I've never met Tommie Kelly in person but I imagine we'll get along famously. After all we've been Jinxworld chums for years and he's offered to let Sean and myself crash at his house in Ireland next time we're around that way. And without him, who knows if SECRET PROJECT would've ever been conceived?
Tommie Kelly is the creator of ROAD CREW, a online comic about a wayward rock'n'roll roadie. Based partly on Kelly's life, the reality of this story is only outweighed by it's sheer hilarity. I talked to Tommie about Road Crew as well as his contribution to SECRET PROJECT.
Mary E. Brickthrower: How long have you been reading comics?
Tommie Kelly: I started reading comics when I was about eight. I use to sneak into my cousin's room and read his books. He had WATCHMEN, DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN, loads of 2000ADs, all the WARRIOR issues with V for Vendetta. I loved it. Being eight i didn't get all of the nuances of watchmen but I got enough to get hooked. I actually have a first edition soft cover of the DARK KNIGHT returns signed by my parents in 1988 which I treasure.
Later I got into comics like CEREBUS and LOVE AND ROCKETS, but I still kept in with Batman and the Justice league and more mainstream stuff. I came back to comics a few years ago and caught up on a lot of things I missed. Promethea is probably the greatest comic ever created, followed by V for Vendetta. But Cerebus will always be my favorite. I am so fond of so many comics that it seems wrong to grade them, but there you go.
Brickthrower: Conversely, when did you decide to become an artist / creator?
Kelly: I did a comic called Justice League Ireland when i was about 14, got it all photocopied and sold it in the local shops. I was all set on spending the rest of my life doing comics but i had a really shitty Art teacher at school and he put me off doing art all together. He had a very low opinion of comics and kept trying to get me into doing Graphics. So instead of encouraging me with life drawing or whatever he would make me do designs for washing up bottles. It turned me right off and I lost complete interest in art. I stopped going to class and didn't draw anymore. In the end I managed to get in the top 5% in the country in my final Art exams that year. I did the Art exams totally in comic style and going against everything my teacher had said. That was a nice victory, but the interest was gone.
This was also around the time that every comic had 18 covers and 400 sealed bags around them, ya know THE DARK AGES in the 90's. So, like everyone else I stopped reading comics.
I spent the next ten years of so in the music business. I was in original bands, cover bands, recorded critically ignored albums, went on tours and finally ended up a soundman. About four years ago I started getting back into drawing. Just messing at first. Then I started doing more and more. I got it together and started doing a comic called THE END, which I published on the web for over a year or so. THE END was the first time that I had drawn since I was 18 or so. It took me awhile to get back into. THE END was a great learning curve, looking back I took on way more than I could handle with a first attempt.
SO i stopped doing THE END, and took a breather. I was still working away as a Sound Engineer, and was beginning to really hate it. It wasn't something I ever wanted to do and it was killing me a little inside everyday. The result of all that was that I ended up hating music. I couldn't listen to it. Any music was instantly put me in a bad mood. I needed out. So I quit.
It probably wasn't the best time to do that as myself and my partner Venessa had just started to build our house and money wasn't growing on any of the trees on our site. But V was very supportive and told me that I was right to quit. I decided that I would give doing comics a serious go. I previously had done a few strips about a soundman called Jim, I added a few more and launched roadcrewcomic.com
It's nearly two years later, the house is built and last year I made more money doing art than I had as a musician or sound engineer. So I guess we made the right decision.
Brickthrower: ROAD CREW is an ongoing series but AS ABOVE, SO BELOW is a decidedly different turn than strip-style. In addition, you draw yourself into the comic. I have seen this device used before (ANIMAL MAN, EX MACHINA, AUTOMATIC KAFKA, ASM); what were you trying to achieve with this?
Kelly: AS ABOVE, SO BELOW is the prologue to the third ROAD CREW book called FOR SALE, after the Beatles album.The previous two books are also named after famous albums, Hendrix's ELECTRIC LADYLAND and JANE'S ADDICTION's NOTHING'S SHOCKING, but I choose this title because, for me, it was at this point that The Beatles started to become something that the world had never seen before. They just moved into a completely different league than everyone else. So i was trying to steal some of that energy.
The raison d'etre for FOR SALE is that I wanted to write a magick book that wasn't about magick. I read an awful lot of self-help/new age/spiritual books and what i notice is that 99% of those are written by people who became successful by writing self help books. Most fiction books on magick are about magick, but i wanted to do something different. I wanted to use all the principles of magick, the law of attraction, the secret, paganism, NLP, Buddhism, wicca but not have the story be about any of them. I wanted to do a magickal working using the story of a sound engineer and his life in the music business. The great magickal comics such as PROMETHEA or the INVISIBLES are essential stories about magick, which is great and they're exceptional works but I wanted to take it one step in a new direction.
In Chaos magick there comes an idea that you can use an image to represent an idea that you want to form in the real or physical world. It's called a SIGIL and practically the whole of MORRISON's INVISIBLES is a sigil. Morrison himself says that he had to start going easier on the characters in the book because events in the book where happening in his daily life. FOR SALE is also a sigil, there are things in it, sometimes obvious, sometimes occult, that are meant to affect my own life. I am 32 pages into the book and already I have seen things coming to life. It's weird and exciting and I don't understand exactly why it works but it does. I want to point out that some of the things are symbols and mean different things to me than they do to the main character JIM. So as my character points out to Jim, I don't wish for my Mother to die because Jim's has.
As to why I put myself into the story. Road Crew up to that point had been a cheeky funny strip about cartoon characters that had adventures and were safe. I wanted FOR SALE to not be safe, I wanted it to be more real but esoteric. I wanted the readers to know that something new and different was going on. I was aware that Morrison had put himself in ANIMALMAN, ALAN MOORE was in Promethea, DAVE SIM pops up in CEREBUS in a scene similar to mine. I love that Idea. I really enjoy when writers start taking themselves seriously and bend the format. I didn't read the Animal Man storyline until after I had my scene done, but I was very aware of it; I was interested to see how similar or dis-similar mine would be. I think I did something different but the comparison is obvious.
Anyway, it's not the first time I was in Road Crew, I appeared in the storyline CROSSROADS.
Brickthrower: How did you become involved with SECRET PROJECT? Word on the street is that the whole thing was your idea
Kelly: I had been a member of the OEMING board for awhile and while on Holiday to New York I meet up with McMANUS and ZIGGY. We had a great chat all about different comicy things and I said I had an idea that we should do an anthology. Simply put, the talent that was knocking about the forum was extremely high. I felt it would be a shame not to do something together. Also at that time the forum was very vibrant and lively. It's has died a slow and painful death of late, for many reasons, but as you can attest yourself, there was something magic about it back then. The guys liked the idea and we put it to the rest of the board. People seemed to go for it and it took off.
But yes, I am taking all the credit for it :) Unless it flops... in which case, it was Ziggy's idea.
Brickthrower: What made you contribute ROAD CREW to SECRET PROJECT as opposed to a new / independent story ?
Kelly: Because I am a man on a mission!
I am totally focused on Road Crew. All my energy and attention is on my goal. I want Road Crew to make a massive impact on the comic world and I believe given half a chance it can. So at every opportunity I am going to stuff it down people's throats.
You have to remember that I come from a music background. Ego is a huge event and force in music and it desperately lacking in comics. I love ego, I love it so much that I have cultivated a massive one for myself. I think the comic industry would be a lot healthier if we had few more ROCK STAR type creators. That was one good thing about the early IMAGE era, guys with huge egos that decided to do something huge and different. It all went wrong cos they lost the interest and the hunger and let things slip. What was once all about creative control and ownership became units, units, units and no substance. The basic premise of what those guys did at Image is very sound.
So I am going to stand up and say I think what I am doing with Road Crew is important. I think what all of us working independently in comics is important. I think SECRET PROJECT is important. Webcomics/small press comics are way more exciting to me because people are doing new things, interesting things. Marvel and DC and the rest are great but they're never going to change and they aren't going to save the comic business from going under. If we want comics to survive we have to stand up and do what's in our hearts. Do something new.
We all work or belong to a field of the arts that most of us are embarrassed to talk about unless we are in safe company. Comics are an immense and beautifully complex art-form but collectively we have become meek and shy about our art.
We need more rockstar creators to get us out of this. So that what I plan to be.
Brickthrower: Indeed Tommie ! ROCK! Thanks so much!
Kelly's story will appear on www.secretprojectcomic.com beginning Monday January 25th - be sure to check it out!
NOW Please check out the animated trailer for the newest MICE TEMPLAR Hardcover coming soon!
~Till next time kittlings!