It's very odd to consider, as I write this in late 2010 that just over six years ago I didn't know Dan Boultwood. I'd never met him, I'd seen one book by him-the APC comic Comicana, and I could never have guessed the influence on my life that he was to become.
It was November 2004 when I first met Dan-I'd just started back in comics, had managed to score an X-Men comic as my 'return' and I was writing a three book graphic novel series based on Starship Troopers. My year had been pretty good, and at a convention a month earlier I’d had an opportunity to pitch a creator owned story called Mythlands to UK comic publisher APC. They'd liked the idea and over the phone had suggested that I meet with them in at the (short lived) Bristol Winter Comic Con of 2004-and, as it was a bit of a trek for me to make for just one evening, they'd even put me up on the Friday night in one of the rooms the company had booked up. I'd be able to come up, talk, crash over and then, the following day continue discussions while visiting the convention.
So, that cold November Friday evening I travelled down to Bristol, met with APC Comics in the Ramada Hotel Bar where I pitched the idea, discussed artists and in general drank in the bar on APC's dime. And over the evening I met Dan who, at the time was drawing Monster Club for them. Our first meeting was short-Dan came over to say hello before disappearing to a different section of the bar and as he stood there Rich Emms, the EiC of APC pointed out that Dan was the guy I'd be sharing a room with that night. We looked each other up and down, measuring each of us in our turn-was this a man that I would be happy standing in front of, in only a pair of underpants as we shared the hotel room? I wasn’t sure. And I started to work out when the last train home was. Dan, in his defence felt similarly, and was already trying to work out if he could swap rooms with Jim Suthern, one of the other APC artists. Neither of these back up plans came to fruition, thankfully.
So, the night went on, we drank more while discussing future publishing plans, around 11pm Dan came over to join us and eventually at 1am Rich Emms disappeared drunkenly to bed, and all that was left in the bar out of APC was Dan... and yours truly. And neither of us wanted to go to the bedroom with this stranger yet.
Luckily, we had assistance here-the bar staff, used to taking our drink orders throughout the night on one particular APC-booked room seemed happy to continue doing so, even without the EiC there. And so we gathered a few rounds in, sat down and started to get to know each other. We found out rapidly that we had the same sense of humour, we hated the same creators, loved the same books, and after a couple of hours, if I recall correctly it was about four in the morning, Dan looked at the television that was on the wall beside us in the bar (showing some advert that had a 1940’s style car in it) and said wistfully 'I want to draw a comic that has that car in it.'
And then, after a pause he continued with ‘and a monkey. In a fez.'
The Gloom original pages published in 2005 by APC
I too wanted to see him draw this book. I would buy it. And then I realised-I could write it.
For the next two hours, fuelled by adrenaline, alcohol and youthful exuberance, sitting alone in a deserted hotel bar and with nothing more than napkins to work on, we planned out the story that was to become The Gloom. We decided early on that we wanted to create a parody, something Mel Brooks would be proud of. We wanted it set during World War Two, we wanted Nazis as bad guys and we wanted a science professor who was essentially a brain in a monkey's body-the fez covering the glass case that housed it. We wanted superheroes based on our childhood icons-The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Spirit, King of the Rocket Men, the Rocketeer, Flash Gordon, even Tarzan all found themselves in our crosshairs. We were going to write the best thing ever. And it would be different to the Shadow... he would be... The Gloom...
At six in the morning we staggered to bed, still talking about the book. A friendship had been created that night over a man in a greatcoat, firing bullets of pure hellfire in forties Manhattan. We had the image, the name, the characters-never had a book been fleshed out so much, so fast, so drunkenly.
And two hours later we were up once more, a couple of hours sleep nowhere near enough, dressed and making our way to the APC booth; and as we approached the booth at around nine in the morning we informed Rich with great excitement that we had his next book. To hell with Mythlands. To hell with the next Comicana book-we had the next big thing. We sat Rich down and, as I explained the story and literally described the first eight pages of the book panel by panel, Dan drew out a sketch of The Gloom and showed it. Rich looked at the picture. Looked at us.
And said 'I'm sold. Let's do it'.
I still have that sketch, gifted to me by Dan the same day.
The problem with stories like this though is that the ending isn't as good at the start. We spent six months creating the best book we could and in May 2005 the first issue came out to great reviews-Comics International editor Mike Conroy called it 'A Mel Brooks movie of a comic', one reviewer said 'Buy this book-sell a kidney if you have to' and the first issue sold out of its first printing. But then came printer delays, Diamond UK lost a box of comics and the various multitude of problems within APC itself came to light. By the time issue #3 was due out, the company had gone into liquidation. The Gloom was no more.
But the story still didn't end there.
From early 2006 until mid 2008 we tried hard to sort out what the deal with The Gloom was. There were two contracts floating about, one with us owning the rights again due to a long break between issues, the other with the now defunct APC still owning it due to a slightly altered clause. We put the first three issues online with The Chemistry Set while we heard time after time that Rich Emms wanted to put the book out as a collected hardback under a different publisher-but this never happened.
Eventually, in August 2008 we had the email that told us that APC was finally dissolved, and that we had our comic back-but the story still wasn't over, as Rich was repeatedly unable to provide us with the original art files we'd sent him several years earlier-the Hard disk that they were on was lost, and we spent almost a year trying to find them before we made the decision that we had to go on knowing that they were lost for good.
And, in June 2010, with at least half of the five issues missing artwork and none of the remaining pages more than web quality, we held a council of war where we decided what to do with The Gloom. Did we let it die? Or work on it again? We had five issues of script, but barely any artwork that was print-ready - and more importantly, Dan's style had changed immensely from the earliest days. We decided that to make this work, we would have to start from scratch. Re draw everything. And that's exactly what we did. And as we redrew it, I re-dialogued it, because just as Dan had progressed over the five years, so had I, and to be honest? We'd never been happy with the original APC lettering...
And the end result? Comes to MTV Comics on the 1st of February 2011-five pages of Gloom goodness that then gets added to every week, four pages each instalment with a two week 'season break' every issue. It'll be fun. It'll be that Mel Brooks movie of a comic that Mike Conroy once spoke of. People will sell their kidneys in droves to buy it. And you, dear reader, as you read these pages you'll know that this story, these characters? They weren't a rush job – for this has been years in the making.
I wonder what I did with that Mythlands pitch?