I met Nikos in Japan. A magazine I worked for needed an illustrator and my boss had heard about this Greek guy studying at the technical university who did amazing sketch and colour art. Wait, a Greek guy? What the hell was a Greek guy doing in Fukuoka, the Manchester of Japan, in the middle of Winter? The thing is, you could have asked the same thing about me. I had no particular business being there, having lucked into a placement from my college after I graduated, in the absence of any better ideas. I spent my time hypothetically learning Japanese, and doing my best posh English impression so I could get jobs teaching rich kids, and working at the magazine so I could get free gig tickets.
It turned out this Greek guy was studying for his MDes in jailbreaking iPhones (that was it, wasn’t it? Correct me if I’m wrong, mate) in between sketching people on the train and already speaking excellent Japanese, on top of Greek, English and god only knew what else. He came and did a great couple of illustrations for the magazine, and I set about finding something else he could draw for us, because I had an ulterior motive. Finally we met up in a bar and I gave myself away pretty quickly: I had a comic book idea I had been playing around with, that I thought could be pretty cool, and before I knew it I was pitching him on it.
That idea was really, really not ready to see the light of day, which I gradually realised as it all unspooled from me like a magician pulling out a bunch of unlaundered handkerchiefs. I got to the end, sheepishly smiled, and thought I’d better get the next round. And bless ‘im, he said something like “that does sound pretty cool. Here’s the idea I’ve been working on.” And he told me about iland.
It was going to be set on an island a bit like the ones he’d holidayed on when he was a kid. There was a tiny seed of autobiography; characters based on real people he knew. It wasn’t any one real person’s story, but there were some people who just had to be there. There was going to be technology too; something that was the first of its kind, something about technology not being a good thing or a bad thing but just a thing with potential. About how you should put technology in the hands of everybody, especially people who didn’t really have a clue what they were doing, like we didn’t. There was going to be a wise teacher, a tribute to the teachers we’d had who made a difference to us. There was going to be a badass chase scene.
And there would be a girl, apparently.
But mostly, there was sunshine.
Before I realised it, we had both been talking about it like it was our story. I’d been talking about these characters like I’d known them my whole life. And there was this sunshine to the idea, like it lived out above a skylight that had opened up above me. I was lucky to be there, and it’s a place I still love, but Japan can be a pretty lonely place when you work three jobs and have no knack for the language. And Fukuoka gets cold. I remember after that first pub meeting, when we were developing the idea, emailing back and forth art inspiration and quotes and comparing notes on our favourite Ghibli movie (Porco Rosso, no arguments), at one point I went round to his place, and we worked on ideas while he conjured seemingly from nothing a spinach and feta filo pie which is still the best I’ve ever eaten, and which he made on a goddamn hot plate, and which probably held scurvy at bay for another month or so considering that I existed on an exclusive diet of ramen and factory-second beer, and after I left and wandered home in the utterly silent snow there was this story in my head which was like a shaft of sunlight, which I wanted to tell.
That idea kept me sane for the rest of that weird lonely year in Japan away from my partner whom i desperately missed, and that same idea has been growing and developing for years now as we’ve been getting ready. These days it doesn’t feel so much like we’re doing it to prove something to someone; it feels like we’re doing it for ourselves. When I look through those old scripts I wrote back then, I now see so (so, SO) many things I did wrong, and I’m glad that in the time since I’ve written other things and worked and got more professional. But there’s things in there that I couldn’t write now; I’m too far away from the kid that I still basically was back then. And now I get a chance to preserve those things, and preserve the feeling of that sunlight in the middle of the dark and the snow and the strange.
Now we’re launching our comic and I’m so, so excited. There’s a hell of a long road ahead but we know exactly where we wan to go, and that feeling is worth a hell of a lot. We were, and are, just two chancers who thought we might be on to something. The sorts of people we wanted to write a big weird story about. Except, of course, we’d make our characters a lot cooler than us because, I mean, what’s the point otherwise?
If you have a thing that you’re working on, keep going with it.