INTERVIEW: Danny McLaughlin Talks With Shelley Culbertson

ICN is pleased to present an interview that Uproar Comics Danny McLaughlin gave to Shelley Culbertson of the Centre for Media Research at the University of Ulster. Shelley very kindly gave us permission to run this interview.

Shelly Culbertson: What is your favourite comic book and why?

Danny McLaughlin: For some comic book fans, this may be cliché- but it’s true, its Watchmen. And still to this day I will read it or pick it up and read a page or a chapter and hairs stand on end, a constant smile amidst giggles with excitement, and that’s on a bad day! I had read comics when I was younger, yes I had enjoyed them they were fun- but it was when I read Watchmen when I was 18 that realised that comics can be more powerful and philosophical than the bang thwack wallop style comics I had previously read. With a love for superheroes, sci-fi, and history this book stood out to me and put me on to the greatness of Alan Moore’s writing.

SC: Who is your greatest influence…both in life, and artistically?

DMC: In comics: Alan Moore, the wild hairy guy on the back of Watchmen graphic novel, who looks like a convict, but in actual fact is a sweet gent of a man with integrity which is as strong as the pyramids of old! He wrote watchmen- it changed comics for me, then I read his run on Swamp Thing! A man who after a chemical fire fell into a swamp and became a monster- essentially a Frankenstein’s monster searching to find his humanity! But when Moore took over the story this monster, realised he’s not human- so what is he and what can he do! He eventually realises he can do loads of stuff- like re-grow his body etc! But on his journey he made me question too- who am I? What can I do? I answered with- I’m a writer and I can write! That’s exactly when I started writing and pondering on stories! And as for telling stories I have always held high regard for my father, who was deemed a storyteller! I remember always hearing people saying to my father ‘Go on- tell the one about…’! He is my greatest influence in life- he died when I was 10, so I still see him through my young eyes! My father was easygoing and a hard worker who loved to converse with everyone! Even if it is to do with genes or not- I do see myself like him, even to the point of how I model my ego and what I aspire to be!

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SC:  How did you form your team?

DMC: Hmm- kinda by accident, or organically if you will! Around the time of my experimenting with writing another friend had asked Kevin (I call him Gio tho) to draw a comic because he did art! The project dwindled- then I started to tell the stories I was forming to Gio who eventually became my story confident, and vice versa! We began to organise ‘brain jams’ which was literally hours of ‘what ifs’! From that we done our own little comics that never seen the light of day to the CADI course (Comic And Digital Illustration) where Dave Campbell thought us how to actually professionally produce a comic page and by the end give us our first published work in an anthology called FEAR! That taste just made us more hungry! We created the 2Dcollective out of the members of the class and a few others to try and produce another comic anthology, it eventually fell through. Then Joe Campbell, another artist wanted to do a comic about Derry as the main theme. After doing that it was hard to find ways of getting published. So Gio and myself thought, why the hell don’t we start our own company. We don’t want to tell stories about batman or Spider-man, we don’t want to work for marvel or dc! We wanted to do our own work, our stories, own our own terms- that’s when uproar was born!

SC: How would you describe yourself/selves?

DMC: We would describe ourselves as energetic, powerful, potent, confident, innovative, determined and outright Uproarious!! We wanted to take everything by the horns! We want to make dull things exciting- we want to take taboos and not just talk about them, but shout about them! We want to challenge the audience!! We love using comics and their culture in the negative light, and make them positive. For instance- comics are for young people, so we dress it up as a typical but then, as we call it- ‘gut punch’ people when they are not expecting the potency of our storytelling. But its not only comics- we are now moving into new territory, and are releasing the Uproar DEC (Digital Experience Comic) an app for the iPad. It is a new age comic. But at the heart of everything we do is storytelling, because it is what we love and are passionate about!

SC: What would you say is the basic artistic  form of your work…old school, impressionistic,  etc?

DMC: Very hard question to answer as we see ourselves as a little bit of everything! We are experimenters- we like to change it up and keep it fresh! As in Zombies hi, we want to bring a different experience for the reader in every issue. But because we are storytellers, if I had to lean on anything, it would be humanistic at its core with different sprinkles different styles, and blobs of alternate aspects!

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SC: Was this format naturalistic, or did you decide upon it?

DMC: I think we would argue a bit of both. This has been the biggest story project to date and no matter how much you intend something to be, you find the logistics of the telling of the story start to hammer it into a certain shape out of your will! But that’s creativity- being able to change and shape yourself. So initially we wanted a full graphic novel done. But time and money are constraints. And as we searched for somewhere for ourselves to get published and it was difficult, we decided to let other people find us as their way to get published! We want to support the talent and create a future industry here through Uproar. So the meaning and purpose we did intended, it was the details that was a bit more natural. It all happened a little faster than we were expecting if I was honest! But that ended up being more work- but more rewarding.

SC: Why did you decide to work in the zombie genre?

DMC: Easy- because people know the basic rules of a zombie story! We knew we needed to get people locked into a story from the first few pages! We wanted a story about Derry and its people! We tried to come up with antagonists and none of them were as striking or as fun basically. When formulating the idea, we wanted to pay homage to the history of the town and a zombie siege- a fictional contemporary version of the history of Derry seemed evidently obvious and fun. And along the ways the analogy of the ‘past horrors’ of the city seem ‘undying’ and keep coming back to haunt us even to this day. So zombies gave us plot, gave us theme and gave us something that would be fun to tackle and try and change a solid trope to our own version!

SC: Why did you decide to set it in Derry?

DMC: As we had done a story about Derry for the book called Walled City Dreams with Joe Campbell we found out that we loved to write about it! People always say write what you know- and both me and Gio know and love our hometown and wanted to create something that would speak who we are as a city and a people. Directly open up old wounds and talk about them and in someway help the healing process and help move on from our dark days to a brighter hopeful future. Then Derry won the city of culture, and if you look at the definition of culture it is noted that a ‘viral culture’ is a lab test where a virus is grown to see if it can infect certain types of cells! We saw that as a parallel of a city of culture where Derry could be infected by the past and effect the future, or can it fight it and rise to be a greater place for everyone!

SC: Did/ do you intend the piece to be political or humanist?

DMC: Essentially you can’t talk about Derry and its history and its people without talking some politics. But we wanted to not get our teeth into the direct politics, hence why we ‘killed off’ the authority, so it boils down to the people on the zombie infested streets new politics, which is a message for survival, progress, and community across all sectors of the broken community. But that was just adjustment into reality of story- we want the human story to shine through. We want new and interesting stories for characters that we can directly relate to because they could live in the same street as you! Again the gut punch comes in again! The mix of fantasy and reality makes it interesting and relatable!

SC: As a reader, I see quite a lot of conflicting ideas and motifs being toyed with…is this because the city is like this…or yourselves

DMC: You have a keen eye! Everything is in conflict. Life and death being the most prevalent. Everything is about struggle, and struggle together for a brighter future! its realistic in that we can all just forget about our divides to progress in life- we need to show them for other people so they can break down these divides for themselves. We show division to emphasise solidarity! The conflict is for dramatic emphasis because that’s what will define the community we want to progress to in the story! I myself believe in dualism. And the definition they represent. I use a line from a film (Vanilla Sky) as a motto in life- ‘can’t have the sweet without the sour’ but by the end of the film the line has changed to ‘the sour makes the sweet all that sweeter’. Its that differentiation that makes storytelling exciting for me. So I think your right in saying its because that’s the way the city is and that’s the way we are (maybe we are a product of the city), but essentially that’s the way life is- night is only night because the absence of light, and that new dawn we are working towards will be beautifully stunning.