Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the release of your comic book, Hard Core Pawn #1! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the series’ premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Steve Lowes: Hard Core Pawn is a political comic. Politics affect every aspect of our lives, yet I’ve struggled to find much coverage in the comic medium outside of political cartoons such as those published in quality newspapers. Those are by nature topical, so I wanted to create a comic series that could address bigger, longer-term issues and tell stories that can serve as a thought-provoking start to greater interest and research for the reader. Or at the very least give them an alternative opinion to what they’re spoon fed by the wider mainstream media.
It covers hot topics like racism, gender politics, capitalism, alcoholism, refugees, terrorism, democracy, and, above all, humanity, all told not through human characters but instead chess pieces. Ambitious, yes. But it’s not for me to decide if I achieve that.
Jack Kirby described comics as journalism, and that’s what’s missing from the medium today in my opinion. Comics can be radical, they can be anarchic, they can be faction, and they can be fiction. As a result, there’s a zero cape count in Hard Core Pawn. But I wouldn’t rule it out in the future.
In all honesty, the original idea of using chess pieces rather than human characters was entirely driven by my inability to draw people in any sensible time frame required for producing a 32-page comic; I’m primarily a writer, rather than a sequential artist. So, I drew one story with pawns and a king for an online publication and was surprised by how well the concept was received which gave me the impetus to explore the idea further, at which point I decided I could play with the hierarchical nature of chess pieces to illustrate further stories and the character Hard Core Pawn was born.
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in writing and illustrating the comic, and what have been some of your creative influences?
SL: From a writing point of view, my influences are from the world of music, great short storytelling writers like Woody Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen, Joe Strummer, and Johnny Cash. To tell an important story in a three-minute song is a highly developed skill, akin to that of Orwell and Hemingway in their short prose stories.
Art Spiegelman’s Maus was undoubtedly a major influence. A serious heavyweight literary work on the holocaust, depicting Jews as mice, Germans as cats, and Poles as pigs. It sounds utterly ridiculous if you read that back, but it worked so brilliantly - utter genius. And Maus stands up for me as one of the best books I’ve ever read, not just among comics/graphic novels. But humility check, I’m not likening Hard Core Pawn to Maus for one minute. I’m a long way from achieving that level of literary genius. But learn from the greats, that’s my motto.
Illustrating the stories, I have to say I’m influenced by simple, clean lines wherever I see them: in graphic design, architecture, record sleeves, and book covers. Design as communication. Even though printing technology and, of course, digital mediums now allow full color at the same price as monochrome, I like presenting the stories in a minimal fashion and keeping most of it black and white is starker and more suited to the stories than full color. Keep it inky, I say. I’m still in love with fibrespace.
BD: What do you hope that readers will take away from your work?
SL: I’ll return to Bruce Springsteen, if I may, to illustrate my hopes. His song, “The Ghost Of Tom Joad,” re-tells John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, a 450-page masterpiece, in three verses and one chorus. That has the power to reach and communicate to more people. Now, if one percent of that audience then go and read Steinbeck’s book, the ripples spread further outwards and grow into waves. Comic books can’t change the world, but comic book readers can.
BD: Do you have a certain number of issues planned for the future of Hard Core Pawn?
SL: There certainly will be future issues of Hard Core Pawn. I’ve pretty much completed writing issue two and hope to have that out there in Summer 2018. As long as the world continues to be run by the masters of mankind, I will have plenty of material to write about. The struggle isn’t called the struggle for nothing. It requires work and effort.
BD: If given the opportunity to expand your series into other entertainment mediums, in what format do you hope to see it adapted?
SL: It had never occurred to me that Hard Core Pawn would be anything but a traditional comic format, but then it had never occurred to me that I’d make an entire comic series just using chess pieces as the characters. It strikes me that animated shorts would be a great medium for the stories. Perhaps that’s something I’ll look at for the future.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
SL: My next comic release will be Heavy Manners Bulletin #1. This continues in the same vein as Hard Core Pawn, but instead of chess pieces, the stories are told by the most dangerous animals on the planet. Humans.
And there are plenty of paintings to finish on board my studio (a seventy-year-old leaky wooden boat on the river Thames!) for an exhibition I have planned at Christmas.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Hard Core Pawn?
SL: You can buy the comic (digital and physical versions), read my blog there, and see other artwork and non-comic related projects at the website, www.heavy-manners.co.uk or reach me via the Facebook page.