David Barnett on Black Crown, Writing Comics, and Punks Not Dead
24 October 2017
Writing for IDW’s new Black Crown imprint is an absolute dream gig… especially for a comics newbie.
A brand new line. Names such as Rob Davis, Gilbert Hernandez, Tini Howard, Peter Milligan, Philip Bond, Tess Fowler. And curated and edited by Vertigo legend Shelly Bond. Yep, I do wake up and let the devil of Imposter Syndrome in through the door, wondering what the hell I’m doing in such august company.
Still, I should temper that with some qualification. I’m not new to reading comics… I’ve been doing that for four decades. I’m not new to writing… I have several novels under my belt, including my latest, Calling Major Tom. And I’ve been working as a journalist since I was 19 years old.
But there will doubtless be cries of “Whoooo?” when my name pops up alongside those comic-book luminaries who also make up the Black Crown roster. Even my co-creator on our ongoing Black Crown title Punks Not Dead, artist Martin Simmonds, has published comics work under his belt including Death Sentence with Monty Nero and an actual Jessica Jones variant cover for actual Marvel comics.
So, yeah, I’m writing comics, and I haven’t followed the time-honoured path of self-publishing, flogging my wares on tables in the artists’ alley at a convention, pounding the streets with my dog-eared portfolio of tear-stained scripts. And maybe there’ll be some people who think I’ve got lucky.
Which I suppose I have. But as a writer of prose fiction and a freelance journalist, I’m fully of the opinion that you make your own luck in the writing game.
So how did I land the job? Well, I suppose my secret origin begins at a convention, Thought Bubble in Leeds, November 2016. I was there purely as a fan, and a walking wallet for my son. In one of the tents I happened upon the table occupied by Shelly Bond. So I went up to chatShe’d left Vertigo earlier that year and I suppose I just wanted to tell her how important Vertigo had been to me as a comics fan. We had that conversation, we chatted about this and that, and I wandered off.
A week later, I contacted Shelly via Twitter. There’d been something I’d meant to ask her at Thought Bubble, but it didn’t feel appropriate at the time. I wanted to write comics. I knew that you didn’t just jump into a major imprint such as Vertigo from nowhere, and I was after a bit of free advice. I had a couple of ideas, I’d written a sample script, and I wondered whether the best thing was to find an artist and self-publish, try to get my name out there.
Shelly graciously agreed to offer some advice. “Send me one scene from your script,” she said. “Just one. Then I can see what we’re dealing with.”
So I sent one scene. Shelly emailed back. “Send me the whole script.” So I sent the whole script. Shelly emailed me back. “Can we talk on the phone?”
This was getting towards Christmas last year. We spoke on the phone. Shelly had things in the pipeline, of which she couldn’t really speak at the time. But she liked what she’d seen of my sowrk, and wanted to know if I’d be interested in turning this script into a full proposal with a view to it being an ongoing title.
Well, of course I did. Even if there was nothing at the end of it, I’d be getting coaching from Shelly Actual Bond. Then she said by way of postscript, “Why didn’t you mention any of this to me when you saw me at Thought Bubble? My God, you’re so British!”
Not long after, Shelly said that she was setting up Black Crown at IDW and she wanted Punks Not Dead to be one of the launch books. She was going to get a few artists to do some character sketches; as soon as I saw what Martin Simmonds had done, I just said, “Forget anyone else. We need to get this guy.”
And we did. And Martin and I are now hard at work on the first arc of Punks Not Dead. It’s basically your everyday story of a 15-year-old kid from Preston, Lancashire, who meets the ghost of a punk rocker called Sid, and suddenly finds they’re stuck together. Throw in a search for an errant father, a curious paranormal investigation department of MI5, and a sense that there’s something apocalyptically big brewing in the background, and that’s Punks Not Dead.
You can see some sample pages from the first issue in Black Crown Quarterly #1, which is released this week, and the title begins its run in February.
It’s all moved pretty quickly over the past year, and it still feels a little like a dream… which, for this comics newbie, it is.
And don't miss our BLACK CROWN EVENT this Saturday at our London Megastore!