“The intent was to use the trappings of pop culture from the 60s and 70s to discuss things like alienation and disassociation” Fraser Campbell on the evolution of Alex Automatic
From it’s early days as a mind bending homage to classic 60s spy TV series, Fraser Campbell and James Corcoran’s Alex Automatic has been a firm favourite here at Pipedream Comics. With a new double issue comic now funding on Kickstarter we caught up with Fraser to find out how the story had developed since it’s initial outing and why the story is more relevant and inventive than ever.
For those new to the world of Alex Automatic how would you describe what has happened so far and where are the various characters at the moment?
Fraser Campbell: Ha-ha, start with an easy one, eh? This is primarily the story of Alex Anderson, an agent who is subjected to a series of enhancement processes by a shady Government agency called PRISM that shatters his mind and leave him suffering delusions where he thinks he’s an android superspy in a 70s TV show.
The story so far follows Alex’s escape from PRISM and his attempts to evade recapture and to avoid Harry & Wylde, two well-meaning members of a group called the ACADEMI who oppose PRISM and seem determined to recruit Alex to help them expose and destroy his old masters.
By the end of the last issue, Alex, Harry & Wylde had all been captured by a PRISM commander that Alex has an as yet unexplained connection to. This connection is explored in the upcoming double issue, where we also find out who Alex cares about the most, join Harry and Wylde as they relive horrific formative experiences and we discover how Alex became Alex Automatic.
I should also say that anyone unfamiliar with the world of Alex Automatic will find a download link to #1 in full on the Kickstarter page. So they can try before they buy!
We’re a few issues into the series now, how would you say the story and world has developed and evolved in that time? Did you have it planned out initially, or have you and James evolved it as you go?
FC: It was initially planned to be just a one-shot, however we enjoyed doing it so much that we developed a broader story. You’ll see elements of the story from #1 onwards starting to come together in the new double issue. What I have planned should take about 12 issues altogether, or something around that.
Initially the series felt campy and light hearted in places (akin to the old 60s spy TV series), but it seems to have developed a much darker core to it? What has drawn you in that direction rather than the lighter side of things? Was that always the plan for the series or just a reflection of your style of writing?
FC: I think that’s probably where my writing tends to pull, although I’m fond of lighter hearted stuff and have obviously done lighter stuff like Heart of Steal. But Alex Automatic was always for me a kind of stylistic wolf in sheep’s clothing. The intent from the very start was to use the trappings of pop TV/comics/magazines etc. from the 60s and 70s to discuss things like alienation, disassociation, the various masks/identities we have to wear and how these masks often end up growing over our true faces.
So for me it’s always been quite a dark, personal piece, which I’ve tried to make an enjoyable reading experience by blending it with the spirit, energy and amazing design aspects of those old ITC and Gerry Anderson TV shows and of course James Corcoran’s incredible artwork and creative input.
These shows were very vivid which I think gives a great contrast to current times where everything is morally very grey, so using those styles as a template gives us a great opportunity to look at things like how we are affected by nostalgia and whether or not ideas about what constituted a hero from those times even has any value or meaning anymore.
In issue #4 you bring in a new black and white fanzine style approach for the flashbacks (see image right). Do you and James talk about bringing in specific style shifts and changes for each issue in order to keep things fresh and mix things up? Or was this just something which worked for this issue?
FC: Yeah, we’re always talking about stuff like that just to keep things fun, interesting and challenging for us. I think this was James’ idea initially.
The style used largely in the first part of the story is basically a homage to Gil Kane’s “His Name is…Savage” which was a spy comic brought out by the great man in the late 60’s that used a similar style. It’s also reminiscent of a number of older “boys” comics I can remember from my youth in strips you’d see in comics like Hotspur or Victor. I though this style would be great for what we were trying to do as it adds a sense of age to these sections (which are flashbacks) and it also gave me a chance to try a different, more prose based style of writing in that section which allowed me to get deeper into the characters and the story.
You’re releasing two issues at once on your next Kickstarter? Is that a reaction to the current health crisis? Or were you always planning that?
FC: We were always planning it. It’s going to be a double issue flip book (the physical version anyway) which we thought would be fun. We’re always looking for ways to keep the Kickstarter campaigns fresh and offer something a big different from before, so that’s where it came from.
How do you think the current world situation will affect comics and crowdfunding? Any concerns about running a campaign in the middle of such a volatile period? Or must the show keep going on?
FC: Well, I was a lot more confident about things a few weeks ago, that’s for sure! My hope is that people will still feel like they need new stuff to read but I get that a lot of people will be very concerned about money right now and maybe backing comics won’t be high on their agenda. The other worry is actually being able to deliver physical pledges, however that hopefully won’t be an issue as we’re not planning to fulfil until June or July. Whatever happens they’ll be send ASAP, and I hope our track record has helped us earn a bit of trust there. Digital versions will be released as soon as possible of course.
And finally what’s the long term plan for Alex? More issues? A collection? Spin offs?
FC: The long terms plan is yes, more issues, a collection and probably some spin-offs along the way!
I think the next thing we’ll do is a collection of everything so far and we’re tentatively planning that for next year. Meantime, James and I will use the break time to do something completely different which we’re already working on, time permitting. Then we plan to come back with new issues in 2021 or 2022.
As for spin offs, that’s bound to happen as James is always coming up with fun ideas for wee side projects like last year’s “Prefect 63”. In fact the new Kickstarter campaign might well have a bonus comic lurking somewhere in the wings as a stretch goal…