Posted by Decapitated Dan |

Deep Discussions with Decapitated Dan: Simon Spurrier pt. 1

I recently had a chance to talk to Simon Spurrier about his web comic Disenchanted from Avatar Press. Check it out:

Decapitated Dan: First of all let’s talk about you. Who are you and what do you do?

Simon Spurrier: Simon “Si” Spurrier, London based novelist and comicsist.  Which isn’t a word, but should be.

“Narrative wetworks” is what it says on my Twitter profile page, which takes up slightly less room than – but is synonymous with – “extremely pompous writer.”

I’ve a passel of novels under my belt – the most recent was A Serpent Uncoiled – and more comics than you can shake a longbox at. Probably best known for my Marvel work (I’m the ongoing writer on X-Men Legacy), but exceedingly proud of my creator owned work: Six-Gun Gorilla, Numbercruncher etc.

DD: How did you find yourself getting into making comics?

SS: Pretty late in the game. Didn’t read my first comic until I was about sixteen (Judge Dredd Vs Batman, believe it or not). I’d always been a bit obsessed by stories and language – that began earlier than I can remember – and finding comics was liking discovering a whole new area in the playground.

I spent some time submitting ideas to the UK’s 2000AD, which remains the only serious publisher with a slot in its anthology lineup dedicated to finding and publishing new writers. Took me a long time to ditch my teenage arrogance (I was 17 at the time) and start actually paying attention to the advice the editor included in his rejection letters. I got my first gig shortly after that.

DD: Before we fully dive into it, where can we find Disenchanted online, and where can readers find out more about this book?

SS: Same answer to both questions:  The aim with this beast was to provide not only an awesome and compelling webcomic (completely free-to-air, by the way) but to saturate the reader with so much world-building extra material they can keep exploring to their heart’s content.  It’s a whole new way of approaching speculative fiction, I think.

Anyway: you’ll find everything you need at that site.

DD: So what can you tell me about Disenchanted? What’s it all about?

SS: Disenchanted is about various different characters – most of them members of the same extended family – living in a seething, claustrophobic, strife-torn city called Vermintown. It’s a melting pot of racial tensions, crime, drugs, prostitution, religious hatred – all the things you’d expect of a modern city where countless different ethnicities live side by side. The central clan – the Leveret family – are strangers in a strange place: trying to reconcile the traditions and cultures of their people with the hardships and temptations of the city.

The twist is that this isn’t some regular city full of immigrants fleeing poverty and persecution. It’s a miniature metropolis built out of soda cans, cereal boxes and milk cartons. It’s been built in an abandoned subway station beneath the streets of London: a secret, forgotten, underground place. And its inhabitants are all the little people of European folklore: goblins, piskies, brownies, faeries, kobolds, leprachauns and so forth. Collectively, “the glamoured”. Magical, morose, fading away. The human world has forgotten about them so they’ve clustered together in this deadly, grim, gritty city to try and make sense of their own lives and find a way to survive the future.

DD: Who are the main characters?

SS: Three generations of the Leveret family. We’ve got the youths: the twins Fig and Tael. Both of them are reacting to the melting-pot of the city in very different ways: one of them spiralling into delinquency and crime, the other being drawn towards religious fanaticism. Their father is Stote: a community leader, stalwart and decent, trying his best to keep his family together and observe the traditional ways. But he’s full of pent-up rage and disappointment, and finds unexpected employment with organised criminal elements.

Stote’s sister – the boys’ aunt – is Sal. She’s a member of the city’s militia: a cop. She’s a genuinely kickass woman, but she’s uncertain about the righteousness of some of her work, and she’s romantically entangled in all the wrong ways.

And finally, Tibitha: the elderly matriarch. She’s supposed to be the community’s spiritual leader – a priestess, of sorts – but she’s tired of the same old nonsense and in her own way has been more corrupted (or liberated) by Vermintown than any of them.

DD: Where did this idea come from? Were you into specific titles growing up that lead you to want to create a comic like this?

SS: Like almost all ideas, it was just a collection of thoughts and fascinations which one day achieved critical mass. I’ve always been fascinated by folklore – in fact most writers usually are, because myths and legends at root are simply stories which were once articles of faith but have now faded away – and it’s difficult to live in London without being obsessed by what it means to coexist with a city. It’s got a lot to do with the way urban life both homogenises and divides all at once, which sounds paradoxical but isn’t. You can’t exist as a stranger in a city without eventually having to make a choice: whether to embrace the variety or shut yourself away from it.  My feeling is that the future – which is increasingly urbanised – will see the decay of superstition from one end of the spectrum, but a construction of a new kind of mythology at the other.

At any rate, all these thoughts and contemplations got muddled together and I idly wondered what it would be like down “at the coalface”, as it were. If the rationalist century is killing-off our faiths and superstitions, and we’re not yet sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, how must it feel actually be one?

DD: Why go webcomic on this over print? Looking at how you pitch the book on your blog, tell me about this world building that you are setting up for the readers.

SS: It’s a model we’ve trialled very successfully at Avatar before. We find that by making the episodes available for free online, every week, we develop a loyal and vociferous following which comes out in its droves to buy the tpb when we print that up every six months. Maybe that’s because people like to own an artefact, maybe it’s because they’d rather read a story in print than on a screen, maybe it’s just that Avatar readers are awesome – who knows. But it works.

With Disenchanted we decided to go one step further. We realised early on that the story is only one side of the, well, the story. The world which I’ve created for this stuff is so intricate and so fascinating we realised we could make that a feature of the webcomic experience. So as well as the weekly episodes we’ve launched a mind-breakingly epic map (it took aaaaages to complete) and a huge new wiki containing information on every aspect of Vermintown. We’re going to be updating them both constantly as we move forwards.

The aim is quite simply to make Disenchanted a completely immersive experience. So even when
you’ve finished reading this week’s comicbook episode, you’ve got plenty of other information to go and explore.

DD: If you were to give this book a movie style rating (G, PG, PG-13, R,  X) what would it get, and why would you say that?

SS: It’s prrrobably an R (in UK parlance it’d be either a 15 or an 18). It differs from Crossed in that there’s no too much visceral bodyshock horror (although there are several incidents of pretty brutal violence), but there’s a lot of bad language and drug taking, and one or two raunchy scenes.

DD: So in summary give me a quick recap on Disenchanted and why fans should give it a try.

SS: I’ll leave you with the elevator pitch:  It’s The Borrowers meets Deadwood.  Or Fern Gulley meets The Wire – whichever you prefer.

It’s a completely new take on urban fantasy, and it’s set to be very, very, very epic.

Come back next week to read part 2 of this interview, when Simon and I talk about Crossed!