“We wanted a mix of old styled strips from the halcyon days of comics, along with some contemporary strips” Ben S Ky talks retro anthology comic The77
While many British anthologies have attempted to follow in the footsteps of 2000 AD, few have attempted it with quite as much ambition as The77. Bursting onto Kickstarter earlier in the year and with the first issue about to be released to the world, we caught up with editor Ben S Ky to find out the story behind this ambitious new retro anthology
Tell us a bit about the origin of The 77 – it emerged out of a 2000 AD Facebook group, is that right? What made you want to create an anthology like this?
Ben S Ky: The origins of The77 go way back. I was involved in zines back the 80’s. I created a character called ‘Skate Worm’, a drunken, anarchic skate boarding Tequila worm. He appeared in the very popular skate boarding/punk zine ‘Skate Muties from the 5th Dimension’. That eventually fed into Deadline in the 90’s. I self published a few other titles through the 90’s when I was working as an animator and then took a different direction and have taught design for the past 25 years, having a complete break from comics and publishing.
In 2007 I created the original 2000AD fan page on Facebook, then called ‘2000AD- 1977 to Present’. So yeah, via the growth of the group and the people who joined, it was indeed during a conversation that started in 1977-2000AD and that has led here. When you host a popular group, that has a lot of of very talented and creative people involved, it was perhaps always possible that I might have gotten back into comics. I’ve gone part-time with my job to really give it my best shot, never imagining how much work was involved but we are a team that take care of our Twitter: @77Comic, Instagram: @the77comic/ website: the77comic.wordpress.com which has led to us really building interest in The77 and having a tremendously successful Kickstarter campaign, with over 400 backers keen to see the fruits of our labours.
It has a very throwback feel, especially with the cover and the opening stories, was that an intentional plan for the style of the book?
Ben S Ky: The77 is, as we say, ‘A new retro anthology’. We wanted a mix of old styled strips from those halcyon days of comics from the 50’s-90’s but also knew that this could be lost on a younger audience, so a blend has been sought where there are more contemporary strips included. The fact that most are between 4-6 pages in length is also telling. It does mean that there is a lot of ‘bang for your buck’ as such but if anything, we want to give the reader value for money. There are too many crowdfunded zines and comics out there wanting a tenner for 20 pages or so. I think at £6.95 for 68 pages we are honouring the old school comics which in our minds anyway always seemed so affordable.Regarding the cover, it was design that took a lot of getting to. We must have created a dozen or so different dummies and when our art editor, Ian Sharman came back with his take, we knew we were very close to what we wanted. I must also say thanks to Steve Green who designed The77 logo. It is very suggestive of those classic British mast heads and I think has a very distinctive yet original feel.
How did you choose which creators you wanted to include and did you have any requirement for them when submitting their work?
Ben S Ky: Well I looked at the 1977-2000AD group and those who’d already prompted the start up. Several were very well known and we were delighted to get their support right back when The77 was at a very embryonic stage, so for example having Steve MacManus, Mal Earl and Phil Elliott involved from the off meant as the commissioning editor I had some kudos and leverage to interest other ‘names’ to get on board. Shortly followed Kek-W, Ian Gibson, Annie Parkhouse, Steve Austin, Lew Stringer and many other well known and breaking creators. Our ethos is as such to have work from the creators we grew up reading, those who we’re reading now and those who’s careers will probably outlive us. It’s very exciting to know that several of the new creators are about to break into the mainstream and indeed I believe that we have some real stars of the future within our first couple of issues.
The requirement for submitting work of course varies. I wouldn’t ask Ian Gibson for his CV or exemplar pages. I grew up loving his stuff and that he wanted to get involved and allow us the privilege of premiering work from Life Boat, his unpublished masterpiece, was just amazing. I feel it’s a huge responsibility to handle it in a respectful manner and am delighted to say that we must have impressed Ian because we’ll be publishing more from the series in the coming issues!
A lesser known artist was given a page from Steve MacManus’ ‘Tinkling Triangles’, to Kiwi, Brendon Wright. He was commissioned due to the excellent work he provided based on that opening page. Others, like Drew Marr from Gold Lion comics, I admit we’re taking a complete punt on. He’s eleven years old but has been in the publishing game for 3-4 years now. We met at a convention. I loved his stuff and when I found out his back catalogue I knew that the kid could tell a decent story and his collage artwork style is very fresh and he’s earned his place in issue 1. And if the editor of the Beano likes him, as does Ian Kennedy, I’m not arguing with them!. For anyone considering a submission email firstname.lastname@example.org and we read every piece and always get back to the person with an honest appraisal of their work.
As well as 2000 AD, which comics and anthologies were inspirational to you and The 77 team?
Ben S Ky: Personally it was Monster Fun, Action, 2000AD and Deadline from the British publishing houses. I was never a superheroes fan, but enjoyed Swamp Thing, Sandman, Hellblazer and most of Fantagraphics output from our American cousins in the 80’s -90’s and always had my eye turned towards Europe, through Metal Hurlant and the artists such as Bilal, Wilson, Moebius, Druillet and so on. In fact I have promised Jean-Pierre Dionnet, the original publishing editor, that I’d send him a copy or two. that is quite mind-blowing! For others in the team it was Scream, Bunty, Jinty, Misty, Eagle,Transformers and 2000AD etc, (on the whole they’re younger than me.) Obviously having my favourite Tharg involved and being available for advice has been tremendous and I value his experience i’ll probably get into trouble for mentioning it but it’s a dream come true to be honest.
What’s the secret to a good anthology? Themes? Genres? Or just a great mix of great work?
Ben S Ky: The secret to a great anthology? Ask me that again in a couple of years regarding The77! As for those comics that made us? I think great writing, keeping the reader guessing with a well structured narrative, nicely poised when going from one episode to the next and of course artwork that leaps off the page. Whether we’ll have all those ingredients from the off, I don’t know but you can be sure that we’re giving it our best shot!
The real secret though is that we have established a very tight production team. Must of us have worked together for a couple of years putting a lot of editorial, reviews and features together in the 1977-2000AD. We are able to share ideas and will always back each other. These are my friends and without them The77 wouldn’t exist. So a big shout goes out to Dave Heeley, Steve Bull, Dave Bedford, Paul McCollum and Jo Heeley.
What’s the long term plan for The 77 – will we be seeing regular releases?
OK, so I can say that the next edition of The77 ‘THE SUMMER SPECIAL’ will be out in time for August. My intention is to then speed up production and go to a bi-monthly model. We will use Kickstarter again, and have signed up with Getmycomics.com as our distributors. The crowdfunding platform is even more prescient as it builds a digital community and due to most comic stores and regular outlets currently being closed due to COVID-19, we are playing to our strengths via our social media and digital platforms getting our brand across and promoting not just The77 but all of the creators and contributors. We use the ‘French model’, meaning everyone has equity in the title and its success and this means that we support each other and share our resources. This comes back to Metal Hurlant and I’m proud that we are an equitable organisation.