“We wanted to do something that tapped into the flamboyant fun of 60/70s TV shows” Fraser Campbell on bringing Alex Automatic to life
Continuing our week of amazing indie Kickstarters, we talk to Fraser Campbell, creator of throwback super spy advenutre series Alex Automatic, about a government agent who is driven mad and thinks he is the star of his own TV show (that unfortunately only exists in his head). Inspired by 60s and 70s TV shows we find out if the world of Alex Automatic is just a figment of Fraser’s imagination.
Tell us a bit about the world of Alex Automatic? What’s your elevator pitch for it? And what can you tell us about the characters.
Fraser Campbell: Right, well the elevator pitch is (deep breath): Alex Automatic is 48 page one shot weird super-spy adventure comic about a Government agent called Alex Anderson. Driven mad by illegal Government experiments, Alex has become trapped inside the delusion that he is the robot super-spy hero of a 70s TV show called Alex Automatic, a show that exists entirely inside his own mind.
As for characters of course we have Alex, who is set free by two journalists called Alice Black and Colin Matthews. Alice “knows” Alex from one of his cover identities and is desperate to help him. Colin is much more sceptical about the whole thing. As the story unfolds we meet a whole plethora of villains including a Russian spy-catcher known as Vucari, a German assassin known only as The Woodcutter and Wilkie McCall, an enhanced Government agent charged with bringing Alex back in.
Is this the debut for Alex or has he appeared elsewhere before?
FC: This is his first appearance. [Artist] James and I started talking about working together after I finished up on my last comic “Sleeping Dogs”. We had been talking about how much we liked the 60s/70s TV Century 21 shows like Thunderbirds and Joe 90 and ITC shows like The Prisoner, The Protectors and The Champions. We wanted to do something that tapped into the flamboyant fun of those shows but blend it with much darker more realistic elements and the story stemmed from there.
It has a really great looking old school vibe, with lots of 60s style imagery, what were the touchstones and inspirations for you when creating the book?
FC: Oof, where do I start? Obviously, there a lot of Prisoner in there and other ITC shows like The Persuaders (for the fashions!) and Department S plus movies like The Ipcress File. But also comics like Jim Steranko and Lee/Kirby era S.H.I.E.L.D, Miracleman, The Invisibles, Human Target, Nemesis etc.
How did you team up with artist James Corcoran and colourist David B. Cooper, they both give the book an amazing Kirby esque vibe? (Especially the colouring!)
FC: James and I got together online actually. I’d followed him on Facebook for a long time as he knew a lot of people I knew although we hadn’t met when we first got in touch. He had an idea about wanting to do a story about a guy who was actually an automaton of some kind, which eventually morphed into Alex Automatic. I’d always been a fan of his style so jumped at the chance to work with him. He has a really cool style, kind of a blend of classic UK comics illustration blended with European creators with a bit of Ditko and Kirby thrown in. I knew he’d be perfect for this kind of story.
David I knew from working on Sleeping Dogs. He’s an excellent colour artist, who always brings a lot of terrific ideas to the table. So he was my first choice when it came to it. I actually met David through Colin Bell, who completes the team on lettering and design. Colin’s one of the best letterers in the game and a terrific designer with great comic production know-how as well. Just a great guy to have on a project generally.
You also have a variant cover from the amazing shaky Kane which is a perfect fit for Alex.
FC: Having Shaky Kane involved is a huge pleasure, as I’ve been a fan of his for decades but we also have loads of other artists involved doing variant covers, prints and promo pieces like Iain Laurie, Alasdair Wood, Nick Pitarra, Mo Ali, Russell McEwan, Paul Harrison-Davis, Ryan Taylor, Dave Dell’oso, Andy Bloor, Dan McDaid, Lautaro Capristo and more. Just friends who have thrown their hat into the ring to help out, which is amazing.
You mention in the press release that Alex believes he is stuck in a TV show which feels like a really interesting and unique take on this kind of story, how did you come up with that idea and how vital is it to the overall story?
FC: It’s at the core of the idea. A lot of the story has panels showing the action from inside Alex’s mind where he’s a dashing hero juxtaposed with what’s happening in “reality”, which is often much darker. Alex’s fractured experience of reality informs a lot of what he does and where he takes the story. In terms of the idea, it really just stemmed from the conversations I had with James about what we wanted to do, which was essentially a fun throwback to spy adventure stuff we grew up with. I think just doing a straight-up version of that would have been derivative and a little flat, so my next thought was how to make it interesting!
Will this be a one shot or part of a longer ongoing series?
FC: The comic is a one shot, so you get the whole story done in one. But we do have loads of ideas for follow up adventures if people like it! I like doing one shots because I think it offers good value. You’re not asking someone to find you at a convention a year on for part two of a story. So yeah, there’s plenty of scope with Alex Automatic to do new self-contained stuff in the future. I like the idea of doing that, as it throws back to the kind of episodic TV you used to get in the 70s.
You’re launching it on Kickstarter this week, is this your first experience of crowd funding? If not what’s your top Kickstarter tip?
FC: We’re complete newbies and it’s been an amazing experience. To get funded within 12 hours was incredible! I did a lot of pre-promotion online for it and always worried I was spamming people, but it seems to have worked ok. We’ve just announced our stretch goals, so we’ll probably soften up on the hard sell before people get absolutely sick of us!
And finally what are your goals with Kickstarter and what are you hoping to achieve?
FC: Our aims are really just to get enough to print the book and get it out there to people. I self-financed my last book and it’s expensive, really expensive when it’s coming out the pocket of one average Joe. Having to self-finance limited what I could offer and I then had to go and find my customers. Kickstarter offers you not just a means to get the funding you need, but also gives you a jumping off point to promote your book and the team. I think they could do more with the interface to make things easier for people, particularly with stuff like postage which is a faff, but overall, it’s a great means of getting your project out there to people.