A Love Letter To UK Comics
The 77 is a new UK anthology and here’s its editor Ben Cullis talking about its genesis and development to Tripwire editor-in-chief Joel Meadows…
TRIPWIRE: What was the genesis of The 77?
BEN CULLIS: It’s a different genesis for each of The77 team. We share a love of comics, that’s how we met online in The77-2000AD Facebook group that I created pretty much soon after Facebook became more well known in 2007. But individually we each have our own reasons for wanting to see The77 comic get published and hopefully become a successful title. Personally speaking I’ve been a designer all my life. As a kid I was involved in fanzines and self published titles. Skate Muties from the 5th Dimension was one. I’ve been involved in music, working with bands on their videos and AV work when they toured, I’ve worked as an animator and film-editor. For my sins for the last 20 years I have taught in graphics and design subjects. However, the desire to get back to comics has never really gone away.
TW: Obviously it’s partly your tribute to 2000AD. How important has 2000AD been to you as a reader and now as a publisher?
BC: You say that but it’s really more about all of the comics that we read and loved as kids. So for me that’d be in order of reading and buying them, Beano, Whizzer and Chips, Monster Fun, Krazy, Look and Learn, Action and 2000AD. For some of the younger team it’d include Battle/Action, The Eagle, Scream and Transformers, and others like Misty, Jinty and Bunty as well the titles mentioned.
TW: How did you gather together the creators on the series?
BC: Firstly The77 team are all included, we host several Facebook groups and other digital communities in our own right but have come together as a collective to get The77 project off the drawing board and into comic readers’ hands. I’m the editor (aka Benksy) and commission the strips, therefore have been involved in the publishing and distribution of our launch issue. I enjoy this work and have no real desire to resurrect any of my old IP for The77! The rest of the team are writers for The77: Dave Heeley (Division 77), Steve Bull (V), Dave Bedford (Tempered Curse) and Paul McCullom (Have Blaster Will Travel!) and Jo Heeley has a story in development for issue 3. We manage the comic between us and are constantly looking for new talent and established creators to commission.
TW: How did you then get submissions for the title?
BC: Regarding the amazing creators that have joined us, Kek-W, Ian Gibson, Steve MacManus, Annie Parkhouse, PJ Holden, Lew Stringer, Charlie Gillespie, Mal Earl, Phil Elliott, are a few of the over 30 that have been commissioned up to issue 4, we know many of them personally and the rest have seen our online work and contacted us.
We area also working with emerging talent and are very excited to showcase Neil Sims, Ade Hughes, Sinclair Elliott, Brendon Wright, Ed Doyle, Jon Roydon, Morgan Gleave, Jeremy Dunn and an amazing kid called Drew Marr, who has at twelve years of age published more comics than the entire management team! His strip is a stand out. I met him at Thought Bubble after seeing his work in The ComicScene 2019 Annual. If he’s recognised as an emerging talent by the likes of Tony Foster (ComicScene), Ian Kennedy and the editor of The Beano, I thought he had to feature in The77! Most of these were highlighted in various competitions and features that we have running on a regular basis in The77-2000AD group. For example, Jeremy Dunn won a portrait competition for Sandra Ezquerra, Carlos Ezquerra’s widow. Many other artists tried their had and have contributed to our annual ‘Drokktober’ and the worldwide ‘Inktober’ events. The group has been a great place to allow talent to present their work and we are a very friendly and supportive place, with over 2000 members. The fact that many are professional from the comics that the members are fans of, including 2000AD and they are happy to post their own work to says a lot about the community we have built.
We have worked hard on building our social media presence via these other platforms: https://www.facebook.com/The77Comic website https://the77comic.wordpress.com/ Twitter account https://twitter.com/77Comic and of course they have been invaluable in the present situation to promote the comic and highlight that we are looking for new work and are always open to submissions.
TW: What made you decide to fund it via crowdfunding rather than just offer it through traditional means?
BC: A simple answer is the state of my bank balance! I don’t have the £10,000 needed to get a new UK based comic off the drawing board. I don’t know the last time that someone got a loan from a high street bank to do so, but it probably wasn’t this or even the last century! Kickstarter is an opportunity to engage in the shared desire of a whole community to back and see a project come to fruition. We were methodical and extremely well organised, using the platforms I mentioned before to build a base, establish the brand and promote the Kickstarter itself. Interestingly we might not have raised anywhere near the amazing total for ‘ROK the God!’ by John Wagner, Alan Grant and Dan Cornwell but we had more backers. That is something that I am extremely proud of!
TW: It seems to be predominantly science fiction. What is it about sci fi that lends itself to the short story comic format?
BC: For the record, our launch issue has 8 out of the 15 strips that are loosely in the ‘sci-fi’ bracket. Some will be continuing stories and others are one-offs, akin the ‘Future-Shock!’ format beloved of 2000AD. Any good story still needs a beginning, middle and end, a protagonist that people care about and who’s successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses are exposed and where their environment is as important as the cast who exist within it. Science fiction is many comic fans and writer’s gateway genre but we also have humour strips, romance tales, horror stories and historical pieces and will continue to do so in the upcoming issues.
TW: How are you finding putting out an ongoing series in the current challenging climate?
BC: It is a tremendous challenge. We have families and friends who we care and worry for, jobs that have been affected by or lost and simply put these are extraordinary times. Our launch issue looks very professional because we have worked with professionals. But we are not professionals. We have jobs that need our attention and other important factors in our lives that at this time should take precedent over a comic but we have persevered as have our creators and the production and distribution companies we have worked with. I doff my cap to everybody involved, a huge pat on the back would be given if I could, so I’ll take this opportunity to thank all those involved and hope they remain well, continue to cope with the situation and remain true to their creative and professional ideals.
TW: How many issues ahead do you have material ready for?
BC: Up to issue 5 which is scheduled for April 2021, at which point The77 Publications will be ready to launch two new titles, ‘BLAZE!’ which for readers of Steve MacManus’s novel, ‘The SheerGlam Conspiracy’ will be a collection of the strips for a fictionally based launch title, very much in the style of comics from the era, circa 1973. The second title hopefully will be Brendon Wright’s ‘Martian Law’ which is debuting in issue 2.
TW: Are you still accepting submissions for The 77?
BC: In a word, yes. We continue to accept them. In a sentence,You can email me Benksy at [email protected] and I read every submission and reply with my considerations. Everything is put on file and will be reviewed after a period of time, especially if sent in by someone trying out and that artist or writer is still honing their craft.
TW: If you had to describe The 77 in one sentence, what would it be?
BC: A love letter to the comics that made us.
The77 #1 is out now
Here’s the link to their completed kickstarter
You can also follow them on Twitter @77Comic