Dave Cook talks World Building, Kickstarter and KILLTOPIA! [Interview]

We’re big fans over here at BCP of British post-apoc sci-fi, especially when its tongue is wedge so far in its cheek it’s hailing a space cab. So when Dave Cook (Card Shark Comics, author of self-published fantasy hit Vessels) and Craig Paton’s ‘Killtopia’ dropped in front of us like a wrecked mech we were pretty darn excited.

In fact, we said “Quite possibly the best post-apocalyptic mega-robot ultra-violent social commentary that’s ever made your eyes bleed at its unholy CMYK beauty. Reading like Spider Jerusalem wiping his arse with a copy of the Hunger Games whilst pleasuring himself to a complete 2000AD back catalogue, it’s funny, brutal, sweary and bloody (Bloody) good stuff.” (you can read the rest of our issue #1 review by clicking here – don’t worry, it calms down a bit after that).

And hey, liking any excuse to sit down and have a blether about geekery, we were lucky enough to be able to sit down with the Dave himself.

BIG COMIC PAGE: First off, thanks for taking the time out from your busy schedule to have a chat with us.

DAVE COOK: Not a problem guys, many thanks for having me.

BCP: Can you tell us a little about the premise of ‘Killtopia?

DAVE: Sure thing. Killtopia is my latest comic series, set in a mega city in future Japan. It’s a cyberpunk tale about a district called Sector K that is suddenly overrun by a plague of killer Mechs. Fast forward ten years later and Sector K has been terraformed into a hostile alien jungle by the Mechs, and is known by its new name, ‘Killtopia.’

Killtopia is the world’s hottest new bloodsport arena, where deadly and insane bounty hunters called Wreckers enter Sector K to hunt Mechs (and each other) for fame, glory and power. Our story focuses on a rookie Wrecker called Shinji who uses his crappy, low-grade weapons and tech to hunt Mechs so he can pay for his dying sister’s medical care,

One day Shinji encounters the world’s first sentient Mech – called Crash – and the pair become wanted fugitives who are hunted by crazed Yakuza gangs, contract killers and mecha Kaiju in a turbo-charged race to claim a secret buried in Crash’s code that can change the fate of our planet forever.

BCP: One of the challenges for any first issue is world building. What research did you do for the background?

DAVE: We were lucky that Killtopia artist Craig’s brother lives in Japan, so he was instrumental in helping us keep the world state feeling authentic to a point, ensuring all the kanji and cultural tropes were accurate to the real Japan, and so on. Of course, we didn’t want to keep things 100% real life, as we’re telling a larger than life, hyperviolent story set in the future.

The whole story about Shinji hunting Mechs to help pay for his sister Omi’s injections came from the real world, at the time I was writing the first draft of Killtopia #1. At its heart this is a story about family and how a f**ked up health care system can rip families apart, and make people do desperate things. So I drew a lot of influence from what was happening in the news in recent years.

To give you an example; throughout the first two issues alone, you see people selling their own children into slavery to get lifetime medical care, the impact of violent health equality riots on the streets, and the rich-poor divide reaching catastrophic and bleak levels. This was all fuelled by real life things such as the dismantling of the NHS, the Obamacare controversy and just that age old inequality trope that wealth equals health – which is shameful considering we should all have a human right to be healthy.

So in many ways there are political parallels in Killtopia, but if that’s not your bag, it’s also a fun neon-coloured action series with plenty of gore, swearing and eye-popping tech. There’s a lot to love in here whether you’re into gaming, manga, anime, movies and a million other things.

BCP: One of the most interesting things about this is the knowing nods to other “geek” cultures. What other sources would were major influences on you?

DAVE: I think this is where I’m a little weird as a comic author, because my biggest influence isn’t comics – it’s gaming. Even before I had the healthcare angle down, I knew I wanted to write a series as chaotic, frenzied and cool as my favourite Japaneses games, which chiefly includes the works of Hideki Kamiya, Shinji Mikami and Suda51 – responsible for the likes of Bayonetta, Resident Evil 4, Nier: Automata, No More Heroes, and Metal Gear Rising. Those guys were a huge influence on this series, and I think game fans will find plenty of not-too-blatant references in there to find and enjoy.

BCP: There’s a grand tradition of British (indeed, Scottish) sci-fi comics, especially of Urban dystopias, often with a thick vein of black humour. Why do you think that is?

DAVE: I actually had to really think about how to answer this question, as it’s a truly great one. I wonder if it’s because of the cultural identity of our main cities, and how – while the march of modernisation and gentrification rolls on – Scotland has retained a lot of its cultural heritage. You can still see remnants of the old Scotland from centuries past still resisting the tides of change, and I think that has lead to the urban decay kind of vibe I think you’re referencing. I love it personally, and I’m glad that Scotland still has that string in its bow. As for the dark humour – I purely think that’s in the Scottish blood.

BCP: Tell us a bit more about the artistic team you’ve got working on this.

DAVE: Craig Paton is on art duties, an incredibly talented artist from Glasgow. We first worked together on the covers of my post-apocalyptic road trip series Bust, and right away I knew I wanted to work with him on a new series. Craig is a big fan of Moebius, Frank Quitely, Geoff Darrow and Akira artist Katshuhiro Otomo, so right away we knew this was a dream match-up.

Plus, Craig is more than an artist; he’s helped add so many new elements into the story through his visuals, like little bits of world building – a sign here, a background detail there – giving the book so much depth. Seriously, some of the pages we’ve not revealed yet are like Where’s Wally books, with so many little details you could spend ages looking for. The depth, detail and dedication are always on point with Craig.

EXCLUSIVE KILLTOPIA #1 Artwork courtesy of Craig Paton – CLICK TO ENLARGE

BCP: Do you enjoy the pressures of writing a creator-owned comic?

DAVE: It depends on the day you ask me to be honest (laughs). A bit of pressure is a good kick up the ass to get your head down and write something, but at indie level you need to have two things – a thick skin, and huge self-awareness. Because there’s always a temptation to just hammer the writing, marketing, promotion, Kickstarters, social media and business aspects of being an indie all day, every day – and that’s a sure-fire way to burn out really fast.

You need to know how to take the foot off the gas a little, and take back some of your life. Its no secret that many comic creators (myself included) have brushed with depression, and once you see the passion and the drive these people have, and the mental, personal and social toll it can take to always be ‘on’ – touring cons, marketing and so on – it’s not hard to see why it can have such a big impact on them.

Take time for yourself, look after yourself and remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. So when it comes to enjoying the pressure, it all depends on what day I’m on and what speed I’m currently going at. Right now, I just finished the Killtopia #2 script, so I’m taking two weeks off.

BCP: We’re seeing more and more creators turning to Kickstarter. What do you think are the major advantages of the KS model?

DAVE: Kickstarter is brilliant, but it’s also not a quick-win to get a project funded. Killtopia was our 6th successful campaign, raising over £16,000 so the advantages of that amount of funding are clear, but we got there by marketing the campaign and book a year in advance, using social media, press coverage, creative video skits, paid advertising, art teasers, articles and every marketing trick in the book that I knew of. It was like having a second full time job for a year.

So it can be very advantageous – if you’re willing to put the work in. Ultimately though, it gives you a direct line to talk right at your fan base without having to compete with all the noise on social media or the news, or whatever stupid thing some celebrity said – so that makes it incredibly valuable. It’s a way to be transparent and real with your fans, showing them behind the scenes how your comic is developing. I’m going to keep using it until it doesn’t work (which I hope isn’t any time soon!)

BCP: Of course, we’re now going to see Issue #1 with a lovely Black Hearted Press logo on it, as they’ll be handling the launch. How did you come to be working with BHP.

DAVE: We knew the BHP guys for a while before we signed with them, as they organise and run Glasgow Comic Con, so they knew the book was coming. It wasn’t a done deal off the bat of course, we still had to negotiate, and sell our idea for the series, and how we’d take it from issue #1 and beyond. We just got talking about taking a punt on a team-up and all the pieces fell into place. We’re hoping it’ll give our story the boost it needs to leap beyond the indie scene and flourish from there.

BCP: BHP has some amazing talent in its wider stable. Who would you like to work with in a writing or art capacity, on this or another project, that you’ve not done so before?

DAVE: Frank Quitely doing art for a Killtopia side story or prequel would be pretty ace, and I think would literally blow Craig’s mind. I can only imagine what his take on our weird, vibrant cityscapes would look like.

BCP: What else can we expect to see from you in the months to come?

DAVE: I’m circling back to our one of our other series Vessels, which is best described as Dark Souls meets Inception. Issue 3 will hit Kickstarter in August/September, and anyone who likes RPG gaming, mixed with the weirdness, head trip nature of Doctor Strange or Legion will surely get a kick out of this. We’re hoping Killtopia’s success will also give Vessels a boost.

BCP: What’s on your own reading pile (or PS4 stack for that matter) just now:?

DAVE: I’ll be honest that, because I’ve been blitzing Killtopia #2’s script for a few months my reading pile is a little thing. I am halfway through Si Spurrier and Caspar Wijngaard’s delightful Angelic: Book One, and I’ve got Saga Vol. 8 sitting there untouched. I also plan on picking up Extremity Vol. 1, Kill or Be Killed Vol. 3 and Outcast Vol. 5 soon.

In terms of gaming, I’m currently playing (what else) Dark Souls Remastered, and I’m about to enter New Game+ again. I’ll never get bored of this series.

BCP: Thanks again for your time.

DAVE: Thanks for having me!

If that’s not enough for you, here’s what BHP Comics themselves have to say about it:

And in case you missed it you can pre-order issue #1 ahead of its release on October 3rd by CLICKING HERE.

Following a juggernaut Kickstarter campaign by author Dave Cook and artist Craig Paton, Scottish publisher BHP Comics is pleased to announce it has signed KILLTOPIA, a neon-drenched cyberpunk graphic novel series with a wicked streak of dark humour and hyper-violence, with lavish artwork inspired by the legendary Geoff Darrow and Moebius.

Smashing its Kickstarter goal by over 400% and promising bonus art pieces by Darick Robertson (Happy!/Transmetropolitan), Caspar Wijngaard (Limbo/Angelic), Tom Foster (2000AD) and Gary Erskine (Marvel, IDW, Image, DC), Killtopa #1 is a killer signing to BHP’s growing roster of top indie talent.

“What excited me most about joining BHP Comics is that, as well as allowing us to get our work out to a much bigger audience, it’s very cool to be part of something promoting Scottish art and talent to the wider world,” says artist Craig Paton.

“We couldn’t be more excited to join the BHP family for many reasons; one of those being that they are a fellow Scottish outfit,” says Killtopia creator and author Dave Cook, “It means a lot to us that we can take our first step as published creators and help fly the flag for Scotland’s ever-expanding comic industry.”

Sha Nazir, Publisher at BHP Comics adds, “Killtopia captures the today’s resurging appetite for genre based sci-fi books and it immediately caught our attention. This is the first time BHP have acquired a book funded by Kickstarter and we are really pleased to add to the book’s success by increasing its visibility through the book industry, and are excited to bring this new world to our readers in September.”

SAMDAVThe Writer of this piece was: Sam Graven
Article Archive:Geeking Out
You can follow Sam on Twitter

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