HEROES INTERVIEW :: ROGER LANGRIDGE

November 10, 2011 at 2:26 pm By:


Roger Langridge
has been a part of HeroesCon for several years now, and has become one of the anchors of Indie Island.  Roger is a cartoonist who manages to garner respect and enthusiasm from a wide gamut of readers.  Kids love his comics, other cartoonists study his line work, and comics retailers appreciate the accessibility of his books.  He’s also a creator who manages to be as adept at crafting entertaining comics for properties that he didn’t create (The Muppet Show), as he is with characters he did (Fred the Clown).  Above all, if you’re lucky enough to talk to Roger, aside from the fact that he’s a genuinely nice person, you immediately understand that this is a guy who is passionate about comics.  He loves this medium, its history, and the possibility of turning new readers onto the joy of comics.  It is that combination of skill, respect, and enthusiasm that makes Roger such an interesting creator, and I’m happy to share a recent interview I conducted with him on the Heroes Blog.

Seth Peagler: First off, Roger, thanks for talking with me. Since issue #2 of Snarked! recently hit stands, I’d like to start there.  Your previous work on Fred the Clown shows that you have a real affinity for wordplay, but it seems like Snarked! is really giving you a chance to stretch out as a writer alongside your artwork. When it came time to do a new original series, was the idea of bringing Lewis Carroll into comics something that you’ve long considered?

Roger Langridge: Well, I’ve played in the Lewis Carroll sandbox a few times before – I did a Frankenstein meets Shirley Temple minicomic on the subject of Carroll, I’ve done some Carroll-inspired Fred the Clown strips, I did a Gonzo Mad Hatter Tea Party in The Muppet Show Comic, and Scott Gray and I did a Doctor Who story, The Autonomy Bug, which featured robot counterparts to a lot of Carroll characters. I’ve read the Alice books many, many times since I was a kid. So I was very familiar with that world before I started. When I was coming up with Snarked!, I had this idea that it would be a much easier sell if it featured some characters who were already familiar to a general audience, even if those characters had been filtered through my own sensibilities to a large extent. And I love writing comedy double acts. So I sort of started with the Walrus and the Carpenter as the central characters and built outwards from there.
SP: Was the idea of incorporating stylistic elements of his writing something you consciously saw as a means of challenging and entertaining yourself as a writer?
RL: I enjoy throwing rhyme into my comics as an added textual (and textural!) element, I’ve done it extensively in both Fred the Clown and The Muppet Show Comic Book, so I thought, if I’m pillaging the works of Lewis Carroll, I might as well pillage his verse while I’m about it. It was a way of trying not to alienate too many of my existing readers as much as anything! I’ve kind of made myself known as “That Guy Who Puts Rhymes Into His Comics.”
SP: I do think rhyming has become one aspect of your writing that readers respond to, but in many ways I think Snarked! represents how you have continued to diversify your work as a writer. Aside from your continued work as a cartoonist, I’ve noticed how you’ve started writing more for projects that you don’t illustrate.
RL: Yes, that’s been a lot more fun than I expected. Writing for other artists is something I never set out to do – I always wrote just so I would have something to draw – but I’ve found myself becoming a writer almost by accident and – much to my surprise – I really, really like it. It’s helped that my collaborators have been great – it’s always nice when an artist comes back with something better than what you’d imagined, and that happens gratifyingly often.
SP: In addition to an acclaimed run on Marvel’s Thor the Mighty Avenger, you’re now working on the adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter: A Princess of Mars. Was Burroughs, like Carroll, a writer who you’ve long respected?
RL: No, not at all! I mean, I didn’t hate him or anything, I’d just never read any Burroughs before. So I had to do quite a bit of homework before I started – reading the novel a few times, making a ton of notes, trying to get a sense of the overall structure of the book – no mean feat with a book that wasn’t all that structured to begin with. It was work! Hopefully the sweat isn’t too obvious on the page.
SP: Was the John Carter project something you were approached about, or did you pursue it?
RL: No, Marvel approached me, and I initially turned them down since (a) I hadn’t read the book and (b) I knew there were a few other adaptations being done around about now, and several more older ones being reissued, and I didn’t think I’d be bringing anything fresh to the table. Then they sent me some of Filipe Andrade’s artwork, and explained the kind of tone they were hoping for – something a little less stiff and archaic than the books – and I started to think I might be able to find a way in. As it’s turned out, I’m really happy with what we’ve done – it feels fresh, while still hitting all the important plot points from the original text and leaving us in the right place at the end to leave the door open for further adaptations. The Burroughs estate have been very supportive of our efforts and only asked for one minor change, which I was happy enough to accommodate. So it’s been fun.
SP: I’ll be honest, I was a bit surprised when I heard that you would be working on the John Carter adaptation, but your collaboration with Andrade does seem to be succeeding at interpreting the source material in a fresh way. Hopefully this will not only turn new readers to the work of Burroughs, but sell well enough to provide further volumes like Marvel’s Oz adaptations.
RL: Yes, fingers crossed! Those Oz books have been great – I read them with my five-year-old son, who’s right into all things Oz at the moment. It’s a smart way to reach a broader audience, I think – and to grab young readers.
SP: Now I’d like to turn to The Show Must Go On, Boomtown’s collection of some of your earlier works. When I looked at the book with some coworkers we all thought it was interesting to see how your art has evolved over time. Some of your minicomics and early anthology work seemed to be a little busier and more angular. Your line work has always been strong, but in recent years it seems like you’ve been using rounder lines that remind me of more classic cartooning.  Is this something you’ve been cognizant of in your own work, or just an example of natural progression over time?
RL: I think I’ve just gotten a bit better at drawing after doing so much of it – it’s hard to get worse at something you do every day. I’ve never consciously tried to change my style in any radical way; it’s always been more of an evolution. Looking back at some of my early stuff, I’m appalled at how mechanical some of it looks – the softer, more organic look my work now has is a lot easier on my tired old eyes. And I suppose I’ve gradually moved away from the busier stuff because I now have sufficient drawing chops not to have to hide my weaknesses under a storm of cross-hatching. To be honest, I think I’ve put a lot more effort into improving my writing in recent years, and the drawing hasn’t really progressed at the same rate – it’s probably time I addressed some of my drawing weaknesses again, as they’re starting to annoy me!
SP: You talked about how you’ve tried to let your writing and art develop organically over time. Has your use of humor in comics developed in the same way? Are you at the point now in your career where you instinctively know what jokes will work on a comic page? Is there an acid test a joke has to pass in order to make it into a story, or is it something that occurs more spontaneously?

RL: Humour is a funny thing (funny-peculiar, that is – the other kind of funny should go without saying). A lot of people – and I’ve been guilty of this myself – think they’re writing something funny if they write something that sounds a bit like something funny they once heard. The thinking often seems to be, “Well, if it has the same shape as a joke I already know, and it ticks all these boxes, it must be funny, right?” And it’s such an easy trap to fall into, but if a joke fails to pass the fundamental acid test of making you laugh, or at least crack a smile, it’s probably not funny – regardless of how neatly it fits all the theories. It took me quite a few years to learn to just trust my instincts on this point, and throw out gags that didn’t actually tickle my own funny bone in some way. The ones that remain are the jokes that connected with me on that deeper level. And hopefully my tastes in humour aren’t so esoteric that I’m not the only one who finds them amusing!
SP: I’m also interested in finding out which cartoonists you find yourself returning to when you need reminders of strong examples of humor in comics?
RL: Carl Barks is one of the few cartoonists who makes me laugh out loud – he’s often (rightly) praised for his imaginative stories and nuanced characterisations, but his extremely funny, robust use of language and nanosecond-perfect comic timing often get overlooked. Kurtzman and Elder, of course. Ken Reid, a British cartoonist who just drew funny – his characters always looked half-crazed, ready to go off any minute. Dave Sim, around the High Society era. Loads of old newspaper strip guys – E.C. Segar, Billy DeBeck being particular favourites. I adore Hunt Emerson’s stuff. Basil Wolverton. Early Chester Brown used to crack me up. Sergio Aragones! Julia Wertz is one of the funniest cartoonists in the world right now. I’m sure I’m forgetting tons of people. Evan Dorkin! I’ll shut up now. I’m going to remember about a dozen more as soon as we’re finished here, I’m sure.
SP: Roger, thanks so much for taking time to give us a little insight into the progression of  your career.  We always look forward to seeing you every year at HeroesCon.  Readers, you can find his books Snarked!, The Show Must Go On, John Carter: A Princess of Mars, Fred the Clown, and The Muppet Show all at our store, and if you haven’t read any of these before, do yourself a favor and introduce yourself to the comics of this great talent.
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Filed Under: DISCUSS, Interviews

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