A delightful, hyperactive wee thing, Dungeon Fun was created by Neil Slorance and Colin Bell, two Scottish creators who were on hand earlier this year to see the first issue of their all-ages fantasy series sweep the Scottish Independent Comic Book Awards – best writer, best artist, best series – everything apart from the hall of fame award went to Dungeon Fun. It’s an effortlessly (and by that I mean it must have taken a LOT of effort from the pair) fun comic, which flows wildly from one brilliantly-constructed gag to the next.
It’s the tale of a young girl who gets lobbed a sword, and decides to go off and quest with it or something. Quickly bringing in a whole load of bizarre, silly, and surprisingly heroic characters, the first issue has gone on to be one of the most praised single issues of last year – just after that one issue, the book was voted into CBR’s ‘Top 100 Comics of 2013’.
With the second issue out this year, both Colin and Neil were finally able to come to The Spire (which is surely their spiritual internet home and nobody can disagree or else) in order to talk to me about the book. We get a look into how they work together, what inspired them to first set arms to the comic – and also we talk a bit about their favourite personal dungeon experiences. Oh boy.
Read on to find out more about the making of one of my (and soon to be one of YOUR) favourite comics!
Steve: What’s the basic premise of Dungeon Fun as a series?
Colin: At the outset, Dungeon Fun is the story of a girl raised by trolls, who comes across a cursed sword and sets off on a quest to stop assorted rubbish being thrown into the moat where she lives. Broadly speaking, it’s me and my pal Neil Slorance pouring our love for dungeon-crawling videogames, epic adventure and silliness into a comic.
How did it come together as a pitch, an idea? How did you decide to work with each other on the book?
Neil: We did a webcomic for almost two years together and after that finished I had the character of Fun in mind – and from that pitched it to Colin. I didn’t really have anything solid story wise – I just wanted to do a comic with swords and stuff – and the rest is history!
Colin: You know how in nature and wildlife programmes on the telly you see newborns imprint themselves on their mum and they just know to follow them about? Or how Edward and Bella’s baby imprinted on Jacob in the Twilight books? That’s like Neil and me, me being the newborn. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather do comics with, so it was kind of natural that when Jonbot Vs Martha imploded in bitter acrimony we would eventually gravitate back to each other, like a smattering of space junk orbiting the Earth.
Neil would probably call it Stockholm Syndrome though, but whatever.
The first sketch of Fun, which led to the idea of a series
Steve: What’s your collaborative process like together?
Neil: I’d say fairly straightforward, Colin will send me a script with some artistic direction and sometimes references, then I’ll run the pencils by him and we might chop and change bits before I ink and colour it. Generally we’ve been working one page at a time.
Colin: Getting better all the time! We don’t live too far away from each other so we’ll meet up now and again, but mainly we’ll just be emailing and Facebooking our way through the process. In broad terms, after I’ve asked Neil if there’s anything he’s dying to draw that I can incorporate, I’ll get back to him a rough idea of what the issue will be about.
Neil likes to work a page at a time, so I’ll send him over a loosely-dialogued page that I’ve broken down. From there we bounce off each other at each stage of thumbnails, pencils, inks and colours, before I take the finished artwork and letter it with a tighter script, which normally leaves me throwing in jokes just hours away from print.
Steve: So where did you start when developing the premise? Did you start the book with Fun and then build a world and story around her?
Neil: Yeah I had the character design for Fun first and Colin built the story around her, and I really couldn’t have asked for a better story.
Colin: Once we knew we were doing this medieval-type thing I think the earliest thing that was written was the bit with Games the Knight trying to get past the metal detector on the moat – but that might have existed as more of a skit that ended up being worked into Dungeon Fun? I forget.
Steve: What do you think defines Fun as your central character?
Colin: Her irascibility. A need to stave off feelings of loss by keeping occupied.
Neil: She’s Fun! She’s cheeky, a bit rude and has a bit of a temper but ultimately has a good heart and learns along the way.
Steve: How did her design come together? Why is she ginger? Is she, like… Scottish or something?
Neil: Fun being ginger wasn’t a deliberate aesthetic. I was basically designing a character I’d like to see in a comic and Fun is what popped out. We have had some good feedback from kids though, who say there isn’t enough ginger girls in comics.
Colin: I’ve heard people say that there aren’t enough protagonists reading books on the cover of their comics a la Dungeon Fun 2 either! Let Batman read! Y kant Batman read?
I know just to leave Neil well enough alone when it comes to character design, other than tossing him a couple of scraps of their personality, then sitting back and letting him work his magic. Interestingly, I’d never considered her to be Scottish, but if your comic’s about an angry little redhead in a skirt waving a sword you can see why people draw those parallels.
Those people are, of course, xenophobes.
Steve: What’re your influences when establishing the style of the world Fun lives in? Is it more like Wind Waker or Ocarina of Time?
Also did you ever finish collecting all 100 Skulltulas? I could never be bothered
Neil: I’d say it’s more like Wind Waker. Fun’s dress is a bit like something from that game and I guess my style is closer to Wind Waker than OOT. It’s funny – although Ocarina of Time was more realistic, I felt the characters in Wind Waker were far more expressive and generally had more character.
I did actually collect all 100 skulltulas. As far as I remember I got a big wallet for the trouble.
Colin: It only becomes like Wind Waker in issue 4 where we have a twenty page sequence of silence as Fun sails a boat to a tiny island for no point whatsoever. Ocarina of Time is never far from my thoughts, but my first love will forever be Link’s Awakening, because: GameBoy. I took that sucker everywhere. SECRET SEASHELLS 4 LYF
Steve: How wide a scope do you have in mind for the series as a whole? Do you think you’ll put out Dungeon Fun indefinitely, or do you have an end point in mind?
Colin: In terms of scope character wise, pretty much all our main players have appeared in the first two issues in one form or another. Location-wise, we still have places to go. I suspect some of the point of the story won’t become apparent until the end, because I’m lousy like that. We do know HOW the book will end, but we don’t know exactly WHEN. Indefinitely is not an option, sadly. We’d get tired pretty quick.
I do think that there’s this strange mentality in comics – and this isn’t a dig Steve, because I do it also – where a book comes out and all people want to know is “well, how long will this last for?” Are they asking “how much money do I need to shell out to see this to completion?” or “if I really enjoy this and get attached are you going to yank it away from me without warning, like everything else that was good in my life?”
Steve: This is the first series to come out through your imprint, Dogooder Comics. How’ve you found the whole process of releasing a small-press comic, marketing it, and getting it out in front of people?
Colin: It’s intensive, time-consuming, and can be as much of a job as anything else in the whole comics process. I feel like you can design all the flashy images for sharing that you want, but it’s not enough to be a loudmouth on the internet, and it’s not enough to win awards (like we did – we won four – I don’t think we’ve mentioned that in this interview yet) – if people can’t actually go into a shop and physically pick up a book there and then, you’re a good couple of metres off the pace from the get-go.
So that’s where a lot of time is spent. Not much prepares you for the awkwardness of standing there while a shop employee leafs through the book and then hands it back with a “nah”, though. Or when shops email you to say they “don’t get it.” You become surprisingly thick-skinned quite quickly.
We do have it available digitally, but as it’s on Gumroad/Sellfy we need to get the purchase link in front of people, so again you’re back to shouting on the internet. Really to take off digitally I think you need the convenience of the former ComiXology storefront, and I’ve been slow to get us on that, mainly because I’m running around plugging the book elsewhere or writing the next one.
Neil: It’s what I’ve always done really. Self-publishing has pros and cons. You’re very limited to where you can get your books into and you have to do all the leg-work, but you do ultimately have more control over your creation. Getting it in front of people is always the trickiest bit but the reception from Dungeon Fun 1 has really helped us.
Steve: What’s the response been like from fans? Have you had people come up (at conventions, not just on the street, that’d be weird) and talk to you about the book?
Neil: Definitely at cons. At Glasgow Comic Con earlier in the month we had a lot of people coming up to get the second book because they liked the first one. I also got stopped for an autograph in Forbidden Planet the other day which is definitely a first.
Colin: Yeah, it’s been uniformly excellent. I’ve seen videos online of children re-enacting scenes, we’ve had people dedicate blog posts to one-note joke characters that will never ever return… Personally I think my best experience I had was selling issue one to a youngster on Saturday at LSCC and for him to return the very next day just to ask when the next one was out.
Steve: There’s been a slow increase in high-profile kids comics in the UK over the last few years – there are people like The Phoenix and The Beano, but also Sarah McIntyre, Gary Northfield, Art Heroes, Jamie Smart. Do you think that we’re seeing all-ages comics start to reclaim a bit of prominence?
Neil: I think we are, yeah. For a long time it felt like (to me) the majority of comics were trying to appear dark and gritty to prove a point that they weren’t for kids and I think now it’s swinging the other way. The gain in awareness of all-ages comics has been incredible but also needed, kids should have top quality comics and books like the Phoenix are leading the way.
Colin: I hope so! The problem with people shouting “comics aren’t for kids anymore” is that eventually, the kids take heed and stop reading… I can only speak as a casual observer, but there seemed to be a confluence of events where The DFC was gone, The Dandy closed its doors and people suddenly panicked and asked “but what will the children read?”.
I don’t think that the scene that we’re seeing now is a direct reaction to that- these are creators that have been working ferociously before, during and after that time – but the fact that these great comics are being found, held-up and embraced by a young readership might be, just might be, because parents got both a nostalgic pang and a fright when the Dandy went under.
Children don’t buy comics for themselves. Adults buy them for their children. Point being, kids didn’t stop reading comics because they stopped being the greatest thing of all time, they stopped reading them because parents found video-games to be a more efficient babysitter and eventually forgot they were ever an option.
But even then it’s not JUST that these books are gaining prominence through parents scrambling to find stuff for their kids to read, it’s that it’s genuinely, best-it’s-ever-been high QUALITY that we’re swamped in just now – I’ll mention Flying Eye Books and Luke Pearson’s Hilda series here, for example. It would all be for nought if parents put these comics in the hands of their kids and they didn’t actually enjoy them. Hopefully the high calibre will be the thing that’ll keep people reading. To be mentioned alongside those creators is just flattering.
Although re-reading the question I see you didn’t actually lump us in with them. Come on, Steve!
Steve: Speaking of monstrous acts – what monsters can we look forward to in this second issue?
Colin: The main one you’ll see in the previews is Boombastyx, a big lava monster. But I think by page two of the new issue we’ll have made our point that the villainy in the book isn’t limited to the creatures of the dungeon. I can also confirm that there will be ogres, skellingtons, and – perhaps worst of all – door to door salesmen.
Steve: Do you have to keep an eye on the scripting to make sure that you don’t write something which isn’t appropriate? Is it difficult to balance this being an all-ages comic with the acts of monster-killing which take place, for example?
Colin: I did really wrestle with this on the first issue. At Thought Bubble last year whenever a parent was buying it for a child I was compelled to forcibly show the parents the pages of people falling to their deaths and off-panel decapitations. Not one thought it warranted not letting their kid buy it. So I’m thinking Neil could draw a rabbit apocalypse and people would still come away thinking “aw, bunnies.”
So to counter-act the violence this issue we just went straight to toilet humour.
Steve: What other books do you have coming out through Dogooder Comics?
Colin: The other big thing at Dogooder Comics this summer is Owen Michael Johnson’s Reel Love, which is attracting all kinds of rave reviews [including on The Spire, actually – Smilin’ Steve]. All being well we’ll be doing something fun at The Lakes with that book.
As for the future, I’ve got a table with my name on it for Thought Bubble, and a burning desire to fill it full of new books, so I’d be surprised if we didn’t have at least another couple of titles by then.
Steve: Where can people find you online, and grab a copy of Dungeon Fun/Dungeon Funner?
Steve: And finally: What’s the most fun you’ve ever had in a dungeon, personally?
Colin: Oh, personally? As a nipper I spent many a summer’s day around the ruins of Caerlaverock Castle, just outside of my hometown – a small but perfectly formed castle, resplendent with actual moat. It’s full of nooks and crannies for leaping out of and plenty of dark dungeony creepiness – creepiness, relative to an eight year old that is, I can’t speak to it now.
It’s also got a wee adventure playground, but I can’t discern if that was an original feature or not.
Bonus fact: It was dismantled by its inhabitants in a bid to stop the English getting their hands on it during the Wars of Independence, which is just the kind of cutting your nose off to spite your face I can really get behind.
Neil: I actually draw all these comics in a dungeon… just to set the mood y’know.