Interview: George Beedham

The other day I interviewed George Beedham via the wonder of Skype. We had a great conversation where we discussed his book, The Mighty Jambo, his upcoming appearance at Thought Bubble & many other amazing things. Clearly Skype felt this was too much awesomeness to contain in one call & insisted that we transcribe the interview instead. What follows is that transcript:

Good evening people this is Jon from Monkey on my Back. I’m here with George Beedham, drawthor of The Mighty Jambo – which is an outstanding web comic that we all love & I’m going to be interviewing him, so Hi George, how are you today?

I’m alright thanks, how are you doing?

I’m OK thanks. Now for the benefit of the people at home, can you tell us about the Might Jambo?

The Mighty Jambo is the misadventures of a man who has the ability to manipulate Jam as his only superpower. Which isn’t a fantastic superpower but he does his best to help out where he can.

It’s certainly unique but I really have to ask what gave birth to the idea of a man who can manipulate Jam?

The thing I usually get when I do that speech at conventions is “Oh like that Mitchell & Webb sketch where they can move biscuits with their mind!” But it came much earlier than that. I was talking with a friend from college & we were talking about who would be the worst X-Man possible & it was his idea to have a man who could manipulate Jam & then I drew it up & it started from there really.

It’s funny you should say that because when I watched the first X-Men film many moons ago with an ex girlfriend she said if she could have any mutant power she’d like to excrete Lemon Curd out of her toenails because it would be the worst mutant power. But Jambo’s completely different. This guy has got a Jam-sabre, which is a brilliant use of Jam! That’s one of the things that grabbed me about this comic, it’s such a completely unique idea. The thing is if you stop to think about it you realise, “hang on a minute, that’s crazy”.

This is the trouble I have when I’m talking about it with anyone because I have to stop & think about it & I think “yeah it is nonsense”. I think the Jam-sabre is a sign of my misspent youth watching Star Wars

I think Jambo is more of the Peter Parker type with the “great power & responsibility”

Yeah I picked up on that. As I was reading the comic on your web site I could see your twitter feed  alongside it as you were playing The Force Unleashed 2. What would you say are your main influences both artistically & writing wise for Jambo?

I’m a bit of a sponge when it comes to influences so I have to really limit myself on what I get influenced by, if that makes sense. I used to have an arrangement when I lived with a guy called Richie McCann who does some of the comics on the Notregret site where we’d both do a page each of our respective books & swap over & go through the bits that the other guy had ripped off from somewhere else because we’d both absorb so much stuff from popular culture & we’d say, “that’s a line from Spaced, you can’t use that or “that’s from Earthworm Jim” & I had to reign myself in. That said there are still hundreds of references throughout Jambo that managed to sneak through.

Writing’s tricky – I’m a big fan of Peter David & his Young Justice run as well as his X-Factor stuff. I also liked James Robinson before he went mental, when he was writing Starman. JLA: Cry for Justice was rubbish.

I didn’t read all of that, but James did & he had a lot to say about it. It was back at a time when we were trying to emphasise the positive more on the website & James wanted to write about it because it was a big title but he simply said “This is awful. I don’t know what I can say about it that’s positive” & I said, “Is it really that bad? So, he gave me a couple of issues & yeah it was terrible. But I remember reading some of the old Starman & I loved that.

Well that was a big influence when I first started. What I liked about Starman eventually (I didn’t really like it at first), but then I was convinced to carry on reading & I noticed that everything got tied back in & I thought “That’s a great way of writing a comic”. There are a few moments in the first arc of Jambo where you’ll be able to see something in the background or mentioned briefly in dialogue & then it’s not mentioned again for a couple of issues… I’ve still got a few left to work into future story arcs.

Well I’ve spent the past couple of weeks reading Jambo on your website & then I’ve had a copy of the 6th issue here (which we’ll come back to a bit later) & one the things that I’ve enjoyed seeing is the evolution of the artwork, I mean you started this when, back in 2008, 2009?

2006 I started it. But this is a retcon. I started drawing it in 2000 & the artwork wasn’t great & there were only 10 pages an issue. It was a bit hurried. I got to about issue 8 & decided it was pants and I should start again. This was in about 2006 in my second year of uni. The stories have been completely overhauled & they’re almost unrecognisable now from what they were back in 2000.

Reading all of Jambo in a much shorter space of time allows the reader to see the progression of the art that’s gone on from the first page & you can watch it build over the years. Certain perspectives that haven’t looked right or a certain pose is off but they’ve evolved & got better. You’ve got the actual super hero pose down Pat. If you look at page 11 of issue 4 or page 12 & compare that with the first issue they look so much better but you can tell it’s the same person drawing them. That adds something to it.

I like being able to see the artist’s progression. If you look at some of Jim Lee’s stuff when he started drawing Hush (the Batman story), his Batman looks different at the beginning of the arc to how he does at the end, & that was only a year or so. The reason I’ve made a conscious effort to improve the art is because I started off just writing Jambo & I did some initial sketches to try & get people involved, but nobody was interested so I just thought “sod it, I’ll do it myself”.  I got a bunch of art books & I’ve been teaching myself ever since. So it’s gradually taken shape.

I think the art has definitely improved though I do wonder at points; shouldn’t you have just called the comic Cheezar? At the moment he’s kind of the central character in the book, which works in the story, for reasons I won’t go into. But he’s the one with all the snappy wisecracks & he’s the sidekick even though he thinks he’s not the sidekick & Jambo thinks, “Well I’m not the sidekick” but at the moment it’s Cheezar who’s getting all the snappy one liners & from a personal perspective he’s definitely my favourite character at the moment.

The trouble is he rapidly became my favourite as I was writing it too. I’m a big Flash Fan & read a lot of Mark Waid’s Impulse when I was younger. So having a Speedster in there started out as a bit of a fan boy thing. Cheezar’s the opposite kind of hero to Jambo: Where Jay is limited by his seemingly rubbish power, Cheezar has a great power but limits himself by being a bit of a cock… That’s what I’ve tried to explore by introducing his former team mates and villains within this storyline. I’ve also got a big dramatic entrance planned for Jambo where he steals the limelight back, but for the moment it’s a very Cheezar centric story.

One of the other things I’ve enjoyed is that on the website you’ve had random bits of Cheezar’s war journal. When I read it I laughed a lot because it’s what a war journal should be like, none of this dark & gritty stuff, just Cheezar saying “I’m gonna do this I’m gonna do that, I’m gonna go & get another haircut & then I’m going to kick this guy’s ass!”

Well I’d just finished my first major storyline and to be honest I was worn out! It was around Christmas time & I was trying to find a job and was moving house and didn’t want to jump straight back into a full blown storyline: So I came up with that style to take it easy and bridge the gap between stories. People found it funny & it worked because I didn’t have to do a panel layout I just whacked it out the night before & posted it on the website. It was more immediate than the drawn out stuff. Obviously the diary is a bit of a narrative trope in comics and things like Rorschach’s journal from Watchmen and Punisher War Journal were a big influence there

Cheezar’s the opposite kind of hero to Jambo: Where Jay is limited by his seemingly rubbish power, Cheezar has a great power but limits himself by being a bit of a cock… That’s what I’ve tried to explore by introducing his former team mates and villains within this storyline.

Going back to the influences thing, are you a Deadpool fan? If you turn around & say, “No I hate Deadpool actually” then this whole bit is sunk by the way ;)

I was a Deadpool fan but not since they’ve insisted on using his multiple personality in every story. I liked it at first but I’ve gone off it since. The run during the 90’s where he was living in a flat with Constrictor & Titania was great. Even though it was a complete Seinfeld rip off, it was genius.

Can you ever remember (this is off topic but it’ll link back in) there was a Deadpool issue where he travels back through time into a Spiderman comic from the 60’s?

& he fights Kraven the Hunter. I remember that. It was a Great Lakes Avengers crossover where he gets hit by some portal or other & travels back through time.

Excellent I’m, glad somebody else remembers this because it means I haven’t made it up in my head. All I ever remember of it was Deadpool going around disguised as Peter Parker (because he had his holographic gadget) & he kept asking Harry Osborne “Dude, what’s with your hair?” which I was amazed that nobody had ever asked Harry Osborne before. Speaking of Spider Man is there an element of that in Jambo too?

Yeah, definitely – Spider Man was the first comic I ever picked up so he’s definitely in there. I think Jambo is more of the Peter Parker type with the “great power & responsibility” while Cheezar is Spidey’s wise-cracking side over emphasised to the point that he’s become a prick.

Have you been reading any of the current run of Amazing Spider Man?

I’ve been reading the Dan Slott stuff & really enjoying it. I’ve been enjoying everything since Brand New Day really (apart from the Quesada stuff). It’s a bit like Daredevil now where they’ve brought back the fun nature of golden age comics while still writing some utterly superb storylines! “Shed” for example is the best Lizard story ever written… Ever!

I’ve been reading since Spider Island & I picked up a few issues of Big Time & I think the only way I can describe the current run of Spider Man is that it makes me feel like I’m 13 again & reading comics again for the first time.

It’s more fun than some of the stuff that was going on before Civil War where Spider Man was quite mopey & very continuity heavy and you had to pick up 5 or 6 books to follow one arc. That was one thing I wanted to avoid in this crossover issue I’ve just done!

& the other thing I wanted to ask about influence wise, is there an element of the Tick in your work?

A little, I watched the cartoon a bit when I was younger. It’s the super hero parody stuff.  Earthworm Jim was a big influence. Some of the jokes probably worked their way in because they’re lodged in the back of my head. I’ve tried to skirt round the super hero parody but at the same time still be influenced by it.

One of the things with Jambo is that while it’s a super hero parody the events that the characters deal with & the way you deal with them is actually quite serious. You obviously have a genuine love for these characters & care for them. It’s one of the things that makes the book so enjoyable is that even though it’s poking fun at the characters it still flows very nicely & it hangs together as a proper story as any serious comic would – If that makes sense. Sorry, it’s not the best choice of words.

I’ve tried to make the writing as straight as possible. Yes the premise & the characters are still funny & ridiculous, but I try to write it as seriously as possible. I remember hearing an interview with Edgar Wright about Shawn of the Dead & he was saying about while he & Simon Pegg wanted to make the film ridiculous they wanted to make the horror completely genuine, so the Zombie stuff is true to the genre. I wanted to make Jambo as genuine as possible while still have it be ridiculous at the same time.

I recently interviewed Daniel Clifford who wrote Sugar Glider & Michael Georgiou who writes Elemental Micah & Steve & Bob (which we’ll also come back to later) & they have an element of Kitchen Sink heroics in their work & I also see it in Jambo. It’s very British. It’s about two guys sharing a flat, & all the problems that go with it, they just happen to have super powers.

The Kitchen Sink stuff was something I wanted to bring in. I liked the idea of these people sharing a flat. I had an initial vision where it was 5 or 6 people sharing a flat (possibly because those were my living conditions at the time) & they’d all have super powers. So, they’d be queuing for the bathroom & the speedster would run to the head of the queue but then the teleporter would jump in front of him. I just wanted to poke fun at the idea. Just because you have super powers it doesn’t make you a hero. You’re still who you are.

Now the all important question. What is your favourite Jam?

I tend to go for Strawberry, but I don’t mind Blackcurrant.

I just thought it would be a good way to get other people involved & to cross pollinate readers & I wanted to see if what I was writing reflected what I wanted it to reflect about the characters.

So did you call yourself a Drawthor or did you borrow it from James?

Haha! Much as I’d like to claim it I’m afraid I borrowed it from James. It’s a MOMBcast creation.

I saw it on your Twitter feed & I couldn’t remember if James had invented the word  or stolen it off you. Either was quite feasible. So when you write Jambo. How does it work? Do you always script everything first or do you find yourself sketching out a fight between 2 characters & then build something around that?

I tend to have a start point & an end point then everything in between just kind of happens. I have certain beats I know I have to hit. The villain has to show up at a certain point & the characters have to fight at a certain point & then it has to be resolved, but a lot of it has to be improvised. I started out by writing everything down but it took me so long to draw the pictures that the humour lost its immediacy so I tend to write the dialogue last now so it flows around the pictures while I’m drawing.

Now you’re on Hiatus till December at the moment, but you usually update on Thursdays. For anyone who still wants to visit there’s a still lot to look at. The whole of Jambo for a start & the mini blog posts that formulate a sort of directors’ commentary. They lend a sense of time to the proceedings as you talk about things like Christmas & life in general & it just adds a whole new layer to the proceedings.

Well I found that if I didn’t write any blog posts my traffic dropped down. So now I try to put something on there because it’s kind of the point of being online. It’s a way for you to show where you’re at & where you’re coming from without upping the page count & the price of your books.

Also on a side note I’ve got something a bit different that I’m quite looking forward to creating in December I just hope everyone else likes it!

Also this weekend you’ll be at Thought Bubble. Do you want to tell us a bit about that?

Yep. I’ll be sharing table 74 in Saviles Hall with Paul Friar who is a friend of mine who does a fantastic comic called Rockfall (and also features in issue #6). So come along & buy both our books.

Will Jambo #6 be available?

It’ll be launched at that show. It’s not available to buy online yet so if you can’t wait, then Thought Bubble is the official launch of the issue.

I’ve already read issue 6 but I wanted to ask you about it as part way through it does something quite unlike anything that’s been before. Without giving too much away 2 of the characters effectively end up passing through other people’s comics & the book takes on sort of an Open Source effect. How did this come about?

I’d been talking about it with a few people that I’d done conventions with. Small press tends to be quite isolated unless you do an anthology book like Faster Than Light. I just thought it would be a good way to get other people involved & to cross pollinate readers & I wanted to see if what I was writing reflected what I wanted it to reflect about the characters. I don’t get a tremendous amount of feedback. But if the people writing it could make the characters still seem like my characters then it meant I was doing a decent job of describing the characters, if that makes sense.

It completely threw me at first but it’s lovely to see the artistic style go through so many variations. There’s a foray into the aforementioned Steve & Bob by Michael Georgiou, & there’s one by Aaron Murphy towards the end which is completely silent. It’s not your conventional Splash page because it’s drawn at an angle, but it’s a beautiful piece of artwork & I loved it even more when you contrast it with the 2 pages before which are incredibly cutesy. But it all fits together really well. Was the crossover your idea or did somebody else suggest it to you?

I’d been considering it for a while, but I realised earlier this year that there would be a great jumping off point coming up so I e mailed some people I knew, they came back & said, “Yeah that’s a great idea, let’s do it” & e-mailed me the completed pages about an hour before I had to update the website, which was an interesting way of doing it.

Being the writer of a web comic that updates weekly this obviously puts you in a different position to other people in the indie market. As we all know the Internet is a temperamental beast. Do you find that writing a web comic has advantages or does it simply bring up a whole new set of issues?

Theres a lot more technical problems that can arise from publishing on the web rather doing it yourself. The immediacy of the feedback is quite good though. I don’t think I’d enjoy waiting for 6 months to a year for people to say “yeah, that’s pretty good” whereas if you get that enthusiasm week by week I find it gets you more fired up to do the book.

How do you actually draw the book?

I tend to draw thumb nails on a sheet of paper then I’ll use a tablet to do the line work & use a computer to colour it. Before I had a tablet I’d draw the whole thing, ink it, then scan it in & then try desperately to erase the pencil lines that were everywhere. I’ve streamlined the process now though & hopefully the results stand up.

What advice would you give to anyone who is aspiring web comica or to the people who are just wanting to go to conventions to sell their wares as you do both?

I have a lot of people ask me at conventions how to make it in the comic industry & very often my response is “if you find out let me know”. I’m still learning. I think an online presence is pretty essential to building up a readership these days. Artists I know who tend to shy away from social media would probably agree they don’t get as much exposure. A lot of it is if you enjoy it then keep doing it & other people will discover it & hopefully they’ll enjoy it too. I’ve always said with Jambo that when I don’t want to do it anymore then it’ll end quite abruptly because I don’t see the point in doing something I don’t enjoy. As long as you’re in it for the right reasons & not just for the financial gain or to become internet famous then you’ll get a lot of fun out of it & other people will too.

 

George is at Thought Bubble this weekend which runs at the Clarence Docks in Leeds. You can also read the continuing adventures of Jambo on his website as well as see more of his work at the Not Regret studio website