“Tentacled invaders of your soul” Robin Jones and Mike Sambrook talk Madius Comics, Papercuts and Inkstains and Griff Gristle
One of the more shy and retiring groups of comic creators on the UK independent scene right now are Robin Jones and Mike Sambrook from Madius Comics – home to Papercuts and Inkstains and the Profits of Doom. Not ones to shout about their new books all over social or constantly mention their up coming Kickstarter Griff Gristle, we thought we should give these timid young chaps the opportunity to tell the world about their fine array of comics!
Tell us a bit about the formation of Madius Comics, who was involved and why you chose to start making comics together?
Robin Jones: we chose to make comics together because no other bugger would have us…
Mike Sambrook: haha something like that. Twas back in 2014…ish and the four of us (Mike, Rob, Nick Gonzo and Brad Holman) all found each other through Twitter. For various reasons we all wanted to create comics and decided that Wu Tang style, we would be stronger together than apart. We wanted to try and use our mutual strengths to try and rival much larger publishers and we wanted to stay in control and steer our own ship, that was a large part of it. Oh yeah and the fact that no bugger else would have us… That too.
Papercuts and Inkstains is your centrepiece anthology, where did the name come from and how did you come to collect together the various contributors?
RJ: I think of it more of a lazy Susan than a centre piece, spinning around various tasty bites for you to enjoy at arms-length. The name actually comes from an old column I used to write, called Papercuts and Inkstains. It was about a late twenty something getting into the world of comic books, where to start and involving friends and readers along the way. From there, as we started to piece together a bundle of short stories, it seemed like a logical progression to take that established name and put it to the jumble of irreverence we called a comic! Also, it’s all down to The Scooby Doom for the name as I ran a Twitter contest for one. He’s a dude, and well deserving of a follow!
MS: A dude he is and and follow you should. Yeah, the name was a carry over from Rob’s column. I was one of the ‘friends / readers’ who hassled him and answered his questions along the way and it’s a large part of how we got to talking. Both Rob and I were finding our way in comics at a very similar time and had very similar backgrounds. (We’ve both have previous lives making music, but that’s a wacky story for another time.) We both have a massive desire to create and do so on our own terms, so, we gave it a go. I jumped in towards the end of getting the first issue of Papercuts together and helped Rob with the first instalment of Profits of Doom. We had such a great time putting that story together we decided we should stick together and pump this handcar as far as we can take it.
Did you find your experience as a letterer working on various titles helped get more people involved? Or did it just help as you could take on one more of the creative roles yourself?
RJ: The lettering came about as a way and means of making myself more proficient and useful when it came to making comics. We’re all ambidextrous in Madius, I write and letter, Mike writes and edits, Nick writes and draws and Brad draws and does design work, so it gave me a second function other than mouthpiece. I won’t lie, my first few efforts were abysmal, as I’m fully self taught, but I have worked hard, studied other fantastic letterers, used Jim Campbell and Richard Starkings guides and really got to grips with making sure I do a good job. It’s helped open doors to new projects and people, which is amazing, but was never the sole intent. It also helps to keep Madius creating, as all my lettering work funds printing, cons, merch and such, so it helps us be self sufficient in that sense.
MS: Yeah, one of the benefits of doing this all in house is that we retain full control of everything. We get to creatively express ourselves however we want and do things on our own terms, but that freedom is always going to come with complications. The main one we face is the fact that we have to wear several hats. Like Rob said, we are all multi-taskers and have had to expand our respective skill sets to make sure we cover the full spread of tasks required. Personally, I love it that Rob is our letterer as it means we can tweak things right up to five minutes before we send it over to the printer (sorry, Rob!). When we are due to get a book to the printer I tend to have it open as a PDF on my phone for about 24 hours before we sign off, reading, reading, rereading, trying to make sure we haven’t missed anything daft. Again, knowing we are the only cogs in the machine we can’t ever get complacent. With large publishers there are so many people to catch errors, with us, it’s just us, which can be scary. Oh and it goes without saying but, I’m going to say it anyway. Rob has managed to get his skills on par with the best in the industry in the short space of a year. We’re so lucky to have him. I wouldn’t want anyone else to letter our books.
The one constant in Papercuts are the awesome Profits of Doom, what made you decide to have that as the centrepiece? Was it just the simple fact that you had a grander plan for their storyline?
RJ: Initially, it was going to be a one off story, just a simple gag, but then we got a lot of really, really positive feedback for it; people seemed to love the guys and how idiotic, rubbish and hapless they were. There was a pair of guys review the book on YouTube, Comic Nom, and both Hex and Mike (who present the show) were saying they’d love to see how the guys carry on, what other hapless and ridiculous adventure they got up to. That gag which Mike Sambrook suggested we finished on, allowed for us to build this over arching story in mini comic form. Each strip has increased in size, from 6 pages to 12-13 I think, and it’s going to spawn this 10-12 part full story. We have an ending in place now, I know what the last panel is going to be and how we tie everything up, which is cool. I wish I could say we had the foresight to see it being a long form story, but alas we didn’t haha!
MS: haha yeah, that’s essentially it. Rob had the framework for these idiots in the woods and I helped him with the end of that first story. Luckily we left it open ended and with all the positive feedback we’d have been crazy not to do more with those plonkers. The story sort of wrote itself in a lot of ways, it felt like a runaway train we were trying to control rather than sat around scratching our heads for ideas. We accidentally created in incredibly fun sandbox to play in and, spoilers, we’ve even talked about what could be next for the Profits after this major story arc comes to completion. There may be EVEN MORE from those guys in your future.
RJ: Another reason we decided to continue it was Mike Smith’s incredible artwork. He gets the characters in such a fantastic way and presents them as these super expressive guys whose faces you never see! Then there’s his characterisation of Terry, and Mary; George’s hell beast plagued wife, who is absolutely central to the story. He just brings it so well with the guys. Without Mike Smith, there’d be no profits.
MS: 100%. Mike Smith was a HUGE part in helping us develop and grow the story. He enabled us to better understand the characters through his strong visual characterisation and brought so much individual charm to each Profit that they became a total joy to write. Some characters you struggle to put words in their mouths, with these guys, we struggle to shut them up.
Your books have a really strong sense of humour running through them – how important is humour to your writing?
RJ: Humour was something we gravitated to which would allow us to set ourselves apart from other comics. You see a lot of people starting out writing something so serious and grandiose, not to say that’s a problem, but we wanted to be different. Not everything we write is humourous, we have an issue of Papercuts coming up with…shock horror…a theme! A soul searching issue!
When we did Papercuts #01, no one had heard of us. We hadn’t written comic scripts before, let alone released them. So, we needed to set ourselves apart in some way, shape or form, which is where the humour comes from!
MS: The humour is something we find naturally creeps into our scripts whether we want it to or not. We have to fight the jokes out of our serious scripts rather than actively trying to inject humour into our comedy scripts. We like to try and not take ourselves too seriously while taking telling good stories very seriously. Like Rob mentioned, a lot of new writers take themselves very seriously trying to instantly become the next Alan Moore or Grant Morrison. We don’t want to try and tell people how smart we are, we want to entertain and if people think we are smart in the process, winner winner (I’m pretty sure they don’t). But, I think the humour accidentally works in our favour as it seems like the type of books we are making are in the minority out there, so I guess there’s something to be said for that. Accidental differentiation for the win!
You also seem to have a real love for horror (as we saw in the brilliant Horrere anthology) which genres do you enjoy writing the most or is it all about the story?
RJ: I think it’s more about the story and what the artists want to work with. Often, Mike and I will write a script to suit an artist’s style, and it seems there’s a lot of horror loving artists out there, haha! With Horrere, that coming about was all about luck, one happy little chat with Alisdair Wood about his love for drawing skulls saw us developing ideas for Grimoire, which in turn saw us falling in with so many other top notch artists, similarly with Papercuts.
MS: I LOVE horror. It is probably my favourite thing to write and it tends to creep into everything I do in some form or another. I’m a giant fan of Lovecraft and his unique blend of atmospheric nastiness. Although having said that, I’m happiest when we can have fun with the horror genre and catch people unawares with unexpected jokes (like we did with the Aufhocker in Horrere issue 1). I think meandering between serious scares and jokes can keep the audience disorientated in a really fun way. As much as I love horror though, every genre can be fun to write if you have a good hook or the right characters. I think variety suits us. We like to try and push ourselves to try as many genres and styles as possible when we are putting Papercuts together. We’ve always seen it as a place for growth and experimentation. We never want to take the easy road and always try and push ourselves to grow by trying new things and things that initially seem impossible. The 9 panel grid, dice based structure of Roll of the Dice in Papercuts 3a is a great example of how we like to try and tackle the seemingly impossible and we had an absolute blast working our way through putting that together with the endlessly patient Angela Sprecher. But as Rob has already said, we try and play to the strengths of our collaborators and often their style will help us figure out exactly the story we want to tell together.
Your latest project is the Kickstarter for Griff Gristle, what can you tell us about that?
RJ: Griff Gristle: Here be Monsters is a whisky soaked supernatural thriller comic with a punk rock soul and big-ass beards. If you dig the Mignolaverse, Hellblazer and the Cure, then this is the comic for you! It’s a 36 page story, setting the tone for a much bigger world…
MS: The story was initially conceived as a water bound story of the supernatural. We wanted to create a salty fisherman who was our last hope against the horrors of the deep. The one man who keeps the ghosts, spirits and demons of the vast open blue away from our shores. The story quickly grew into something we were having a lot of fun writing and as soon as we found Rory Donald we knew we had our artist. Being Cornish based he is incredibly familiar with coastal activities and has lent a really authentic vibe to story. The man draws fantastic water! We roped in the mighty Brad Holman to help us with the design side of things and before we knew it we had a monster comic on our hands. We have giant plans for where it is going involving all sorts of weird and unusual mythology. We are keeping our fingers, toes and probosci crossed that the first issue launch goes really well and we can continue the adventures of Griff on for many years to come. We just need you now!
MIKE AND ROB IN CHORUS: So we hope you’ll be so kind as to hop over to the Kickstarter website on the SUPER IMPORTANT DATE of APRIL 28th and back us like you mean it! The campaign will be running for a month and we hope to see you all there with your Robert De Niro waiting.
You’ve already produced the issue and are looking for funding to pay for it, rather than the other way around, what made you decide to do that way round rather than get payment up front?
RJ: Initially, Griff was going to appear as a Papercuts story, Mike developed it and had the initial idea for it, but, after talking, we saw a lot more potential for it. Then Rory came on board and we all got chatting some more about where it could eventually head, and Rory wanted to make a start straight away.
What we’ve seen with Kickstarter is that it can bring a larger audience to your book, establish it in a much more secure way than self funding ever can. For the past year, we’ve been our own sales team, our own social media team and press team, and I feel we’ve established ourselves well on the indie stage, however we want to take that further. Kickstarter offers us the opportunity to do that.
MS: The big thing for us is assessing demand up front. As we self fund everything we generally just print as many copies of a new book as we can afford and desperately try and break even. We both hold down full time jobs and have families to feed so we only have so much money we are able to draw on between us. We wanted to have a bigger launch for this project and be able to offer up merchandise along with it. There was two ways we could go about this, option 1 was to take a giant risk, get a load of stuff made and potentially end up homeless if people didn’t want it. The two of our families living in a home built from Griff Gristle prints and huddled together in sleeping bags made from badly taped together Griff Gristle T-Shirts. I would say burning a pile of Griff books to stay warm but WE AREN’T ANIMALS haha. Or option 2, Kickstart it. After weighing up whether we fancied being homeless, we decided the Kickstarter was probably the more sensible option. Essentially it allows us a more diversified product launch with minimised financial risk on our part.
RJ: Also, with the product being finished, it means when we get funded, the product will be in backers hands much faster. I’ve heard stories and seen many Kickstarters which have been fully funded and they still haven’t delivered on their books…even after a year. This way, we can get product into people’s hands faster, in better quality and with more awesome content than through the meld and means we have followed before.
MS: Everyone’s a winner.
What’s next from Madius Comics?
RJ:*Deep Breath* Theeeeeeeeres —
Ramlock 2, Average Joe 2, Funk Soul Samurai 2, 50 Signal 3, Ake’s Trial (Set in the same universe as The Kings Leap), Papercuts 5, 6 and Horrere 2 & 3, Griff follow ups, plus we’ve got projects up our sleeves which we are developing with a whole host of Papercuts and Horrere alumni which we are looking to unleash. Mike also has his first solo project with artist, Rosie Packwood, coming out from us too… And then there’s the collected Profits of Doom…
RS: Yep, that pretty much covers it.
And finally, if you could sum up Madius in 5 words, what would it be?
RJ: 2000ad, but a lot sillier.
RS: Tentacled invaders of your soul.
You can purchase all of Madius Comics books from their Big Cartel Store. And back Griff Gristle on Kickstarter from April 28th