It’s time to catch up with yet another local comic creator! Currently finishing a Masters at Manchester Metropolitan University, Jem first discovered MancsterCon through the monthly Cosplay Sketch-off events and has been thoroughly indoctrinated since then. As well as exhibiting at this years’ MancsterCon, Jem has been busy helping us out with publicity (you may have seen some of his neon pink flyers dotted around Manchester already) and has even written an article for this site. We got a chance to talk with him about his latest project, a post apocalyptic sci-fi comic called Keter.
MancsterCon: So how did you get started in comics?
Jem Perks: My initial interest started through the usual superhero comics. I remember watching the Spiderman cartoon on TV when I was little. I then lost interest in the whole thing but got back into it through manga. As far as making comics, that happened by accident. I had a story and all these characters… comics seemed the only way that I could make the story happen by itself. It could work as anything else, a film or a game even but to go it alone, comics was the only option.
MancsterCon: Tell us about this story.
Jem Perks: It has a post apocalyptic setting – which is nice because it lets you rewrite rules… create a whole new world still grounded in our reality. Also, it’s a popular setting, so it’s a kind of hook to get people interested. Once they start reading, I get to bother them with social and political issues.
MancsterCon: All the good stuff then! Could you tell us a bit about the main characters?
Jem Perks: The main characters… that’s interesting… the cast of main characters gradually grows. people start off as background characters and become fully fledged. The main character, Ro (short for Rosie which she hates), she’s not typical hero material. She’s violent, xenophobic, overall not that pleasant but over the course of the story, she’s forced to interact with more characters and as they become more important she has to change.
MancsterCon: Is it a willing/unwilling change?
Jem Perks: Well, there’s another main character called Adam and she ends up making friends with him, completely ignorant of the fact that his family are from the region she’s so hateful against. Just because he’s one of the few nice people in her life, she overlooks that or at least… doesn’t consider he’s from another region, until he throws it out one day and she’s like “Shit, I didn’t realise he’s from there and he’s a nice guy”.
It’s weird how the story’s ended up with all these topics becoming so important. Originally these characters were created for a project at school. I drew people of different sizes and shapes and races but then when I began to design the story, the way I designed the characters became more important… race became more of an issue for example.
MancsterCon: That’s actually really cool, getting an insight into your creative process. It’s also refreshing to hear about the kind of themes and topics that are prevalent in Keter. It’s something a lot of people feel a bit uncomfortable talking about.
You mentioned how the topic of race is something that the comic addresses. We’ve had discussions before about the hot issues in the general world of comics, especially gender. Is that a topic Keter deals with as well?
Jem Perks: Well considering Ros, she’s changed a lot from the tall and skinny redhead in my first drawings (I chose her to be a redhead because the comic was originally done in manga style and you don’t get many gingers in manga) but then changed over the years. Comic designs in general [for women] are so un-utilitarian: you see them fighting in bras and panties. Ros wears combat boots and has a snub nose. The design reflects the tough world she lives in. If she was like all the other typical female heroes, she wouldn’t be that threatening in real life, in her world.
I guess that’s where her character being xenophobic came from… one of the other characters was mixed race and they were her main enemies. As happens in the real world, she projects that onto people of other races.
MancsterCon: You mentioned that manga got you back into comics. How and why do you think that happened?
Jem Perks: I think for a lot of people my age it was when Pokemon got huge… we were like, wow what is this weird style of drawing? It was something new and exciting. But then you realise early on that that’s just Japanese comics for children, so then you start asking if there’s anything for adults… and you realise they make more than anywhere else in the world! Certainly, the variety is the largest in the world, and you find comics targeted at a range of ages from pre-schoolers to pensioners. It’s just another form of media, not a niche interest. I think Cowboy Bebop was the first grown up anime I watched… even the first grown up animation full stop. That was quite eye opening. Then I watched Evangelion which gave me nights of horrible dreams and nightmares which got me to write Keter!
MancsterCon: Yeah it was manga and then webcomics for me too. I’m just trying to think how I found my first webcomic… must have been through Livejournal… which was through the Harry Potter fandom which was kind of through Deadjournal which was through being a Goth…
Jem Perks: One subculture leads to another! Once I started getting into alternative music it was easier to get more involved in comics and animation… just because of being around people who didn’t judge you for what you watched.
You know, I really want to write a story that has the atmosphere of black metal. That constant ominous hum where you need to let off the tension every now and then… I have no idea how to write music so I suppose drawing’s the next best thing.
I’ve never read a webcomic. I mean, I’ve read the occasional gag strip but not a series. I guess, like I said, I was never into comics, animation was the next best thing, but again, that’s beyond my abilities for me to do alone.
Honestly, I have so many ideas and the story is so big… if someone wants to buy my storyline off me to develop it into a feature length animation or a web series, they’re welcome to!
MancsterCon: Ha! You’re going to regret that…
What do you think of the scene in the North West/Manchester?
Jem Perks: I feel I’m still quite new to it: it’s only at the Sketch off and Mancstercon that I’ve realised there’s a local scene to join. Looking at the MancsterZine showed me there’s lots of people out there making comics in the North West. It’s why I’m quite excited for the convention so I can meet other people who make comics.
I think one thing that would help would be to have more events. But for that you need more people who are willing to organise them… and people who are willing to go to them…!
MancsterCon: So, aside from Keter, have you made any other comics?
Jem Perks: No, a few two page comics but this is my sole obsession. I do have an idea for a story based on ancient British mythology… with creatures like selkies and kelpies. I thought it would be nice to get that back out there.
MancsterCon: Something different from beautiful elves and angsty vampires!
Jem Perks: Well, elves and fairies when thought of originally are different to how we think of them today and there’s so many myths that we’ve forgotten. It’s partly because of the influence of Tolkien, for example who in many ways, kind of made modern fantasy. It’s as if to say, if those creatures weren’t in the books then they didn’t really make it. The idea of Lord of the Rings, and (in some ways even the Hobbit), has a big, grand feel to it, but it’d be nice to do a small, gritty northern fantasy… fantasy’s almost too grand a word for it really.
MancsterCon: Kitchen Sink Fantasy!
Jem Perks: Right! Get some nice foggy moors in there!
Thanks to Jem Perks for taking the time to chat to us. If you’re a local artist working in sequential art and have a project you’d like more people to know about, why not get in touch? We’d be happy to write up a feature for the site!