Richmond Clements is one of the busiest men working on the British independent comics scene today. While holding down a full-time job, he manages to (co-) run the successful Hi-Ex Comic Convention in Inverness, co-edit several small press anthologies and has even, recently, been scripting various comic projects.
Matt Badham caught up with him recently to talk about organising Hi-Ex!, finding time to write and why most people that are interested in comics just want to see "Hulk Smash!"...
downthetubes: Please tell us a little about yourself and your previous and current involvement in the British comics scene.
Richmond: About five years ago, I was asked to come on board the FutureQuake team as an editor. I've been there ever since.
We've added to the stable too: we now publish a horror book, Something Wicked, two 2000AD-inspired fanzines, Zarjaz and Dogbreath, and a Manga book called MangaQuake, although we've decided to shelve that one after the next issue.)
In addition to that, I'm currently writing two full-length graphic novels for Insomnia and co-organising Hi-Ex!, The Highland International Comic Convention.
I'm sure there's other stuff too...
downthetubes: How did your new comic, Turning Tiger from Renegade Arts Entertainment, come about?
Richmond: Well, first, I'd better give you a quick outline of the plot. Sarah Smith is a nine-year-old girl. JEN is a multi-billion dollar war robot. When JEN malfunctions and kidnaps Sarah, the military find themselves in desperate race against time to save the child and to stop her parents going public with the story.
As with a lot of things, it began with a couple of different ideas. I had a couple of particular images that kept popping into my mind featuring a young girl and a giant robot. One of these turns up as a panel in issue two. The other thing I can't talk about as it would spoiler the story in an enormous way!
So yeah, I one day realised that these two separate things were not actually separate but parts of the same story. Suddenly, Turning Tiger was born!
downthetubes: What have been the benefits of working for small press titles, in terms of writing and networking opportunities, and your life generally?
Richmond: In terms of writing, it's good practise!
What the small press can do is take a script that might not be anywhere near ready, but has perhaps just the spark of a good idea in it and work with the writer for as long as it takes until the script is ready. It also gives a writer or artist the undeniable thrill of seeing something you created in print.
In my life? Phew! Well... I can start with meeting my partner through working on comics and work down from there! I've made some incredibly good friends through my involvement in comics. That, and it gives me something to do with what little spare time I have!
Networking... I'm not sure how to answer this without coming over as terribly mercenary! It's great fun to meet pros and to have become friends with some. And to then have some of these guys agree to do covers for us is a real thrill.
On a personal level: sitting in a bar with an editor at a convention is a damned good way to pitch a story!
downthetubes: How did you develop your ideas? Do you bang away at a script or plot and write a synopsis first?
Richmond: Turning Tiger arrived pretty much fully formed.
Some things, the graphic novel Corvus I'm writing for Insomnia, for example, start off as an idea (a superhero story set in Roman Britain) and have to be worked into a plot. However, with Turning Tiger, once I had the original thought, it was more or less all there from the off. There have been a few very minor changes made, but that's all.
downthetubes: Corvus sounds interesting. Please tell us about that.
Richmond: Corvus is set in Roman-occupied Britain in 30AD.
The Brits are held in subjugation by the mighty Roman army, helped by their own superhero, Gladius. But the British have a hero too; a 15-year-old girl called Callie, who must become the Corvus, legendary guardian of the people... It's basically a rip-roaring adventure, with some awesome action set pieces in there, as well as, I hope, telling a good story.
The art is by the brilliant Kevin Levell, who has produced some cracking concept sketches already.
downthetubes: You seem to have a lot of irons in the fire at the moment. Are you doing all this stuff on top of a day job?
Richmond: Yes, I have a day job too! I'm lucky though, in that I'm a pretty fast writer once I get started. Also, I drive a lot in my day job and get a lot of time to edit in my head, so by the time I get to putting it on paper a script or story can be more or less fully mapped out.
downthetubes: It seems in one way that British comics are going through a bit of a golden age, with a thriving small press scene, lots of stuff happening online and lots of indie companies springing up. On the other hand, there seem to be few opportunities to actually make money from comics in this country.
Can you give us your perspective on the pros and cons of being a fledgling comics writer working right here, right now and also as a con' organiser, who perhaps gets a bit of an overview of the scene that way?
Richmond: The small press scene is indeed thriving.
In truth it's always been that way, but it's just that the 'top end' of the market, if you want to call it that, has all but disappeared, so now folks are starting to notice the small and mid-sized press more.
You're right though, there are a limited number of 'slots' in the industry where a writer or artist can expect to make a full-time wage -- to put it mildly! Frankly, though, if you're mental enough to get into comics as a way of making your fortune then you deserve everything you (don't) get! I think there's too many people who look at writers like Grant Morrison or Alan Moore and assume that everyone in the industry can make that kind of money. Which is of course stupid.
Every author doesn't make Rowling or King money. Every musician is not going to reach the earning level of U2 or Springsteen. You have to accept that the chances are you will not make your fortune writing or drawing comics unless you are very, very lucky.
On the convention organising front, we were delighted and surprised by the interest shown by the general public. Our first Hi-Ex! was all but snowed off, with only half the guests being able to make it because of the weather, yet we saw hundreds of members of the general public turn up, many of them in family groups, to join in. There's a massive market out there of 'ordinary' people who are interested in the medium.
The industry needs to focus on bringing them in and not on keeping an ever-diminishing number of hardcore fans and continuity whores happy. Most people want to open a comic and simply want to see Batman thwart the Joker or Hulk Smash. They don't care if Cyclops did such-and-such in a comic written 25 years ago. They just want entertainment.
downthetubes: What's next for you, in terms of your writing?
Richmond: Next up will be finishing off writing both Pinkerton and Corvus. There will be, if everything goes to plan, a collected edition of Turning Tiger available in print sometime in April, and after that I'll start writing the sequel. In between this I'd love to finish the children's book I'm writing, and we'll have new issues of all the FutureQuake books to get out, including an ABC Warriors special, which, if it all works the way we've planned it, will be very special indeed.
downthetubes: Please give the latest Hi-Ex! a pimp. Tell us about the guests and events...
Richmond: HiEx 2010 is on the 27th and 28th of March at Eden Court in Inverness. We've got an enormous number of guests with something for everyone. We've got a children's corner with some fantastic artists there. Kev F Sutherland is bringing his socks, the Beano guys are going to be doing their stuff and as always, we'll have a brilliant charity auction (and if you're not coming, you can still bid! Check out our website for details on the lots!). This year we're also running a games room, where the public can try their hands at things like the Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog and Doctor Who roleplaying games. And as if that's not enough, the one and only Cam Kennedy is coming!
downthetubes: And in terms of Zarjaz, you guys seem to have been very good at getting pros to contribute/let you work on their characters. Tell us about working with the likes of Pat Mills and Kek-W...
Richmond: Yup, getting to work with these guys is a great bonus! Pat's been very helpful and generous - not only by allowing us to use the characters, but in offering us pointers and advice on them. Kek-W has given us an awesome Rosie O'Rion story that I guarantee will make you want her back in the prog!
We've also been very fortunate with everyone from Simon Coleby to Rufus Dayglo doing covers for us! You can't imagine the thrill of seeing a specially drawn Kingdom cover by Richard Elson arriving in your inbox. And we've got a couple of very cool cover artists lined up for the next few issues of Zarjaz and Dogbreath...
downthetubes: Richmond, thank you very much for your time and the best of luck with all your projects.
• Hi-Ex Comic Convention Official Site
• Futurequake Official web site
This interview has been simultaneously cross-posted at both the Forbidden Planet International blog and downthetubes.