Did everyone forget about me over here? I've had a lot happening. New home, promotion at work, new 60" HDTV and all-region Blu-Ray player to lure me away. (Anybody seen that glorious new transfer of what we Yanks know as Hammer Films' Horror of Dracula?) And there's this Hulk thing I'm still working on, so, yeah.
But you don't want to hear about any of that. You want to hear about the Buddha. You want to hear about the time he drank twice-passed reindeer urine to get high, or the time he lost a duel against Hercules and ended up having to complete his 10 tasks, including cleaning crap from the Aegean stables.
What's that? You thought the Buddha preached peace, enlightenment, and purity of body?
As the Brits would say, "Bugger that!" I'm talking about the Tales of the Buddha (Before He Got Enlightened), a strip that began life in the U.K. underground comic Northern Lightz and is now being collected--along with some brand-new strips and pin-ups--in Renegade Arts Entertainment's new graphic novel collection of the same name.
I had the insane pleasure of reading the collection, sans bonus material, courtesy the iTunes store ($4.99). Writer Alan Grant (most famous for Judge Dredd and some Batman stories in Detective Comics) has partnered with artist Jon Haward and colorist Jamie Grant to bring the Buddha's adventures to print, and it's been a real hoot. So of course, with the print edition finally on its way in June, I couldn't resist shooting Haward, who's one of my Twitter pals, some questions about his career and about the project.
Haward is no stranger to the comics medium, having grown up reading the work of many greats. "Basically I grew up loving cartoon art in Mad and Cracked, [and artists like] Robert Crumb [and] U.K. comic artists Hunt Emerson, Ken Reid, R.T. Nixon, [and] Leo Baxingdale.," he says.
Although U.S. success has sadly eluded him, he's been quite popular in the U.K. He broke into the business in 1990, filling in for regular series artist David Pugh on the Dan Dare strip in Eagle, and never looked back. British fans have enjoyed his work in 2000 A.D., Thunderbirds Are Go, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Biker Mice From Mars, and an incredible five-year run on the now-defunct Marvel U.K.'s Spectacular Spider-Man series. (Out of 32 stories, we Yanks have only seen one of those tales on these shores!) He's won Bronze Ippy awards for his work on Classical Comics' Macbeth and The Tempest, both adaptations of Shakespeare's famous plays, so he's in no way confined to traditional comics fare.
And on the other hand, there's his humor work, which has spanned such unusually-titled U.K. publications as Shit the Dog, Smut, Toxic Pie, Wasted, and the one in which the foul-mouthed, booze-swilling, womanizing Buddha made his debut, the aforementioned Northern Lightz.
Buddha had its genesis as a one-off tale in the comic series, then edited by Grant. "Alan and I had fun working on short funny stories for Northern Lightz and I told him I would be keen to work on a new character. Alan came up with a two-page Buddha story which made me laugh out loud, still does. The intention was that the strip would be a 3-panel gag strip appearing on different pages [of the comic]. I didn't know this so I drew the panels as a regular two-page strip. Once it appeared both Alan and I wanted to do more...as they say, the rest is history."
Haward greatly enjoys the collaborative process with Grant in Buddha. "Alan writes the scripts. Sometimes I'd ask if we could do certain characters like Hercules, Jason [of "Jason and the Argonauts" fame], Alexander the Great, Cleo, etc." After he received the completed scripts, he would improvise his own ideas into the finished art: "I'd read the script [and] add extra little gags in the panels like the sign on the Jonah Whale, 'Don't call him Moby.'" He credits his love for the cartoonists of his youth for his sensibilities and offers the following advice: "The secret for a great humor story should be the art should be as funny as the gag line. When Buddha is in Mexico he's asked if he would like donkey sex, so I drew a camp donkey with Madonna bra and stockings. (Laughter.) So the line and the art combine to hopefully make you laugh."
Laughter is just what Haward and his collaborators are counting on to overcome the work's air of sacrilege. "It's humor, satire. Buddhists embrace laughter and Buddha as a young man was a prince who sampled all forms of pleasure. If I found the work totally offensive I wouldn't draw it. The work actually makes me laught a lot and has been a good tonic for me over the years. If you are very religious and with a low threshold for adult humor don't buy the book. But if you're open-minded and enjoyed Ted, The Life of Brian, Milk and Cheese, Mr. Natural, Preacher, Lobo, Carry On Cleo...dare I say Benny Hill, you'll enjoy our book."
And if you look at the above list of films, TV series, and other comics that Haward suggests echo the brand of humor found in Buddha, well, the off-beat humor is just what he believes should lure fans to his work. "It's different [and there's] nothing else out there that looks like it, with the borders [and] the 'Buddhaful' coloring. it's satire, spoofing everything from gods to rock stars to princes. He travels through time so he can meet basically anyone on his path to find enlightenment."
Part of the allure of the new edition are the new works therein, which seize upon that very conceit of meeting anybody. "The extra stories in the printed edition are where Buddha helps out Santa and where [he] meets Prince Harry. Both funny strips, and yes, Prince Harry is naked! (Laughter.)" The new works aren't just contained to stories: "Also there will be new pin-ups by Duncan Fegredo, John Ross, Alan Craddock, Simon Williams, Nigel Dobbyn, Jim Stewart, Dave Alexander, [and] Gibson Quarter," giving fans their money's worth.
Unfortunately, further projects are on hold while Haward deals with some health issues. Hopefully, however, he and his collaborators will have other projects at or above the quality level of Buddha. (Who knew the Buddha could make me laugh so hard I cried?)
Do me a favor, do Alan and Jon and Jamie a favor, and order Tales of the Buddha (Before He Got Enlightened). It's in this month's PREVIEWS catalog from Diamond under order code APR131223. If you order from my preferred comic shop, Discount Comic Book Service, you get a 30% discount off the regular price of $14.99USD!