Raymond Roche is a writer and comic creator, releasing his books under Two Pugs Publishing. Following on from his debut book Soma: Eden, he released Dem Bones in two parts with artist Fiona Boniwell. During his day job, he works as a civil servant.
Dem Bones is a far-cry from your first book, Soma: Eden; how did it feel jumping from one genre to another?
Much, much easier that you might think. There’s a school of thought that all stories are Western (Cowboys, that is) stories. That’s true up to a point. A writer can tell the same basic story and rework it for a different genre. The Seven Samurai – The Magnificent Seven. I think it works best if the writer can maintain the same theme common to both genres. Soma and Dem Bones look and read radically different, almost as if there are two very opposite Ray Roches at the same keyboard. Maybe there are, who knows. Soma is about grief, Dem Bones about secrets. For me it’s about getting the message across and which genre or taxonomic writing style suits that best. The writing part is easy.
Although… Soma is an emotional journey the reader is fooled into believing will end well and staying in that headspace for months of rewrites isn’t something I’d recommend. Dem Bones is another matter. Dark, horrible storyline, but because I used humour so freely it doesn’t feel dark and after much consultation with my editor, Colin O’Mahoney, we made the decision not to show too much. My favourite panel in Soma is an officer being attacked by the alien creature, while my favourite panel inDem Bones is of an innocent schoolgirl gazing enraptured at a painting in the National Gallery. I felt less constrained with Dem Bones because I was creating the rules of their world as I went along. Soma had to follow certain semi-rigid SciFi rules to be acceptable, mostly science and the mechanics of space travel. Whether we like it or not, certain Hollywood franchises have informed the reader’s psyche and their expectations. For Dem Bones I was creating an alternate Dublin where magic and superpowers are every-day, paradoxically mundane. I felt less that I had to please an audience and more that I was writing these characters for my own enjoyment.
Do you think your day job helped with the writing of the book?
Yes. Without question. Dem Bones began as a writing exercise one lunchtime. I was feeling that Soma was never going to happen and to cheer myself up I started writing funny dialogue. My wife and daughter both had said “For God’s sake, write a comedy next time, please!” I write what I know. A lot of years working on the inside has given me insights into the workings of An Garda Siochana. I took all of that and turned it upside down. The Forensic Lab, The Cold Case Unit, Biggstown Garda Station etc are based on real places and people but seen at a “Dutch angle” because I’m a perverse human being. I don’t write a story if someone else is doing it, and doing it better than I can. Dem Bones is littered with real-world references, but also I satirise events and procedures, people and bureaucracy. It’s up to the reader to decide which is real and which is the alternate Dublin. The people I work with do a tough job and lighten the mood with sometimes dark, inappropriate but oh, so very necessary humour. I hope that shows in the book.
How was your experience with finding a market for the book? Is it something you think you could repeat?
There’s a huge demand for “more of the same” stories, and not just in comics. When I first pitched the concept of a Crime Noir set in an alternate Ireland I included bios of many, many characters and situations so really the Dem Bones world is a “Sandbox” version of Dublin Police. It’s a world where future stories might be anthologies or one shots. I have a lot of them to choose from. Finding a market? Getting the book into shops is a problem. Unless they know you or the comic is mainstream, it’s easy to see why a retailer might be hesitant. They have only so much shelf space. So far, Dem Bones is selling well, through conventions and word of mouth but it helps if the shop-owners push the comic. I’ve sold lots to the Guards, who have heard that there’s a comic about their world. The characters, especially the female detective, have attracted attention. The plan is to do more and hopefully get the right attention. Create a readership one book at a time. As long as the reader wants another one, I’ll write it. One important factor in selling a book is location. Craft marts or toy oriented meets might not be as successful as a dedicated comic convention. Depending on your skill set and product: Fully mature material will always be a tougher sell than superhero fare.
Compared to most creators in Ireland, you’ve gotten a late start in comics. How do you think that affects the sort of stories you tell?
I stopped reading comics when I was 15. Back then, demand was high but supply sphincter tight. I’m so new to this that I haven’t read some of today’s household names and tend to read trade collections or comics recommended by people in the business. My stories tend to be about an issue or emotion and they are ALL autobiographical. Being late to the party means I bring my own bottle, I suppose. When it comes to the sort of stories I tell, it’s down to the sort I’d like to read or is anyone else doing the same thing? I don’t write superhero stories because I don’t understand them. Superheroes, that is. I get angsty Batman but not floaty cape rippling Superman, The Black Monday Murders but not Nothing-Really-Happened-But-We’re-Having-A-Gigantic-Crossover-Event-Life-Changing-Crisis-on-Six-Earths. Being ancient, I have read a few books, done a thing or two, and see the world differently maybe because I don’t understand Social Media. My stories tend to start in one place and end up somewhere else entirely by design. Hopefully, that makes them unpredictable.
Is there anything about your process that you’d do differently on your next book?
My process is clear. I have a list of genres, characters, events, mashups, themes I want to throw rocks at and I start with a word. I move on to an event, work backwards to the beginning, add plot and jokes later. That’s not going to change. I might try not worrying so much and talking about comics, ad nauseum.
What was the first thing you did when you decided to enter the Irish comic scene?
I made lists. Of everything. You get that, EVERYTHING, I wanted to do. Some are feasible, some not, some too funny to say out loud. Some will need an Ocean’s 11 approach. I’m working through those lists. Top of that list was: Talk to people who were already doing what I wanted to do, Indie comic makers, but more importantly comic fans.
What’s your one tip for people wanting to make a start in comics?
Don’t just jump in. Start in something else, get a grounding in art, a portfolio course, creative writing, journalism anything. Take what you learn outside and apply it to storytelling in comics. Start small. Don’t do what I did: A 28 page SciFi one shot? Hell, no. Look for a local creative team and make 1 page or 4 page comics. Get to know people at conventions and retailers, read what’s current, marry an artist. Well, that’s more than 1 tip.
What’s next for you in the world of comics?
My next book is a Horror Western called The Talking Gun. It’s set after the American Civil War and it’s about friendship. Don’t tell anyone, though: It’s hush-hush. Part 2 of Dem Bones is due out (editor’s note: since responding to my question, Dem Bones part 2 has been released – check it out at Small Press Day!) and it should surprise the people who bought Part 1. The next SSDD is about a hostage negotiation situation at a magic sperm bank and is titled “Heist, Heist, Baby.” Besides that, the future is about conventions and talking to people at comic-related events and helping others with my story. If they get something from my experience then that’s a win.