FCBD INTERVIEW: 'Humancraft' with Ned Hartley and Tanya Roberts

Writer Ned Hartley and artist Tanya Roberts discuss their Future Shock story for this year's all-ages 2000 AD title for Free Comic Book Day!

1 year ago

2000 AD REGENED, the latest zarjaz offering from 2000 AD, hits the shelves on Saturday 5th May as part of Free Comic Book Day.

And no 2000 AD would really be complete without the bite-sized sci-fi masterpieces we know as Future Shocks!

Richard Bruton took the time to chat to new writer and artist to the world of Tharg; Ned Hartley and Tanya Roberts about Humancraft in 2000 AD REGENED

Ned, Tanya, as far as I understand it, this would be your first work for 2000 AD. With a 2000 AD Future Shock episode, you get a massive amount of exposure, but here, with the FCBD comic, that is multiplied many, many times. How did it feel to get the gig and how did it come about?

Ned Hartley: Getting the call to work on 2000 AD was genuinely one of the happiest moments of my life! I mean, the birth of my kids and my wedding day are also up there too, don't get me wrong. But this was pretty, pretty good. It's great because 2000 AD occupies such a special place is so many people's hearts - it's like being asked to play with the Sex Pistols or something.

Editor Keith Richardson got in touch with me, he knew that I have a lot of experience working in all-ages comics (I've done everything from Simpsons to Star Wars) and we talked a bit about that. He's got some very smart ideas about the future of publishing. Obviously hiring me was one of them, but he's doing a lot of very cool stuff.

Tanya Roberts: It feels great to get to work on a publication that I’ve been reading since I was a child! I was messaged on Facebook for the gig! It was on an account myself and my husband set up for our new comic “Abeyance”... which should be out later on in 2018! (Plug! Plug!)

Adapting the Future Shock format to an all-ages audience might seem somewhat strange, given that the format does lend itself to a more doom laden theme more often than not. How did you approach an all-ages Future Shock for the FCBD comic?

NH: My starting point was "What is in the world of someone who isn't a traditional 2000 AD reader? What do younger audiences like?". So I worked up some pitches based on things like Youtube, football, LEGO, video games - things like that. I sent five or six over to Keith and the Humancraft one was the one he liked the best. I think he's right, it has to be something that was fun!

TR: Ned’s script was pretty fun, so I felt like I could go a bit more cartoony than I normally would. I’m glad they went for it as well. Being a fan of the classic 2000 AD style it felt pretty different to me.

Taking the concept of Minecraft and switching it around is a great idea, a classic Future Shock style turnaround. But you have played very cleverly on rather grown up themes of job (dis)satisfaction, the melancholy and disappointment of being a grown-up, and even manage to wrap the whole thing up on a very political note. How difficult (or otherwise) is it to deliver some very adult ideas in a form acceptable and even understandable to younger readers?

NH: I think younger readers understand a lot more than we give them credit for. The absolute worst thing you can do to a young reader is patronise them or talk down to them. Most younger readers are smart enough to understand quite complicated things as long as they are presented in context. And if they aren't then you can always have people hit each other, I mean that's always funny right?

TR: Again, the script was very clear and I really felt that I knew what the characters would look like and how they would act and interact. Seeing the three alien brothers interacting mirrored my relationship with my siblings (I’m one of three as well) somewhat as well. All the piss taking, and all the warmth they have towards each other.

The art on your Future Shock is a wonderfully bright affair, and unusually for a Future Shock, in colour. Was this a deliberate approach or was it editorially driven?

NH: Tanya is just plain brilliant. For me the main thing to do was get out of the way!

TR: I begged to colour this one! I try to colour all of my comic work, and I’m glad they went for it. I suppose it’s a bit more colourful than you would normally find with a Future Shock, but I think, and hope the readers’ agree, that this Future Shock tale works well with the artwork. 

Finally, seeing as this is your first 2000 AD credit... a few old favourites... What are your first memories of reading 2000 AD? Did you read it growing up, or as an adult?

NH: I remember DEVOURING Judge Dredd collections when I was about 12 or so. You used to get those collections of early John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra stories, and I loved them! I was always a big fan of Strontium Dog, and recently I've been reading Nikolai Dante stories in the 2000 AD Ultimate Collection - I think those are my favourite right now.

TR: Yep, grew up reading it. Not until I got into boarding school when I was about ten upwards though. The house would order in all the comics, and 2000 AD was one that sneaked through. I would just lap it up.

How did you make your way into comics?

NH: I started off by working in Forbidden Planet comic shop in New Oxford Street many years ago! I loved it, in fact it's where I met my wife! Forbidden Planet is owned by Titan, so after a few years I moved from selling comics to making them!

TR: I was initially trained in traditional animation, but just out of college it simply wasn;t viable. A friend of mine took me to my first comic con which just happened to be that tiny little one in San Diego! And that was it, I was hooked.

What is your background, and what have you worked on thus far?

NH: I self-publish my own comics about a superhero called Punchface, whose superpower is punching people in the face. It's pretty high-concept stuff! As part of the day job I've worked on Wallace and Gromit comics, WWE Heroes, SpongeBob SquarePants, LEGO Star Wars, Batman: Brave and the Bold and lots more!

TR: I’ve been pretty lucky so far. In addition to working on several creator owned titles I’ve been fortunate enough to work on Star Wars: Clone Wars, How To Train Your Dragon, Toy Story, and TMNT amongst others. Who knows what the future holds?

Who are your influences?

NH: When I started to write a Future Shock I went back and read all of Alan Moore's Future Shocks that I could find, which just made me appreciate him even more. I've read good work about comics writing from Brian Michael Bendis, Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis, which have really helped me. There are some writers around who I'm lucky enough to call friends like Alec Worley and Si Spurrier who have written some really great blogs about writing and have made me think a lot about how I write.

TR: I’m still influenced by a lot of animators, including several of the veteran Disney artists, such as Glen Keene, Chris Sanders, and Eric Goldberg. When it comes to comics, it’s the Europeans that inspire me the most. Blacksaad’s Juanjo Guarnido and Skydoll’s Barbucci... just stunning.

Free Comic Book Day is on 5th May. For more details visit the FCBD site...