Meet Chris Thompson – sci-fi guru and writer of the New Captain Scarlet graphic novel

As Anderson Entertainment’s New Captain Scarlet graphic novel launches, we meet writer Chris Thompson

Welcome to Brands Untapped, Chris. You’ve had a long career in different parts of the comic industry. How did you get into it?
Hi! Yes, I’ve been about a bit climbing through the ranks. Honestly, I came out of secondary school with no firm direction of where I wanted to go… Then, when I failed to get into uni, I just started making things, little animations in 3D programs, artwork, short films with my friends.

Yeah. But after doing this for a little while, I found myself getting really invested in getting stories. One of these little projects was a short Thunderbirds fan film. Following Gerry’s death in 2012, Jamie reached out to say he liked the movie and we got talking – and we started making stuff together. From that, I’ve been able to branch out and work on all sorts of crazy stuff I could never have dreamed of – including the soon-to-launch New Captain Scarlet graphic novel!

Wow. That’s a pretty great origin story! And I know you recently went freelance, but where else have you worked?
So in addition to Anderson Entertainment, I’ve worked with Big Finish Productions on some of their Doctor Who, Space 1999 and Starcops ranges. I’ve provided cinematic animated trailers for their audio productions… I’ve worked with the BBC on extra content for their Blu-ray ranges, and I’ve been bouncing around the opera scene doing music videos with Northern Irish Opera, Spark Opera and Ulster Touring Opera.

That’s a pretty varied range!
On top of that – until recently – I’ve supplemented my income by doing a few days a week in retail. I actually miss it! As much as I love my freelance life, I do miss co-workers…

Chris Thompson
Yes, retail offers a lot of staff and customer interaction. I recently heard you described as an “artistic troubleshooter”. Would that be accurate, do you think?

The way my career has panned out – missing university and helping to rebuild Anderson Entertainment – a lot of the projects I’ve been involved in have had a vide of, “let’s do this cool thing and work out how to do it later”… More often than not, I’ll be up past midnight browsing YouTube tutorials on how to rig animated characters, or letter comics. Over my history in Anderson Entertainment alone, I’ve been a content creator, writer, producer, social media manager, animator, director, graphic designer, artist, editor and fashion model. we don’t talk about that last one.

No? Okay, noted! For you, what’s the appeal of comics and graphic novels?
I think they’re a unique type of storytelling. They telling a story through all these dynamic captured moments in time… I absolutely love building to a moment and then having the reader turn the page to an explosive double page reveal. I’ve a very TV and animation-focused mind, so it takes me a little effort to separate the mediums.

Interesting. I guess turning the page is a bit like a cut in film… So let me ask you this: which title or titles first got you hooked?
I guess I’m kind of weird for a comic writer, in that I’ve actually not delved much into traditional superhero comics…

Yeah… I got my start taking out classic Tintin stories from the library and from there I started reading the TV21 reprints that were in the Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlet comics from the 90s. I got really into Dan Dare and – more recently – into Titans Doctor Who titles, and IDW’s Godzilla stuff. I’ve just got into Saga – I’m told it’s quite the journey!

Chris Thompson
You mentioned quite a few things there, but one of them ties in with a recent project – Captain Scarlet. Tell us about that…

So just off the press is our New Captain Scarlet graphic novel. It’s called Operation Sabre; it’s my second writing project with the very talented artist Connor Flanagan, and by buddy and pal Andrew Clements who contributed a bonus story.

And how did it come about?
At Anderson Entertainment, we had direct control over a number of the later shows – but New Captain Scarlet often seems a bit overshadowed by its classic predecessor, and that’s despite a huge fondness for the show from the core fanbase.

I can imagine that, actually…
Right? But it’s also the show that started my interest in computer graphics and concept design, so bringing it back for another story was a wonderful little ‘full-circle’ moment to me.

Chris Thompson
So looking at that, how do you go about writing stories around existing characters? What does your creative process look like?

I’ve been lucky to be very familiar with the universes I’ve written stuff for in the past. I tend to start with one sequence that would be really cool, though, and build a story out from there.

You mean you envision just one scenario? With which – what – you imagine fans engaging?
Exactly. And in a lot of instances it’s not too hard to identify stuff that the fans want to see, so a little fan service always helps! I’d say one of the more annoying habits I have as a writer is coming up with a first and third act fully formed in my head and really struggling with coming up with an act 2. It can take a few days to wait for the exact thing to come along and make the story work.

Well, that’s fascinating. I like the approach. And beyond that, what’s the biggest challenge when writing for established characters?
Mostly fan expectation. A lot of the stuff I’ve worked on is for intellectual properties based on older shows which have been around for years but tended to focus more on the story as opposed to character development. I like to have little character moments that add a little bit of extra depth, so it can be hard to fit those in while still feeling authentic to the IP.

Chris Thompson
Got it. Great answer! What’s next for you?

Well, the New Captain Scarlet book launched on July 10th – International Captain Scarlet Day. So next would be the launch of some technical manuals I’ve been producing for Anderson Entertainment. That began with last year’s massive Space 1999: Moonbase Alpha Technical Operations Manual, or MBATOM as we called it in house…

That’s much better!
It’s not much better – but it’s slightly quicker! Anyway, we call them technical manuals but I guess you could more accurately describe them as ‘source books’. Essentially, they outline the world in which the IP is set, and show off all the cool production design through illustrations, images and text.

Chris Thompson
So when you say producing, what does that entail?

I wrote and put together about 250 illustrations for the book with additional chapters by Andrew Clements and guest contributors Phillip Plait of Bad Astronomy fame, and Dr David Parker of the European Space Agency. The real challenge with these books is using retroactive continuity to fill gaps or plot holes that the original creators may not have thought about at the time. We’ve almost finished the second book in this series; we’ll be announcing it shortly. I can’t say too much just yet – but at least it has a slightly simpler acronym.

What’s the next step for your freelance career, Chris?
I have two key goals for the next year… Firstly I’d love to develop some form of work-life balance! That’s been surprisingly tricky for someone that has monetised all his hobbies. Secondly, I’d love to branch out into original content since, while I love working on existing stuff, I really love developing stuff from scratch.I’d love to see it follow through to fruition.

Great answer. Thank you, Chris; this has been fun and I can’t wait to see what’s next. Thanks for your time.

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