Sequential 21 Interviews Spectrum’s Dan Whitehead

Dan Whitehead is a writer of a hugely eclectic array of titles across comics, books, video games, magazines and more. He’s worked on official ventures including Star Wars, Minecraft and The Lord of the Rings, as well as a writer and editor on such children’s titles as Scooby Doo, Looney Tunes and Rugrats.

Dan’s other work in comics includes graphic novel adaptations of Jason and the Argonauts and William Shakespeare‘s Julius Caesar, whilst his own self-published titles include Ella Upgraded and Hex Loader. For Time Bomb Comics/Anderson Entertainment’s Spectrum, Dan worked with artist Ste Pickford in producing a new Terrahawks strip for the comic, one that’s laced with the humour and exaggeration of the original series. We caught up with Dan to discover more about his contributions to Spectrum!

Sequential 21: What’s your relationship with Gerry Anderson productions?

Dan Whitehead: To me, they’ve been a constant throughout my life. One of the first LPs I ever had was of Gerry Anderson TV themes (although I’m ashamed to say that 7-year-old me would skip the ‘Aqua Marina’ song from Stingray). But they were never just TV shows, were they? Even though the shows were only on in repeats when I was young in the late 70s and early 80s, their pop culture imprint was still unmissable. If someone had big glasses they were Joe 90. If someone was mucking about on the climbing frame we’d chant “Captain Scarlet, indestructible!” And, although I don’t think I made the connection at the time, Space 1999 was also a big deal when I was small.

S21: Do you have a particular affinity for Terrahawks?

Whitehead: Absolutely. While I was aware of, and familiar with, all the older shows they were all from before I was born. I liked them, but they were never really “mine”. So when Terrahawks came out when I was 10, I just loved it straight away. It was clearly aimed at a post-Star Wars audience and I was glued to its weird monsters, cool spaceships and funny robots from the start.

It was one of the shows that I absolutely could not miss an episode of, but one week – for reasons I’ve long since forgotten – I did miss it. I don’t think we had a VHS recorder at the time, or if we did it was very basic and couldn’t do timed recordings, so I was distraught at breaking my perfect Terrahawks watching streak. We went to my Nan’s not long after and she said she’d recorded a “puppet show” for me to watch if I got bored. Turned out she’d recorded the exact episode I’d missed. So that’s one of my most vivid and happiest childhood memories, and Terrahawks was an integral part of it!

S21: Terrahawks has a sizeable emphasis on comedy, and your strip really leans into the comical side of the series – how did you go about devising your story?

Whitehead: I know some Anderson fans didn’t like the more overt humour in Terrahawks, and after the relatively serious action adventure of Thunderbirds and the much grittier and violent Captain Scarlet, I can see how that tonal change would have been hard to swallow for older fans. For me, growing up on equal parts Beano and Eagle comics, it was a perfect mixture.

As for the story, I wanted something that had scale – no spoilers, but I knew I wanted the Terrahawks to face a giant threat. The trick I found was to come up with a situation that was utterly serious but then use characters like Sergeant Major Zero to inject humour and commentary alongside the action.

I also knew I wanted to give Mary Falconer a story where she got to be the action hero for a change, and I always enjoyed the interplay between her, Ninestein and Zero so used that as the springboard for a story where her taking the lead made sense.

S21: Was it at all difficult in transplanting Terrahawks from TV to a comic book medium?

Whitehead: Not especially. The characters are so clearly defined, and have such distinct voices, that it fell into place pretty quickly. The hardest part was fitting everything in. Terrahawks has a LOT of characters, multiple cool vehicles as well as the Zeroids and Cubes, and since I had no idea if this would be a one-off, I wanted to try and play with as many of the toys as possible! Obviously an episode of the show had half an hour to work with, whereas I just had twelve pages, so it was the pacing that was trickiest.

S21: I was pleasantly surprised to see that your story ties into Terrahawks’ audio continuation from Big Finish. What made you want to tie the two together?

Whitehead: It’s difficult to talk about this without getting into spoilers, but I knew that the story I wanted to tell – and the twists I wanted to use – wouldn’t work if the plot was just “Zelda tries to attack the Earth again”. I was unsure about using characters from the Big Finish stories but the one I used just fitted so well. And also gave me a chance to throw in a little modern pop culture parody, which was something the show used to do with characters like Stu Dapples.

S21: Artist Ste Pickford really taps into the humour of your script. How did the two of you collaborate on this strip?

Whitehead: I’ve known Ste for years, after interviewing him and his brother John for a games website back in 2014. We stayed in touch on social media, and started collaborating on comic stuff a few years back. Ste illustrated a Judge Dredd strip I wrote for the 2000AD fanzine Zarjaz. Once we got the rights to do Terrahawks, he was pretty much the only name on my list. The show had such a distinct aesthetic in terms of the human characters – not quite realistic, not quite cartoon. I knew he’d find a way to make that work, so that they looked like people not puppets, but also still had that recognisable Terrahawks style.

S21: You’re also credited as ‘facilitator’ for Spectrum in general – what did that entail, exactly?

Whitehead: The project was my idea, and I started talking to Jamie Anderson about it quite a few years back. That was literally just me, as an independent writer, wanting to do something with Terrahawks. Once they told me that the rights to New Captain Scarlet, Space Precinct and all the other IP still owned by Anderson Entertainment were up for grabs, I quickly realised that it would work better with a publisher on board from the start and reached out to Steve Tanner at Time Bomb, who I’d known for ages and worked with on an anthology called Brawler. I knew he had the passion for the material, but also experience in getting projects like this across the finish line, especially with regard to crowdfunding.

S21: Would you be keen to write more Terrahawks comics in the future?

Whitehead: Absolutely. It’s something we’ve discussed with Anderson Entertainment, and we’re pulling together ideas for a second volume already. We also have big plans to follow that, but those are still top secret!

You can discover more about Spectrum from Time Bomb Comics!

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