SHARKPUNK - the anthology of killer shark stories coming your way in May from Snowbooks - features a couple of stories written by, well, couples. One of those pairings is comics writer and novelist Al Ewing and comics creator Sarah Peploe.
Sharkpunk: What, do you think, is the reason for people's enduring fascination with sharks?
Al Ewing and Sarah Peploe: Due to the anti-shark propaganda of Hollyweird, sharks are primarily known for their violent consumption of people. Like most people, we're fascinated with anything that wants to violently consume us or otherwise end our sweet lives. Hence our continuing interest in sharks, and also the Truckasaurus, which waits.
Sharkpunk: What was the inspiration behind your story 'YOU ARE THE SHARK'?
AE: We were in the pub, discussing collaborating, and I remembered an arcade machine from the early days of video gaming in which YOU WERE THE SHARK, which I'd read about in The Winner's Book Of Video Games, a bizarre tome devoted to achieving the highest score possible in the games available back then. It was full of Pac-Man patterns, tips to win Space Invaders (shoot the aliens, shockingly) and other junk of the era. So we figured that might be a good angle to approach the shark element.
SP: I grew up in Norwich, so I spent a fair bit of the summers (and winters and autumns and springs) in the various resorts along the Norfolk coast. I’ve always loved the sea, and more specifically the seaside. The British seaside, nothing compares to it. The meeting of the sand and sea and sky, Victorian architecture and neon, the forces of nature and civilisation, the illuminations and the limitless, salted dark. Hale knew. Also where else you gonna get an ice cream donut? But there’s also poverty, xenophobia, economic uncertainty, the North f*cking Sea in January. You can’t romanticise or sugarcoat that. Anyway I suggested the seaside setting, as this arcade game sounded like it’d be at home in the amusement arcades I used to like trawling around. Then we got to thinking about the kind of child who’d be attracted to this game, to the control and certainty and departure from reality that its name promised. The kind who’d have the tenacity (and maybe a dearth of alternatives) to keep playing and playing...
Sharkpunk: What challenges, or surprises, did you encounter in writing your story?
AE: It was fun to collaborate in a way we hadn't before - we ended up doing chunks of writing separately and sending it to each other, which we think is how Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman did it. Then we'd mutually edit and offer suggestions until the piece was ready to send off. One thing I tried to do was give the arcade machine a sense of reality without veering too far into dull Winner's Book Of Video Games-style descriptions of how to win at it - only the reader will know if I succeeded there.
SP: As for challenges, I was at work at the time, so often I'd be working STEALTH!, sneakily writing while sitting at one of the work computers in between issuing books/organizing book groups/wishing a protracted death on anyone who ever had a hand in the Universal Jobsmatch website. Also, we were writing about a lonely, alienated young female character, but I reeeaally didn't want to go all Exceptional Girl with her. I was excruciatingly aware that the scene in the kiosk could easily be all "Aw, isn't our protagonist just so Interesting and Special and Ravenclaw compared to this other bint?" So I hope we invested the other characters with enough agency and humanity to avoid that, but not detract from the main character's feelings of isolation.
Sharkpunk: If you had to pick a favourite shark, which would it be?
AE: I don't know if we have a favourite species. Hammerheads are fun.
Sharkpunk: Do you have a favourite fictional shark (in books, comics, films, or video games)?
AE: My favourite shark is Gums, the shark from the old kids comic Buster, who was a shark with false teeth who kept losing them, rendering him harmless. He was a figure of fun for cruel fish and was helped, or possibly hindered, by an octopus friend who I seem to remember wore a hat? I don't have a very good memory of this character considering he's supposed to be my favourite shark.
SP: Right Shark. He learns the choreography, turns up on time and discharges his duties to the best of his ability but does anyone turn him into a meme? There's no justice this side of Heaven.
Sharkpunk: Apart from your story in Sharkpunk, what's coming next from Al Ewing and Sarah Peploe?
SP: I'm part of a small press comics co-op called Mindstain Comics. We'll be exhibiting our special blend of excoriating dystopian scifi, psychological thrillers and vegetable-based juvenilia at various conventions across the UK this year... Other than that I don't know. Keep firing stories off and see which stick. Just like always.
AE: I've got some stuff coming up for Marvel - probably the biggest thing is a trio of Avengers specials where various Avengers of the past fight Ultron in the future. It's called ULTRON FOREVER, and it should be about right for kids from eight to eighty. And above, centenarians!
Al Ewing is best known as a comic-book writer, having worked on Mighty Avengers and Loki:Agent Of Asgard for Marvel Comics, and Zombo and Judge Dredd for 2000AD, among others. He's also known for his prose work, including a trio of Pax Britannia novels for Abaddon Books, and his critically-acclaimed novel The Fictional Man for Solaris.