An Interview with Leah Moore & John Reppion – Black Shuck coming soon to 2000AD

I first saw Leah Moore at Thought Bubble, Leeds in 2011. I was attending a screening regarding her dad Alan Moore, creator of Halo Jones for 2000AD (reviewed by me here), D.R. & Quinch (reviewed by me here) Leah snook in, hoping to be discreet and got spotted and asked to sit at the front of the room, images of her childhood appearing over her shoulder.

John Reppion I have read his book, Steampunk Salmagundi on Kindle, a very enjoyable read. I am also aware of, but haven’t yet read, John’s book 800 Years of Haunted Liverpool, among others.

Together they have worked on titles such as Witchblade, Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes. Their first work for Rebellion was Tales from the Black MuseumScouting for Bots in Judge Dredd Megazine issue 322, art supplied by D’Israeli,

Leah & John live and work in Liverpool, my daughter and her family live there and I tweeted recently:

“my son thinks It’s odd I’m a bit impressed my Granddaughter likes the museum Alan Moore’s grandchildren like lol” (pardon the poor capitalisation, punctuation, etc)

So that’s who I’m interviewing. The why? Well firstly, why not? But in particular it was recently announced their first entry into 2000AD would be Black Shuck – I wrote about that announcement in January.

The story doesn’t debut until July but obviously the news of a Moore & Reppion story in 2000AD is rather interesting.

Set in 813AD Northern Europe Black Shuck tells the tale of an Anglo-Saxon man found half-dead on a beach somewhere in Scandinavia.

Semple: Firstly, let’s tackle the bit that I think sometimes can get in the way. Leah is the daughter of the rather famous Comic Creator Alan Moore. Does this fact ever get in the way, do people ‘go on’ about it too much?

Leah: I don’t mind talking about him, he’s my dad and I love him and his work a lot. I also realise that if you follow your dad into his field, and he is hugely popular in that field, then avoiding mentioning him at all would be weird and impossible. I don’t know if I’ll ever be as good a writer as him, or as popular, but I am very grateful that I have such a great job, that I can see my kids grow up, and write cool stories. If he wasn’t who he is, I might not have tried to write at all. I don’t mind him cropping up in interviews and promo stuff, everyone is normally very nice and polite. I have no complaints!

Semple: I’ve heard of many ways for writers to collaborate, building the background plot together and one writing it up, one writing a story and the other turning it in to a script, many variations. In your collaborations how does it work?

John: The way we write together has really evolved over the years, and does change from project to project to some extent anyway. For Black Shuck we have a kind of production line system going where each of handles different stages of the scripting. At this stage (we still have a couple of instalments left to write) the whole story is already broken down into episodes, and each episode is broken down (roughly) into pages. Leah draws out the pages based on the breakdown, making whatever changes she thinks necessary. We talk through the rough pages, then I type them up. Finally, Leah looks over what I’ve written and makes any changes she wants.

Semple: 2000AD has had few stories set mainly in historical settings, obviously Black Hawk, Sláine and Red Seas are examples, did you pitch this idea or were you invited to write something for 2000AD?

John: We pitched the idea. Actually, we pitched quite a different Vikings Vs Monsters idea initially but it turned out that was very similar to something already in existence. We went away and had to reevaluate what we really liked about the ideas and what we thought we could rework. Ultimately, I think we’ve ended up with a much stronger story and, more importantly, something that’s really enjoyable to work on.

Semple: Black Shuck is about an Anglo-Saxon claiming to be the son of King Ivar. Is Black Shuck the name, or a name, of this character?

Leah: Yes. He’s our leading man. I won’t call him the hero, as he’s not a cut and dried good guy really, but he’s not an anti-hero either I don’t think. He’s a big tough Anglo-Saxon who is handy in a fight, has held his own against Viking raiders, and who ends up across the seas in a whole other world.

Semple: Black Shuck is a term I’ve heard many times referring to ghostly or demonic apparitions of large black dogs. Malign and benign versions exist. Could there be any connection here?

John: There is no direct tying in to the whole Black Dog / Barghest mythos in this story, no. However, if we’re lucky enough to get the chance to do some more Black Shuck tales in the future then there may well be. Leah’s maternal family come from Suffolk where the original Black Shuck myth originates. Northampton has it’s Shagfoals, of course, and there’s a phantom black dog supposed to haunt the Mersey coast up a couple of dozen miles from Liverpool where we live. Plenty of material to work with.

Semple: Have you referred to myth and legend for this story? If so what sources can you tell us about without giving too much away?

Leah: Nothing specific really, so it’s not a re-telling of a myth, but it’s using several well known pieces of Scandinavian legend and folklore. We’ve tried to give it a really solid world, made up of ideas from the sagas, fairytales and history, but all kind of squeezed in together. It’s not one of those stories that meander about and gives you lots of time to wonder at things we jump right in there and get on with the fun. We’ve made it as big and exciting and fresh as we can, and hopefully people will enjoy it.

Semple: When I think of King Ivar I tend to leap to Ivar The Boneless who was later than this setting, though perhaps alive at the time according to some dates I have seen regarding his birth. Is your King Ivar a historical person?

John: No, our King Ivar is a purely fictional character. Although we’re using a historical setting we’re not going too far down the alt. history route of blending factual and fictional timelines.

Semple: How much research have you needed to do for this story? Is this period something you already knew much about?

Leah: I did a module in university on Old English, and it was really dense. I think in one semester we were studying text in translation, but also learning the language too in our other lessons. I do not have a great capacity to learn by rote, so the Old English grammar just kind of washed over me. I did however love the period, and the amazing atmosphere of the Old English and Viking world. It’s a place a lot of English culture came from, so it’s great to cast yourself back and imagine it all. I’d love to do more Viking stuff definitely. There’s a ton of fun to be had there.

Semple: I’ve read Steampunk Salmagundi by John, Kindle Edition, which gives a very vibrant setting description. That’s the visuals in a comic to a greater degree, how detailed are your scripts for artists on how to depict the world around your characters?

John: Glad you enjoyed the book! When I wrote prose I tend to be pretty verbose since my style is influenced by people like Lovecraft and M. R. James and other neo-Victorians. There was a time when Leah and I put a lot more detail into our scripts but we’ve learned to reign it in and try to just give the essentials. Often the detail is only really important for you to be able to visualise the scene and it’s about giving the artist room to interpret things in their own way. If you overload the description you risk losing important points amongst trivial ones; you get the exact lamp you laboriously described but the left-handed character is shooting a gun with their right.

Semple: On the subject of artists – Steve Yeowell, was he your choice or Tharg’s?

Leah: he was a wonderful surprise from Tharg. We were both fans of his already, so getting him onboard was a great coup for us. He’s sending us the art as he does it and its wonderful having Yeowell pages ping into the inbox. A real treat. I don’t think I’ve seen him draw this kind of stuff before, so hopefully he’s enjoying drawing it.

Semple: What Writers have influenced you?

John: I always find this a very difficult question to answer – I think we both do – because we’ve always written comics as a team and we’ve been doing it for over a decade now. There’s no one writer or group of writers we try to “sound” like or copy, really. We both have a very broad sphere of influences and I don’t think either of us compartmentalises things into “comic writer influences”, “musical influences”, “author influences” etc. Ramsey Campbell is a writer who consistently thrills and amazes me, but I don’t know if I could quantify his influence on my comics work at all.

We’re lucky enough to have been given advice and guidance by some truly amazing comics folks like Bryan Talbot and Neil Gaiman. Obviously, Leah’s dad has been a massive influence on how we think about comics and approach scripting even on the most fundamental level, and he learned the basics from Steve Moore (Semple: no relation to my knowledge). So I suppose, in family tree terms, Steve probably is the biggest or most important influence in our careers.

Semple: What Artists have influenced you?

Leah: Wow, it’d be easier to list those who haven’t really. I think everyone from Will Eisner, to Jaime Hernandez to Bill Watterson, Frank Miller, Harvey Kurtzman, Don Martin, I have really had a very fortunate childhood as I was able to wallow about in really, really good comics right from the minute I could comprehend them. I have been in love with the medium from the get go, so the different styles and kinds of art all excite me. I don’t think I have one ‘school’ of comics that I am a follower of. I just love great art, and great writing.

John: I love Mike Mignola, both as a writer and an artist. The way he lays out a page is usually very simple and easy to read, giving the art the room it needs to be clear. That’s something I try to bear in mind; I try to imagine a page, especially a fight or action sequence, in a Mignola way to make sure it works.

Semple: Is there any 2000AD character you would really like to write a story for, comic or novel

John: We have actually written a short story for the 2000 AD Free Comic Book day edition which stars one of their older characters. It’d be great to do more with that character, I think, there’s a lot of fun to be had there. Of course, we’d love to take a crack at Judge Dredd, and Judge Anderson… there’s very little we wouldn’t love to do to be honest.

***

Many thanks to Leah and John for answering my questions.

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