INTERVIEW: Peter Milligan, Rufus Dayglo and Dom Regan discuss Counterfeit Girl
The creative team behind the dystopian cyberpunk thriller talk identity theft, sentient diseases and fake news!
3 months ago
Welcome to the neon bathed future of Counterfeit Girl, where identity is everything and there’s a thriving criminal underworld all too willing to make you a new life, new IDs, no questions asked.
Young Libra Kelly, the counterfeit girl of the title, is one of the best ‘simmers’, the crims who craft new IDs, no questions asked. After making the wrong kind of enemies, this Counterfeit Girl finds herself on the run, with a huge price on her head and a terrible new ID.
Originally published in 2016 (Progs 2000-2008, and 2010), you can dive into this frantic, fabulous, full-colour, full-action tale of identity all over again with the collection, which is available now!
We took the opportunity to chat to writer Peter Milligan, artist Rufus Dayglo and colourist Dom Regan to talk Counterfeit Girls and big city sci-fi...
Counterfeit Girl, like all the best sci-fi, this is a story where you're warning us about the now by telling us a tale of the future. But, instead of making it a dry, lecturing thing, all anti-corporations, ID issues, that sort of thing, you've crafted a breakneck speed runaway romp - but what’s Counterfeit Girl all about?
Peter Milligan: At its heart this story is about identity. When I wrote it the whole subject of identity theft was in the headlines – it’s still a pressing issue - and Counterfeit Girl takes the idea of identity theft but because this is science fiction and because this is 2000 AD pushes the whole concept to the extreme: it imagines a future – maybe not so distant – when your identity – and not simply your bank account and credit card details – could really be stolen. Our hero or anti hero, who’s name might be Lulu, is an identity – or persona – thief.
Rufus Dayglo: Revenge, identity theft, Corporate aggression, Justice and rebalance, and shitting your pants in the streets while off your mind on psychotropic drugs! Oh and mind leaches.
What sort of things we’re you all thinking of or channelling when it came to putting together Counterfeit Girl?
PM: I was riffing on the whole idea of stealing identity and what that actually means, what it actually means to pilfer another’s persona.
RD: At the time Trump was busy being elected…so I definitely modelled characters on him, and his Trump Corp. It was a timely story, about identity theft, and ownership, in an age where Facebook and The New/Alt Right are stealing elections, at home and in the USA. It was synchronicity!
Although it’s hard sci-fi, it’s also got a lightness to it, something that doesn’t always happen in sci-fi comics.
PM: There is a lightness, there’s humour, some of it pretty absurd, but in the grand tradition of 2000 AD this is a pretty dystopian future, and our hero finds herself on the wrong side of the law and powerful forces. Although she’s a professional, she has a rule: anyone fighting the system gets her services for free. This clearly has the potential to get her into deep shit. But I think it also makes us like her. It makes me like her, anyway!
RD: Peter has that magical ability to take dark difficult subjects and find the humour and dark bleeding heart of the matter. He is a comics writing alchemist. He can turn a straight-forward idea into a razor sharp whirlwind of madness, and drag you in for the ride.
He has always been one of my favourite writers…so getting his scripts is like Christmas. He trusts his artists to enlarge and expand on his scripts and make something unique. He is a very generous collaborator. I think both he and john Wagner have that incredible ability to balance commentary and absurdity, getting their audiences to think about real world/real life issues whilst still entertaining them with some razor sharp sci-fi.
What was the reaction to Counterfeit Girl when it first appeared in the Progs?
PM: Very positive. Although, this was never going to be one of those big-bollocked shoot ‘em up stories, with a big-bollocked shot ‘em up fanbase, it’s a bit left of field, you might say, but the kind of people who appreciate this kind of story (astute, sophisticated, probably physically attractive) certainly got into it.
Dominic Regan: I don’t know, I think reactions were mixed. From what I heard people either loved it or hated it. Personally, I find it best not to think too much about whatever other people say about a work, whether it's good or bad. We produced a story we were all proud to be involved with. What readers make of it is up to them.
Rufus, there’s always so much going on with your art and you definitely don’t shy away from the detail here in Counterfeit Girl, it’s got a real vibrant, eye-popping look.
RD: I very specifically wanted Counterfeit Girl to look and feel really different. I feel that most sci-fi comics/films these days are informed by Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner colour palette, a de-saturated, murky, noir look. I love that too…but there’s just too much of it. So Dominic and I designed a saturated migraine nauseous world of extreme colour.
DR: Yeah! A punk rock day-glow dystopian nightmare in six page doses.
What was the thinking behind making it so busy, so in your face, so packed with details?
RD: I have a love of Souks and North African markets… When you wander about in say, Marrakesh, you’re just besieged by a riot of noise, smell, and colour. Everything is vying for space. Everything is a sign, a doorway, or for sale. I just felt that this world was like a massive Air BnB or eBay site, everything and everyone is for rent or sale. Every signage, every property, personality and body. Everything is available…and it is cheerfully miserable. It looks like a fun fair…but it’s rotten inside.
PM: Just to say, I really liked how busy this was. I wanted the busy nature of the story and of the art to represent the busy or packed nature of our hero’s mind, which is sometimes pretty overwhelmed with all the personas she’s assumed. So, cheers, Rufus!
I see so much in Counterfeit Girl in terms of nods and influences... the spirit of McCarthy and Ewins in your work, albeit adapted and transformed to your own style.
RD: Absolutely!! Brendan and Brett’s '80s work hugely informed my upbringing in comics. There was cheeky, playful madness, a psychedelic edge to everything. I miss that in 2000 AD, and thought we needed some psychedelic insanity. 2000 AD is at its best when there is a true mixture of darkness, comedy and absurdity. No other comic has successfully straddled these intersections the way 2000 AD has. I think it’s a uniquely British quality. Peter has that gift with his storytelling of being very dark, but finding something to laugh at, at the same time… the absurd in the grotesque. I think horror and social commentary work best like that. Because life is horribly absurd at times. Look at our own Governments.
Every other panel seems to have something extra in it, whether it's ads (POOPSI being a fave), callouts to disparate things such as Orbital Comics, Chopper, and then there's the Judge as Thatcher, the dedications to John Hicklenton and Garry Leach – what are the stories behind these?
RD: I add in details as I think of things and people. There are also tributes to Steve Dillon and Brett Ewins on the very last page hidden in the signage. Garry is my best friend. John Hicklenton was a good friend too and I like to keep my friends in my art. Orbital is ‘my’ comics shop, they’re good people (an Eisner Award winning shop in fact!!) - these details to me make me part of the work. And I’m pleased you spotted the Spitting Image Thatcher Judge!
DR: I slipped in a few things here and there as well. One being a guest appearance from my oldest boy as a female character who's only in one panel.
Similarly, Rufus, Peter, the colouring on Counterfeit Girl is a huge part of the look of the book. Feel free to sing the praises of Dom here!
RD: Dom is a bloody genius! I have never been so happy as when seeing these pages. We did discuss things… but Dom brings his own aesthetic entirely. Working with Dom is an absolute privilege and pleasure and we were so lucky Dominic agreed to work with us, it really helped in creating a unique story.
We need people like Dom in comics as he thinks so far outside the box, he has created his own Icosagram!!
PM: Yes, absolutely, Dom’s slightly hyperreal colours perfectly suited this world and helped create a really strong sense of time and space. The colours were great.
DR: Thanks Rufus and Peter! I love you too! Though, after brand testing, it seems the Icosogram will do better if it's actually in a box...
Dom, Rufus, can you both take us through your processes in putting together the pages? What sort of collaboration was involved?
RD: I thumbnail the pages, then blow them up to A3, ink them, usually consuming my own body weight in Kit-Kats. Then I scan it and clean up the B&W art and send it over to Dom, usually along with a page of annoying notes, explaining panel-by-panel what sort stupid thing I was attempting to invoke.
Dom them goes away, burns a Wickerman full of local numpties while chanting Glaswegian incantations, and comes back in the dawn with the insanity that is his coloured art! How he reads my B&W art is beyond me…as there are so many details it is just nuts.
DR: I think I just grab Ruf's B&W art and have some fun! Rufus gave me loads of reference for how he wanted things to look, photos of night-time in Hong Kong and Kowloon Walled City were a big part of the inspiration of the look of Counterfeit Girl. I got to try a few things I'd not ever had a chance to do before in comics colouring before but there was a lot of back and forth between the two of us. I think how “glowy” things should be gave us the most hassle really.
RD: There WAS supposed to be someone else colouring this series… they took one look at the first two pages and declined as it was too much work!
It’s now a while since this first Counterfeit Girl series and there’s definitely scope to continue the series, given how things ended. Is there any chance we’ll see another series at some point?
PM: Yes, we wanted to leave it at a place where we could pick it up again. There seems so many potential stories in this character and this world to explore and I know we want to revisit Counterfeit Girl.
RD: Oh yes…I hope so…if Peter is agreeable to it. Working with Peter and Dom has been one of the true highlights of my professional life.