by Vince Brusio
With the lights out, it’s less dangerous — but with Punks Not Dead (DEC170426) it’s time to entertain us. The sullen sky outside that doesn’t care about your hangover is the last thing you’ll curse and trip over as the dramedy of this new book by British author David Barnett cuts like a knife, and laughs at your anxiety. Get ready to turn it up to “11” as the writer tells us in this PREVIEWSworld Exclusive interview that this new book from IDW Publishing is an attempt to cash in on your own boredom with life, because escapism on paper doesn’t apologize, and certainly doesn’t care if you’re short of money, or aspirin.
Vince Brusio: So some slacker kid named Fergie is the new star of The Sixth Sense, right? Is that how this works? But he doesn’t see just any dead person, he sees a punk ghost named Sid. And Sid’s his father. Does Fergie have a substance abuse problem, or is this really happening in Punks Not Dead (DEC170426)?
David Barnett: Are you sniffing glue? That's not what's going on at all. OK, from the top. Fergie is 15, from the north of England, and alive. He spends his time avoiding bullies at school and being dragged around the country by his mum who peddles outrageous lies for money on daytime TV shows and in trashy magazines. Until Fergie sees Sid in the toilets at Heathrow Airport. Sid's been stuck there for 40 years, and now he's stuck to Fergie... well, they can go about 30 feet apart, but that's it. Sid's dead, or at least he thinks he is. All we know for sure is that only Fergie can see or hear him. Sid's definitely not Fergie's dad, but he might be what the kid thinks of as a father figure, having grown up never knowing his own dad. His mum, Julie, won't talk about it, which as the story unfolds we kind of see why. The problem is, Sid's not much of a role model, and just having him around means Fergie is going to get in a pile of trouble. Some of it of his own making, some of it the work of Forces Which He Does Not Yet Understand.
Vince Brusio: What was the catalyst for this story? Did you sell all your Cramps vinyl and now you’re starting to regret it? Bitter that you couldn’t see the Sex Pistols live, and this is the closest you can come to a virtual reality experience? What got the mojo humming?
David Barnett: I did sell a lot of my vinyl, and I never saw the Sex Pistols live. I'd kind of put all that behind me, but now you've re-opened old wounds. Want to rub salt in? Ask me about having to sell my copies of Watchmen signed by Moore and Gibbons, or that extremely limited edition signed and numbered Gaiman book I had to get rid of. Ask me about the day I let some older kids ride on the Raleigh Grifter bike I'd got for my birthday and they knackered the gears. All of that's the impetus for Punks Not Dead, in that I'm hoping the book's going to sell a truckload and make me enough filthy lucre to buy all that stuff, or things just like them, back. Though I'll probably never get to see the Sex Pistols live. On the other hand, maybe I thought a story about a teenager with raging hormones and the spirit of an anarchic punk stuck 40 years in the past might just be a good way to try to navigate the complexities, perplexities and downright horror of modern life.
Vince Brusio: Give us an idea for how the amps get turned up to “11” in the first issue. What would make us turn a page, and then want to know how to play power chords? Better yet, what would make us read this story and then have us pull out our own collection of vinyl so that we could blast Wendy Williams or The Clash through our speakers, much to the dismay of all neighbors within earshot?
David Barnett: Funnily enough, “Turn It Up To Eleven” is the title of issue 2. Pretty much everything in the first issue is going to make you want to read on, and that's mainly down to Martin Simmonds' artwork, which is as moreish as heroin, basically. You get a lot of story in the first issue, a lot of bang for your buck. Martin and I don't believe in turning out a comic that you're going to have read while queuing up to pay for it in the shop. There's a lot going on, and lots of stuff set up for the future, as well as dropping us right into the central conceit of this first arc - Fergie meeting Sid. You'll want to go back and read it again as soon as you've finished so you can luxuriate in Martin's art for a second time.
Vince Brusio: Tell us a bit about the players on this stage show. We know Fergie’s the central character, but is he a target for this mysterious entity known as the Department of Extra Usual Affairs? Who are the individuals involved in that operation? And is there anyone else in Fergie’s inner circle that’s also a person of interest?
David Barnett: So we've got Fergie and Sid, of course, who are a bit of an odd couple act. Then we've got Julie, Fergie's mum. Until Sid rocked up it was just the two of them. Julie's quite a melancholy character, which we surmise is all to do with Fergie's errant dad. She's also a bit fly by the seat of her pants, and is spinning a lot of plates just to keep body and soul together for her and her son. Fergie doesn't have a great many friends, but he's got his eye on Natalie, a girl at his school who is so too cool for him they might as well be in different hemispheres. However, all that's about to change as Fergie discovers some changes are afoot in him... and we're not just talking about zits and unexpected body hair. Whether that's a side-effect of meeting Sid, or vice versa, we'll begin to find out. And all this is bringing Fergie to the attention of the Department for Extra-Usual Affairs, an ultra-secret and rather obscure division of the British security services, which most people don't know about and those that did would rather they didn't. It's been run alone for many years by Dorothy Culpepper, who will become your new favorite senior citizen in comics, but when we drop into the story she's just been given a new partner in the shape of Asif Baig, straight out of spy school. He's going to hit a very steep learning curve from day one as he discovers the nature of Dorothy's business and the sort of threats she deals with.
Vince Brusio: What’s been the most rewarding aspect of working on Punks Not Dead? Is it that artist Martin Simmonds brought to life energy you can see in the pit, while a bunch of blokes are belching beer and bollocks into a microphone? How is this book your contribution to anarchy in the U.K.?
David Barnett: Martin's art is tremendous. Every page he sends over blows me away. From the moment Shelly Bond and I started work on Punks Not Dead, she said she was going to try out a few artists with character studies and the first ones back were Martin's. I just said, stop everything, we need to have this guy and I'm not interested in seeing anything from anyone else. He totally nailed the characters and his talent at sequential storytelling always amazes me... I write something as good as I think it possibly can be, and Martin takes it to the next level. That said, getting a variant cover for the first issue from Bill Sienkiewicz was pretty bloody amazing. Also, working with the legendary Shelly Bond has been a dream. She's a tough taskmaster, and won't settle for "good enough". She's constantly driving both of us on to get this book as near to perfect as we can. I'm hoping people will find something fresh and entertaining and maybe even thought-provoking in Punks Not Dead, while having more fun than a barrel of mongooses.
Vince Brusio writes about comics, and writes comics. He is the long-serving Editor of PREVIEWSworld.com, the creator of PUSSYCATS, and encourages everyone to keep the faith...and keep reading comics.