As Vertigo rolls out a slew of new comics this fall, Simon Oliver is creating a "punk crime book" that takes readers from 1977 London all the way to Shanghai in the future.
That oddball time-traveling description for the new Last Gang in Town won't be a surprise to readers familiar with Oliver's work on other Vertigo quirky series, like The Exterminators and FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics. But this time around, Oliver is putting a gang of women at the center of his series, a group described as a "band of snotty-nosed" criminals who will pull off the heist of the century.
Illustrated by Rufus Dayglo, Last Gang in Town kicks off with a new #1 in December. Newsarama talked to Oliver to find out what "punk crime" means, who the women are at the center of his book, and what readers can expect from Last Gang in Town.
Newsarama: Simon, describe the genesis of the idea for this series, and why it appealed to both you and your editor?
Simon Oliver: I wanted to do a book about punk, but I didn’t want to write a book about music as such, as I think they can be quite boring. So I wanted to take that essence that I was so in awe of, distill it and put it into another bastardized genre — crime.
So what we have is a punk crime book set mainly in London 1977, but we jump around, ending it in Shanghai in 2018. Well, actually, to be completely accurate we end it in outer space (it will make sense, trust me).
It’s very much a book that I wanted to write and in a style that I wanted to really nail down, take the brakes off and make my own. It’s not going to change the world, but I don’t really give a shit.
Nrama: And on that note, let's talk about the premise a little. Set up the beginning of the story for us. What's the setting and the circumstances that start your story?
Oliver: I wanted a rise, a fall and a last chance at redemption, so it’s basically "Behind the Music.” It starts in 1977; England is a depressing, drab and miserable place. A gang of nobodies, with no particular skills, aptitude, or talent, are thrown together into a gang by a shadowy svengali-like character and told they’re going to change the world. They’re basically the snotty-nosed, Sex Pistols of the crime world — only the gang are girls, which was a conscious decision on our part, but hopefully not in a “hey-look-at-me” kind of way. I wanted outsiders, and let’s face it, in movies, TV and comics make your characters women and they’re halfway there.
Nrama: Describe these female characters who star in the book. Who are they?
Oliver: Ava, the mysterious figure who gets the ball rolling. Joey, the middle class girl, looking for her thing. Alex, council estate urchin, with a chip on her shoulder. And Billy, who loves saveloy sausages and will follow Joey anywhere.
Nrama: What's it been like working with Rufus Dayglo on art? What does he bring to the comic?
Oliver: He’s great. We’d not worked together before, and our sensibilities are perfectly lined up. He takes my script and adds to it, takes it past what I’ve written and brings an added dimension to it. I’ve really tried to give him scope to have fun, pushed all kinds of angles for the visuals. If you don’t know Rufus’ work, you should really check it out. The level of detail he puts in is mind blowing.
Nrama: This sound like an edgy, dark story, which is right up Vertigo's alley, but knowing your past work, I get the feeling that it'll have some quirkiness and humor involved. How would you describe the comic overall?
Oliver: Yeah, it’s definitely a throwback for me, back to the kind of gonzo approach I took to The Exterminators. It’s very anything goes, and I’ve really pushed that humor and tone. I just wrote a scene with a huge toilet, which has been scientifically proven to never not be funny.
It’s definitely dark, but it’s never that far from the next joke. I haven’t had this much fun writing something in a while. I’m having a blast and hopefully that comes across in the book. So far fingers crossed, I think it does.
Nrama: This also sounds like a very British story, if there's such a thing. Is that the goal, to bring a bit of the darker side of England to life?
Oliver: Very! Lots of in-jokes scattered through that might need to be Googled by American readers ("the generation game" anyone?), but I wanted to take the bull by the horns and take back what it means to be English, take it away from the tourist, changing of the guard bullshit version and back to the stale beer and urine odor that’s the real England, at least to me.
I’m a firm believer in great creative things coming from damp and depressing places, and you don’t get much more damp and depressing than 1970’s England.
And I also think music has taken a left turn in recent years. Not in that there isn’t good music out there. I just don’t think it means as much now. Back then we lived for it; it defined us. I don’t think it’s just because I’m old as f*&k, but it’s just not so important. We have it at our fingertips, everything ever recorded available through our phones. Back then someone had a new Clash album, we went over to their house to listen to it. It was an event. It was our way of being different from our parents' generation. Now my own kids tell me to turn that noise down. They like music, but it’s not the same anymore. They’ve got tons of other shit competing for their attention.
On second thought, maybe it's because I’m really old. Same with crime — stealing two million from a bank, that was a huge deal. Now the bank steals two billion from us, no one goes to jail, and it barely makes the news. People don’t rob banks, they go to work for them and they rob us. Crime as we’ve known it since the beginning of time has also radically changed in the last 20 years, and I wanted to do something that also focused a little on that.