As a follow-up for the exhibition and jam-packed book launch we hosted for original graphic novel, Scotland Yardie back in January, Adam checks in with the singular figure of writer, Bobby Joseph. Illustrated by co-creator Joseph Samuels, their book’s really managed to connect with more mainstream audiences since its release, described by Broken Frontier as ‘a gag-filled contemporary satire with lashings of novelty police brutality, celebrity cameos and really good fried chicken’.
Adam: Scotland Yardie has a storied and unusual history as a cult comics character – from the pages of underground sensation, Skank Magazine, to his very own original graphic novel with Knockabout in 2016. What’s that journey been like for you? Did you ever envisage Yardie going this far?
Bobby: I always knew the character of Scotland Yardie had mileage. However, finding the right vehicle and story to tell was a tough one. When I first created Scotland Yardie, he was more of a caricature, a satire of all those anti-heroes that we have known and loved from movies and literature. There was no depth, or hidden layers to the character. He came. He kicked ass. He left. He was a force of nature. Personally, I wasn’t sure he would’ve worked in a longer narrative. That said, once I figured out that the story was not about Yardie, but instead his partner PC Ackee-Saltfish, and the melting pot that is multicultural Britain… that’s when the story really clicked for me. It’s Ackee’s journey that we see and explore in the graphic novel. He is the comedy foil to Yardie’s off-the-wall bad bwoy antics.
Adam: As one of the minds behind something so very distinctive, it’s always interesting to hear about what informs the work. What would you say are you inspired and influenced by lately, in the last couple of years or so? Comics or otherwise.
Bobby: Prince, was (and is) a huge influence on my work. Alan Moore, Gilbert Shelton also fucking rule! Then there’s Jack Kirby, Daniel Clowes, Maya Angelou, Jamie Delano, Frank Miller, Michael Moorcock, Kyle Baker, Neil Gaiman, Jamie Hernandez, William Blake, Warren Ellis, Roald Dahl, Elmore Leonard, Dr Seuss, Ralph Ellison, Francis Ford Coppola, Matt Wagner. Dang man! The list is endless…
Adam: The sheer density of the panelling in Scotland Yardie is downright remarkable. How much of the background detail and design came through the collaborative process with Joseph?
Bobby: The background stuff was all my idea. I had a plan with Scotland Yardie. I wanted it to be a work that people could go back to, re-read, and find something new. I wanted a visual feast that would blow people away! So I went and wrote a very layered script with gags galore in the background (and then, I even layered those gags). There are possibly, 300 odd gags in that book. No one, as yet has figured all of them out! I remember, when Joe first saw my script, he was blown away, as he knew it was going to be work – a lot of work. Then after he got into his groove, he rose to the challenge and even added the odd gag himself. Lemon licks etc.
Adam: The cameos, pop cultural references and background gags in Scotland Yardie really are quite brilliant, and in conjunction with the political content, they definitely work to capture a good chunk of the zeitgeist of modern Britain. How conscious were you and Joseph to create a document that would really stand up over time?
Bobby: Yes. I knew. And once Joseph started illustrating it, he knew too. Sometimes you can work on an idea and it totally clicks. You know as you’re doing it, it’s a hit. And we had that feeling from the get-go. Both of us were like… ‘this is the one, that straight-up idea people will get and love’.
Adam: The book’s also tonally really varied – which keeps it fresh: darkly comic, rude, thrilling, politically poignant. Is it important to strike a balance when dealing with the more serious and weighty stuff?
Bobby: It’s very important. When I was younger, my stuff was raw. It was brutal. It was straight-up, unrestrained, offensive gags. As I got older, my maturity as a writer made me want to explore themes that affected me. So yes, the book may make you crease up with laughter, but at the same time it will make you think about the subtext of the actual piece.
Adam: Skank was pioneering in a number of ways – not least for featuring black characters by black creators. With the new book enjoying pretty substantial crossover success and acclaim, do you feel it’s a marker of sorts for the comics landscape changing as far as spaces for black voices and black stories?
Bobby: Is it a marker? I don’t know. Time will tell. I personally just like putting out good stories that challenge me as a writer. That’s my thang! That’s my jam!! That said, a friend recently said that Scotland Yardie serves notice to the general public (and comic companies) that the UK comic scene has people of colour in it too! And we kick ass!
Adam: Truth. So, what’s next? If Yardie is Skank Magazine‘s Judge Dredd, are there other ideas or characters you would to like see strike out on their own solo adventures?
Bobby: Well the journey of Scotland Yardie has ended in the graphic novel form. There’s one idea I like involving a few familiar characters, but I won’t divulge that one just as yet!
Adam Karenina Sherif