A few weeks ago I had the distinct pleasure of reading and reviewing the first issue of the new comic book series Doctor Who: The Forgotten. Now I have the honor of interviewing the writer behind this exciting comic book series. Mr. Tony Lee.
John Reid Adams: Let’s start with the essentials. What got you into the comic business?
Tony Lee: I’d always wanted to write comics. Seriously. As a kid I used to read DC and Marvel and I remember being seven years old and getting the first issue of 2000ad when it came out. I loved comics. I just never believed that I could write them. I mean, how could you get such an exalted career, you know?
When I was about 20, I tried to get into 2000ad. We all believed back then that you wrote a hit 2000ad story, then DC or Marvel came by and asked you to revamp a character and then you were made. Of course, I got nowhere. And pretty much gave up for a couple of years. And then tried again in ’93. Gave up for ten years, while working in radio and TV to make the bills.
Then, about 2003 the itch hit again and this time I took the bull by both horns. And the fifteen years of writing experience I’d gained in the meantime helped me this time get myself into the game.
JRA: What are some of your career highlights?
TL: I think getting an X-Men story straight off the bat was incredible for me. But to be honest, I have loads of what I would call highlights. The X-Men story was one, being nominated in the Eagles last year for ‘Best New Writer’ was another, getting a chance to write for Pia Guerra definitely another. I’m a massive Doctor Who fan, and to have this chance? Incredible.
JRA: What are some of your favorite comics?
TL: Written? I’d say I enjoyed my Starship Troopers trilogy, Midnight Kiss, and also Hope Falls. Each one of them has so much of me invested in them. I have a lot of upcoming tales too that I just can’t wait to see printed.
To read as a fan? I’d have to say Hellblazer – I’ve read it since the start. Transmetropolitan, Captain America, Daredevil, Criminal, Queen and Country, Preacher, Animal Man, JSA, Nightwing – I LOVE Nightwing, and of course pretty much all the Bat Books. I buy a ton of comics and GN each week in my store or online – I devour comics.
JRA: As a writer, what are some of your influences?
TL: I’d like to say that I’m influenced by people like Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Alan Moore – but wouldn’t we all? I’d probably say that I take a little from everything I love. There’s a little Diggle, a little Rucka, some Ellis, Ennis, Morrison, definitely some Johns and Carey. Outside of comics? Sorkin, King, Morrell, McKee, the usual.
I would say I’m influenced by genres more than writers, though, a really good crime thriller will fire me up more than a piece of dialogue. But if that piece of dialogue is IN the crime thriller? it’s all golden.
JRA: When did you first encounter Doctor Who?
TL: 1974, three weeks shy of my fourth birthday. One of my earliest memories is pretty much the whole family sitting around the television set watching Pertwee transform into Baker. And then six months later? I watched ‘Robot’ on my own. Go figure.
But from that point? I was sold on the show.
JRA: Who is YOUR Doctor, and why?
TL: You see – I have several. I grew up with Tom Baker, and so I’d say ‘he’ was my Doctor. I have his signed autobiography. I have a signed limited print of the June Hudson 4th Doctor designs on my wall. But that said, I was Eleven to about Fourteen when Pever Davison was the Doctor, and I remember far more about his stories than I do Baker’s. It was only later in life when I started to watch re-runs on UK Gold that I remembered the halcyon days. But at the same time, I developed a serious love for the Pertween UNIT episodes.
So it was a 3rd/4th/5th Triumvate for years until Tennant took on the Tenth Doctor’s role. He brought a manic glee to the role and I fell in love with his portrayal. So currently? It’s the Tenth.
JRA: Did you always want to write for Doctor Who?
TL: Always. Actually, when I was nineteen, twenty years old and writing for magazines, I contacted Andrew Cartmel about pitching and writing for Season 27, which of course never happened. I had a story planned involving the Seventh Doctor finally facing the act that made him leave the Time Lords and the Celestial Intervention Agency, discovering it was something that was out of his hands – but it just got filed away.
And as much as I love the comics, I’d love to write Doctor Who books, radio or even the series. I’m just too shy to ask. Maybe I’ll send Steven Moffat a copy of the trade when it comes out as my ‘CV’…
JRA: If the opportunity presents itself, would you want to write for the actual TV series?
TL: In a timelord heartbeat. No argument there – I would kill as many of Steven’s enemies as it took to get that shot.
I’m just worried that I’d not be up to the task, however.
JRA: What was the genesis of “The Forgotten?”
TL: Chris (Ryall, the EiC of IDW) and I had been discussing doing a Doctor Who thing together for months, ever since my 3 part ‘F.A.Q’ came out in the Doctor Who Magazine. For those who missed it, it was a Tenth Doctor and Rose story and will be collected in October in the trade ‘The Betrothal Of Sontar’. We’d discussed a Tenth and Fourth story, but we thought the BBC would kill it.
Anyway, Chris had Gary doing a story for them already and wanted a second ‘all levels of fan’ story that could take new fans to Who and show them who the ‘classic’ Doctors were. I went off and came back with an idea that was the basis of the series, that the Tenth Doctor is in a strange place and being hunted and meanwhile having to remember all these stories to save himself.
And from there it just, well, mutated…
JRA: Describe for us in detail the process of the production of a comic series.
TL: I email Chris, and I beg to write something. Every month I continue to do this. I go to a convention and stand facing his booth, staring at him until he starts screaming for security. When I get bail, I return. Eventually I get a photo of him in a strip joint and he gives me a pitch opportunity.
I pitch about three ideas, pretty much nothing more than high concepts at this stage. He laughs at me and calls me names. I burn effigies of him until I feel better. Eventually we have an idea that works, and it’s sent to the BBC, where Gary Russell politely tells me I’m not all there in the head and throws tennis balls at my head.
Eventually the BBC give up and reluctantly agree to the story and I script it. We go back and forth a couple of times with the BBC removing lines, characters, etc. Meanwhile Chris gets an editor to find an art team who’ll put up with my shit and when they can’t, he blackmails Pia Guerra into doing it.
Pia gets the script, makes it into a beautiful comic. I of course claim all credit.
JRA: Tell us about the working relationship between you the writer, and artist Pia Guerra?
TL: I love her to death. And she’s as big a Who geek as I am, which helps a lot. Unfortunately because of personal issues involving a friend’s health she’s had to drop out of a couple of issues to be with them, and that sucks a lot as I know it kills Pia to not be able to do them all. But I truly think she’s an incredible artist, and I’ll take a bullet for her.
JRA: Do you get any feedback from the BBC and the producers of the TV series?
TL: Apparently Russell T Davies said (when he heard what we had planned) that there was no way that we could do this, and we’d hang ourselves with it. That’s all I’ve heard. Obviously the BBC feeds back on all aspects of the story to ensure that they’re canon, but I think in five, six issues of writing I’ve only had one major change and even that wasn’t a dealbreaker.
JRA: Can we expect to see more Doctor Who stories with the name Tony Lee attached to it?
TL: I’d hope so. In San Diego I had a couple of A-List artists come to me and express interest in doing a one shot with me, so I’m hoping to get a six parter going, all single issues, each one a ‘name’ artist. But of course the BBC needs to agree, and I’ll need to get fresh Chris Ryall photos…
JRA: Okay I think that about wraps it up. Firstly thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
TL: No worries. And if you’re in the UK reading this, remember that Orbital Comics is doing a signing on the 27th September in London, with me and Gary Russell signing comics.
JRA: Secondly, thanks for visiting us at fandomania.com, and keep up the good work.