Interview: Patrick Potter & Paul Wheeler | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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After fifteen years of development, Darlington’s indy comic book creators Paul Wheeler (who you might recognise from chain-gang blues purveyors The Dead Seat) and Patrick Potter have finally released The Mysterious Leo Fox. It’s a four-part series of twisted urban fantasy set in a cursed council estate called Radiant Gardens featuring the eponymous Rudeboy Wizard going head to head with the forces of chaos, as he tries to survive a lethal night stuck out after curfew in the middle of a reality storm. We chat with the dynamic duo to find out more…

Which are your favourite comics/graphic novels? Give us some reading recommendations whilst we’re on lockdown.
Pat: I was never the comic book fanboy, that was Paul’s background. I came to comics later in life and my favourite series of all time is Alan Moore’s Promethea. I’ve got a lot of time for Alan. I’m also a massive fan of Scott McCleod’s Making Comics. I always liked Judge Dredd too. Ooh and Tank Girl. I loved Tank Girl.

I find most Marvel stuff intensely boring. 

Paul: For me, the best Graphic Novels are still those 80s classics. The Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Crisis on Infinite Earths, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, A Death in the Family, The Mutant Massacre, Elektra Assassin, The Killing Joke. The 80s was really the beginning of big overarching storylines in comics that could then be repackaged. We saw the beginnings of darker more adult themes as Marvel and DC ran their Epic and Vertigo lines. People like Alan Moore, Jim Starlin, Bill Scienkiewicz, Frank Miller and Chris Claremont, were given free rein to really upend the superhero genre, and I am first and foremost a superhero fan. We like to think of Leo Fox as a superhero in a similar vein. A gritty urban backdrop and a boy up against the odds who doesn’t have all the answers but somehow comes through. I feel we tried to pitch it a little younger though, so he is like a Black Mirror version of Harry Potter I suppose.

How did the two of you meet and end up working together?
Pat: I’ve known Paul for over twenty years. His brother married my sister. He persuaded me to try computer graphics way back in 2004. Our first project together was an animated film, the prequel in fact to the comic book we eventually made. Ironically, we thought it would be dead easy to make a comic instead of another animation. It nearly killed us. 

Paul: Pat and my brother met doing A levels. After university we both found ourselves back in Darlington. Pat and another guy we met, Ben Lycett had the idea for Leo and I was working in 3d graphics at the time for the Virtual Reality Centre at Teesside University. Ben was a Photoshop whizzkid from a photography background and Pat had just finished a drama degree. We started to plot a tale, just messing about at first, but then the university ran a grant scheme under their new Digital City banner in 2004. We pitched the idea and were awarded 6000 pounds. We bought 3 laptops, a video camera and I quickly taught them skills in 3d Studio Max, a 3d animation package. We had little animation skill, but we rotoscoped Pat acting out the scenes and got together a shotlist, modelled characters, I built and lit environments and we just managed to finish the film to deadline.

It was useful for what we all did next. I got accepted to study character animation at Central Saint Martins, Pat started writing copy for many books about urban art and other things, and Ben went to Manchester to do a degree in film.

After my diploma in London, Pat got in touch and we kicked around the idea of taking Leo’s story further as a comic.

What inspired The Mysterious Leo Fox?
Paul: He was Pat’s creation. An amalgam of characters he met as a student in London living on a 60s council estate.

Pat: I wanted to mash together fantasy and edgy urban realism. I also had an idea of a kind of Soap Opera quality to it, with a sort of Moomins flavour. I had read a lot of magical realism, and I was massively into Tim Etchells, who worked in that weird space between magic and realism. Of course, now Urban Fantasy is this firmly established genre, but it wasn’t back then. It was those high rise council estates really that inspired it all, and the Rudeboy junglist subculture of the later 1990’s.

Without giving too much away, could you give us a brief synopsis?
Pat: In Radiant Gardens the Estate locks down every night to protect people from the reality storms. Only Leo’s mad Grandad defies the lockdown to teach Leo a form of magic on the estate football yard. But tonight it all goes wrong when Leo finds out his friend Gary is in trouble with the local gangsters, and he risks his life to follow them all into the Underground Carpark, where urban legend has it a monster lives.

Paul: The story picks up a year after the film left our hero. He is learning magic from his Grandad, a hobo alcoholic wizard who believes Leo can restore normality to their world. After an event called “The Great Delusion” which happened when Leo was only a toddler, the entire estate was transported into an impenetrable jungle. Much of the youth went missing at that time after attending a warehouse rave, including Leos mum. He is 14 now and lives with his Nan. The estate is racked by reality storms which distort the roads and buildings at night, and the people are under curfew, plagued by monsters known only as the Strange Things. They are beings which materialize from the storms and are composed of anti mathematical pressure. This night, Leo runs out to save a boy he knows, only to be forced into the underground car park by local gang members, where he begins to unlock the clues to the secrets underlying his world and maybe something which could help him make things right again.

Tell us more about the writing process. How did you tie it in with the artwork?
Pat: Well basically I write a script, Paul storyboards it and comes back with pages, then I work back into the pages putting the final narration and dialogue in. There’s a fair bit of back and forth but that is how it largely works. It’s happened over such a long period of time that the workflow has evolved. We were hopelessly naive in the beginning – I have some of the original email exchanges, so full of optimism…

Paul: It was 2009. I don’t think either of us knew what making comics would entail. At the time I was reading Stan Lee’s autobiography and we settled on “The Marvel Method” as a way of working over distance. Pat would send a script, I would thumbnail it and we would discuss that. We tried to follow a US comic format of 24 pages per issue. Spacing panels and pacing story, leaving dialogue space working out story beats, we hadn’t a clue. We found Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics” a useful guide. We worked in spare time, and it took a long time. The early issues were pencilled coloured and inked by hand. There are around 20 separate characters, all needed designing. I don’t think we realised the amount of work it would entail but we stuck at it. It took 4 years to finish the pictures! I sped up the process using photocopying and ink pens with watercolour washes. I was glad when it was completed. We worked in A3 and scanned in A4 so pages had to be joined back together in the computer. Pat would then take the scans, and add the dialogue and narration. Leo is a selective mute so narration plays an important role instead of internal monologue. But by this time we were both of us married and Pat was expecting his first child. The comic got put to one side in about 2013. I thought that was that. It was only the end of last year Pat finally had the time to return to the work and complete the story. He rewrote and re-lettered much of it.

When will the comic be available and where can we get it from?
Pat: You can read it for free on Instagram right now. I’ll be releasing digital and print on demand versions with amazon in the next couple of weeks. If the interest grows, we’ll write the next story arc.

Paul: It is a big outlay to print up comics, and marketing them isn’t something we have much experience in. So I started an Instagram account to get the story finally out there. The story is drip-fed sequentially so you can read it first post to last at the moment. We have discovered many are doing something similar under the hashtags #comicsofinstagram and #makingcomics. It is great to see. Our following is growing all the time. In this day and age ecomics are becoming more popular, so we are looking at a kindle release and into how we could print a hard copy someday. If anybody has any advice or wants to put it out, please get in touch! Otherwise, please follow us on Instagram!

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