Interview « Cup of tea » with Leah Moore and John Reppion

Leah Moore & John Reppion are a husband and wife comic writing duo based in Liverpool. Working together since 2003, their work include Doctor Who – The Whispering Gallery, three Sherlock Holmes mysteries, adaptations of M. R. James’ Ghost Stories, and original Middle Grade Graphic Novel Conspiracy of Ravens (with Sally Jane Thompson), etc. Their work is full of paranormal, quite normal for two love birds, of Great Britain. Leah, John, welcome in the lyric pages of our Chroniques des Fontaines.

I hope you’ll enjoy answering my questions as much as I had fun writing them, so, here we go!

1/ADF: Leah, John, how did things first start for you in comic books? Your first job in the industry?

LEAH: The first comic I wrote was King Solomon Pines for Terrific Tales. My dad challenged me to write a story, and send it in, anonymously, and so I did. It was silent (no dialogue balloons) because I was terrified everyone would read it and realise instantly I wasn’t a real writer, and then they got Sergio Aragones to draw it… I cannot believe I got so lucky on my first story. I kind of started at the top and worked my way down from there!

JOHN: After Leah had written a few stories for ABC/Wildstorm, she was invited to pitch a series. We had not long moved in together and we ended up talking a lot of about the series, trying to get ideas together. By the time the pitch was actually done I was the co-writer. It just happened that way. And when the series (Wild Girl) was commissioned, then we were writing it together. 

2/ ADF: You know, we, in France, are quite literature addicted (well, that’s what we like to think), can you tell us what is your writing touch or “griffe” as we say in Paris?

LEAH: I think what we are probably known for is our detailing and research. We always make sure we get things as correct as we can. When we adapted Dracula we made sure the typewriter Mina uses to type up her husband’s diaries was the one that would have been available in the year the story was set, a Blickensderfer no 5, which has a type ball instead of separate keys, dates to 1895, and has a DHIATENSOR keyboard instead of the later Querty layout (1905). It sounds like a small thing but I think it brings the story to life to make sure the little things are correct, so it doesn’t feel like a Hollywood set, if that makes sense (ADF: yes it does!)?

JOHN: We definitely like to over research to make sure we’ve got more than enough information on any given subject. We’ve done a lot of historic, Victorian / Edwardian based things (Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Alice in Wonderland, M. R. James’ Ghost Stories) and I think that was kind of our thing for a while. I always try to bring a touch of weirdness and Forteana to anything I’m writing, because I’ve been obsessed with all that since I was a kid.

3/ADF: Being a married “writing duo”, how do you work together? Which one of you is the first to craft stories? Dialogues?

LEAH: We kick ideas about together and work out what the good bits are, the viable stories amongst all the rubbish, and then one of us will type up a pitch for it. When we actually come to write a thing, then I draw the pages out, as thumbnails, and then we both type the script up from those drawings. We could possibly type from John’s drawings, but I can’t tell what they are…

JOHN: These days we do work separately a bit more, because we’ve realised that we can get more done working on a project each rather than one between us. But collaborating is pretty easy, because that’s what we’re used to doing. It’s just a case of handing stuff back and forth so that the other person can have their pass over it. It takes a bit more time than working alone, but it also produces very different results.

4/ ADF: Any sound advices for neophyte artists who would like to work in the comic book industry? Would you tell them to go digital?

LEAH: I think working digitally has a lot of advantages in that you can Undo, you can layer your work up, work on parts of it and combine them, but there isn’t really a short cut to drawing. You just have to put in the hours and practice as much as you can. Draw what you love, so if you are mad on motorbikes draw them, if you’re into plants, draw them. The passion you put into it, is visible, so draw things you love. The main thing I would tell young artists is to practice their sequential work. Drawing a cover or a pin up is a million miles from drawing page after page of engaging comic art. Reading a comic is such a smooth immersive experience that if something is wrong, it’s like hitting a hole in the road, it pops the reader out of the story. If an artist can choose the shots and draw them so the story is clear, and dramatic and makes sense, that’s actually more important than whether their anatomy is perfect or whatever.

5/ ADF: When I was young, in the eighties, in France, reading comics was dirty and shameful… Today, with the multiple cinematic universes, reading comics is very very fashionable… Was it the same in England?

LEAH: It’s strange to me to hear you say that, because in the 1980’s, French comics were at the peak of the industry (ADF: well, you are right about French ones, but Shakespearian comics- especially the super-heroic ones-, were badly regarded in a country which idolized French literature, at the time, not anymore, sadly, readers have since migrated to the spheres of interactive applications…)! Jean Giraud’s influence was felt in every corner of British comics, as the thing to aspire to, the person elevating comics to their highest level. Most bookshops in Britain, the only big comic displays would be Asterix or Tintin, not UK kids comics from the same period. I think that in British comics we have always aspired to have the range and the style of French BD, with the big album sizes, and all the stores. I know a lot of people who buy French BD volumes even before they are in English, just because they are so amazing. I bought Blacksad ages before it was out in English. I know the films mean that comics are more mainstream now, and people will understand what you mean, if you talk about X Men or whatever, but I think that the comics themselves are as obscure as ever. I wish people could see how wonderful all the different kinds of comics are, not just the big X books.

JOHN: Being in my forties now, I feel like I’ve lived through comics being cool and then uncool about three or four times already. The thing is, no matter what the mainstream media perception of comics is, creators just keep on making comics. For me the medium of comics is simply the best, easiest, most impactful way of telling a story.

6/ ADF: Could you tell us what is the main difference between American comics and English comics? For us, French readers, it is quite subtle…

LEAH: I think British comics enjoy a joke at their own expense, where American comics can sometimes seem to take themselves a little more seriously. I think British comics are more anarchic, from Leo Baxendale, up to Kev O’Neill or John Wagner, I think that British comics have a strong sub text of being anti authority. That doesn’t mean we can’t write the big heroic stories like Captain America or Superman, but I think maybe we write those stories from a different place, sometimes. Like we don’t buy into the dream completely. We’re a bit more cynical maybe.

JOHN: We’ve been lucky enough to write for 2000 AD here in the UK for quite a few years now, and there is definitely a difference in tone when we do that and when we write for the US companies. It’s quite subtle though. I’ve written something for Heavy Metal Magazine recently based on an idea I’d originally had for 2000 AD, and the way it has changed isn’t all that huge. I feel like British comics, like the British sense of humour, have some kind of very precise tonal setting which, if shifted just a degree up or down, can change things quite dramatically.

7/ ADF: We interviewed in the past, another, Moore (not the one you think of): Terry Moore, and other comic books artists, etc. Are you in touch with him or others?

LEAH: Other Moores? No but maybe I should! I’m a huge fan of Terry’s work. Maybe we should all band together against the rest of comics, in a mighty Federation of Moores! We could have jackets, and cool gang names, I like that idea a lot!

8/ ADF: A word about The Complete Dracula (Dynamite, 2009), your retelling of the classic Bram Stoker’s novel which we chronicled on our pages and last (hidden) question, your association with painter, Colton Worley?

LEAH: Dracula is probably the book I’m still most proud of. It was so so hard to fit all the pieces together and make it work visually, and not to fall into the Hammer Horror version of the story we all know from the movies, but it turned out great! We had Colton Worley on it, and Dheeraj Verma helped out, and even Aaron Campbell (who is now drawing Hellblazer for Simon Spurrier) was working on layouts at one point. It was a really dense book to write and painting it all must have been an absolute nightmare for them. I’m in awe of the work they put in on it. It’s a strange project, because the dialogue is taken from the novel, as much as we could, and the art of course is all the work of the incredible artists on the project, but we’ve never worked so hard on a book. The fact that we end up invisible means we have done our job correctly!

JOHN: We’ve done other adaptations before and since The Complete Dracula, but we’ve never thrown ourselves into the research as heavily as we did with that book. It was an absolute pleasure to do because Dracula is such a dense and rich work, but it’s also a puzzle where the reader has to do a bit of piecing together of their own. It’s often said that part of the magic of comics is that so much action can take place between the panels, and in Dracula so much of the action takes place between the diary entries and letters and newspaper clippings. You join the dots yourself, seeing the big picture which none of the characters can. The other thing I love about Dracula is how hyper-modern it is. Stoker is deliberately placing this outdated Gothic vampire in his own ultra-modern world where things like typewriters, phonograph recorders, telegraphs, standardised train timetables, even battery powered torches, are pretty much the iPhones and Internet of their time. We think of Dracula as an old fashioned, historic horror, but really it’s about the meeting of the old world and the new world, and ultimately the defeat of the old world by the new.

9/ ADF: Leah, being the daughter of “you know who”, is your legacy hard to bear? John, a word about your relationship with this mysterious stepfather?

LEAH: It’s not hard to bear. I know it’s the main reason I’m making comics, in that he literally said to me: “Why don’t you try and write a comic” so I can’t complain at all. I guess the hardest part is observing the world’s reaction to his work, his life, his interviews, etc., when I know he doesn’t see it himself. He doesn’t have the internet, or watch much TV or anything, so it’s a strange position to be in, seeing the huge things that his ideas have become, and the impact they’ve had on people. I have never had any illusions about measuring up to him, or filling his shoes; he had a totally different relationship with comics, and knows a million times more than I do about them. I think the great thing about the medium, is that there is room within it for all the different comics, and creators, and publishers. There is no wrong way to do it.

JOHN: Alan is a lovely, supporter father-in-law, and we’ve always got on well. I think he was as sceptical as anyone else about Leah and I writing together at first, which makes sense because even I didn’t really know exactly why it was happening. We share a love of writers like Lovecraft, Machen, and William Hope Hodgson and usually end up chatting about Weird Fiction when we have a chance.

(ADF: thank you for the confidences about this black rare “beard”)

10/ ADF: A message for French comic book readers?

LEAH: We don’t always get told when our comics are translated into French, so if you see our books or buy them or read them please shout and tell us (ADF: I’ll do that!), we love to hear what you make of them! Tell us on twitter: (@leahmoore @johnreppion, we’d love to see our books out in the wild! I actually have some family in France, and I’m always promising I’ll visit, so maybe one day we’ll get over and say hello in person (ADF:keep me posted, I’ll be happy to come and greet both of you).

JOHN: Yes, as Leah says, we actually don’t even really know which book of ours have been brought out as French editions at this point, so we’d love to hear from readers in France. (Publishers too, of course.)

Thanks a lot for your time, Leah, and John.

The best from Paris,

Arnaud Delporte-Fontaine

More links with Moore and Reppion, no pun intended!

Arnaud Delporte-Fontaine