Posted April 23, 2013 by Stephen Hardman in Columns

Indie Spotlight: Brett Uren Talks To Geeks Unleashed About The Vale

We’re big supporters of independent comic creators here at Geeks Unleashed. Following our interview last year with Brett Uren about his comic Kuzimu, I had a chance to catch up with him again recently and have a chat about his most recent work The Vale, which has just had the second issue released. I wanted to ask Brett about the concept behind The Vale, and also find out a bit more about the web comic that he has recently launched. Enjoy the interview below and then show your support for independent comics by checking out some of Brett’s work.

Geeks Unleashed: Hi Brett. Issue #2 of The Vale has recently been published. What has the reception been like so far to the story?

Brett Uren: I am genuinely blown away by the positive response, even coming from some who were initially unsure after reading the outline. It has been pointed out that The Vale can be labelled as more of a satire, whereas I was working the magic and pub jokes before. I was just collecting some general thoughts at its inception, but it has grown so much in scope since then.

GU: It’s a really interesting premise to the story – when did you first have the idea and what has the development process been?

BU: Thank you, I have to say that it was deliberately based more on existing western cultural material than my previous series, Kuzimu. Originally The Vale was to be my submission for Dead Universe Publishing’s Anthology comic when it was put to me last year (a publication forthcoming later this year, for which I am pitching a different project) and a direct reaction to a bad/mixed review the Kuzimu graphic novel had received.

Instead of creating a dense, esoteric and multi-layered work meant for interpretation, I challenged myself to do everything that the review said I had done wrong. I wanted to find a way of telling the good bulk of a story in only a few initial pages, while using my penchant for world-building and applying it to recognisable pop culture reference points.

The conceit, to make light of the Lovecraftian tropes that permeate our modern entertainment, came easily enough. One of the darkest and most unique horror writers of the 20th century has had his tales enter into our collective mind at an almost subconscious level. Conspiracy theories about world governments abound online with tales of dark magical cults, lizard royal families and even Cthulhu-type creatures being unleashed by future CERN experiments. The plain ludicrousness of the fictions we create about the real world from fiction itself fascinates me and I thought was an untapped mine of material.

Many of the jokes for issue 1 had been in some kind of mental development for years, as I and a friend had discussed many ideas for a sketch comedy show based around Aylesbury Vale and it’s creepy aura of benign yet undeniable ‘weirdness’. So a lot of that first issue was the organic coalescing of material that had been on the back-burner while I was working on my other series.

It came together within a few days as a script, but it wasn’t until those last few pages that I conceived that it could be a series in its own right with a deeper reference to modern Britain, and by extension, current societal issues the world over. Using monsters and magic in a comedic vein makes it far easier to talk about wealth/power inequality, encroachment of technology, immigration and social activism without appearing too serious or preachy. It was pointed out to me that this is largely what Terry Pratchett has made his career from, but that encourages me that I’m in good company.

GU: The local history of Aylesbury and the surrounding area is a central theme of The Vale. How much research did you have to undertake before you started writing the comic? 

BU: Oh man, I think that if you live in the area long enough, you have to start processing it out of your system. The modern cultural stuff about Aylesbury is almost like writing a sitcom about the experience of living here day to day. However, it was not until I started planning the first series arc that I started delving more into the rich history of not just Aylesbury, but the home counties.  Around these parts there exists an almost inexhaustible supply of rich fodder. Long-standing familial and aristocratic wealth, classic farm traditions, links to royalty, witchcraft and real world secret societies (Hellfire club, et al). The research elements for The Vale were much more direct and readily obtainable than the African culture, quantum mechanics and psychological studies of Kuzimu, and more or less fell into place while writing. Not to say that I was lazy in anyway, just that I found a richer seam of ready information was available on the subject of this area.

GU: Have you set out to debunk some misconceptions that people may have about this part of the country, or is it more an opportunity for you to explore some of the more interesting history of the area?

BU: A good hearty chunk of both. Internationally, people tend to see Buckinghamshire with a quaintness akin to Hobbiton and assume that it is affluent, a place that wears its heritage on its sleeve. Now there are certainly parts of it that conform to that, but I didn’t think that many British entertainments of any kind made an attempt to reflect the clashing of modern austerity with this historical wealth. Aylesbury is one of the least affluent southern towns in the London catchment, yet is surrounded by wealth. Not so long ago saw a yellow lamborghini Gallardo parked outside the Aylesbury Wetherspoons on discount cocktail night. Jobless urbanized kids often rub up against wealth they can never obtain. There is a contradiction at the heart of it so huge and yet so common to many countries in this current age. In many ways, I am satirising the notion of progress over history.

GU: You write and illustrate The Vale. Which part of the process do you enjoy the most? 

BU: I don’t think it’s too off-point to say that I enjoy both. Setting myself that initial challenge of writing a short yet rich story really has helped me develop as a writer and it has been a pure joy to create something more fun than previous works, to balance my trademark darkness with levity.

Artistically, The Vale is much less detailed and intense than Kuzimu. But that works in its favour to my mind, releasing the work and myself from over-complication and permitting me a realistic working time-frame with a newborn in the house. Plus, I get to be creative in a different manner and do some visual gag writing. For example, did anyone spot the cigarette machine taking a smoke break on page 7 of issue 1? I know of maybe a couple of people that did, but those little details give it a different kind of richness. As an artist first and writer later on, I do miss the deep and fantastical imagery of my last comic to an extent. But as a creator, The Vale has been an all-round better development process and more warmly received for it, seemingly. As a creator, I feel far more confident of this book’s overall appeal and quality as a package.

GU: You’ve recently started up a webcomic focusing on some of the characters from The Vale. What made you decide to start the webcomic?

Well, as the turnaround for Indie comics is long, due to day jobs and family commitments, I wanted to find a way to keep regularly releasing some kind of material. That way I can keep exercising  those writing and drawing muscles without a big drain on my own resources. There are also so many little jokes, asides and short stories that are alluded to in the main Vale series that it would be a shame for them to remain unreleased. Also, I’ve always loved the three panel strip format since I was a kid. It is really an opportunity to realise a dream of mine, while also having a more constant presence that aids in promotion. It’s a real win-win, in which I can pretend to be Jim Davis or Bill Watterson for just a little while.


GU: You attended LSCC earlier this year. How was it for you?

BU: LSCC was fantastic for networking and setting up the beginning of distribution for The Vale and other Dead Universe Publishing titles. This totally made up for the relative drop-off in attendance and intensity from the previous year’s show. That fact I was only privy to through some of my colleagues, but generally it was positive in building the pathways to a wider audience.

GU: With your ongoing work on Kuzimu, the Vale comic and webcomic and a newborn daughter I imagine your spare time is limited! Do you have any time to read comics – what, if anything, are you currently reading?

BU: Valiant books like Archer and Armstrong, with such a high quality threshold, are really grabbing me. Also, the amount of small indie titles from Image that have exploded out from nowhere is  astounding. Comeback, Infinite Vacation and Grim Leaper to name a few. Of course Saga is a current favourite and also a blueprint for the industry going forward I think. I was trying to keep up with Batman Incorporated as I liked the concept, but you correct to assume that the needs of my family and publishing schedule has meant that much of my reading list has been waylaid.

GU: Finally, what are you currently working on, and what have you got lined up for the rest of 2013?

BU: I’m working on drawing Vale issue 3, due out in May. Also an autumn special is being put together. Look out for a story I have coming out with Outre Anthology Issue 2, due digitally in October. I’m of the opinion that it might be one of my finest stories, so may have to print as a mini comic in its own right later on. Also, a short I did a while back will be included in DIY comics mag, if the Kickstarter goes well.

GU: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today Brett.

BU: Great to talk, speak again soon!

Well, I hope you enjoyed reading this interview. If you want to check out Brett’s work, The Vale issues 1 & 2 are available via thevalecomic.com, along with original T-shirt designs related to jokes and products from the books. It will also be available soon via the publisher’s site – Dead Universe Publishing – which goes live in the next few weeks.

Brett will be attending the following events in the near future so if you’re in the area go and say hi!
Dead Universe Iron Man 3 opening day event:
Saturday 27th April. Opening weekend of Iron Man 3. Foyer of Odeon Cinema, Aylesbury, from 10:30 am – 9 pm.
Free Comic Book Day!:
Saturday 4th May. In Friars Square Shopping Centre, Aylesbury.
We have something very special lined up for this yearly celebration of all things comic-y!

Born in the North West of England and now living in North Somerset his interest in comics started at an early age by reading the cartoons in weekend newspapers – a particular favourite being Calvin & Hobbes. His interest grew when he discovered the only comic shop in his home-town, which led him to Vertigo, the early incarnation of Image, as well as Batman, a character which remains a favourite to this day. He also loves crime and noir fiction, film and TV of all kinds, and music of all types. Writing and blogging takes up much of his spare time and he hopes to one day publish his long-gestating crime novel.