17 years since its initial concept and five years after originally solicited, Kieron Gillen and Jim Rossignol, along with Jeff Stokely, Tamra Bonvillain, and Clayton Clowes, finally bring readers Ludocrats.
Gillen has described Ludocrats as an exponential lighter fare than what he’s used to doing. “This is an explosion of glitter and slugs, arranged artfully, nonsense and lack of sensibility. Its aim is to make you happy. Also, horrified.”
Originally announced back in 2015 with another artist, the flames of this 5-issue series were reignited with the entry of Jeff Stokely – and despite 17 years, an artist change, and a coronavirus-influenced shutdown of the entire comic industry, it’s coming – definitely – on May 20.
(That almost feels more than apt.)
Newsarama spoke with Gillen and Rossignol about revitalizing the series with Stokely and colorist Tamra Bonvillain, the possibility of releasing as an OGN, and if the series will be worth the wait.
Newsarama: So Kieron, Jim, folks might remember that Ludocrats was originally announced 5 years ago, and it’s just you coming back once again with now Jeff Stokely and Tamra Bonvillain. Has anything really changed about the way you’re approaching the story since then? Has it changed at all?
Kieron Gillen: Ludocrats is nothing but change. It was born stick and screaming in 2003 when Jim and I were writing to one another in character. It nearly warped into comics at least twice before we started thinking with David. And now it warps again. It is an amoeba of possibility, warping and twisting along with the screams of the zeitgeists’ banshee hymns.
Otto is now bald.
Jim Rossignol: Ludocrats has come a long way since its initial materializations, it’s true. I think it’s kinder now than it was in 2003. Otto is bald now, but he has a greater capacity for love. This isn’t a universal rule for balding men, but it should be.
Newsarama: So what exactly happened?
Gillen: Ironically for a book born of and hailing the joys of ludicrousness, it’s a very boring and uninteresting story. Basically “Life and schedules.”
Nrama: How did Jeff Stokely get involved?
Gillen: The week David and I had the firm handshake and went our separate ways, I had basically decided that Ludocrats was a dead project. Partially it was meant to be pure delight incarnating on this mortal plain and this had become a degree of paperwork, and we hate and fear paperwork like people in Gotham city hate and fear the Batman. But mainly as it’s such an art-powered project you can’t just replace David, and David is by definition irreplaceable. Ludocrats, as it was, was dead.
Then, in a moment of weirdness, Jeff tweeted he was going to be looking for work in a couple of months.
I’ve known Jeff for years, both in person, but also enjoying his work enormously, especially his collaborations with Si Spurrier, and always loved the berserk energy he brought to the page. I had the vision that while that Ludocrats was dead, you could conceptualize a new Ludocrats from the ground up. As a book about the power of imagination, it even fit thematically.
My only worry was that it was so berserk that professional berserker Jeff may be worried that he would be afraid of being berserk-typecast by doing it. He read the script. He said yes. Yay!
Nrama: You’re bringing on your Once & Future colorist Tamra Bonvillain for Ludocrats, what is it about her coloring that fits into this world so well?
Gillen: Jeff, Jim and I put our heads together – an action which dates this anecdote before the days of social distancing. We thought of colorists we loved, and Tamra’s got everything. Obviously we’re a really different book to Once & Future, but it being a delight to work with her over there certainly helped too. Putting aside her technical ability and how she’s previously executed conceptual stuff in Once & Future like the otherworld coloring, she’s also got this idiosyncratic palette and interesting, exciting taste. There’s so much of a colorist being “What are their choices? Are they interesting?” and Tamra nails it.
Nrama: What made you want to come back to Ludocrats?
Rossignol: Remember that story with the big whale? Ludocrats was out there in the sea, unpublished, for decades. Gillen and myself are, together, an embittered, obsessive one-legged sea captain, and so the rest was history.
Nrama: What’s your personal philosophy as a creator in making something work after so long?
Gillen: After 17 years, Lan! After seventeen years!
It has been interesting. It’s a book which is designed to be too much, and what Too Much looks like at any given moment alters. The first two scripts were written, but heavily reworked. The cast was tweaked, bringing some forward in the mix and some being dropped entirely. Relationships were reworked – Otto wasn’t originally the Hyper-pope’s brother, etc. Everything that was changed which needed to be changed.
I tend to be the sort of writer who waffles about philosophy, but my core comics one is if it works it works. Comics is a bastard medium with a universe of options. It’s just a case of analyzing what works and what doesn’t. Comedy is always one of the most demanding things creatively anyway. I remember writer Adi Tantimedh talking about Python being smart people methodically trying to be as dumb as possible. That’s definitely something we recognized in Ludocrats.
Writing Ludocrats is like a Star Trek scene where the captain shouts “DUMBER!” and the Engineer shouts back “WE CAN’T BE ANY DUMBER! WE CAN’T TAKE IT” and the captain shouts “WE HAVE TO FIND A WAY!”
Nrama: On the flipside, can you divulge into the business side of it? Was LaFuentes given co-creator credit for example and had to give back some of the IP? There’s not a lot of real business talk with creator-owned comics and how something like this happens, what’s the fallout as it were.
Gillen: Certainly. Honestly, this being a project where we’ve tried to radiate joy at every point has led to there not being a huge amount of hot legal chat involved in our interviews around the book. The only inside-baseball chat we get with the Ludocrats is the scene which is actually set inside a baseball.
Basically, it worked like this.
We talked to our lawyers, who then talked to one another, and then decided which distant, isolated forest grove they should meet. Once that was finalized – a process which was obviously somewhat extended, as these are lawyers – they arrived with their weapons and had about one another. My lawyer was quick with a blade, but David’s had a bloated club which threatened to crack skulls with every mighty swing. We just stood back. David and I weren’t really able to follow the fine details of the legal debate and/or intricate displays of martial techniques. We’re lovers, not fighters. The bout went on some time, then drew to a conclusion where our bruised lawyers bowed to one another and told us that the real winner was the friends we met along the way.
I hope this satisfies everyone’s curiosity.
Nrama: It does somehow, so thanks for that. How would you describe Tamra’s colors on Jeff’s line art?
Gillen: I talk about the heading there a little earlier, but what I didn’t know is exactly how bold she was in her choices here, seeing the lines of each character and not being limited by any preconceptions of them. To choose a minor example, Gratty is blue because she’s decided she’s blue. There’s so much active collaboration there.
The word I’d use is “Magical.” They’re a joy to see work together like this.
Nrama: You’re keeping the story pretty self-contained with five issues, but was there talk of releasing this as an OGN or did you want to keep it as a limited series?
Gillen: When we rebooted Ludocrats I did consider it, but figured that when I do an OGN, I want it to be intellectually a single unit from the very beginning of time. There’s so much about being single issues which is built into Ludocrats. Sure, every page is packed (I was still spotting sight gags Jeff had worked in as we were signing it off for the printer) but we’ve got pages of backmatter in every issue which is yet more jokes, and annotations and definitely-not-fake letters pages and everything else. The idea of arriving in someone’s life once a month like a starburst was just part of the exercise. It’s a playful book, but in terms of content-per-square-inch it’s not a light book.
Rossignol: Playful is one way of putting it, sure.
Nrama: Jim this is finally your first Image title, do you have anything else in the works at the moment?
Rossignol: It is! I do! This is certainly one off the major bucket list items, and I am thrilled to be working with Gillen again, who was my wingman in another life, but also to see our creation brought to life by Jeff, Tamra and Clayton. All amazing. It’s a busy few months for me, as it happens. A game I art directed and scripted, Ancient Enemy, lands early next month on PC, while the following month should contain more information about another book, gloriously illustrated by master concept artist Ian McQue. I am keenly excited about all these things.
Nrama: Lastly. with Ludocrats coming out May 20, do you feel like it’s been worth the wait?
Gillen: Put it like this: if Jesus Christ came back, everyone would be all “Oh, nice to see you JC, but I’m busy reading this hot Ludocrat comic.”
Rossignol: I think Jesus would appreciate it. And the wait has been worth it. It’s ludicrous.