Where did the idea for Slow Shutter come from?
It’s one of those stories that I can’t really remember the genesis of, to be honest. I think when I started sketching out the idea I was probably more in the headspace of “what’s the tone of book I’d like to write at the moment?” rather than any particular element of the character or plot sparking things off. I know that I’d wanted to do something that sat in quite an uncomfortable, woozy space, and that I wanted to have a central, narrative driving force that I wasn’t necessarily interested in ever explaining to the reader. From then on it was probably a case of just thinking what sort of worlds and characters would nicely plug into a tone of grim, thick grime. I imagine at that point, tabloid paparazzi might have seemed a particularly sensible choice.
Have you had this story in mind for a while?
The script for Slow Shutter was written a couple of years ago. I’d moved to Bristol from Glasgow, I had no job and no friends and was possibly incredibly sad and wondering if it had all been a proper bad idea. It meant having a lot of time for sitting about and working ideas up in the notebooks and trying not to think about things. I’d had one stab at the story previously I think, in a form that just didn’t work at all and would probably be entirely unrecognisable as being related to Slow Shutter if anyone else were to read it (all I remember about it was that it was shite, a horse got murdered, and there was some weird sex in it (not in the horse)).
So there was a long time between the script finishing and me approaching Elliot about the story. Before then I’d started and not finished my first series, Master Tape (dead after two issues because MASSIVE COMICS INDUCED DEBT), and started and not finished Freak Out Squares (on a hiatus after it’s third issue at the time) with Garry Mac. I was adamant that I wouldn’t ask people to part with cash for something else of mine, when I’d been nothing if not consistently frustrating and disappointing to the few people who’d invested enthusiasm in my books up to that point. Thankfully, Me and Garry reconnected and shouted affirmation rituals at each other via whatsapp daily for eighteen months, and turned in a conclusion to Freak Out we were both incredibly happy with. After that I felt like I could maybe start poking around the idea of doing something new and approaching artists, which felt a lot like what dating after twenty years of marriage.
Mark is a great central character that you manage to like and dislike in equal measure, was that the aim?
Yeah, I think so. It was a bit of a struggle to get that sort of balance in such a compressed space at times, but the intention was to have him be a man who the reader could easily see as being an entirely more virtuous man if he’d just made a few better decisions. The book takes place at the point where he realises he wants to choose to be better, just as the choice is taken away from him. There may very well be bits of the book that are written as notes-to-self.
The art suits the suspense of the story well – will you collaborate with Elliot on more titles?
Yeah, at the drop of a hat. He was an absolute delight to work with, and the work itself is fantastic, beyond what I expected. It’s always nervy collaborating on comics, from both sides of the Writer/Artist fence. I’d primarily worked with only Garry for the years beforehand, and me and Garry just have that sort of relationship where I can happily ask him to draw the you know, the physical embodiment of some vague esoterica and he goes “aye alright then”. Garry being so good and us being so in sync probably let me get into some truly terrible scripting habits that I was worried about having exposed.
So yeah, I was aware of El’s work from his series with Umar Ditta, “Untethered”. But it was John Lees (everyone’s comic’s Dad) who recommended him. He’d seen some work in progress stuff El was doing at Thought Bubble 2018, and said he was really hitting a next level and that I should pounce, basically.
From first layouts you could see he got the book. The sense of cloying atmosphere we were going for. By the time he was turning in final pages for the book it was great how confident he was getting – making suggestions, altering elements of the storytelling so it served things better, talking through ideas with (the absolutely brilliant) Hass at the lettering stage. I can write pretty talky books, and this was the talkiest so far, and he seemed genuinely excited to get to draw these small, nuanced moments. The changes in expression and body language. It’s brilliant as a writer to know you have an artist like that on board, who finds that as interesting as fantasy or sci-fi.
So yes, I have nothing written for him at the moment, but I’d absolutely love to do all sorts of stories with him. Though I hope that he starts getting picked up for big gigs that put him well out of my budget, because he absolutely deserves it.
You opted for a one-shot rather than a series this time around – what made you go that route?
I feel like saying necessity makes it sound like a compromise? Which I guess it unavoidably is. But I’d done a four issue series, and tried to do another four issue series (I’m not a sensible man), and always tried to pay collaborators as much as I could. Not only does it run roughshod over your finances in a way that’s not fair to the woman you live with who has to buy all the shopping, but it also means you’re really limited in what you can put out. Basically, I can maybe afford to do a book a year. After four years I’d rather have told four complete stories,than one story in four parts, and one shots mean I get to do that.
And it’s not like I’m going back through all my notebooks at these things I’d plotted out, beat for beat, as four/six issue mini’s and going “how to I squash this into one”. But I find the ways and means of writing about the things I want to write about, the things I want to communicate, in an effective way in thirty-ish pages. If you commit to communicating one idea really well, twenty to thirty pages is a lot of space.
It’s quite nice anyway, the challenge of being that ruthless and working with such economy. My favourite bit of writing comics is the first edit after the first draft, that’s always been the most creative feeling bit for me. Chopping, changing, shuffling, scrapping. And the limitations of a one-shot force that sort of really hyper-engaged critical eye to be on for the whole process.
That said, there’s ideas I’ve tried to fit into one-shots that just won’t go, no matter how I approach. And they will sit in my folder of books I’ll just probably never get to make. Which is preferable to putting out shit work.
Do you have more planned for either the same characters of the same universe?
No, basically, nothing planned. I know there’s plenty that’s left unsaid in the book. But it’s mainly left unsaid because the reader knows as much as they need to know to follow Marks emotional arc, and I don’t see what adding anything else would achieve.
What else are you working on just now?
Me and Garry have two one-shot books we really want to do, when he’s not busy being a bloody genius and I can afford to keep him in expensive, incredibly snug briefs. “Under Neon Stars” is an abstract, free-floating, fragmented piece we really worked to build from the sorts of visuals he wanted to draw. It was a blast to write because I know how beautiful he’s going to make it look.
Hypersexxx is the one I feel we would still want to do even if we both decided to never make comics again. A piece of haunted pornography, unashamed erotica, pure smut. We really want you to join these characters in having a bloody good time. Alone, with a partner, with partners, however you like. We know near exactly how it goes, it’s just been quite hard to get into shape. Won’t stop wriggling.
Other than those two, I feel like anything I’ve written and not produced previously probably needs to be consigned to history. The world is moving fast, and the trajectory is only downwards. If I’m going to try and get a single book out a year, then it’d feel a real waste not to try and capture some of how it feels to be surrounded by what has become a suffocating political and social atmosphere. So, an upbeat, all-ages affair for me next.
Thanks to Harry for taking the time to catch-up with me and you can get hold of the book over at the links below:
You can also keep updated with what Harry is working on next over on Twitter and it’s worth mentioning that this release was recently announced among the nominations for Best Single Issue in this years Scottish Independent Comic Book Alliance (SICBA) awards.