Four years ago I left radio behind, and took a leap into the unknown, taking a job in a motion graphics and visual effects studio. I wasn’t involved with their TV work, I was predominantly working on their corporate projects mainly in internal communications for large blue chip companies. I got to use a lot of my skills, account managing, project managing and writing. The writing tended to be taking reams of client text and truncating it, until it was simple enough to use as the springboard for short animated films. Changing industries, moving to a small company and shedding the responsibility of being a Managing Director gave me more headspace (at least initially) but drastically reduced my earning potential. Having paid the artist, colourist and letterer myself on The Interactives (which has reviewed well), I was now back at the stage where I was trying to recruit artists on back-end deals. This meant projects were back to taking a very long time to complete, understandably as paid work always comes first.
One of the books I worked on around this time harked back to my childhood. As well as reading Marvel comics as a kid, I had an insatiable interest in the old Football Picture Story Monthly comics from D.C .Thomson. In many ways books like High Rise Rovers, The Hit Man and City at War played as big a part in getting me interested in football, as playing or watching the game did. I collected them all for years, and read them voraciously. I trained at AFC Bournemouth‘s Summer Soccer Camp in the school holidays, and I used to read Football Monthly books on the way there and on the journey home. Although some people say I shouldn’t mention writing one of Bluewater Productions‘ series of bio-comics, I’m still very proud of my work on Fame: Beckham. Having read so many football related comics, it seemed like a fitting tribute to the books of my youth and it got me a mention in places like the Daily Star and on Comic Book Resources. If you look carefully, there’s a High Rise Rovers mention hidden in there as a little Easter egg too.
Two years later I was on the move again, swapping the commute to Bristol for a similar role at a studio in Cardiff. Our work is pretty broad, ranging from TV ads and music videos to title sequences, and tv and movie vfx. The great thing is that I’ve been just as involved in the broadcast work as I am in the commercial work, and although I’m barely writing during the day now, I am far closer to stories and narrative then I was before. The job also appeals to another of my traits, I love looking at how things are being done, stripping them back, making them more efficient and then rebuilding them. I tend to approach the workplace in the same way as I do a story rewrite. I’ve recently joined the company’s board of directors, so I now get to play a key part in where the studio is going and what it’s doing. Although I’m not always officially seen as a creative, I do get to be pretty involved in much of the TV and film work we do. On shows we’re doing title sequences or in-show graphics for we might get a see a cut of the first episode to get a sense of the tone of the series for example. On the film work we get to be involved even sooner.
These days I’m pretty hands on, working with film producers and directors, and we get sent quite a few scripts to read and do VFX breakdowns for. It’s a major benefit of working on smaller, independent films, as we have far more direct access than we would working on a tentpole franchise production. That means I’m reading a lot of scripts, and talking through scenes, all of which helps inform my own writing. It’s also made me consider writing another screenplay, and possibly having a go at directing a short as well. Another interesting development is that we also have set up a sister company, producing and creating childrens’ animation series, and I don’t think it will be long before I have some ideas that I’ll want to put forward for potential development there. I spent a long time, especially in radio, keeping my personal writing ambitions and my day job responsibilities very separate. These days those lines are blurring more all the time, and I see myself as a writer/producer using the same skills and talents in all of the things I do. I’m also getting to flex the same muscles I used to when I was presented radio shows. Popcorn Pete having graduated to co-host a movie podcast with Steve Aryan called Bags of Action, looking back at some of our favourite action movies. Having stepped away from Orang Utan Comics to try and develop the cache of my own name a bit more, I ended up creating another simian themed imprint, Dapper Chimp Press. That wasn’t really planned and it came about because I agreed to edit a book for a writer who was new to comics, before I knew it I needed a label for us to put the book out under. A the moment, myself and the other writers who I set Dapper Chimp up with, the aforementioned Steve “Novel trilogy book deal” Aryan and Chris “self publishing novels” Lynch are looking at what part DCP plays in our creative lives. As they both have prose work alongside their comic writing, I am starting to think that screen work will rapidly become my equivalent. Why consider yourself a writer for one medium, when you can take your stories to wherever they are best suited.
So, in just a few short weeks I’ll hit a milestone age, and despite knowing that it’s just a number it has weighed heavily on my mind. The boy who was obsessed with his own mortality is petrified of his advancing years, and the man who is both highly competitive and extremely results driven will never quite be satisfied by the rate of his achievements. I’m pretty hard on myself, and often wonder or worry about what might have been and start to tell myself that it must be impossible to be an up and coming talent, when you’re this long in the tooth. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still harbour ambitions to write something for one of the larger comic publishers, or to have a shot at working with characters from the Big Two, but that isn’t the reason I started writing and it can’t be the only reason I continue to write. I’m actually working on more things, getting more words on paper and making better connections than I have in many years, my confidence in my own writing ability is far more stable than in the past (my time in the Comics Experience workshop was a major contributory factor there), but the key thing is that ultimately writing is an integral and essential part of who I am. I’m the same person who felt compelled to write monster stories for my Mum’s boss, or to put together his own episode of the A-Team. Whatever life throws and me, and whatever I do or don’t manage to achieve, I will also be creating stories and it’s taken me a long time to really understand that. I may not have made it as a stuntman, but I really can’t complain. Maybe life does begin at 40 after all.