Author Series: Steve Tanner
I’ve been an avid comics reader and collector since childhood, but decided to fully realise my enthusiasm for the medium in 2006 when a visit to a local comics convention inspired me to set-up an independent comics imprint - Time Bomb Comics. Since September 2007 through Time Bomb Comics I’ve been publishing critically acclaimed comics and graphic novels in the UK featuring a wide mix of writers and artists, not just my own work.
I’m the creator and writer of Flintlock – an ongoing adventure anthology series featuring a range of unique original and genuinely diverse characters in a shared 18th Century historical timeline. Inspired by weekly adventure comics of the 60s and 70s, and demonstrating meticulous period detail rarely seen in modern comics, Flintlock is one of the success stories of the modern Indie comics scene in the UK.
Beyond Time Bomb Comics I’ve written stories for a wide number of other comics publishers and am a familiar face on the British comics convention circuit. I was also the concept originator and founder of The Birmingham Comics Festival, a city wide celebration of the comics medium that debuted in 2015 and now continues annually under the guidance of Paul H Birch.
What initially got you into writing?
This goes back to junior school! I seemed to just have a natural affinity for creative writing and I started to notice that my essays and poems were always the ones chosen by the teachers to be read out to the class. Not only was I good at writing stuff, I enjoyed it, which of course was more fuel to the flame.
I think I was in my final year of junior school when I discovered that the other thing I really enjoyed – comics – began with a writer creating a story script that the artist would use to draw the pages with. I started trying to write my own comic scripts, which became much easier once I saw how some professional comic writers laid out their scripts.
I think I was maybe twelve or thirteen the first time I had an artist actually draw up one of my scripts. It was for a short 4 page SF short called “Stopover”. Both myself and the artist had much, much, much more ambition than ability. But seeing that first story as finished comic pages for the first time, badly lettered and all – that was when I knew I really wanted to write comics.
Who are your biggest influences and why?
My teenage years were the eighties, so I was really getting into my chosen medium just as it was having a massive renaissance period. Comics were suddenly being noticed by outside commentators as something more than the traditional “just for kids” art-form. Comic creators – comics writers in particular – were starting to do things with traditional comic stereotypes that were ground-breaking and revolutionary.
British writer Alan Moore was single-handedly changing the landscape regarding the types of stories that could be told through comics; in turn he influenced other writers such as Grant Morrison and Garth Ennis to push the boundaries. Experiencing that as it happened was also a huge influence on me – not so much for writing stories that would change how comics were perceived but for using comics to tell stories that I wanted to tell.
Are you traditionally published or self-published?
The core idea of Time Bomb was to use as a means to share some of my creative work with the wider world but as a means to showcase other creators too. I was aware (and still am!) that there’s a huge amount of comics talent out there and the thinking was that if I wanted to build Time Bomb into a credible publisher then it would need to have some of that talent as part of the Time Bomb catalogue.
The first three one-shots Time Bomb released were written by me – thereafter it became very much focused on finding other creators to publish, to the point where everything put out between 2012 and 2015 came from creators other than me – I was the editor and publisher. In recent years it’s swung back the other way a bit, mainly down to the success of Flintlock and the related books, but the publishing strategy in 2020 is to move to an output that is at least two thirds other creators work, maybe more.
An integral part to that development has been the shift, over the last four years, to a business model that pays its creators for the work they do, including a guaranteed return. So, certainly from a creator perspective, moving away from that traditional small-press set-up to something that’s more expected from a traditional publishing house. That’s been a gradual change – Time Bomb is still small scale so it had to be – but that’s now fully in place across all our releases. Don’t get me wrong; we’re not talking life-changing amounts here but I think it’s something that needed to be in place and rise above that “back-end, maybe” set-up that’s still a huge part of indie comics publishing for creator owned work.
How important is writing as an art form in the world, today?
Look at the most popular global art forms we have today: cinema, televison and gaming. Everything presented through those mediums starts with a storyline and script, and the quality of the writing in that first step will impact on every step taken thereafter.
However, as with art itself, writing endures. You don’t need millions of pounds to write something or draw something that can be meaningful and life-changing. You don’t need to have the latest device or software. The very least you just need a finger and some wet sand.
Do you have a set process when starting a new project?
Comics are a visual medium so for me the starting point is usually an image. That could be from the beginning, middle or end of the story, but it’s something which I think is an aspect of the tale. It can be quite specific or very vague, but it’s that visual spark that sets it all off.
With that image in mind I just sit and start writing. For me it’s dialogue and captions first, and initially that’s probably best described as looking like a transcribed stream of overheard conversations. Pages and pages of dialogue, with no indication to the outside reader of who is saying what or where they are.
Somehow, and I really can’t explain it as it just seems to happen, those dialogue threads suddenly begin to make sense and tell the story. So then I cut down all the extraneous stuff and focus on what’s revealed itself to be important. At this stage I might have very loose stage direction too – more two or three word prompts for me to flesh out later.
I then break the dialogue down into pages, and then further into panels. Finally I add the artist instructions to each panel breakdown. Throughout this I’m continually fine tuning any dialogue and action – I’m making sure the amount of panels on any page are appropriate, and that the action and wording inside those panels are properly balanced.
Basically this last stage is what determines if you can properly write comics or not, as you need to understand how comics work to get it right. When I’ve my editor hat on I can tell straight away if the writer of a submitted script has that understanding.
All this of course is balanced by how many finished pages of artwork the story needs to be, as opposed to a word count. A script for a 6 page comic story needs to be broken down so the artist has to draw no more or less than 6 pages, for example.
Throughout all this I’m continually thinking visually, because a comic script is not how wonderfully clever your wording is but how the wording you do have integrates with the artwork for a collaborative piece of work.
What has been your favourite book to write and why?
It’s always the most recent one! The current one is where your creative juices are flowing, and if the elements are coming together smoothly all well and good. Sometimes the satisfaction comes from when things are a bit more challenging though, as you’re wrestling with a stubborn plot point or character interaction. The suddenly you have that “bingo!” moment and it’s solved.
If it’s about what I’ve done in the past that I think fondly of it’s a bit harder to define. I love writing my Flintlock series as that ticks so many personal boxes, but The Clockwork Cavalier spin off special was a highlight too. I remember having fun writing it, Francesco Archidiacono had fun drawing it, and I think that comes through on the pages.
More recently the Dick Turpin and the Vengeful Shade book that’s just come out, that was great to see finished as I’d been working on it since 2010, and the character of Dick Turpin himself really does excite me.
Which genre do you enjoy writing in?
I’ve dabbled in a few but I seem to have found my niche with historical adventure. The 18th Century setting of Flintlock provides a whole world of period fun and games and the world’s a big place, so that’s where my particular sandbox has been for a few years now.
Of course that can include other genres too, such as steampunk and its off-shoots which is another thing I’m interested in creatively and which the entire sub-culture I’ve found warm and welcoming. At the same time I’m drawn to concepts not exactly aligned with that whole stereotypical Victoriana with airships thing, so it’s using elements of clockpunk and electropunk as an alternative to steam.
Is writing your primary source of income?
Yes it is, or there’s a link to writing somewhere. I don’t exclusively write comics, as there’s a huge editor/publisher/salesman part to what I do with Time Bomb. Outside of comics I also write SEO articles and training modules, as also host coaching and training sessions for people wanting to set up and run their own business. All these things are fully flexible in terms to how my working week aligns itself, so how much time and when I spend on them is pretty much down to me – very useful when deadlines are involved!
What advice can you give our readers, should they wish to pursue writing?
I think this applies to whatever writer you want to be, and not just comics. It’s basically start small. The skills you need to produce a short story are exactly those you need for some multi volume masterwork, but by starting with the former you’ll find the latter much more achievable. I think it takes much more skill to tell a satisfying story in 6 pages than 6000, and the limitations a short story imposes on you really ensures you hone your writing craft.
More importantly it provides you with something finished and complete in a relatively short space of time. Professionally that means you can quickly build up a portfolio of work that can demonstrate not just your personal style but the range of stories you want to tell. Personally, that provides you with a sense of accomplishment which is such an important part of the writing game – you need to feel you can get over the finish line, if only so that next bigger project doesn’t seem so impossible at the outset.
Also, take time to get familiar with the aspects of writing that aren’t actually writing. With more and more writers finding avenues for their work outside the established “find an agent, get a publisher” route, it’s perhaps easier than ever to get your work in front of readers. However, it can still be a choppy ocean to navigate through. So, some business skills are essential, and some time spent researching properly the platforms available to you before you just jump in will be time well spent. Why? Well, in an ocean there’s always sharks!
What does success mean to you?
At the base level it’s being made aware that someone who took the time to read something that I’ve written enjoyed it. I don’t mean a family or friend – but someone you have no connection to other than through the writer/reader relationship. That vindication of the time and effort you put in, there’s not much better indicator of success, is there?
Of course, I imagine topping the best-seller lists and significant financial reward are probably what many consider to be the benchmark of success, but to feel that sense of personal achievement through what you’re doing you don’t need to be at the top of the tree. You just need to be on it. Those low hanging branches can provide some of the juiciest fruits. And if you’ve ever earned some money from something that didn’t exist until you wrote it – consider yourself a successful writer.
What projects are you currently working on?
Editorially, this week I’m just finalising the pre-order opportunity for a new series being published by Time Bomb called Harker – it’s an unusual crime/detective series written by Roger Gibson with art by Vincent Danks. More details can be found here:
Also editorially and this week I’ve been signing off inked pages for a graphic novel that’s likely out late 2021, and working with Katie (Time Bomb’s Digital Overlord) on marketing and digital strategies for the business.
Regarding writing, this week I’ve been scripting a new Dick Turpin adventure. I’m about three quarters done, and the completed book that’s for will hopefully be out in summer 2022. The last Turpin book – Dick Turpin and the Vengeful Shade – just came out this June. It’s been well received so far. You can of course buy it through Time Bomb’s online shop!
What are your hopes for the future?
I’m hoping next year the things I’d planned for this year but had to put in abeyance can move forward again but overall I just hope the world gets through the next 18 months. 2020 is turning out to be such a dismal year for most people, but I hope we come out of it with some positivity, relief and undertsanding.
Lastly where can people find you?
The website contains the latest news and offers, and links to the social media pages:
I’m also easily found on social media, and happy to link with people who share my interest and passions.
Steve's Twitter: https://twitter.com/stevetanneruk
Time Bomb Comics Twitter: https://twitter.com/TimeBombComics
Time Bomb Comics Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TimeBombComics
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