AUTUMN OF INDIE: Interview with Creators of Doctor Who ‘The Impossible Crossing’

We interviewed Alex Beedie and Sara Dunkerton, the creative minds behind the up coming Doctor Who comic, The Impossible Crossing.

Geek Syndicate (GS): Alex! Sara! Hi! How are you both? Your Doctor Who story, The Impossible Crossing looks amazing. The first six pages were incredible. So how did you both get into Doctor Who?

Alex Beedie (AB): I started watching with the shows revival in 2005. It was fun, if a little childish, but the character of the Doctor was instantly engaging. I had obviously heard about the show but never seen it, having been born in ’86 when the original show was coming to its end. Doctor Who has a remarkable premise to it, that allows it to become anything it wants to, and though this doesn’t always come across in Russel T Davies’s first series I could certainly see the potential behind it.

Sara Dunkerton (SD): I got into Doctor who in a very similar way to Alex really, though I arrived late to the party and joined the new series at the fantastic two parter; Empty Child and The Doctor Dances! As soon as I saw that haunting image of the gasmask bonded with the child’s face I was hooked! Here was a show that could be both entertaining with the charm and wit of Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor, and downright terrifying at the same time! I’d also heard of the show before from my Mum, who has a mortal fear of the Daleks born from evenings watching John Pertwee’s Doctor as a child with her Grandfather. Though I had never seen any of the classic series myself the intrigue was there.

GS: And what about comics?

AB: Unlike the Doctor, comics have always been there for me. I would read the Beano as a kid and eventually got into Batman thanks to the films and the animated series, picking up any issue I could find at my local store that had an interesting cover. I would often be dismayed that these issues were some odd part of an arc and I would never be able to find the other parts to the complete the story, but somehow I managed to collect every issue of the Knightfall arc and loved it.

SD: Weirdly I got into reading comics quite late, but I had been drawing them throughout my childhood, creating my own characters and telling their stories through little comic strips. Of course I’d always been intrigued by Marvel and DC titles, I’d browse and admire the artwork, but without much knowledge in story and history I never found a jumping in point. So I started reading Manga as I could easily find the first volume and collect from there. It wasn’t actually until I met Alex and he pointed me in the direction of Batman: Hush that I found my footing in DC mythology with Marvel, Dark Horse, Vertigo, and others soon to follow.

GS: What first inspired you to create comics?

AB: I wanted to write for a visual medium like film or TV. Comics allow the chance to tell a visual story on your own terms, without budgetary constraints or having the pressure to cater to every demographic.

SD: I love stories and I love drawing! As I mentioned before I’d draw short strips with my own characters, though not knowing in the slightest about how comics were actually made, I’d usually get impatient with writing and leap straight in with drawing. I think it was obvious then that I was not to be a writer! But I’m really interested by the visual narrative and enjoy sequential drawing, be it comics or animation!

GS: You have chosen the eighth Doctor and the tenth. Why was this?

AB: There is a very simple reason that will become clear around issue four…

SD: … And I can’t wait to draw it!

GS: Was it difficult to both get the eighth doctor’s voice and to draw his different mannerisms after all we only got one movie where we learnt he loved new shoes and not much else?

AB: That was part of the fun behind writing for the Eighth Doctor. Not the shoes – though they have their moment as well – but the challenge of creating a voice for him. The TV movie is, at best, questionable, but I found McGann instantly engaging and began thinking about what he could be, rather than what he was there. Everyone has their Doctor, the one they think about when they think of the role, and Eight became my Doctor, because there was essentially a blank slate for him and he could become anything I wanted.

SD: For my part, drawing the Eighth Doctor was a bit of a challenge! I must have print-screened every expression from the Movie to use as reference, gathered as many Google images I could find and photographed every detail of the Eighth Doctor’s costume at the Doctor Who Exhibition! I’ve used likenesses of actors for characters in previous comics but this is different, the Eighth Doctor needs to look like Paul McGann. This is also the longest comic I’ve illustrated to date (the others being only around 6 pages) so I had to not only make the Doctor look like McGann, but carry that likeness through 22 pages (and that’s only the 1st issue!) I think I got the hang of him in the end though!

AB: It was important to me that the characters resemble the actors, as I feel many modern Doctor Who comics fall apart over the art not capturing the unique touches that the actors bring the characters. I am very happy with the likeness of the Eighth Doctor Sara got.

GS: Reading the first 6 pages I thought it was amazing how you had managed to grasp the tenth doctor’s mannerisms in both speech and look. Was this a difficult process or something that flowed quite easily?

AB: Script wise, it was incredibly easy, since the Tenth Doctor was very expressive and built on catchphrases. I actually found it very easy writing for both Ten and Eight because I could really hear the actors’ voices say the lines, to the point where I would sometimes write too much because it began to feel like an episode was playing out in my mind, where there was constraint to limit the lines so they could fit in a panel!

SD: Oddly enough David Tennant’s likeness comes easier to me than Paul McGann’s, so grasping the Tenth Doctor’s look and mannerisms was slightly less challenging. I think it must be as Alex says; Ten has his trademark expressions that once captured characterize him perfectly, though I still gathered as much reference as I could find (which, lets be honest, wasn’t a chore!). However I found a certain formula for Ten that meant if you can get his hair, sideburns and the shape of his face right, everything else just falls into place!

GS: The Titanic is a key part of the story. What kind of research did you both have to do?

AB: We both had to immerse ourselves in the ship completely. I’ve always been intrigued by Titanic’s story, ever since seeing the Cameron film in 1997, and when I first planned Impossible Crossing I enjoyed studying the books, the survivor’s accounts, and the other films made. Despite our story being heavily fictitious, I wanted to keep Titanic’s story as real as possible and there are characters that appear that were real people, and dialogue spoken that is reported to have really been said. I found the blueprints to the ship online and poured over them, working out which route the Doctor might take to get here, or where he would land the TARDIS, or which decks belonged to which class etc. Liberties were obviously taken in a few scenes but for the most part I tried to keep the geography of the ship as true as possible, because otherwise there would be little point in making the story about Titanic.

SD: God, I have watched Cameron’s film SO many times now for screenshots I could probably recite it! For me it was gathering as much accurate visual reference as possible! Titanic has to be the most iconic ship out there, and I just knew that if she didn’t look and feel like the ‘Ship of Dreams’ our story wouldn’t strike the chord we were going for. Alex started gathering all manner of books on the Titanic and very helpfully bookmarked specific photos or pages that related to scenes he had written, that coupled with my own research, 3D digital models and an air-fix model that Alex did just for fun, I was able to capture Titanic accurately from every angle! She really is quite a pleasure to draw.

GS: Have you followed the Doctor Who comics and if so what was your favourite era?

AB: I hadn’t read many before starting work on Impossible Crossing. I was initially unsure about turning it into a comic because, to me, it’s a medium that has never leant itself very well to Doctor Who. A lot of the stories – by Doctor Who Magazine or IDW or whoever – feel very rushed to me, and are never quite as grounded as the show was. It’s easy when writing a comic to make things bigger, more extravagant, because they’re not limited to a budget, but it’s bigger for the sake of bigger and not done in the best interest of the story. Impossible Crossing is intentionally slower and smaller, more in fitting with the classic show rather than the new, and if it were an episode the budget would lie in recreating Titanic, not extravagant monsters.

SD: I’ve only read a few Doctor Who comics, majority of them being the Panini collections of the classic Doctor Who Monthly strips. I guess if I had to pick an era it would be that of the Fifth Doctor. Peter Davison is my Doctor and in The Tides of Time collection, Dave Gibbon’s art is just the icing on the cake!

GS: What type of storytelling do you like?

AB: It depends on the writer, but I prefer character driven stories rather than plot driven. The idea for Impossible Crossing stemmed from wanting to use the Eighth Doctor, which is why I wanted the Doctor himself in the logo. It’s a character specific logo for a character specific story.

SD: I have to agree with Alex, the stories I enjoy reading the most are the ones with engaging and interesting characters. That also goes for the ones I like drawing the most too! I spend a lot of time before drawing a comic designing the characters; it’s one of the parts of the creative process on any project that I enjoy the most!

GS: Can you tell us a little bit more about the creative process?

SD: While the script is being written I gather as much reference as I can for locations, characters, vehicles, EVERYTHING! You need to have a thorough grounding in the things that you’re to draw, even if they’re fictional and totally fantastical. They won’t look real unless you’ve researched and you feel comfortable drawing them. This goes for every project I work on! Once I’ve got my reference I design the characters and anything else that the story requires before thumbnailing pages; and then penciling, inking and lettering. I add colour last and exclusively through Photoshop, using textures and custom brushes to create a traditional aesthetic.

AB: I constantly think about character, so before I start writing anything I have to know what the characters will ultimately go through. It’s hard not to simply kill a character off in order to garner a reaction from the reader, which sadly, I have done numerous times. It’s a hard habit to break!

GS: Sara you have worked on many other comics and Alex you have a really interesting blog up and running. Can you tell us some more about your past projects and experiences?

SD: ‘Promises’ the short story I illustrated for Bayou Arcana: Songs of Loss and Redemption was my break into the UK Small Press scene; I met so many other creators and learnt so much about the process that fuelled my excitement and enthusiasm for making comics. With the announcement of my involvement in Bayou Arcana and glimpses of work on my blog, other opportunities started appearing. I was commissioned to provide a short comic for the RPG Dark Harvest: Legacy of Frankenstein, and numerous illustrations and logos for them since.I also volunteered to illustrate ‘Red Riding Hood’ in Into the Woods: A Fairytale Anthology, and the short story ‘Moving Day’ in Sugar Glider Stories 2. Currently I’ve 3 comic projects on the go, one being Impossible Crossing of course, the other two I can’t talk about yet! 

AB: My blog is a means to get my opinion on the latest film and TV out there, and vent if I’m frustrated! There are links on there to a couple of stories I wrote about Batman (and the rest of the Bat-family), which are more for me than anything else. They’re not brilliant but they helped me refine my writing skills, and if DC ever come a-calling they’re ready and waiting…

GS: Is the Impossible Crossing the first of many Doctor Who stories and if so which doctors would you like to use?

AB: Impossible Crossing is the only one story I’ve ever had a real idea for, but I promised Sara that I would write a short story for her Doctor…

SD: Yes, you need to write me something with crickety cricket stuff and decorative vegetables please!

GS: To any aspiring creator out there, what would you say is the best piece of advice? Where you would like to be in 10 years time?

SD: Be seen. Keep busy. Keep going!! This is true for writer and artist alike. I’ve only been at this professionally for around 2 years now but in that time I have found my blog an invaluable tool in getting my work out there and seen. There are so many free social networking platforms these days that it’s so easy to pick one, or all of them, and get noticed! Connect and collaborate with people, don’t isolate yourself. Get involved in anthologies, they’re a great start up to meet like-minded people and showcase your work! Always be creating something, whether it’s a commission or a personal project. Practice your craft and then share it! If you put in long hours of hard work that dedication will show and people will pick you up on it! This is a tough gig to get into; I myself have only scraped the very surface! I’m still working a part-time job to pay the bills and freelancing on the side. I would hope that in 10 years time I’ll be able to make a living solely from my illustration! It may be hard, stressful and at times scary, but once you have a completed book in your hands (or uploaded online) it’s so, so very satisfying! So keep going!!

AB: Sara summed it up there, really. As for where I am in ten years time, I would hope to have at least one book on the shelves

To find out more about The Impossible Crossing check out the first 6 pages, You can also check out Alex’s blog and Sara’s blog as well.

Reporter: Luke Halsal

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