Today sees the launch of a darned exciting new comic serial in the weekly Phoenix Magazine, as writer Neill Cameron and artist Kate Brown combine forces for a new mystery series set in Cornwall: ‘Tamsin and The Deep’.
Neill’s a regular feature at The Phoenix, as well as the British comics scene in general – alongside this, he’s also the creator of Mo Bots High, a series which lets him draw all kinds of awesome robots on a regular basis. Whilst there aren’t any robots in this new series – or maybe there are, who knows? – this does promise to be an excellent new story for The Phoenix.
And I want to know more about it! So in order to find out everything possible about Tamsin and The Deep, I was lucky enough to get to speak to Neill about the project! Read on to find out about his comics, working with Kate on the project (if ONLY we could’ve had an interview with her too…) and his new residency at the Oxford Story Museum!
Steve: What is Tamsin and the Deep about? What can readers expect from the story?
Neill: Hmmm, how best to answer what it’s about without giving too much away? It’s about a girl called Tamsin who lives on a council estate in rural Cornwall. In the first episode, she goes to the beach, and… something bad happens. And the rest of the story is about her dealing with the fallout from that, trying to piece together what happened to her and understand the ramifications of it.
That sounded vague, and also weirdly dark. It is also about FUN SPOOKY MAGIC STUFF!
Steve: What made you want to tell a mystery story? The Phoenix tells all kinds of stories (and you have TOLD all kinds of stories, yourself!) every week. What is it about a good mystery story that made you want to tell this one?
Neill: I think what it boils down to is, it’s all about the cliffhangers. Working on a serial format weekly adventure strip – as I have been for the last couple of years on The Pirates of Pangaea, the strip Daniel Hartwell and I do for the Phoenix, you learn to really focus on the cliffhanger – it’s almost the first thing you focus on in plotting, it really determines the shape and pacing of your story. I think that’s so important a part of what the Phoenix can do; to give kids that ‘wahhh, what happens next?’ feeling; that sheer jolt of excitement and imagination-fuel that’ll carry them through till the next week.
Anyway, Pirates is a pretty straight-ahead adventure story so the cliffhangers tend to fall into the basic category of ‘uh-oh, how are they going to get out of THIS one?’ – often with “this one” involving being eaten by various species of dinosaur. And I’m not knocking that at all, I love it to bits, but I wanted to try something where the cliffhangers took the readers down… weirder, more existentially unsettling turns, I suppose.
I’ve tried really hard to make it so each episode of this first series of Tamsin ends on a real “wait, WHAT?” moment; so you have that exciting feeling that the story could take any turn, that you’re not even sure what kind of story you’re reading.
Steve: You’ve made comics with Kate before, for Emilie’s Turn – a one-and-done four-page story for The Phoenix a little while back. How is it to be working with her on a longer project, like this? Does it change your collaborative process, developing perhaps a bigger and more detailed story and world and set of characters?
Neill: I was going to say yeah, but actually Kate did an impressive amount of design work and put a lot of preliminary thought into the characters and look of the thing even for that one-off 4-pager. Basically, Kate is a PRO. It’s just an absolute joy to be working with her on this. (As you may be aware, she is pretty good at drawing comics.)
I’m just ridiculously delighted that she was up for collaborating; it was something I was originally planning to draw myself, but once the idea of Kate doing it popped up, my heart was instantly set on that. It’s just stuff she’s so, so good at. There’s a lot of Acting, Emotion and Character, and also a lot of Crazy Spooky Underwater Weirdness, and Kate is just absolutely killing it on all fronts.
Steve: Why set the series in Cornwall? Is it because Cornwall is the CREEPIEST PLACE IN THE WORLD?
Neill: Man, I could talk all day about reasons I find Cornwall so interesting. It’s an incredibly distinctive place, impossibly beautiful and with this rich, deep layered-in wealth of folkloric craziness. But also just considered as a modern-day place, a part of Britain that people live in, it’s fascinating – these stark, stark contrasts between the picture-postcard surroundings and the actual socioeconomic reality of life there for a lot of people.
There’s terrible deprivation in parts of Cornwall, huge social problems, and this weird atmosphere in places that comes from the contrast between ‘in season’ and ‘out of season’ – whole swathes of towns that basically only exist for the summer months, for people who don’t actually live there.
I feel I may be rambling again. But yeah, there’s so much I want to try and do, and say with this series in the future – providence (and Kate’s drawing arm) willing.
Steve: What else are you currently working on? Where can people find you and your projects online? I hear you’re the new artist-in-residence for the Oxford Story Museum?
Neill: I am! I’m busily working behind the scenes on various bits and bobs for their amazing new exhibition 26 Characters, which opens on April 5thand features 26 legendary figures of children’s literature photgraphed as their own favourite childhood heroes. It is honestly an amazing thing. Have you ever wanted to see Neil Gaiman dressed as a Badger? NOW YOU CAN.
And then there’s my OTHER strip for the Phoenix, Mega Robo Bros, which is about two little boys who are brothers, and also robots, and also pretty mega. I’m hoping to be continuing that as an ongoing thing for a good long while because, basically, I am just having ridiculous amounts of fun writing those characters, and also I get to draw robots?
(I am pretty fortunate in my current employments.)