INTERVIEW: Simon Furman and Simon Coleby discuss THE VIGILANT!

With the one-shot special out tomorrow, the main creative team talk about their love of classic British comics and bringing them back for a new generation

1 year ago

Tomorrow sees the triumphant rebirth of some familiar faces from the 1960s and '70s with THE VIGILANT!

This US-format one-shot title resurrects those classic heroes from classic Fleetway and IPC comics, including Adam Eterno, Steel Commando, Thunderbolt, and The Leopard.

You might remember the names, you might be too young, but either way, THE VIGILANT promises something spectacular; the birth of the ‘Rebellion-verse’!

You can buy The Vigilant from all good newsagents and comic book stores, as well as from 2000 AD's webshop and apps.

Richard Bruton revisited his childhood with writer Simon Furman and artist Simon Coleby to see what it’s all about.

The Vigilant a reimagining of classic characters from British comics history... can you tell us a little of what it’s all about, when it’s set, and which classic characters we’ll be seeing in its pages?

Simon Furman: It’s a team book, bringing together classic British comic heroes from the early '70s onwards such as The Leopard (From Lime Street), The Steel Commando, Dr. Sin, Thunderbolt (The Avenger) and Blake Edmonds (Death Wish) to combat threats no single hero can handle. In addition to the core cast, there’s a host of cameos and blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em appearances from a host of other Brit comics characters. If you know your Brit comics from that era, you’ll have a blast spotting these little Easter Eggs, but otherwise we’ve dusted off these characters and given them a kind of ground up/entry-level ‘Ultimate’ treatment, so the Rebellion-verse really does begin here.

Simon Coleby: We've re-introduced characters such as The Leopard from Lime Street/Billy Farmer, The Steel Commando, Death Wish/Blake Edmonds, Peter Parker ( and his pocket aliens ), Thunderbolt/Mary Landson, along with a small host of Machiavellian and fiendish villains.

SF: The story is set very much in the here and now, and all the characters have been updated, aged (somewhat) and re-imagined, sometimes with an entirely new brush, so it’s totally accessible for any reader (no previous knowledge required).

SC: With Adam Eterno as a primary character in the story, the notion of where and when it's set becomes a rather fluid concept!

These characters all come from a very different time, with 70s Britain a very different place from today. In terms of writing these characters for a modern audience and modern sensibilities, have you had to alter things for The Vigilant?

SF: Because British comics characters of the '70s weren’t exactly diverse in terms of gender and ethnicity, we’ve made some of the characters more fit for modern purpose, bringing in entirely new versions of Dr. Sin and Thunderbolt (though still with links to the originals) and adding a new (anti-?) hero in the shape of Yão. But it’s still a rough and ready, abrasive assemblage of heroes who don’t exactly play well with other, and a lot of the sparks that fly are inter-team ones.

SC: In terms of the art, I certainly had to redesign some of the characters. The Leopard and Steel Commando, for example, were very charming and delightful in their original context, but obviously wouldn't work in a contemporary story without some revision. I tried to update the designs to make them credible and a little more 'gritty', while maintaining as much as possible of what made them so appealing originally.

What sort of mood will we be seeing in The Vigilant?

SC: I think we've created something quite uniquely 'British'. Doubtless, that has much to do with the source material we've drawn upon. I feel this book is quite psychedelic with hints, perhaps, of everything from Monty Python to Warrior comic. Another possible parallel would be Michael Moorcock's work -- especially his Jerry Cornelius stories. It's a comic that should probably come with a mix CD featuring everything from Yes to the Sex Pistols to Hawkwind!

Were you familiar with the characters already? Are you of an age where you would read them as children or have you been brushing up?

SF: This era of comics falls exactly into my (first phase of) childhood/comics buying. Lion, Valiant, Buster, Smash… these were the comics that made me. So I was a little like a kid in a candy store… I want that one, and that one… when it came to pulling the first Vigilant story (and cast) together. A lot of my research consisted of going up into the loft and bringing down piles of old comics (and re-reading them). I loved the strip Watch Out For The White Eyes (from Lion) and its sequels, so the first thing I asked editor Keith Richardson was could I bring them into the mix. Seriously, you won’t believe how much we’ve managed to cram into one story (poor Simon Coleby). Funnily enough, I wasn’t so familiar with the bad guys – Von Hoffman, Dr. Mesmer and The Iron Major – so that’s where I had to knuckle down and do some reading/research. It’s a dirty job… but someone’s got to do it!

SC: I wasn't familiar with all the characters. I was born in 1967, and was brought up on UK reprints of Marvel titles, then 2000 AD ( of course!! ), then I fell in love with Warrior comic, in the early '80s. Some of our characters are from the late '60s and early '70s, so slightly predated my childhood and teen comic reading. It was fascinating to go back and research those I was unfamiliar with, though -- so much brilliant art, and such wonderful eccentricity in the stories.

All of the characters involved come from very different places, and putting them together as a team doesn’t seem like the easiest thing to do. Am I right in thinking that this will be more (to use classic US superhero team parlance) Defenders than it is Avengers?

SF: That’s it exactly. Defenders rather than Avengers. Right down to the fact that the line-up of the team won’t ever be static. There’s very much a sense of the right people for the job at hand, most of which require some degree of pragmatism and even cold-bloodedness, so the mix of personality and skill set will always be fluid. And given the nature of the first story we’re not above bringing characters from whole other dimensions/continuums into The Vigilant. We intend to keep readers on their toes.

Seeing as you’re bringing so many characters to the readers in this first issue, is this something of a introductory story?

SF: It’s introductory in terms of the Vigilant team (as a whole), but we’re not trying to also pack seven or eight origins in too. Pretty much, we jump right into the action and the problem at hand, and let readers get to know our heroes as the mission progresses. Rather than have these characters sit around and introduce themselves, we get under their respective skins via action and interaction as they bid to stave off the end of not just their reality but countless others too. Adam Eterno is key to the whole thing, so maybe there’s more in the way of introductory stuff there, but then we completely subvert what (long-time) readers think they know about him anyway. The great news is – there are solo back-up stories for three of the main characters that provide extra depth for new and old readers alike. For instance, what happened to the Steel Commando after WWII and where we pick up with him today? Now it shall be told!

What about the readers who remember the characters first time around? Is there something extra in it for them?

SF: If you know the source material you’ll get all the little references, cameos and nods that are spliced into the DNA of the story. It won’t detract from your enjoyment if you don’t, but for those that do there’ll be fun to be had pinning this tail on that donkey. And given that the first (pre-) Vigilant story was in the Scream and Misty Special, it won’t come as any surprise that for fans of Scream! there’s a key fixture and fitting and a whopper of a connective strand that goes all the way back to that (much-loved if not long-lived) cult comic.

What do you think it is that makes British superheroes so different from those coming from our American cousins?

SF: For a start, there’s very little traditional ‘spandex’ on show here. We’ve loaded the Vigilant with that off-kilter, subversive, anarchic edge that you’ll find in 2000 AD. There’s nothing clean cut and naturally noble about our assemblage of heroes. They do the right thing… but not always for the right reasons. All have ulterior motives and other agendas. No one quite trusts anyone else. Even their HQ has the capacity to turn against them! So there’s this dark undercurrent to the whole team, which then reflects on the team dynamics. It’s going to be a bumpy ride as they try and set aside their differences and pull together to defeat their common enemy. We’re about as far – in this collection of freaks, malcontents and nihilists – as it’s possible to get from clean-cut, square-jawed heroes like Superman and Captain America. And the way Simon C draws them only adds to that sense of disequilibrium and unease.

SC: Perhaps our UK superheroes are a little more cynical and surreal. I'd go back to the Monty Python analogy -- that series could only have come from the UK (with the obvious contribution of chap from across The Pond; Terry Gilliam). It's not something easy to define -- likewise, Warrior and 2000 AD have something uniquely 'British' about them. Cynicism? Dark Humour? Our story also has the Tower of London in it, so there's that...

How did the collaboration between yourselves come about?

SC: I was approached by Keith Richardson, after my Black Max work for the Scream & Misty Special. The Vigilant project sounded fascinating and challenging, and so I said yes immediately. I've known Simon since the early days, back at Marvel UK in the '80s. My memory for the work I've done over the decades is appalling, but I'm sure we have collaborated; probably on Transformers, or something similar.

SF: We actually worked together on a few short Transformers stories for Marvel UK back in the late-'80s. But Simon’s style has evolved so much since then. Still incredibly meaty and dynamic, but so much more assured and stylish. He’s given The Vigilant such a unique and eye-catching look. Keith Richardson, the editor, put us together on this, along with Simon Bowland on lettering. Now all we need is for the colourist, Len, to change his first name and Simons Rule!

Simon, what’s your process for The Vigilant?

SC: Read the script. Drink tea. Listen to industrial metal while drawing. Email my pages to Len as I finish them!

The recent interview with yourself and Len O’Grady about colour art creation for Jaegir was a fascinating glimpse into the importance of the colourist. With O’Grady colouring The Vigilant, how has the collaboration gone this time?

SC: It's been great, as always! Len always flatters my art, and he's brought a whole new feel to this project. I don't want to give anything away at this stage, but it has a very different 'feel' to our collaborations on Jaegir, and other projects. I think we're both very happy with the way this one has turned out.

This has been described as an intro to what’s been called the ‘Rebellion-verse’. Are there plans for more Vigilant following this first issue? And if so,...who are your dream team Vigilant members you’d love to get your hands on?

SF: Everyone’s thinking more Vigilant after the one-shot. There are just so many places to go, characters to involve, great concepts to delve into. Right now, The White Eyes are a cameo, but I’d love to more in that world. And we introduce two whole other teams of heroes in the course of the story, both of whom deserve more of a day in the sun. The problem with the Vigilant one-shot was not what to put in, but what to leave out. Dr. Sin and Death-Man (another new character) are our more overtly mystical characters, but there are others (both who guest-star in the one-shot and don’t) that I’d love to put together for a more supernaturally themed story. Honestly, this is just the tip of the iceberg. And more classic and much-loved characters might way come into the mix in the future. Which is looking very bright!

SC: There are several characters I's like to take further, if the opportunity arose. Death Man and Yao are favourites, as is Steel Commando. We'll have to see how things develop.