South African comic book writer Marc Dey is currently completing his MA in Media Theory Practice at the University of Cape Town. Marc has spent the last few years working on his new masters dissertation and a comic book, The Passengers. He was kind enough to answer a few questions by Daniel Rom.
1. What made you decide you wanted to try your hand at comic book storytelling?
I want to be a writer, and tell stories for a living. I guess I chose comics for a few reasons. Firstly I think certain stories or ideas are better suited for certain media, and for some reason I always saw this story as a comic. As a medium, it gives me and the reader time to explore characters and the world.
Secondly, the little control freak in me probably felt I could have more influence over the final output of my story if it was a comic. Realistically, to make The Passengers into a film would require tons of funds and a large film crew. In comic form, it took only two people (albeit working very hard) to get the final product to look as similar as possible to the images I had in my head.
2. What do you think makes a comic book special at telling a story, and different to say a movie or book?
I think it is an exciting medium in that it engages the reader like no other. I agree completely with Scott McCloud’s idea of the reader being “the secret accomplice”. Comics require the audience to use their brains (they have to add movement, sound and stitch a narrative together), and as they interact cognitively with the medium, they become part of the story.
3. What made you specifically want to tell the story you’ve begun with The Passengers?
I wanted to tell a fun but dark adventure story using South Africa as a backdrop. The idea of superheroes has always caught my imagination, but I didn’t want to go the traditional route of tights and masks. I liked the idea of people having powers, but not really having control over them. Religion is something close to many hearts but also a topic that is heated and sweaty with controversy and debate. I wanted to tackle these ideas and issues by incorporating religious mythology into the character’s powers. Plus, the apocalypse is always fun material to work with.
4. How would you describe your creative process?
Unfortunately, I am a dreamer, which basically means I am exceptionally skilled at procrastinating and putting off work. I like to think a lot about my story and characters, and spend as much time in my fictional realm as possible. The advantage of this is that I have an in depth knowledge of my make-believe world, on the other hand it makes it really difficult to get out of the day dream and actually write the story. My creative process also relies heavily on music, walking and discussing my ideas with my patient friends and family.
5. What would you say is the most difficult part of writing or creating a story like this?
Sitting down and actually doing it; it takes quite a bit of personal time and effort to make your ideas real. One of the big difficulties for a comic book writer is finding an artist who will care as much about the story as you do. In this regard, it took me an age to find an artist, but once I did, I was very fortunate to have found someone who was dedicated and invested in the story. Creating a comic takes time and consistent effort, especially when you are doing it for love of the project and incur no real financial gain.
6. What would you say is your favourite part of writing or creating a story like this?
The best thing about writing, to echo the words of Stephen King, it that you get to hang out in your imagination all day. If I could just make a sustainable income, it would be even better.
7. Do you think being South African has influenced your storytelling in anyway? Or could your writing be transported to any setting and still be relevant?
I would really love my story to be read by anyone, from anywhere; I think that the events and themes in the story are relatable to most, but I would not want to sacrifice South Africa as a backdrop. The various aspects of our country (from its geography to its cultural diversity) are tied directly to the elements of the story; in a sense South Africa is a character in The Passengers. That being said, if we can consume and enjoy the variety of narratives coming out of America, Americans should be able to read, understand and enjoy what we create, even if it isn’t set in the Land of the Free. Hopefully.
8. Who are your biggest influences as a writer? Not only comic writers, but ones from any sphere of life.
My two biggest influences/ people who rock at writing are Neil Gaiman and Stephen King. I really enjoy how Gaiman handles mythology and adventure, while King is just a master at creating and developing characters (I think he would still be a bestseller if he chose to write exclusively about golf or paint drying).
9. What would you say have been your favourite comic books/ comic series, and why?
Preacher will always be a big one for me. Perhaps it was the time in my life when I read it, but I remember thinking, “Wow, comics aren’t just about freckled ginger-headed teenagers or men in tight tights – they can be dark, twisted, funny works of art.” Recently I have also gotten into Joe Hill’s Locke & Key and am reading quite a bit of Mark Millar’s violently amusing work.
10. What advice would you give to someone who wants to create a comic book but has no idea where to start?
Not sure I am in any position to dish out advice, but all I say is just start. If you are a writer, well… write a script and if you are an illustrator doodle some concept art. One of the hardest things is actually to stop dreaming and just do it. The best advice (that I can think of) for creating anything comes from Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement speech at the University of the Arts (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikAb-NYkseI): keep walking towards the mountain and “make good art”.