Right folks and folksesses, here it goes my interview with the infamous Jasper Bark, scourge of daytime TV puppets, owner of some of the finest hair in the business, and not to forget a rather good author.
Hey Jasper, how are you doing?
I was going to say “fine thanks”, but then I thought: “that’s the scripted response to that question isn’t it?” Which isn’t so much a question as a call and response?
‘How are you?’
“I’m fine and yourself?”
It’s like a conversation on auto pilot which neither of you have to actually engage in. This said when I ask people how they are and they actually tell me I’m quite annoyed. “How rude” I think. “I wasn’t really interested. “
So, erm ... I’m fine I guess, and yourself?
Who did that rather fine painting of you on your website’s home page?
It was done by the amazingly talented Manon Art. I would urge readers to check out her site: http://artbymanon.com/. It was, of course, painted from real life which posed a lot of difficulties getting a zombie, a slime monster and a green fox to stand still long enough to draw them, as you can probably imagine.
And where the hell do you get a red cape in this day and age?
I traded it from a transsexual necrophiliac for some unspeakable favours. Three years later the stench still haunts me.
You say one of your most embarrassing moments was reviewing pop videos with Zig and Zag on The Big Breakfast, really? At least you weren’t sat next to Chris Evans. Is there any record of this still in existence?
It’s the most embarrassing moment that I can publicly admit to.
A friend of mine, who is quite a famous stripper, recorded a copy for me when it went out. As she was doing this her bed partner of the night before burst a blood vessel in his penis causing the condom he had just put on to fill up with blood like a water balloon. My friend, bless her heart, refused to take him to the hospital until she’d finished taping my segment.
This is a true story!
Was Gabby still on the show? Did she smell as nice as I imagine she does?
I think she’d left by then, this was 96/97. I did the spot with Mark Little who used to play Joe Mangel on ‘Neighbours’. He started the interview by saying: “You know I’ve got a little Jasper” To which I replied: “Never mind, they have plastic surgery for that nowadays”.
“No,” Mark said. “I mean I’ve got a son called Jasper.”
“Oh,” I said, and an embarrassed silence followed, in which my customary wit completely deserted me.
Causing riots and disruption in my home town of Edinburgh, don’t you know you shouldn’t stir up the fur coats and no knickers brigade? The ladies of Morningside must have been chattering about this for months.
I did have to hand in my WI card, and the laminated recipe for Victoria sponge.
I presume you’re talking about the scandal surrounding my play ‘F*** The State - In 5 Easy Lessons’ which debuted at the Edinburgh Festival. It did stir up a bit of a palava in the tabloids and a few councillors called for it to be banned. It was up for a Fringe First (which are the Oscars of the festival) but it was denied it due to the controversy.
The most unsettling thing was watching a bunch of the actors getting arrested for handing out leaflets for the show on the Royal Mile. This is something you expect to see happening to dissidents handing out seditious literature in the former Soviet union. Not actors handing out flyers for a comedy at one of the world’s foremost international arts festivals.
Some people really don’t have a sense of humour I guess. Thank goodness the British bobby is still susceptible to bribery I say.
You were also a stand up comic poet, is that not just an excuse to recite dirty
It was an excuse for a lot of things, most notably not cutting my hair cut or getting a proper job.
You also spent some time as a music and film journalist, who was the biggest douche you had to interview?
That’s a difficult question as there were rather a lot. Fame and money do not bring out the best in a person’s character.
I did interview Marshal Mathers when he first came to Britain to promote his first album. A female colleague and I went to meet him in a suite at the Dorchester hotel. His six foot eight, African American minder showed us in and for some reason I still can’t explain, we did the interview in the bathroom.
My colleague was perched on the side of the bath, while I squatted over the bidet under the disapproving scowl of the minder. Mr Eminem sat on the toilet and stared at the floor, answering our questions with monosyllabic grunts.
About ten minutes in to the interview my colleague asked him about the number of his lyrics that dealt with violence against women. “Alright, I see where this is going,” said his minder. “Don’t answer that Marshal.” Then he picked me up by the scruff of my neck so that my feet were dangling above the floor and marched me and my colleague out of the bathroom and threw us into the corridor.
My write up, as you can imagine, was quite cutting and filled with invective, but my editors had a failure of nerve and printed a bowdlerised, sycophantic version of the interview instead. That same week the NME, who’d conducted a perfectly cordial interview, led with the heading ‘Meet Slim Shady - He’s an Asshole’ and completely trumped us.
About a year later I was given his second album ‘The Marshal Mathers LP’ to review. I sat down, sharpened my knives and put it on the stereo. You can imagine my disappointment when I found out it was brilliant. Oh well.
Controversy and social disobedience seems to follow you around, have you mellowed out recently? You must still do little acts of defiance; I know I still have to. Although they all seem to be directed at the Mrs these days. No I will never make the bed properly.!!!!
Controversy, for me, is a bit like the ugly kid brother that your mother forces you to take along when you go out somewhere. It tags along behind me leaving an awful stink and refuses to go away.
This said, these days I’m more likely to embarrass my children (who are both model citizens in the making) than I am to incite the masses.
One last question, before we get onto your writing, just what exactly is your routine for keeping such luscious locks?
I live a clean life and I think pure thoughts. The rest is up to God.
What first got you interested in writing?
I was five years old and I saw a piece on the 70s children’s show ‘Why Don’t You’ about kids, a little older than me, who were making their own comics. All you needed was paper, felt tip pens, a stapler and a little imagination. I had all those! I could make my own comics, MAKE MY OWN COMICS!!!
No idea has ever filled me with such excitement. From drawing my own comics I began filling stolen school text books with stories. The compulsion got so bad that the following Christmas my parents had to confiscate my pens and paper so I would come open my presents.
Who are your favourite authors of all time?
Oh heavens, there are so many!
My favourite horror authors are MR James, Robert Aickman, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Ramsey Campbell and Lisa Tuttle, I’m also rather fond of Simon Bestwick, Gary McMahon and Stephen Volk.
My favourite genre authors are Sherri S Tepper, Ursula Le Guin, Philip K Dick and Gene Wolfe.
Favourite crime writers are Derek Raymond, Iceberg Slim, Edward Bunker, George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane.
Favourite authors would be Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, Flann O’Brien, Yukio Mishima and Jerome K Jerome.
My favourite novel is ‘The Golden Ass’ written in the second century AD by Lucius Apuleius a priest of Isis.
I could go on. Actually, I think I’ve gone on rather too much.
How the hell did you come to write a Strontium Dog novel? Strontium Dog along with Rogue Trooper are my two favourite comic characters of all time.
I sent the editor a specially prepared message from the ‘Mutant Liberation Front’ demanding that one of their own be allowed to write about the leading Search and Destroy Agents. After all who better to chronicle the adventures of the world’s foremost mutant bounty hunter than someone who looks like a mutant.
Thankfully he saw sense and complied.
How much freedom did you have with Johnny, and were you ever tempted to push the boundaries?
It’s not so much the freedom that an editor does or doesn’t give you, so much as
the expectations of the existing fan base that you have to worry about. There is a diehard core of readers who are extremely invested in the characters, They’ve read everything ever written about them and will be up in arms if you get even the slightest detail wrong.
I am always tempted to push at any boundary but if you take on this sort of job you do need a lot of respect for the characters and their history. There is a reason why Johnny Alpha is so popular, that‘s because he’s a brilliant character and there is little any writer can do to improve on the work of talents like the creators John Wagner and Alan Grant.
You have also written for kid’s comics, such as Toxic, and Lucky Bag comic, how did that come about?
I had to do something to fill up my community service.
Actually, it came about when I became a parent. I found out there weren’t very many good kid’s comics left. I’d loved reading comics as a small child and wanted to do something for the next generation of comics readers so I got in touch with the editors of the comics and began writing stories for them.
How much work is involved for a writer doing these sorts of things?
There’s a lot of mental work coming up with the story. Standard British kids
comics are often variations on a theme that arises out of the defining characteristic of your lead character. Dennis has to find a new way to menace Walter, Suicidal Sid needs a new method to top himself, for example.
Once you’ve come up with the story, worked out how it develops in an unexpected direction, then resolves itself in a way that is both satisfactory and unforeseen you start breaking it down into panels then you write the script.
I could usually write about four to six stories in a single sitting and this was enough to provide a comfortable wage.
Did your comic strips for 2000AD, come before or after you had written the Strontium Dog novel?
Before, during and after.
Where the original ideas your own, or did you write the story based on plots they devised?
The plot, concepts and characters were entirely my own. 2000AD editor Matt Smith is an accomplished writer in his own right and he will occasionally make a suggestion but the stories always came from my ideas.
Will we ever see your name again in the pages of 2000AD?
I certainly hope so. Watch this space.
How did you come up with the idea of University Rhymes, was this your inner mischievous demon taking control. I love the Blah Blah Back Seat poem.
Thank you. It’s a little game I’ve always played with myself. Whenever a song gets stuck in my head the best way to drive it out is to rewrite the lyrics, often coming up with an unspeakably obscene version that sounds enough like the original that if you heard it sung aloud you’d think “Did I really hear that?”
As a parent you spend many long car journeys listening to Early Learning Centre recordings of nursery Rhymes. These consist of one or two session musicians singing along to the accompaniment of an electronic keyboard. So great is this mental torture, that you actually find yourself looking forward to something as simple a key change in the middle of a song.
As a mental refuge I rewrote all the nursery rhymes so that the words sounded almost identical to the originals but were all subtly twisted. Then it occurred to me there was probably a market for a naughty, all ages album that could reinvent the old standards for parents and children alike.
I’ve always wondered how an author gets into the mind set to write a children’s book. Do you think it helps if the author is still in touch with his inner child? How do you keep in touch with your inner child, Twitter or Facebook?
I don’t have an inner child because I never actually grew up. I just became very good at pretending so I can stay up late and watch what I want on TV.
How did the Journal of Inventions come about?
I was approached by the paper engineer Dave Hawcock who wanted to bring Leonardo’s inventions to life in a fine art pop up book. He asked me to write and research the book and although I was really busy at the time I was really excited about the project.
Which of these inventions do you wish was real?
Interestingly most of them have since been built, using contemporary materials
according to Leonardo’s specifications and all of them work. I did an awful lot of research for the book and read all of Leonardo’s notebooks. There is one interesting passage, accompanying some sketches of wing designs, that describes how to ride thermal updrafts and down drafts and how to use the flying machine to ride out stormy winds and stay in the air.
There is no other contemporary writing that has this information and I can’t see how Leonardo could have known of these things unless he had flown. Every contemporary commentator who mentions Leonardo’s fascination with flying claims his experiments were a failure.
However this passage, and the posthumous proof that the machine would have worked, point to the fact that the flying machine probably was real.
The other thing I discovered while researching the books was that Leonardo also built fully functioning robots. No s***, he actually built clockwork suits of armour and animatronics animals that could be programmed to move in specific ways.
I am in awe of the man. There are working models of these robots in the book.
Between, the comics, the children’s books, and the living it up with Zig and Zag, you have also penned two adult novels
Three and half actually if you count ‘Fistful of Strontium’ (which I co-wrote). Before Dawn Over Doomsday, I also wrote a novelisation of the Sniper Elite game called ‘Spear of Destiny’, which has extremely adult content.
Dawn Over Doomsday, is set in the Afterblight Universe, what exactly is the Afterblight Universe. Is this a zombie series, or is it just a post apocalypse series?
It’s just post apocalyptic, there are no zombies. It’s set in a world that has been decimated by plague and a minor nuclear exchange. The World Bible was written by Si Spurrier who also penned the first novel in the series - The Culled.
Do you need to read the rest of the novels to understand what’s going on?
No, each novel is completely stand alone (with the exception of Scott Andrews’ and Paul Kane’s trilogies). Mine came quite early in the series. I do make reference to events in a few of the other novels but I explain these fully and you don’t need to have read them to understand what’s going on.
What’s your story about?
The Native American population is gathering under the banner of the United Tribal nations but looks to be on a collision course with the Fundamentalist Christian army of the Neo Clergy. The two armies are set for a showdown at Little Bighorn, once site of Custer’s legendary last stand, now a twisted nuclear landscape.
The battle will be decided by a former Amish sex slave, rescued from a brothel and taken on a perilous road trip across the American continent so she can become the bride of an intelligent virus that will bring about a new dawn over Doomsday.
Is this just a good ole adventure story, or is there a message you are trying to bring to the readers?
Not so much a message as that implies preaching and a soap box. As a writer I’m primarily an entertainer, but most things that I write have deeper layers of meaning and sometimes a higher purpose.
At the time that I wrote Dawn Over Doomsday, George Bush and Tony Blair were waging what many believed to be an illegal war in Iraq and a war on terror at home. It seemed to me that in both conflicts the main people benefitting were those on the extreme fringes. To such a degree that they might as well be working together. So I tried to explore this in a tale of two large national armies trying to rebuild a civilization in their own image. Each uses the threat they pose one another to force those caught in the middle to choose sides.
It also seemed to me that the War on Terror was as much a war of faith as ideology. I believe that the only thing that can resolve a conflict of faith is the very thing that started it - faith itself. In that sense this is also a story about redemption. In their own way each of the characters is looking for some form of redemption.
Way of the Barefoot Zombie is your take on the zombie novel. What makes it different to other zombie novels?
No other zombie novel will change your life quite so completely or make you so irresistible to members of the opposite sex.
You can read my zombie novel in public without any fear of censure. What’s more, if you leave it on your desk at work I guarantee all your colleagues will want to sleep with you.
I’m heading out to a Waterstones today, and I know they have a copy of it, sell it to me.
It’s set on a private island in the Caribbean where the business guru Doc Papa has reinvented the zombie as an icon for the aspiring super rich. They are invited to free their own ‘inner zombies’ by interacting with the world’s only captive colony of zombies. Once they’ve freed the conscienceless, undead brute that sits at the core of their being, nothing can stop them making a killing on the financial markets.
Thing go a little awry however when the island is infiltrated by undercover members of the Zombie Liberation Front and a mysterious Voodoo Priestess from Doc Papa’s past.
This is a merciless satire on the current state of the world’s economy. If you’ve ever listened to the self serving excuses and lies that come out of the mouths of the world’s leading bankers and politicians and longed for them to be painfully dismembered by an uncontrollable horde of the walking dead (and let’s face it - who hasn’t?) then this is a novel for you.
How much research did you go through for this novel?
Quite a lot. These are old school voodoo zombies and voodoo is one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented religions in the world. So I wanted to make sure that I gave a true representation of the faith and practises of those who serve the Loa. I spoke to a bunch of practitioners and read a lot of books on the subject to make it as authentic as possible.
I also did a lot of reading on finance and economics and the lives of the super rich as these are all themes of the novel too.
You have produced a series of book trailers for TWOTBZ, folks you have to check them out they are brilliant?
Quick, head on over here
Or check out the entry on Jim’s blog.
If you don’t mind me asking, how much they cost to make, the production values are very high.
A normal two day shoot like the one we did for this trailer should have cost in the region of £10,000 to £12,000. However I am quite persuasive when I want to be and I managed to convince the actors and film makers at Level Films that this would be an interesting and fun project to get involved with, and they all agreed to waive their normal fees. In the end the budget was just under £2,000 and I managed to talk my publisher into picking that up. Which was jolly kind of them.
You’re a bit of an exhibitionist, aren’t you, that’s the only way anyone can explain that cravat.
Well I could be overcompensating, or perhaps I’m subliminally advertising. You know what they say: “Big cravat, big ...”
The trailers are very tongue in cheek. Is this a reflection of the book?
No, the trailers are broad farce and slapstick whereas the humour in the book is
much, much darker, more biting and satirical. It is not just a humorous book either, that is only one note that the story strikes, and there are many others that range from the horrific to the redemptive.
You have an audiobook out at the moment, Dead Air, can you tell us about that?
It’s a horror anthology that began life as a one man, multimedia show and debuted at the Rondo Theatre in Bath. The audiobook version is an expanded, redux version of this, with lots of shiny new extras.
It’s about a place where the dead go to record their final stories. An underground frequency that carries the last testaments of the damned and the dispossessed. Broadcasts that lurk in the black static between stations, whispering truths too terrible to tell anywhere else.
It’s very much in the style of classic anthology shows like the Twilight Zone, or the Amicus portmanteau horror films or even old radio shows like Inner Sanctum. The recording is actually much closer to a radio drama than an audiobook with its own theme tune and dramatic sfx.
Am I right in thinking that you are about to release it as an e-book?
I understand that’s about to happen imminently.
Don’t authors usually do things the other way around?
I have never been accused of doing things the conventional way.
And why is your name spelt Jasper on some books and Jaspre on others?
I had to undergo a bit of a rebranding exercise. Jaspre is an unconventional spelling of ‘Jasper’ but as I started to sell to an increasingly international market it was apparently causing confusion among certain readers about how you pronounce the name and this was putting them off.
So, just like Jif (which became Cif) and Marathon (which became Snickers) I’ve been re-marketed for a wider public. Unlike Cif and Snickers however, I don’t hang around the toilet for ages and you can’t feel my nuts for under a buck.
So what does the future hold for you?
I’m working on three different graphic novels at the moment. One of them adapts the work of the famous fine artist Ray Harris Ching into a meta-narrative. Two are horror stories (one for a British publisher one for an American). I’m at work on an off the wall super hero series for the American publisher Silver Phoenix and I should have a regular new strip coming out in the newly launched British Strip Comic Magazine.
Aside from that I have quite a few speculative irons in the fire and a trilogy of novels I’d really like to start work on.
Jasper this has been a blast, thank you so much for popping over for a chat.
Thanks Jim, I’ve really enjoyed my time here too. Could you get someone to walk me to the bus stop though? Only, the drugs have just kicked in and I haven’t got a clue where I am....