Comics Features Interviews

Colourful Language and More Colourful Tights: In Conversation with Andrea Wolf, Writer of “Buzzard!”

Splicing the sardonic wit of the British indie comics scene with the colourful action of the superhero genre, Buzzard! looks to be a winning combination. Buzzard! issues 1 and 2 are crowdfunding on Kickstarter now, and we caught up with the series’ writer Andrea Wolf to hear more about what makes Buzzard! and its hero Erik so unique.

A Place To Hang Your Cape: To begin with, can you introduce us to Erik? What’s his story in Buzzard!?

Andrea Wolf: Right, so Erik’s what in England is called a “chav”. Chavs are lower class youths with a pretty dire fashion sense and debatable hairstyles, who speak funny and can usually be spotted in the inner cities, among drugs and petty crimes. Chavs ain’t attractive, they’re considered filth, the scum of the earth. Yet, ultimately they’re just youngsters society’s left behind. They’re the nasty truth, the underbelly, the dust you wanna shove under your carpet – or in their case, into council flats. The sign the world’s not working properly, bloody well not for everybody, anyways. I don’t come from that background, haven’t had it as rough, though probably we share a lot in terms of mental struggles, namely frustration and an underlying hopelessness that’s too disenfranchised to function as any kind of protest. And I’m fascinated by their gutter lifestyle, their demented freedom is an unwitting state of anarchy.

Anyways, that’s Erik’s reality and he goddamn rolls with it. Unlike many today, he’s not lost. He sees the dysfunctional world around him, a country that’s clutching at straws, but he just smirks and cruises right by. He knows what he cares about: his little sister Mattie. The rest doesn’t bother him; he knows his purpose in life.

Now, Erik’s not a likeable guy: he’s callous, juvenile and obnoxious. But he sure is fascinating to watch. First of all, because his life is bonkers: he’s a trained martial artist who hires out his fists to local criminals for money, as a beater essentially. And secondly because he’s witty. What he says is often distasteful, but Buzzard! is an exploration of how the world is, not of how it should be. Erik’s life is rough, and crappy by most accounts: he’s an orphan, he’s poor and something snapped in his brain a long time ago so he’s mostly an outcast. But, man, he’s always seeing the funny side! This dude won’t let anything get him down, he’s always riffing on reality like it’s his own personal stand-up comedy show. He’s not prejudiced, doesn’t hold grudges, doesn’t complain, he’s got this incurable optimism some would call madness. That’s what I love about him.

I mean, he goes through horrific trauma most of us would never recover from – alright, let me give you the roundup. Here’s what happens: a junkie veteran assassin takes him under his wing, so Erik goes from small-time goon to actually killing people like it’s no biggie, right? And you’re like, well okay that’s pretty horrific! But to him, it’s just a better-paying job to care for his sister, that’s all! Are they supposed to live in squalor? Who’s gonna help him? The government’s out-of-touch and doesn’t care, there’s no community left, his teachers have given up on him – so hey, he figures he might as well rock this mad scene doing what he’s good at. Except soon enough a mission gets botched and he gets his arms chopped off… But it’s ok, it’s ok! Two bio-engineers who he sells weed to give him replacement ones. And these new arms are bladed. So, bam! Erik’s now a 16 year-old super-assassin. Gets a silly costume on the black market and off he goes, hopping around a world so distracted and apathetic it won’t even notice an actual superhuman’s just been born, one who happens to be some dodgy, delirious chav.

AP2HYC: And who’s the supporting cast in Buzzard!? What are their relationships to Erik?

Wolf: Mattie, Erik’s 13-year-old younger sister is effectively the series’ co-protagonist. She’s a tough cookie who’s too clever for her lot. Mattie’s very aware of her brother’s insanity. She knows he can’t be trusted for stuff like groceries but at the same time understands in the larger picture Erik is completely devoted to her. They share the same tragic family background and as orphans know they must fend for themselves to survive. Mattie just goes about it differently: through wits, dry humour (which breaks into fits of rage sometimes!) and careful management of her brother’s reckless lifestyle. She needs him as much as he needs her (though they’d never admit that to each other!) but she also truly understands the risks involved in being close to Erik. Though she might take pride in having had to grow up too fast, at the end of the day she’s still a child who craves safety and a normal life.

Then there’s Kal: a junkie veteran assassin. Kal is 32 and life as a hitman has left him isolated, grumpy and badly addicted to hard drugs. When he meets Erik and nearly gets pummelled by him due to being intoxicated on the job, he realises he’ll die in this line of work unless he gets out quickly. So he offers Erik to partner up, but it’s soon evident Kal’s a shoddy excuse for a mentor, and his attempts at embodying a father figure for his new young pupil end up in disrespect and disaster – which is too bad, because even more than money to retire, what Kal could really use is a true human connection.

And finally we have the Eggheads, aka Alan & Carolyne, two genius-level bio-engineering professors stifled by the smothering politics of academia, who spend their time smoking too much weed (supplied by Erik) and running secret experiments for limb enhancements (which they will supply to Erik). Carolyne is assertive and testy, hellbent on bringing true innovation in science. Alan is more awkward and anxious, and basically looking to give his life some meaning.

AP2HYC: In what type of world does Buzzard! take place – what exactly is “Tarmat”?

Wolf: Tarmat’s the black market’s most downloaded app, mate. You didn’t know the deep web had its own apps, did you? You can find anything on Tarmat, anything Amazon won’t sell (yet) : weapons, documents, drugs, and assassins, of course. That’s how Erik gets his jobs. Tarmat is a riff on how far portable technology has come and on its very many real effects on the non-virtual world. I mean, an app like Tarmat doesn’t really exist (as far as I know), but it just as easily could, right? While on the topic, as part of our Kickstarter campaign, backers can get a fully customised Tarmat profile page as one of the rewards, complete with a portrait. So that if Tarmat does become a thing, our readers will be well ahead of the game.

AP2HYC: Buzzard! is set in Britain, which already sets it apart from most superhero action comics. And the art nevertheless definitely has a manga flavour to it. It’s seemed to have come from diverse places, but what key influences inspired the style and story of the comic?

Wolf: Yeah, Britain’s often associated with a gritty, grimy vibe but to suit this story I wanted to bring back the vibrancy that characterised the Rolling Stones and Sex Pistols age. Something more energetic, garish, exuberant. The sort of east/west fusion style our artist Ezequiel brought to the table was perfect for that. It’s not full-on manga exactly, but it borrows a lot from Japanese comics’ dynamism and exaggerated expressions, which fits both the comedy and the combat. It’s still definitely Britain: the locations are true-to-life, but it’s a heightened version of the UK. It’s Erik’s perception of Britain: not a stuffy, rainy, misery-fest but a bustling, idiosyncratic hub, bubbling with potential for fun and ridiculous possibilities.

Authors who influenced Buzzard! are holy giants like Alan Moore, JM DeMatteis, Mark Millar, Neil Gaiman: people who stretched the definition of what comics are supposed to be. That’s what I care the most about, with this series, you know? It’s meant to be experimental, risky, manic even, so long as it’s pushing the envelope. There are so many great authors out there, all I can bring is an attempt to shake you one way or another, make you think “Huh, that was different.”  I love comics, there’s limitless options to what you can do. You think things are done one way but then you read something like Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and you go: jeesh, you can write that?

Whereas a lot of the time you get these standardised stories, not bad or anything, just a bit “done that” and that seems limiting, you know? I’m not playing it safe with Buzzard!, I’m well aware it can upset some but it can also show a different way of writing, somewhat loose, gonzo, always dancing on the precipice. It could inspire someone a thousand times better than myself who’s got an amazing take on the world and doesn’t know if it’s ok to express it to say: hey, I could do it with comics! You can do anything with comics! Anyways, that’s my hope. I think we need a big shake up, things are getting too stuffy. Since real life has become so uncertain, people look for certainty in fiction: it’s a paradox!  We need a bit of a rebellious creative resurgence, if you ask me. That’s the only way we can get out of this dystopian nonsense! Maybe.

Ah, also I love Akira Toriyama, Takehiko Inoue and Charles Schultz, great artists and solid, fun storytellers. ‘Cos it’s good to have fun! Otherwise you end up writing pretentious paragraphs like I just did.

AP2HYC: You’ve described Buzzard! as a balls-to-the-wall action-satire. How do you balance the action and the comedy? Where do you want to strike the balance?

Wolf: Action’s just what Erik’s all about. He’s not stupid, but he’s not a thinker, he’s always on the move and up for anything. So wherever Erik goes, there’ll be action. He’s like an energiser for his surroundings, he shocks people into action. The comedy is just on the other side of that, because Erik takes nothing seriously. There’s also a lot of character-driven comedy that’s just a staple of British humour and is rooted in awkwardness: people trying to act the proper way and failing hilariously due to their own insecurities. The satire comes from all these scattered characters trying to function while being clueless to their own inadequateness. So all those elements flow into each other.

The real difficult balance to strike is between the action-comedy and the family drama that’s really at the heart of Buzzard!, which is ultimately about these two young orphan siblings: Erik and Mattie. Readers need to care about the crazy events which will ultimately affect them, so it can’t all be shits and giggles otherwise the emotional moments won’t land. So the challenge is juggling all of these aspects. Anyways, it’s fun to try!

AP2HYC: Can you please tell us a bit about the creative team on Buzzard!?

Wolf: Yes! Ezequiel Assis is an astonishing artist from Brazil. I can’t toot his horn enough, that man is such a wonder to work with and a bonafide pro. I feel endlessly lucky having him on the project, he really elevates the whole thing. He has created stunning panels far beyond my imagination. He excels at action, but can also pull off those more somber character moments. And his attention to detail is insane! Browse Buzzard! and you’ll find tons of fun, little references. Truly, he’s a treasure.

My girlfriend Giulia is our producer: without her, there would be no Buzzard!, she was completely essential to helping me kicking off the first issue, sorting out all the logistics I’m so bad at, and especially giving me the confidence to do it.

Samuele Zardinoni is our cover artist from Italy, another super-talented bloke and a pleasure to work with. Very versatile and reliable.

Robin Jones is an experienced letterer who worked for Image and many others, and he’s done a terrific job with the interior graphics.

AP2HYC: Finally, do you have a favourite moment in the series so far?

Wolf: I think it’s when in issue #2 Mattie finds Erik sleeping under a bridge, wrapped in the British flag. Erik’s feeling uncertain about his upcoming mission and Mattie reassures him and tells him she trusts him. Then brother and sister walk home together towards the sunset – because Erik doesn’t have any cash for the bus.

What’s got you excited about Buzzard!? Check out the Kickstarter now and sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Twitter!

About the author

Matthew Smith