MTV Geek: How did you get involved with MTV Comics?
Tony Lee: Luck, a well placed meeting and a solid pitch, to be honest. During San Diego I was talking to Sean O'Reilly of Arcana Studios about another project that I was working with Alaina Huffman on, AGENT MOM. We arranged a meeting so that the Huffmans could meet Sean and a possible artist. It was a 'meet and greet' more than anything and we arrange to sit down in the Omni hotel bar.
Now, the Omni hotel bar is also the meeting location of choice, not just because those in the know can get into the level six WIRED cafe and have free drinks and wifi, so when we arrived, there were already half a dozen other small meetings and interviews going on. While we were there waiting to start, Sean (who I've known for several years) saw MTV Geek head honcho Tom Akel, who was there for another of these many meetings and, as we were both early we sat together and chatted. In the main it was discussing AGENT MOM going onto MTV, something that I believe will be happening next month, but when the meeting ended, Tom and I traded cards and promised to chat about a couple of things, one of which was THE GLOOM, which I'd mentioned in passing, and Tom had picked up on.
A month later I'm talking on the phone to Tom about AGENT MOM and he asks to see what we have of THE GLOOM. We didn't have a great deal, but we sent it over and within a couple of hours we had Tom back on the phone saying that MTV loved it and wanted to run it on the site. Our one condition however was that Dan was allowed to totally redraw from scratch, changing the look of the entire book. We sent some samples, concepts of how Dan saw the new style, and MTV and Tom agreed that it was far better.
In a strange twist of fate, Dan (who had also met Alaina at the same UK convention I had) was picked form a crowd of artists to draw AGENT MOM around this time, so in the space of a week Dan and I found ourselves working on two MTV comics at the same time!
Geek: What is “The Gloom” about?
TL: Well, it's altered over the years, but it's very much, as Comics International once said a 'Mel Brooks Movie of a comic'. It's a parody, a pastiche, Dan and I taking things mad making fun with them, but not of them. We both grew up on serials like King Of The Rocketmen and Flash Gordon, the old Movie serials from the Saturday morning matinees and we wanted to perform a homage to them, but at the same time put our own spin onto it. Also, Dan really wanted to draw a monkey with a fez, and we felt this was a more fantastical element that was better suited to improbable humour.
The Gloom is the story of Carson Kane, millionaire industrialist from 1940's Manhattan who, on a trip to Africa with his friends (including his High School Professor) are attacked by the carnivorous chimps of M'Bunga. While escaping, Carson finds a temple where the Angel OF Vengeance waits for the next person to take up his sword. Carson agrees to become the next spirit of vengeance in return for the saving of The Professor - but all that's left is his brain, so the Angel places it in the body of a dead monkey. And covers it with a glass bowl. And a fez. No, really. And Carson returns to Manhattan with the sword, which has morphed into two Hellfire Pistols.
This is all backstory, the tale itself is six months later, and Carson and his manservant Tiny patrol the streets at night, Carson with a hat and coat on, dispensing justice as the Gloom, his two pistols only firing at the guilty. But, when Nazis arrive in New York, he knows that there are shenanigans afoot and soon discovers a plot to fly a Zeppelin loaded with atomic terror into an international Allied meeting at Yankee Stadium...
Of course there's more to the tale than just that - Mousey Blonde, Carson's love interest turns out to be Vixen La Fox, investigative reporter, his friend Jack Kansas is really the villainous Vermillion and heroes like Doc Adventure and Turbine, the Flying Man are taking the fight to the streets, stopping the jackbooted heel of the Nazi menace before their shenanigans truly begin...
Geek: “The Gloom” was first published by APC…how is the MTV Comics version the same/different? Is there new material?
TL: Well the problem was that back in 2005, APC collapsed before issue 3 came out. They also did a rather bad job of advertising THE GLOOM - issue one sold out, but issue two wasn't distributed to the shops, some had it, others didn't, it was a nightmare. Also, Dan and I weren't happy with the lettering, the layout, our own writing and art - and as the years went on, we wanted more than anything to start again and do it better.
This version, THE GLOOM 2.0 is bran new and never seen before. We went through the script, updating it, re writing chunks - the most telling thing about the first draft was that it was a six part story that then became five - but we re wrote it and then Dan re drew it and then I re lettered it. Nothing from the original is the same here. And because we've had 100% control this time, it looks and feels a whole lot better, reads better and I think anyone who reads it will see that we've enjoyed this far more.
Geek: You’ve worked on both print and webcomics…what are the unique advantages/challenges of each? Do you see yourself doing more webcomics in the future?
TL: With a comic you're always worrying about the 'right hand page turn' - when you turn a page, the reader's eyes always draw to the right first, so any major splash page surprises would always be on a left page, so that the audience don't know what's happening before it does - but with a webcomic, every page is a right hand turn. Also, double page splashes are pointless.
I also like the fact that it's serialised. Each 22 page 'chapter' is spread over five weeks, five pages, three weeks of four pages and a final week of five ending in a cliffhanger that then gives a week break before starting the next one. It's back to the matinees again and we quite like that. The reader still gets 22 pages a month for five months or so and the story gets told, but it's a regular drip feeding and we like that.
As for challenges, it's mainly the promoting. When I did WHERE EVILS DARE for Zuda in 2009 I spent the whole month hawking myself. Now, I'm a media whore with the best of them, but even that left me burned out. And when we first considered THE GLOOM as a webcomic, when we started it on The Chemistry Set, we pimped it out everywhere for minimal response.
Hopefully this time, with the backing of MTV, we can get a solid reader base.
Geek: Are there any plans to put this latest “Gloom” into print?
TL: Definitely. As we speak we're discussing options with a couple of publishers about the collected trade, and as soon as we have an agreement between Dan and myself and the publisher, we'll announce it. But currently it's all about the serial, and the MTV site.
Geek: What is it like collaborating with Dan Boultwood?
TL: He's a brother to me. We live about a mile apart, are on the phone daily, and spend a lot of social time together. And because of this we're on the same wavelength when it comes to insanity like THE GLOOM. The last six months have been insane for us, we're doing THE GLOOM, four BAKER STREET IRREGULARS books, DANGER ACADEMY for Kickstart and AGENT MOM for MTV, and it's difficult to remember what we're doing on any particular day, but in the last year he's come on in leaps and bounds. he's definitely one of the most professional artists I know out there - which might surprise a few people who believe they know the 'old' Dan Boultwood, but anyone who works a 32 hour day just to ensure a deadline isn't missed is a star in my book.
He of course hates my guts.
Geek: You have another MTV Comic coming up later in the year with Alaina Huffman, “Agent Mom” – can you tell us anything about that?
TL: In May 2010 we were at a convention with Alaina 'Stargate Universe, Smallville' Huffman and her husband John and, while talking she mentioned an idea for a book she wanted to write. We kept in touch after and a month or so later I took a look at something another, non-comics writer had written for her. I gave my notes, they were copious and John and Alaina agreed and made me the offer to come on board, writing toe comic with her. I came up with a name, AGENT MOM - and from there Alaina took it and ran with it.
Alaina was a young mother, and Agent Mom was a teen Mom, so the MTV fit was there from the very beginning. It's ALIAS meets TRUE LIES meets CHUCK, it's a kick ass woman in a super suit saving the world while balancing her home life, with a family who have no knowledge of who she really is - while keeping their own secrets. And it's a bundle of fun writing it.
I believe that it's on MTV from March.
Geek: What are you currently doing for other publishers that you’re particularly proud of, and what’s coming up next?
TL: Countless things! The new DOCTOR WHO series has just started, and people seem to really like it, in March the next book in my Heroes and Heroines line comes out - EXCALIBUR: THE LEGEND OF KING ARTHUR - the first one, ROBIN HOOD won a ton of awards so it'll be interesting to see what happens here.
In May Dan and I have four SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS books out from Franklin Watts / Hachette - I'm not too sure who the US publisher is yet - these are edited by Leslie Klinger, who's the most knowledgeable 'Sherlockian' alive at the moment, so these are truly 'in canon' books, around the same time I have a book out in the Middle East with Ant Jones and Puppeteer Lee called SALADIN 2100 with Aranim Publishing, I believe it's the first Middle Eastern sci fi comic ever or something like that.
And finally, around June Dan and I have a book with Kickstart, DANGER ACADEMY - it's effectively the finishing academy for the kids of every spy you've ever read / seen in the movies or on TV. And again, it's a ton of fun.
After that, it all goes a little hazy!