Unfinished City – Interview

Posted March 24, 2014 by Oscar Russell in Comic Books

Unfinished City is an upcoming Kickstarter project co-written by Ben Dickson and Sylvija Martinović, with art by Croatian born Robert Solanović, We The Nerdy had the chance to interview Ben and Robert. You can view the project in full on Kickstarter here

We The Nerdy: There are going to be a lot of our readers who may not check out Kickstarter, so in a nutshell what is the elevator pitch for Unfinished City?

Ben Dickson: Unfinished City is a noir detective thriller set in the criminal underworld of Former Yugoslavia. Its influences include films like Chinatown and The Third Man. It’s the story of Nadja Djurkovic, a British citizen from Montenegro, who returns home to discover her sister has been murdered. Nadja investigates the crime herself, only to find all is not as it seems. Her home town has changed; the vacuum left by the fall of communism a decade before has been filled with organised crime,smuggling and corruption. Everybody knows the murder was pinned on the wrong man – and the true murderer may well be the most powerful man in the city…

WTN: Where did the inspiration come from for the book?9f06d9a1c0e04233f9e4871b6ae70198_large

B.D: It was largely from the stories that Silvija told me about Montenegro, and about Nikšić (the town where the story is set) in particular.  She lived in Nikšić for about 5 years, and during that time it was a very deprived, run down place.  Some pretty extraordinary things went on during that time.  So when we started talking about doing a book together, and found we were both keen to try writing a noir crime thriller, setting the story in Nikšić was the obvious choice.  It allowed us to create a story that felt both exotic and realistic at the same time, which brought a real freshness to the genre.  So I guess much of the inspiration comes from the cultural differences!  Take the Saneri, for example – two loveable thieves in the book, but very much based on real life characters!

Robert Solanović: For the visual feel I took inspiration loosely from the, I think, ITV crime series about a female private detective –  “Unsuitable Job for a Woman” – which I saw long time ago but it’s atmosphere and emotional portrait of the main character stayed with me. Our heroine, Nadja finds herself in a foreign territory, both physical and mental, just like the protagonist from that series, and tries to survive in this strange new world which is full of danger. In the first part of the book Nadja wears a shirt with puffy sleeves, something that I associate with princesses from fairy tales, which accentuates her innocence. But relentless world of her former hometown will strip her of that and transform her into something else. Good or bad, that’s for the readers to decide.

WTN: How did you all as a creative team come together?

B.D: Silvija and I met at work.  We were both writers in our own right already, and we started talking about collaborating on a project within a few weeks of meeting, if I remember right!  Robert took a lot longer to come on board.  In fact it took several years to find the right artist!  We were desperate to find someone from the Balkans, and the fact that Silvija and I both live in the UK made that very hard.  Eventually I reached out to Goran Sudžuka, a Croatian artist who’s done a lot of work for DC comics.  He liked the project and suggested Robert as someone who would be well suited to the job.  (Can’t say he was wrong!)  So yeah, a combination of friends and industry connections.  

R.S: Funny thing is – when I first saw Ben and Silvija’s ad in this internet newsletter that they posted it in I was sure they strictly wanted a guy from Montenegro, or at least Serbia and although I was desperate for a break on the foreign market I gave it up immediately. Don’t ask me why. I’m still surprised by my initial reaction. I mean, it’s not like the nature and cities are that much different in the Balkans. I wasn’t thinking right, that’s obvious. But, luckily Goran forwarded me Ben’s email the day after so I guess it’s safe to say destiny made sure to bring us all together.

cf9b7593ae04b3d06bda194601d3bbbf_largeWTN: It seems like quite a personal story for Sylvija, basing a book in their hometown, what is it like working with a collaborator who is closely invested with the town that is being dealt with?

B.D: Frankly, it’s fantastic!  I could never have written this story on my own.  Silvija has a wealth of knowledge, understanding an experience that has made this project what it is.  I’ve been to Montenegro but I’m not from there.  So we talked about the country a lot, its culture, its history… I love all that stuff to be honest.  And of course we talked a lot about the city itself, and the things Silvija saw and experienced.  It really helped me get a good cultural understanding, without which I couldn’t have done this book.  For Silvija I think it was quite a cathartic process too, she had wanted to talk about the problems in her country for quite a while, and this has allowed her to get a lot of things off her chest.  For Robert too I think, as the kind of things we are talking about are not restricted to Nikšić!

R.S: That’s right. There is a certain way things work in the Balkans, certain amount of frustration and fatalism, and I think this books portrays that very well. That’s one of the reasons I was so attracted to the material. It’s natural for me to channel my own share of frustration and fatalism and add it to the mix. That’s what makes the story seem more real and it’s also healthy.

WTN: What has the collaboration process been like, your KS says you have an editor how has that helped the process?

B.D: I’ve worked with Shane (Editor) before, and we have a very good working relationship – so I think the main thing having him as editor brings is a sense of comfort and stability, knowing that there is someone there looking over your shoulder, ready to warn you if you’re producing something that isn’t up to scratch.

Regarding Silvija, our collaboration was a lot of fun, and was very productive.  We’d definitely do it again, which probably says a lot!  I also think we really complimented each-other too, we have different strengths as writers, so we managed to draw on each-other’s strengths quite well I think.

As For Robert; well, he basically just knocks it out of the park every time!  I don’t think I’ve asked him to correct a single page.

RS: Ben’s making me blush right now.  I have to say this is my favourite collaboration yet. The atmosphere is very supportive and full of understanding. Gigs like this can be frustrating for people on the other end of the project because freelancers  like me take more work that’s offered from all sides to pay the bills and this first forty pages took longer than usual because of my other obligations. That’s what we’re trying to avoid through this Kickstarter campaign. If we make the amount I can work exclusively on this book and not take any illustration gigs or anything else.  Which would make me most happy as I am most comfortable when I’m doing comics. It’s hard work but it’s what I’ve always dreamed about.

WTN: The comic is in black and white, what made you go for this?

BD: It was going to be in colour originally, but it was when Robert handed in the 3rd or 4th page that I realised he was drawing for black and white – and that adding colour would detract from the page, not add to it.  Robert draws in a very franco-belgian way, but his sense of light and shadow are exceptionally film noir.  I realised that, as we were essentially doing a noir, it would compliment the story more if we kept it black and white.  So it was a happy accident really.

RS: I started doing it in black and white secretly hoping everybody would like it and maybe forget about doing the book in colour. I understand the commercial potential of doing a book in colour but this project is not your average mainstream crime story. It’s much more than that, so I think printing it in black and white actually adds more to its, shall we say, street cred. We’d like to reach wide audiences but we’d also like those audiences to trust us in delivering an excellent product regardless of comic book market’s usual demands.

 WTN: What else can you tell us about Nadja (the main character)?f58cb3e6b79c32a0fe44c3e10aebf5be_large

BD: Nadja left Monenegro when she was a child, around the time Yugoslavia collapsed into civil war.  She never went back, and ultimately became a British citizen.  So when she returns, the country has changed so much that she barely recognises it.  That means we learn about the country through her eyes.

The death of her sister means she’s quite a fragile character, and not acting entirely rationally, especially when we realise the scale of what she’s up against.  She’s inwardly strong, but she also feels guilt about her sister’s death, and that makes her angry, and even destructive.

WTN: How has the whole Kickstarter experience been so far?

BD: Hard work but fun!  Making the video was probably the hardest bit, neither Silvija nor myself felt very natural in front of the camera.  But yeah, it’s been a good experience.  I’ve really got to stop checking the site 20 times a day though…

RS: Yeah, it takes too much of my time too but it’s worth it. I hooked up with some people from the industry via this campaign which is great. Professionals like John McCrea or John Arcudi. And they like our product which makes me very happy. So far, the positive reactions from certain people really surprised me and gave me so much confidence which is something I desperately lack.

WTN: Are you involved in the British Indie Comic Scene, the Cons in London are packed with new talent selling their creations?

BD: Yeah, I’ve been quite heavily involved for about 10 or 15 years now, so I’m pretty well known.  I was in David Lloyd’s online comic Aces Weekly, doing a story called Santa Claus vs the Nazis, which was enormous fun to write.  I’ve also done a few short stories for Accent UK, Self Made Hero and a few other people.  I’m amazed at how much the British comics scene has grown over the past 10 years, it’s really extraordinary just how much talent is out there.  Believe me, it’s not just the London cons that are packed!

WTN: Are you attending cons to try and promote, or what other methods of spreading the word about Unfinished City?

BD: I go to as many cons as I can, but we seem to be launching this kickstarter in a relatively quiet period, so mostly we’re working on word of mouth, twitter, facebook and the like, and interviews like this.  We have a website with the first 20 pages available for free, which should be enough to draw you in without giving too much away!  You can find the preview here

WTN: Any final words….

BD: We have something on the Kickstarter to cater for all tastes – we have a PDF for those who like their comics digital, we have a paperback edition, but the one we’d really recommend people to go for is the hardback.  This is how we always wanted to present the book, and even if we ended up with a big publisher or something later on, it’s highly unlikely you’d get a book as well produced as the one we’re going to do.  Some of the higher end goodies have gone already, but there are still plenty left if you want to, say, own an original piece of art from Robert, or appear in the book as an extra!

RS: Hardcover is really going to look awesome. It took some time to find the right thing to put it on the cover but once I did, response from the other guys was so positive I knew I nailed it. Once Ben made a mock-up of a hardcover edition it looked like something I’d like to have on my shelf and that’s something I couldn’t say about none of my previous work. I think I’m just starting to learn what it really means to create comic books on Unfinished City and if anyone else wants to join us on this great ride that’d be great. I think they won’t be sorry.

WTN: Good luck with the project guys, and hope that you reach your target so we get to see this book in all its glory.

Make sure to check out the Kickstarter here, and get backing!

About the Author

Oscar Russell

Comics Editor for WTN, and co-host of the All New Comics Dash Podcast. I like comics and tabletop gaming!