Cue & Ehh? With Malachy Coney
Mal Coney is the best thing that Northern Ireland has to offer in the way of something to be proud of. Sure, there have been other things: Ash (sigh), knee capping, some fraction of Snow Patrol (yawn), sponsored terrorism, the highest percentage of unemployed scroungers in Europe, Frank Carson and Marching over quick sand in the name of tradition. Though none of the aforementioned fills us with pride.
Mal is a very ‘behind the scenes’ entity. Hard working and brimming with ideas, he grafts away producing words and pictures that although are submersed and surrounded in obstructions and borders, hold no boundaries when it comes to reader empathy.
Creator of ‘Magdalena’ from ‘The Darkness’ who is getting her own film treatment, ‘Holy Cross’, ‘Dandy Lion’ and ‘Major Power & Spunky’ as well as contributing to Pat Mills’ ‘Third World War’ and Warren Publishing’s ‘Vampirella’, Coney is no amateur. His work has enabled him to conquer America and hand it back again. Currently working on ‘Ouija Board, Ouija Board’ for ‘Fortnight’ and expanding his self-publishing project ‘Good Craic Comics’, I pried him away from his work to shed some light on his writing…
My experience of you has shown that you have always been attached to comics in whatever form, (I’m not talking Super Glue… he he), why did the sequential art form draw you in?
Simply because when it works for me I think it is beautiful. Comics tap right into a very primal part of the human brain.
It does so in such an unpretentious fashion that it is often judged wrongly to be sub-literate, juvenile and artistically worthless. There may well be some merit to this line of thought but anyone who truly feels this way can kiss my perfectly formed Irish arse. Life is too damn short and too damn hard. Read or look at something else if yer soul is bursting with shallow critique.
My first ‘drawn in’ read was Sienkiewicz’s ‘New Mutants – Shadow Bear’ series from Marvel Comics, I was totally lost in that saga, I had felt that I was there, enrapt in the story, I was lost until I came out the other side. Brought back to reality by Marvel’s awful letters pages and full back page advertisements. Which was your first?
I think it might have been a British comic called Topper with a talking bear as the cover star. I remember being enthralled by a funny wee cave man called Little Ug or something like that. He carried a club and was best mates with a dinosaur that walked on its hind legs. It was probably the most accurate portrayal of prehistoric times attempted in any media form until the BBC used state of the art computer generated effects to create Walking With Dinosaurs.
I have recently experienced the same sense of envelopment with Burn’s ‘Black Hole’. Are there any recent publications that have impressed and entertained you?
Seven Soldiers Of Victory, the crossover where none of the main characters meet. It’s such a wide broad canvas Morrisson and the various artists he is working with are using. The whole thing is an embarrassment of riches. I was on a bus heading home after work reading an issue of Frankenstein when these spides at the back of the bus started calling me a fucking retard. They were spot on. I am a bit retarded, emotionally. Fallout of childhood trauma but wasn’t it cruel of these complete strangers to point this out on a bus load of other complete strangers. I never mocked their shit jewellery and sports casuals so why mock my reading habits. Morrisson is just about the best writer to come out of Scotland. I say this despite the fact he shat from a great height on the first story I ever had published in a British comic.
Comics have fallen from grace, destroyed by poor film adaptations, laziness and a lack of originality. I lost the love. Do you think there is any hope?
Course there is David. Calm down. A good comic cannot be ruined by a poor film adaptation. The comic exists whither a film version exists or not. They are completely different mediums. I mean the magnificent ‘How Soon Is Now’ by the Smiths is not suddenly a shit song because it is used as the theme to Charmed.
I recently saw McKean’s ‘Mirror Mask’. I found it beautiful but Channel 4 artsy and similar to a poor BBC Children’s Drama. Have you any thoughts on it? Have you any thoughts on the recent leeching from comics to film?
I think Dave McKean's artwork is much more interesting when he doesn’t try to make it move. You know, I do not really enjoy talking like this about art. It always sounds to me like Miss Jean Brodie at her hysterical prime. He’s an incredibly gifted artist whose work draws me in the same way I think you described in a very sweet fashion with your Bill Sienkiewicz shadow bear analogy. Actually you pretty much nailed it. I have a Mister Punch print by him in my living room which I swear even my dog Sasha stares at. She, like me, may not know a lot about art but she knows what she likes…
…bloody red meat hanging off the bone.
Working in and loving the comic field myself I have witnessed how hard it is to break into, especially growing up in Northern Ireland. How the hell did you manage to escape from the shackles and live the dream?
Oh, I live in a dream that has nothing to do with my love of comics. I am literally so emotionally retarded I doubt I would know if I ever hit the big time. Anyone who regulates their lives in this way is really only internally preparing themselves for a guest spot on the Oprah Winfrey show. One of the comics I was involved with sold over three hundred thousand copies and it was a shallow empty sterile mess that signified nothing. I recently wrote, drew and published an anthology comic book called Good Craic Comics that when it passed the five hundred sales mark, made me believe I had actually done something right…actually I am not comfortable where this is going. The past is dead. I want to live in the now.
I remember as a kid visiting Talisman (Belfast Comic Shop) seeing you with your big sticky up Martin Gore/Eraserhead Hair. You were always an interesting and nice guy, a far cry from the usual patronising ‘Simpsons’ model of a comic book seller. How did you keep sane? Have you any interesting Comic Shop anecdotes?
That’s a very kind thing to say. I was so happy in that old store. That was my golden age when everything was new to me. We opened that wee store at the height of the troubles. We were a splash of colour when people desperately needed it. We survived bombs, intimidation and murder. That shop floor was a stage for eccentricity, that up to that point, had remained firmly and safely behind closed doors and drawn curtains. There’s a couple of Tolkien sized volumes waiting to be written about that time. ‘The Fellowship of the Wrong’. Perhaps it would be better if someone other than me wrote it…
When I visit comic shops now I struggle to find the comics. It’s all Mcfarlane Toys, badly produced T-shirts and Goth influenced novelties. What is your most shameful purchase of merchandised crap?
If you are struggling to find good comics you are shopping in the wrong places. I have never made a shameful purchase in my life. From a certain point of view any purchase that is not needed simply to keep you alive and well could be construed as shameful. That’s a quote from the Jedi Book Of Commerce.
He he he... What’s been your own favourite work?
Whatever I’ve just finished normally. Yep, I am that easily pleased. I like to look forward. It’s painful to look back, although I do have a soft spot for Holy Cross #3. I wrote it. Paul Holden drew it. Fantagraphics published it. We were worlds apart but together I thought we made a good comic.
Your stories are usually full of kinky ‘sexcapades’, are you venting some sexual frustrations?
Hell no… Sex is class and its not celebrated enough in comics. In my life I have had financial frustrations, spiritual frustrations, political frustrations. But even the worst sex ever was not frustrating. And you have to understand that because I was brought up a strict catholic I will suffer for all eternity for having even thought that. My characters Major Power and Spunky made the homophobes angry. My character Catholic Lad made fellow Irish Catholics angry. A brother and sister comic collecting duo from Dublin hated me for separate reasons. He hated my gay superheroes and she hated my Vatican charged do-gooder, but they both loved Holy Cross.
What are you up to at the minute? Rumour has it that you’re working with Mills again, is there any truth in it?
Laying Good Craic Comics second issue to bed. Then I want to continue on with a story I have already started writing called ‘The Grave Digger's Son’. Don’t know where the Mills rumour came from, probably the Internet, so much for the information super-highway, it’s more like flies graveyard of Boobie Babble.
I read somewhere that the title ‘Ouija Board, Ouija Board’ is connected to you in some way? Considering my current obsession with the occult could you let us in on it?
‘Oujia Board, Oujia Board’ is a comic strip I do for the Northern Irish politics, culture and arts review magazine Fortnight. It’s a first to try something like that in that particular mag and I was grateful to the board of directors to give me the chance. Some of the people working on Fortnight were just so good and smart, I felt like a kid again sneaking a peek into the teacher’s tea room. Getting into a magazine with someone like the poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who I think is just a magic human being, gave me such a thrill. Imagine yourself in a pop magazine sandwiched between Morrissey and the Gorillaz. You would think you had arrived at the court of Kubla Khan...
...Please tell me you would.
Weird & Freaky Question:
The world has suffered a terrible blast of interstellar radiation and had morphed people’s body parts around. They are functioning in all kinds of different manners. If, given the choice, you had to pick an infliction, which would you prefer. A tight heart shaped rectum where your mouth once was, so farting and excreting can be viewed by others, or teeth, tongue and palate between your ass cheeks so as when you eat, you have to squat over a bowl. Ruling out the chance of ever visiting Paul Rankin’s Café ever again.
Catering is a difficult career choice. I don’t want to knock somebody else who works so hard and being a celebrity chef seems like such hard work despite the horrific events caused by interstellar radiation. I worked as a waiter for a few very different people and it was terrible. I had no choice though, after our house was burnt down and my family was scattered to the four winds. I worked in a hotel owned by some real heavies and ended up afraid to leave. One of them really liked me, (cause I didn’t swear?... go figure.) I remember he would insist that I acted as waiter to this very scary guy who had nicknamed me ‘lightning’ ‘cause I was so slow. Oh how everyone laughed…
And frankly this bizarre question reveals you have never been to the city of Los Angeles somewhere in America. Having a bum hole in yer face would probably be a mark of distinction there. Forget Bling, it’s shite. American for ”LOOK WHAT I’VE GOT AND YOU DON’T.”
The randomness of radiation mutation would lend the proper air of uniqueness that seems so essential to the modern world. Or the world we find ourselves sharing at the moment.
The Twist: Of course you can’t have one without the other, so by choosing one you automatically get the other. What would you despise more, wiping shit off your face with toilet roll or sticking a toothbrush up your ass to brush your teeth?
Things change. They always do. Interviews like this only serve to create the illusion of permanence and nailing things down. It’s all just a cultural placebo. I hope you are ready for yer medicine…
Interview for Creative NI
More Ouija Board, Ouija Board Artwork