Comic Book Yeti contributor Alex Breen recently corresponded with Andrew Clemson, writer of Damsel from D.I.S.T.R.E.S.S., Star Bastard, and Bete Noir, to discuss his writing process, approach to crafting a superhero story and some of his favorite Kickstarter comics. Bete Noir issue #4 & 5 is available on Kickstarter now and you can order a copy HERE.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Andrew, thank you for joining me today. One thing that always fascinates me with comic book writers is how they started out. Can you give us your “origin story” as a comic book writer? And some of your formative comics you’ve read?
ANDREW CLEMSON: I've always read comics. I graduated from things like the Beano and Dandy to Asterix and TinTin and then subsequently to Spider-Man when I came across a copy at a friend's house when I was about 6. (One of the Kraven's Last Hunt issues, believe it or not, great first book for a kid!) From there, I discovered the X-Men and as I got older, I fell into Vertigo and Dark Horse. A lot of those early books have influenced what I write and the long term goals I have as a writer.
I made my first foray into writing comics after a high school friend passed away in 2015. Figured it was time to tick off a few bucket list things I’d wanted to do as a kid in case I got hit by a bus the following week!
CBY: Can you describe for us what your writing process is like?
AC: It’s often different book to book, but generally speaking, I like to sit down with a blank page and a few characters in my head and then just write to see where we end up. Then I’ll go back in and edit that vomit draft for pacing and to make sure we’re hitting plot points. Sometimes I find the characters take me to interesting places that I hadn’t expected, which changes aspects of the story plot I’d originally had in mind, be it big or small!
My biggest secret weapon is a soundtrack. Each series I do has its own playlist, which can be utterly unrelated to the tone of the book but just helps me get the story out! I’ve just written a licensed property original graphic novel which had an outlaw country playlist I wrote to, and the book couldn’t be further from that vibe if you tried!
CBY: What were some of your main inspirations behind Bete Noir?
AC: Bete Noir was actually the first thing I wrote when I made the decision to try and have a go at my own stories. As a lot of people do, I had grand aspirations of the next Watchmen or DKR, but as reality set in, I quickly realised I wasn’t writing at that level and shelved the project to work on more lighthearted ideas. I later convinced Matt Hardy of Mad Robot Comics to have a crack at editing the script down and he managed to distill the essence of the book into a nice short single volume.
"...Bete Noir, despite being a serious book, doesn’t avoid poking fun at the tropes we are using to tell our story. We aren’t trying to set up another “universe.” It’s a neat single volume story about why people wearing their underpants over their trousers might decide go around punching each other. "
CBY: Were there any goals or mission statements you had in mind when imagining the world of Bete Noir?
AC: I wanted to use analogs so that we didn’t have to do a massive amount of world-building and people could recognise (consciously or subconsciously) what kind of things we were trying to say with the story itself. But whilst we’re playing against a backdrop of super-powered aliens and billionaire vigilantes, the story is ultimately about fathers and sons.
CBY: With the crowdfunded comics space becoming increasingly crowded in recent years, can you describe for us your approach to making Bete Noir stand out against other Crowdfunded Superhero/Vigilante stories?
AC: There are admittedly a metric tonne of super books out there on Kickstarter, which is ironic considering they’re the hardest to get funded. I think what sets us apart is that Bete Noir, despite being a serious book, doesn’t avoid poking fun at the tropes we are using to tell our story. We aren’t trying to set up another “universe” it’s a neat single volume story about why people wearing their underpants over their trousers might decide go around punching each other.
CBY: Where did you find artist Kriswanto Why? And how has your collaboration evolved over the course of the series?
AC: I’d been working on the book on and off since 2016, and I’d moved onto other projects. I found Kris on a Facebook group for indie comics and loved what he was doing. It was seeing his style and realizing how perfect it was for Bete Noir that gave me the nudge to get the book up and running again. It’s been an interesting process, not least because of the language barrier (Kris is from Indonesia) but over the years we’ve developed a bit of a shorthand that helps get things across easier. The one big thing I’ve noticed over the course of the books is how much better Kris gets with each issue!
CBY: Given your experience with ongoing series, what are some things you've learned along the way for crafting a compelling ongoing narrative?
AC: I’ve written each of my books with slightly different methods, but the one thing I’ve learned which keeps readers coming back is the characters. If you’ve got the greatest hook and/or plot in the world, but characters nobody cares about who don’t feel natural, then the book will stumble. You have to feel empathy for your heroes, and understand the motivations of your villains.
Oh and giant death-robot butlers. That’s the most vital part.
CBY: Is there anything you can tease for us about the upcoming issues #4 & #5?
AC: The big ongoing mystery of the series is the identity of our main protagonist - The Djinn, a long dead vigilante apparently back prowling the streets in search of those who caused his death and the downfall of his teammates. The final page of Issue #4 reveals his true identity and only makes things weirder!
CBY: What are some of your favorite Kickstarter comics you've read/backed?
AC: Some of the best books being produced today are being funded on Kickstarter and many of them are being made right here in the UK. Books like Gateway City from Russell Mark Olson, Dave Cook’s Killtopia series, Mad Robot’s own Thunder Child, Gustaffo Vargas’ Peruvian Cyberpunk books and many more.
CBY: Where can people find both of you on social media?
AC: I’m on Twitter and Bluesky at @andrewclemson, Kris is rather wisely quite limited on social media, but you can find him on Instagram at @kriswantowhy.
CBY: Andrew, thank you so much for your time!