Here’s part two of an eye-opening, three part exclusive look at UK comic book publisher Orang Utan Comics, and what they have coming up for the London Super Comic Convention! Now you know more about the two Orang Utan launch books, let’s catch up with the writer of both titles (co-writer of Zakk Ridley) and co-founder of Orang Utan in this exclusive interview with Ian Sharman.
Comic Booked: Hello Ian and thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Can you please introduce yourself and let us know a little bit more about you.
Ian Sharman: Well, I’m Ian Sharman and I rocketed to Earth as a baby where I was raised by wolves in the wilds of Kent. I founded Orang Utan Comics with fellow writer Peter Rogers back in 2007 and our first release, the anthology comic Eleventh Hour, picked up an Eagle Award nomination. I went on to create Alpha Gods, a science fiction superhero comic with a supernatural twist, for which an animated pilot is currently in production by Scorpio Studios in the USA. I also created the satirical superhero series Hero: 9 to 5 with David Gray and Hypergirl with David Wynne. You don’t have to be called David to work with me, but it helps. I’m currently a group editor at Markosia and I do a lot of freelance inking and lettering work for the likes of Marvel UK, Image, Top Shelf, Slave Labor and BBC Books.
CB: Please tell us a little bit more about your two books and your inspiration behind them?
IS: Hero: 9 to 5 – Quietus is the follow up to my 2010 release, Hero: 9 to 5, which took a satirical swipe at the tropes used in modern super-hero comics. The target of Quietus is more specifically the grim n’ gritty movement of the eighties which was inspired by books like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. As with the first book, though, there’s still a story at the heart of Quietus, it’s not just a collection of gags and parodies. Our heroes encounter a sinister presence in the city who doesn’t kill for pleasure or personal gain but simply because he can.
The Intergalactic Adventures of Zakk Ridley, which I co-wrote with Pete Rogers, and is illustrated with gorgeous fully painted artwork by Ewan McLaughlin, follows the adventures of the space faring rogue and scoundrel, Zakk Ridley. A simple smuggling job turns out to be more than it seems and before he knows it our reluctant hero and his robotic sidekick find themselves caught up in a conspiracy of intergalactic proportions. It’s very much a tribute to all the science fiction stories I love, from Star Wars and Blakes 7 to Firefly and Foundation.
CB: Without the financial support of mainstream publishers, creating independent comic books is a time consuming effort and huge personal financial commitment. How do you feel about the indie comics industry and do you think comic fans appreciate the blood sweat and tears that go into making a book?
IS: I think some of them do, sure, but I think a lot of people take indie comics at face value. They see production values and quality that equals, if not surpasses, the “big two,” and they assume that there are similar resources behind the books. I’ve had people write to me in the past and ask to come on a tour of the Orang Utan Comics offices, little realising that the offices consist of little more than a PC in the corner of one room in my house. We have a slick online presence, including several websites and active accounts across various social media platforms, our booths at conventions look just like any other mainstream publisher’s and our books are printed by the same people who print Dark Horse’s books in the UK. There’s no reason to think, from the outside looking in, that we’re not backed by the same resources as the big boys, but it’s all achieved through creativity and hard work, and my background in professional print and design means that I don’t need to outsource what would otherwise be very expensive services. And, you know, of course we want to be perceived that way, but it can sometimes be frustrating when people assume you have deep pockets, especially when you’re trying to recruit new artists who have dollar signs in their eyes, and when people are grumbling that your new book is taking an age to come out without realising that everyone involved is having to work full time as well as work on the book (even if, for some of us, that full time work is freelance work on other people’s comics). Still, at the end of the day, our books have to be judged alongside those of Marvel, DC and the other big publishers, and I’d hate for anyone to give us a free pass on any element of our work just because they know we’re not backed by a global corporation with vast resources. Still…it does mean that promotion has to be mostly done through word of mouth, and it would be great if more people who like our work were active in vocally promoting our books to their friends.
CB: You have two complete graphic novels launching at LSCC next month, would you say it’s unusual to bring out two titles simultaneously?
IS: It’s fairly unusual, yes. Although, had things gone to plan it would have been three, as we’ve nearly finished Alpha Gods: Betrayal, which will be out later in the year. I do also have the first print collection of the webcomic that I’m working on with David Wynne, Spacescape coming out at the show. To a certain extent, with a big show like LSCC, you try to time it to release as many new books as you can. This year we’ve just managed to time it pretty perfectly so that everything hits at once, although it’s been a nail biting few months waiting for artists to complete everything on time. Thankfully everything’s now complete and at the printers with plenty of time to spare, so we can just relax and promote the books for a while before they come out. But, really, both of these books have been in production for years, it’s just a happy coincidence that they’re both complete at the same time. With the time scales involved in producing indie books, it’s essential for any writer to have multiple projects in production at any one time to maintain some kind of momentum, otherwise years go by without anything new coming out.
CB: How does it feel to have two books launching at the LSCC?
IS: Well, I love the show…even if I am a bit biased due to the fact that I do all of the design work for LSCC. From the logo to flyers, posters, banners, badges, plastic bags and the convention programme, it’s all designed by little old me, and it gives me an immense sense of satisfaction and pride to be at such an amazing show, attended by thousands of comic fans and many of the best comic creators in the industry, and to look around me and see my work everywhere. On top of that I got to collaborate on the cover image with Dave Gibbons, which is always going to be one of the highlights of my career. So, to be launching two books that I’ve been working on for years and that I know people have been eagerly anticipating (as much as that’s an awful cliché) at the show is really something special for me. When Orang Utan Comics first started out, we had a table at what was then the UK’s biggest comic show, the Bristol International Comic Expo, we had a couple of cheap banners and some hastily printed ash cans of our first book, because the printer had failed to deliver the full books in time. It seemed like an impossible dream that one day we’d be at a huge US style convention in the UK with a booth that puts us on equal footing with the likes of 2000AD, with hardback graphic novels that are just as good as anything the biggest publishers in the industry are putting out. Yet here we are. It’s taken years of blood, sweat and tears, but we’ve done it.
CB: What are your plans for future projects?
IS: As I mentioned before, the next big release will be a hardback collection of all six issues of Alpha Gods: Betrayal. We’re just working on the final issue of that right now, then we’ll be moving on to the third and, possibly, final series of Alpha Gods. We’re also working on a third Hero: 9 to 5 book (please don’t start asking me when it’ll be out…it’s going to be a while…), and a sequel to The Intergalactic Adventures of Zakk Ridley. David Wynne and I have had plans to do more Hypergirl for a while, but right now we’re focusing on our continuing web comic, Spacescape, which will see more periodical print collections throughout the year, and probably a first collected trade paperback in time for next year’s LSCC. Other than that I’ve a few things in the works, I just need to find more time to write them all…and more artists to draw them!
CB: Lastly, which of the two launch books is your favorite?
IS: Oh, come on, that’s like asking me which one of my children is my favourite! It’s just impossible to answer. Zakk Ridley is special to me because it’s one of the first projects we announced at Orang Utan Comics and has been stuck in development hell for years. To finally get that book out is very satisfying. Ewan’s art has been a complete revelation and managed to make a story that I’ve been working on for seven years feel completely fresh and new. Quietus hasn’t been in production nearly as long, but I don’t think I’ve done a convention since the first book was released where at least one person hasn’t asked me when the sequel will be out. Now it’s going to be out, with an amazing foreword by Mike Carey and I’m immensely proud of what David Gray and Yel Zamor have achieved on that book, and I hope that my writing does it justice.
CB: I had to try! Thanks again and good luck with the launch titles at LSCC!