BURKE & HARE
by Gary Reed
In 1828, two Irishmen named William Burke and William Hare murdered 16 people and disposed of the bodies to Dr Robert Knox at Edinburgh University for dissection, setting in motion a scandal that would rock the world's medical establishment.
Writer Martin Conaghan and artist Will Pickering deliver a ghoulishly true story of medicine, murder and money set at the height of Edinburgh's enlightenment. In addition to the full length comic story, the book is also fully annotated.. Introduction by Judge Dredd writer Alan Grant. Bonus gallery featuring Frank Quitely and Gary Erskine. Cover by Rian Hughes.
Here, Martin Conaghan discusses the tale about the infamous body-snatchers.
What can you tell us about the book?
Burke & Hare started out as part of Caliber's "gothic" line. I chose to do an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Body-Snatcher", and when I started my research, I discovered that Stevenson's story was only loosely based on the real events. I decided to change tack and embark on a fully-researched version of the Burke and Hare case, delving into court documents, novels, journals, newspaper reports, documentaries, movies and biographies. I drew inspiration from Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's From Hell in terms of the style and format, and what emerged embodied the idea of truth being stranger than fiction.
However, after I had finished the script, Caliber ceased publishing and the story fell into limbo. Years later, I decided to revive it - and added some more pages, then drafted in Will Pickering as artist. We produced, I feel, something that truly reflects the complex nature of the Burke and Hare story - something that has an accessible narrative, an engaging story and enough depth and scope for readers to delve further into the background of the case than would normally be possible with a graphic novel.
How did you "break" into comics?
My first major break was with Aceville Publications in the UK - they had a monthly magazine called Comics World, and I contributed several interviews with creators such as Grant Morrison, David Lloyd and Duncan Fegredo. After that, I produced some scripts for Caliber Comics in the mid-1990s. I pitched in some ideas to their anthology title Negative Burn and they proved to be popular, which led to some work on Raven Chronicles and later I wrote for 2000AD. I became a little disillusioned with comics after the arduous experience with DC when I pitched to take over Hellblazer after Garth Ennis left the title. I made it to the final group of writers pitching in, but lost out to Paul Jenkins and decided to take a break for a while and spend some time in mainstream journalism. But comics have a way of drawing you back in. Recently, I've worked for Dark Horse Comics and I also produce my own anthology title, Overload.
So, do you have any kind of educational background for your comic skills or are you self taught?
Mostly self-taught, although I've always been involved in writing in some form or another. I picked up some tips on how to script and plot comics from Mark Millar - whom I was close friends with in the 1990s - and read some script samples by writers like Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison. My full-time job is as a sports journalist - and any writer will tell you that all writing benefits your writing, no matter what it is. The more you write, the better you'll get at it.
What's the best project or situation that you've worked on in your career so far?
I think Burke & Hare has been an education for me - the project spanned so many years that my style had changed significantly and forced me to re-examine my language and narrative. However, the recent experience working with artist Jimmy Broxton on a series of short stories for Dark Horse has been hugely rewarding - he's an exceptionally talented artist, and we developed a very collaborate process that wasn't based on the traditional script-to-art format. We tended to develop the story by kicking it around first, then Jimmy would produce some art based on our various discussions, and I would then script the final artwork with dialogue and captions. It makes for a very collaborative approach to storytelling - and a very satisfying one at that.
What's the best advice to give any aspiring creators?
For writers, the best advice is to read all the time and write as often as possible. Start a blog, write stories down, let others see your work, take criticism on-board and try to improve. For artists, the only advice I have is to keep drawing - keep studying the work of others and develop your own style. Submit ideas to editors, attend conventions, join forums and take part in discussions. Always be civil and courteous - never presumptuous or arrogant. Also - hook up with a good artist or writer, if you're an artist and work up some samples with them for editors to see.
Anything that you worked on that you would love to go back to?
I would love to revisit the short stories I did with Negative Burn. For me, short stories have always been my passion - the whole "beginning, middle and end" concept of writing, where you can give the reader a satisfying story with a neat conclusion in a short space of time. I might do more of this in future. Also, while the process of researching and writing Burke and Hare was very exhausting, I think I'm going to do another similar book soon - something that blends fact, real life and fiction with research notes to back it all up.
What's next for you?
I have a few projects I'm hoping to complete with Dark Horse and an adaptation of a classic science fiction novel for a UK company that I think will blow everyone away.
Who is your favorite comics writer?
Who is your favorite "classic" comic artist?
Who is your favorite current comic artist?
Do you read digital comics or plan to soon?
I do - they're excellent. I buy the DC digital comics, some Image and some Dark Horse - all on the iPad. Also - you should look out for a company called Madefire - they're producing some really innovative digital comics.
What is your favorite movie?
2001: A Space Odyssey
What TV shows are you watching?
Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Treme, Fringe, The Walking Dead, Borgen, The Bridge.
Give a shout out to wherever you get your comics.
Ace Comics in the UK, run by the brilliant Martin "Biff" Averre.
For more information on Burke & Hare, visit:
Gary Reed is the publisher of Transfuzion Publishing and was the former publisher of Caliber Comics. As a writer, he has written a number of graphic novels and comics including Saint Germaine, Deadworld, Baker Street, Renfield, Raven Chronicles, A Murder of Scarecrows, and others. Outside of Talking Transfuzion, he has his regular blog covering a wide variety of topics at reedgary.blogspot.com and his website www.garyreed.net
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