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

by thatrogersguy

…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….)

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