Steve Collier on Japan Comic Aid and The Mystery Boys

The London MCM Expo saw the launch of Dead Universe Comics’ issue #2 of The Mystery Boys by writer Steve Collier and artist Andy Clift. Described as an action/ buddy comedy/adventure-noir comic book for fans of Powers, Hellboy, Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones, the series follows agents Neumann and Furore as they hunt for a kidnapped girl in rural Japan. They’re up against criminal organisations and ancient gods of the forest in a storyline that spans a thousand years and hints at major secrets about Agent Neumann’s past.

The books feature a personally written foreword by Stan Lee (something Steve describes as, “undoubtedly the best email I have ever received!”) and the latest issue has a specially designed cover by Eisner Award nominated artist, Tonci Zonjic (Who Is Jake Ellis? Daredevil, Lobster Johnson).

The Mystery Boys is one of a range of comic books to be released under the Japan Comic Aid label which itself is an imprint of Dead Universe Comics – a new, UK startup publisher based in Aylesbury, Bucks.

Steve is the founder of Japan Comic Aid which he started in 2011 with just an email address and a Twitter account. Now the label has talent from all around the world working on titles for them, with Dan Didio (one of the head honchos at DC Comics) picking up copies of The Mystery Boys and Steve’s other current series, Kaiju Steel (think giant monsters, a mystical katana and saving the world) which he writes in collaboration with artist Lee Killeen.

“I’m hugely proud of what we’ve achieved in such a short space of time and with limited resources,” says Steve. “It’s a real testament to the human spirit that creators who have never met before can come together and put out such great comics and do it for free.”

Japan Comic Aid is a non-profit collective, meaning none of the people behind these books gets paid for what is an extremely time consuming job. “We fit it around our day jobs and our families… much to the dismay of our families,” notes Steve. “But it’s cool. We’re lucky enough to have really supportive partners and families who get why we’re doing this and our publisher, Ian Hine at Dead Universe Comics was generous enough to front the bill for printing to get us going. We are eternally grateful for all their help.”

The hard part was getting the books noticed and building an audience, so they’ve relied on social networking and emails, as well as popular shows like the London Comic Con MCM Expo to get the word out.

“Once we started meeting people at shows and building a fanbase, we realised that we were doing something worthwhile,” says the Mystery Boys writer. “The feedback has been really encouraging not only to my own self belief but because it made independent comic book creation a viable way to tell the stories I’ve always wanted to tell. I always had this image in my head of indie comics not fulfilling everything I loved in storytelling. I was raised up on a diet of Steven Spielberg and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Redwall and video games. There was a lot of energy and excitement in the things I loved as a kid and it moulded my writing style. These comics are the result.”

As for what kick-started the idea for Japan Comic Aid, Steve said, “I saw the horror in Japan last year and it was like nothing I’d ever seen. Whole coastlines of communities wiped off the face of the Earth. Japan has, for many years, been an inspiration to me via its history, culture and imagination. I wanted to give something back to a country that had fed me so much inspiration. I had dabbled in comics before to no avail but when I started digging out and freshening up old film scripts and story ideas I knew I could do it. It was simply a matter of finding the right artist…”

And he did! Andy Clift and Lee Killeen jumped at the chance to work with Steve on the comics while Ken Bastard came onboard as writer and artist with his one shot depression era noir book, Nowhereville. “I was very lucky with artists. The stories I had demanded a specific visual style and these guys were literally perfect. And they’re swell guys! I’ve just loved working with them. They contribute so much in their art and ideas which really helps expand the depth and atmosphere.”

They all share influences and one of them is music. “We all love various forms of rock music and some of us play in bands,” reveals Steve. “I think that has shaped how we want to market our books and where we want to go with the titles. We have some really cool ideas for merch that are more like what you’d find at a punk rock gig. I think it’ll widen the appeal and make the brand more relevant to the kids we see at shows and our peers.”

From launching issue #2 at the MCM Expo, Steve said of the event, “There’s a really strong Japanese cultural influence to the show. The Japan-Ex section, the cosplay, the gaming, the anime… I love it. I’ve been coming here as a punter for years and actually worked for MCM Buzz at the show last year so it’s great to be back showing off our own comic books and some fantastic merch!”

The London MCM Expo certainly appeared to help, for Dead Universe Comics’ Kaiju Steel, Nowhereville, Little Terrors, Apes ‘n’ Capes, Aylesbury Dead and Kuzimu all sold extremely well. However, the first print of The Mystery Boys (including the limited variant covers by Ken Bastard) eventually sold out! They also gave away badges and limited edition prints, such as an Andy Clift Ghostbusters themed print and a Tonci Zonjic scene.

So what of the future for The Mystery Boys? “The series will carry on,” said Steve. “We’re already working on #3 as well as new issues of Kaiju Steel and a brand new superhero comic called META, which will also be written by me with lovely art from Little Terrors creator, Jon Scrivens. Plus we have some as yet unannounced books from other creators in the pipeline you’re going to love!”

While their mission statement is to deliver awesome comics, the reasoning behind it, which set the wheels in motion, are the tragic events which destroyed the lives of millions of unsuspecting people in Japan in 2011. “I want this to stand as some kind of tribute to those who lost everything,” said Steve. “Raising enough money to help someone in that situation is worth all the hard work. I’d also love it if this inspires other creators to believe in their talent and create their own works. You don’t have to be famous to create an impact.”

You can read a five page excerpt preview of The Mystery Boys #2 on its Facebook page, but if you want the full story then you’ll have to head over to The Mystery Boys homepage to purchase a copy. ALL profits go to relief funds for Japanese disaster victims affected by last year’s devastating disaster.

If you wish to show your support then you can visit Japan Comic Aid on Facebook as well as follow Comic Aid on Twitter. The Dead Universe Comics Facebook page will also fill you in on the titles that they publish.

Huge thanks to Steve Collier.

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