Talking To Ian Edginton And Matt Brooker About The Triumphant Return Of ‘Stickleback’ To 2000AD
by Olly MacNamee
Victorian London crime lord, Stickleback, has returned to the pages of 2000AD after a 6 year hiatus With his true identity revealed to be none other than Sherlock Holmes, what next for this master criminal and master tactician? We caught up with co-creators Ian Edginton and Matt Brooker, aka, D’Israeli ahead of this week’s prog, to talk about steampunk,lietrary influences, Easter eggs and more…
Olly MacNamee: The most obvious question to one with, I suppose, is why the six year wait between series?
Ian Edington: It was really just one of those things. Time kind of got away from us. Matt and I did some more Scarlet Traces, then he did a Witchfinder mini-series for Dark Horse which was part of the Hellboy universe. In the meantime I had other stuff come along not least of which were the Iron Maiden series ‘Legacy of the Beast’ and ‘Night City’. Before you know, time’s flown!
Matt Brooker: Mostly it was because Rebellion bought Scarlet Traces from us and then wanted more Scarlet Traces series to flesh out the property. Also, I took over a year out to work for Dark Horse on Witchfinder, so poor old Stickleback got pushed to the back of the queue..
OM: Talk about keeping this idiot in a state of suspense! Stickleback was revealed to be the one and only Sherlock Holmes, but with this revelation now behind us, what next to look forward to in this new series?
IE: It marks a new chapter for the character and the story. Without giving to much away, Holmes is not the man he once was. As Stickleback, he’s been through a transformative experience, well several actually and he’s come out the other side a changed man. He’s come back from a very dark place and it’s altered him. He’s still fundamentally a good man but he’s going to use those skills and experiences he’s accrued as Stickleback to fight crime and the evil that abounds in his world. He’s also joined by his former criminal compatriots, Miss Scarlet, Black Bob, Little Tim and Ms. Moody Various.
Miss Scarlet especially will take on more of a Dr Watson role in the stories to come, more so in fact. In the years I’ve been writing her, she’s grown from being just one of the gang to a strong, opinionated and resourceful character in her own right. Matt and I have a great fondness for her. She could easily carry the series if it ever came to it.
OM: Ian, you clearly have a great love of late 19th literature as well as the more contemporary genre and culture of steampunk too. It informed the amazing Scarlet Traces saga you also did in collaboration with Matt. And, both certainly help inform Stickleback too. But, where did this fascination first come from and how has it helped you when coming to plot this new series?
IE: It began in my early teens, back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth and there were only three channels on the telly. I’d been hit with a nasty bout of glandular fever and was off school for months, so I read and read and read. I went through a lot of science fiction, fantasy and horror but I also the complete Sherlock Holmes, MR James, HG Wells and so on. There’s no doubt that it all went on to inform and shape my future writing.
OM: Your work is often crammed full of Easter eggs. Having read the first two parts to this new saga, I can see this new series is no different. But, if I were to want to read a few choice texts around this new series, what could I pick up?
IE: Blimey, I wouldn’t really know where to start. Reading the first trade collection would be handy as in the current series we come full circle and reintroduce characters and set-ups from back then that tie up a number of plot threads. The books have have come in really handy over the years writing Stickleback are London Under London by Richard Trench and Ellis Hillman and London As It Might Have Been by Felix Barker and Ralph Hyde. I’d also recommend looking at the work of British Folklorist, Katherine Briggs.
MB: I think the main one would be HP Lovecraft’s Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos. Reading the Sherlock Holmes story ‘The Final Problem’ would help to understand this series. Since we also use ‘The Judas Silver’, it’s worth checking online for some of the folklore that grew up around the Judas story, especially the account by Papias of Hierapolis – it’s amazing and horrible/hilarious.
OM: And, do you both come up with the varied references to include? There is a great breakdown of past Easter eggs on your blog, Matt, I noticed, suggesting the answer to this one is an affirmative?
IE: We don’t really confer on what we’re going to include, we both just sneak things in!
MB: Ian comes up with the bulk of it but I add the odd extra here and there. So there’s a panel in Scarlet Traces: Thrupenny Opera with all these plant/monsters – different versions of the Triffids, plant monsters from Dr. Who and so on – and I found some really obscure additions to that set. I notice now on the same page that there’s a museum display of armour and I added the then (2015) relatively-obscure Infinity Gauntlet to the display! The biggest addition I can think of comes at the very end of the new series, where I spotted how to add some Leviathan references that Ian had missed, so keep an eye out for that.
OM: Looking at some of the art adorning your blog – albeit from a few years back now – I can see the gothic etchings of Piranesi at work, and you are on record as mentioning Alberto Breccia as a big influence too. But, who else has influenced you on Stickleback?
MB: Alberto Breccia’s work on the graphic novel Perramus is a huge and obvious influence on the whole look and finish of Stickleback. I’ve blogged about that extensively and been glad to be able to use my work to bring Breccia to more people’s attention (in the English-speaking world, he was always well-known in the Spanish-speaking and Francophone markets!). Perramus has finally been translated into English, so if you’re into Stickleback I thoroughly recommend taking a look.
From the point of view of layouts and storytelling, I think Stickleback owes a lot to Mick McMahon, especially his classic Slaine: Sky Boats series. And the backgrounds owe a bit to a guy called John Glashan, who was an amazing artist/cartoonist who painted Turner-esque landscapes and cityscapes in watercolour, ink, red wine and coffee dregs!
OM: And, how did you finally settle on this particularly striking style of black and white art, Matt all that while back?
MB: Stickleback came about ten years after I’d started working on computer, and I’d always been looking to do something more than just putting colour or grey tones onto black & white line-work. With Leviathan, three years earlier, I’d hit on using grey linework, which along with the extensive use of tones generally, gave the strip a very distinctive look. But by 2006, when I came back to 2000 AD to do Stickleback, everybody was doing the grey tone thing and I wanted something more. I’d been playing about with digital collage, photographing different textures and processing them for use in images. As I mentioned, Breccia’s Perramus was key to working this out, particularly to understanding that you didn’t need to warp everything into place to create a realistic 3D effect, you could go a bit more expressionist and it was really powerful. It didn’t hurt that while I was working on series one, I was living in a little flat on The Grassmarket in Edinburgh, so I could easily pop out and collect all these cool brick/stone/cobble/tile textures – in fact the roof tile texture I use so often was photographed out of our kitchen window without ever having to leave the flat.
It’s a tribute to 2000 AD’s eclectic nature that I was able to get away with doing Stickleback the way I did – I mean, for all Matt Smith (editor of 2000AD) knew, Stickleback was going to look like Leviathan, so episode 1 must have been a bit of a shock! If I’d tried that shit with Vertigo, they’d have fired me on the spot – possibly out of a cannon 🙂
OM: One of my first ever comic-conventions I covered as a fledgling blogger had you and Matt as special guests. Both then and in the intervening years, it’s clear you have a great friendship and loyalty as well as being great collaborators. So, how does that work in practice?
Ian: I’ll come up with the storyline and bounce it off Matt, we’ll throw some more ideas around and then I’ll get to scripting. We’ve lived in each others heads for so long now that it’s become second nature.
MB: Every so often Ian will ring me up and we’ll have a chat about stuff – it’s usually about ten minutes on future plans and an hour about old Gerry Anderson TV series or classic Dr Who. Ian will consult me about his ideas for upcoming series, and I often pitch in ideas – maybe one in eight actually finds its way onto the page, which is a much higher hit-rate than I get anywhere else!
OM: Given that this whole story has run on and off since 2008, how much of your original plans are still in place and how much has changed?
IE: Stickleback was always meant to be Sherlock Holmes, that was always going to be the big reveal. How we got there changed a little bit along the way. There were detours and diversions but for the most part we knew where we were ultimately going to end up. We’re professionals, we know what we’re doing – honest!
OM: Matt, Ian, as ever thank you for your time, and all the best with Stickleback as well as your other strip, Ian, currently making its return in the pages of 2000 AD, Fiends of the Eastern Front. And Matt where can we find you popping up in the near future?
MB: I’m just starting a new series of Scarlet Traces for 2000 AD, so expect to see that popping up next year.
You can read the new Stickleback strip in the weekly 2000AD, out every Wednesday and catch up with past adventures through the 2000AD online store here. Although Volume 1 is currently out of stock in print.