Interview: The ‘Monster Fun’ Never Ends With Ned Hartley And Dan Boultwood

by Rachel Bellwoar

Any series that begins with a talking robot trying to hang on to a missile while being attacked by giants bats is a series worth your time, and that’s just the first panel of writer, Ned Hartley, and artist, Dan Boultwood’s, take on Steel Commando, for Monster Fun. The bi-monthly magazine is releasing it’s summer issue this month, and guess who got to ask Hartley and Boultwood a few questions over email?

Rachel Bellwoar: Ernie is a character who could frustrate the most patient of people. Why do you think he and Steel Commando make a good team (or do you think they make a good team)?

Ned Hartley: The Steel Commando is such a fun and brilliant idea – he’s a robot soldier, how cool is that? He’s such a wonderfully weird character that you need a more down-to-earth character like Ernie to balance him out a little bit. Ernie reacts a lot like I would in most situations, he is naturally quite scared, but he’s also naturally very hungry. His natural reaction is to try to find safety and also find a sandwich. Ernie is also a little bit lazy, which is also like me.

Because we want to keep the story going I keep putting Ernie into danger, and I feel a bit sorry for him. I think he’d rather be at home with a cup of tea to be honest. But he’s a kind and good person, so he keeps getting swept up in the Steel Commando’s amazing adventures.

Dan Boultwood: Ernie’s main role is to keep old Ironsides out of trouble, admittedly pretty much 100% unsuccessfully but it’s the thought that counts isn’t it. He’s only got Steel Commando’s best interests at heart (which purely coincidentally I’m sure also keeps Ernie away from any danger, funny that). He’s like a loveable, constantly hungry ever so slightly annoying puppy, we could all do with an Ernie in our lives!

RB: Where did the idea to do a crossover between Steel Commando and Black Max come from?

NH: We wanted to use as many cool characters as possible, and I just love Black Max. It was all editor Keith Richardson’s idea, he has all these great plans for how to use these fantastic characters. Keith is the real evil genius behind the operation… oh no, I’ve said too much.

DB: You’ve done it now, Ned!

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RB: Rather than reintroduce Black Max, Steel Commando features the next generation in Max Von Klorr’s daughter, Maxine. Logically this makes sense (Steel Commando took place during WWII and Black Max was set during WWI) but was it always the plan to introduce a new character (if one with ties to the past)?

NH: I think the timings of the strip meant that it wouldn’t have worked to bring back the original Black Max, and it meant that we could do something interesting with the character. I’m always a fan of updating characters and seeing what the next iteration of them might be. I love the Black Max comics, and I wanted to make sure that we introduced a character that had the same sense of weird menace, but with new, exciting powers.

RB: Speaking of new characters, where does Penny fit into all of this?

NH: [CLASSIFIED]

RB: Mark II may have been short lived, but how was it to get to redesign Steel Commando and imagine what the next model robot would look like?

NH: Well, I don’t think I’m spoiling anything to say that this isn’t the last you’ve seen of the Mark II. I found it really interesting to come up with an enemy that was the next iteration of the Steel Commando. He’s stronger, smarter and more advanced than the Steel Commando, so how is old Ironsides going to beat him? The look was totally down to Dan, and this is exactly what he is best at.

DB: Thanks Ned, I’m just happy I’m getting to draw robots running around punching things! I was in two minds of which way to go when I was doing the designs, something gritty or something cartoony. I think you can tell which way I went in the end, I wanted it to have a Saturday morning cartoon feel to it what with all the crazy action and situations Ned puts the gang through. I tried to reflect that with the designs by using smoother rounder lines for Steel Commando himself to make him friendlier and a more angular look for the Mark II, because he’s sharp and dangerous.

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RB: Military stories tend to deal in green and browns, not pastels. How did you come up with the color palette for this series?

NH: Dan is a genius at creating these bright, pop culture worlds that seem classic and modern at the same time. There’s no-one like him in the industry, and I’m really lucky to work with him. We’ve been good friends for years, and I’m just really glad we’ve finally got a chance to work together.

DB: You’ll make me blush, Ned! I really like old stuff from years ago, old films, old clothes, old books, old comics, all the old you can think of so I generally like to have a faded pastel and textured look to things when I colour them. I also like throwing some bright colours in there too to jazz it up a bit so I’ll overlay greens, blues, purples and pinks over panels to give them a bit of razzmatazz and make them punchier to the eye. It does sometimes mean that I sit there for hours trying to decide which is better between two almost identical shades of something but it usually comes out alright in the end. Art is all about experimentation after all!

RB: Steel Commando isn’t necessarily your typical robot either. For one thing, while his reactions are usually subdued, he does feel pain and say “ouch” when hurt. What’s the best part about writing or drawing Steel Commando?

NH: The best thing about writing him is that he’s a robot, so you can really have fun pulling him apart! In the first issue his head gets blown off the rest of his body and that was so much fun to write. Although, as you have pointed out, he does feel pain, so I feel a bit mean about that now. Maybe we should be nicer to him in upcoming issues? Nah!

DB: The best thing for me is getting to work with Ned, his scripts are so much fun to work on and I’m really happy that we’ve finally gotten the chance to work on something together that’s as awesome as Steel Commando!

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RB: Can we expect to see other characters from Lion or Thunder comics pop up in future installments?

NH: Oh yes! So many! We’ve got Johnny Future coming up next, and then [CLASSIFIED] and then after that there’s [CLASSIFIED] and [CLASSIFIED]. But I’ve already said too much, I can’t wait for everyone to see Dan’s brilliant designs!

DB: I can’t wait to see my designs too, Ned!

RB: Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Ned and Dan!

The Monster Fun Summer Special goes on sale August 3rd from Rebellion. Back issues of Monster Fun can be ordered here.

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