Martin Buxton & Tony Wicks: Crank up Jack in the Box

A comics interview article by: Andre Lamar
Martin Buxton and Tony Wicks, owners of C2D4 Comics breakdown the creative processes behind their upcoming graphic novel, Jack in the Box, set to hit store shelves this October.

Andre Lamar: For those unfamiliar with Jack in the Box, what’s the story about?

Martin Buxton: It's about 120 pages. [Laughs] It's about a boy and a girl who are brought up in two very different worlds and the way that impacts their adult lives. Jack from the title of the story is brought up as the subject of a cruel and twisted experiment, while Amelia is brought up in the company of a tribe of pink loving apes. The results aren't as expected for anyone involved.

In terms of the theme, we started with the tagline: Are men products of their environment…etc. Which to be honest has come back to bite us in the behind several times with people saying that's too big a questions to answer in one comic. However I've gone back over the story several times since we completed it, and have come to the conclusion that the underlying theme is cruelty and the way we treat each other. Whether it's through outright abuse, love, jealousy, or simply not realizing/thinking about the impacts our smallest actions can have on a wide range of people, even ones we say we care about.

AL: Can you identify the inspiration behind writing this script?

Tony Wicks: I initially wrote the story minus the alien Greys/cuddly apes angle. I'd been inspired by Pink Floyd's song “Mother” from The Wall, where, in my mind, a terrifying Gerald Scarfe cartoon-style parent was intent on emotionally crippling its child. I came up with the sensory deprivation angle, and the educating of a child through the constant exposure to topographic this would forever warp his or her interpretation of reality. I drew half a dozen pages with a loose script but couldn't pull all the elements together.

In 2007 I went to Paris with my wife. While she was queuing to see her favorite band play, I was let loose to wander Paris on the lookout for Moebius comics. I traveled the Metro and, it was while on the train that, I had the idea that Jack and another child (Amelia) were both going to be released back into the wild, as it were, from different points of the same station. I decided that Father and Mother were to be alien Greys because of their supposed fondness for pointless experimentation, rather than the warped sewer-dwelling pair I'd envisaged before; just to give it some kind of grounding in a more familiar lore. At the time I also had a back-story for Amelia with her appearing in front of a grand presidential speech in the station, and wowing everyone around the world with her radiance, because the whole thing was being captured on TV. This was so she could walk about in our reality unmolested by curious government scientists. I didn't have anything concrete planned for the apes other than that perhaps they were benign Sasquatches/ Yetis.

I wrote a short story based on all of this, with a beginning, middle, and end, and scripted/drew a 5 page test strip, to set the mood and visual style with pretty much all the characters as they are now. But then I realized that my usual “wham-bam” approach of powering through for the sake of the narrative wasn't going to be enough for this story. I knew Martin was an excellent writer of dialogue, and that he had a real knack for characterization. Also I wanted a less linear approach to the telling of the story than my own. I showed him all the bits and pieces I'd been working on and asked if he'd like to adapt the basic premise into a full blown script.

Not only did Martin rightly cut out all the unnecessary detail of Amelia's absorption into society, which would have detracted from the core concept far too much, but he also gave the apes a bona fide reason for existing in the story arc, set up the tensions between characters, and in doing so created many more layers of emotional depth.

AL: The story’s antagonist “Father” has a reputation of conducting callous experiments on various creatures. Explain what possessed Father to conduct such cruel tests?

MB: It's pretty much because he can. In my mind, Father's been doing these experiments for so long now that I don't think even he can remember why he does them. Sort of like the film the Cube, no one knows what it's purpose is, but it just is.

There's the scene in there where Mother starts to realize the experiments no longer have a purpose, and can't remember why she once took so much pleasure from them. In a way Father is feeling exactly the same, but is still intently searching for something he can't remember.

AL: On the contrary, Amelia’s pink apes are innocent by nature. Explain why the apes are nonviolent?

MB: The Apes are actually a highly-evolved race of super beings/demi-gods, that exude a feeling of warmth and love to anyone that is near them. Yet in a way their playfulness has made them as bad, if not worse than Father. They save Amelia from freezing to death as a baby then, when she has absorbed their energy, they decide she can survive on her own without a second thought of their addictive nature. The results of which are not as expected, and don't play out well for Max.

AL: There seems to be a disconnect between Mother and Father. Can you clarify the relationship between the two and how they met?

MB: They are sort of like the Ian Brady and Myra Hindley of the spaceways. Once they were of the same mind that the experiment was essential and had a purpose and that was their relationship. I don't think there's ever been a mention of love between them, more a mutually beneficial attachment. However, after the crash and becoming trapped in the bubble dimension that leads to Earth, Mother (always the cleverer of the two Greys) found she had more time on her hands and began to question things. She found she needed more.

AL: At the beginning of the story, Father’s henchman Gusano gives Jack a Furango Berry (a pill) to distort his senses. Aside from the hallucinations, what makes this berry significant?

TW: It was a symbol of Mother's need to tend to something in her solitude, to nurture some kind of life, albeit synthetic, as her personality softened. It also lent itself well to the twisted, mostly unexplained science we use throughout the story, to hopefully disorientate the reader from the off. We're big fans of throwing people into a weird world and let them flounder for a while...which is what would happen if you were to suddenly be transported to the netherworld featured in Jack in the Box!

AL: What references did you use to design Gusano?

TW: Initially Gusano was to be a re-animated corpse, with his brain replaced with a worm. But the alien Grey abduction theme became dominant, and so then he was a Puerto Rican street gang member snatched as a child, but befalling the same fate. Martin went one better, having him inhabit a shanty town, which was far more evocative. The way he's dressed is based on perhaps him having scavenged odds and sods from unfortunate down-and-outs, plus the long leather jacket to give him a sense of menace. Getting back to our total disregard for any kind of logical science, he needed to be able to conduct surveillance on Father's behalf. And so I had this idea of him having a detachable head which basically unscrewed at the neck. When airborne the little bit of worm at the bottom of the neck can be seen protruding from the bottom, dripping slime...yet again, hopefully to unsettle the reader. We both agreed that Gusano should be able to pretty much do anything he wants, including tasks requiring superhuman strength. He's certainly the nastiest character I've had the pleasure of drawing.

AL: Describe a typical day at work for you guys?

TW: I have to fit my drawing around my web-design business and family life and, seeing that I work from home, this means being very disciplined in using any quiet spots when the kids are at school and by working sometimes very late at night. I use a Wacom digital pad to draw straight to PC, so my day-job workspace is the same as my comics workspace. This helps a lot.

MB: I'm afraid I had a day job around this, my day involves catching a train to London each day at around 6.30 a.m. So it gives me lots of time to think about things, but does mean I can't work all day on C2D4 as I'd like to.

AL: At some point will you consider transitioning Jack in the Box to a film or video game?

TW: Definitely a film...Tim Burton, where are you?

AL: How’s C2D4 Comics distinguished from other comic publishers?

MB: We're self-publishers, which isn't really that rare these days. But what sets us apart is that we don't plan to make things easy for our readers for the sake of reaching a wide audience. We want to challenge people with our ideas and the way we present them. Things aren't always going to be easy to get on the first read and we might not resolve them as neatly as most people would like.

AL: What other projects can we expect from C2D4?

TW: We've got loads of ideas. I'm actually more concerned on making sure Jack in the Box gets the best possible chance at launch that it can, because obviously after so much work you want to see how far it can be pushed, but we're both chomping at the bit to start on something new. The trouble is...which project?

MB: Ditto. We've got so many ideas that we'd like to try out, but it's having the time to get around to them. For now we're concentrating on getting Jack out there and noticed.

AL: Thanks for taking the time to talk with the Comics Bulletin, guys!

TW: Pleasure!

MB: Thanks!

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