“Reality TV is striving to hit bottom, one bad idea at a time” Jed McPherson talks gonzo TV in The Show, plus Deadbeat, Jacob and more!
One of our favourite discoveries at this year’s True Believers was The Show by Jed McPherson – who launched the first issue that weekend. This tale of a crazy reality show run by a drug addled TV exec was a really exciting find, but it also led to us discovering his amazing previous work like Deadbeat and Jacob. Keen to discover more about this exciting new talent we caught up with Jed to talk gonzo reality TV, crime noir and deadbeat dads.
Your new book The Show debuted at True Believers, can you tell us a bit about the concept for it and story behind it?
Jed McPherson: I kind of see the reality TV as an industry striving to hit bottom, one bad idea at a time. The Show is an extrapolation of that. What’s the cheapest, meanest TV program you could possibly make? Lock one man in a small room, deprive him of human contact and watch him go mad. Then you throw in a talking teddy bear, a lunatic tv producer, and shedload of drugs and see what happens.
We start the story a couple of years into the show’s run and our star Johnny is way past his first breakdown and he’s, well, starting to get a little stale. So the Producer has to spice things up a bit.
It reminded us of lots of reality programs and satires – from The Truman Show and even Running Man, to Oldboy and Castaway. So what inspired you and were there any reality shows or satires you chose to avoid to risk being too inspired?
JM: I don’t know if there’s anything that I consciously avoided when writing the book. I tend to consume so much media – podcasts, comics, novels, non-fiction – I like to think no single influence becomes too overwhelming.
There’s definitely a bit of Oldboy in there and you can’t really touch reality TV without at least a few nods to The Truman Show. There’s also a bunch of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Transmetroplitan in there – I wanted to take that gonzo DIY punk approach and apply it to reality TV.
We loved the introduction of Stockton the bear (a talking teddy who Johnny befriends) how much was that the focus of your initial ideas, or did that come through wrote late on?
JM: It was in the outline. When I was plotting out the issues I realised I had my two main characters separated by the cameras. And as I have a natural distrust for caption boxes and thought bubbles I needed something for Johnny to talk too, someone to bounce his ideas off.
Plus I needed something to get Johnny out of his rut. Stockton was my answer to both problems. Course once I actually started writing he took on a life of his own.
We also love the crazy TV exec and his fetish nurse sidekick, was that part of the original script or brought to live by the artist Joseph Velazquez?
JM: The drugs, the anger, the swearing that was all in the script but Joseph turned it up to eleven. He has this great way of really getting down to core of a character. The Producer for example has got all this anger bubbling up inside of him so when Joseph is drawing one of his scenes he really leans into it – distorting his face when he’s angry making him almost inhuman. It’s less about rendering a scene accurately and more about getting a particular feeling across. I wish I could say that was in the script but I’m not that clever.
And Nursey, well I can’t say too much about Nursey without getting into spoilers for upcoming issues. Let’s just say there’s more to her than just being the Producer’s sidekick.
How did you meet Joseph and what did he bring to the book? Was it a collaborative process or did you send him a full script?
JM: We first met when I was working on my webcomic Jacob. He’d posted in a forum saying he was looking for work drawing comics. I was looking for someone to draw an episode so I shot him an email. I really enjoyed working with him so when I had the idea for The Show I asked him if he wanted to draw it. He said yes so I sent it over.
I work full script but I tend to leave things like panel layouts up to the artist and I always have a little note at the beginning of a script saying if they can think of a better way of doing something then go for it. And Joseph, well, he went for it. There’s at least one nine panel grid that started life as a 5 panel page.
Since meeting at True Believers we’ve been checking out your other book Deadbeat, which is a fantastic twist on the dysfunctional crime family drama, can you tell us a bit about that and where the ideas came from?
JM: Deadbeat is my attempt at an Elmore Leonard-esque neo-noir story. It’s basically about a deadbeat dad trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter through armed robbery.
The genesis of the idea actually came from [Deadbeat artist] Chris. We’d worked on a story before and I asked him if he wanted to do a one shot, he said yeah so long as it’s crime or horror. So I went away and I had one of those wonderful moments where the entire story just hits you all at once.
Will you and Chris be working on anything else in the future?
JM: Yes. I’ve literally just sent Chris a script for a new oneshot. I don’t want to share too much yet – it’s still very much in the early stages of development – but I can tell you it’s going to be a horror book.
What comics are your favourites that helped shape your work – I can see a bit of Ed Brubaker’s Criminal books in there perhaps?
JM: Brubaker and Phillips are definitely a huge influence. I came to comics late and even then I was less of a comics fan and more of a Ellis/Moore fan so it was Brubaker that finally turned me into a full time comic reader.
I can’t remember exactly how but I ended up picking up a copy of Coward (which I loved) around the same time the first Captain America flick came out and on a whim I picked up the first couple of trades of Brubaker’s Cap run. I think a month later I had a pull list with my local comic store.
Other than Brubaker, Warren Ellis is a huge influence. I actually learnt to write comics by counting panels in Fell. Although I now I think on it I take most of my influences from outside the medium – a side effect of coming to comics late I guess. Stuff like Deadwood, Brick, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Stand – are all huge inspirations.
Are you a big fan of crime books and dramas? Any you would recommend?
JM: Oh I’m a massive crime fan. I’d say that like half of the books I read are crime. I think as a genre it gets a bit of a bad rap, sure there’s the blood and guts, bad language and all that fun stuff but in the best crime books it’s the characters at really matter.
Charles Willeford’s Hoke Mosely books, Elmore Leonard’s stuff, James M Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice – they all have such well drawn characters that you almost don’t care about the crime. Almost.
As for comics Ollie Masters has put out some great crime books – between The Kitchen and Snowblind he’s one of my favourite writers. You’ve already mentioned Criminal, but I’d also throw in Sleeper and Incognito by the same team. Oh and I’ve just been reading Darwyn Cooke’s Parker adaptations which are absolutely blowing my mind. They’re so dense but breezy at the same time definitely – highly recommended.
This was our first time meeting you at a con, so how long have you been publishing books in the small press for? And are you a regular at many cons? What drew you into the world of small press and self publishing?
JM: I’d been writing for years but I only really just started self publishing in the last year or so. I guess I just got sick of waiting to get permission. I wanted to make comics so one day I just started making them.
Since then I’ve been going to as many cons as I can afford. I’m already going to Thought Bubble and I’m hopefully going to be at MCM Birmingham in March. I’ll basically got to whatever con will have me/ I can afford to go to.
And what can we look forward to from you in the future? More of The Show? More crime dramas? Or something completely different?
JM: Well, we’ve still got three more issues of The Show to come (Joseph has just sent me the thumbnails for the first five pages and oh boy are they special) but I’m also got a few other projects in the works. I don’t want to say too much – I know from bitter experience that projects can dry up just like that – but fingers crossed you’ll be seeing at least two new first issues from me this year.
Other than that I’ve got a stories coming out in a couple of anthologies and I’m doing another one-shot with Chris Shehan. Oh and I’m looking to do another crime one shot once I’ve got enough cash to hire an artist. I think it’s going to be a busy year.
You can purchase The Show in print and digitally from Jed’s Gumroad store, where you can also pick up Deadbeat and his anthology graphic novel Jacob. And for more information follow him on Twitter @jedmcpherson