New Zealand born cartoonist Roger Langridge has been especially prolific in recent years with high profile gigs on The Muppet Show and Thor The Mighty Avenger. Recently Boom Comics published a collection of Langridge's independent work from the last twenty years as well as launching a new title, Snarked!, featuring characters from the works of Lewis Caroll. I asked him a few questions about his recent comics.
Matt Emery: The Show Must Go On collects material from the last 20 years, was there any temptation to touch up any of your older work?
Roger Langridge: Oh, yes! I'm always tempted, and I was actually ready to redraw one story entirely, but I just ran out of time. In retrospect I think I was right to leave it alone - the work in that book is an accurate reflection of what I was capable of at the time, and I'm happy to send it out into the world in that spirit.
Emery: Much of the material in The Show Must Go On is in the absurdist vein that is a constant of your work going back to strips you did in New Zealand. Where did this develop from?
Langridge: I've always loved oddball, surreal/absurdist humour, ever since I was a kid - I guess it was the Goon Show that really turned me on to that strain of comedy. Spike Milligan was, and remains to this day, my favourite comedian of all time. And I've explored his influences - people like the Marx Brothers and W.C. Fields - and those who were later influenced by him, which is pretty much everybody (most obviously the Pythons, but you could write a book on the Spawn of Spike). So, yeah - blame the Milligan.
Emery: Your recent all-ages material are a fine example of kids-friendly comics that adults can also enjoy. Do you find it easy to write for this combined audience?
Langridge: Pretty easy, yes; it's not like I'm gagging to write skeezy sex scenes or graphic decapitations, so any compromises I might have to make to appeal to a general audience tend to be pretty insignificant ones. And even those are arguably improving the work - for example, if I avoid having characters swearing, I'm forced to find other, more original ways to get across the same idea, and that just forces me to be more creative. The bottom line, though, is that I'm just writing the kinds of comics I want to read, and assuming that my tastes aren't so rarefied that nobody else will agree with me.
Emery: Thor: The Mighty Avenger was great example of this, do you think mainstream comics would benefit from writing for a broader audience even if it risked alienating their core fan-boy base?
Langridge: This is a big, sticky can of worms! The short answer is yes, but only if those comics are actually sold in places where a general audience might stumble across them, and I don't see any signs of that happening. My brief on Thor: TMA was to write the book for a general, non-comic-shop audience - which I did - but then they cancelled it before the book versions had even hit the general bookstores, so it was only ever available in comic book specialty stores - where, of course, it sank like a stone. There's not much point in writing for a wider audience if they can't actually find it.
Emery: Is there much material left in the Langridge archive? can we expect another collection like The Show Must Go?
Langridge: Not too much. I've got a bunch of unpublished Fred the Clown strips which only ever appeared online - I'm considering doing something with the best of those, though of course the reason many of them were never previously published is because they weren't up to scratch. Some of them could benefit from being redrawn, at the very least. And I guess there's a lot of stuff from Zoot! (me and my brother Andrew's 1990s Fantagraphics series) which could conceivably be collected. Actually, yeah! There's still quite a bit of stuff out there, now that I think about it.
Emery: What inspired you to create your own story using Lewis Carroll's characters for Snarked?
Langridge: It was the result of a few things colliding together. I'd been thinking about doing a direct adaptation of The Hunting of the Snark and trying to shop it around, until it came to my attention that Mahendra Singh had just done one. And I'd had an itch (still do, actually) to attempt a daily web strip featuring the Walrus and the Carpenter as a kind of vaudevillian double-act. Also, I was quite keen to attempt writing something long-form with a definite beginning, middle and end after attempting the same with Thor: The Mighty Avenger and not getting a chance to see it through. When Boom! approached me and asked if I had any ideas for a new project, it actually took me a very long time to realise that I could mash all three of these urges together into one book.
I was tinkering around with an idea about a trio of bin-men in a dystopian future for a few weeks there until the "eureka" moment finally arrived! It seemed to make so much sense when it all came together - the Carroll characters are essentially already known to a general audience, even if my spin on them isn't quite what they expect, so my reasoning was that it would be a much easier sell with that germ of recognition already there; plus, it gives me a chance to do a lot of the stuff - silly rhymes, odd-looking animal and human characters bumping into one another - that I was doing in the Muppet Show books without having to contrive a reason for it. With Carroll, that's already there.
Emery: Did you use any visual cues for depicting Carrolls characters for Snarked?
Langridge: You mean like Tenniel's illustrations? Not really - I was quite keen to make the interpretations as much my own as I could. There are certain things you can't avoid, like the Mad Hatter having the price tag sticking out of his hat, which are so entrenched that to lose them would be to lose a part of the character. But I've mostly tried to pull the designs in my own unique direction. I suppose the Holiday illustrations from The Hunting of the Snarked were the ones I stuck to, if any - the Snark crew haven't been as freely interpreted over the years as the Wonderland characters, so there's less room to manoeuvre. Even those looked like Holiday via the Goon Show once I was through with them, though.
Emery: The world of Snarked! has a very distinctive colour palette, is there much collaboration between yourself and your colourist?
Langridge: I kind of let Rachelle Rosenberg, who does the colouring, get on with it - the editor, Bryce Carlson, sent me a few colouring samples to begin with and they were all very good, but Rachelle's really stood out, so I'm really just trying to keep out of her way! I agree it's a very distinctive palette - gives the whole book a bit of extra zing, I think. Anyway, I'm very pleased with the way it's looking. My only input was to decide the colour schemes of the major characters to begin with. The rest is entirely down to Rachelle.
Emery: What was the appeal of having characters of an unscrupulous nature as your leads in Snarked?
Langridge: Again, it goes back to my love of that early 20th-Century entertainment - Laurel and Hardy, W.C. Fields and Chaplin all played bums or scoundrels, sometimes both at the same time, and my all-time favourite comic characters were all deeply flawed individuals (Scrooge McDuck, Wimpy, Barney Google etc.) - so there's a tradition. Also, it gives me somewhere to take the characters - something I'm hoping to achieve as the series goes on is to show the Walrus discovering his (few) redeeming qualities through sheer force of circumstance, as he finds himself with no choice but to rise to the occasion. Starting him off as a scoundrel makes that journey a lot more interesting.
Emery: Are you satisfied with the balance you have between working on licensed properties and your own projects?
Langridge: I'd always prefer to work entirely on my own stuff, but working on corporate stuff pays the bills, so you do what you have to. I'm always striving to find myself in a position where I can just say no to all that, though.
Emery: Are you involved in any community of cartoonist's in London?
Langridge: I don't get out much these days! There's the small matter of having a family - if I do get any time away from work, I quite like to spend it with them. I find myself in the slightly odd position of only seeing people who live in London in other cities, when we both attend comic conventions away from home!
All images copyright 2011 Roger Langridge. Interview conducted via email Oct 2011