Beast Wagon has been one of THE stand out titles to come from the UK indie/small press scene in recent years and after interviewing the creative team ahead of the release of the first issue back in 2015, it seemed fitting that I should catch up with them again as we edge closer to its conclusion.
How does it feel to see Beast Wagon reach its final issue?
JP: Like we’ve been in labour for two and a half years, to final give birth to a fully grown adult that immediately leaves home. But I’m a proud parent regardless. It’s bittersweet to be honest. It’s been such a large part of my creative existence over the past few years, and opened so many doors, that I’m honestly sad to see it reach its conclusion. But on the flip-side of that I can’t wait for the next series of projects and the potential to take what we’ve learned from Beast Wagon and build on it.
OMJ: Mixed feelings. In one way, I’m glad it’s over. It’s been constant pressure and the most hard work on top of many other commitments for all of us. John and Colin have been staggering in their work-ethic. Not many people know this but Colin has basically been the editor on the book as well as the letterer. His contribution as an equal (or superior in some cases) storyteller can’t be understated.
The strongest emotion I feel is pride. Proud we worked the hardest we could, and created ambitious comics that I believe are world-class in quality of art and story regardless of limited resources or the backing of a publisher. Proud that we stuck the landing and kept our friendships intact. Proud of the audience we’ve developed for taking a chance on the strangest of books and staying invested and patient for the duration. Proud of John for absolutely smashing his first ever comic book. Most of all, proud that we told the story we wanted to tell, how we wanted to tell it.
Did Beast Wagon end up as planned or did it evolve as issues were released?
JP: It was an evolution based on careful planning. The story arc developed naturally, and we’ve had many conversations from issue to issue about tweaks, but ultimately Owen had it locked down from early on. Thematically it was always intended to prompt questions and attempt something a little different. For me the art was the main evolutionary process, this has been the first series I’ve done. Over the course of the series my style has developed dramatically, and I’ve streamlined the production so the turnaround now is radically different to when we first started. It was always intentional that the artwork was going to shift in tune with the story, but I didn’t quiet expect how much the fast turnaround of producing sequential art would have on my style. It’s a welcome change.
You also released Beast Wagon Tails – was that always planned?
OMJ: I wouldn’t say they were planned from the outset but when we were working on the book we loved Sherman the Shamanic tortoise and felt there was a natural opportunity to expand on his ‘visions’, bringing in some talented friends of ours along the way. People like Jay Gunn (Surface Tension), Martin Simmonds (Death Sentence) and Andy Bloor (Midnight Man). Starburst Magazine and later Comic Heroes were open to running short two-pagers that helped us promote the series so it worked out just right. There are more we want to do, with artists we like. Maybe for a potential collection.
How challenging has this book been for you in comparison to others you’ve created?
OMJ: Hugely challenging, both creatively and logistically. The goal was to create a satisfying read both in single issues and the overall story, which would stand up to multiple re-reads. I wanted to know if we could do that. A fixed location gave focus but juggling a large ensemble cast who need their own room to change was a real challenge. To keep a visual consistency in the covers and design, and to create narrative hooks that keep readers invested, while introducing new things in each issue, was really fun.
And that’s not even hitting on logistics – which not enough independent creators are thinking about from the outset, in my opinion. It’s that understanding for format, how you’re selling it, who it’s aimed at, spending as much ‘work’ outside of the pure act of creating the thing that makes the different between success and failure. But we’re no experts – we’re still learning!
Everything from expanding relationships with stores (which now includes some amazing US and continental retailers) to pushing further to find new ways to grab people’s attention in the DIY marketing, to keeping on top of the financing, to having tables at shows. None of this is new information to many, but to do it all on the 3K we made in our initial Kickstarter? It’s tough. We’ve had to learn all this stuff top to bottom on this. It’s only by doing a series and keeping it on the rails and selling will you ever know whether you can run a comic. Not many people keep it going. You have to push relentlessly, because it’s not going to happen if you don’t.
Beast Wagon seems to have had an overwhelmingly positive response from readers/reviewers – how has that been?
JP: It’s been exceptional, the response has been consistently positive across the board. Last summer I did a few events in the U.S. and it really hit home there the level of interest a book like this can spark in people. We had a guy drive for an hour and a half in Austin to pick up the series, which really took me by surprise. It’s really is down to the support we’ve had that has pushed us to keep developing as creators over the course of the series and really work on the DIY elements of self-publishing, and it feels as though it’s paid off. On the flip side of that, as an artist I crave criticism in order to develop, and worry about stagnation. We’ve had really constructive feedback from peers, and Owen is great and cracking the whip and pushing me, but moving forward onto future developments it’d be great to work with a seasoned editor to push us even further. With that critical input coupled with the work ethic and ethos we’ve establish, we could really stir things up.
OMJ: Agree with John totally. It’s been wonderful that critics and readers connect with it. It’s proved there is a wide audience for a darker, more uncompromising book that publishers will constantly tell you doesn’t exist. So that has been really thrilling and we’re so grateful.
But we also know the book is not perfect for a load of reasons. We would have done many things differently, in hindsight. That’s great, because we know we can take things higher. I think as soon as you believe your own hype you’re fucked.
What’s next for Beast Wagon after the finale is released?
OMJ: We’ll take a break and then come back to compiling a definitive collection which will include expanded page-count, lots of extras and integrated Beast Wagon Tails. We’ll shop that around publishers but aren’t expecting anything. Since issue 1 dropped we’ve been talked to at least one editor at a whole bunch of major US publishers and it’s got to various stages before not being taken any further, for reasons which have never been explained to us. We’re starved of constructive feedback from publishers. It could very well be because of the uncompromising themes, which are not for everyone but, we believe, were integral to raising the book above a trashy horror book. It’s a hard book to market, that’s certain. But as proved by sales, there’s an audience there, as proved by our word-of-mouth.
We’ll be speaking to continental publishers about the book at Angouleme but after that who knows? If the demand is there we may return to Kickstarter to fund the collection. We both find no pleasure in clinging to past successes and there are so many new things on the horizon. It will always exist in a dirty chamber of ours, and our readers, minds and I think that’s exactly what the book has always intended.
Will we see you and John working together on other projects in the future?
JP: Absolutely, we’ve got a few things in the pipeline, one of which we’re going to jointly writing which will be of a different flavour to Beast Wagon. We’ve spoke at length about how much we’re looking forward to hanging out and creating something outside of this series. It’s how we became friends, and we’re channelling that connection into future endeavours. Next stages will involve what I can only imagine to be a Withnail and I style weekend away to concoct our plans and kick back after Beast Wagon drops, before getting back to the drawing board for the next adventure.
OMJ: Between contributing to each others solo projects, live events, the 2000 AD 40th party, pretty much everything we’ve done for the last couple of years has had some involvement with the other person. At this point there are about 5 projects we’ve talked about which could become collaborations, it’s just deciding which the strongest and most fulfilling and challenging for both of us will be. We’re keen the next project we mount as writer and artist is broader, deeper, stranger and more satisfying, and makes Beast Wagon look like throat-clearing.
What else are you working on just now?
OMJ: I’m hustling to get at least 5 books into shape just now, not including the potential projects with John. They’re all very different, broad genre stories. Digging more into my roots with science fiction and adventure. The stuff I grew up with. But, I hope, with a twist. Something important to say. Nowhere near as into-the-red as Beast Wagon. It’s difficult to maintain that level of intensity. I have a big announcement dropping in April which I’m really thrilled about.
JP: Aside from mine and Owen’s future projects, I’ve got something I can’t talk about hopefully coming out this summer mixing music and sequential art, Heretics with PM Buchan and Martin Simmonds later this year, and I’ve started working on my own book titled Treacle Town. Lots of exciting projects and exhibitions are popping up continuously, so it’s quickly shaping up to be a very productive year.
Is there a launch event planned or are you guys at any cons this year with Beast Wagon??
OMJ: We will be delivering a special directors commentary while robed in live snakes at Orbital Comics at a date TBA during the summer. End where things began. You can also find us at Glasgow Comic Con on July 1 and Thought Bubble in September. We’ve also been invited to a literature and design fair in Prague so hopefully we’ll be able to go out there.
OMJ & JP: Thank you Gary! And thanks for supporting the book since day one. Help from reviewers like yourself has been a big part of why Beast Wagon has succeeded.
As the first of April approaches for the release of the finale, its felt like we’ve been on-board for a wild roller-coaster ride since the beginning and while it’s sad to see it end, I’m sure it won’t be the last mind-blowing project to come from Owen & John. Beast Wagon may have been a labour of love for them both but the upside has been the positive response to it and it shows just how rich the indie scene is in the UK & beyond with titles like this helping to lead the way.
You can pre-order the final issue and the whole series over on the Changeling Studios website now.