With this week seeing the second snotty issue of Punks Not Dead smashing into comic book stores like a drunk Jello Biafra, I lobbed over a few questions to punk lovin’ writer, David Barnett and artist Martin Simmonds, to learn more about the ghost of Sid Vicious, supernatural sleuth and sixties Mod, Dorothy Culpepper and, Fergie, our would-be hero’s, homelife, which is far from ideal. ‘Kes’ meets ‘Supernatural’ with a touch of Fat Wreck Chords in the mix, too.
Olly MacNamee: When our main protagonist, schoolboy Fergie Ferguson, first meets the ghost of Sid Vicious he’s trapped at Heathrow Airport where he’s been for 4 decades. Why does he end up trapped in this particular Purgatory?
David Barnett: Well, to hear Sid say the story, when he died back in 1979, his mum brought his ashes back to London but tripped up in Heathrow Airport, and his remains were sucked into the aircon system. Which meant that Sid’s spirit was trapped in the airport. Anyone who’s had a delayed flight will realise how hellish that is going to be. The thing is, Sid’s a bit of an unreliable narrator of his own story, and possibly through no fault of his own. He’s not necessarily who he thinks he is, and the journey towards that realisation is going to be part of the ongoing story, and to finding out just exactly who – or rather, what – he is.
OM: Dante’s Inferno gets a brief mention. Are we to see Sid more as a spirit guide, akin to Dante’s own guide, Virgil? Or, is he something much more?
DB: As we just discussed, Sid’s true nature is going to come out eventually. But there is a sense that Fergie’s a little bit adrift because he’s 15 and he’s starting to be curious about the father he never knew. His mum Julie won’t – or maybe can’t – say too much about this big question mark in Fergie’s life. Perhaps Fergie latches on to Sid as a father figure in some way… but we rapidly find out that this is going to be a very, very bad idea. Fergie’s already stepping up to the plate to be more of an adult than he should be thanks to Julie’s (mostly unintentional) flakiness; does he have to keep Sid in check as well now?
OM: Fergie’s home life isn’t what you’d call average, now is it?
DB: Not at all. Julie drags him around daytime TV talk shows and makes him appear in magazines, telling increasingly outrageous lies just to turn a quick buck. Julie’s very fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants in parenting terms, but one thing is clear; she absolutely loves Fergie to bits and would die before letting him get hurt. Though maybe she’s not really thought about the emotional trauma she’s putting him under. Julie’s past, and Fergie’s father, will eventually play a big part in this story.
OM: While we only dip our toe into the supernatural elements of this book, we do get to meet Dorothy Culpepper and the shady Department of Extra-Usual Affairs. What can you tell us about her, and her organisation? This is clearly a world in which the supernatural is well known, even if it is hushed up by successive governments, it would seem.
DB: Dorothy and DfEUA are the British security services’ dirty little secret, mainly because there’s an awareness of paranormal and supernatural threats but nobody really wants to have to sit down and deal with them, because that would involve actually believing in stuff that people would much rather just brush under the carpet. Fortunately, Dorothy’s been doing this a long time – a very long time – and does such a good job that no-one else in power has to think about it too much. Of course, out of nowhere she’s now been assigned a junior agent, Asif Baig… but why? Maybe it’s not necessarily going to be to Dorothy’s advantage.
OM: Martin, how much input did you have in the visuals of the characters? I love that Culpepper is a product of the Sixties, but hasn’t relinquished that decade’s fashions, one bit.
Martin Simmonds: David described Dorothy as a little like Emma Peel from The Avengers crossed with Eastenders’ Dot Cotton, and that’s pretty much how she ended up! Of course, Shelly (Bond) provided invaluable guidance on 60s mod fashion, in fact, my inbox was drowning in cool reference images to draw inspiration from! If I’m totally honest, I also drew inspiration from an old work colleague of mine, who shall remain nameless. She was also a hard-nosed, chain-smoking tough-nut, so she sprang to mind instantly.
OM: How much is music at the heart of this book? For both of you?
MS: Music has played a huge part in the creation of Punks Not Dead, both in the storyline (there’s some amazing revelations to come!), and as a direct influence on the artwork. Aesthetically, there’s also opportunity to draw influence from a whole host of iconic album art and design, which for me growing up, was a big influence on what I would buy. Great packaging, cool artwork, and holding that vinyl in your hands is all part of the experience, and something that you don’t really get from digital purchases and streaming services. The obvious examples of iconic punk design that spring to mind are Jamie Reid’s work with the Sex Pistols, Winston Smith’s Dead Kennedy’s artwork, and all those photocopied punk fanzines and flyers that shaped the DIY aesthetic, but there’s so many other styles of music/artwork/packaging that has infiltrated the look of this book. Keep reading, and some of those influences will become apparent.
DB: Music is the foundation that this book is built on. It’s absolutely essential to the entire being of the story, for reasons that can’t really be gone into in depth at this stage. But through Fergie and Sid and Dorothy and Asif we’ll be peeling more layers back and there’ll be a realisation that everything is to do with music at some level.
OM: And finally, guys, what are the wider issues and broad brushstrokes you’ll be exploring over this series? How far down the road have you planned.
MS: Not sure what we can divulge, but what I can say is that there are some amazing, freaky times ahead with Punks Not Dead, and I’ll be as happy as a pig in sh*t when we get to tell it.
DB: There’s at least four arcs of this planned, which tell one big story. We’ll be looking at a lot of issues, not least the generational divide between Dorothy, Sid and Fergie…at least two of those characters are stuck in the past and Fergie is trying to look to the future. Fergie’s search for his father will be a major part of the second arc and then we get into a situation of be careful what you wish for. There’ll also be a lot of surprises in the future…we’ll be redrawing the battle lines and reconfiguring people’s ideas of who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in all of this. But it’ll also be a huge amount of fun along the way.
Punks Not Dead #2 is out this week from Black Crown at IDW.