In this interview, George Mann talks about this steampunk series, Newbury & Hobbes, about the spin-off series The Ghost and about his influences. We discover how the adventures of the two detectives changed over the years and get teased at what projects Mann might be working on next.
You can enjoy a free look inside The Undying, the first Newbury & Hobbes comic book here on Geek Native.
Thank you for agreeing to this interview. We’re able to do this Q&A because, in part, Newbury & Hobbes are getting a comic book of their own. Could you introduce Newbury & Hobbes to readers who might not yet have encountered them, please?
Of course! Thanks for having me.
The Newbury & Hobbes stories are set in an alternate Victorian era in which Queen Victoria didn’t die in 1902, but was instead sustained by a primitive
Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes are agents of this cadaverous
Essentially they’re mystery/adventure stories, and I try to ensure they’re as fun to read as they are to write!
I’ve flip-flopped on whether to describe Newbury & Hobbes as ‘steampunk Avengers’. As far as micro summaries go do you think it fits? Do you hate the comparison?
No, that’s pretty spot on! I’ve always worn my influences on my sleeve when it comes to N&H. In many ways, it’s a homage to all the things I love – Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes, The Avengers, Hammer Horror…
So yes, Steed and Peel were very much an influence when I was creating Newbury and Veronica, along with other classic duos, including Holmes and Watson.
Why has it taken ten years for the characters to leap from novel to graphic novel? (excepting the 2012 Annual)
I guess it’s taken that long to do it right. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for years, but the series had to become established first as novels, and then, commercial considerations aside (and they’re a huge part of creating a comic), we had to search for the right artist, too. Now, 10 years in and with a new novel coming too, it feels like the right time for Newbury and Veronica to be making the step into other media.
In The Undying, episode 1, the thought boxes came from Hobbes. She was acting as narrator and lens for me. Is that true for the series as a whole and was it a conscious decision to have the female character do it?
Oh, that’s very true to the series as a whole. While Newbury is a kind of elemental force, pushing the stories ever onward, I’ve come to realise that the series overall is very much Veronica’s. She’s the heart of it all. So it felt right that she’d be the one guiding us on this new adventure.
Do you ever second guess yourself when it comes to what feels suitable and appropriate for Newbury & Hobbes and their setting?
Not really. I guess I’m conscious that Veronica is very much a modern woman in a Victorian setting, and you have to acknowledge that, and show that the attitudes of the time could often be hostile to a forward thinking woman. For me, seeing how Veronica deals with those situations is a huge part of exploring her character.
I think the other thing I’ve got more comfortable with over time is allowing my imagination to run wild – I think in the early days I used to rein myself in a little, fearful that if I pushed things too far in terms of the more macabre or fantastical elements of the stories, readers wouldn’t respond to that. I’ve relaxed a lot in that regard over the years, though, as those are the things that readers seem to respond to the most. So these days I tend to let myself go to town!
What is it about alternative histories and ‘what if’ scenarios that some people find so compelling?
I think it’s something about making a fantasy of the past. The Victorian era, for example, is now out of living memory, but it still feels close enough to be knowable. Many of us have Victorian artefacts in our homes, and even still in use, and we can see the evidence of the era all around us in our cities and civic buildings. So I think, for me, you can bring all of that familiarity with you when you start writing, creating a fantastical setting that almost feels real and familiar.
Additionally, I think it’s an opportunity to look back at the attitudes of that era and address them with a modern eye. To see all that hope and optimism juxtaposed against the terrible fear and deprivation. To look at the way people treated each other and see how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go.
You told me once that the secret to creating a great mystery was to take great characters and then put them in situations that challenge their beliefs and preconceptions. Do you think that applies to settings as a whole? Environments, or worlds if you will, are best used as a stark juxtaposition to characters?
I really think it depends on the characters and the story or type of story you’re trying to tell. It can definitely be an effective tool – in the new novel, The Revenant Express, I take Newbury away from London on a train journey across Europe, and the further he gets from London, the more fantastical and unusual the setting becomes, and the more out of his depth he gets. So yeah, I think that’s definitely an interesting way to challenge your characters.
That said, I also think it can be just as effective to have your characters in a setting that they know and feel comfortable in, and then to pull that rug from under them, to leave them feeling unsafe in familiar surroundings, unsure who to trust or where to seek safe harbour. When all your friends might be enemies and all the places you know might be dangerous, what does that do to you? How does that change your behaviour?
Readers might have questions about The Ghost series. Is it a sequel to Newbury & Hobbes? How would you introduce it to the curious?
The Ghost series is set in the same universe as the N&H books, but 25 years later, and mostly over in the US. It draws heavily on Jazz age fiction such as The Great Gatsby, as well as the pulps of the 1920s and 30s, featuring a self styled vigilante, who’s in fact both a rich playboy and a former soldier suffering PTSD from his time as a pilot in WWI.
In the most recent novel, Ghosts of Empire, the characters actually cross the water to visit London, where they meet an older Newbury and some other members of the wider N&H cast.
There’s also a couple of Sherlock Holmes novels set in the same continuity, with cameos from key characters. I think there’s 13 books in that wider universe/alternate history now, although each series is largely distinct, in both tone and story. So you don’t need to have read N&H to appreciate the Ghost books, and vice versa. There are plenty of easter eggs and crossovers in there for those who do, however.
What do you think you will be working on in two years time?
Two years! That’s seems a way off. I think there’ll definitely be new N&H stories, although they might be in a variety of different formats. Hopefully more comics, short stories, and books, but other things, too.
I have ideas for a new series set in the same continuity as well, although I’ve yet to turn that into anything concrete.
Other than that, I have a whole bunch of ideas for both new novels and new comic series, so we’ll have to see. The problem is working out which of them to write first!