going to have it available on Comixology for those that love their comics digitally, though that takes a while.
GS: Fantastic! I have recently gone digital after having to part with 4 long-boxes of stuff to make room for…more stuff! Thanks for taking the time for a chat, and good luck with UnEarth!
For more information on UnEarth, John-Paul and his other projects, check out his blog over at http://wordmongerer.blogspot.co.uk or follow him on Twitter (@wordmongerer).
GS Blogger: Stacey Taylor (@StacebobT)