Richard:Who is "Hugo Tate"?
Nick: Hugo Tate was my first major comics character. He's a stick-man lost in a figuratively drawn world and his (mis)adventures appeared in Deadline, which was a cult comics and music mag in the UK back in the late eighties and early nineties. I invented him when I was about fifteen, although he had many precursors, all sort of derived from a DNA mix of Charlie Brown and Tintin, both of which were early influences of mine. His rites-of-passage see him evolve into a fully fleshed-out character. Literally.
Richard: What was "The Green Ray" about?
Nick: It's about a superhero who wants kids and finds out he has a very low sperm count. Chris Pitzer asked me to contribute a strip to Adhouse Books Project: Superior anthology, so immediately I started thinking of difficult things that a macho superhero might face which really should have been a super villain, I guess, but this seemed like too good an idea to pass up. It led the whole thing in the direction of poignancy rather than traditional super heroics, but, hey, it's me.
I always try to embed stories with various layers of potential meaning, a bit like a song. I don't always manage it, but hopefully some of the time I do and it means that different readers can get different things from them if I've done my job properly. So, the low sperm count is the super villain in this one. Even the giant red evil cyborg turns out to be a decent guy. I really enjoyed riffing on the whole super hero thing though, and might bring The Green Ray back at some point.
Richard: How did you end up working on "Millennium Fever" from Vertigo/DC Comics?
Nick: I'd written a series of short horror strips for British SF weekly 2000AD and a limited mini series for the now-defunct Marvel UK. Art Young, then an editor at DC, saw these and asked me to submit something for Vertigo that ended up being Millennium Fever. It was a bit of a troubled project as DC closed down their UK office halfway through, Art left the company and the story got truncated from five issues to four. It was fun to work with Duncan Fegredo though, and I still have a certain affection for it. Millennium Fever was flawed, but it had ambition.
Richard: Why do you enjoy helping create children's books?
Nick: Because it's fun and it really is a challenge. They're an unforgiving readership, kids. You find out fast whether they like something or not they're not afraid to tell you. Generally, I like to do all ages stories rather than straightforward children's books because they're the kind of comics I grew up with. Although there's a lot of excellent children's storytelling out there, there's also a lot that is condescending in some way or twee. I'm talking about a slightly Victorian attitude, certainly on the part of some UK publishers, that disallows stories for children to contain real world elements. These end up talking down to them like they're incapable of understanding that bad things happen. I try to avoid working in that kind of publishing scenario.
Richard: What can you tell us about "Laika"?
Nick: It's a tale I've wanted to tell for a long time. I first came across Laika's story as quite a young child, probably in one of several big picture books I had. I was a space nut, as a kid I can very dimly remember watching the Apollo 17 and Skylab missions, the Apollo-Soyuz link up on TV. Laika and Yuri Gagarin stuck in my head as they personified the Soviet space program; there wasn't much information on it available as the USSR was so secretive. Their space program always held a kind of fascination for me exactly because it was quite mysterious.
I don't think you ever forget your childhood fascinations. As an adult, the idea of telling Laika's story had long been kicking around at the back of my mind but for various reasons I'd never developed it. Then, in 2002, new information came to light about her exact fate on board Sputnik II, and that got me thinking again. I began collecting information about the Soviet space program and doodling in sketchbooks. Korolev, the man who drove the USSR's space effort, fascinated me there are a lot of pieces missing in the jigsaw puzzles of both his life and Laika's.
I realized that there was room here for a wider tale to be told; not just a cliché tale of a man and his dog but a story that involves the reader as emotional and imaginative participant on both grand and intimate scales. There's something for both the head and the heart, and that's really the ethos I employed as I began writing and drawing. I continued to research it as I went: I bugged space experts with emails and letters; I unearthed video documents at the Smithsonian Institute and I even traveled to Korolev's house in Moscow to get a sense of the man.
But a lot of it was 'imagined biography' when it came to Laika herself; nothing is known of her early life. She just pops into history as a bit-part player promoted to lead; she was a stray dog who was captured and trained by Korolev's associates. Who were the other people who knew and cared for this dog? This is their story, too.
Richard: Why use a dog and not a monkey?
Nick: You mean me, or the Russians? If the latter, then the Soviets did consider using apes but thought that female dogs were preferable because they tended to be less excitable and weren't given to the odd occasional playful or destructive fit that might damage equipment inside the capsule. They also thought that dogs were less prone to colds and other illnesses. As for me, I was interested in telling the story of the first earthling in space, and she happened to be a Russian dog. After I'd finished work on Laika, Jim Vining contacted me and I discovered that he'd very ably told the story of Ham, the chimp who fronted the US? space effort in his excellent graphic novel for Oni Press, First In Space. 'Great minds think alike', and all that.
Richard: You worked on "Children of the Voyager" from Marvel's UK Frontier line. What was that like?
Nick: As I recall, it was intended as a fast 'n' furious throwaway horror script that Paul Johnson could draw quickly as the deadline was ludicrous. I wrote it at a rate of knots and Paul did a tremendous job turning around the art and making it look good almost as fast. It was a lot of fun to do and I seem to remember that it turned out pretty well, though I haven't looked at it in years. I'm amazed anyone still remembers it. I always intended on writing more horror, and wrote some stuff for 2000AD until an incoming editor decided there would be no more horror in what should be an SF magazine. Around the same time, I got waylaid by writing mostly children's comics and haven't since managed to find my way back to the horror stuff. I did get approached to do some more work for Vertigo a few years ago, but nothing came of it.
Richard: Do you have any professional training?
Nick: I attended Chelsea School of Art in London but never completed a BA as I was told that Cartooning isn't a real career option for an artist. Things have changed these days, thankfully. As a writer I studied English and Theater Studies but I'm largely self-taught as an artist, although a lot of my early formal comics training as an editor came when I joined Marvel Comics UK publishing branch. There, I was, at that time, the youngest-ever editor. I hit the ground running at that place, I can tell you.
Richard: What future projects do you have?
Nick: Another graphic novel for First Second is in the pipeline and I have various other projects also on the go, some for children, others aimed at older readers. One is another historical novel sort of that takes the reader into the present and the future, another is about a world populated by pigs. Something for everyone, then.
Richard: What comics did you read as a child and do you read now?
Nick: I've already mentioned Peanuts and Herge's Tintin, both of which are timeless, brilliant and hugely enjoyable examples of the language of comics and what can be done in the medium. As a child, I more or less learnt to read on the aforementioned, Asterix and Brit weeklies like The Dandy, The Beano, Sparky, Monster Fun and so on. There was also a comic called Vulcan (no relation to Mr Spock) that reprinted loads of old Brit fantasy and super hero strips like The Steel Claw, Robot Archie, The Spider, Mytek the Mighty. There was also Janus Stark, a strip about a Victorian contortionist that my brother and I adored. Look-In had loads of TV tie-in strips with incredible artwork by John M. Burns and Mike Noble, very English things like The Tomorrow people and Space: 1999. Countdown and TV Comic had Doctor Who, which I followed religiously.
Later, I loved a Marvel UK reprint of Tomb of Dracula called Dracula Lives and I graduated onto Action and 2000AD, which I think just about every cartoonist in Britain read at some time or other. I also was regularly given a lot of Franco-Belgian comics by an aunt who lived in Paris so although I couldn't read them very well, I was blown away by the artwork. Imports of US four-color comics were erratic at best, but sometimes we'd find those although I tended to get my superheroes from the black and white Marvel UK reprints. A major influence in my teens and early twenties was Love & Rockets by Los Bros Hernandez.
And yes, I do read comics now, mostly GNs although I miss the older form 'pamphlet' as a popular means of expression. It's a bit like the vinyl 7 single dying out. The advantage with GNs is that you can now find them in regular (good) bookstores which is something I dreamed and hope would happen when I was younger.
Richard: What comics would you recommend and why?
Nick: Randomly, off the top of my head, some recent, standout comics I've read: The Salon by Nick Bertozzi (Saint Martin's Griffin) an example of what outstanding talent does with the comics medium as graphic novel these days. Can't recommend it highly enough. Devil Dinosaur Omnibus, one of Jack Kirby's later (and at the time, largely unloved) efforts for Marvel. A giant red tyrannosaurus rex beats up on other dinosaurs and robot spacemen. Genius. Klezmer and Vampire Loves by Joann Sfar (First Second).
I reread both of these recently and they're stunning. There's just so much to enjoy in both these books. Watching Days Become Years by Jeff LeVine (four issues available from Sparkplug Comic Books). Meditative existential nausea. Superb. Isaac the Pirate volumes 1 & 2 by Christopher Blain (NBM). Haunting and beautifully expressive. Lucky by Gabrielle Belle (Drawn & Quarterly). Dreamlike stream-of-consciousness diarist whose humanity, sense of humor and ability of observation we should all aspire to. Garage Band by Gipi (First Second). I just started this: great storytelling and artwork.
I wish there were more anthologies that were really worth mentioning, but Mome from Fantagraphics and Kramer?s Ergot are the ones that are really worth seeking out. Anthologies are by nature patchy but these are brave and memorable too.
Richard: If you could have one wish what would it be and why?
Nick: That I didn't have to answer that question or explain why. Ooh granted.
Richard: How can someone contact you?
Nick: There's contact info/facilities at my website, www.nickabadzis.com or blog http://nickabadzis.my-expressions.com/
Richard: Any words of advice?
Nick: I always advise people never to give advice.