Interview: Roger Gibson

Titan Books has won the rights to publish writer Roger Gibson (foreground, above) and artist Vince Danks’ Harker series of graphic novels. Harker:The Book of Soloman collects the first series of monthly comics – where the fictional detective Harker is the main character – in a spectacular hardcover edition. There’s also the promise of more to come. Readers can see our review of this gripping story of murder and madness in a few days time. Roger Gibson was kind enough to answer a few questions

Tell us a little about the plot of Harker: The Book of Solomon?
The best way for people to approach the book is to imagine themselves sitting down in front of the telly to watch it at 8pm on a Wednesday evening, probably on ITV. The plot concerns the investigations into a series of gruesome Satanic murders close to the British Museum, and serves to introduce our heroes: the grumpy, cynical DCI Harker; and DS Critchley, his geeky, slightly unhinged assistant. The story includes middle-class occultists, dusty old London bookshops, a tense and gripping chase though labrynthine passages underneath the museum, a generous dose of wry humour and lots of twists and turns along the way.

Harker is an amalgamation of various TV detectives. Did you have any particular ones in mind?
Specifically I’d say that he has the attitude of Gene Hunt from the British version of Life On Mars, his tatty dress sense is derived from Columbo, his squeamishness and classic car come from Morse, and his relationship with Critchley is the typical Holmes and Watson set-up. He’s also 50 per cent autobiographical – most of his background is my own background. He likes the same things that I do, and he’s as grumpy and belligerent as I would be if I thought I could get away with it.

How do you and the artist Vince Danks collaborate, and how that’s different from working alone?
We work in our own version of the old Marvel style, where the plot is produced first, Vince draws the art and then I script over the art. In our case, though, it’s slightly more complex – I tend to come up with the main plot ideas and scenarios, and then I talk through what I have with Vince. He throws in loads of other ideas, and we work through it together until we think we have a good, workable plot.

We then break the plot down into pages, working out how much space we need for each scene, and I’ll specify particular shots that I want – overhead views, double-page spreads, the general pacing of the scenes that we’re doing and so on. Vince then takes all this and draws more detailed thumbnails of each page, working out what the characters are doing and getting the storytelling working properly. This is all still without a script – though he does know what the characters are talking about in each scene, and what they need to be doing on each page.

Then the fun part – the photo session. We dress up as Harker and Critchley and model for all the shots, based on the thumbnails, along with various friends in the other parts, all of whom are asked to pull faces and pose as instructed. If you’ve ever seen the movie How to Murder Your Wife with Jack Lemmon and Terry-Thomas, it’s just like that, but with less props.

Vince then puts together all those photos, along with copious background references and his usual comic art magic, and produces all the artwork, which he then prints out and gives to me. I double check that everything we discussed is in there, and once I’m happy with it I start scribbling word balloons onto the artwork, writing in the script. I change my mind a lot, so balloons will be scribbled out and then rewritten over and over again until the dialogue feels good and the story works as we planned. Finally, I bring the artwork up onto my computer and letter all the dialogue – draw in the word balloons and fill them with script – and we’re done.

Are you planning anything else for Harker with Titan?
Yep, we currently have a three book deal with Titan, so the next book from them will be a hardback collection of Harker: The Woman In Black, set in Whitby and full of howling dogs, a chase on the moors, a football match against goths, some bickering lesbians and plenty of dastardly murder. Titan has also commissioned a brand new Book Three, which we are working on as we speak. It takes our detectives to New York, and pulls in references from The Rockford Files, Bullitt, The French Connection and a smattering of Starsky & Hutch. It’s our take on American cop movies, so we’re including a ridiculously long car chase, as all the best American cop movies have them. I don’t think that’s ever been done properly in comics before, so we’re planning to prove that that a ludicrously long car chase is possible in a comic strip. Keep your fingers crossed!

You’ve been teasing your fans with rumours of a Harker novel. Any news on that?
Yep, I currently have two completed Harker prose novels, with more to come. One of the novels, Harker: The Murder Club, is finished. The second just needs a little editing. I’m in the process of finding the right publisher at the moment, so as soon as that’s sorted they’ll begin to appear regularly. I’m hoping it won’t take too long. Ideally I’d like to alternate novels with graphic novels, interlinking the two.

The first one features the investigation of a series of murders at an exclusive gentlemen’s club in London. It pulls in ideas from Columbo, The Thirty-Nine Steps and various Vincent Price movies. Harker and Critchley are just the same as they are in the comics, and we have brutal stabbings, a chase through a forest, Harker getting shot and a gripping finish inside the tower of Big Ben. So it’ll be worth the wait, I hope!

 

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