“The 70s had more freedom and eccentric characters” Pat Mills on creating Britain’s laziest serial killer for his new novel Read Em And Weep: Serial Killer. Plus 2000 AD’s 40th anniversary!
It’s going to be a busy year for Pat Mills in 2017, not only will he be part of the epic celebrations for the 40th anniversary of a little comic he created called 2000 AD. But he’s also released his debut novel Read Em And Weep: Serial Killer , co-written with longtime pal Kevin O’Neill. We catch up with Pat to discover the inner secrets of Britain’s laziest serial killer!
So tell us a bit about what made you choose to write a prose novel and not a comic? Did you always intend to tell the story of Dave Maudling like this or did it evolve to be a book over time?
Pat Mills: It started life as a TV sit-com. Gareth Edwards (producer of Spaced) liked it and recommended it for production. But his boss at the Beeb didn’t agree. He felt it was too niche and possibly high budget. We got similar reactions from other tv companies so I adapted it into a novel where the characters and world could be developed further.
That’s a shame, why do you think no-ones ever done a sit com in a comics office? Surely it would be ripe for material? Or is it just too niche?
PM: They claimed it was too niche, but I think a lot of comedies are now written by the actors, so that makes it difficult. There are exceptions, of course. The other problem was the 70s, the only time when the world of comics was really humorous. Today’s comic world isn’t funny enough. TV people were uneasy about the 70s as a setting. But there are plenty of precedents – Madmen, Life on Mars etc, but, basically, we had to find the right actor, director etc who actually likes British comics. They are out there , but hard to track down! Often they may not have the clout to make it happen.
We hit lucky with Gareth (Spaced) and there were other producers interested, too, who were very encouraging and supportive, but we couldn’t get it past the finishing line. We also tried Radio 4 comedy department – they said it was great, but too visual for radio. So a novel seemed like the best solution. That way we also had more creative freedom.
You’re co-writing with your old pal Kevin O’Neill, how was it different working on a prose book with him rather than a comic and how did you divide up the work?
PM: We had written the sit-com together and this provided the spine of the novel. So I did most of the novelising with further input and suggestions from Kev.
Dave is Britains laziest/most cowardly serial killer who inspires death by including dangerous acts in his comics, was it inspired by your own involvement in scare stories with the tabloids surrounding Action and early 2000 ad back in the 70s? And were there any specific incidents back then that you drew inspiration from?
PM: Kids were often copying things they read in comics. There were some awful incidents: In Valiant, there was a cartoon strip where kids hid in an old fridge. In Whizzer and Chips (I think) Ginger’s Tum – a cat character puts fireworks through a letterbox. Action readers imitated Death Game 1999 on their bikes.
Today, it’s a very different and politically correct world; so the humour comes from showing “Life on Mars” back in the 1970s.
Was it important to set the story back in the 70s (rather than in a contemporary setting) in order to make the most of the more relaxed attitudes?
PM: The world today is much more serious. The 70s was quite decadent by comparison in so many ways. Drinking in the office. Kids unprotected – no Childline back then. But also more freedom back then and more eccentric characters as in the novel. They couldn’t survive in 2017.
With it being a subject you’re so familiar with, I’m sure you will get asked loads about whether any of the characters are based on real people from the U.K. Scene – so are they?
PM: Only lesser characters like Ken Reid who is Ken Royce in the novel. Most characters are constructs/types into which odd incidents and biographical details might fit. In the most generalised way, I’d say there are bits of me in all three main characters.
We started with one character – Dave – who needed to be extreme – like W.C. Fields who supposedly hated kids. So the others had to contrast with him. Greg is a Billy Liar fantasist. There were women like Joy in IPC, but no one as strong as her. Usually they got crushed or moved on, sadly.
Or is it just the odd Easter egg of truth for the fans – I recognize the scene with the store men mopping up floods with old pages being a 2000 ad legend for example!
PM: Yes, that bit is very authentic!
If it’s all not true are you enjoying your former colleagues trying to second guess who had a fur fetish?! Who or is that legend widely known?!
PM: The fur fetish is completely made-up. Kevin had read about it somewhere and we felt it really suited our main character Dave. Often comedy characters have some strange deviation or another, but this is one that other writers had missed, so we had to do it!
You also seem to be relishing the comic creations in the book – such as the Caning Commando and Feral Meryl – which are you most proud of/did you find the funniest and are there any which you think have life outside the book (or in future books?!)
PM: I think Kevin and I, like the readers so far, enjoy the Caning Commando and Feral Meryl. The TV companies liked them the most. They have the biggest roles and I wanted to make sure the Caning Commando could continue by featuring it as “the murder weapon”. It’s developed a lot and there’s an obvious comic spin-off there or a complete issue of the Spanker.
You’ve released it digitally first (and are you giving it a print release next month as well?)
PM: It’s digital and print simultaneously, both available on Amazon, but e-book sales are currently larger. We also did a print run for the 2000AD 40th birthday celebration.
Do you think prose books have an advantage over comics in terms of people picking them up digitally? (I’m thinking of the kindle effect) or do you think people are catching up with the idea of reading comics digitally?
PM: I think comics digitally are catching up, but they have a way to go and there will always be some resistance because of the love of art which is not quite the same on an iPad for many fans. It’s also, as you probably know, more economic to put out a prose story digitally for lots of reasons. Mind you, there’s a LOT for us to learn about the e-book market and marketing IS the key. Hopefully we got it right!
And finally we’d be remiss by not congratulating you on the 40th anniversary of 2000 AD – what do you think has been the secret to its longevity?
PM: Strong foundations on which to build, based on what readers really wanted, usually mainstream readers, and not allowing fandom (back then) to be the tail that wagged the dog. If you give readers what they want and really care about a comic it will work. Look at Commando, for instance.
But above all….The other secret of its longevity.
The loyalty of the readers – it’s PHENOMENAL. You guys stuck with us during the bad times (the mainly awful nineties, for instance) as well as the good. We owe you a huge debt. Thank you!
You can purchase Serial Killer Volume 1: Read Em And Weep digitally from Amazon for £3.99, and you can see Pat at the 2000 AD 40 Years of Thrill Power on February 11th at the Hotel Novotel, London West where he’ll have print copies of Serial Killer – Find out more here!