Talking Comics with Tim: Warren & Gary Pleece
Warren and Gary Pleece have always been brothers, but at one time, they were also creative collaborators–back in the 1980s and 1990s with Velocity. This past Friday marked a resumption of their collaboration to a certain extent, when Warren launched the new webcomic, Montague Terrace, at ACT-I-VATE. The new project (which Gary will be involved in as his schedule permits) is summed up as “Unsuccessful megalomaniacs, brain frazzled ex-pop stars, Special Ops pensioners, haunted children, writers, fighters, nervous magicians and magic bunnies. 1930s detectives, fake pet psychics, hounded inventors, randy postmen, landlocked seamen, diabolical architects and secret societies. And all under one roof…” Warren and Gary made me feel like a pop culture idiot–considering the wealth of topics they referenced in this email interview. But I was overjoyed to enter territory I knew, when Gary mentioned the Monkees’ 1968 film, Head. Tears nearly welled up in my eyes when he mentioned it (for the love of God, this film [with the likes of “Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Teri Garr … Annette Funicello, Frank Zappa and Sonny Liston”] cries out either for the Criterion folks or the gang at Cinematic Titanic…). My thanks to Warren and Gary for a fine time.
Tim O’Shea: The last time the two of you collaborated was in the late 1980s/early 1990s–what sparked the decision for you two to collaborate again?
Warren Pleece: Montague Terrace actually showcased in the last edition of Velocity, no. 6 way back in ’96 as a place we could develop countless characters, stories and interlink them into some grand scheme. As was usually the case, the ideas were there, but the means and time to carry it off was another matter. I got more work for DC, Gary did his thing, we both started families etc. and like so many other ideas the whole thing became relegated to the cardboard boxes of our minds and Velocity 6 became the last edition we did.
The idea for going back to the basic idea of Montague Terrace came to me while working on the graphic novels Life Sucks and Incognegro. Graphic novels can take an age to draw sometimes and there’s a lot of thinking time. I decided I wanted to do my thing again; something that could work as a series, a graphic novel and as stand alone short stories. The template was already there, but the benefit of time to think about how to do it properly meant it could work better this time, incorporating different styles, genres and moods, but still be under one roof.
Gary had written a second story originally for Velocity 7 featuring Paul Gregory, our Scott Walker would’ve been, that was the spark-plug of generating new ideas. Coming back to it after all those years I realised there was something really good there that had to come out.
So far, I’ve written and drawn all the new stories myself for the first run you’ll see at Activate and for some other future feature length storylines, but Gary will be getting more involved soon when he can fit in the time from having a proper job.
Gary Pleece: Yes, I’m back from my self-imposed ‘comic exile’ and preparing to meet my public again… Montague Terrace is an evolution to where we were headed before we went off the rails and tried to be all grown up wearing shorts and sandals on the school run in winter etc, but it’s never really worked. I sometimes wonder why my 8 year old finds me so funny (and no one else seems to), it’s because you can take the kid out the playground, but you can’t take the playground out of the kid…
Working with Waz is like putting the shorts on again – but in a kid kind of way and not in the sad dad school run context…
O’Shea: This story has its foundation in your work on Velocity in the mid-1990s–what is it about these characters/narrative landscape that made you want to visit them again?
Warren: There was a lot of potential in the original idea that was never fully realised, even if it was a little unfocused as to what was going to happen next. That’s what’s different this time. There’s loads more characters and story-lines and a clear sense of where it’s heading. The idea this time is to introduce the characters, story-lines and other issues via the short web-based episodes online at Activate and on our websites, warrenpleece.com, pleecebrothers.com while developing larger feature length story-lines that potential publishers are just going to want to print(!?). Failing that, these stories will just run and run as and when I can draw them all. There’s enough for more than two graphic novels so far.
Gary: I tried to go all Monkees ‘Head’ with my writing and get that ‘out there, but still here…’ kind of vibe, but I think I/we lost our way a little and we need to come back to what we know and what we know is pretty damn weird and warped in an everyday sense anyway. Giving these characters a platform in a building that resembles several of the s**t holes that Waz and I grew up in in a story-telling sense, was all we needed to bring these characters to life. I also love that whole cross-fertilisation/non-interaction everydayness that just trundles on, but really everyone is extraordinary, everyone was once a baby, everyone’s f**ked up just a little and everyone’s lives could change if only they knew who lived next door to them…
O’Shea: How have you both matured as storytellers since your previous collaborations?
Warren: Back then we thrived on a kind of immature, punky ethos. We wrote about stuff we hated, that we found ridiculous or in the case of The Crimson Cutthroat, Velocity 3, things we just fancied drawing and writing about (pirates!). These days, things are more thought out, planned and together, though I still try to keep it, er, real, if you know what I mean.
Gary: We’ve incorporated Hammer Horror into our Carry on…
O’Shea: Is there any chance you might try to rerelease or otherwise repackage your collaborations from Velocity?
Warren: It just so happens we’re in the process of getting together a Pleece Brothers anthology, including the best of Velocity and featuring a lot of our work for Fleetway in the early 90s. That should be released early next year.
O’Shea: What do you two see as your respective strengths as storytellers and how do your styles compliment each other?
Warren: I guess I get into the plot and structure of things and Gary’s strength is off the wall, out there ideas, maybe. When we work together that can really work well. Writing separately works well too, because we know what makes each other tick. We’ve got the same infantile sense of humour, nervous laugh, though worlds apart in the looks department.
Gary: We used to sit in our flat in the early days, drink cheap wine and smoke cigarettes (well, I did) and talk about the people we’d seen down our mad street, films we’d watched, the memories of childhood, cricket on the beach, creamy old England … then set to work. We had a mission, to bring down the Thatcher government and get Neighbours off of prime television and, we are pleased to say, we succeeded. Well, someone did.
I suppose back then we were influenced by negativity, i.e. kicking against the majority, injustice, yeah, the kids are alright (etc) but we always tried to make it funny too; we’ve always had a problem taking ourselves too seriously, which helps the stories to be equally dark and funny, but probably stopped us getting on the X Factor for Comics…Waz is a genius of observation; he always used to walk around with his head to the ground and then come back and draw these warped, weird and wired individuals and you’d wonder where they’d come from, but you’d go out next time and they’d all be there, this sea of ghastliness, Shaun of the Dead all around you and you’d think ‘how did he see that’ and you’d just write around it…
O’Shea: Who are the major characters in Montague Terrace and in creating the story have you each developed affinities for certain characters?
Warren: There’s Paul Gregory, a former 60s Scott Walker style crooner living in self-imposed exile, long forgotten and eternally bitter. An unsuccessful megalomaniac called the Puppeteer, who seems to be in control over important world events but not over basic household appliances. An elderly retired special ops agent, codename: Babushka, using her former skills to combat the fascist bureaucrats from the local council. A nervous magician called The Mystical Martin and his best pal Marvo the Magic Bunny, a double act to be bargained with, as well as a further supporting cast of landlocked sailors, randy postmen, haunted children, celebrity writers, demonic architects, pet psychics and many, many more.
Hard to say if there are any favourites at the moment. Paul Gregory had a cameo in the original Velocity version and stars in his own feature length tale, The Elephant Dwarf written by Gary which to my mind has epic printed all the way through it.
Gary: A lot of my (misspent) youth in Brighton in the late 80s/early 90s was spent writing Velocity, watching Ealing and Kitchen Sink films, eating bacon sandwiches and listening to Scott Walker whilst the rain lashed against our leaking windows from leaden skies. Scott captured a lot of the landscape of that time for me, but he often trod a fine line between overblown pomposity and cutting observation, so taking the ‘piss taking’ gene that runs so predominantly in our family, I thought it would be great to create this kind of failed Scott wannabe who never really was and let the riot of his ridiculous imagination take over his life. I feel a bit sorry for him, because ultimately he ‘lived the dream’, but he just wasn’t any good. The problem was he has never had anyone close enough to tell him to call it a day so he ploughs on relentless, with his past work a colostomy bag full of pus and bile attached to his rapidly degenerating brain…
O’Shea: What else should folks know about MONTAGUE TERRACE?
Warren: We named it after the Scott Walker song, Montague Terrace in Blue. If you listen to the lyrics, it kind of sums it all up.
Gary: It’s full of all the neighbours and people who we’ve seen, observed, loved and hated…but never met – this is how we imagine them to be
O’Shea: Is there anything else we should talk about?
Gary: Only that we’re back and we’ve changed, but not that much. We still believe in HP sauce, battenberg cake, Earl Grey and a good John Mills film on a Sunday afternoon. But definitely not shorts on the school run in winter.