“I wanted it to have the look of a lost film from the early days of cinema” Martin Simpson on creating Art Deco noir in The Needleman

Having been blown away by the Art Deco noir of Martin Simpson’s The Needleman from Soaring Penguin Press, we knew we had to find out more! However when we caught up with Martin, we were a little bit more gentle with our interrogation than Rasp, the sinister investigator and titular Needleman who uses a long spike to get info out of his victims. And we think we got better answers as a result!

We were hooked into the world of The Needle Man from the minute we saw the iconic cover on a copy of Soaring Penguin’s anthology Meanwhile – can you tell us a bit about how the idea came about and how you created this really interesting character?

Martin Simpson: Well you nailed it in your review when you mentioned Fritz Lang’s Metropolis… the whole of The Needleman is a response to me watching that film for the first time a few years back. It really struck me visually… I loved that vision of the future as seen through the lens of 1920’s Germany and it’s themes of slavery and capitalism gone mad.

There was also one character in particular that interested me… he’s actually a rather incidental henchman called ‘Der Schmale’, or ‘The Thin Man’ and for some reason, I decided to try and build a story around him. It all started to evolve from there really.

We love the Art Deco style imagery you have and you mention Metropolis above, but were there any other books or films or art styles that inspired this world, and why did you choose that visual style?

MS: The visual style all spun out from Metropolis… and German expressionist cinema in general. I wanted it to have the look of a lost film from the early days of cinema… right down to the subtle dust and scratches you can see over the pages.

Films like Bladerunner and even the slightly obscure THX-1138 were big influences too… as was the brilliant Batman The Animated Series from the early 90’s. Outside of cinema, there is definitely a little V for Vendetta and Orwell’s 1984 in there too.

Can you tell us a bit about your creative process for creating the artwork? Are you all digital? 

MS: I paint 100% in Photoshop, using a large Wacom tablet (I prefer it to a Cintiq)… but I also apply a lot of more traditional media to create all kinds of sketchy and painterly effects. I can never get on with any kind of custom texture brushes in Photoshop… so I almost never use them.

In the back of the book you include some grabs of using a 3D software to get Rasp’s look right, can you tell us a bit about that? 

MS: I remember once listening to an interview with INJ Culbard about how he recommended creating rough busts of his principal comics characters in Sculptris for reference. It was great advice… Sculptris is free to download and really intuitive to use… I’ve found it’s a brilliant way to help keep my character designs consistent throughout a story. It can be really easy for the look of characters to unintentionally shift about… especially when you’re doing painted comics.

And how labour intensive is your style to produce?

MS: Let just say… VERY! But that’s comics in general for you.

The colour in the book is amazing. I love the golden yellow hue you give everything that makes it shine and feel golden when contrasted with the dark heavy shadows. Then you contrast that with the amazing multi-coloured pages in the middle – which I would love to hear your thoughts on, but without giving too much away!

MS: Hey thanks very much! The colour for this book was a difficult nut to crack. I wanted a limited colour palette to signify how limited this world is for the people that live within it. That way, when the multi-coloured section of the story kicks in, it’s a really dramatic contrast and becomes something that a man who has lived his entire life in this limited palette world would find overwhelming.

This collection reprints the pages that originally appeared in Soaring Penguin’s Meanwhile, can you tell us a bit about how that relationship came about, and have you had to change any of the pages for this new edition?

MS: I was a fan of Meanwhile… I really wanted to be part of it… so I submitted some work to them. A conversation then started between me and John Anderson (the founder of SPP) that lead to me submitting a script that was originally titled ‘The Thin Man’. Cleverly, and without ever actually telling me what to do, John got a couple more re-drafts of the script out of me and asked me to change the title to something else… hence I went for ‘The Needleman’. Then I did a full sketched layout of the story for him and he approved it.

The Needleman was originally published in two parts in issues 8 and 9 of Meanwhile. When the possibility of this collected edition came around, I produced a new cover, generally re-worked every previous page and added three extra pages of art. I also did a little tweak to the script and overall colour palette too.

And finally, is this a one and done for the world of The Needle Men, or will we see more from this world?

MS: It was originally written as a self contained one-shot… but almost as soon as I finished the first script I started to have ideas about a continuation and definite conclusion to Rasp’s story… and Soaring Penguin Press have expressed interest in me doing some more work for them… so… maybe. But I’ll have to see how this one goes down with people first!

You can find Martin at Table 61 in the Originals Marquee at Thought Bubble 2018 and you can see more of Martin’s artwork at martinsillustration.com/projects and follow him on twitter @SIMO_Paints

Author: Alex Thomas

Alex Thomas is the Editor and founder of PIpedream Comics. He grew up reading comics in the 90s, so even though he loves all things indie and small press, he is easily distracted by a hologram cover.