John Reppion was born in Liverpool, England in 1978. His writing career began in 2003 when he collaborated with his wife Leah Moore on a six issue mini series entitled Wild Girl published by Wildstorm in 2004/05. Since then the duo have worked together on series such as Albion (with Alan Moore & Shane Oakley), Raise the Dead (with Hugo Petrus) and contributed to the likes of Self Made Hero’s H. P. Lovecraft anthology and Tori Amos’s Comic Book Tattoo.
John’s interests in fortean phenomena, esoterica, folklore, philosophy, theology and horror have led to his writing articles and reviews for numerous magazines and periodicals including Fortean Times, Strange Attractor, and Paranormal Magazine. 2008 saw the release of his first full length book 800 Years of Haunted Liverpool, published by The History Press. John's prose fiction has appeared in SteamPunk Magazine and his short story 'On the Banks of the River Jordan' is set to be published in PS Publishing's Haunted Histories: Stories of Spirit and Stone in 2012.
Find out more about both John Reppion and Leah Moore at www.moorereppion.com/
GM: It's always interesting to know what writers are reading. Who would you say influenced the way you write today and who were the writers that you couldn't get enough of as you were developing your craft?
JR: At the moment I’m reading The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson which is fun in its own way but not exactly a masterpiece. Before that I was reading Ramsey Campbell’s The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants which is a great favourite of mine. My favourite authors are Phillip Jose Farmer, H. P. Lovecraft, M. R. James… all the usual suspects, I suppose. So far as developing my craft goes, I really feel like I’m just getting started, especially with my prose fiction work. With comics, because it’s a visual medium first and foremost, a lot of my influences actually come from film or television but they’re then filtered through my wife Leah’s uber comics literate brain.
GM: You have done work across multiple literary mediums: fiction, non-fiction, and graphic novels. How, as an author, do you approach each of these mediums? Do you have to put your head in a different place, or alter your writing process, in order to move from one to the next?
JR: With the comics work – which is what I consider the day job – Leah and I always say that we’re half a writer each. The whole thing is done in stages and takes lots of planning, discussion, and sometimes arguing before we get to the actual typing. The funny thing about writing comics is that 90% of your writing is direction for the artist, colourist, and letterer. So, although you might write 1000 words to describe a page, only 100 or so of them will be actual dialogue or captions. This means that the “visible” writing is nearly always written from a character’s point of view so it’s hard to have a distinct “voice” of your own – you want the reader to believe in the character more than be aware of who’s writing that character.
My non-fiction article writing grew partly out of the fact that although I’m very interested in folklore, and history, and forteana, I’m terrible at remembering names, and dates, and such. Writing articles seemed like a good way of collating data and creating a permanent record that I could refer back to. I really enjoy the act of researching – tracking down books and articles and then joining the dots and I’m often surprised where the information takes me. So far as my article writing “voice” goes, I tend to pick subjects that I have some personal connection with or interest in so there’s a lot of the real me in there but it’s a rather more academic and composed me. Essentially, it’s me if I could actually store all this data in my head and recall it at will; it’s my phantom scholar.
With my prose fiction (which, as I said, I’m really only just getting into), I feel like I’m still finding my voice and style, and I suppose I’m trying to find the right headspace too. My non-fiction work has often fed into my fiction in the past and I’m trying to get more of a definite handle on that – trying to nail the parameters of that down a bit more. I want to move away from my current little niche of epistolary stories and attempt something a bit different.
GM: It's interesting that you mention your non-fiction feeding into your fiction, in the story 'On the Banks of the River Jordan' that is clearly the case with a meta-fictional approach which is both unusual and engaging, adding a new layer to the ghost story. Is this approach one you see yourself continuing with into the future?
JR: I can see my self continuing with it all too easily to be honest which is why I'm currently trying to define the parameters of my meta-fictional world a bit more clearly. I'm very pleased with "River Jordan" but, by putting (a fictional version of) myself at the centre of the story, I almost feel like I've hit the nail on the head a bit too explicitly. I'd like to have a crack at creating something like [Ramsey] Campbell's Brichester, or [M.R.] James' Suffolk; somewhere familiar and believable where folklore and history are just that bit more interchangeable than they are in the real world.
GM: Following on from your graphic novel adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, a greatly praised Dracula, and Alice in Wonderland, you also adapted H.P. Lovecraft's "The Shadow over Innsmouth" for SelfMadeHero's The Lovecraft Anthology (volume 1). As a writer, what are the challenges and rewards of adapting such loved prose classics into graphic novels?
JR: When adapting Leah and I always try to be as faithful to the original work as is possible - for us it's all about making the stories accessible to a new audience by converting them into a different format. With both Dracula and Alice we went so far as re-introducing "lost" or excised portions of the texts to create a kind of Director's Cut or Complete Edition.
Dracula was all about condensing - crunching words down to their absolute meaning - while preserving the integrity of the characters and the story. It's such a fascinating novel despite its inconsistencies; far more strange and complex than most people give Stoker credit for. Because it's an epistolary novel, the story is constantly switching between many characters' different points of view. That allowed us to contrast visually what one person was experiencing with what another character was recording in their letters. So we might see Renfield eagerly anticipating the coming of The Master whist Lucy writes how happy she is that Arthur is coming to visit. It's nothing that Stoker wasn't doing himself but if Dracula lacks anything its punchiness - it can quite slow going at times. The comic book medium gives the reader two simultaneous streams of information where prose only gives them one so you can communicate a lot in a small space and really add drama to things that might appear quite dry on the normal printed page.
Adapting the Alice books was no less of a challenge but was more about maintaining the original tone and intent of the stories and not allowing yourself to be influenced by the other adaptations and interpretations that have gone before (not to mention the supposed Freudian symbolism and/or drug references that everyone "knows" about). They're beautiful and truly strange stories written with such effortlessness that somehow you, like Alice, come to accept their strange dream logic.
With Innsmouth we were forced to abridge the story slightly because we only had so many pages to tell it in but I'm very pleased with the way it came out. As with all comics work, our artist (Leigh Gallagher in this case) was key to getting the look and feel of the story right. We've been very lucky with our adaptations that we'd had such wonderful, talented people bringing the stories to life.
The Trial of Sherlock Holmes was actually a project we embarked upon in order to give our selves a break from adaptation. We were asked if we'd be interested in writing a Holmes series and we decided it would be better to come up with something new rather than adapting a Conan Doyle mystery. It was one of the most difficult series we've ever worked on and we were flattered and amazed when people like comic author Mark Miller and Holmes expert Les Klinger started saying how impressed with it they were. It's a book we're both very, very proud of.
GM: From adaptation of plots to adapting established tropes. In Albion, you utilise the familiar idea of British cartoon-strip characters for new, and often disturbing, purposes. Ironically, in your series Raise the Dead, you're on even more familiar territory trope wise - that of zombies. How do you approach established ideas such as the cartoon-strip characters, or zombies, and add a fresh twist to them?
JR: I've been a massive fan of the zombie genre since my early teens so Raise the Dead was a real treat to work on. Rather than trying to bring anything new to the series we primarily focused on getting it right. There was a bit of a zombie boom happening at the time and there were so many sub-par zombie comics (and films) coming out, we just wanted to write something that showed zombie stories didn't have to be plodding and boring or conversely just wall to wall gore.
Albion was much more about trying to recapture the strangeness of old British characters like Captain Hurricane, Robot Archie and Cursitor Doom. There were effectively four of us writing the book at once: Alan [Moore] doing the plotting, Shane [Oakley - penciller on the comic] coming up with loads of ideas, and Leah and myself trying to filter their ideas and still cram own stuff in there. It was an amazing project to work on but also very, very high pressure because, as well as trying to please ourselves, we were very conscious of the audience for whom these characters were childhood heroes. I think we pushed things as far as we could without being disrespectful to the characters - rather than re-inventing them we tried to imagine what it would be like if they were alive and well and living in the real world with all their same quirks and powers.
GM: What projects are you working on that the moment that you can tell us about?
JR: Our new online enhanced comic The Thrill Electric (www.thethrillelectric.com) is just about to launch online at the end of October. It's a free to read, weekly, historical drama based in the Manchester office of the Electric and International Telegraph Company and is all about the technological revolution that took place in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The thing that really interested us about the telegraph was, for a couple of decades, it was essentially a Victorian Internet.
We've written a second Sherlock Holmes series called The Liverpool Demon which should see print early next year and we're just about to begin work on about half a dozen new projects including a Graphic Novel adaptation of some classic supernatural tales.