Thursday, 5 November 2015

A Q&A with Matt Hardy and Edward Bentley of Mad Robot Comics

Matt Hardy and Edward Bentley are the team behind Mad Robot Comics, whose first three issues of Madhouse are now available. In addition, they are starting out on the convention circuit - with an appearance in Brighton this weekend. They stopped by the blog for a chat. 




A scene from The Gulls, another production from the team. 

Hi Matt, Edward, and congratulations on the first three issues of Madhouse. How has the reaction been to the comic?

Edward: It’s been surprisingly good. Considering it is our first venture in the printed form, I am really happy with the reaction from everyone. It’s a hard road when self-publishing and promoting a piece of work like this. You initially have only a certain local/friend base to work from and then slowly you feel it start to snowball as you produce more and show it more. And that's where we are now. just starting to get it into more public spaces and conventions and getting a more unbiased view of our work. 

Matt: Positive, but cautious - Madhouse is a little different from most books out there. Structure, style, colour even. It's is written as a showcase for Ed’s art so each issue radically shifts the perspective and the landscape. It’s an adjustment for some. 

To complement Ed's bold, aggressive art I try to write some big moments and shocks into each issue so our hope is that it’s challenging but still a thrill ride. 


Things get messy for the hero in Madhouse...

What's your pitch for Madhouse? What's your one-liner to hook people in?

Matt: Hmmm - “Do you really trust the word around you? - What if it all just fell away?” 
Or “You don’t need to be insane to get Super-powers, but it helps!"

Edward: I'm really liking ‘Complete insanity, its just a state of mind’ at the moment. It's Matt's tagline for the poster and sums up the work pretty well. 

I get the sense that you two have known each other a long while – how long is that, have you always talked comics or has Mad Robot brought you together?

Matt: Hah. We’re both gamers. I got tired of Ed beating me all the time so I suggested we do a comic. Ed’s an artist, animator, painter. I spend my days scribbling story ideas on the back of rail cards and beer mats. Synergy? 

Edward: Matt and I have been friends for a long time now… I’m gonna guess about 12 years but I’m sure he knows the exact date. Matt has always talked comics and I can blag my way through it sometimes. We have spent a lot of time before Mad Robot coming up with stories and small comic strips and stuff before we got serious. Last Exit [Editor's note: Last Exit To Brighton, another project from the team] was the first full-time project we did and i have a real soft spot for it as it really showed the commitment that we both had for making comics.

So what are the comics that you talk about? Which are the ones you're passionate about? And what is it about those comics that you love? 

Edward: This is a pretty sore point for us as Matt is a huge comic fan and I have a few that I love but I am mainly influenced by films and street art. so we do find ourselves crossing swords on comics a lot. But as a writer and artist, I think that works as we are both looking for different things and when they come together they make something that I hope is a little different.

Matt: I read comics across all genres and publishers. I prefer character-driven works, but I admire writers who have the ability to weave multiple plot-lines. Good recent stuff - Paper Girls (‘Goonies' with Girls as I’m calling it), Jason Aarron’s Dr Strange relaunch (a template for the movie I’d say), Airboy (don’t let your wife read it), The Dead and the Dying, Slott/Aldred’s Silver Surfer, Soule’s Lando book, We Stand on Guard, I could go on. I adore comics as a format and there is so much great stuff currently being published. 

I bought Ed a copy of Scottie Young's I Hate Fairyland as I liked the concept and I knew the art would appeal to him. I’m also pushing him to read Fraction’s Sex Criminals. 
I nag Ed to read comics. He tells me to watch more TV and films. We are both right.  

One for you, Matt, on the writing side of things – what are your influences there? Whose comic writing is it you admire and what draws you to their work? 

Matt: Always looking for a way of storytelling never attempted before. Using the written word to expand personal reality. Awed by James Robert’s ability to have a throw away line from a character three years past suddenly take on new meaning and feed back pivotally to the main story. Such dense plotting. Charles Soule has hit the ground running (loved his She-Hulk). Currently I can’t pick up a book by Jason Aaron without having some level of emotional response (in particular Southern Bastards). I’m love the work of Peter David, Grant Morrison, Gail Simone, Jonathan Hickman, Dan Slott, Scott Synder, Mark Waid, Keiron Gillen. How much room do I have here? 

Hah! Think we'll cut you off here before you start organising them into alphabetical order too! Edward, there's hints of Frank Quitely and Jamie Hewlett by my reckoning in your work so I imagine they might be influences. Am I right, and who am I missing from your hit list? 

Edward: You are defiantly right on Hewlett, Tank Girl and the Gorillaz really influence my colour palette and my over-exaggeration quite a bit. As for Quietly, I don’t know masses of his work but I remember the day I read his Batman and Robin books and just being in awe of his use of sound effects… I definitely need to read some more. As for other influences, Ramos’s ‘out there’ had a big impact on my work, his bold lines and crazy mouth shapes really helped my style progress and I hope as time goes on I can marry these all together into something just as special. I can’t really talk about influences without mentioning Terry Gilliam. He has always had a huge impact on me and my work and even when I look at madhouse now, I can see Bruce from 12 Monkeys in the main character, Andy.


The work of Jamie Hewlett is an inspiration to Edward Bentley

Sticking with Edward a moment, I come at things from a writer's angle (and have a tremendous envy of people with artistic skill such as yours!). As a writer, I read other people's work and think wow, love how this person writes, and try to figure out how to incorporate some of the better things they do in what I do. Does the same process hold true from an artist's point of view when looking at how other artists draw their work? And if so, what is it that you've tried to bring in from others, and what was it that wowed you about them? Clearly, by the way I've phrased that, this may be a question you may tell me I don't know what I'm talking about... 

You are correct. I may have answered a lot of this already, but my art is a collage of all the bits and pieces of ideas that I like from others' work, and by doing that you then add to them and if they work they become part of your style and thats how I evolve. Like before with Quitely’s sound effects, when I attempt effects, I will look back over the really good ones that I found for ideas and hopefully pull off something that has the influence but looks like me. As a current example, I am currently using a Hewlett image that i love to help try and help me bring depth to upcoming projects. When I look at the piece, I am blown away by the sheer depth to the image.

I like that. As an aside, my favourite ever sound effect in comics came from an artist's visit to a convention in Japan. As a hero punched his opponent, he snuck in the name of the city hosting the convention, "Sapporo!" as a sound effect! Back to Matt, have you done more writing for comics or in other story formats? How do you find the difference between the two?  

Matt: I have laptops full of short stories - I just don’t have the attention span for an actual novel. Comic-books are not restricted by movie budgets, format restrictions or even that many rules. Comics have the potential to deliver so much information in such a short attention window, to drive home a concept in it's purist form. 

So I find myself drawn to writing in that format.

This is the first publication for Mad Robot Comics, yes? How did the creation of the new imprint come about?

Edward: Madhouse is our first printed comic under the company Mad Robot, yes.When we started making Madhouse, we had to make social media links for it and we already had ones for Last Exit and so it was just a natural decision to have something to pull all our works together under one heading, and Mad Robot Comics was born.

Matt: We’d put out a bunch of comics but needed a marketing identity. We got tired of fighting over a name when drinking. We were nearly Torchlight Comics or Axoim Publications. Ed suggested Madhouse Comics (after our main title), I love giant transforming Robots and somehow Mad Robot turned up. As soon he is done with Star Wars, JJ Abrams is going to sue the pants off us. 




I won't tell JJ, your secret is safe with me and Twitter. You also have a project called Last Exit To Brighton – tell us a little about that and how it came about?

Matt: If I remember correctly, Ed drew this great picture of two oddball detectives on Brighton Pier. I had this heaven/hell/serial killer story all plotted out and I really wanted to write characters with snappy back-and-forth dialogue. Things just clicked. 

Edward: Up until Last Exit, we were just mucking about with small projects and short titles that never really achieved anything. I don’t remember exactly how it came about but I think we had both reached a point where we needed to do something more… something more substantial and I think I said how about a post-apocalyptic Brighton and Matt ran with it and created something quite magical. Last Exit is one of those pieces where Matt's writing is loose and exciting and really fun to read and my art is a little too rough to keep up in places but like I said before, I have a real soft spot for this piece.

Matt: Last Exit was a learning experience for both of us. There is a lot to love and a lot to cringe about - but as a fully realised story with a beginning, middle and end, I’m proud of it. 

And future plans?

Edward: Lots of secret ones…. seriously though we have got to finish Madhouse with a big finale in issue 4. We have just released a new small Hitchcockian comic called The Gulls which may lead to something exciting, and we also are working on reimagining an old and loved idea from our past… very excited about this one.

Matt: I wrote an 12-page introductory comic called “The Gulls” for the upcoming Brighton Film and Comic Con. We plan to follow that up. I also dug up a old story pitch called Cadavers that I put a lot of work into about five years back - I don’t think my writing or Ed’s art at that time would have done it justice, but Ed is experimenting with new technology and new ways to approach his art which I think would suit the type of frenetic, action based story I fancy doing.  

I also have eight pages of notes about Madhouse 4 tying-up all the unanswered questions and likely driving both me and Andy further into insanity . 

I think Matt just spilled the secrets there, Edward! OK, end of the long questions! Last two questions. First, what's the best response you've had from people to Madhouse?

Matt: I’ve a friend who's a teacher and runs a comic-book club for the kids in his class. Their kids review was "weird and gory and not like anything we've read before”. Taking that to the bank. 

Edward: I get a lot of good responses about my art but I love it when someone who doesn’t usually read comics enjoys the story we are trying to tell… Matt's work doesn’t get enough credit and I love to hear nice things about it.

And last question – though I'm kind of cheating because it's two – what are you reading at the moment, and what's the best thing you've read this year?

Edward: I am currently reading (it didn’t take long) the first issue of I Hate Fairyland by Scottie Young. Absolutely love it… completely throw away but it is just jam packed full of exciting little bits and style. I could tell you what the best thing I have read this year is but I won’t… the best thing I have experienced this year and the one thing that has blown my imagination more than anything else has got to be Mad Max Fury Road… a masterpiece on all levels.

Matt: I firmly believe that the most groundbreaking, innovative work is coming out of the comics field at present. Again I could fill your website with a list of great comics. The best thing for me at present is IDW’s More Than Meets the Eye - but if I tell you what it's about, I suspect reader prejudice may stop people from picking up a clever, beautiful, brilliant piece of work. 

Instead,  I’ll steer away from comics and just say that currently I’m wading through some Tales From The Mists [Editor's note: Awww, bless you for mentioning our anthology!] and sitting on my desk waiting to be read is The Shepherd’s Crown. I might stop before the last page just so I’ll always have something left of Pratchett's to read. 

I admire your willpower if you can resist! A lovely note to end on. Matt, Edward – many thanks, and best of luck with Mad Robot. 

You can read our review of Madhouse issue one hereYou can find out more about Madhouse and its publisher, Mad Robot Comics, at www.madrobotcomics.com. The team is also on Twitter as @madrobotcomics and on Facebook.

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