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INTERVIEW: Carl Jackson, Creator Of Victorian Bareknuckle League

Welcome worthy combatants, to a special segment we like to call “an interview!” Ever feel the need to slake your thirst for vengeance in the old style, bareknuckle arena? Well look no further because Carl Jackson has you covered with Victorian Bareknuckle League! We recently spoke with Carl about his upcoming book, which is now featured on Kickstarter. Keep reading to see what he had to say!

AP2HYC: Could you provide our readers with a brief synopsis of Victorian Bareknuckle League?

Jackson: Victorian Bareknuckle League is the story of the weird, wonderful, dangerous lost souls who come to seek fame, fortune and redemption in the world of Victorian Bareknuckle fighting. It centers around Millicent Figg, a gentle, peaceful young lady who witnesses the murder of her lover at a bareknuckle bout. The story is her tale of revenge and the story of the people she meets along the way, some fighters, some not.

We have Britain’s greatest detective, the current champion, a fallen champion and a few other strange and miraculous oddities. While not strictly her book as such, her tale was the most interesting narrative and easiest to weave into the story of the other competitors. Without giving too much away, issue one starts like Pride and Prejudice and quickly heads towards Mortal Kombat levels of violence. Plus some revelations that maybe Millicent has a few secrets of her own.

AP2HYC: Tell us a bit about how the idea for Victorian Bareknuckle League came to be.

Jackson: It actually started as the idea for a beat ’em up, Street Fighter style computer game. I was watching a lot of Victorian T.V. shows like Ripper Street, Penny Dreadful, etc., and I am pretty sure it germinated while watching that boxing scene in series one of Ripper Street. I just thought “Wow, how good would it be to have a game full of weird Victorian characters that just fight.”

After that, I started reading up on Victorian bareknuckle boxers and the characters were pretty much already there. However, the only thing about making computer games that I know is that they are expensive, so I went to something I do know: writing comics.

AP2HYC: What made you go for the whole Victorian London aesthetic?

Jackson: It has always been something that I am interested in, that whole era. I think it’s the whole juxtaposition of society, this huge divide between the wealthy and the poor. Between the facade of manners, decency and etiquette, and the reality that behind closed doors Victorian society was one of the most debauched periods in the whole of history.

Some of the stories about bareknuckle boxing bouts actually make you wince. Example; women’ bouts. They would strip to the waist to provide a bit of excitement for the men, then hold a coin in their palm. The first woman to drop the coin lost, so they would just stand half naked and beat the sh*t out of each other. Brutal. I have tried to add this juxtaposition to each character in some way and it is a theme that runs throughout the book.

AP2HYC: Since this is your first go at the medium, what challenges did you face as a writer?

Jackson: I did a lot of reading before I started, not just comics but how to write them, books about script writing, short story writing. Everything is an influence. I think the hardest thing was narrowing down the path I wanted to follow. I had so many ideas and arcs for characters, I think at the start I was jamming too many in. You want your first issue to set up whats coming, but you can’t set up your whole universe in 22 pages.

I have some great characters and scenarios and I am just going to bank until the next arc, just because they don’t fit. The book is always being revised and will be until its funded and sent to the printer. The last major edit came about because I was learning how to put a pro-wrestling match together and the elements transfer perfectly to writing combat. So we have this big fight at the end of issue one that I totally rewrote.

I am actually going to rewrite some of the dialogue because I heard a great tip from Russell T. Davis saying that dialogue should always just be two clashing monologues because people never really listen to each other anyway.

AP2HYC: How did the creative team for Victorian Bareknuckle League come together?

Jackson: I should give you some tale about the stars aligning and us all meeting at a comic convention of something, but I found them all on a freelance site called upwork. I had a really specific idea of what I wanted so it was the best way to go. Comic artwork, like anything, comes in trends and fashions. I am not a big fan of most of the current style of comic artwork, it’s like an anime/sketchy pop art hybrid and I am into detail. So I searched for ages and I saw this picture of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Jake Bilbao‘s profile and knew it was for me. He has actually worked for Marvel and Dynamite so he has a great pedigree.

Pika is primarily an illustrator for children’s books. I was looking for a traditional colorist because digital coloring, unless done really well and usually by a top studio, looks flat and lifeless in my opinion. So I saw this picture she had painted in watercolor of a geisha and messaged her about it. She was really apprehensive at first, like “I am not a colorist, are you sure you want me to do this?” But I knew it was the right call.

Our cover has been done by DC Comics’ artist Maria Sanapo. About a week before the comic was about to launch I realized that I had done everything but not a cover. So I messaged lots of current artists that I really admire and Maria was like “Yeah, sounds great, I’ll do it.” It was just after Maria had done the DC Bombshells so I was so happy!

C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER!!

C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER!!

AP2HYC: Will we see Millicent Figg undergo training, perhaps montage style, or was she a “secret combatant” even before her husband’s murder?

Jackson: Hmm. Spoilers. Spoilers. Well, I can tell you that she wasn’t a combatant before. But after the incident which you see in the preview, time skips on a bit so later you will find out what happened to her in that time period. She is hiding some secrets (the biggest of which you will discover at the end of issue one). As for her training, it will come and we are going to see a lot of beat downs and bloody lips before she becomes anything near the level she needs to be at to get her revenge.

AP2HYC: There is an eclectic cast of fighters in Victorian Bareknuckle League. Will we be getting any side plots involving these characters?

Jackson: As mentioned before, I can’t fit everything into the first story arc. It will focus on Millicent, her turning into Red Doll and her seeking out revenge. In this however, I am planting the seeds for what is to come and it won’t be all about her. I have around 16 issues written, one of which is about a totally different character that you will meet in issue one. Three of the issues don’t include her at all but feed into the overall story.

We have some great things to come. I have a fight lined up on the Flying Scotsman train which will be a killer issue. We have a brothel madame who fights punters for debts who will also play a big role. All of the characters will evolve too over the issues.

AP2HYC: From video games to steampunk, all the way to Kill Bill, there is a variety of different influences in Victorian Bareknuckle League. Talk a bit about that.

Jackson: My first love is comic books. It has been since I was five years old, maybe even younger. I have always been more of a Marvel fan; I worked in a comic shop for three years and was the resident go-to Marvel guy. Huge Avengers and X-Men fan, so I feel that even though Victorian Bareknuckle League has these disparate, lonely and selfish characters, they have the family camaraderie that you get in a team book.

On top of this, I am a massive Street Fighter fan. Still unbeaten with Vega on the Mega Drive. The depth of the characters in that franchise still continues to this day and I think that aesthetic, that huge pride that Capcom have in those characters, is inherent in Victorian Bareknuckle League. It’s the same thing with my love of pro-wrestling, it is character driven. Without characters you don’t have a story, so I would say I am a fan of good characters above anything else.

AP2HYC: Explain some of the rewards for donators on the Kickstarter campaign.

Jackson: Well, this is our second time around on Kickstarter and we responded to feedback from our previous backers on the rewards. As such, we simplified them and created less rewards. So they are pretty standard but effective. Digital comic, a variant cover, and you can get drawn in the book as an extra. The more weird and wonderful ones are choose a Victorian insult and select the finishing move in issue one. At the moment, I am contemplating a reward tier where people can design a hat for Detective V.D. Brouck, as I want it to change every time we see her.

AP2HYC: What are some of your favorite comics and movies?

Jackson: At the moment I am currently watching the Westworld T.V. series. I loved the old movie and when I heard it was being remade I was so worried. This however is unbelievably good! Three episodes in and you are questioning your own existence, which I don’t think any T.V. drama has ever made me do. Regarding comics, my opus is the Jim Lee era X-Men. Everything you could ever want in a comic; plot, characters, artwork, absolute genius. I still get my Marvel comics every month, but unfortunately nothing at the moment is really exciting me like stuff has in the past.

Brian Michael Bendis has his critics as any successful writer does but Avengers: Disassembled and the first Civil War were the most exciting things to happen in a long time. I just feel like the stuff he did, which was pretty revolutionary, has now became a standard and it’s tiring. I am an Avengers fan and the teams and books are changing and rebooting so fast that I don’t feel writers have enough time to build the team dynamic you got in the eighties and nineties team books. To be an Avenger should be something special, yeah? But at the minute it’s like every single character in the Marvel Universe is an Avenger.

AP2HYC: Thanks Carl!

Ready to go throw down with some battle-hardened, bareknuckle brawlers? Head on over to the official Kickstarter for Victorian Bareknuckle League and support this project today!

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Robert Porter

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