Interview With Nigel Kitching
Sonic HQ's exclusive interview with European Fleetway writer and artist Nigel Kitching is here! He's been called the best of the best in Fleetway writers and has written stories that have proven to be the basis of the entire Fleetway Sonic continuity. The following message was sent to him to precede the interview. This interview is done by Zachary and was ready on October 19, 1999. Now, read on!
SHQ: How did you get started in comics?
NK: A) It happened so gradually that I'm having trouble remembering my first published work. The first amateur strip I ever did was a thing called â€˜Nimrod' which was some awful convoluted science fiction thing that I'm confident nobody will ever be able to find. But I guess that my first professional work (technically) was for a small publisher called Harrier. It was a single page strip written by a friend of mine and I received exactly Â£9 for it. I then went on to write and draw a series for them but, by this point, the company was even less profitable and couldn't afford to pay me anything at all. After that I got involved in a project with other fledgling comic writers and artists including Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. Neil and I produced about a dozen pages of a strip called The Light Brigade. Nothing ever got published but a little later another small publishing company called Trident contacted me regarding this strip and The Light Brigade became the lead feature in their anthology title called simply Trident. Neil was by this point starting to get noticed by DC Comics and wasn't able to continue writing our strip so I stepped in as writer as well as artist. I also drew a full comic book for Trident called Saviour and this paid me just enough so that I could afford to become a full time comic book writer and artist. I left my job in advertising with no regrets at all. My first work that actually paid sensible money was for a company called London Editions who published various licensed characters and I got work with them by pure luck. I happened to bump into their editor in chief at a comic convention; I asked if he had any work going and he said yes. A few months later they were giving me more work than I could handle. I worked on Bugs Bunny, Duckula, Danger Mouse - all kinds of TV tie-in stuff. And eventually I convinced them to let me write as well as draw for them.
SHQ: How did you get work with Sonic the Comic?
NK: This all ties in with my working for London Editions. London Editions and Fleetway merged to become Fleetway Editions. Richard Burton had been editor on 2000AD and he was now putting together a new comic - Sonic The Comic. The thing is he had never worked with artists and writers who had a track record of working with licensed characters so I imagine he asked some of the London Edition guys if they could recommend anyone who could do this kind of work. I've never been sure exactly who it was who did recommend me to Richard but I owe them a great deal. Thanks a lot, whoever it was. So my first work on Sonic The Comic was to draw the cover of the dummy issue. This mocked-up version of the comic was shown to Sega to convince them that Fleetway could do a good job of producing a comic based on their characters. The weird thing is that Richard never came back to me and asked me to draw the Sonic The Hedgehog strip. But a little later he contacted me about writing the thing - I don't know how this came about but I suspect that one of my friends from London Editions put in a good word for me again. Who says it's not what you know, it's who you know?
SHQ: Are you still writing for STC? We haven't seen your stories for a while...
NK: As it happens I'm not currently working on the comic. It's a shame, I loved the work but things change. It doesn't mean I won't ever be back, let's just see how things go...
SHQ: How did you get the job of drawing for the comic, such as that collection of Sonic's World stories in issues 77-82?
NK: Well, as I said Richard brought me in as a writer but I was really keen to get some drawing in there as well. Once Richard Elson was on board, nobody could compete with him on Sonic but when Decap Attack started in issue 10 I convinced the editor to give me a chance. Over time other chances turned up for me to do some drawing on some Sonic related strips; it was just a matter of the work being available and me having room in my schedule to actually do it. The editor at the time did prefer me to draw other people's scripts rather than my own on the Sonic stuff - I never did figure out why.
SHQ: What kind of environment do feel you work best under?
NK: I've worked under all kinds of restrictions in my time but on Sonic I was given a lot of freedom. This is what makes all the difference really, to get the freedom and be trusted by your editor. On Sonic The Comic I was very lucky in both these areas for most of my time on the comic, plus the fact that my scripts were drawn up by very talented artists indeed like Richard Elson and Nigel Dobbyn.
SHQ: What are you working on now?
NK: Various freelance illustration jobs. I'm working on a nice commission for the Really Useful Company right now and I've just picked up a little comic work drawing some of the Cartoon Network characters. Oh, I also spent three weeks colouring the Scorer strip in The Mirror newspaper recently. Then there's the book illustration work that I occasionally do. I do miss the nice regular work that I used to get from STC though.
SHQ: If you had the choice to be in any other career, what would it be?
NK: Oh I don't know, all my ideal jobs would involve me writing or drawing in some way. TV, movies, animation, computer games, books - any of those areas would be interesting to me. My first choice would be to write books, I think.
SHQ: If you didn't have to work, what would you be doing with your talents?
NK: I guess that kind of depends on how much money I had. I'd like to publish my own comic books which I would write myself. To be honest I don't really know what I'd do, I've always thought I'd have to work for a living really.
SHQ: What would you say is your favourite comic?
NK: In the early seventies Jack Kirby did a series of comic books that are known collectively as the Fourth World. These have been favourites of mine since I first read them as a boy. I also liked Frank Miller's Dark Knight series and then there's Spider-Man when Steve Ditko was drawing him in the 1960s. Still, I think that Kirby still comes first...
SHQ: Who were some of your favourite artists that you looked up to? How have they influenced you?
NK: Jack Kirby is my favourite artist, no question. He's also a favourite of Richard Elson and the fact that we both like him so much has had quite an effect on the work we have done for Sonic The Comic. It's hard to say how Kirby has influenced me but he certainly has. Another artist who influenced me is Ralph Steadman. I actually don't like his work so much any more but his influence is undeniably in my work. Then there's Mick McMahon whose work has also had a tremendous influence on me. It was a real treat for me when I managed to get him work on STC and was able to write scripts for him to draw for the Decap Attack series. How often in life do you get the chance to work with one of your heroes? I'm sure I'm influenced by lots of artists that I'm not even aware of too. It's tough to actually explain in what way they influenced me, that would require a long involved answer about composition, line style and dynamism - it would probably make a whole interview all by itself.
SHQ: What is your favourite story/artwork you've ever done?
NK: Well I kind of forget what I have written and get confused. I like the Running Wild thing that I did where Super Sonic became a separate character from Sonic and went after Amy. I like all the stuff with the Drakon Empire and I enjoyed the Metallic story as well. And I've always had a strange fondness for a little story I wrote called â€˜Smokey And The Badnik' about a boy and his pet Badnik. I guess my best artwork is on Decap Attack, a strip I was far better suited to drawing than any of the Sonic strips that I tried. I'm not sure about any individual story - perhaps that one about the vampires in the dungeon was better drawn than most.
SHQ: Do you think there will ever be a Sonic Adventure adaptation in Sonic the Comic?
NK: I don't know. But I will say that I think it would be a really good idea to use elements from this new game.
SHQ: What happened to Hobson and Choy and the Drakon Empire?
NK: When Richard Elson and I brought in Hobson and Choy we had plans for them. They were going to team up with Sonic for a while and be used as comic relief as well as a device for getting Sonic into difficult situations. I just never quite found the right time to bring them back. The Drakon Empire appeared in quite a few stories and they would have certainly turned up again if I had got the chance. I had this whole plot in mind where we find out that they are the ancient enemies of the missing race of Echidnas and that somewhere way in Mobius' past there had been a Echidan/Drakon war.
SHQ: In the early years, you used Super Sonic very little, but after "Running Wild" he became a separate entity and one of the most interesting characters in the comic. What prompted all these changes, and where did you see his adventures now that he's in hiding with Ebony and Pyjamas?
NK: My problem with Super Sonic originally was that if Sonic was ever in a tight spot he would just change to Super Sonic and he became really powerful and that was it - it was just a cop out. Richard Elson came up with the idea to have Sonic and Super Sonic separate and I like the idea of him becoming his own worst enemy. We did the whole thing with Super Sonic being so powerful he could destroy the entire planet but after that we had to do something else with the character. The obvious thing would have been to have him recombine with Sonic again but I thought that was just a dull idea. So I came up with the idea of his personality changing and him becoming a total pacifist and being in complete fear of his own power. I was really pleased with most of the solo Super Sonic stories which were beautifully drawn by Nigel Dobbyn. I didn't have much planned out ahead for Super Sonic but he would have had to meet up with Sonic again one day when I would have explored the ideas about how guilty he was of his crimes when he was in his manic condition. There might have been quite a nice little story when I could have done, something with ideas about the nature of guilt. Sonic would not have been able to trust Super Sonic and he would know that, if he ever lost control again, it could mean the end of Mobius. But, in his present reformed state, Super Sonic is no longer a danger to society and doesn't deserve to be punished, and it wasn't his fault he became dangerous. In fact, since he and Sonic are the same person, isn't Sonic himself just as guilty? Might have made a nice courtroom drama story.
SHQ: Of all your major sagas in STC, Sonic's adventures in the Drakon Empire is the only one that give us an insight into another culture in the STC universe which doesn't seem to be inspired by anything from Earth (unlike Shanazar which seems Arabic). We saw their judicical system and the three houses: the House of Learning, the House of Magic and the House of War. We also saw historical tensions between them and the Echidna civilisations. How did you approach the creation of the Drakon Empire? And how much of this did you know way back when you wrote "The Sentinel" in STC 29?
NK: When I wrote the sentinel story I had no plans at all for the Drakon Empire. One of my techniques for coming up with new ideas was to look back at old issues of Sonic The Comic and see if there were any ideas that could be expanded upon. When I looked at that old Sentinel story with him being submerged in the Aquatic Ruin zone I got to thinking about what the nature of this zone might be. It was obviously very ancient and I got interested in ideas about it having been built by an ancient race with advanced technology. I also had the idea that it might be interesting if it was an alien race that built it. All this was hinted at in the original story and it seemed like quite an exciting idea to develop. So I started thinking about ways to bring this ancient alien race back into the story and to wonder about what their relationship with the ancient Mobian races might have been. The idea of the three houses was going to be the basis for a big story involving different parts of the Drakon Empire all competing with each other for power but I never got the chance to pursue this. The idea that the Drakons were all fish in exoskeletons was Richard Elson's â€“ I love little twists like this â€“ I don't think anyone would have been expecting a fish to pop out when Sonic smashed that Prosecutor.
SHQ: For two of the biggest stories in STC history, you worked together with Lew Stringer to create two larger stories, in "The Final Victory" (STC 100) and "Showdown" (STC 130). How did you divide the work between you while still keeping each other's characters and plots alive?
NK: It's not that difficult really, it just involved Lew and I talking to each other. Both these big stories were part of the Sonic continuity that I was working on at the time and it wasn't difficult to brief Lew. As for dividing the work it was just a matter of sharing really.
SHQ: When you brought back Professor Kintobor in #149, it looked like he was going to be a key figure for quite a long period of time, and yet by the end of #151, he had turned back into Robotnik in the Mystic Mountain! Although the Shanazar/Mystic Mountain trilogy was considerably boosted by the tension between them, was there any reason why you got rid of Kintobor so quickly?
NK: It's true that I have sometimes had to alter my plans because the editor has asked me to but, in this case, I wrote the Kintobor/Robotnik thing pretty much as I had planned. I did have an idea that Sonic might find a way to turn Robotnik back into Kintobor again but I never really got chance to go into this. It was around this time that I stopped working on the comic. In one scene we did have Robotnik throwing away some serum that had kept him in his Kintobor persona and I asked Richard to draw this in such a way that Sonic might have sneakily picked up this serum.
SHQ: Of all the Freedom Fighters, the one that went through the most is Porker Lewis. What future plots did you see for Porker?
NK: I'm pretty proud of what I did with Porker Lewis. No character in the series went through so much emotional turmoil. Although it was never said outright, the poor guy actually suffered a nervous breakdown which resulted in him leaving the Freedom Fighters. In the future I think he would have become very much a companion to Knuckles and he would have spent his time trying to unravel the ancient technology of the Echidnas.
SHQ: Did you ever see Robotnik getting any power on Mobius again?
NK: Yes. But the trick was to find a way for him to get power and not just do the obvious Robotnik as dictator thing again. I had in mind that he might have allied himself with the Drakon Empire in some way.
SHQ: Do you have a particular favourite strip in general, and a favourite character?
NK: Well Decap Attack was written and drawn by me and I was allowed to be crazy on this strip so it will always be special to me. But I liked writing all the Sonic based strips as well â€“ they all had their moments where I thought I was really doing something to be proud of. I don't really have a favourite character.
SHQ: Will Ray the Squirrel (from the infamous Sonic Arcade game) ever appear in STC?
NK: I know nothing of this Ray The Squirrel. I doubt we'll ever see him in the comic.
SHQ: Do you ever play the Sonic games for inspiration?
NK: Well, a lot of the stories were directly inspired by the Sonic games. The thing is that the last couple of games didn't really seem to offer a lot in the way of plot ideas, so the last one I really took any notice of was Sonic And Knuckles.
SHQ: Have you seen any of the television series or the Archie comic series, and if so, what are your opinions on them?
NK: I didn't like the first Sonic TV series but I thought the second one looked pretty good. I didn't watch much of any of the cartoon series so I can't really give much of a considered opinion. I've seen a few issues of Archie and they looked okay too. I didn't read much of their stuff because I didn't want to confuse myself â€“ I always had enough problems keeping my own continuity straightâ€¦
SHQ: What do you think of internet fanfiction?
NK: I've seen so little of it it would be unfair to make any comments really.
;) Well that's it for this interview! As usual, for an encore, we asked Mr. Kitching to give a little list of favorites to wrap this all up. ^_^
Okay, I've been asked to give some kind of list of favourites. I'm not good at favourites since I can never make up my mind about anything but I'll give it a go:
Favourite Films: The Fisher King, Pulp Fiction, Support Your Local Sheriff, Gregory's Girl, Terminator II, Harvey, Double Indemnity, Shadow Of A Doubt, Genevieve, Calamity Jane, The Bride Of Frankenstein, The Full Monty, The Life Of Brian, The Best Days Of Their Lives and lots more. I'm sure I've missed out some very obvious favourites here, oh well.
Favourite Pop Singers: Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Billy Bragg. I also love the songs of Burt Bacharach and Rodgers & Hammerstein and the like. It's a weird thing, I have CD staked up practically to the ceiling but I can't seem to remember what they are at the momentâ€¦ The Last CD I bought was Joni Mitchell.
Favourite TV: Oh, I don't know â€“ mainly comedy. A favourite right now is The Royle Family.
Favourite Books: The Inheritors, Name Of The Rose, 1984, Winnie The Pooh, The Uncle Remus books. I used to like science fiction but I went off it. I'm reading the Harry Potter books right now because I want to understand why they are so popular.
I just want to end by saying that the biggest pleasure I got writing for Sonic The Comic was working with all those talented artists. And I've got to make a special mention here of Richard Elson and Nigel Dobbyn. We were a real team on those stories we worked on together. I'd discuss every plot over the phone with them and they would give me lots of great ideas that I shamelessly used as if they were my own. On occasions I would get a twinge of guilt and have the credits altered to include their name a co-writer â€“ but not often.
Once again we thank the generosity and patience of Mr. Nigel Kitching for this interview! See you next time! - Sonic HQ Staff