Ever had one of those projects you just couldn’t put down or let go of, no matter how hard things got? Something that grabbed you by the balls and wouldn’t let up until it was a a physical reality?That haunted you at night, like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, demanding revenge on all those who spurned it by making sure it got into print?
I have. My latest graphic novel from Markosia was just such a project. It’s called Bloodfellas and it’s a horror/crime mash up, set in the prohibition era of the 1930s, featuring zombie gangsters.
I first hit on the idea when my youngest daughter was being born. Not the most obvious place to dream up a horror story I know, but hey I was sleep deprived and there was a lot of blood involved, so you can forgive me if my twisted mind wandered.
They’d placed us in a hospital room that overlooked the morgue. As our new born child came into the world, I looked out of the window at the corpses leaving it. It struck me that a mortician would make an ideal fix ‘em up guy for Undead Gangsters on the wrong side of a gun battle. After all, the morticians spend a lot of time stitching up the corpses on their slabs, so a walking corpse would pose no problem.
This tiny germ of an idea grew into a story that I pitched to Desperado who had just resurrected the excellent anthology title Negative Burn. They really liked the story but before it could see print the anthology folded to the harsh economic realities of the comic market in the 00s.
By this point I’d realised that the world of the story was too rich to limit it to just one tale, this should be a series of hard boiled tales exploring a stark backdrop drenched in blood and shadows. I’d been working for Atomeka Press who put out the legendary A1 anthology and I approached them with the idea. They quickly snatched it up, then just as quickly went out of business too.
I touted the idea around a few publishers for the next couple of years all of whom made encouraging noises, none of whom bit. I even pitched it as a novel, at one point, to my then publishers Abaddon Books. They decided to go with another zombie novel instead, which became Way of the Barefoot Zombie.
The success of that novel attracted the attention of the British publishers Insomnia who commissioned Bloodfellas as a 90 page graphic novel. You can guess what happened next, that’s right – they went out of business. It seemed I had a publisher destroying idea on my hands, a cursed pitch that took down anyone who bought it. For a brief while I considered offering out my services to publishers as a way of taking down their rivals.
Then Harry Markos, head man at leading UK publishers Markosia phoned me to see if I still owned the rights to Bloodfellas now that Insomnia weren’t going to bring it out. I told him I did and he bought it sight unseen.
Finally I had a home for the work, but I was far from home and dry. The first creative team we put together fell apart within weeks of the script being completed. Harry and I soldiered on with the able assistance of talented writer and editor GM Jordan and eventually found a penciller in gifted newcomer Mick Trimble.
Mick is an adept story teller who went to great lengths to get the period detail right. His unique style was also perfect for recapturing the feel of the pre-code crime and horror comics that the story was paying homage to. Sadly, no sooner had Mick turned in his pages than our colourist quit on us, leaving the book high and dry once again.
Thanks to a recommendation from a contact of Mick’s we were able to get the astoundingly talented Aljoša Tomić on board. Colourists are the unsung heroes of comics, good colour in a graphic novel is the equivalent to a great sound track on a movie. Aljoša’s work on Bloodfellas elevated the work Mick and I had done and added greatly to the narrative. Mention should also be made of Dave Evans, editor and publisher of the award winning Futurequake, who helped on editorial duties and provided brilliant lettering as his alter ego Bolt-01.
When Markosia’s Editor in Chief Ian Sharman sent me the layouts of the finished book I could hardly believe it was going to happen. Given the project’s chequered history, I was waiting for the other shoe to fall. For an earthquake to strike the printer or a plague of man eating locusts or an outbreak of the Zombie Apocalypse. Let’s face it, anything was possible at this point.
So when I turned up at Bloodfellas’ launch at the London Super Comic Con a few weeks back, I hardly dared hope copies of the graphic novel would actually be waiting for me. But they were, it was finally a reality. What’s more we sold more than the combined sales of every other graphic novel and comic Markosia had on their stands for the whole weekend of the con.
Sometimes the hardships, pitfalls and discouragements you face when trying to get a project off the ground, aren’t setback at all. They’re tests of your mettle and your commitment. Like the fires of a forge, and the blows of a blacksmith’s hammer, they’re a means of purifying and improving your work. Bloodfellas wouldn’t have been half the book it ended up being if it had come out all those years ago. As tough as it was, every setback I faced opened the door to something better and in the end I’m grateful for every one of them.