It seems like I can’t go too long without backing a comic or a boardgame, and that always feels nice, but what can I do when I juuuust miss out on backing great products like The Brink? Well, it’s not that different from all the other great products I’ve really liked over the past year since this website’s been up and running: I get a hold of the creator and nag them into giving me an interview.
I didn’t really have to nag Steven Sweeney, the British mind behind the project, to get this thing together. It was more a matter of finding the time to do it. Having picked his brain for various information on both this particular comic and what putting together an indie comic means in general, I’ve laid it all out here for your perusal. Enjoy!
Grizzlyface: Hi Steven, thanks for taking the time to chat to me!
Steven: Hi Costin, thank you, it’s an absolute pleasure.
G: Who is Steven Sweeney, the regular guy, and who is Steven Sweeney the author, because this isn’t your first and only author credit, I take it?
S: It's hard to define the two as separate entities because they bleed into each other quite heavily. I’m the father of two young boys so I have a great excuse for watching kids TV, but I class that as research because there are some awesome stories in kids’ programs.
I am a web developer and a wrestler (amateur and pro), unfortunately a shoulder injury knocked me out for two and a half years, but I'll be getting back into hard training in January. As an author, I think I’m addicted to writing - I do it on the train on the way to work, I write in bed before I go to sleep and I do it on the toilet.
I stopped at a service station the other day, the kids had fallen asleep in the car, so while my partner bought food, I got five minutes of writing in. I have a ton of work in progress, but I have only self-published one novella and one book of poems.
G: We’re both here in relation to the #1 issue of Brink, so let’s jump in with a couple quickfire questions here: what exactly are we dealing with in Brink (plot and genre related), and where did its name come from? It seems to me like you’re laying the groundwork for a much larger universe here, that we’re on the cusp of discovering.
S: Yes, it’s funny you say that because the name ‘the brink’ came from a conversation I had with a friend in which I was trying to describe how I want to slowly reveal the long-term story arc. I said something like, with each issue the reader will be right on the brink of discovering something much deeper. Then I was like, yeah, the brink, I like that. So, it developed from there. To begin with it was just the tag the police give investigations that cannot be explained by conventional means. Then I developed it even further by creating the Brink case database at brinkcasefiles.com. I’m most definitely laying the ground work for more.
So, in issue 1 we’re dealing with a dark stew of sci-fi, horror and crime. It begins in London with the murder of a young intern from Numen Labs. She has her whole spine torn out by a large humanoid creature, or a cryptid. The case is referred to Detective Inspector Sally Shivers and Detective Sergeant Cameron Beckett of the Fringe Services Division. As the investigation unfolds, straight-laced Beckett is shocked and confused by the strange events. Shivers on the other hand, seems used to it all and is totally bad ass. She even sprouts wings and blasts the hell out of a load of mutants, however, you find out that she has a huge vice that is definitely not compatible with being a police officer. But an explanation of all that is part of the long-term plan.
G: I’m very used to the current comic industry and the traits and limitations it comes with, so when I saw that you were pulling multiple duty on this book (writer, letterer, editor), I was very surprised. Time can be an issue, but more importantly as an editor you have to literally chop your own “baby” down to size and only keep the most important, lean, and relevant bits in. How did you manage to reconcile all those roles so far?
S: Being new to writing for comics, it’s been a steep learning curve, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I began with a very different plot, one that also involved alien abduction, but I’m pretty flexible so if I can see something isn’t quite working, I just change it and go with what feels more natural and works better.
I sent four pages of the script to Marcelo at a time. That’s not ideal for him, but I had also drawn crude sketches of the layout so I had a clear vision of what I was looking for. Saying that, Marcelo put his own spin on things and told me if there was a better way. 9 times out of 10 I will go with what the Marcelo thinks, even if it then means I have to modify the script. He’s the art expert after all.
We kind of share the lettering role, Marcelo drew the bubbles and pasted the dialogue in there, but I always felt it was my responsibility to get the lettering right in the end and as editor I was just brutal with myself. I cut out all the crap and made sure everything is relevant to the story lines.
I think it was also necessary for me to carry out all of these roles as part of the learning process, plus these roles were almost done in sequence so it never felt like such a huge task.
G: Holding copious amounts of creative control over your own IPs is something that many authors strive to achieve, what are some of the drawbacks for it? Would you like to keep doing this for the future, or are you flirting with a more subdued role, provided you keep at it going forward?
S: Most drawbacks for me are actually benefits. I suppose not having anyone to pick holes in your story or just tell you it’s crap is a drawback and it gets annoying when I read the comic for the 10th time and I was still finding small mistakes.
I paid particular attention to longer dialogue and cut it right down, so being critical of my own work and being able to scrap some of it is a good skill. I listened to Marcelo and soaked up his expertise. It meant I had to adapt some of my original ideas but I believe it all enhanced the quality of the story.
I have thought of a drawback - having the time! But that just means I have to be organised so I make time for it. I think I just made that one into a benefit too!
Yes, I want to keep this going and am happy to continue doing it in the way I have. I have big plans for the characters. The only obstacle is funding.
G: Have you and Marcelo worked on anything before, or is this your first rodeo together?
S: This is our first rodeo. I found Marcelo’s artwork when searching for an artist and just contacted him online. I also met him in London while he was on holiday. We have very similar interests and get on well. Being on the other side of the planet hasn’t caused us any problems.
G: The black & white choice for the book does a great job of enhancing the atmosphere, in spite of what I started out as believing (I thought this particular sort of tale would benefit greatly from more definition, art and colour-wise), was this the creative choice from the get-go, or was it a way to keep the costs lower, and given the choice of either b&w or colour, would you do it again?
S: Black and white was my choice from the start. I was specifically looking for it and Marcelo had drawn in this high contrast black and white style before. I think it adds to the feel. Yes, I do have to keep the cost as low as possible but at the time I had no idea of cost anyway. Marcelo has coloured page 1 and it looks just as awesome. I think opinion may be slit if I gave people the choice but for now, I’m sticking with black and white.
G: The team that put this together is basically just the two of you, but this is your concept. How much did this all take to put together, if you could round up an average, both when it comes to time, as well as money? This is a personal curiosity as well as one that I hope our readers and maybe other amateur creators will appreciate, with all the indie comic boom we’re currently going through.
S: This is my concept. I began writing the Brink as short stories early in 2017 but the stories have changed quite a bit since adapting to comics. I should’ve started from scratch because I did a lot of research on writing for comics too which really changed how I approached the plot. The characters haven’t changed though. So, I think in time I may have spent several hours a week writing and researching for a whole year. Six months of that was also making contact with Marcelo and beginning the creation of issue 1. Then there is getting into the habit of posting on social media. Then there’s the development of the website. Add another six months to get where we are now. It’s hard for me to give a total amount of time, but it’s safe to say I’ve done something for the Brink at least every other day for the last year and a half. The cost has been around £1600 for the artwork. I’ve also spent money on facebook ads but I really can’t say how successful that’s been yet. I do have 86 followers on facebook and over 600 on Instagram but only time will tell what affect that will have.
G: There has been a lot of chatter about politics in both entertainment and comics lately. The story I’ve discovered manages to carry across a great sense of adventure, establish a couple very interesting and imperfect characters (which I find very important), and keeps away from bashing the reader over the head with any particular kind of message. Is that a conscious choice that you’ve made or is this simply the way you tend to focus on your work?
S: I’m really not looking to send out political messages through my work. For me, it’s all about the story, the characters journeys and engaging the reader, not just in the comicbook, but also through the website. I didn’t make a conscious decision to stay away from political messages, I just don’t think it’s necessary in the Brink.
G: The concept of “cryptid” takes center stage in the Brink, and the idea of multiple dimensions, unexplained phenomena, and other pulpy/horror concepts make an appearance here, so what brought these on? Were you always attracted to the genre? What are some of your favourite authors/authors who influenced you to go down this path?
S: Yes, I’ve always been drawn towards the strange and unusual. When I think back to my childhood, Wes Craven with Nightmare on Elm Street, Tim Burton with Beetlejuice and I didn’t know it at the time, but Stephen King through Creep Show. I remember stealing a Judge Dredd comic from a friend when I was about nine years old because I just loved the art. Sorry! I’m not proud of that kids! I sat for hours drawing the pictures from it. I love Back To The Future, The X-Files, Fringe, The Omen, Gravity Falls, American Horror Story, too much awesome TV to mention that are all killer. Authors that I think have inspired me are Chuck Palahniuk, Dean Koontz, Robert Kirkman, Garth Ennis, Greg Rucka and even Roald Dahl. If I search even deeper, I’d also say the styles from artists like Slipknot have provided a ton of inspiration.
G: We get two character archetypes in the first issue, as I see it: the eccentric paranormal theorist and the hard-boiled cop who doesn’t know what the hell he’s gotten himself into. The first of these, Sally Shivers, is a bit of an X-Files Mulder dialled up to 11: not only does she run into something out of this world that she is gunning for (literally, too), but she ends up actually exhibiting some out-of-this-world tendencies. She also that she has to contend with Cameron Beckett’s skepticism and almost alien presence (I swear I’m not planning on these puns) to the whole medium. Tell me more about their dynamic and if we should expect more similarities to the well-beloved series, or if there are other places where you’re thinking of taking this down the line.
S: I love the X-Files. I probably can’t get away from the fact that it is a major influence, so you’re right to draw parallels. Beckett is naive to this weird world that Shivers has clearly been part of for a while.
You’ll get the sense that Beckett will always do what he thinks is right. He’s no push over either but you’ll see him being forced into corners with Shivers and the contrast in how they choose to deal with things. I don’t want Shivers and Beckett to be like Mulder and Scully, but they do hold those strong principles that you see in other teams, like Olivia Dunham & Peter Bishop from Fringe or R2-D2 and C-3PO, it’s the teamwork, banter, mutual respect, emotional support and friendship that make it interesting.
Of course, there’s always going to be bumps in the road too. What makes it even more interesting for me though, are the opportunities for conflict within the parallel universe story line. I’m really enjoying planning those stories.
G: What’s the game plan with this book and this universe going forward? Retail/more crowdfunding?
S: I’m planning on getting issue 2 started as soon as possible. The script is almost topped and tailed and I already have a few readers who will be drawn into it… and then brutally murdered. I’m planning on selling the comics at brinkcasefiles.com. Also, issue 1 has been approved on ComiXology and should be available to buy around 12th December. I am also planning to take the comic to several comic-cons in 2019 so we’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, I want to get issue 2 complete. I may run another crowdfunding campaign to help towards the cost of the art or just focus on funding for another print run like I did with issue 1. Until then it’s all about getting it out there and building a fan base.
G: Monkey wrench question that I ask in all of my interviews: what would you rate The Last Jedi out of 10? (there are no wrong answers).
S: You’re going to hate me now, I’m not a massive Star Wars fan. HOWEVER, I’d give The Last Jedi an 7/10, it’s better than some of the others.
G: Well, I don’t hate you for not liking Star Wars, I have a friend who only just saw Solo this past month, after all. That grade might be pushing it a bit, though…
Steven, thanks very much for your insight and time taken, and please accept my personal wish of seeing Brink progress into a full-fledged, successful series.
S: Thank you so much.
And there it is, the long and long of it. I’ll probably go back to chatting with Steven sometime in the future (don’t think I’m letting a wrestler off the hook without dipping into that side of things…), but for now I’m eagerly awaiting the continuation of The Brink.
This is the second full B&W comic I’ve greatly enjoyed on the indie scene lately (with The Iron Cowboy being the first), so I’ll definitely give more of these a shot in the future as it seems like these renditions can surprise you even if the first reaction to them can be “Really? That’s it?”.
I’d also like to draw your attention to the style used to pose the characters and the scenes in the comic - there’s hardly ever a boring, flat panel or overall look at things, and even with just a couple colours working to bring the scenes to life, the whole thing oozes a heavy, atmospheric charm that can really grip the reader. Or this reader, at least.
And even if, at times, the speech bubbles can seem to take over an alarming percentage of the page, they’re well positioned and, as Steven mentioned above, the dialogue is slimmed down to its bare bones, so as not to become a slog to run through it.
If this was a running series, it’d be in my pull list, and that’s my final thought on it.
Thanks for reading (and kudos if you’ve made it this far!) and have as nice a day as you deserve.