A little shameless publicity here.
‘Where is Gronk?’ is a four page story written by myself with Art by Nigel Dobbyn. The story was published this month in the longest running 2000AD fanzine, Dogbreath, issue 31.
I’ve been published in other forms including by a Roleplaying Games company both with prose stories and character creations.
But who is Gronk and why did I write a story featuring him?
In this article I give a brief history of the character and a little detail in to this story. There are also comments from the Artist, Nigel Dobbyn and some ‘behind the scenes’ images, peppered through the article, some will look a little unclear as they are pencil sketches but you can see them clearer by clicking on them.
Gronk was created by Writer John Wagner and Artist Carlos Ezquerra for the story Strontium Dog which first appeared in Starlord Issue 1, Gronk didn’t appear until issue 14 in August 1978. When Starlord merged with 2000AD Gronk made the transition in Strontium Dog, in Prog 86 in October 1978.
Strontium Dog stars a character called Johnny Alpha, a Mutant born in a dystopian futuristic England. He was originally partnered by a Viking, plucked out of his own timeline, called Wulf Sternhammer. Later they were joined by a short furry alien named Gronk.
Strontium Dogs, or to give them their official title of Search Destroy Agents, were Bounty Hunters. Most, like Johnny Alpha were Human Mutants expelled from Earth.
There have been two characters called Gronk in Strontium Dog, the first died (Starlord issue 5) and Wulf followed the Gronk tradition of wearing his hide. A second Gronk recognised the hide as that of his brother.
It became known that Gronk was not just his name but also his species. The Gronks hail from the planet Blas in the Gallego system (named for the fantasy Artist Blas Gallego). They are short white furred aliens with four very flexible arms with two digits. Their mouths are in their stomachs and their diet consists of most metals. Speech is through the trunk like nose. Similar to a species of Goat (in real life) Gronks faint when started, in their case due to their hearts shutting down. They will often restart their hearts, though sometimes this is fatal.
Gronk was a timid fellow but as Wulf had honoured his brother, Gronk, he decided to team up with Johnny and Wulf and acted for some time as their Medic.
After being written out of the story – I believe John Wagner had decided he’d outlived his usefulness, most readers assumed the character was dead. However he was reintroduced in Prog 816, January 1993. This time written by Garth Ennis with art by Nigel Dobbyn.
This time Gronk was different, gone was the meek and fearful gentle being. This version of the character was out for vengeance for the death of Johnny Alpha. He was a tough no-nonsense character and became a Strontium Dog.
Johnny Alpha has been re-introduced in to 2000AD, 1689 in 2010, but Gronk has not appeared since Prog 999 in 1996 (apart from in minor cameos).
Simply, I can draw a passable version of Gronk and I had an idea for a story about the Strontium Dog, gun totting version. My first idea was to write a short story and submit it to Dogbreath, or ‘pitch’ as it is often called, with a few of my own pictures. However when developing the story I decided it might work better as a comic strip. I can’t do comic art. Comic art is much more complex than drawing a cool picture. There must be continuity in the look of each character and the characters need to act out the story – this is referred to as ‘Storytelling’.
So first i pitched the idea to the Editors of Dogbreath in November 2014, after doing a quick shorthand version to see how many pages I thought the tale would span. The pitch was very short, three sentences long, just giving the essence of the story to check if it was too similar to any other story.
Three sentences? That is often all that is required to convey the main idea of a story. Comic stories usually have three acts. The first introduces the character and explains his needs and motivation. The second introduces some form of conflict, physical or emotional. The third act resolves the conflict and either delivers or denies the character with his wishes.
The Editors both responded in a positive way so I worked on developing the story. A few thumbnails (I can’t find them) and then a few drafts I submitted the script in February 2015.
There are a lot of pitches and submissions for Dogbreath and sister publication Zarjaz as well as other titles they publish so there is a waiting period for them to get to a script.
How do I know this if this is my first Script? Well as regular readers will know I review comics. So I know quite a bit about how they work even if I hadn’t written one till now.
I heard back in June 2015 that they liked the script but there was a request for a minor re-write required. This was my first Comic Script so I was in no way surprised by this, though I was a little surprised that one part of the re-write included some detail I thought I gad included but hadn’t. The re-write was done and sent back within a few days.
I then heard on 9th June 2015 that the script had been passed to Nigel Dobbyn, the Artist who worked on the strip that reintroduced Gronk as a Strontium Dog, the version I had written about. I was stunned. Several professionals do work on Dogbreath and Zarjaz from time to time but I hadn’t even considered that my script might be given to one of them.
The story was published in March 2016. That is quite a while after the first pitch as you can see. That’s how things work in comics, especially for a novice like me. The final version was four pages long instead of three.
As a novice I’m eager to learn so I asked Nigel for some feedback. I won’t share all of it as it spoils the story – I will at some point share an annotated version of the script and the full story but not until Dogbreath 31 has been out for a while.
Nigel told me:
“I really liked the script when I first read it. It flowed really well and had a clever hook, so I knew it would be fun to draw.
“Any changes I made were just for the sake of clarity or flow”
What a thrill these comments gave me.
Among these changes were adding a panel and carrying over a word from the previous one to give some timing to the fainting of one of the Gronks. That in itself explains this image where Nigel has worked on different looks for several Gronks.
The title ‘Where’s Gronk’ should also tip you off to an aspect of the plot. I’ll not go in to details but you can see a lettered early version of the first page below that shows the first act of the story. Nigel made one panel a full page, turning the three page script in to a four page story. This was to give him more space to play to the title of the story using some of the character design.
With there being many Gronks in the story Nigel also needed to add a few extra images to help readers identify the main character and use establishing shots to make some of the plot devises I had included in the script.
The first page shows Gronk among a number of fellow Strontium Dogs, designs of these are in an image further above, among the description of who and what Strontium Dogs are.
All of Nigel’s feedback has been very useful to me as a Writer. I’ve a lot of experience as a writer of prose and knowing the challenges my novice script had given Nigel as Artist and Letterer this will help me improve my scripts.