Artist Spotlight: Alec Worley

Alec Worley is an award-lacking author from South London. He’s spent the last 15 years entertaining folks with comics, fiction and audio dramas filled with swords, fangs and lasers. He’s written Star Wars and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for younger readers, but is probably best known for his work on the psychic future-cop Judge Anderson and vampire bounty hunter Durham Red for legendary British anthology comic 2000 AD (home of Judge Dredd). He also writes adventure stories for Warhammer (notably those involving hapless criminal duo Baggit and Clodde, and the crazed Adepta Sororitas Sister Adamanthea). Having had several spooky stories feature in Tales For a HalloweeNight, The Coffin Road is his first American graphic novel, and he’s really rather excited about it. Go and have a poke around on his website, if you like. It’s alecworley.com. He’ll be here if you want tea or anything…

1. First John Carpenter memory?

I got hold of a movie book called Fantastic Cinema by Peter Nicholls when I was about twelve. It had a whole section devoted to John Carpenter. Now I don’t remember exactly which movie I saw first (quite possibly The Thing), but I tracked down and taped everything he’d made. I watched those movies on VHS repeatedly throughout my teens, until they were stuck in my head. Movies like The Fog (man, I love The Fog), Escape From New York and Halloween are part my cerebral library now. When I’m designing a scene prior to writing it, I’ll constantly be thinking back to how directors like Carpenter have approached the same material.

Carpenter’s one of those textbook visual storytellers. Movies like Halloween have this really precise technique, but it never feels icy or intrusive in the way Hitchcock sometimes does. Carpenter’s worlds feel lived-in, grouchy, and relatable. He’s more like Howard Hawks in that he’s a consummate craftsman, but his approach to that craft is completely unpretentious. Carpenter tells blue-collar stories. A lot of horror movies will focus on academics or white-collar professionals because those are the social classes best placed to investigate whatever sinister mystery. But Carpenter tells stories about babysitters, truckers, modern-day cowboys, essential workers who find themselves in the front line against the supernatural. Growing up in a grungy little borough in London, I think I definitely related to that aspect.

2. How did you get started writing/drawing/lettering?

My mum gave me extra tuition when I was little. She’d come home from a day’s work then go through all these spelling, grammar and writing books with me. So, thanks to her I had a leg-up when it came to reading and writing. But I messed up in secondary school and came away with zero qualifications. I spent a year on the dole terrified that I’d screwed up my life. But I managed to get a job as a movie projectionist (back when everything ran on 35mm) and I got to work in a bunch of grand old movie palaces in London’s West End (right around the corner from where they shot the third act of American Werewolf in London).

I was working in the Odeon Haymarket for a while, several fathoms below ground where you could feel the trains regularly thundering under your feet. It was a single-screener, so in between shows I’d be studying and writing, trying to learn story structure and writing technique. I moved into movie journalism for a while and wrote for a bunch of different magazines, then started pitching one-off stories to legendary British comics anthology 2000 AD (home of Judge Dredd).

I wrote about a dozen of these quick sting-in-the-tail stories before graduating onto Judge Dredd, Anderson, Durham Red and a couple of original series, Age of the Wolf and Dandridge. With those under my belt, I branched out into other outlets like Star Wars and Warhammer.

Now for anyone reading this, and who might be thinking about professional writing as a career and who might be looking at what I’m saying here as some kind of instructive model, it’s deadly important to know that I was still juggling other jobs in between writing comics. I worked night shift at one point, splicing together ad reels for movie theatres. I’ll still work as a subeditor and copywriter in between projects. One cannot exist on comic books alone – at least not when you’re starting out.

3. How did you get involved with Storm King Comics?

I’d read a string of Tales for a Halloween Night annuals and was a Carpenter junkie anyway, so I reached out to Sandy. She let me pitch my first short for Volume Six of Tales. I’ve done three of these now. The first was Cold, a monster story set in snowbound rural Ireland. Then I did a completely wordless strip set in Central Park called The Mime. I did these two with the incredible Judge Dredd artist Ben Willsher. I’ve got a story with another 2000 AD alumni, the brilliant Tom Foster – coming out in Tales Volume Eight. That one’s an urban ghost story called The Caretaker.

I get a genuinely familial feel with Storm King. Sandy is a super-sharp editor, but she’s also really welcoming and open to stories that experiment with different techniques. Project-juggler Sean Sobczak is an absolute trooper (as well as a talented writer and creator in his own right) and letterer Janice Chiang is so patient when it comes to me fussing over stories.

4. Who are your idols/mentors?

I’m self-taught so I’ve tended to clamp onto writers and creators and drain them like a vampire. I think I also tend to zig-zag between extremes. I love classicists like Carpenter, James Cameron, and Hemingway, but I also love weirdos like David Lynch and Tom Waits. Angela Carter is one of my all-time favorite authors and she was a hyper-literate, super-intellectual feminist, but I also worship at the altar of macho poetics like those of thriller writer Stephen Hunter.

Comics-wise, Garth Ennis remains a god to me. More recently, I discovered horror mangaka Junji Ito, who is just an uncanny genius. But Alan Moore is a definitely an idol in terms of his attitude. As an artist, he walks it like he talks it. He’s that perfect kind of intuitive creator and completely fearless. (I don’t know many writers in ANY medium who’d have the balls to write a Shakespeare pastiche!) He’s ferociously intelligent, but when you read his early stories for 2000 AD, you’re reminded just how daft and funny he can be too. I don’t like everything he’s done, and I don’t agree with much of what he says. I also prefer From Hell to Watchman. But he’s never less than challenging and fascinating. In an age of branding-obsessed narcissists, Alan Moore remains the best of us.

5. What is the thing you geek out the most about and why?

I’m perhaps at an age where nostalgia’s starting to get the better of me. I love digging up pointless trivia about movies everyone’s forgotten about. I also get stupidly excited about old movie props and filming locations. I’ll happily derail a family holiday to go looking for a tree that Christopher Lee might have stood next to in 1967! I’m also a huge fantasy nerd, and role-playing games are a weird compulsion for me. I’ll also geek out on writing techniques. I’ll gobble up books like Save the Cat and read them for fun.

I mean, what the hell is wrong with me?

6. Do you listen to music or watch movies/television while you work?  What have you been listening to or watching lately that you’d recommend?

I listen to music or soundscapes when I’m working, but I can’t listen to anything with lyrics. Part of my getting-into-the-zone writing ritual is putting on headphones and pulling up the hood on my work-hoodie, so I’m like a horse wearing blinkers. For the last year or so, I’ve gotten into Dungeon Synth. Oh, God! It’s like someone invented a musical genre just for me! If you were playing D&D in the seventies or Warhammer in the eighties, this is the jam for you. It’s romantic and dour and sweeping and epic. My favorite band in this regard is Old Sorcery and their albums Realms of Magickal Sorrow and Strange and Eternal.

When I was writing Coffin Road, though, I went a bit more low-key and folky. Lots of John Carpenter’s synth albums, The Fog soundtrack in particular. Also, a folk horror band called Forktail (who – bizarrely – are comprised of two 2000 AD artists, Simon Davis and Bo Cook). Their sound is very old and strange and British.

7. We’re living in a different world since the pandemic hit. Is there anything you like about changes that have occured?

Yikes! Us Brits really aren’t having a great time of it right now. Haha! So I’d probably have to give a typically British, typically jaded answer here and say I like very few changes that have happened. I think it’s good that we have a greater awareness of our fragility – socially, economically, environmentally. But there’s also this berserk drive towards division and self-obsession. I grew up living with my grandparents who taught me about how the Second World War brought everyone together. But if the Blitz had descended upon London in 2020, you’d have people saying are we really getting bombed by the Luftwaffe or is that just what the media want you to think? The pandemic pushed us deeper online, deeper into social media and all the poison horrors that lurk within. It’s a space in which people seem to primarily exist now and it’s a space in which division is fetishized and commodified. Our relationship with reality these days is very strange.

8. What change would you like to see in the world?

Greater empathy, literacy, and moral imagination.

9. Favorite memory from the last few years?

My daughter meeting Merida at Euro-Disney.

10. What brings you joy?

Okay, let’s go super-pretentious here… Writing is hard work, but when you reach that point of contact with a story – as I did with The Coffin Road – when the characters start ‘talking’ to you and the logic of the story is suggesting what should happen to them next, that’s when you really feel like you’re communing with the spirits, with something outside yourself. That’s blissful!

Hey, I know that sounds twee, but go read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. He’s the badass who wrote Gates of Fire (a book that’s 300 for grown-ups) and he says the same thing! There’s that point at which you feel like you’re riding rails that you didn’t build and they’re leading you God knows where.

See Alec Worley’s work in these Storm King releases: