Back in October Craig Jex did an interview with me for the Halloween edition of Popcorn Horror magazine. For those that missed it and for Heads! newbies who want to know more, here’s that interview in full.
Independent comic creator, Rik Jackson has had quite the eventful year. Fans of his comic strip, Rock In Purgatory, featured in these very blood drenched pages of Popcorn Horror were able to get their claws on the anthology which was published in early 2018. Unlike the characters in those rock ‘n roll pages, Rik didn’t bathe himself in the glory that his work enjoyed and end up on a path of self-destruction and grisly death. Instead, he got straight back in the saddle and created Heads!
Heads! tells the story of Private Detective Steve Datsun. An investigator that’s seen it all before, that is until these girls with those heads turn up. After a being hired to investigate a heist that the Heads! gang have pulled off, Datsun becomes embroiled in a dark world of paranormal crimes, unexplained phenomenon and twisting conspiracies. Seeking the evidence he needs to prove these anomalies and reveal what’s behind them, Datsun ends up much closer to the very unpleasant truth than he would have liked. Whether he will emerge with his reputation and his sanity intact remains to be seen, but if the story so far is anything to go by, it’s going to be one hell of a ride to find out.
Heads! is a departure from the anthology format you found successful with Brutal Bombshells and Rock In Purgatory. What made you decide to go down the serial route?
I’ve wanted to write an ongoing comic for a while, and have actually had Heads! in the pipeline for a couple of years now. Creating short-from comics has been really helpful for my visual storytelling skills, which I’ve made great use of when drawing Heads! The idea of a longer story was very daunting – especially one as ambitious as Heads! – so I decided to break it into parts instead. Heads! will be published as contained mini-series of five or six issues, each series wrapping up a particular story arc while paving the way for the next part of the story. This made it much easier for me to plan out and structure.
I’ve enjoyed working on the first few issues so far and like having the freedom to draw certain elements out for longer. This is something that I could never do with Rock In Purgatory and its great to be able to build more suspense and develop characters thoroughly.
It is clear from the first issue of Heads! that you have taken influence from different genres rather than the blood and guts you’re usually associated with. Were you getting tired of the gore or did you want to challenge yourself with a new direction?
Not at all – I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of some good old fashioned slasher style horror! I’m keeping my hand in on the horror stuff by working with Ken Wynne to create Unfortunate Tales from Plant B for his website Attack From Planet B. However, with Heads! I did want to take things in a less overt direction. Heads! is much more creeping and sinister, with both real crime and fantasy crime, giving me an opportunity to pull at different strings. There will be some X-Files-style scares as much as there will be unnerving crime thriller moments that you’d associate with shows like Luther. I wanted to give Heads! the chance to delve into different genres, and as a result I think I’ve got a comic series that will be entertaining to a number of audiences.
I got the impression that Heads! is very noir with possible sci-if influences. Can you tell your fans how the idea of Heads! came about?
I first sketched one of the Heads! gang after seeing a half finished shop window display. It had three female mannequins with large placeholder polystyrene balls for the heads and hands. I played around with the sketches a bit and thought it would be cool to combine this type of look with a Dick Tracy-style detective. It fitted nicely with my B-movie tastes, as there are a lot of possibilities as to what could be under the masks. I realised this was something that could lead to a longer story and if I threw in some other characters to give it more depth that there was a chance I could add some conspiracy elements to it. What if Datsun was the only person who knew about these girls? What if he was the only one who ever saw the other strange happenings? So I read a load of comics like Dick Tracy and Blacksad to get my head around detectives and watched things like They Live and The X-Files to get me thinking about how to put sci-fi horror into a conspiracy story. After that I had so many ideas for where to take Heads! and I’ve been trying to incorporate as many of them as I can ever since.
Some of the dialogue is very old school, South London sounding. Is that something you were going for? What do you think your non-British readers will make of Private Detective Steve Datsun and his colourful words and phrases?
It’s very much a conscious decision. I didn’t want to go too clichéd cockney, but Datsun is a south London man who doesn’t mince his words, so the dialogue had to reflect that. Datsun is quite a complex character who presents a lot of conflicting morals, much like a real person. He’s neither hero not anti-hero, he is just a man who does his best, makes mistakes and gets on as best he can. As such, I wanted him to feel as real as possible in the fictional world I am building. Being a south Londoner myself, it made sense to me to base Datsun’s dialogue and phrasing on how my friends and I speak to each other. There’s a lot of friendly piss-taking, swearing and slang. It seems to be going down well overseas though. I’ve had some great responses from US readers who absolutely love how he speaks. Phrases like ‘toerag’ and ‘lets have a butchers’ are particularly popular!
Brutal Bombshells you commissioned me to write the scripts and with Rock In Purgatory you successfully combined both your illustrative and writing talents to come up with some fantastic one off stories. How did you find the challenge of writing Heads?
The planning and length was difficult to work out at the start, which is why I settled on this being a series of mini-series. Even that is a challenge, as I have a lot to cram in while keeping it interesting. Actually, the hardest part has been making the art flow well to retain the reader’s interest, as a lot of Heads! is just two or three people having conversations. At this point in the story it’s about building characters and setting the scene. I needed to do that well but also make sure that each issue is a captivating read. I’ve delved into using subtle imagery a lot more with Heads! than in anything else I’ve done and I think it’s paying off. I’ve just finished the art for issue two, but there was a scene that really held me back. Datsun and his partner Higgins are having a phone conversation about a lot of essential plot points. It’s a key scene but with them on the phone they can’t even interact with each other! It took me a while, but I finally nailed it but having then doing two distinctly different things during the conversation, adding in some unusually focused illustrations which hint at a connections between the plot points. Now I have it finished I love the scene. Though there’s better scenes for action and excitement, it’s definitely the most important scene of that issue. I imagine these will continue to be the things that are hardest to do. That and editing all the pages for publishing, which drives me mental!
Can you tease your readers with what to expect in future issues?
The first series will showcase the Heads! gang and introduce a number of key characters as well as tons of false one – I’ve got more red herrings than a fish monger! There’s a skull faced murderer stalking the streets, a dirty gangster who likes to dispose of his enemies by drowning them in filth encrusted toilet bowls and plenty of other nasty criminals to make you fear going out alone at night. I’m also bringing back Vortex Face, the demonic soul-sucking doom metal band featured in Rock In Purgatory. I felt like I’d only scratched the surface of the possibilities for them so I’ve put them front and centre as a major plot mechanism, using their origin in Rock In Purgatory as a lead in. All the crimes Datsun faces have a paranormal streak to them, but there’s also a lot of science and logic behind them, meaning it’s down to the reader to decide whether Datsun is right that things are extraordinary or whether they side with Higgins, his sidekick and voice of reason.
If you love good mystery, a suspenseful thriller or a scary sci-fi B-movie then you’ll find something exciting and entertaining Heads!
I have some very grand plans for future series, but I’m keeping them under my hat for now…
What does the future have in store for you? Obviously more issues of Heads! are coming our way. Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
Yes, more Heads! is just around the corner. Issue two is due out just after Christmas and I’m writing and drawing issue three now, ready for a spring release. Unfortunate Tales is due to continue and I’m talking to Ken about the possibility of another horror comic project as well. I’ve got a load of other comics ideas in mind which I hope to get started on toward the end of the year. The first of these is likely to be Tomato Latte, a teen slasher comic based around New Years Eve in 1999, very much in the vein of movies like Urban Legend and Cry Wolf. Plus I‘m always open for commissions, so if you fancy a unique piece of custom art, just get in touch!