Interview with Spiral Creator / Writer Magnus Aspli

Magnus_smallLate February sees a new crime noir book, via Kickstarter, hit the racks.  As the title hints, there is a significant dramatic increase in a story that pretty much is at full speed as it starts.

Here at Comic Crusaders, we like to cast our eyes over new indie books, so following the review of the first issue (check out the review section at the top of the page) earlier this week, we took time to have a chat with creator / writer Magnus Aspli:

CC: For those who are not aware of your work can you give us a brief biography please?

Magnus Aspli: I’m a writer from Norway, having dabbled with comics and screenwriting for quite a few years now. Eight, I think. In 2011 I launched a graphic novel through Markosia; The Vessel of Terror. The brilliant Dave Acosta on art, and top-notch guys Jeremy Roberts and Goran Kostadinoski on colours. Since then I’ve done several short comics with a bunch of talented artists. I’ve launched a free online anthology together with Glenn Møane; the Outré Anthology, on our Outré Press moniker. I have a short insect noir puppet film in production and a feature film in pre-production. Then there’s Spiral, which is doing mighty fine on Kickstarter at the moment. On top of that I’m the writer for Snowcastle Games’ upcoming title Earthlock, a crazy-fun Ghibli-meets-Final Fantasy RPG about a planet that has stopped spinning, set to launch this spring. I live in Trondheim, Norway, with my lovely family; constantly trying to convince them there is money in art… and that they’ll soon see some of it! Luckily, you can’t hear my nervous laugh now.

CC: Spiral is a great read. I’m  interested,  who are your influences?Spiral Cover

MA: This is the place I name every great book I’ve read? To try to be as specific as possible, in relation to Spiral, my initial influence was living in South London by myself for a year. First in Elephant & Castle, then down in Ladywell, near Lewisham. Some places in South London poverty and wealth are only separated by a street, a stone throw. The contrasts are vivid, like the giant skyscraper by the Elephant and Castle round-about and nearby a run-down day care centre. For a Londoner this might be a weak example, but for me, coming down from “equality-Norway” where “everyone” is well (enough) off, it was a bit of a mind-opener. During my stay in London, (the reason me being there was an MA in Screenwriting), I was mainly focused on writing animation, but I had consumed Guera & Aaron’s Scalped and Miéville’s The City & The City before I came down to the land of bricks and tea and also soaked up a bit of Samnee & Waid on Daredevil, plus discovered the BBC mini-series The Shadow Line. All these things were cooking and I really wanted to try to write a multi-storied, multi-layered crime drama. It wasn’t until I came upon the idea of a flawed female in the typical patriarchal role as vigilante it really kicked into gear. I’m not sure where that nugget came from, but I remember there were a lot of talk online about gender stereotypes in comics, and other mediums. In hindsight, I seem to instinctively have chosen a female protagonist for The Vessel of Terror as well… there’s something about mothers and motherhood. Something mythic, them being the vessels of new life. I’m rambling myself off a cliff now… next.

CC: Along those lines, what comics are you reading at the moment?

MA: I’m that sneaky guy that nabs a #1 on Comixology to check it out and then go wait for the trade if I dig it, so there’s quite a few comics I’ve read recently. I don’t read on-going Marvel and DC or much licensed stuff, and if I can help it, my money always goes to creator-owned books, so I’m not the typical reader, I guess. More of a “book reader” having arrived at comics but continuing to primarily consume it in larger chunks. I have the two Fatale Deluxes from Philips & Brubaker on my desk and I can’t wait to dive into them, having just read the first trade before. Southern Bastards by Latour & Aaron is phenomenal and I’m eagerly awaiting the Goddamned trade. Guera & Aaron… brutal team! I’m keeping up with Deadly Class. Fun and heartfelt from Remender and Craig is probably the best artist working on an action-oriented book, playing with layouts and aspect-to-aspect panels while always making the action flow like some insane freight train. Crook & Bunn’s Harrow County is right up my alley with its folkloric approach. Stokely & Spurrier’s The Spire is great for a Nausicaä fan like me and Spurrier & Kelly’s Cry Havoc had a promising first issue. The Violent by Gorman & Brisson is right up my alley, as it’s crime and Brisson has written terrific books before. Staples and BKV’s Saga, always a delight. Drifter, We(l)come Back, Providence, Outcast, Silver, The Auteur and several others. I have to mention that getting back to Nowhere Men will be great too. This turned into a list… I should have stuck with one. If you’ve read this far but just want to remember one title, let it be Southern Bastards.

CC: I can see Spiral as a Dark Horse or Dark Circle book. Why go as a Kickstarter and what are the problems and benefits of doing so?

MA: Trust me, I can see Spiral with a lot of logos on it, but after chasing a few houses we just decided we didn’t want to sit on our laurels and let other people decide the fate of the book. Patience is a virtue but after a year of pitching and waiting, patience is bloody overrated. The cons of Kickstarter is definitely that it requires a lot of extra work, and it has to be smart extra work not to create a ton more extra work due to ill-conceived rewards and such. The amount of eyeballs on the project is great. Kickstarter is a brilliant PR channel. The amount of backers (=readers), though; minimal compared to what we could have gotten if we hit the Direct Market through a decent publisher. We get to control the comic 100% and do things in our tempo, and we get to interact directly with our new fans and potential readers, so it’s a trade-off.

page16dCC: Of the cast, who is your favourite to write and why?

MA: Tough one. After just one issue it’s pretty much a tie between the two leads, Olivia and Michael, but I’m taking several of the supporting characters down dark alleys too and I enjoy writing characters that have a different moral compass, a different view on life than I do, because you have to find the pieces of human in them somehow, pieces you can channel them through, to create some relation for the reader. Always a good challenge. Spiral is a no-hold-hands noir so pretty much all of them will go off the cliff somehow, and writing them now, before they themselves see that cliff is always fun.

CC: Spiral features a strong female lead, was this done on purpose?  How can women’s portrayal in comics improve, if it does need improving?

MA: Playing around with gender, ethnicity, religion and other defining frameworks is something I try to do with all my characters, no matter what story, just to see if new and interesting angles reveal themselves. Going into Spiral, as mention, having one of the two leads a female was deliberate. We’ve all seen the reckless male cop redeem himself in hundreds of stories, but we haven’t seen many reckless women police officers fight to redeem themselves in stories. I haven’t at least. That, together with the legacy element gave the story, which on the surface can look quite straight-up, a much-needed depth. Many (if not most) hazard-job environments are dominated by men and women have to use an extra set of skills and determination to deal with the conscious and subconscious patriarchal shit that is constantly in their way. Olivia is by no means the first female character in this type of situation or similar, but I do notice that a lot of writers, and this mostly applies to men, are painting their female characters with a bit of a glorified brush. In Spiral Olivia starts off as arrogant, aggressive and petty, not any better than most of the other characters around her. She thinks the world owes her something and she hasn’t gotten it yet. There’s a lot of fight in her and she’ll do her best, or worst, if you want, to get it, but will she succeed… doubtful.

I definitely thing the portrayal of women, on the surface, needs improving, but that’s not to say it hasn’t gotten a lot better. I think the best way to ensure this positive trend continues is to let more women write/draw women. Open the gates of opportunity, equally, to all, not just the white, straight men who have been at this game for decades. That is the best recipe for diverse books and a diverse and genuine representation of female characters. There’s nothing wrong with a man creating a female character, of course, but there has to be a link or juxtaposition to the story and theme to make it genuine, and not just toss in a lesbian black female protagonist because Twitter demands it. We as a society are beginning to learn, accept and understand that gender and sexuality isn’t black and white, and has never been, but a liquid shifting sea of blood and cells, none more correct than the other (as long as you don’t hurt others). (Unless you’re a robot, then disregard all of this, except my Kickstarter, go pledge to that.) There are a lot of fantastic comics with clever and beautiful and nuts and flawed and fucked up non-male characters, so go seek them out.

Emerson_smallCC: Let’s talk about the art. It seems that Emerson Dimaya has a style that mixes Graham Nolan, David Mazucchelli with a little Frank Bellamy.  Would you agree and  how do you work together in creating the feel of the book?

MA: In the recent reviews I’ve read Emerson’s art has been compared to a lot of artists. Every reviewer, and you, are probably right, but how many of these have actually influenced Emerson’s style, only the comic book gods know. Personally I see a bit of Sean Philips in there, albeit slicker. When browsing Emerson’s gallery on DeviantArt it was pretty clear to me that he’d be a fantastic fit for Spiral, even if the stuff he had up was a bit smoother than what I was after. He went down to the artist basement to bring up some of the demons all noir detectives have when coming up with the pages for Spiral. We work as everybody else, I guess… After the script is up to snuff Emerson gets it and gives me feedback on what he feels might not work as well drawn as scripted. We then go to thumbs for the whole issue to get the flow, pace and transitions down, and work out any kinks that could translate from the script. Then when we’re happy with the thumbs Emerson goes sailing and now and then batches of pages, b/w first, appear in my inbox. When it comes to the atmosphere and feel of the book, we went through some colour adjustments to find the sweet spot and I try to sprinkle my script with just enough atmosphere so Emerson gets all the context he needs. We’ve just done Spiral #1 and an Earthlock one-shot so far, but I feel we’re gelling well and I reckon it’ll just be smoother and smoother as we get to the end of Spiral.

Nic_smallNic, on lettering and design, is also an important piece to the atmospheric puzzle. The feeling of the cover, what it says and what colours Nic went with, and the front matter pages and back matter pages are all fueling the vibe of the story. We went through two iterations of the lettering before Nic was happy, but he found the right spot to make the realism we were going for believable but also the dialogue look hard-hitting without going overboard. The general colour theme for #1 is orange, but #2 will be a different colour while retaining the Spiral flair we created with the design on the first issue.

CC: How does it feel to have creators like Ryan K. Lindsay give you praise for Spiral?

MA: Ryan has been in my social network for a long time and he’s one of my comic book friends, so I don’t give a crap what he says. Honestly, Ryan’s a great writer and he comes at stories from a strong thematic angle, which I always try to do as well, so his comics quickly made me pay attention. Him enjoying Spiral was wonderful. Giving out the book to friends and creators you admire, waiting for their reaction, is always a bit nerve-racking, so when people like Ryan gets excited about it that is a massive weight off my shoulders. Now it sounds like Ryan is my future father-in-law and I need his approval to marry, but that’s a different plane of existence… but he’s definitely the type of reader Spiral is aimed at, so getting praise from your target reader is a good sign you’ve done something right. Spiral is definitely not for everyone, firstly for being a crime noir comic, secondly for being a fast-paced and intense story with a lot of characters where we’ve deliberately decided not to hold the reader’s hand at all. In case you’re unfamiliar with Ryan’s books, do hunt down Headspace, Negative Space and Chum (which comes in April!). They’re all about men feeling shitty about being shitty at times and how they’ll try to be better but eventually just end up being eaten by sharks. Broad strokes.

CC: Spiral #1 is out on 24th Feb, what’s next for you?Mask_bloody

MA: The Kickstarter campaign for Spiral ends the 24th of February so that is kinda its launch date, yes. Digital backers will get their PDFs and such the coming days and the printer will be fired up so we can deliver the physical rewards as quickly as possible. Spiral is a 4-issue beast, so we’ll come back to Kickstarter in Spring/Summer to offer our backers Spiral #2, and we’ll rinse and repeat until we’ve done all 4 issues through Kickstarter. I’m pitching other projects and things are simmering on the side-lines, but Spiral is my main focus for 2016, obviously. On the side, and more important financially (hi, honey!), I’ve got a feature film project that kicks into gear now late February, and if the Old Gods be willing I’ll be knee-deep in a TV production as well. On top of that Earthlock launches and we’ll jump right on to work on Earthlock 2 once the first is out. No rest for the wicked, and there is none for the writer either. Except right now, the next thing for me, right now, is actually some sleep.

Thanks for your time Magnus, Good luck with your fantastic book.


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