CFG Creator Spotlight: Tom Ward


In the latest in our series of CFG Creator Spotlight interviews we are fortunate enough to welcome Tom Ward – writer & publisher of the excellent Merrick: The Sensational Elephantman comics. The latest issue in the series – and this week that very issue has hit Comixology.

John: “Issue 3 of Merrick has landed and, according to our reviewer (me), it is the best yet of a really solid mini-series. How did you hit upon Joseph Merrick as the star for your book?”

Tom: “Thanks! The initial idea kind of came about when I was bored in work, I was thinking about the “animal prefix” “man” nature of so many classic comic characters. Spider-Man, Batman, Hawkman, Ant-Man, Animal Man. And then I got thinking that there was an actual guy called the “Elephant Man”. I knew the basics about Joseph Merrick but considered if there was an Elephantman superhero what powers would he have? The thick skin of an elephant would probably be a pretty good ability. I knew the classic image of The Elephant Man in his hooded mask, hey superheroes wear masks! It all just sort of fell into place. I looked on Google and it had never been done before which really surprised me.”

John: “Was it a eureka moment when you had the spark of creativity for this series?”

Tom: “I think the initial Elephantman as a masked hero idea was a eureka moment but a good character is really nothing without a great story. I started researching Merrick, reading everything I could find which sent me onto tangents for more reading material on the people who he was surrounded by at the time. And then outwards to their connections, about where they spent their time, what they believed. Everyone and everything was so interesting, once I discovered the connections between Treves, Thomas Hardy and Arthur Conan Doyle, exclusive gentlemen’s clubs and beliefs in the supernatural I thought “yeah, this is exactly the kinda thing I’d be into”. How could I not work it into a pulp adventure leading off from the popular Penny Dreadful’s of the time?”

John: “How has the writer/artist dynamic played out for you working with Luke Parker – has this been a collaboration where he’s brought stuff to the table or has your story been the hymn sheet for him to sing from?”

Tom: “I’d finished writing the first four issues of Merrick before Luke was on board. I actually had another artist lined up and paid them a deposit but they scored some game design work that they couldn’t turn down. The project then kind of took a back seat till I was browsing ZWOL forums and saw Luke’s stuff and I knew he’d be perfect for Merrick.

Some parts of the script are pretty specific because I can picture the scene exactly, for example Treves pointing the gun at Merrick in issue #01. I’d described that down to the viewing angle and Luke completely nailed it exactly as I had in my head, he always does. I think we have a lot of shared tastes when it comes to comics and movies and are very much on the same page both from a storytelling and style perspective. He gets across exactly what I’m trying to say in a panel with his art, I know I can send a script to Luke and think “yeah, he’s got this”. There’re very very few changes made from Luke’s initial layouts to the final page.

Other parts are looser and Luke gets more freedom, he will sometimes add extra panels or combine stuff. At the end of the day he’s an artist and knows how to put a page together. If he has an idea that he thinks will visually work better I tell him to go for it. I want him to enjoy working on the project and be able to showcase his best work, not for it to be a rigid ball-ache that sucks the fun out of it. If you noticed the totem panels running through the first 2 issues, they were Luke’s idea. He put in the little wooden carved elephant and said he liked adding small random panels, I thought it was a great idea and expanded on it coming up with more items which now have more importance and tie in with the final page of issue #01”


John: “Luke’s art has been a real boon to the book, from my perspective, he’s really encapsulated the setting and characters and, as the series has progressed, he just seems to get better and better.”

Tom: “I couldn’t agree more, I think even just in the first issue you can see his art improve from the first page to the last as he gets more to grips with the characters and the world. Now Luke’s finished the first 3 issues of Merrick and SEX #18 (with Joe Casey Image comics which came out in November) he’s unstoppable. I still love every panel in issue #01 but issue #03 is incredible, he perfectly captures some facial expressions in that issue that say more, and is more subtle than characters talking. There’s some fantastic use of perspective (I love the staircase panel in the hospital) and it’s the first time he unleashes some real “action”. And then there are those complex collage type covers! I’ve only seen the layouts for issue #04 so far and already I know it’s going to look incredible.

Having the chance to work on multiple issues of a book is a great opportunity for both writers and artists. I’ve no doubt people are going to be seeing more and more of Luke as he’s picked up for bigger projects in the future.”

John: “with Luke taking on Image’s Sex #18 has that exposure piqued your own interest at that kind of opportunity for you?”

Tom: “To be honest I’d rather be working on my own stuff that I feel I can bring to completion under my own steam rather than taking the gamble of putting together pitch packs and chasing round editors. That being said I am the kind of person who is up for taking a crack at pretty much anything so I’d be pretty happy if I ever got the chance to write for some other stuff. I’m from the same part of Liverpool as John Constantine, used to play in punk bands and did quite a lot of occult research for Merrick… So y’know DC comics I might be a pretty good match up there if you ever want some local scouse lingo and a story about John having a terrible time in Bootle Strand…”

John: “Crowd funding has really opened some doors to indie producers – how was the Kickstarter experience for you?”

Tom: “Kickstarter was fun, exciting, scary, nerve wracking all at the same time. I was clicking refresh constantly like a crack addict needing his next fix. We worked our arses off on the first issue and the Kickstarter page itself, putting in hours of preparation before we launched. I was confident going into it but that wavered a little during the dark days in the middle, it was a relief when we hit that goal.

All our backers are amazing and I seriously can’t thank them enough, I’ll never forget that they gave us a shot at this. I think what I’m looking forward to now is when issue #4 is finished, packing everything up and fulfilling the final pledge rewards. Y’know, finally knowing how much debt that final trip to the post office will put me in.

It’s awesome when someone comes up to me at a con and they’re like “Hey! I backed this on Kickstarter! I love it!””

John: “Creating comics is an expensive enterprise, if it hadn’t been for ‘new technology’ would Merrick have come about? Indeed, apart from Kickstarter, you met Luke via the internet and, indeed, a lot of interest for the book was garnered by your free first issue (which landed via email last year and from that point I’ve been waiting on the next instalment). Technology is the ‘great MerrickInt3enabler’ – but what is true for one producer is also true for the legion of creatives out there – does the flood of material make it harder for your book to get noticed, have you had to work hard to get the word out?”

Tom: “Merrick could never have happened without the internet, there’s no way I would have found an artist, Luke is in a city 3 hours away, our fantastic letterer Nic is in Australia. Even things as simple as messaging each other and being able to instantly send pictures back and forth must make things so much easier than the old days of couriers and phone calls.

I think letting people download the first issue for free (you still can at was the real key to our Kickstarter campaign, along with the ability to reach out to comic fans all around the world, again that’s only been possible thanks to the internet. There are a lot of creators out there peddling books but I guess it just means you have to push yourself harder than them, you’ve got to have the better end product and the better pitch. I see it all the time, basic stuff like spelling and grammar errors on Kickstarter pages or even on the completed pages is an instant no if I was considering backing. If it looks like you haven’t bothered to proofread it then I’m out. “

John: “In relation to the previous question, you’ve been busy on the convention circuit – how have you ‘enjoyed’ the various con’s that you’ve attended?”

Tom: “We did a few cons last year but in 2015 we’re hitting it much harder, the idea is to get out as much as we can and see as many new people as possible. Each issue of Merrick is a limited
numbered print run of 500 and I’d love to have sold every copy by the end of this year. There’s less than 200 copies of issue #01 left so I’m confident it will happen. I’m kind of worried that it will happen far before the end of year and then we’ll have to figure out if we do the second and final print run of single issues with alternative covers or put a trade out.

If anything I think there’s currently an over saturation of comic cons in the UK, especially ones with only the most tenuous connection to any actual comics. It can be a bit depressing to drive four hours to have no one interested, sell next to nothing and have the guy on the table next to you selling bootleg Big Bang theory mugs complain to you that he’s ONLY made £400 this weekend when you haven’t even covered your table cost, have spent hundreds of hours on, and are actually emotionally invested in what you’re doing. But even then it just takes someone to come back on the second day and tell you he read an issue and loved it and everything turns around. It’s incredible that there are people out there who are completely on the same page and are just as excited about the comic as I am myself and then you’re riding the high again.

Then you can find yourself at a con like Thought Bubble surrounded by awesome people, with an incredible atmosphere and have an amazing time.

The first con we attended was a really small one called Mancstercon in an artspace in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Those guys looked after us really well and obviously really cared about putting together a great con, we had a great time and I think we’ll be returning for as long as they’ll have us. They’ve moved to a bigger venue in Salford this year and we cannot wait to get back there in August.

It’s also kinda fun to get out to towns and cities and parts of the country you’ve never been to before. It’s like being on tour with a band but without all the partying every night and throwing fridges out of windows and stuff, instead you kinda just look through some back issue boxes for Brian K Vaughan singles that might look nice framed on your wall and drive home and go back to work on Monday morning.”

John: “it’s interesting that you mention the over saturation of the con scene in the UK. I’ve noticed a trend of Movie/comic cons with almost zero representation from the comic industry. It seems that the organiser’s want to sucker the paying public into their event by using the cache of comic books. Do you think that it is a fair assessment? What can, if anything, be done to sanitise the con market?”

Tom: “I don’t know whether “sucker” is the right word? I think Comic Con is being used as an umbrella term, I guess with the success and popularity of the movies, TV shows like Arrow and the Flash and even Big Bang Theory, geek chic is very much en vogue at the minute so there are more people than ever interested in those kind of events. Whereas something described as a Sci-Fi Convention may have more negative connotations attributed to it still. The phrase “Comic Con” is almost like a brand in itself now, people have heard of it from the huge American events and people are definitely cashing in on that level of brand awareness and unfortunately there are people who probably shouldn’t be organising events tossing their hat into the ring or people trying to put events together much larger than they’re ready for rather than building stuff from the ground up. We’ve been to a couple where we’re the only people with any actual comics and seen neither sight nor sound of any of the organisers. I figure these events should be trying to foster and encourage, growing a UK comic community, that’s why we really appreciate events where small press tables are discounted against general trader tables and the organisers come round to check if you’re doing ok or do a bit of promotion for you in the run up to the event.”


John: “I was lucky enough to bump into you and Luke at the Nottingham convention in 2014, you were almost joined at the hip but Chris (Warty) Welsh – has it made con’s easier on you to have Chris sharing a table?”

Tom: “Absolutely, if you’ve got a comic or you’re making a comic or whatever then getting to cons is a great way to get it “out there” and seen by new people. But my one piece of advice would be find a friend who makes comics to go with you and share a table.

Conventions can be an expensive do, a table can set you back anything from £10 – £120 so being able to split that along with petrol for the drive and a hotel room is invaluable. You are not going to make any money, most of the time if you’re lucky you MIGHT break even on your costs so the less you spend the better. It also means you have someone to talk to and have a laugh with, if you look bored then people probably won’t be too eager to talk to you. If there’s two of you having fun then people can get involved in that with you, that’s why they’re there at the con, to have a good time.”

John: “Will you be braving the international scene with Merrick this year?”

Tom: “Yeah! I’m going to be heading over to the Netherlands with Chris (Warty) Welsh, for what is apparently their first comic convention and the first international con for us! Ammar the artist from Wart is a Dutch native so he’s graciously going to be looking after us for the weekend, he’s a great guy and a fantastic artist and whatever the outcome of the con I’m sure we’ll have a great time. I’d love to check out some American ones but still need to work out the logistics fully, NYCC 2016? maybe…”

John: “Merrick and Wart take on Holland! That sounds awesome, and in Ammar you’ll have a great guide. How did this come about? And will you and Warty be donning the ever popular Dutch clogs for the event?”

Tom: “Ammar came over to hang out for a few days when we did Nottingham Comiccon last year, we had a blast and he invited us over for the first Dutch Comiccon at the end of this month. So we figured why not? It’s taken a bit more organisation than a UK con but it’s going to be fun to take our books international. Worst case scenario we’ll have a bunch of laughs and some drinks and hopefully meet some cool new people, which already sounds rad before we’ve even sold any books. I don’t know about clogs but we are actually spending a night in a loft apartment in a windmill which I think is pretty quintessentially Dutch, will there be Heineken and brownies? MAYBE.”

John: “We’ve spoken a few times about the future for Merrick (despite not knowing the story for issue 4 – damn you for making me wait!) – can you see a long future for your characters from Merrick? The material is there, in abundance!”

Tom: “Yeah I would love to keep the adventures of Merrick going. In fact I have a rather long overarc worked out with a defined beginning, middle and end along with a series of arcs in the middle. As mentioned earlier making comics is an expensive business though so right now the only way I can see to make that a reality is to break it into chunks and Kickstart it one arc at a time unless I win the lottery. For as long as people are enjoying the comic and backing us I’ll keep working on it. With having an office job I unfortunately have to attend to pay the bills and Luke picking up more work it might be a bit more sporadic than I’d like but we’ll hopefully get there in the end.

After issue #04 finishes, I’ve been working on a one shot horror comic that centres on Treves travelling through India years before he meets Merrick, very loosely based on a true story. The script’s not quite finished yet and Luke hasn’t seen it but I’d love to try to get that made next as a sort of interlude between arcs of the main series.”

John: “You’ve really done well with Merrick in terms of your development of the story and characters – will we see other ‘Tom Ward’ creations coming to light?”

Tom: “I certainly hope so, I wanted to launch something at the beginning of the year but time has just been too tight. I’ve got a couple of things I’m trying to line up, one is something that combines my love of classic literature, 80’s action films and punk rock it’s going to be a lot lighter and brighter than Merrick and takes a lot of stuff from time I’ve spent playing in bands and going to gigs, hopefully it’ll get a few laughs. I’ve also started writing a one shot with Chris Welsh from Wart, which is a new experience but it’s really fun so far. We’re keeping this one tightly under wraps until it’s finished, but I promise that people’s reactions when they see it will be priceless.

I’ve got a whole bunch of stuff I want to do and notepads and notepads of scrawled notes, I just need some time to finish some scripts.”

John: “a one-shot with Chris sounds intriguing – since you are keeping the details close to your chest, when do you expect to be in a position to let people know more of this project? Will this be a Merrick versus Wart showdown? Merrick with a first round K.O.”

Tom: “We’re maybe a third of the way through finishing the script, it’s something new completely unrelated to Merrick or Wart. A standalone graphic novel, probably best described as a tragic drama, the reaction will probably be “interesting”…. We’re going to wait until the script is 100% complete before we try to assemble more of a creative team because it’s going to be a difficult one to pitch, at least if we have the script done then they can see it in its entirety.”

John: “I briefly touched on Indie comics a moment ago, what is your take on the indie comics scene – from the perspective of having your book out there, doing the con scene and having stupid questions thrown at you by ‘dashing’ interviewers?”

Tom: “I’ve got so much time for anyone who is out there making anything, it’s tough but now is probably the best time you’ve ever had to do it. I always find it kind of inspiring when someone is just doing their own thing, not asking for anyone else’s permission, just getting on with it.

Image are obviously putting out a lot of incredible stuff and I think that has opened people’s minds up to more than just superheroes and so more and more people are willing to check out small press stuff.

I’ve picked up some fantastic books at cons, online and via kickstarter, if you didn’t check out And Then Emily Was Gone… by John Lees and Iain Laurie last year then you’re missing out, like a Scottish Twin Peaks mixed with The Wickerman with some absolutely twisted art and characters, I think the trade has just come out and Bonnie Shaw will make you piss yourself.

Bigfoot: Sword of the Earthman by Josh Henaman and Andy Taylor is super fun if the idea of Bigfoot being involved in some John Carter-esque hack and slash with mutant dinosaur things(?) on Mars appeals to you.

If you catch the guys from Disconnected Press at a UK con, you can swap a pound coin for their Sentient Zombie Space Pigs #01 and a second pound for issue #02. The title really says it all on this one, does what it says on the tin and is a really good book you won’t regret dropping that £2 on.

Royal Descent by John Farman and John Howard is another book worth picking up, I got issue #1 at Carlisle last year and I think #2 has just launched, so I’ll be keeping my eye out for that. The British Royal family pitted against each other in a Battle Royale/Hunger Games-esque tournament.

I could go on, but that’s probably enough for now. I think the point is there’s absolutely loads of great stuff out there and something for everyone. If you want to do it then just get stuck in, it’s a lot of work and you’ll probably lose money and any free time you thought you had, but it’s all worthwhile when you get your printed books delivered and you’re like “I did that”.”

John: “For those aiming to break into comics, the general consensus seems to be: make comics if you want to make comics. With the wealth of new indie books on the scene (everyone seems to have their own company these days) does it seem impossible for independent creative people to get the attention of the major publishers?“

Tom: “Haha, I’m not sure I can really answer this one, getting the attention of major publishers isn’t really on my “to-do-list”. I got the attention of enough backers to make 4 issues of Merrick a reality and I’m super excited about that and concentrating on making the best possible comic we can make. People seem to really like it, as much as I do, which is all that really matters to me. If we have enough support to keep this party going and do more Merrick then I’ll be incredibly psyched.

That being said, one major publisher did notice us and get in touch, although they said they wouldn’t be able to publish Merrick they did think it was a good book and definitely worth continuing with which was really encouraging. So it just goes to show, there are people out there paying attention looking for new stuff.

You see some indie creators and it feels like they’re just trying really hard to get the attention of Marvel or DC etc, ultimately that’s where they want to be, writing Spider-Man or whatever. It feels kind of insincere, like they’re just using their own stuff as a stepping stone to get somewhere else. I guess that’s cool if it’s what you want to do, but I don’t think it’s for me. Merrick is a labour of love for me and I’ll always be giving it 100%.”