Jonathan Ross On His Comic Book 'Turf' (INTERVIEW)
Jonathan Ross is wet. I don't mean that metaphorically - his handshake is as robust as it looks on television - but in the literal sense.
He's just been forced to walk through a biblical blast of Autumn rain because his taxi driver - no doubt high on having a celebrity in his cab - insisted on taking him the scenic route to the London Forbidden Planet store where we're waiting for him in a dingy staff room. Rather than be late, he just jumped out and walked.
As he bursts in dripping every where, his new partner in the world of comic books, Mr. Tommy Lee Edwards, is already sat down (perfectly dry) next to his young son, chatting to me casually about London, America and the fact they're both off to see Ross's show live later that night.
Tommy is the renowned artist who was chosen by probably the most famous face on UK television to turn his dream of making a comic book into a reality. Jonathan - a comic geek who is rumoured to have the UK's biggest private collection - wrote the story, while Tommy brought it to life.
In person, Ross is a slightly toned down version of his chat show persona. He talks at warp speed, partly because that's how he is and partly because he's obviously so excited, not just at fulfilling a personal ambition but at doing it so successfully.
Turf - his comic series following gangsters and vampires in 1929 America - has now been released as a graphic novel. Sitting with them both, you get a sense of how they might work: Ross the newbie, bursting with enthusiasm and ideas, and Tommy, the comic world veteran, there to coax, tweak and ultimately flesh out what has already proven to be a commercial and critical success for them both.
First of all, congratulations -- the sale figures are looking pretty healthy...
Thank you. The book hasn't sold out yet, but the comic has...
Tommy Lee Edwards
We've sold out...
[laughs] Yeah, we sold out years ago...
Jonathan -- how has writing comics compared to the rest of your career?
In a way it's more satisfying. In a way it's harder work. Without wishing to sound complacent, TV work comes a little easier to me, whereas writing Turf put me out of my comfort zone. Thank heavens I was working with such a seasoned professional –- hang on, that makes Tommy sound ancient doesn't it? I mean 'such a talented and respect artist in the field'...
...He helped me make sure my story looked like a professional piece of work, whereas if I'd given it to some other artist, it could have been a bit of a mess. In TV work, you have to be very decisive about what you decide to do -- a gag might work, it might fall flat -- but you have to make your mind up from the start. This was much more of a collaborative process, not just between me and Tommy but other people too, which has been nice for me. We put a lot of love into it.
So how did for the idea for a gangster, vampire and alien adventure set in prohibition-era New York come about?
The idea for the story started from me, but with a push from Tommy. I love the gangster and horror movies from that period -- we both do -- not just the big studio films but the B-movies as well. I always thought it'd be great if someone mashed them up, but they never did. So it came from that, and also the fact that Tommy loves drawing noir stuff and does humans really well. A lot of other artists draw humans quite... 'cartoony', but that wouldn't have worked with this story. It needed something gritty and real-looking. And Tommy likes period pieces.
Yeah, when it comes to work, I like to do research for what I'm drawing. Whether you're drawing a story set in feudal Japan or the war, it's a chance to go back to school and learn a lot of stuff from books, as well as travel.
We researched where the police station would have been during prohibition-era New York and Tommy went down there to take some photographs to use in the research.
How have you felt about the response, from comic book fans and the press?
I thought they'd be scepticism from the hardcore comic fans but there doesn't appear to have been. The guys at this store [Forbidden Planet, Shaftesbury Avenue, London] say that it was one of their biggest selling series last year, which is remarkable. That might be partly down to my name in the UK, but it's done well in the US too.
Critically, I think it's been very fairly received -- if anything more fairly than I anticipated. I've only seen a couple of reviews that didn't like it. A guy in The Times wasn't a fan. He appeared to have counted every word on our pages and compared it to a Stan Lee comic, which is actually very flattering! But what really pleased me was all these comic sites in America -- people who had never heard of me -- saying they were thrilled to see Tommy's work but also that they loved the story. It was a relief. I was really nervous about it.
Were you apprehensive about getting involved Tommy, given Jonathan's profile?
I was more nervous because it was my first completely creator-driven book. Most of my comics have been work-for-hire stuff for the likes of DC and Marvel, so it was a first for both of us. But Jonathan's profile didn't worry me too much, mostly because I live in America so I didn't know much about his work apart from his documentary on [comic book artist] Steve Ditko. Oh -- and the fact my family like a lot of British TV shows like Doctor Who, so we saw him interviewing David Tennant...
...well, they'd only seen the family-friendly stuff! It's weird, but I started writing Turf around the time the Sachsgate thing was kicking off. I had 30 journalists camped outside my window while I was trying to think about gangsters. In a way it helped me focus!
Did Russell give you any imput into the story, or didn't that seem like a good idea...?
[laughs] No, Russell's not really a comic fan. A few famous people have said they liked it -- Stephen Fry loved it. I was really flattered. Simon Pegg is also a fan.
So what's next for your partnership?
Next, we have a series called Golden Age which follows a old age home for superheroes who have been forced to retire by the government. They've become a danger to themselves and others because their falculties aren't what they were. It was originally going to be a film, and we have rewritten it a lot of times to get it nailed. It keeps getting better. Expect that around March.
Take a look at some scenes from 'Turf':
Turf, by Jonathan Ross and Tommy Lee Edwards, is out on Titan books priced £19.99.