AUTUMN OF INDIE: Interview with Sugar Glider Creators

After chatting to Daniel Clifford on his own, we are now going to talk to him and Gary Bainbridge. Together they have created Sugar Glider, the critically acclaimed superhero comic book set in Newcastle.

Hi, Daniel and Gary. Sugar Glider has been a huge critical success. Where did the idea come from?

Gary Bainbridge (GB) Hi Luke, my wife has something of an animals obsession, and went through an exotic animals phase. In doing so, we came across these little furry marsupials with huge eyes, claws, really poor social skills and the ability to glide through the air. After watching a load of Youtube videos explaining why buying a Sugar Glider would be a terrible idea, we shied away from it in the end. But visually, they’re very striking and they have your range of skills that would be rather handy in the superhero world, gliding, climbing, vicious fighting style etc. so at a Paper Jam Comic Collective meeting in Newcastle one evening, I started drawing a superhero character with goggles, claw-like gloves, a gliding cape and a black and white costume.

I’d just finished working with Daniel on our first collaboration for a PJCC book. He talks about it here: http://danielclifford.co.uk/post/32193180607/that-cool-robot-story-by-daniel-clifford-art-by and I talk about it here: http://www.garybainbridge.co.uk/2012/09/collaboration-nostalgia-part-i.html He came over and looked at the sketch and persuaded me to take this character further. So we spent a little while expanding on the character of Susie Sullivan, aka Sugar Glider and the world in which she lives.

Daniel Clifford (DC): Gary drew a fantastic sketch of a female superhero and I leapt at the idea. I was putting together an anthology of all-ages adventure stories at the time so I asked Gary to submit a strip about this character. I helped him develop the general concept of the story and became really excited by it. Seeing an opportunity to finally make a full-length comic book, I asked Gary if he’d collaborate with me on a short series. We both went away and developed the characters and stories for a year before releasing the first issue.

I really liked the idea that you created an entire universe with Sugar Glider Stories. Can you tell us what it was like to step out of the writing and artist chairs for some of the stories and step into the editing world?

DC: I love creating structures for other people to work in. I’ve always been involved in coordinating art projects – from a film group to youth work and then in comics. So it wasn’t a big deal for me. And my love of huge franchise superheroes means that I have a bit of a belief that having other creators write and draw your characters legitimizes them. It’s a daft idea, but it’s the one I’ve grown up with. At the same time, every strip in Sugar Glider Stories issue 1 was written by us. In issue 2, even the strips that were written by others were based on ideas and character profiles that we provided. I set out who the character was and where we needed them to get to, but the guest creator added their own personality and came up with stories that I never could have – and that’s what the project was all about.

GB: The Sugar Glider Stories was the single solution to two problems. The first was that we had inadvertently created a boatload of characters with backstories and relationships and personalities, and no space to show them off. The second being that we wanted to fill the gap between releases of the main title, to keep the SG name fresh in people’s minds.

I think SGS are not without their faults, maybe they came out too soon, maybe they were too much work , maybe they didn’t have enough of Susie and Sugar Glider in them. For me, they were a great opportunity to work with artists who I’d admired for years. I can’t begin to describe how strange and humbling it is to see other people draw your characters, especially when you’ve been a fan of theirs for so long. Similarly, we were in a position where we could provide a platform for other writers and artists to get something published and to expand their portfolios.

In that respect, I enjoyed stepping out of the artist chair and watching all this amazing work come flooding in. I particularly had a lot of fun  swapping places with Daniel and writing a strip he would draw in SGS1.

I bet many of the doubters told you that you could not build a universe like you have for an indie book. What would you say to them now and aspiring creators wanting to do something similar?

GB: Well, haters gonna hate. I think the main reason for the world building was that we wanted to plan the whole three issues of the main title before we started, and we felt it needed a fairly deep backdrop that could come to the fore later in the series.

I think Daniel and I are coming to the realisation that huge universes and longer form stories are probably the recipe for madness in the self publishing world. If any aspiring creators are out there, I’d start by asking if your comic needs a large universe. It takes a lot of time and has the potential to take the focus away from your main thread. This may be what you want, and that’s cool, but if you’re making a universe for the sake of it, I’d be asking where the story is. Secondly, self publishing is a tough gig, so it’s always best to have projects that are  manageable. I mean that in terms of the logistics, not in terms of ideas. And of coursed, there are other ways to create a truly rich and interesting world without a huge roster of characters.

DC: I’d say, “I wish I had listened to you.” To some extent, I think we succeeded and I know a lot of readers have enjoyed that side of the Sugar Glider universe, but I think that Richard Bruton’s review for the FPI blog was pretty much on the money – it dilutes the Susie Sullivan story. If I had put the effort it took to create that universe into the main Susie story, the main storyline would have been a lot better. Having said that, everything from the issues of Sugar Glider Stories will be paying off in issue 3 of Sugar Glider.

Will we see any of more development in the Sugar Glider Stories characters?

GB: That would be telling. After SGS 2, we decided not to do any more, but there are a lot of characters there, so who knows?

DC: I’d like to see Gary do a Tiernan comic, and I’d be interested in doing some Vigilance stories – but, really, that probably won’t happen. We’ve got a new idea which is closer to the stories Gary likes and more likely to reach a wider audience – so we’ll be working on that at some point rather than anything to do with Sugar Glider.

Is there a possibility for a Sugar Glider issue 4? Or will it all come to an end with Sugar Glider issue 3?

We’d always planned to do three issues.

GB: Sugar Glider 3 is the last one we’re planning on doing. We’ve talked about the possible ways of returning to the Gliderverse, but we’ll see. If publishers and people and of course, the two of us, want more, then it’s a distinct possibility.

DC: No. There might be a Sugar Glider one-off or webcomic or something, but there won’t be an issue 4.  We’ve said from the very beginning that this was a trilogy, and we’ve already added two anthologies to that.

When can we expect to see Sugar Glider issue 3?

DC: I’m hoping this year, but only GB knows for sure.

GB: I’m currently working on Sugar Glider 3 I’m about a quarter of the way through inking it. I have no idea when it will be ready. Place your bets now.

If you want to check out Sugar Glider go to the website where it is being serialized

Reporter: Luke Halsall

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