A Long And Winding Road
♦ Peter Hogan began his career in music but switched to comics as an editor. He then moved into writing, carving a niche for himself first at 2000AD and then at DC’s Vertigo imprint. He then became well-known writing Wildstorm/DC’s and later Vertigo/DC’s Tom Strong, picking up after co-creator Alan Moore. He now has a CV that stretches back over two decades and most recently he has been working regularly with Dark Horse on Resident Alien, with artist Steve Parkhouse. Earlier this year, his second title for Dark Horse, King’s Road, with fellow British artist Staz Johnson, began a three-issue run. We caught up with Hogan to ask him about a shift from music to comics, having Moore and Gaiman as your mentor and much more. Interview by JOEL MEADOWS…
You began your career working in bookselling and then publishing. What was the first bit of professional writing that you did ?
Probably the introduction for a book of rock photography by Harry Hammond and Gered Mankowitz, though I didn’t write anything else for a long time after that. I’d been editing rock books for several years at that point, until it all dried up on me. But I knew a lot of music journalists … which led to me becoming a press officer for a couple of record companies. I worked for Rough Trade for about six months, and joined just as The Smiths’ ‘This Charming Man’ was about to come out. I also worked for IRS, doing press for the third REM album Fables of The Reconstruction. Eventually I became a journalist myself, for music mags like Melody Maker and Vox and Uncut – mainly writing about film, but also record reviews and other things as well.
So how did you switch from music to comics ?
I’d always loved both. Somehow I ended up editing some Fleetway reprints for Dez Skinn, and through that I met most of the people on the English comics scene. Then the whole ‘80s comics explosion happened, and the magazines I was working for asked me to write some stuff about comics. So I interviewed Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, and Gilbert Shelton and Los Bros Hernandez, and many more besides.
You became well-known as an editor, working on Fleetway’s Revolver magazine. How did this come about ?
I went to temp at Fleetway for a couple of weeks to help them out, to babysit Crisis while Steve MacManus had a much-needed holiday. Ended up staying there for 18 months, and about six months into that they asked me to set up Revolver. But they wanted it put together in a ridiculously short period of time, so what it became was the best comic I could assemble under those circumstances. I still think we did pretty good, and it was a good party while it lasted.
After working as an editor, you moved into writing comics. How odd did it feel, switching from editing comics to writing them?
Very, because they’re completely different things, requiring completely different skills.
A lot of other writers had been telling me for years that I should have a go at writing comics, but I think I had serious stagefright about it. One of the things that put me off was that – even though I’d read hundreds of scripts by then – I still couldn’t work out how the trick was done. Where did you start ? Then, just as Revolver was ending, I was editing the Comic Relief charity comic – jointly editing it with Neil Gaiman and Richard Curtis. Grant Morrison had come up with a loose plot for the thing, so we gave a whole load of writers a couple of pages apiece to write, and when the scripts came back in we had to stitch the whole thing together. This involved me, Richard and Neil sitting at a computer and rewriting the whole thing from top to bottom. So I got to watch Neil at work, and the lights went on for me – THAT’S how it works, and you can start absolutely anywhere. I ended up writing a couple of pages of that thing, which Neil kindly told me were as good as anything else in it. So, I started pitching ideas to 2000AD, where I spent the next four years or so, learning how to write as I went along, like everybody else.
Both Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman acted as your unofficial mentors earlier on in your career. What did you learn from working with both of them?
A hell of a lot, of course. We could be discussing that one all day ! Both of them had told me the basics of how to write comics as I was starting out, then left me to get on with it. Then, about four years into my career, Alisa Kwitney from Vertigo called to invite me to write for The Dreaming, their new Sandman spin-off. I think Neil was quite surprised when I turned up there, because he hadn’t seen any of my 2000AD material and had no idea what I was capable of. Anyway, he liked what I’d done, and made sure I got to do more, and more again. He was incredibly supportive, and we were in quite close contact over the stories I was writing, so I picked up a lot of tips along the way.
And with Alan … He’d liked Love Street and a few other things I’d done, and offered me work writing for his ABC line. Among other things, that involved my co-plotting two series of Terra Obscura with him. With each issue I’d go up to Northampton and thrash it out with him face to face, then I’d come home and write the script. The whole process upped my game considerably, and I’m very fortunate to have had that chance – to learn from the best, basically. That said, probably most of what I know about writing I’ve learned by just sitting at a computer and doing it – which is exactly how both Neil and Alan told me it would be.
What transferable skills did you pick up as a journalist that can be applied to writing comics and fiction?
Very few. Again, there’s a completely different mindset involved. For a long time I was doing both at the same time, but it was almost impossible to switch from one to the other on the same day. I suppose what you really learn with journalism is discipline. There are deadlines, you have to write whether you’re in the mood or not – and that’s a useful ability to have in any kind of work.
Your writing has always been a little lighter and more whimsical than many of your British comic contemporaries. How much of a fair comment is this?
That’s from my highly inaccurate Wikipedia entry, right ? I think it’s complete nonsense. But I do have a sense of humour, and so do many of my characters. Also, I actually think some of my stuff is quite dark. I mean, I wrote a whole Tom Strong series which was basically a meditation on death ! But it had a lot of humour in it too, because people are always cracking jokes around the dying – that’s how people get through it all.
You often seem drawn to adventure series as a writer. What is it about these sort of stories that appeal to you ?
You think so ? I think you could justifiably call ALL stories adventure stories. Sometimes they involve horror or crime or other things as well, but they’re all about someone going on a journey of some kind and being transformed by it. I don’t think you get to choose the stories, either. You might set out wanting to write X, but by the time you’re done it’ll have mutated into something else altogether.
You have worked with Steve Parkhouse on Resident Alien for Dark Horse. How did that series come about?
I’ve always been a big fan of Steve’s, which is why I signed him up to do a strip for Revolver. Then I requested him to be my artist for a couple of the Dreaming stories … At one point we were going to do a book about Bob Dylan together, but that never got off the ground. Anyway, I wanted to work with him again, so I asked him what he wanted to do. He said ‘aliens’, and I came up with this idea.
You have done three series of Resident Alien with Parkhouse. Do you have quite a chemistry between yourselves as creators?
Yeah, it works out well. We get along, and trust each other to come up with the goods. He’s currently drawing the fourth series, and I’m just finishing writing the fifth, and hopefully that’ll all just keep going indefinitely.
This year has seen the launch of King’s Road, another Dark Horse series with another British artist, Staz Johnson. But this is a very different series to Resident Alien, so was that part of why you wanted to explore this?
I like to do different things. Plus, I’ve always loved fantasy, and hadn’t written any since the Dreaming and Sandman Presents, so I wanted to have another go at it myself.
This is the second series for Dark Horse so it continues your association with the company. Presumably it is a company you have a continuing rapport with ?
Yes, no complaints at all. They’re good people, they get the job done, and … well, anyone who likes my work and wants me to do more is obviously wise beyond measure.
King’s Road is out now from Dark Horse.