Comics Features Interviews

INTERVIEW: Steve Tanner, Creator of Flintlock

Recently we reviewed Flintlock Book One, a fantastic anthology following the adventures of Lady Flintlock, Shanti the Pirate Queen, and the Clockwork Cavalier within the 18th Century. We at AP2HYC were privileged enough to sit down and chat with writer and creator Steve Tanner to discuss how Flintlock was developed, along with talking about his next instalment within the series.

AP2HYC: Before we talk about Book Two, let’s talk about how you got the idea for Flintlock. When did you first conceive the original ideas for Flintlock, and was there anything that influenced that idea?

Tanner: There were a few things that brought Flintlock together, and these first started to form at a London convention back in early 2015.  I’d started Time Bomb Comics in 2007, primarily to get my own work out there which I think is what 99% of us digging away at the small/indie press coalfaces do it for. However over the years I’d started publishing other creator’s work, all stuff which I thought was great and was delighted to invest in, but I think that meant that everyone had really forgotten that I created comics as well as publishing them – including me.

So I was hawking my latest release at this 2015 show – Defiant by Andy Winter, Danile Bell & Aljosa Tomic, which is a great book by the way! – and writer Jasper Bark took me to task a bit for not writing comics myself anymore.  It was a bit of banter, sure, but then I realised that the last thing I’d published with my name on it as a writer was back in 2010 (Dick Turpin and the Crimson Plague) so Jasper kind of had a point.  And, you know, you should always listen to your old Uncle Jasp.

At this same show I had an opportunity to have a look around and came across a huge booth from one of the bigger US publishers. The stuff they had didn’t really appeal to me, it basically just seemed to be cheesecake takes on female fairy tale characters. However what they were also selling were slabbed variant covers, in particular there was one which was just a close up of one of a character’s bare arse. That was it in a sealed plastic container. They were selling these for £20 a pop and folks were buying them.

Now, I’m not into the variant covers thing, but I get why it appeals, especially if you can get a great piece of artwork which is only offered as a variant. And if you’re just after the cover, sealing it in plastic makes a bit of sense as you obviously don’t want to read it – you just want to look at the cover and visually enjoy it, I guess.  But this “artwork” was literally just a close up of two semi circular pink-hued globes that must have taken the artist of all 3 minutes to execute.  Who thinks that is something desirable? Who thinks that’s something of value? Who wants to gaze adoringly at a bad drawing of a close up a woman’s bare arse, and why? I found that a bit depressing. And it kind of really drove home that for the most part, the presence and depiction of female characters in comics is for the most part all a bit ridiculous.

I’m assuming it appeals to a specific type of comics enthusiast, and I know the flip-side to this is that there are some terrific comics being published that have well-written, finely-drawn characters of both sexes in them, but some of the marketing of the female comics characters are just tasteless.  Just a few weeks ago a different US company released their latest solicitations with artwork that featured all their female characters sitting with their legs wide apart and finely rendered camel-toes. Last year there was a comic released with 25 variant covers, each cover was the female character in the same pose but with one further item of clothing removed.  Naturally, the more clothes removed, the rarer and more expensive the variant. Cover #24 was the character naked, cover #25 was her naked but without pubic hair.  I mean, Christ, what is that all about?

You see, as I’m an ancient I remember weekly comics of the seventies and eighties.  They were divided into boys and girls adventure titles, with the humour weeklies targeted at both. At the time I never read the girls comics of course but they routinely featured strong female characters that the readers could identify with, or at the least enjoy reading about.  There’s a lack of adventure characters in general these days, realistic female characters even more so.

So all these different things started bubbling away in my head – writing comics again, adventure stories, how women are portrayed in comics – all of that led to Flintlock. A simple question, but quite a long winded answer I’m afraid!

AP2HYC: What made you want to tell stories based around history?

Tanner: The 18th Century holds a particular fascination for me, which in itself came from doing the research for the Dick Turpin horror comics I put out a few years ago.  As a setting it’s overlooked for some reason, not just in comics but in general, which is why you can find lots of stories set in the middle ages or Victorian times but very little in between.  It’s strange as the era of highwaymen, pirates, thief-takers and all the rest seem a shoe-in for creative inspiration! But in particular 1701 – 1800 brought some huge global changes that shaped the world as we know it today.  American Independence for example, and the dawn of the industrial age.  That’s just the big stuff – the smaller things that were happening over those one hundred years though, particularly in places like India and the Far East which we don’t really get to know about unless we major in those areas, is eye-opening.  All eras bring great change, the difference in how the world was at the start of the 18th Century to when it gave way to the 19th Century is remarkable.

I’m also a  huge fan of historical drama generally, not so much the quaint costume dramas but stuff that’s a bit more meaty, and I’m a big fan of comics in a well-realised historical setting.  I don’t mean the pseudo-medieval cod-fantasy stuff, what works on around a gaming table doesn’t necessarily come across well as a comic, but stories inspired by real world settings and events.

Flintlock is also the first time I’ve attempted a series – seriously, it’s taken me 9 years putting out books to feel ready to do that – and it was important that the book has a background that will be interesting to the reader but also, importantly for me, a background which seemed creatively rich enough to sustain my interest as well.

AP2HYC: I love how Book One had three separate stories, revolving around three different characters. It made you feel like you was immersing yourself into a massive universe of characters, similar to Marvel and DC Comic. Was it always your intention to set your books up like this and how will this set-up continue to be established within future books?

Tanner: As part of the initial concept process I came up with some outlines for some character ideas, at the time it was very much trying to identify one that could sustain a series.  Very quickly it looked to me that more than one of these ideas had legs, so suddenly there were a dozen character concepts in front of me. Of course, do I then rush off and announce I’d be releasing twelve first issues over the next year that each had variant covers? No, of course not, for that way lies madness. Instead it was the realisation that I had the bare bones of an anthology book, and developed it from there.

It was then a relatively short leap to the notion of all the stories taking place in a shared timeline, so the different characters are existing in different decades through the Century when we first see them.  What became apparent early on as well was the type of characters that were forming – yes, there were the female takes on the traditional highwayman and pirate figures, but there were a half dozen others as well, none of which were the stereotypical comics lead character. And by that I mean no heterosexual white males aged between 25 – 35.

That really wasn’t an intentional thing but it seemed to be a very interesting USP for Flintlock to have, and since Book One came out something that people have taken notice of and positively commented about.  So I whittled those dozen down, jettisoned some and amalgamated others, to where I’ve ended up with 6 characters who are the backbone of the Flintlock timeline and we’ll be introducing these characters over Books One through Six.  We’ve already met three – Lady Flintlock, Shanti the Pirate Queen and the Clockwork Cavalier – so the remaining three are to come.  The reaction to those first three have been terrific – each one seems to be somebody’s favourite – so for me it’s going to be interesting to see how the others are received.

AP2HYC: Onto Book Two, what can we expect from it? What kind of characters, stories, and time-periods do you intend to tackle?

Tanner: Flintlock Book Two features the same 3 characters introduced in the first book – Lady Flintlock, Shanti the Pirate Queen and the Clockwork Cavalier – in the same format of one continued story and two complete shorter stories.  48 pages, cardstock covers, bookshelf ready – it’s a good package.

Lady Flintlock is the ongoing story, and in Book Two we start to see some of the wider timeline starting to come into play and seeing more of how  maidservant Lizzie is an integral part of her mistress Sarah Flintlock’s highway robbery escapades.

Shanti the Pirate Queen will be dealing with a disgruntled crew for her second complete story. She’s the character that seems to have generated the most interest so far, a lot of that is because she’s Indian and we just don’t see South Asian lead characters in British comics for some reason. Shanti’s ruthless, that seemed to have surprised some people who read her first story. But, you know, she’s a pirate – of course she’s ruthless!

Finally there’s another solo outing for the Clockwork Cavalier, a midnight encounter in and around St Paul’s Cathedral.  The Cavalier was originally slated to be introduced in Book Two, but the success of the Book One pre-order on Kickstarter brought him forward as an unlocked Stretch Goal, so his story in the second book was unplanned but allowed me to have a bit more fun with the concept that really is like something out of some sixties boy’s adventure weekly – a mechanical man recruited by the Bow Street Runners to fight crime in 18th Century London!

The artists on these stories will be the same as the Book One – Anthony Summey, Lorenzo Nicoletta and Ed Machiavello respectively – and quite frankly they’ve all upped their game for this second outing.  The artwork that’s coming through is terrific, some of it’s jaw-dropping to be honest. The scripts called for some challenging settings and they’ve risen to that challenge big time.

AP2HYC: With Flintlock being set in different time-periods and locations, it’s fair to say that the series has a lot of potential in where it can go. What time periods and historic events/people would you love to base a story around for future books?

Tanner: I have a hundred years and a whole planet to play with – that’s almost limitless potential I think!  At the moment we’re roughly covering the middle of the 18th Century with the stories underway, the final three characters will have their first stories set 1765 – 1785 or so.

The major historical events will be happening in the background for the most part, to me it’s the impact of these events in the wider world that’s rich for exploration.  There’s a few things that are perhaps lesser known generally – the First Fleet that sent the first convicts from England to settle in Australia late in the century for example, or the Battle of Karnal in 1739 where the Indian city of Delhi was ransacked – those events offer more interesting story ideas I think.

I think it’s the same with known historical figures – they’ll be few and far between and only introduced in the right context.  I mean it makes sense for John and Henry Fielding to pop up in connection with the Clockwork Cavalier as they were in charge of the Bow Street Runners, but it doesn’t make sense for Shanti to encounter Blackbeard or Lady Flintlock to meet King George II because that just seems a bit silly.

AP2HYC: Is there any chance of seeing the different characters meet up for some kind of cross-over event within the future? Or at the very least will there be indications that each story is set within the same universe through Easter-Eggs in the background or through passing dialogue?

Tanner: That gives some intriguing possibilities as far as I’m concerned, it means that some characters will encounter one another in some form (although I can say with some certainty that they won’t be all coming together and forming some kind of 18th Century superteam – that way also lies madness) but there will be butterfly effects through the timeline. The actions of one character in, say, 1720 can impact on another in 1796 – that kind of thing.

I’ve already mentioned the six major characters, but actually the fourth of those has already been seen in Book One so there’s already the foreshadowing there.  I haven’t revealed who that is yet, although I have an artist in place for their first story, but when I do hopefully it will be both unexpected and make a certain kind of sense.

AP2HYC: Have you got an exact plan for where Flintlock will go as an ongoing set of stories or is it too early to say?

Tanner: The answers probably a bit of both.  The intention is to produce six books over the next couple of years.  Each of those books will feature Lady Flintlock, as she’s the flagship character.  I know where her story is going across the series, and I know what each of the end chapter cliff-hangers are.  The other character stories are a little less fixed, just to give me some wiggle room in their respective development.

At the moment the new characters will appear in Books Three and Five, then once I reach Book Six I’ll decide on what to do next.  If Flintlock is a success, and I mean that on very much a indie/small press level rather than anything else, then I’d love to carry it forward.  It’s really down to if there is a viable and sustainable readership out there for this stuff.  I’ve been heartened by the reaction to Book One – it’s made Flintlock my most successful Time Bomb Comics title in 9 years – but the law of diminishing returns is a cruel one, and it’s how Book Five and Six are received that will really determine Flintlock’s fate.

I’m currently running a pre-order for Book Two on Kickstarter – – and that already feels a tougher sell, although I still reached my target in the first 20 hours which was wonderful.  Pre-orders are the sign of success, though, and it’s early days yet.

For me, what’s going to be interesting is to see how those remaining characters are received – one of the concepts is very unusual and I believe quite original. In as much the way the Clockwork Cavalier is a character that seems to have captured the interest of the Steampunk community this idea will hopefully appeal to another specific community, yet still be entertaining to everyone else who enjoys Flintlock.

Whatever happens, I have this assortment of characters now that I feel are pretty unique, and I know that whatever happens to the core Flintlock title in the future I’ll be returning to those characters in some fashion in the years to come, although perhaps in some unexpected ways!

Thank you for answering our questions, we wish you the best of luck with Book Two and I hope Flintlock continues to expand. For anyone interested in checking out this brilliant series please check out the link Tanner sent to us above. Also feel free to discuss Flintlock in the comment section below or on our Twitter page!

About the author

John Hussey