No, today’s guest doesn’t actually participate in Victorian bareknuckle boxing. He’s actually a comic book writer and artist whose first steampunk graphic novel, The Victorian Bareknuckle League, is currently live on Kickstarter. Carl Jackson has been kind enough to share the above page of his graphic novel with us along with much of his creative process and future plans for this awesome project.
Please give Carl a warm welcome!
Can you tell us a bit about Victorian Bareknuckle League?
Victorian Bareknuckle League is my first comic book. I have read comics since as far back as I can remember. I used to get He-Man toys as a child. You got a little comic book in the back about the characters and I loved them. As I got older I then progressed to Marvel comics and never looked back. I have always drawn characters, like superheroes and fighters but never managed to pull them all into an idea as cohesive as Victorian Bareknuckle League. I think it’s a mix of my major passions. It’s a comic book via the way of Street Fighter II, WWE wrestling and the Victorian era.
The League itself is exactly what it says. The story of the Victorian Bareknuckle League and all the characters who inhabit it. Some of the people are based on real life characters, some are pure fiction. For instance, the character M’butu is based on Bill Richmond, an Afro American slave who literally boxed his way to freedom and ended up in the palaces of European aristocracy. I think it’s important to have a narrative in comics that are based on combat. It is too easy to fall into the trap of filling a comic with fighting without the characters having a real reason to win. As such, the first four issues follow the path of a woman named Millicent Figg. Without giving too much away, she witnesses the murder of her lover at a bareknuckle bout and begins a descent from gentle pacifist into a hardened, world weary, violent fighter.
This sounds like a really unique steampunk story, one which really focuses on the dark parts of the Victorian era and humanity in general rather than focusing on all the shiny experimental tech in steampunk worlds.
How did you develop the idea for Victorian Bareknuckle League?
The idea actually germinated as the idea for a video game. The idea was for an old school beat em up that used Victorians as characters who bareknuckle boxed. I had been watching a lot of shows like Penny Dreadful, Ripper Street and I think it came from that. So I set about designing the characters and getting some people who are better artists than me to flesh it out. However, it stalled when I actually researched the actual amount of money and people that are needed to make a game, even one you consider fairly simple. I then took it back to the drawing board. I knew I had this idea but needed to do something else with it. A comic was the obvious answer. So I had all these characters, and I had developed backstories for each. Then it was just a case of deciding which would be the most interesting story to tell first while managing to introduce some of the other characters and as such I chose Millicent. The real turning point was when an author friend told me that I should take my character from the highest point they can possibly be at to the lowest point they can reach. That was the catalyst.
Starting with a comic is definitely a great way to create a story that may eventually become a game. I also think a lot of the strongest stories start with characters, because these stories are the truest to the characters’ personalities.
What was the most challenging part of creating Victorian Bareknuckle League and how did you make it easier for yourself?
Aside from deciding which characters to follow in the first arc, the most challenging part was actually just the general business side of it. I am not a business man at all. So when I set off I was pretty adamant that I didn’t want to crowd fund. I didn’t want to work out how much comics cost to print, how much it is to post things, work out percentages going to the crowd funding website and such forth. However, when I had my first offer from a publisher I froze when I read the part about signing my characters over. It just hit me like a bullet that all these characters and backstories would no longer be mine. So I began to look at crowdfunding, researching it and it became more and more appealing.
I had no idea you had to give up character rights for publishing deals in comics! I’d definitely go with crowdfunding too–staying true to my stories is worth all the extra effort and expenses.
How did you first get into steampunk?
I think I was into steampunk long before I actually realized what steampunk was. I did a trip on the Trans-Siberian railroad after university (which is pretty steampunk in itself) and I remember coming back with loads of crazy stuff from Soviet antiques markets likes goggles and old Tsarist war medals. But it was actually this book that got me into steampunk as we look at it now. Before I had begun creating it, I pretty much just read superhero comics. I knew about steampunk but it was just a thing that existed in the background. Then when I began my research I soaked up everything. Books, graphic novels, movies, TV, cosplay. By the end of it I had a pretty good grasp of the genre. The most amazing thing about steampunk is that most of the best works were created before the term was actually coined. It’s also strange that a definitive steampunk canon or universe does not exist. Star Wars has this whole universe of characters, locations and planets that transport you away across the galaxy. Marvel and D.C. have massive Superhero universes that allow us to imagine godhood. But if we want to lose ourselves in this world of Victoriana and machinery we don’t really have a definitive steampunk world to do this in.
What do you love most about steampunk?
The thing I really love about steampunk is the cosplay aspect. Very rarely do you see bad steampunk cosplay. With superheroes and anime it seems to be allowed to do a bit of a crap attempt but that does not seem to exist within the steampunk scene. It was probably this that had the most influence on my book. I would design characters with the image of a cosplayer in my head. That is the day I know when I have made it, when someone takes weeks to fashion an outfit representing one of my characters. Detective Van Der Brouck is crying out for a cosplay makeover. In fact, the first person to mail me with a really great Victorian Bareknuckle League cosplay can have a signed comic for free.
Steampunk cosplay really is something amazing! I’m aching to get into it, but I’m rather untalented with sewing and purchasing good cosplay is often crazy expensive. Here’s hoping the opportunity will come soon!
What steampunk creators inspire you?
One of my favourite steampunk artists is a guy named Fyodor Pavlov. Although not strictly steampunk, he draws in a style that perfectly encapsulates that Belle Époque era both in his subjects and style. I would really like him to do a cover or standalone issue at some point. Be warned if you check out his website as he does have some dirty stuff on it!
Where do you plan to take Victorian Bareknuckle League after this Kickstarter?
I have so many ideas for this book. All of the people you will meet in the first four issues have a story that needs to be told. Currently, I have about 12 issues written that deal with a few of the initial characters. After that I have so many places I want to go with it. At some point it is inevitable that the circus will come to town with all its freaks and weirdos. In the first arc I have deliberately used characters that you would find in the UK at the time but the British Empire is vast and a commonwealth championship will be on the cards at some point. Plans for an LGBT fishing vessel named the Rainbow Trout will hopefully take us on the high seas. I just have to get past the first Kickstarter…
Sounds like this is a massive project you’re embarking on. I really hope everyone rushes over to support the Victorian Bareknuckle League Kickstarter and help you bring them all to reality.
Does Victorian Bareknuckle League sound awesome to you? Do you want to see more graphic novels on The Steampunk Cavaliers? Let us know in the comments section below!