We first learned of Lizard Men back in November of 2017, when Steven Horry and a bunch of collaborators launched a kickstarter campaign to help with the production of the comic book’s first issue. A lot has happened in the time between then and now. Lizard Men has been roundly met with glowing reviews, and the world is starting to look a lot more like Horry’s chaotic universe of conspiratorial lizards, strung-out celebrity, and capsized political process.
We caught up with Steven to discuss inspiration, collaboration, and the unwavering commitment to his dark and deeply humorous creation. Read our conversation, then follow the links to help out via kickstarter.
popbollocks: Without giving away too much of the plot, can you speak a little on what Lizard Men is all about?
Steven Horry: Lizard Men is the story of a musician who becomes Prime Minister of Great Britain, only to find out on day one that he’s expected – like his predecessors – to do the bidding of the multi-dimensional reptilians who rule the world from behind the scenes. He tells them to go fuck themselves, calamity ensues.
It’s a story about rises and falls and conspiracy theories, peppered with Discordianism and echoes of our increasingly ridiculous reality.
popbollocks: Can you speak a little on the real-world influences behind the story?
Steven Horry: The story started brewing in the run up to the 2015 election in the UK. I was obsessively watching election coverage whilst reading John Higgs’ KLF biography, and Jon Ronson’s Them: Adventures With Extremists. Both touch on the various illuminati theories. At the same time, Russell Brand was making pronouncements on politics via YouTube, which culminated in him – during a TV appearance – being challenged by a politician. “Why don’t you stand then?” He was asked. That set off a train of thought: what would happen if he did stand? Oh, well he’d obviously find out we really ARE ruled by secret shape-shifting lizard people, and that he’s expected to do what they tell him to. Obviously. Post ‘Boaty McBoatface’, it didn’t feel like a massive stretch that a public figure could go quite far in politics. Even before Trump proved that something that baffling could genuinely happen. And I thought it’d make quite a cool idea for a comic.
I didn’t want to make the character explicitly Brand, though. He’s got quite a distinctive speech pattern, and it’d be hard to write that without descending into parody. So Dylan Zamani was born. Everything kind of slotted into place after that. Once I worked out his age, it became obvious he’d have been at his peak during Britpop, so I looked at Britpop singers for style and general look. I tend to gravitate towards the glam side of Britpop, so he found himself with the Jaime Harding haircut. I looked to the reformed Suede for his wardrobe. The rest of his backstory is a combination of real-life events, period-appropriate drug addictions and wondering what sort of Prime Minister would most annoy The Daily Mail.
popbollocks: So, you’d have had many more ideas for comics than your audiences have seen. Why did the Lizard Men concept manage to get from the ideas stage to a realized project?
Steven Horry: It wouldn’t leave me alone. The idea made itself comfortable in my brain and wouldn’t fuck off. There’s another one now that’s calling me, but I have to ignore it and focus on Lizard Men for three more issues – most of which is done, to be fair – and the second half of a graphic novel. THEN that one can have my full attention.
popbollocks: The team that works with you is not small. Can you speak a little on your relationships, and the workflow involved in the production of the story?
Steven Horry: Apart from Mira (editor) and Pete (publisher) I’ve not actually met any of the team in real life! It’s nice and friendly and fun. I’ve reached an age where I’m not going to waste my time collaborating with anyone who’s a pain in the arse. Life is short. I say this knowing full well that it’s possible that I’m blissfully unaware that I’m a massive pain in the arse. It’s pretty easy going though. They’re all great at what they do and are total pros, so the relationships are the easy bit.
It all starts with an outline – I outlined the whole story before I even started the single issues, but I’ll do a more detailed outline made up of simple bullet points that explain what happens in each scene of each issue. I’ll then work out how many pages I think I’ll need per bullet point and write the scenes based roughly on that. It may change slightly – I might find that some scenes can be shorter as I go, some need more, but I’ll use that outline to create the first draft.
Then I’ll upload a pdf of the script to Dropbox and it’s over to Mira, who will pass comment. Sometimes I’ll have specific queries for her. It might be that I need to cut sections but I need a second opinion on what to cut, for example. Other times it’s just getting her thoughts. Dropbox is good ‘cos you can comment on the PDF and assign the comments, so we can send notes to each other and discuss easily online, but not lose any of the discussion. Once we’re happy with the script, it goes to Catia, who will do thumbnails of each page. That allows me to see how it flows – sometimes I’ll add really rough speech bubbles to the thumbnails with the dialogue so I can catch anything that doesn’t make sense or looks squiffy. Once we’re happy with that, it’s on to the actual pages.
We’re unusual in that we don’t use an inker. Catia will produce very tight pencils and then play with them in Photoshop. She sends each page for approval as she completes them. Approval generally meaning me sitting at my desk clapping with glee. Then it’s over to Chiara. Chiara tends to send pages in batches. She’s really fast, so we’ll get a couple of pages in a big hit. I’ll then do the design part, which is basically print prepping the art. I’ll replace the penciled panel borders with cleaner versions in Photoshop, and make sure the art fits the correct template for print. I’ll do another lettering draft, which allows me to check again how it all works as a complete comic. Sometimes I can ditch some dialogue because the art says everything I need it to. I’ll make minor tweaks to the dialogue as necessary, then it’s over to Ken for lettering properly. By this stage, because I’ve been checking as we go, there shouldn’t be huge amends, so when Ken delivers the final pages there may be a couple of tiny tweaks, but it’s mainly where the emphasis is on bits of dialogue rather than big changes.
With issue 3, it’s probably been the smoothest so far. Issue 1 we had a couple of technical problems which Ken stepped in to resolve. Bless him. He’s been super-helpful the whole way through. People don’t massively consider the lettering in comics, but it’s such an important – and difficult – job. Bad lettering can really kill a comic.
popbollocks: So, has the workflow evolved between edition one and edition three?
Steven Horry: We’re a lot more efficient now. By which I probably mean I’m almost as efficient as the others. Issue 1 I was redrafting right up to the very end of production, but with issue 3 we pretty much went script-art-colours-lettering-tiny amends-DONE! Which was nice. I think we’ve all gotten a lot more used to each other, which has helped. Mira is great at asking the right question to help unlock difficult bits of story. Ken isn’t ‘just’ a letterer – he’s full of amazing advice and support. Catia and Chiara are like machines. They just bang this stuff out so quickly. They totally blow my mind.
popbollocks: During your work on Lizard Men have you noticed yourself noticing more unusual events in the real world? Have you caught yourself noticing synchronicities that you would have previously not noticed?
Steven Horry: I always notice that sort of thing anyway, BUT! The biggest one in relation to this? Issue 1 got massively, massively redrafted, ‘cos the very first version covered a lot more of the campaign trail, and how Dylan actually came into power. And then – although he’s not in power – a lot of that stuff happened to Jeremy Corbyn. Which was a bit odd. Then while writing Kid Rock and Kanye West started talking about running for office in the wake of Trump, which put the shitters up me. If either of those had actually followed through, the whole game would have been up.
popbollocks: Throughout the story there’s a balance of opposites. Sublime truths mash with ridiculous scenarios. Humor gets measured out over issues which leave a lot of people deeply angry. Do you find yourself becoming especially passionate about this work – perhaps more so than previous work, like Transrealities or Double D?
Steven Horry: Very much so, but that’s probably because I’ve developed the concept from scratch and am writing it myself. If it’s rubbish, it’s not because of the art, color or lettering, it’s because I haven’t written it well enough. Double D was very much Eddie [Argos] and I conceptually – I had a very basic idea, and some set-pieces for the story, but Eddie fleshed it out and bought loads of himself into it. It was very much a collaborative effort, but the script was all Eddie. With this, for better or worse, the story is me. It’s quite exposed. With Transrealities I got really into it – I mean, I lived that project for 7 months or so – but it was a different sort of passion. Because I knew it was a project that is so important to Abi, the writer, my focus was on telling her story the way she wanted.
I’m really obsessed with opposites at the moment, and the contrasts and similarities between opposing sides. Which is something Jon Ronson’s Them touches on a lot. A prime example: the right complains about the left-wing bias of the BBC. The left complains about the right-wing bias of the BBC. I find that really, really interesting.
popbollocks: How hard is it to edit those emotions down to a cohesive plot that retains humor?
Steve Horry: Very! We only have 20 pages per issue, which sounds like a lot, but you can fill that up really quickly. I find bullet points help. What are the important story points? Bullet point list them, ditch anything out that doesn’t serve that. For me it’s all about understanding the focus for the issue and sticking to that. It does mean some stuff I really wanted to do has been sidetracked or reduced, but I think it’s helped the momentum of the story so I can’t massively grumble.
popbollocks: Lizard Men portrays the British parliamentary system as a failure of the imagination. Globally, there seems to be a compassion-deficit. Do you see a way out of the drudgery that doesn’t rely on extra-terrestrial intervention?
Steven Horry: I’m leaning towards ‘rip it up and start again’ at the moment. And maybe destroy Twitter while you’re doing it. I can’t work out whether it’s rolling and online news amplifying everything to an extreme level, the fact that everyone’s a bloody commentator with full access to all the facts, the sheer volume of misinformation you have to wade through or whether we genuinely are facing the End of Days. Sometimes I think we actually should build a wall, and stick the left on one side, the right on the other, block off their contact from each other and let everyone live in their chosen political utopia. I don’t know where we’d put the centrists. Maybe they can live on top of the wall.
Though this may just mean I’m due a little social media break.
popbollocks: Time, space, identity – are all concepts that echo through much of your work. However, you’ve always celebrated the more human scale of big ideals. Can you describe your approach to retaining that inter-personal intimacy which clearly compels you?
Steven Horry: I think if I could articulate that it’d kill the magic. Though I’d be able to do it deliberately, which would be pretty handy. I’ve always been attracted to stories that build up to something epic and overblown, but when they get to the climactic point the story takes a swerve and goes small-scale instead. It’s one of the things I like best about Doctor Who. I love Doctor Who in most of its incarnations. It’s patchy as fuck, but that makes it even more endearing. One of the things I love best about it is how many stories talk up what sounds like a big epic space battle, and it turns out it’s just, say, The Doctor protecting a small village for centuries. Or two people talking in a room. It’s a very British TV thing. Everyone loves a bit of razzmatazz, some bang-crash-whizz, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t appreciate movies and comics where the plot could be summarized as person A punches person B through building C, but I also really like things that puncture that.
One of the things I like best about Double D is that we have a Big Concept – overweight teen discovers he has super-powers that are fueled by his excess body mass – but it’s so small scale. It’s all about an awkward teenager who doesn’t become a crime-fighting badass, but instead spends his days wandering the sticks not knowing what to do with that power. Maybe it’s a deliberate act of sabotage: here’s a big idea, but I’m going to poke it with the mundane stick and let them infect each other.
popbollocks: What is it that makes you spend so much time and energy on creating comic books?
Steven Horry: I like making THINGS. Whether that’s comics, or records, or whatever. Just things. It’s important for me to have something to show for my time, whatever that may be. It’s a bit of a compulsion. It can be terrifying – especially writing – ‘cos you’re throwing stuff out into the void that means something to you and it can be risky. But as I’ve gotten older I care less about that and more about the simple pleasure of making a Thing that I am proud of, with people I like. If all goes to plan by the end of this year I’ll have the six issues of Lizard Men out into the world, I’ll have released a couple of singles, I’ll have played a gig in Berlin supporting Suede, and I’ll be coming to the end of my next team-up with Catia. Which is nice, y’know? I’ll have made some stuff.
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