Posted by Decapitated Dan |

Deep Discussions with Decapitated Dan: Martin Stiff

I recently had a chance to talk to Martin Stiff about his book The Absence and more. Check it out:
Decapitated Dan: Hey Martin thanks for taking time to talk with me about The Absence. First of all lets talk about you. Who are you and what do you do?

Martin Stiff: I’m the writer and artist of The Absence, a graphic novel out from Titan Comics.  I self published the story in six issues over the course of about 5 years and Titan agreed to collect it into one volume. I’m also a husband and father and co-director of an award winning graphic design studio called Amazing15.

DD: How did you find yourself getting into making comics?

MS: I’ve always read comics and always enjoyed drawing so I spent a lot of my childhood messing about making short comic strips. I did a degree in Illustration at university and, after a brief paddle in the weird waters of fringe theatre where I wrote a few scripts and designed a few sets, I ended up a graphic designer. Working solely on a computer, I more or less drifted away from drawing for a decade until the original idea for The Absence began to coalesce. I was going to write it as a novel so it could join all the other unfinished and unpublishable novels under my bed but I realised I missed drawing so thought I might as well make it into a comic instead.

DD: So what can you tell me about The Absence? What’s it all about?

MS: It’s a graphic novel about a small village on the south coast of England in the years following WWII. Their only surviving war veteran returns to the town and finds himself shunned and exiled for a horrendous crime. Meanwhile another stranger with an odd ability to predict the future with startling accuracy, arrives to build himself a peculiar house over-looking the town. Then the villagers, including a small boy, start going missing. The bulk of the story is the slow reveal of what links these two men, what happened in their past and the awful fate that awaits in store for the town. It’s a kind of who-dunnit ghost story thriller WWII soap opera. That makes it sound a bit niche, but I think it has quite an accessible story. At it heart it’s about what it feels like not to belong anywhere, and the general sense of paranoia that comes with it.

DD: Who are the main characters?

MS: There’s quite a large cast of characters but I guess the main two are Marwood Clay and Robert Temple. Clay is a hideously scarred man who returns to the village at the beginning of the story. He left the village and went to war after a tragic accident more or less exiled him and no one is happy to see him back. He’s a kind of tragic figure. Robert Temple, on the other hand, is equally mysterious but quite aloof. He’s a total stranger in the town but is actually welcomed more than the returning Marwood so he immediately rubs him up the wrong way. Then Marwood starts having weird flashbacks to his awful time in the war and a sinister experimentation… an experimentation that Temple may have been involved with.

DD: Where did this idea come from?

MS: It came from a while bunch of places. Seaside holidays I went on as a kid, stuff my grandparents went through during the second world war, some biographies and science books I’d read, films I’d seen. All this stuff I’d catalogued and put on a shelf in my brain. It was a documentary I saw about Hallsands which united all the elements. Hallsands was a small fishing village perched on the south coast of England and in 1917 it slipped into the sea after decades of environmental damage. That slow yet inevitable, unstoppable catastrophe appealed to the fatalist in me.

DD: If you were to give this book a movie style rating (G, PG, PG-13, R,  X) what would it get, and why would you say that?

MS: I’m gonna go with a PG-13. It’s for ‘mature readers’ but only on the grounds of some naughty words. I purposely didn’t want to make it overly sexy or gory. To be honest, I don’t think that’s actually how I’d define ‘mature’ material anyway. Shocking for the sake of it always seems pretty childish to me. I hope people are ‘shocked’ by some of the stuff that happens in The Absence, but I hope it’s on an emotional and intellectual level rather than visceral. God, that sounds pretentious, sorry.

DD: What are you hoping readers can take away from this story?

MS: Mainly, I just hope they enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed making it. It asks some questions that I’m interested in, about fate and the nature of the universe so if they still remember it fondly a while after they’ve finished it, I’ll be happy with that.

DD: Were you into any horror titles growing up that lead you to want to create a book like this?

MS: Growing up as a kid in the UK I was hugely into science fiction, especially 2000AD. I loved all the Marvel UK comics too, Action Force, Transformers and whatnot. As I got older my taste in comics expanded but I’ve always been more interested in prose fiction and novels really. I think that’s where The Absence has it’s roots. To me, anyway, The Absence feels more like an intricately plotted novel than a comic, with small moments of intimate personal drama shot through with a weird streak. Or at least, it does until the end when it all suddenly goes a bit widescreen and epic…

DD: Is this a series that you want to come back to in the future?

MS: Nope. Definitely not. It’s done and wrapped. I prefer my stories to be carefully plotted with a beginning, middle and end. I like riding along with the story, watching the parts all coalesce. There’s nothing more satisfying than a nicely balanced and finely structured narrative that opens and closes. To come back to the story would seem a betrayal, especially given how it ends.

DD: What was the most horrific thing that happened to you when you were working on this book?

MS: Nothing really. I live a pretty ordinary life, with very little horror in it thankfully. That said, the length of time it took to finish the damn thing was pretty horrific.

DD: Can we expect more from you horror comic wise in the future?

MS: Hm, well I’ve got a few things I’m playing with at the moment. One is a comic biography of an incredibly obscure artist you’ve probably never heard of but that might be quite interesting. It’s not especially horrific, but might be mildly unsettling given it’s subject matter. The other is a cold-war based spy drama thing set in eastern Germany during the rise of the Berlin wall. It’s about a delusional man and how his life is accidentally torn apart by a fictional crisis. There’s certainly some horror tropes in it, but not in the way you might expect…

DD: So where can readers find out more about this book?

MS: I have a blog which I don’t really update enough ( and a twitter feed that my wife tells me I spend too much time on (@martinstiff).

DD: So in summary give me a quick recap on The Absence and why fans should give it a try.

MS: It’s an British Comic Award nominated graphic novel that should appeal to anyone with an interest in thrilling, complex, weird and slightly off-beat comics for grown ups.