Glasgow lads Colin Bell and Neil Slorance are no new kids on the block when it comes to making comics, but their latest co-creation Dungeon Fun is a bit of a milestone for the duo. Although they worked together digitally on the fantastically silly sitcomic Jonbot vs Martha, this is the first time they’ve developed a full-colour comic for self-publication. That’s not exactly cheap these days, and it takes a lot of time and effort to pull off properly. It’s just as well Dungeon Fun is clearly a labour of love for both of its creators.
Colin’s dialogue is bursting with attitude as usual. There’s a skilfully balanced hilarity to everything in here that often has a fairly mature sensibility, without being too intellectual or dry for the young ‘uns to catch. Much like Pen Ward’s disorientatingly popular Adventure Time franchise, Dungeon Fun is the kind of inherently likeable wee tale that can’t help but bring a big daft smile to even the grumpiest of grumpy faces. Even mine!
A lot of that joy comes from the visuals. Illustrator Neil Slorance always manages to cram a baffling amount of expression and emotion into incredibly basic line drawings, and his work in comics tends to play to that strength. With Dungeon Fun, Neil’s really branching out on a technical level, experimenting a lot more with tricky panel composition and action shots. It’s also the first comic he’s presented from start to finish in vibrant digital colour. As a result, it is by far the best-looking comic he’s ever made. You can see for yourself if you check out the six-page preview, which you should probably do before we go any further.
On the evening of ‘Dungeon Fun Day’, I sat down with the creators in a local bar for some scran and chat before the party got started around the corner at Plan B Books…
National Collective: There have been a lot of comparisons between Dungeon Fun and other comics, cartoons and films. Some of them have been fairly left-field, like The Princess Bride. What sort of stuff influenced you?
Colin Bell: It wasn’t consciously a riff on Princess Bride but once I finished it and read it back, I did sort of sit down and think, “What are things like this that I’ve possibly drawn from?” and that was one of them. The comic Bone, Princess Bride… the Monty Python thing never occurred to me at all, but that’s something that like every reviewer’s said.
NC: I think that’s mainly the bridge bit, to be honest.
Neil Slorance: Oh yeah, the bit where they have to answer questions about what their favourite colour is and that!
NC: That’s the one.
NEIL: The design for the character was more Zelda-influenced. Have you ever played The Wind Waker? You know how you start off with like, not the green tunic, but it’s like this cool colourful orange and blue thing? It was kinda inspired by that. Any time I play that I’m like, “I don’t wanna put the green tunic on! I wanna keep this one!” Actually, I got a WiiU, so I might try it again…
COLIN: Yeah, I like that they re-released Wind Waker to tie in with Dungeon Fun! It’s the most expensive ad campaign I’ve ever been a part of.
NC: The other common comparison is with Adventure Time. It definitely has a similar sense of humour, but beyond that…
COLIN: There are worse things in the world to be compared to. The art’s deceptively simplistic and the spirit of the book and the cartoon is cynicism-free. They’re about being open-hearted, and there’s a big adventure… they’ve got that in common. So it’s easy to see how people could make that comparison, especially with the comic. The comic is hilarious.
NEIL: I think it’s quite hard to be funny in a comic. A lot of people shoot for it and miss. It’s a lot to do with understanding how the pages and the pacing works, and how people are going to read things… it’s a hard thing to get right.
NC: Yeah. With animation, a lot of the hilarity is in the delivery – voice acting is key. You don’t have that facility in comics. You’ve got limited tools and you need to use them wisely to make it work. Dungeon Fun is the first time in a long time that I’ve gone through a comic and found something funny on pretty much every page!
NEIL: Did you get the bit about the code?
NC: Aye, the Konami code?
NEIL: Yeah! I never noticed that the first time around! Like, I’d already drawn and coloured it.
COLIN: Did you not wonder what was going on?!
NEIL: I just thought he was telling her how to do it!
NC: Well this is the thing. Colin, you tend to do a lot of references to pop culture in your stuff, although there’s less of it here…
COLIN: I do that when I run out of ideas. When I dunno what to do, I just go, “Has anyone seen Short Circuit? Weeeeeeyyyyyyy! High five!” But because we were drawing from Zelda there was an inclination to throw in a couple of video game references.
NC: But the point is, you could quite feasibly read that Konami code bit and not pick up on the reference, and it wouldn’t matter!
COLIN: Well this is it. It has to work. You don’t want someone to read it and go, “What’s going on? Why are they doing that?” It has to be organic.
NEIL: I’m the perfect test audience for that, ‘cause I always miss it the first time. Even if I’m working on the page for like, ten hours.
NC: There’s also the fact that it has to work for kids. The average small child? Probably not going to know what the Konami code is.
COLIN: I hope they know what decapitation is! We’ve been having a discussion about this. There’s a lot of people who’ve been saying that it’s “all ages” and I’m like, “Er… a guy falls to his death and then there’s two decapitations”. I mean, you don’t see it, but you do see a headless stump being dragged away into a towel, and yellow blood all over the floor…
NC: You can get away with a lot of that stuff though, because of the art style. And because the blood’s yellow.
NEIL: And like, that kind of thing happens all the time in fairy tales and stuff. People get munched all the time, and stabbed…
COLIN: … and wolves eat your gran and sit in your bed… no one bats an eyelid!
NC: Did you come up with the title first, then develop the story later?
NEIL: We wanted something like that… Adventure Fun! Dungeon Time! Then Colin said “Dungeon Fun” and I thought he was joking. ‘Cause like… see if people Google that? They’re gonna get a bit of a fright…
COLIN: As it stands, I think we’re about the third result behind “Fun Dungeon”, which seems to be a nightclub in Las Vegas.
NEIL: That’s where the afterparty is.
COLIN: Here’s what happened. Jonbot finished and then like a month and a bit later, maybe two months later, Neil puts up a drawing on Facebook or something of this little adventurer girl…
NEIL: Aye, it was a girl hitting a monster!
COLIN: ‘Cause we’d talked about doing a children’s book, way back last year, with a girl that was similar. Never had a name.
NEIL: I wanted her to chop stuff up with a sword, but you [Colin] were like, “I dunno. Kids’ book! She can maybe bash it on the head.” But I still had the character kicking about in my mind, so I was drawing a girl chopping up monsters, telling ‘em to suck her butt or whatever. So I said to Colin, “Do you wanna write this?” as a joke. And Colin was like, “Yeah”. In all fairness, I kinda missed Colin a little bit after Jonbot vs Martha finished…
COLIN: He missed passive-aggressive messages being left for him.
NC: Was making Dungeon Fun pretty similar to how you went about making Jonbot?
COLIN: I dunno, I think we’ve learned a lot about working with each other, and that’s been put into doing this. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we can play towards them a bit more.
NEIL: My weakness is angles. Anything that’s not facing the front.
NC: But this time around, there are loads of crazy angles! That really jumped out at me. I mean, it’s arguably harder to orientate a character that’s essentially 2D.
NEIL: They can’t really look to the side, or they just look like Pac-Man.
NC: Or you get the Peppa Pig effect, with both eyes on the same side of the head… so yeah, I dunno how you managed it, but you’ve done a lot of more interesting angles this time and it’s worked really well.
NEIL: I think Colin’s pushed me a little bit to do angles where it’s like, “Right, he’s falling off something,” or “This is from behind, you need to get this other character in.”
COLIN: You want to try and make it as visually interesting as possible. You’ve just got to mix it up a bit.
NEIL: I was definitely pushing myself, but a lot of that was Colin putting it in the script. And then me huffing over it for however long, and then eventually figuring out how to take my time over it and get it right. I think I got a little bit better over the course of the book and you can see that. There’s definitely a small improvement.
NC: You drew this in page order?
NEIL: No, no…
COLIN: If you look at page 4, for instance, you can see quite a marked difference from the pages on either side of it, because they were drawn first. Pages 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 were drawn in that order, and then 4 got inserted back into the middle of them.
NEIL: You can tell by the lines. The pages I did then have fatter lines, and the ones I did later have thinner lines and there’s slightly more detail in them.
NC: You did it all digitally, right? Was it all Manga Studio?
NEIL: Yeah, it’s the first full comic I’ve done digitally, all in Manga Studio. I’ve got a Cintiq tablet where you draw onto the monitor and I was using that. I only really used traditional stuff for the cover… I pencilled that out first, then scanned it and inked it in Manga Studio. And then I coloured it in Photoshop.
COLIN: I script digitally!
NC: So it’s not just a case of you writing a really specific script and passing it over to Neil to draw?
COLIN: We’ll sort of go back and forth from the outset. I’ll ask Neil how he feels about it, what he feels comfortable doing, what he wants to do. I’ll normally put down a suggested panel layout, and Neil’s always welcome to do whatever he wants with it, basically. And then I see what comes back, and then do another lettering pass, see if there’s maybe a chance to put in another joke somewhere, based off what Neil’s drawn.
NEIL: In some other comedy comic duos, [the writer will] say what they want to happen and it’s up to the artist to panel it out, but I kinda like it that Colin at least gives me little bits of limitation. I don’t like it being too loose, because it’s too much to think about. I like being told exactly what to do and then I’ll push or change bits from that, you know?
COLIN: Like I’ll say, “Can you draw this five-headed dragon?” and he’ll come back and say, “Well I’ve drawn a three-headed dragon…”
NEIL: “… blow me.”
COLIN: With comedy, you to be very precise in the timing of things, in panel beats and stuff. So I do tend to be quite rigid about that, but we’ve always got a very good give-and-take over it. Neil informs the script and he’ll come back with a gag now and again.
NC: How many Dungeon Fun issues do you expect to do?
NEIL: I’d say three, probably max six. I think by two or three we’ll be able to gauge it. I don’t want to drag it on if there’s no life left in it.
COLIN: No, no one wants to be tied to it for five years or something and become like, ‘the Dungeon Fun guys’.
NEIL: It’s like Jonbot. I mean, we kinda knew where to cut it. We kinda knew when we were happy for the story to end.
COLIN: When we fell out with each other.
NEIL: We’ll just wait ‘til we fall out again!
NC: When do you expect to release book two?
NEIL: We’re aiming for next year, earlyish. What were we saying, like March, April?
COLIN: Yeah, the first half of the year would be good. We need to figure out what’s happening because we just made all this up as we went along.
NC: Are you working on that already, then?
COLIN: Yeah, since the reviews have been coming in, I’ve been like, “I should probably do some more…” So I’ve got a good few ideas coming.
NC: And Neil, you’ve just finished another book this week, haven’t you?
NEIL: Yeah, I finished two books this week, one I wrote with Shambles Miller called How To Be Suave. If you know our wee book, How To Be A Ghost, it’s in the same vein. So I’ll be looking forward to a wee break. I want to try and get the third travelogue done as well…
NC: Do you have anything else planned after this, Colin?
COLIN: I’ve got Dogooder Comics going on! It’s a small press boutique of hand selected titles by the best and brightest creators in the UK. We’ve got a couple more on the slate that’ll be coming out next year. The first one’s advertised on the back of Dungeon Fun; that’s All The Dead Superheroes by Iain Laurie, who drew And Then Emily Was Gone. This is written and drawn entirely by him. So he’s got something, and I’ve got something in the works with Owen Johnson, who did Raygun Roads. I’m talking to various people and trying to get a good slate of books to come out next year.
NC: Sounds like a fair whack of new content! That’s something else actually, Dungeon Fun is longer than a standard modern comic…
COLIN: That’s my fault! I just got carried away. I didn’t write it in a very linear fashion, I just wrote a bit here and a bit there and then had to sit down and think, “Right, how do I connect this to that?” I think it was Matt Fraction who said that his process for writing comics is like chasing butterflies with a stick dipped in honey, but he has to get them in the right order. There’s no math or reason to it; you just have to kinda know what works. That’s how this came together.
Dungeon Fun is available in print and PDF at Dogooder Comics now.