Interview: Jonathan Ross

Published on April 20th, 2010

A couple of weeks ago I made a trip to San Francisco for WonderCon and thanks to the Image Comics panel, was introduced to “Turf” a new comic series penned by on-air personality Jonathan Ross, with art from Tommy Lee Edwards.  I knew who Ross was but even with him attached to the project I wasn’t immediately sold on picking this book up. Then I saw the cover and learned that “Marvel 1985” artist Edwards was on the series. The two collaborating was enough to get me cautiously optimistic about the project.  By the time the panel was over I couldn’t get to the Image booth fast enough to get my copy of issue 1.

I got a chance to talk to Jonathan briefly and he agreed to answer some questions once I read the first issue. To my delight, the comic was everything I hoped it would be. In fact, I liked it so much it was named our Pick of the Week for the week of April 7th.  Read on to find out what Jonathan had to say about his interest in comics and his experience as a creator.

jonathanrossDana – First let me say how excited I am to talk to you, as a fan of yours I’m glad to see you creating comics, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. Let’s start at the beginning shall we? You have quite a reputation as a comic lover, how were you introduced to comics? And what is it that attracts you to the medium?

JR – That’s a good question, and a tough one! All I now is that I’ve been reading comics non-stop since I was a kid. My older brother, Paul, first bought them into the house and the minute I started reading them -Marvels first – I have loved them! I love just about everything that you can find in comics. The art has always been a major draw for me. The great silver age artists like Ditko, Kirby, Steranko, Adams etc, still get my pulse racing. Of course the superhero genre is a favourite, but I also love crime comics, horror, science fiction, even romance! If it combines pictures and words, I’m hooked.

Dana – Issue 1 of Turf, your comic writing debut was released earlier this month, how did the project come about? How did you come to work with Image Comics?

JR -I have wanted to create something of my own for a while, and recently that desire became stronger. Mark Millar was especially encouraging, and finally I sat down and fleshed out some ideas. He then suggested some artists that I might like to work with, and Tommy Lee was top of my list anyway! I spoke to him about two or three specific ideas, and Turf was the one that most fired his imagination. We then shopped the idea around with some meetings at San Diego last year – great fun! We settled on Image because we liked their approach to creator owned stuff, and also liked quite a few of the books they already bring out – Elephantmen, Walking Dead, Savage Dragon, Chew and many more! So it was a natural fit.

Dana – For years you’ve been the object of criticisms and praise in your work as a TV/Radio personality but I imagine writing is a bit of a different experience, were you nervous about the reception the comic would receive?

JR – In a way, the ups and downs I’ve ‘enjoyed’ in my tv career have served me well. I trust my own opinion of my work more than anyone else’s – so if I think something is good I’ll stick with it. I listen to other’s views, but ultimately you need to have a degree of self-confidence about your own abilities or you’d never take a chance. Although comic writing is a new thing in my life, I have enjoyed it, and my initial nerves at how I might be perceived as a newcomer, or how the book itself might go down, were soon calmed by the reception that we got!

Dana – I picked up a copy of Turf at WonderCon but for our readers who might not have a copy yet can you tell us a bit about the premise of the book and where the story may be headed?

JR – If people head over to HYPERLINK “http://turfcomic.com/”turfcomic.com they can see more about what it is and where it’s heading, as well as some cool previews of the art and variant covers.. But the story is essentially,a mash up of vintage gangster films, screwball comedy and 1980’s science fiction all served up by one of the greatest artists working in comics right now. It’s hopefully fast, furious fun. We have different plot twists and strange developments in each issue, so hopefully it won’t be too easy to ever guess how things are going to turn out!!

Dana – Turf covers a lot of genres, which all fit under the big umbrella genre which is the 1920s. You have elements of detective stories, crime, horror fiction, fantasy and science fiction, so you seem to have everything covered. As Turf is your writing comic book debut as well, did it seem like an incredibly daunting task to combine them all together? And what was your favorite genre to write about in the comic?

JR – I Don’t think I realised quite what I was taking on! There are a lot of characters and storylines to juggle, but thankfully I managed to get the plot fairly tight before I began on the actual writing. I don’t really have a favourite genre to write about, although I think having the luxury of mashing up the different stories and genres has allowed me a real freedom to experiment and enjoy the experience more than I might if it had been straight forwardly one thing or another.

Dana –  Given that you’re British and were in fact not alive during the 1920s did you encounter any difficulty in writing about Manhattan in the 20s?  For instance, were you at all concerned about adapting the American vernacular? Were there any other challenges you faced as a creator?

JR – Well I hope I’ve pulled off the american vernacular and idiom. True, I wasn’t around in NYC in the 1920’s, but I’ve seen a lot of films that were set then! I’ve also done a bit of research into the gangs and the lifestyle of the time, and hopefully that shows.

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Dana – The art in the series is stunning, I think Tommy Lee Edwards is very suited for this story. How did you guys come to work together? How would you describe his art in the series?

JR – I love Tommy’s stuff – it’s lush and illustrative and beautiful without feeling stiff or twee. He’s perfect for this because his style is naturalistic and the tones and colours he reaches for seem to suit the period. Couldn’t hope for a better fit, art wise. He’s also a master storyteller, and with the amount of prose I’ve slung at him that’s just as well. It’s a difficult thing to keep the images flowing and allow for as much text as we have in Turf!!

Dana – This book has a lot to offer, gang wars, vampires and even aliens. That sounds simultaneously like the worst and best pitch for a comic ever. Given all the elements in play did you ever wonder if you may be trying to tell too big a story? How did you keep the story focused?

JR – I did panic a little about halfway through book one. Can I keep all these balls in the air ? Will it feel too contrived if we slam together such disparate elements ? But Once I knuckled down and started writing in earnest it seemed to work, and that gave me the confidence – and energy!- I needed to carry on.

Dana – The vampires in the book, while certainly not innocent, seem to be painted in a sympathetic light. They act according to a code in order to ensure their survival. Why did you take this approach in character development and really how long can we expect that to last?

JR – The vampires are being led by someone with a very sympathetic and tolerant attitude towards humans – for a reason. That all becomes apparent – and changes for the worse – in book two.

Dana – The comic does contain some instances of sexual content, blood and violence, it’s a job well done in that respect. A vampire/alien/gang war could become cheesy very easily but you manage to portray it in a way that is in fact unsettling and at times a bit humorous. Was that a play on Sweeney Todd at the end of issue 1?

JR – It was a slight Sweeney Todd reference, but also a nod to both Cronebergs film The Dead Zone and to Dario Argento’s Opera! I’m going to try to put a few pop-culture references in every issue, but hopefully in a subtle and unobtrusive way.

Dana – Are there any recurring themes or messages you would hope readers pick up on?

JR – Overall I just want the readers to enjoy it as an entertaining and different comic book! But I try to deal with the issues of morality and personal choice versus private gain. Hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious!

Dana – I couldn’t help but notice the comic is very wordy. I think in this instance it works, we get more content in a single issue and it’s very well paced, was this a conscience effort and are you at all worried that it may be off-putting to prospective readers?

JR – I worried about that a bit, but it’s a conscious decision on my part, and if we lose a few because it’s wordy and complex, I hope we’ll gain a few for the same reason. I don’t think comics need to deliver just a quick hit, or be designed to be read quickly.

turfcoverDana – It certainly seems like Turf is on the right track to success, it’s just been announced that Issue 1 sold out and Image is releasing a 2nd print! In addition there is word that Matthew Vaughn is interested in working on a movie adaptation. Is there any truth to that and can you  elaborate on the possibility of a Turf movie?

JR – Matthew loves Turf and says he’d like to be involved in bringing it to the screen. But for the moment I am focussing on the writing and making it as good a comicbook as I can. Once we’ve finished that then maybe we will see about a movie.

Dana – I ran into you at WonderCon where you spoke during the Image Panel, what has your experience been like at comic conventions? Do you have any convention appearances coming up? Will you be doing conventions in the UK as well?

JR – I loved going to Wondercon. In fact I can’t think of a time I’ve been to a convention when it wasn’t great fun. But to be there as a ‘pro’ for the first time was a huge thing for me. It was weird because the real reason we were there was for my wife to appear on the KickAss panel. But it was a thrill to be on a proper comic panel as a creator! I will definitely attend more -maybe San Diego this summer and hopefully some UK ones as well. But I love visiting different American cities, so would hope to get to most of them eventually.

Dana – Well that’s all from me, thanks for indulging my curiosities, I can’t wait to see how this series progresses and we’ll be on the look out for more comics from you in the future! Any final thoughts you’re itching to share?

JR – Yes. I still hope one day to get bitten by something that will give me super-powers. Thank you.

After Jonathan’s responses I can’t help but be excited to see how this series progresses.  “Turf” Issue 2 (as well as a 2nd print of Issue 1) will be available in comic shops on May 19th.

Hoping Jonathan meets a Radioactive Flamingo.

~Dana Shukartsi
Dana@ComicImpact.com