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Blade Runner Landscapes, Gerry Anderson’s Legacy & Runaway Recordings: A Conversation with Connor Flannagan, Space Precinct Reloaded Artist

Anderson Entertainment has recently resurrected Gerry Anderson‘s cult 1990s sci-fi cop drama Space Precinct in the guise of the comic book Space Precinct Reloaded. An entertaining, action-heavy story set prior to the events of the TV series, we caught up with artist Connor Flanagan to discuss his involvement in the comic.

Beyond waxing lyrical about how Connor reinvigorated the vast, alien landscapes and colourful creatures from the original series, we also dive deep into Connor’s longstanding love for all things Gerry Anderson, and the importance of pursuing your passions in life…

A Place To Hang Your Cape: How did you join Space Precinct Reloaded?

Connor Flanagan: I don’t mind saying, I joined the project, in my eyes, in no small part, through sheer luck. Chris Thompson, the author had been looking for an artist for the comic, and although we did not know each other at that time, we had a shared acquaintance, in my friend and work colleague, Brian Mulholland. Brian and I work at Forbidden Planet International, Belfast. One day, Chris popped in to have a chat, and happened to mention about the project to Brian, and if he knew of any artists. Thank goodness for friends, because Brian was very complimentary of my work, and I was, as you can imagine, delighted when Chris was equally complimentary, and deemed it to be of the right standard and style he was looking for. Additionally, I think Chris was impressed with my enthusiasm for the project. Space Precinct doesn’t have the same following as some of Gerry’s television series, so my having a familiarity with the subject was a huge mark in my favour. I think it’s only fair to say though my familiarity was more than a passing one, which leads us nicely into your next question.

AP2HYC: Were you a fan of Gerry Anderson’s work prior to joining Space Precinct Reloaded?

Flanagan: Where to start? Luck, word of mouth, and enthusiasm were factors in my becoming involved with Space Precinct Reloaded but I like to think there was another very important factor in my getting the job. Serendipity! You see, a lot of people would have been better qualified to draw Space Precinct Reloaded, but I doubt anyone would have given it the same care and attention as me, and for good reason!

I have been a massive Gerry Anderson fan since I first saw Terrrahawks during its initial run. I even had a Sergeant Major Zero figure. I was only about 5 or 6 years old, but images of Zeroids and Cubes and of course Zelda, were burned into my synapses. My older sister would get copies of Look-In Magazine from the newsagents around that time too, and so I would flick to the comic strips, one of which for a time was Terrahawks. I learned of Thunderbirds and Stingray and other shows through the stories both my parents would tell of Gerry’s shows. They’d watched them as children too, and so I was encouraged to watch them.

I had a small brush with Thunderbirds and Joe 90, the years in between, on VHS. They’d cobble together episodes into a kind of feature length adventure. I think I broke that tape featuring ‘Sunprobe’ and ‘Ricochet’ (Thunderbirds in Outer Space) through sheer over-use. However it was in 1991 with the return of Thunderbirds to TV on BBC 2 on Fridays at around 6 PM that my passion for Gerry’s shows would truly take form. It was like I had never seen an episode before – the opening and closing credits reinstated! I think they’d been omitted or replaced on the ‘VHS’ tapes. I could be wrong, but whatever the case, watching ‘Trapped in the Sky’ was like a slap in the face. I had never seen anything like it before. It was exhilarating! I never missed an episode and recorded them all! I think ‘The ‘Uninvited’ and ‘Attack of the Alligators were firm favourites, but there are so many episodes on par, it’s hard to choose.

That archiving of episodes continued all the way through Captain Scarlet, Joe 90, and beyond. I even remember my parents telling me off, because I once sneaked back home from my grandmother’s house, across town, so I could record an episode of Joe 90, one Saturday morning. It had been moved to an early bird slot. I think 6 AM. I remember being pretty terrified during that walk. When I think back, it was probably not the brightest thing I’ve ever done. I was only 11 or 12 years old and it was 5.30 AM, but I never missed an episode.

However, I’ve gotten slightly ahead of myself! There were a couple of other defining points in my childhood, which informed my love of Gerry’s creations. Firstly, the launch of a new Thunderbirds comic in 1991, featuring work by artists who would influence me in everything I’d go on to do. Mike Noble, Steve Kyte, Graham Bleathman and Frank Bellamy are names most Anderson fans will recognise. For me, they were unforgettable, and their individual styles, unmistakable. I think I must have covered my entire room in Graham Bleathman cutaways. Those paintings are as great today as they were then.

Also my primary introduction to Fireball XL5 and the Zero-X adventures was through those comics. Those strips were some of my favourites. I cannot highlight enough how profound an influence these artists had upon me. I could only hope to have such a positive influence in my career.

The second defining event, that reinforced my love of all things Gerry Anderson, came in the Christmas of 1992. That year from my parents, I received The Complete Gerry Anderson Episode Guide and the Matchbox die-vast vehicle rescue set. It snowed that Christmas and I photographed Thunderbird 2 as if crashed in the Alps! I think I still have those very blurry, not so successful attempts at photography. As for the episode guide, I must have read that book cover to cover, countless times. I knew every show, and every episode synopsis by heart, long before I’d seen an episode, which in a way made it all the more exciting. I was fascinated by, photos and descriptions of fabled Anderson shows. Ones that never made it to series, or to television, including one in particular, named Space Police!

As most will know, this formed the basis, for what in 1994 would become the TV Series Space Precinct. Needless to say I had been well primed for its’ arrival. I anticipated it feverishly in fact, and when it aired I watched it avidly. I even bought the comics! If I’d known then, what I know now, I can tell you, 13 year-old me would have had a kitten!

The Gerry Anderson Episode Guide, and all those comics, including the newly added Space Precinct stuff, became a resource all through my teenage years, and a guide to all things Anderson at a time when really, the Internet was only in it’s infancy. This was important because my interest in Gerry’s shows never once lessened, and I did everything in my power to find ways of incorporating those influences into school projects, not to mention my jotters much to the consternation of my teachers. However I think they must have seen the path I was headed down and I was encouraged to draw my comics, and bend syllabi to incorporate the kinds of things that inspired me most. For GCSE Craft and Design, whilst other kids were building chairs and benches, I designed and built a puppet carved entirely from wood, fully adorned with an outfit akin to that of a top secret organisation. I got and ‘A’ for that project. I didn’t stop there!

I went on to do A Levels, and for my Art and Design I made two more puppets, and built a set to put them in. I wrote and drew a visual diary on puppetry in support of that project. The Gerry Anderson Episode Guide was one of the few resources I had and was vital to my efforts. I still have it, tattered and all as it is. I still have the comics too, and they remain some of my most treasured collectables. My project on puppets was toured as part of the best of A Level that year. I was very proud of that achievement. Of the visual diary I produced for it? Well, I just recently had a look through it again, and to my amusement, discovered I had even dedicated it to Gerry! I can’t deny it! That made me a little emotional.

When I attended university, I spent some time studying animation, and then for a time illustration. For better or worse, the allure of Film and Video, and the possibility of a career, making puppet shows like Gerry’s, took me in an entirely different direction. I left university with a degree in visual communication and specialising in (SBI) Screen Based Imaging, and went onto work as a cameraman and editor on short films, music videos and equestrian events. For a time I even worked on weddings and corporate videos, but at some point, the very reason I had taken that particular career path, was forgotten, and I felt unfulfilled. The excitement and creative spark had been lost and so I did the only thing I could, and I decided to quit. My gut feeling was to get back to basics. Illustration. In particular, comics! So, I began writing and drawing my own material, a move that was both supported financially, and influenced by, my part time job at a comic book store in Belfast. Forbidden Planet International. Oddly, it wasn’t all that long after that, when Chris Thompson walked into his local Forbidden Planet looking for an artist. He was working for Anderson Entertainment and they were looking for someone to help them put together a comic based on a little known show from 1994 called Space Precinct!

Serendipity. Right?

AP2HYC: What was it like bringing Demeter City back to life after 20-odd years?

Flanagan: In light of my ramblings in the previous question, I’ll keep this brief. To bring Demeter City to life after 20 years, or is it 10 years before? Sorry. I digress! It was equal parts fun, terrifying, and challenging, but ultimately, rewarding.

To be suddenly thrust into a project that is quite personal to you, and at the same time, with the want to do the best possible job, and perhaps impress, or at the very lest validate the trust placed in you, by the powers that be, it can be quite overwhelming. There’s no denying how close I was to the material, and so I just had to trust my instincts and rise above those prohibitive feelings. I didn’t try too hard to mimic what was on screen. I had one brief from Chris and that was to think Blade Runner! So, I just put pencil to paper and went along for the ride. One of the first panels that he’d scripted was a birds-eye view of Demeter. (Thanks Chris!) It was daunting, but I just started at the centre, and the city spiralled out from there. I think it took a week or so to draw that page.

Every building was considered and flying cars were placed were needed to give a feeling of movement, and of a bustling metropolis. I littered the buildings and vehicles with references to all of Gerry’s shows, for those who care about such things, and also because I like that sort of thing! I like to think the comic works as a fun and functioning narrative piece, but if you are inclined to look, that you’ll find greater significance and meaning the closer attention you pay. I doubt that kind of detail is practical in most instances in this business, and indeed we have had discussions around that impracticality should we endeavour to go forward, but to me at least on this go around, bringing Demeter to life after 20 years was not simply an artistic thing, but a deeply personal thing. I hope that has been communicated. Based on some of the feedback we’ve had I think that’s been noticed.

AP2HYC: Space Precinct features a lot of distinctive model work. Did the futuristic, alien landscapes lend themselves well to comic form?

Flanagan: Distinctive model work, alien landscapes, all of those things, lend themselves very well to comic form. As does any sci-fi or fantasy concept. There are no budgetary constraints in a comic. There are only the constraints of the Writer and artist’s imagination. Space Precinct was one of the most expensive Series produced at the time, but as impressive as its feats of model work and visual effects are, there is only so much money can buy. Steve Begg and the visual FX team created a city that boasts some seriously impressive detail, and lush model work. It’s one of the strongest components of the series, but the city is at times sparse and devoid of traffic, and background comings and goings.

So, we tried to inject more congestion and traffic into our interpretation of the city. In true Blade Runner fashion we also attempted to suggest some influences from a variety of cultures, and a city that’s been built atop older parts of the city, and which has spiralled haphazardly upwards. The TV series captures a lot of this very well and I’m a huge fan of model work, and so when I was lost for an idea for a building shape or design, I’d visit the TV series to help get over that hurdle.

However, the comic was in our eyes a reboot as much as a prequel, so we weren’t beholden to particular designs, with the exception perhaps of the Police Cruiser, the returning characters, and of course the uniforms. That’s not to suggest we set out to change things. Quite the opposite, but this is set 10 years prior to the TV Series. That gave us some creative licence. We think.

There were very few opportunities to explore beyond Demeter this time out with the exception of a giant junk-field on the suburbs. I had a bit of fun with that. It’s amazing what you can find in an intergalactic junkyard. Of the city itself, you might be forgiven for thinking some of the buildings bare a passing resemblance to say, a Zeroid or an Eagle Transporter, for example.

AP2HYC: Space Precinct has a lot of visual vibrancy to it. Was it fun to bring Chris’s action heavy script to life?

Flanagan: It was a lot of fun bringing Chris’s story to life. The script was exciting, action heavy and quite frankly fun to draw. There is no pretension, just action. I looked forward to drawing this bit, and then that bit. Every page had some cool beat or moment that kept me engaged. He designed the story as the preamble to an episode I suppose, much like a James Bond pre-credits sequence. Most people seemed to pick up on this, and liked it. It gets into things quickly, introduces the setting and characters, and leaves you wanting more. Job done!

When you go into these things there is no sure way to know exactly what will materialise on the other side, but for me the most important aspect of a comic is the flow. Many don’t have it. I was conscious of this and concerned, drawing pages out of order, if ours did. I’m delighted to say it does. I read it, and it works. That’s in no small part down to Chris’s script but I think I can take some credit for ensuring the eye is lead to where it needs to go. It’s a very collaborative process and Chris was very open to adapting the script if I felt the flow between panels or pages was not quite as it should be, but ultimately not much changed between conception and delivery. This is very much a Chris Thompson story.

Chris is a very generous and encouraging person, both professionally, and personally. He gave me free rein to indulge my every whim, within the parameters of the script of course! Chris writes quite loosely actually, but the story beats are clear and concise. Some writers like to take complete control of that situation, and scrutinise everything down to the most intimate detail, and so Chris really has to be applauded for the trust he bestows, and the generous creative arena he creates. It’s the sign of a natural team manager and leader. It is no surprise Jamie tasked him with such a huge project. That’s not to say the project wasn’t without its challenges, the project was very time consuming. All encompassing in fact, but I have a very understanding wife and she gave me the support required to follow my passion. She’s the unsung hero in this project. I also had the support and encouragement of the boys at Forbidden Planet Belfast, and of Chris and Andrew Clements (editor) who I became fast friends with. We still get together to watch Gerry’s shows and talk future projects.

In terms of the visuals, I’ve always loved those comics where panels explode onto other panels, and things fall across the page leading you were your eye needs to go. Also, I like little background details, which emerge and continue to develop across multiple pages. We have lots of that in our comic. So whilst the issue is a quick read, there is room to go back and pour over other details and cute story points that may not be noticed on the first outing. Or perhaps they compliment the main story upon its’ initial read. Whichever way it works for you, hopefully the story comes alive, is kinetic, and fun.

I’m honestly still exploring my visual style and trying to find my unique voice. I think in my early days I was so in awe of artists like Mike Noble, Steve Kyte, or Frank Bellamy I’d get disheartened when I couldn’t draw like them. Now, there are so many unique and talented artists out there it can be very intimidating indeed, but enough time has passed from those days when I tried to mimic drawings of Steve Zodiac as imagined by Mike Noble or Captain Scarlet as realised by Frank Bellamy. I instead, now, just draw the characters as my hand commands, or as my eye deems correct, but the origins of my art and the influences upon it are undeniable.

AP2HYC: Where might future issues be headed towards-are we going to see plenty of freakishly wonderful alien worlds?

Flanagan: That’s really a question for Chris and for Jamie Anderson at this stage. I can only say what I’d like to see of further adventures. I’d prefer it embrace its cop show roots without trying to force the Sci-Fi elements. I believe those things would fall into place naturally. I would personally hope to look to movies and television series for inspiration. For base concepts, and apply those to an outer-space setting. I have lot’s of ideas, some really good ones, but I know Chris, Andrew, and Jamie will have plenty of their own.

Also, on this outing we didn’t have a lot of time for character development, or for deeper character motivation. That’s definitely something that’s on the cards, if we move forward.

Additionally, I’d like to see our story begin to connect narratively to the original TV show along the way. Comics are perhaps not for everyone, but for those that really care it can enrich and expand the existing material. Initially, there were some criticisms about replacing Brogan and Haldane with two all new characters. For reasons we won’t go into we felt we couldn’t use the actor likenesses from the TV series, and so rather than abandon the project we decided to adapt to the situation, set it 10 years previous, and try out a different human character dynamic. Besides this, Podly, Orin and Romek were among the best aspects of what the series had to offer, and were strong enough to give this Project the anchor it needed.

However, with this new setting, and human character dynamic, what we have, are a lot of questions in terms of narrative. Who are these new characters? What happened to them if they aren’t present in the television series? How do Brogan and Haldane fit into the story, and at which point? Do our characters, and the television series characters meet, or cross paths? There’s story to be told now, where previously there wasn’t, and if so inclined, room for us to explore freakishly wonderful alien worlds along the way.

As a fan, I’m on board.

AP2HYC: Might you have any other projects you’re currently working on in the pipeline?

Flanagan: As far as having other work in the pipeline is concerned, as soon as I completed work on Space Precinct Reloaded #1, I went straight back to work on my own personal projects. I have a lot of cool ideas, and I was suddenly able to attack them with a renewed sense of vigour and excitement. The hope is at some point to get some of that material out there. For me it’s quality over quantity though, so that’s on my own timetable.

Additionally, I’ve also delivered a range of sketches and finished art that could be used for a next endeavour with Anderson Entertainment. Some of that could be Space Precinct, some of it not. I was not asked to deliver anything, so none of that is confirmation of what is to come, if anything! Nothing is timetabled, and nothing is set in stone, but you can be sure there are conversations and everyone is pro-actively seeking to do something more.

Needless to say I’d be honoured to continue to be involved with Anderson Entertainment, and their repertoire of characters. This has been a deeply personal journey for me, and confidence building. In a strange way, after a bit of a journey, I feel like I’ve come home, the long way around. I hope get to stay a while!

You can discover more about Space Precinct Reloaded from Anderson Entertainment, as well as the recent news that the TV series will be receiving a new release on DVD! Have you already read the comic? Let us know in the comments section below or send us a Tweet!

About the author

Fred McNamara