ComicScene Interview: Colin Maxwell

COMICSCENE: Hi Colin, thanks for agreeing to an interview. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got started creating comics? What is a day in the life of Colin like and do you do this full time or as an added interest ?

COLIN:Only a few years ago I was planning an animated film about King Robert the Bruce, who is buried in Dunfermline where I live. I managed to get part of it made with the help of some students from the local college, but when it became apparent that I couldn’t get the funding to finish it, I turned the script into a comic book and made ‘King Robert the Bruce and the Wars of Independence’ with student Michael Philp. After that I wanted to continue making comics and it just snowballed from there.

It’s still a part-time thing for me, but I’ve been getting more and more work recently, so comics has been taking over my free time quite a bit.

COMICSCENE: You favour historical comics and in particular, those that are based in world war two. Where does this interest stem from?

COLIN: Partly from an interest in local history, but also from the comics of my childhood. My Dad read the Victor and Hotspur and would often pick up new comics at the newsagent. A lot of the comics around at the time, Battle, Warlord and Commando contained war stories.

COMICSCENE:.You created two fantastic war comics, Raid on the Forth and Flight of the Eagle. Did you have to do a lot of research for this and how did you go about creating these comics?

COLIN: True stories need a lot of research. Fortunately I have a friend who is a keen historian who went to the military archives at Kew and found lots of documents. These are both ‘event’ based comics, rather than character led stories, so they differ from fiction in the same way that fictional movies different from documentaries. It’s a different approach and different writing style.

COMICSCENE: As a Commando subscriber myself, I was very pleased to see that you are also a writer for them and have written several issues for them. Tell us how your association with Commando came about and also of all the stories you have created for them, do you have a favourite?

COLIN: I had become friends with Ian Kennedy from meeting him at comic conventions and when he launched his Art Book at Dunfermline Comic Con I met the Commando editors through him. Later, after I’d written Raid on the Forth, I was invited to pitch some stories to Commando by Gordon Tait, D.C. Thomson’s Heritage Brands Editor. My favourite is probably Knock of the Gestapo because it’s a very different type of story from most Commando tales.

COMICSCENE: Sticking on the subject of Commando, you are an illustrator as well as a writer. Would you like to also draw a comic for Commando in future?

COLIN: It has certainly come up in conversation with the editors. Perhaps sometime in the future, if I have more time, then I’d like to do that. I don’t have the time at the moment to commit to such a large job. I’m sticking to short stories at the moment that I can fit in between my other work.

COMICSCENE: We can’t move on without asking you to tell us a bit about your involvement with Blazer! How did you become an artist on this amazing project and what can you share with us about Blazer?

COLIN:I received a Facebook message out of the blue from the publisher asking if they could call me. I still have no idea how they picked me for the job or how my name even came to their attention. Anyway, I was quite gobsmacked that they wanted me to work on a Steve MacManus story. It was a great pleasure working with Steve and we talked back and forth about the story and artwork. I finally got to meet Steve in person just this past week when he visited Scotland for the Will Eisner Week events run by Renfrewshire Libraries. For the next issue of Blazer I’ve written a Derringer and So’n story with Steve MacManus’ permission, and I’ll also be drawing it.

COMICSCENE: You were instrumental in starting up what is now known as Scottish Comic Book Day and even went as far as to contact the Scottish Government to ask for official recognition of the day. Tell us how this came about, and how significant this is?

COLIN: I discovered one Saturday that it was International Comic Book Day. I had no idea it was happening and I just wondered if there could be a Scottish Comic Book Day, as Scotland has played a significant role in the development of comics through the years. I literally just picked a date and told all my comics pals that it was going to be a thing. It just grew from there and lots of people joined in, including Councillor Neil Baillie from Aberdeenshire who is a lifelong comics fan. He was instrumental in gaining recognition for the event in both the Holyrood and Westminster parliaments. I’m hoping more creators, comic shops and organisations will be involved this year.

COMICSCENE: Indy comics are quite prevalent in the UK. As an Indy comic creator, what advice would you give to those who are starting themselves to dip into the world of creating their own indy titles and can you give us any specific insight and advice both for writers and for artists?

COLIN:The same advice that most other creators will give – write or draw short stories first to learn the craft of storytelling. Just make a comic and get it out there. You’ll learn a lot from the experience and be in a better position to make the next one. Don’t plan a 96 part epic story as your first comic – you’ll never make it. You’ll have to work at promoting your comic too, so get out to comic cons to sell your comics and meet people.

I’d also suggest some training or workshops on writing. I went to Emma Beeby’s comic scripting course held at the Skriva writing school in Edinburgh – it was very useful and really helped me to improve my writing.

Writers – team up with others to read your stories and give you proper feedback.

Artists – experiment with different styles if you can, because different publishers or stories need different styles of art.

COMICSCENE: Ian Kennedy very sadly passed away recently and you counted him among your friends and commissioned him to do the cover for Flight of the Eagle. Would you like to share some thoughts about Ian and how you came to commission work from him? What influence did he have on you as a creator?

COLIN: I could recognise Ian Kennedy’s art before I even knew his name. It cropped up in so many of the comics I read as a youngster – Eagle, Warlord, 2000AD, Commando, etc. Ian was such a kind, gentle person, who was happy to give up his time to offer advice to others.  Getting to know Ian at comic conventions I eventually approached him to do a cover for my science fiction series, Electromagnetic. He did a fantastic job on that, but my dream was to have him do a cover for a war comic, so that led to Flight of the Eagle and eventually to Ian producing covers for two of my Commando stories.

COMICSCENE: You regularly feature as one of the hosts for the Brewgooders Podcast. Give it a bit of a plug, tell us what it is about and why we should tune in every Thursday at 8pm?

COLIN: We chat about beer and comics every week, usually reviewing a comic and a beer each on our Facebook page. My co-hosts are all involved in comics in some way. Geoff and David are both writers and Andrew owns a comic shop. We often have guests from the world of comics or beer – mostly indie comic creators, but occasionally we’ve had some big-name guests including Kevin Eastman, co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

COMICSCENE: Is there anything you would like to share with us about what you are getting up to this year in terms of your projects?

COLIN: I’ve been working on a history comic with Tony Foster of Comicscene, a raft of talented artists and letterer Rob Jones. That comic is about the village of Kirknewton near Edinburgh, but that’s almost finished. I’ve got some other projects kicking off, including a new true-war comic and more stories for Commando. The Brewgooders podcast is also putting together an anthology comic and I have my Electromagnetic SciFi series to finish. As I mentioned, there’s also Blazer 3 on the way. New comic work keeps cropping up, so it’s turning into a busy year already.

COMICSCENE:- You worked on an amazing and unique comic called the Kirknewton Story with a cover by Ian Kennedy, content by the local school and everyone in the town gets a free copy. This was produced with Comic Scene and had some lottery funding. What would you like to tell us about this comic? What makes it special, how did you get involved with it?

COLIN:Tony Foster from Comicscene lives in the village, so is one of the main people behind its publication. He just contacted me one day and asked if I’d like to research and write it. He knew my background in historical comics, so it was a good fit for me.

The book tells the story of the village based around the basalt rocks that can be found on nearby hills. It starts in prehistoric times with the formation of the rocks and ends with a piece of public art made of basalt being constructed in the village. Everything from Romans to flying saucers are covered in the intervening years. Obviously, it will be of great interest to locals who perhaps don’t know much about the history of their home, but to outsiders, the wealth of artistic talent that has been involved makes the comic quite unique. We have the cover by the late Ian Kennedy, then pages within by artists who’ve worked on 2000AD, Marvel and DC comics.

COMICSCENE: Where can we buy a copy of the Kirknewton Story?

COLIN: Email to order a copy, out 4th May. £10 for the book, £20 with an Ian Kennedy print.

COMICSCENE: As both a teacher and a comic creator, what are your thoughts about the educational benefits and value of comics?

COLIN: I know that many teachers advocate comics as a way to encourage reluctant readers, but most comics that are set in the real world (or close to the real world) can be quite educational. I’m sure many readers first read about other countries and cultures in Tintin books, for example. I think comics have the ability to get information across in a much more concise way than other media. The history comics that I make are designed to tell a story in a very concise way compared to a history book. History books often dwell on facts and figures and precise details – which is fine if that’s what interests you – but for most people that is quite off-putting.

One downside to comics is the perception that they’re all about superheroes. Sadly, I think the one thing that a lot of superhero comics have in common is that they teach you that most problems can be solved by punching them.

Although I’m a teacher myself, I don’t teach a subject that lends itself to using comics – and, anyway, I feel that I need to separate these two aspects of my life. Comics are my antidote to work!

COMICSCENE: Is there anything else you would like to share with us about what your current projects are?

I’m working several other comic projects at the moment including more Commando stories – in fact, I have two stories out in April, one of which is a story commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Falklands Conflict. I’ve written another true war story and am working with an artist on that one right now. Blazer 3 has been announced from The 77 Publications, so I’ve written a new story for that and am currently working on the artwork. 2022 has been a busy year so far!

COMICSCENE: This has been great! Many thanks for your time and we wish you all the best off success for the future!

Interview by Atholl Buchan of Buchan Comics. Atholl is an artist with Sentinel and creator of Spitfire vs. Aliens.

Ian Kennedy is interviewed here

Details of the Kirknewton Story here

Read Colin’s ‘Captain Commando’ here

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