Always Write

Peter Rogers – Writer

Month: April, 2014

Life begins apparently….Part Three (The here and now)

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.

The Interactives

The Interactives

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.

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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.

tobymachine_2812168b 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.

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Chris Lynch

Steve Aryan

CSATNZFHcover_0713                   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. Screen Shot 2014-04-26 at 16.12.44

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Life begins apparently….Part Two (radio and comics)

…now where were we? That’s right, we were standing on the brink of the 2000s, and I was about to make a big decision about my career.  My journey to become a radio copywriter wasn’t an intentional one. Having taken an extra year to complete my degree, I was a little bit lost in the late 90s. I couldn’t decide whether admin jobs to pay the bills and writing at night was the right way forward. What if my writing never took off, would I be destined to be in entry level office jobs for the rest of my life? I’d seen an ad for a radio copywriter at a radio station in Swansea, where I was still living and I decided to give it a go. I was thinking I could write ads in the day and screenplays in the evening.  I applied for the job, but they gave to the job to someone with experience but I was given the chance to do some work experience. All the ads I wrote that day went to air, and I got a cheque in the post for my trouble and a good reference. I liked the immediacy of getting a brief, writing something and having it sign off the same day, so started sending off speculative applications to other radio groups and stations.

As well as being the year that would eventually lead me into what would become a 10 year radio career, 1999 was also the year I rediscovered comics. I dipped out when I was about 14 or so, and I’d missed the boom and bust of the 90s and all the things associated with that period. Occasionally I would pop into a comic shop and pick up one or two titles, but that was every 4 or 5 years and was mainly fuelled by nostalgia.  I’d finished all the books and magazines I’d packed on my first ever beach holiday in the first week, and still had another week to go. So I went to a nearby shop looking for a magazine or novel to pass the remaining time. The bottom row of the convenience store’s magazine section was filled to the brim with Marvel and DC titles, so I picked a few up out of interest. I’m pretty sure a Paul Jenkins’ Hulk issue was the first thing I read, and I read a DC title for the first time which I’m thinking was probably Batman (I’d seen a pretty rabid Marvel only comic reader as a child, mainly due to the UK reprints and the impact Secret Wars had on me). The next day I went back to the shop and bought everything they had, I think it was 17 comics in total, and also two issues of Wizard magazine as well. I was back into comics in an instant, and in a big way. By the time we got the flight home I’d decided that it was comics and not screenwriting that I wanted to pursue. Soon I had a collection of ‘writing for comics’ books that was just as big as my ‘writing for film’ section on the bookcase. I read Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, all the Preacher trades and everything else I could get my hands on.

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By the end of the year I had my first radio copywriter’s position, and we were moving down to Exeter. In my mind I’d do that for about a year, because by then I would have started to make inroads into comics. As it turned out the next ten years saw me working in radio and writing comics in tandem, deep down always dreaming that one day I’d be doing comics full-time. There were times when I was writing so many ads each day that the last thing I wanted to do at night was start work on a story.  There were other times where putting an ad campaign together was the perfect creative fuel to an evening spent working on my craft.  I’ll never quite know if this decision to work in advertising helped or hindered my progress in the medium (although I know what Bill Hicks would say). I also tried my hand at something else I’d been keen to do when I was a child, radio presenting, although this time I wasn’t introducing Scritti Politti on a cassette recorder in my bedroom. Under the moniker of Popcorn Pete I became the Gemini FM breakfast show’s resident film reviewer, talking about the latest film and video/dvd releases every Friday morning. I did that throughout my final year working at the station, and in the last 6 months there also took over the Saturday afternoon slot on the station, presenting a show called The Pulse about local live music and events.  The Saturday gig was freelance, so gave me some extra money to spend on comics, books about comics and attending my first convention.

I left Exeter to take up a similar position at a large station, Red Dragon FM in Cardiff. Little did I know that I’d be working for someone who could help me grow my contacts in the comics community, as it was through this job that I met a young 2000AD writer called Si Spurrier (whose sister is now married to my old boss).  Si was the first professional to read any of my scripts, and his words of encouragement and helpful notes were really helpful, I’m still good friends with him today. The next 8 years were a topsy turvy time for me, I veered dramatically between trying to make my name stick in the comics world, sending off submissions and entering countless new talent contests and watching my career in radio go from strength to strength. My reputation as a radio creative was growing much quicker than as a comic writer, and I’d been nominated in prestigious international awards for my work, and also been hailed as the Creative of the Year across the whole radio group in 2003. As someone who is competitive and results driven, the day job was definitely starting to win. Having said that, in 2004 I won the Writer’s Pitching Session at the Bristol Comic Expo, a year after Al Ewing had won the same contest (yes the same Al Ewing who has gone on to write critically acclaimed work for the likes of 2000AD and Marvel, but I try not to compare our trajectory if I can help it). In the same year I took the move to management, and in Jan 2005 headed to Newcastle to take on a role as Regional Creative Director, overseeing the North region.

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Writer Si Spurrier

I was in that role for 4 years, initially in the North and later returning to Cardiff to take on the same role across radio stations in the South West and glamorously titled M4 Corridor region.  I loved moving from station to station, working with bigger clients and getting to help shape how we approached creative. Those 4 years were probably my happiest in both my radio role and also within comics. I had my first work published, started to get more contacts, had help from the likes of Tony Lee and later Rob Williams.  I co-founded Orang Utan Comics, got Eagle Award nominated for our anthology title Eleventh Hour and started to gain recognition and grow in confidence as a writer.

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Writer Rob Williams

My next step in radio was to take on the Managing Director’s role at a radio station in Gloucestershire, stepping away from creative and into the world of overall station management. This decision might have looked like an intentional step away from comics, but in actual fact it was the opposite. My ongoing ambitions within comics were actually at the heart of the decision, I wanted to be a little removed from the creative process to allow me more time to think about my stories and I wanted to earn more money, so I could afford to pay artists to work on them. If I’d given up on my writing dream (it had come close on many occasions) I would never have taken that job, even if the competitive, results driven part of me was interested in taking another step up the ladder.  Two years into the job, I jumped at the chance to take voluntary redundancy, and that gave me the time and money I needed to create what would be my first graphic novel The Interactives.  I came very close to going freelance when I left radio, I was working out if I could juggle freelance copywriting with trying to get a foothold as a freelance comic writer at the same time. I knew the one that was paying the bills would have ended up dominating my time, although I often wonder how things might have gone if I had done that.

So it was 2010, I was leaving behind an industry I had flourished in, and I made a step into the unknown and my first move into motion graphics and visual effects.  What did this mean for my comic writing?

(To be continued….)

Life begins apparently….Part One (growing up and movies)

In many ways, the image below this paragraph is the single most important thing I’ve ever posted on social media. I’ll be 40 in a few weeks time, and the prospect of leaving my 30s behind has been weighing heavily on my mind since my 39th birthday.  As someone who is extremely competitive and end result driven, it’s taken me a long time to get to this point and to remember why I write.

 

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I’ve been writing stories of some sort since I first held a pencil and could pull a sentence together. Writing, like reading, has been something I do since I started school at 4, so as an integral part of who I am. My Mum was a housekeeper for a Lord and Lady when I was young, and I spent school holidays at work with her, writing and drawing monster stories to give to her employers. When I was at first school I wrote an imaginary account of being a homeless boy in London, it was printed in the local parish magazine and I had to read it out at a school church service.

Years later, having moved on to Middle School, I was challenged to write a weekly story from the words in our  class spelling test by my forward thinking English teacher Mrs.Moss. She also encouraged me to write poetry, thanks to her a poem I wrote about a stray puppy being drowned ended up being published in a magazine for teachers.  I’m sure these days an 11 year old whose chosen writing topics were so down-beat would probably end up with their parents being called into the school, rather than praised for good work.  The only thing I enjoyed as much as writing was acting, fuelled by drama lessons where you could improvise or write your own stories. I was writing a lot of home at this time too, mainly fan fiction based on books and TV shows I liked, including a full episode of The A-Team. I ended up being in a lot of school productions, as Bugsy Malone at 12 and once I’d progressed to Upper School playing Danny Zuko in Grease at 15. English and drama were my two favourite subjects through Middle and Upper school, by quite a long way. GCSE drama gave me the chance to write and perform short stories every few weeks, which fuelled my imagination and kept me focussed and motivated. Apart from a two year period where I wanted to be a stuntman, fuelled by The Fall Guy and Burt Reynolds movie Hooper, acting and writing were my two main career considerations. Actually being the world’s least talented comic artist, the world’s most squeamish vet and the world’s most unlikely Royal Marine or police dog handler also popped onto my radar for about a month or two each.

When I was a 6th former I was desperate to move to America, and for a while I was trying to go to University in the States to help me get closer to the film industry that I was starting to think about working in. In the end I applied for a mixture of Film, media and performing arts courses here in the UK, unsure whether I wanted to write for the screen or act. I totally messed up my audition for the Performing Arts course in Middlesex, I hadn’t learned the part of Death of a Salesman I was meant to perform anywhere near well enough, and I didn’t know enough about the history of the theatre, key figures in it etc for the interview either. I was told my work in the improvisation section was very good, my singing was passable and my dancing was truly terrible. Needless to say I wasn’t accepted onto the course, and in the end I turned down the likes of Sunderland, Kent and Huddersfield’s offers of places. If I’m being 100% honest with myself, I bottled it. I’d been brought up in a remote cottage in a very rural area, spending most of my time at home writing and reading, and the prospect of moving to a city where I didn’t know anyone was overwhelming. Almost as overwhelming as my crippling fear of failure, and not being as good as everyone else on the course. I needed a safer option.

I took a year out, and looking back I wish I’d found a way to travel, rather than simply working locally and in many ways wasting a year. For a number of reasons I’d decided acting wasn’t for me, and had begun to realise that writing was far more fulfilling and important to me. In the back of my mind I wanted to be a writer, but coming from a working class family I knew that I needed the safety and security that a “proper job” would give me.  I also starting to think that teaching was a good direction to go in, mainly inspired by a succession of excellent English and Drama teachers over the years. There was probably a little part of me that felt safe in the school environment, and saw going to Uni to become a teacher, and then working in a school, as a way to avoid the real word of adulthood.  English was the most obvious thing for me to teach, and the subject I was probably most suited to.  My own results focus and competitiveness got the better of me however, and I deemed myself unworthy of teaching my favourite subject. I had As in both English Literature and English Language at GSCE, but having not put anywhere near enough effort in had only mustered a D in my English Literature A-Level. How could I possibly teach people to get As, Bs, or indeed Cs if I myself hadn’t been able to. In the end I want to Swansea to study Business Education, I quite liked Business Studies and most importantly to be twisted mind, I’d at least gotten a B in it. If I’m being 100% honest teaching was always a fallback career, something I could do later in life, after I’d done other things or something I could combine with writing (I told myself the long Summer holidays would mean one novel or screenplay a year for sure).  Some personal problems meant I had to re-take my final teaching practice the year after my 4 year course ended, so following my year out it I finally graduated 6 years after leaving school. I think one of the reasons I’m slightly obsessed with achievement and making the most of every passing year is partly fuelled by feeling that I had lost two years where I could have gotten things done.  I’d also, like many creative people, been acutely aware of my own mortality from a very early age, something which fuelled my early writing, just as it does today.

Those 6 years did involve a lot of writing though, lots of unfinished work in the main, first chapters of unrealised novels and the first 10 pages of incomplete screenplays. I did a little bit of supply teaching, but I’d realised that, although I enjoyed it, it wasn’t the right vocation for me at the time.  I made the conscious decision to take on temporary or short term admin jobs, avoiding any lure of permanence or career progression as much as possible, to simply pay the bills so I could write every evening. I also attended Raindance in London in the late 90s, taking four courses with them. Writing the Hot Script, which was taught by Elliot Grove, Blockbuster Storytelling by John Truby, Dov Simens 2 Day Film School, and Directing for TV and Film with Patrick Tucker. I read every screenwriting book you could think of, and some you probably couldn’t, and took an evening NVQ class in Writing for the Media.  My final assignment for the course was my first screenplay, a Western entitled “Restitution Day” (taken from a Jerry Cantrell lyric) and written in 2 weeks of evenings. To do this day I’ve never re-read it, and it’s sitting on an old floppy disk somewhere in an ancient version of Final Draft. I’d also bought that software and imported a load of US sized paper with special threaded tags so my work would look authentic.

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In the final year of the 1990s I applied for the MA in Screenwriting at Cardiff University, did well at interview but was ultimately unsuccessful. My work showed promise, but was considered too commercial for the course. Through a colleague in one of my admin jobs I’d gotten to know TV writer Rob Gittens around this time, he’d been giving me feedback on my work and offering some great advice. I had the chance to write a spec Eastenders script at that time, as Rob was writing for the show, he was happy to evaluate it and pass it on if it was up to standard.  25 year old me was a heady mix of ego and low self esteem, and fear of not being good enough coupled with my eyes being on the big screen meant I never wrote the script he’d asked me for.  One bit of advice Rob gave me, was don’t waste my talent by going into advertising, as so many creative people do. A year later I was working as a copywriter, so I wasn’t very good at listening either.

(To be continued….)

 

Two weeks until Bristol

The first ever comic convention I attended was the Comic Festival in Bristol in 2002, a few months after I’d attended a smaller event in the city where I got advice on becoming a comic writer from both Andy Diggle and Paul Grist. At the main Bristol show my first ever panel was the Marvel one, hosted by their Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada.  I was also a minor sponsor of the event, originally as part of The Philistine Fellowship (a group of comic creators that was my first foray into creating a studio) but in the end I opted to do so in my own name.

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Joe Quesada

Fast forward 12 years and Bristol is no longer the only comic convention in the UK, in fact there are new ones popping     up in towns and cities all around the country every month. Shows like Thought Bubble and London Super Comic Con are now the most likely places to see the largest publishers, the biggest name creators and the most fans, but Bristol in its various incarnations still has an important place in the UK comics scene. I was there last year (I think I’ve only missed one year since I first went) launching Dapper Chimp Press‘ first title Chris Smith and the Nazi Zombies from Hell and I’ll be back again in a fortnight’s time.

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Dapper Chimp Press at Bristol Comic Expo 2013

However this time I won’t be standing behind a table pimping my wares, as I’m going as a punter rather than an exhibitor or guest, at the new venue of Future Inn.  Back in ’02 it was quite a lonely experience, not knowing many people at the event, and spending the day wandering around on my own. This time I’ll be there with my daughter, who’s been keen to go to another con, having been to the Cardiff International Comic Expo and Cardiff Film and Comic Con in recent years.  It will also be my last convention as a 30 something, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

 

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