First in our series of mini-interviews picking the brains of the 54-strong army of creators behind November’s Nelson – our 250 page graphic novel with all profits going to Shelter – is Rob Davis. Co-editor and driving force behind the project, he effectively kicks off proceedings with a chapter set in 1968, chronicling the birth of protagonist Nel Baker.
What was the inspiration behind Nelson?
As a project? The idea came from wanting to do something that reflected the variety and talent in UK comics and also do something unique with the anthology format that created a genuine cover-to-cover read. I was inspired by debates on Twitter and attending Thought Bubble festival 2010.
As a concept? Being in Slopsistic Pop 3 inspired me, being part of HUZZAH!! the exquisite corpse web comic also inspired me. But the core Nelson idea of using an anthology format to tell a complete story is something I’ve wanted to do for years, it comes from a love of the British anthology titles I grew up with and a novelistic ambition to make all the stories connect.
Narratively speaking, you had the most freedom on the book to do whatever you wanted with your chapter, but also the biggest responsibility. What was your intention for 1968?
I intentionally kept my 1968 chapter as open as possible. The subject matter – the birth of our central character was obviously going to be central, so I concentrated on creating the Dad and his world. I also left the ending ambiguous enough to allow Woodrow – who followed me – to be very playful with the nature of the main character. I gave him one option for an interesting twist, he took that and gave it a double twist. From that moment on the story was catapulted forwards. I may have had the initial idea and started things with Nelson, but it’s what happened when mine and Woodrow’s ideas collide that has shaped the vision of the book. Add to that the ideas of 53 of the best talents in UK comics and you have Nelson.
How much did you understand of the characters at this point? Did it surprise you where the later creators took them?
I only really wrote Jim, Nel’s Dad, and his character remained consistent throughout, even if the events of his life surprised me from time to time. Pete Doree who wrote for Sean Philips had big plans for Jim as did Dan McDaid. In terms of Jim’s life they shaped things more than I did, but as with all the characters in the book it’s what happens as they are passed from one creator to the next that define who they are. We all leave our fingerprints on them.
Rob hails from “deepest, darkest Dorset” and is best known for his work with iconic British comic characters Judge Dredd and Roy of the Rovers, as well as working on the comic portion of Dr Who Magazine. Most recently, he has a brilliant Don Quixote adaptation on the way from SelfMadeHero and is a regular contributor to Tom Humberstone’s Solipsistic Pop anthology.
Nelson is currently available to pre-order in the Blank Slate webstore, in both softcover and limited-edition hardcover. Be sure to be amongst the first to get hold of it when it launches at the end of November! In the meantime, please follow the book’s official Facebook page for up-to-the-minute news on the book as well as features like this.