Much of the interview is about the comic’s move back to a more traditional tone and style, as it becomes a digital publication, but we also touch on the possibility of film adaptations, and the tantalising prospect of a Bananaman film already being in the very early stages of development.
HeyUGuys: I’m going to be very blunt, and please don’t take this the wrong way, but it does feel very ‘seat of the pants’
Ellis Watson: And it is, and absolutely has been, and weirdly, I would prefer it that way to work with the right artists, rather than some very clever technologists who knock the soul out of this stuff. It has been very seat of the pants, some of the latest strips are only coming through at the moment with their voices on. I think the next one will be at two o’clock this afternoon, and we’re supposed to be launching at midnight, and it has been seat of the pants, which is why everyone looks so knackered, but that’s ok.
We’re a quirky, family company, based in Dundee, and we spent our entire life resisting technology, hoping the internet would go away, and y’know, the internet is quite a popular thing, it would appear it’s somewhat changed lives, but literally as a company, we’re only just coming to that realisation. It is a bit haphazard, and you’ve seen the way that we’ve approached it has been a bit bumbling, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It will work, and it will be brilliant creatively, and that’s all we care about.
There are much slicker, faster games out there, but y’know what, I don’t want World of Warcraft, and I’m not remotely interested in Call of Duty, I’m interested in Dennis, and Bananaman and everyone else to get five, six, seven, eight year old kids excited about reading.
You mentioned Dennis there, I presume there is a long term plan then, for The Beano, if this is successful, to go a similar way?
The long term plan is to grace us with a strategic vision that we don’t yet have. It’s an adventure into the unknown, if we like where we walk, then we’ll carry on going, and if we don’t then we’ll continue cutting down trees and smearing ink all over them. There’s absolutely no plans to stop publishing The Beano whatsoever. The Dandy is our experiment.
You’ve gone back to the style I grew up with, and you’ve made a point of that, how’s everyone taking that? Presumably there are some people at DC Thomson who aren’t writing, or drawing as many comics as they once were.
Yeah, 2006 is when we went much more contemporary, with some of that Harry Hill-esque stuff you’ve got in front of you there, and Dennis, you’ll notice here, has become, frankly a more contemporary version. I don’t like that, nor do the artists, nor do the [Thomson] family, and we want to get back to the original roots. The Dan of the last year is not recognisable as the Dan of the previous sixty years, or however old he is*, so I’m deliberately going back to the original characters. Still keeping some of the nicer elements of what we’ve got here, but going back to some of the old stuff that really works.
So we can expect a slight redesign on Dennis then?
Definitely. We’ve already changed Dennis quite a lot in the last two weeks, by the middle of January he’s going to look a bit more like the heritage Dennis.
You’ve relaunched the Numskulls with this, I always thought of them as the ideal DC characters to be used as movie properties.
We’ve resisted, almost I think, without exception, every single cinematic approach we have had up until my stewardship of the company. We’re now going to be very careful what we do, but we are going to consider approaches.
Am I right in thinking that the rights to Bananaman have been…
They’re being talked about at the moment, there’s also quite a few people that are increasingly excited about Dennis the Menace. If you look at where St Trinians went, and even if you look at things like Hitch, that equally could have been a character brought to life. There are quite a few characters, but then in my mind, if you take Top Cat; Top Cat the movie came out eight months ago, people should not be allowed to work in cinema if you’re going to completely – that was nothing more than a cynical means of making money from dads like me, who naively went, ‘son you’re going to love this;, and it was utter pus. I’m not going to do that. I do think, movies are, unquestionably, an interesting future for some of our characters. If you look at something like Billy Whizz, essentially someone who can arrive slightly before he left the place, it’s ridiculously funny if you could somehow bring that to life. We must have had half a dozen, half-serious offers a year, only to buy options, we’ve resisted all of them. We’re now going to stop and rethink that.
Let’s stick on that if we can, in an ideal world for you, would these things be live action, or would they be animated?
We would never take them to live action, but if it was the right – if Richard Curtis came to me because he had an amazing story idea, we’d want to work with him. If an amazing producer, director or even actor decided that he could take this on, then it’s absolutely fantastic. We’d only ever work with experts in their field, with people who really understood, with creative integrity. The cheque is not the first thing we’re interested in when it comes to movie rights. Dennis live action could be amazing.
*75, surely? – The Ed