Interview: Dan Abnett

What with the release of Titan Book’s reprint of the Marvel UK comics, it seemed high time to post and interview we did with RGB writer and editor at Marvel UK, Dan Abnett.

Dan Abnett lives and works in Maidstone, Kent. After graduating from Oxford, he worked for a while as an editor of comics and children’s books before turning to writing full time. In the dozen or so years since then, he has written for a diverse range of characters – including Scooby Doo, Thunderbirds, Conan the Barbarian, Star Trek, the X-Men, Johnny Bravo, Batman, Rupert the Bear, Dr Who, Mr Men, The Terminator and Postman Pat. He created the popular series Sinister Dexter, which he continues to write, along with other strips (Atavar, the VCs, and Durham Red), for 2000 AD, and has recently finished a five-year run on the Legion of Superheroes for DC Comics. He is currently writing Majestic for Wildstorm. Dan has written nineteen novels for the Black Library, including the best-selling Gaunt’s Ghosts series and the Inquisitor Eisenhorn trilogy. His is currently at work on his latest, Horus Rising. Dan was voted Best Writer Now at the National Comic Awards 2003.

PC: I gather that the Real Ghostbusters stuff was early in your career – how did you come to write RGB for Marvel? About how many did you write?

Dan: I joined Marvel in the late eighties as a junior editor, and RGB was my first assistant editor assignment. A lot of the material, especially the text features, was generated editorially, and much of that fell to me. After I moved on to edit other comics (I was assistant on RGB for only a short time), I continued to write some of those text pieces, and also began to write comic scripts freelance. So, during the entire run, I wrote all the Spengler’s Spirit Guides, almost all of the Winston’s Diary stories, a fair number of the other text stories and… well, I’ve no idea how many strip stories I wrote. A lot.

Read the whole interview after the jump.

PC: Where you a fan of the films or the cartoons going into the project?

Dan: A fan of the films, definitely. I got to know the cartoon as part of the background for the job.

PC: The Marvel comics format reminded me of the few other UK kids comics I’ve seen (like Beano or Dangerous Dan) as in a main story broken up with smaller, one page stories, activity pages, even text stories, which is a lot different from the usual North American format. Not to mention that it was weekly. Was there a particular approach Marvel tried to take with the franchise?

Dan: Though it was Marvel, it was still a British comic – we were producing it in the London offices – and therefore it fitted the format of both other Marvel UK titles and British comics in general. A weekly format with a mix of text and strips was the norm back then in the UK marketplace.

PC: Was there any challenge to writing for British kids about a group of New York specialists.

Dan: I think the kids here got it fine. We kept the US feel for colour and flavour, but there was never any difficulty. Most British kids enjoy a diet of movies, TV and comics with a high US content.

PC: What was the relationship between NOW comics and Marvel? A handful of the Marvel stories and even a couple of covers got reprinted in the US comics.

Dan: I don’t remember any “relationship”. We just had the UK licence and we got on with our stuff.

After talking with Dan, I managed to make contact with Tony Caputo, publisher head honcho of NOW comics, and the man responsible for a lot more Real Ghostbusters knick-knacks than you might expect. Besides using the RGB licence to publish the NOW comic series, he worked with other third parties to develop RGB toys, etc. This in turn allowed for Tony to set-up some excellent synergy between these licence holders and NOW comics – such as a NOW RGB comic-strip being printed on a box of RGB cereal, NOW RGB mini posters being inserted into the Ghostbusters RPG, not to mention the swapping of stories between NOW Comics and Marvel UK. One of these day’s we’ll talk to Tony in depth.

PC: Of the stories you wrote, do you have a particular favorite?

Dan: That’s hard to answer, because it’s been so long and inevitably many of the stories blur into one another. I do remember writing a King Arthur story I enjoyed, and a story about a Woolly Mammoth that had the worst puns EVER in it.

[ed.] – As it happens, this story, Mammoth Task, is the final story in the Hard Day’s Fright volume.

PC: What about the Ghostbusters did you like writing about the most?

Dan: Spengler’s Spirit Guide. I loved doing that, and I loved writing “as” Egon. Even after all this time, I’m still immensely proud of the Guide entries I wrote over the years. One for every single issue, which is a hundred and something or other.

PC: Was there something you wished you’d done, or done different while you were writing for those characters?

Dan: I can’t think of anything I’d like to have done differently. I’d love to have written more stories, naturally. And more Spirit Guide stuff. That was always such a laugh to do.

PC: After all these years, what are your thoughts on Titan republishing the old stories?

Dan: Great! It’ll be fantastic to see some of that stuff again, as I’ve not got copies of any of it anymore. I’ll particularly be looking forward to the Andy Lanning/John Carnell stories, which were the very best things the comic did, in my humble opinion.

PC: Ghostbusters put a big dent in the public consciousness here, but what kind of impact did it have in the UK?

Dan: I think it had a big impact, and a lasting impact. RGB was one of the most successful and long-running comics Marvel UK did at the time. I’ll always remember it very fondly as a great title to work on, and a great baptism into comic writing and editing. I couldn’t have wished for a more fun and imaginative project to work on. In a marketplace where licenced projects come and go with no longevity, I think all of us working as creators on that comic didn’t really appreciate how lucky we were.

PC: How many issues were there in the run of the series?

Dan: I’m not sure exactly, but somewhere around one hundred and seventy, I think. Maybe it even topped two hundred, though at the end it would have been reprint.

[ed.] – The Comics Price Guide says 192 issues, with the possibility of there being more, though no one seems to remember seeing anything over issue #200. Shrug.

PC: Given how often the comic came out – particularly once it went weekly – what was the lead-time like?

Dan: The lead time was about two months – the schedules overlapped, of course. There was always a weekly rush, though. I would often write things months in advance so that the artists could work on them, though Spengler’s was always done to order each issue, once the content was finalised. Not so much like a paper – a comic with a fast turn around.

PC: Did you ever get to meet young fans. Impress the hell out of a young nephew or something?

Dan: Sometimes, and yes I did impress young relatives. But there wasn’t the sort of “fan” attention that you’d get working on a US superhero comic etc.

PC: And finally, a bit of a standard question, what kinds of books, comics, etc. did or do influence you – anything you’d recommend that GB fans should check out.

Dan: Lots of things. I was a voracious reader then and I am now. I look at all sorts of comics – these days, my faves are Whedon’s Xmen, Planetary and Powers. I read novels, some sci-fi, most not, and stacks of factual books – historical, cultural, scientific. It’d be hard to sum up a shortlist. For those with a supernatural, or at least paranormal bent, I would recommend the Fortean Times, a monthly UK magazine about strange phenomena. I’ve been reading it since it started, and it’s the most amazing source of oddness.

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