Interview with Steve Tanner of Flintlock!!
The staff of the great comic book Flintlock is doing another fundraiser for their second book! I was lucky to get an interview with Steve Tanner, the writer of Flintlock. In the first book, there were three illustrators- Anthony Summey, Lorenzo Nicoretta, and Ed Machiavello. Bolt-01 is the letterer, and the book is distributed by Time Bomb Comics (www.timebombcomics.com).
I’m excited to see what the second book has in store! This is Steve’s interview.
Brian Barr: I loved the first issue of Flintlock and I’m looking forward to the second issue. I also love how you have one half of the comic about a highwaywoman in Europe, and the second half about an Indian pirate queen. Since there is more of a focus on Carribean and Western piracy in a lot of fiction I’ve read, what are the major influences behind Shanti, The Pirate Queen?
Steve Tanner: Well, first of all, I’m really pleased you did like Book One! Before launching the series there was a thought that reading an anthology series entirely set in the 18th Century perhaps was something only I’d be interested in, so it’s been very heartening that looks not to be the case. Coupled with that of course, is the intent that the lead characters are not just women but solid and realistic representations of women – something that’s not seen as much in comics as they should be. The women in the Flintlock timeline aren’t scantily clad, they’re not overly sexualized – they’re adventure characters who happen to be female in a challenging real-world inspired environment. The 18th Century wasn’t a progressive time, quite the opposite, so the Flintlock characters are square pegs in round holes dealing with the social mores and limitations of their era as well as their own personal motivations.
Shanti the Pirate Queen is the perfect example of that. We all think we know what pirates are about, but really our knowledge is based on a part-historical, part-romanticised blurring of the truth. So, most of us have a very Pirates of the Caribbean understanding of piracy, with all the treasure chests, eye patches, hook hands and lashings of yo-ho-ho. A lot of that has come through one or two key historical figures – Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Calico Jack – diluted through fiction. There’s nothing wrong with that, the traditional image we now have of a pirate is a wonderfully entertaining one, but we also now have the perception that pirates were just causing havoc around the Caribbean islands for the most part.
That couldn’t be further from the truth – the early 18th Century was the golden age of piracy and it was a global phenomenon. Shanti is a reflection of that. Her adventures are set around the Indian Ocean – as far from the West Indies as you can get! Looking at history, the life of the real female pirate captain Mrs Cheng is fascinating and remarkable, so I was keen to capture the flavour of some of her escapades. Shanti is also an attempt to present something different – a South Asian leading character, which in itself has caused a huge amount of interest and it’s fair to say a bit of surprise when people read her first story and realized how ruthless she is!
BB: You’re currently doing a fundraiser for the second comic. Just to let more people know about it, what are your goals and your plans?
Steve Tanner: I’m using Kickstarter as very much a pre-order business model, and I think it’s important to highlight that. It’s difficult to get an Indie book noticed, even harder to get them into the comics stores, so I’m finding crowd-funding an interesting alternative route to market. That strategy dictates the campaign – my financial target is always low, the postage is worked out at cost, and the base book price is cheaper than it will be after publication.
For several years I was very anti-Kickstarter, but then I realized that my issues weren’t based around the platform itself but how it was being used by some of those adopting it. For example, I was seeing books sold at two or three times the price they would be when at the convention tables or the funding targets were so astronomically high as to be ridiculous. And don’t get me started on the time is takes for some projects to deliver. To me, if someone has faith in your book to pay for it in advance they should be getting a better deal than those that buy off the shelf. Similarly, if your project is funded you’ve essentially entered into a contract with all those who’ve helped you do that – so then going off and working on something else and making those good people wait much longer than they expected to is just wrong. You’ve received the money, you’ve been paid for the job, now go and do it. No excuses.
So I’m conscious of these things when running the Flintlock campaigns. That’s why regardless of the level you pledge at with the current Flintlock Book Two preorder campaign your digital or printed copy of the book will always cost less than cover price. The low overall target also means the stretch goals can be triggered earlier, so the opportunity to reward backers further then presents itself quicker. It’s about properly rewarding anyone who’s pre-ordered the book through the campaign, not penalizing them.
BB: Is your goal to have Flintlock as an ongoing series, or do you have a limit for how many issues it’ll be?
Steve Tanner: I’m committed to six books, published every six months or so over the next couple of years. By the end of Flintlock Book Six, the serialized Lady Flintlock story will be completed and five other leading characters will have been introduced all with their own stories within the specific 100 year timeline. Now, as great as it is that Flintlock has been received well – seriously, in my 9 years of putting out books through Time Bomb Comics I’ve never had such a positive reaction to a book – when you’re creating comics at a small indie level things are never easy. Just like any other regular title, the law of diminishing returns can hit hard. So at this stage I’m focusing on those first six books, and once Flintlock Book Six is released then I’ll see where things stand.
What is more defined is that once I’ve produced those first six books I’ll have a nicely diverse range of characters to play with; what I do with those characters is something I’m already starting to give thought to although it’s still early days yet. Really though I guess it’s ultimately down to the readership – as long as there’s an appetite for Flintlock I’m more than happy to feed it!
BB: The highwaywoman of Flintlock is also a fun character, and I like how you explore gender politics in European culture at the time. Are there any social issues along with gender politics in the 1700’s that you are addressing in Flintlock and its partner comic, Shanti? Can they relate to today?
Steve Tanner: I know I’ve touched upon this already but a lot of what inspired Flintlock is down to the gender politics of today rather than 300 years ago. Sure, many of the characters in the Flintlock stories will behave and react with 18th Century values and in many ways the culture of the time drives the stories. That can be a limitation – these characters can’t just behave like contemporary people wearing hats and wigs – but also provides a wealth of plot and interaction dynamics ripe for exploration.
But let’s look at where we are now, and how those characters are perceived today, because that’s a huge part of what I’m trying to do with Flintlock as a whole. At the series core, Flintlock is about telling adventure stories using comics as the medium to tell them. Beyond that, though, is an effort to bring characters to comics that we don’t usually see. On the one level that’s through the character roles – highwaymen, pirates, thief-takers and the rest are familiar figures but largely unexplored in comics. However, there’s also who we have assuming those roles and how they’re being portrayed. Lady Flintlock and Shanti the Pirate Queen are presented as realistic women in realistic situations. You’re not going to see either of those characters gazing at you seductively on the cover in a state of undress. I promise you, that’s never going to happen. Female characters in comics have become ridiculously over-sexualized, so the Flintlock female leads are an intended push back against that. What’s been a really cool and unexpected is because of this approach Flintlock is finding a large female audience, despite not being intended as a comic “for women”. The feedback I’m getting about Flintlock from female comics readers is overwhelmingly positive, they’re enjoying reading the stories and they don’t have to get past any male fantasy of what women look like and how they behave in the first place.
What’s going to be interesting is how the other Flintlock leads will be received once they’re introduced. None of them fall into that standard stereotype of a heroic male between 25 – 35. They’re all quite different I think, but fit perfectly into the 18th Century backdrop their stories will be told in. The Clockwork Cavalier is an good example of that, a mechanical man recruited into the Bow Street Runners [the world’s first organized police force] to fight crime. The Cavalier is the closest we get to the recognized hero figure, the others are not even close.
I do love the time period and its one of my favorites in fiction. Along with historical fiction, what are other genres you gravitate towards as a creator?
Steve Tanner: As with any of the other mediums, my tastes are wide-ranging and eclectic. Creatively I feel comfortable with the horror genre, if I do a short story it’s likely to be a horror tale. I’m a believer that horror fiction has to be horrific too, so the horror stuff I have done has been quite dark and unsettling. I love the whole Steampunk genre, and I’ve been tinkering with a steampunk inspired graphic novel for the last few years. One thing that doesn’t excite me creatively is superheroes, although I’ve read and enjoyed thousands of superhero comics myself.
BB: As a writer, who are your biggest influences?
Steve Tanner: I was lucky enough to be going through my earlier years just as lots of exciting stuff was happening with comics, so I was reading Watchmen, Swamp Thing, Warrior and all that kind of stuff as it was first coming out. Undoubtedly, Alan Moore made me not so much want to write comics – I’d been writing some terrible superhero stuff for fanzines in the early 80s – but he made me realize it was a viable thing to do. Before Moore, comics were really all about the artists and they were what anyone would ever really get excited about. Suddenly, it was the writer who was getting the attention and people were realizing that however pretty the visuals the story mattered. Pretty much since then whatever Alan Moore has written I’ve eagerly parted with my money for. He was the first comics creator I ever met, at the first comics convention I ever attended, so a huge fan.
Other than Moore I like a lot of the work that Garth Ennis has done, especially his war stories, but in particular True Faith, a contemporary social drama about religion that was serialized in the early nineties, collected, then banned for a number of years. There was nothing overblown, just hard-hitting dramatic storytelling. Finally there’s a load of unsung heroes – the unknown writers who produced weekly stories for the British comics of the seventies and eighties. To tell a story in 2 or 3 pages is a remarkable thing to be able to do, and those fast-paced adventure comics have undoubtedly left their mark on me.
BB: What was the process like in assembling a team for your comic?
Steve Tanner: A huge part of Flintlock’s success has been the artistic talent involved, no doubt about it. Putting the team together, the thing I was most conscious of was the setting and how that needed to be properly realized. It’s one thing to be able to draw a recognizable Batman – but a horse? Or a period street scene? Quite frankly, that’s not something that every artist would warm to.
Anthony Summey had recently drawn an incredibly detailed short story for the 2015 Bomb Scares anthology book, and it happened to have an 18th Century setting. As soon as I saw that I got in touch with him and offered him Lady Flintlock. Anthony’s a huge fan of the period so he was up for it and is doing an amazing job. There’s a whole Al Williamson/Alex Raymond feel about his artwork and that classic style of his is just beautiful.
Lorenzo Nicoletta came via the submissions pile. For a small set-up Time Bomb Comics receives a fair few submissions, either as completed works seeking publication or writers and artists sending through spec samples. So I have a potential talent pool that’s being regularly updated and Lorenzo’s work stood out as being a good fit for Shanti. He’s a really talented newcomer, and you can already see the progression in his work from Book One to Book Two. I had the pleasure of meeting him earlier this year as well, when he came over to England to be with me at a con. He’s a great bloke!
Edgard Machiavello was a combination of both those elements – I’d already seen his work previously and he’d also sent me some separate samples. There’s a dynamism to Ed’s style that seemed a perfect fit for The Clockwork Cavalier and pairing him up with that character has been spot on. The pages he’s producing are just remarkable. In Book Two the Cavalier story is set in and around St Paul’s Cathedral. That’s a location that would challenge the best of artists and Ed has, well, his pages for that are just jaw-dropping.
I’m also currently in discussions with a couple or other artists who I hope will be taking the reins for the upcoming new character storylines. These are both creators I’m a personal fan of, and they’ve come to me pretty much because of Flintlock Book One. They enjoyed the book and want to be involved, and I’ll be delighted if that works out.
\BB: Along with Flintlock, do you have any plans for other comic projects in the future?
Steve Tanner: Flintlock and the characters that are part of it are keeping me pretty busy at the moment, although I’m trying to find time to squeeze a couple of other things into the mix. I’m working on a historical horror romp – Dick Turpin and the Vengeful Shade – with artist Roland Bird and editor Paul H Birch that is coming together nicely, and there’s the aforementioned Steampunk comic. I’m also part of the organization team that produces the annual Birmingham Comics Festival and part of that next year involves a 3 day conference/convention, so that’s quite a major comics project to be involved with!
BB: Thank you for your time with the interview! Anything else you would like to share with readers?
Steve Tanner: I’ve been putting out comics now for 9 years and one of the joys has been to experience the wealth of talent that’s part of the comics community. Every now and again I see somebody – usually a demented blogger if I’m honest – claiming that the comics industry is dead and nobody’s interested in comics anymore. That couldn’t be further from the truth, the work that’s being produced in the comics medium – particularly from the indie and smaller presses – is both humbling and remarkable, and anyone passing it by – especially if they’re rushing to get that latest limited relaunch variant cover – is really missing out. Whether it’s Flintlock or something else that takes your fancy, don’t ignore indie comics – there are some great comics being published if you look for them!
Please support the Flintlock Book II fundraiser at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1815843378/flintlock-book-two?ref=category_location