“Whatever happened to Thamesis?” is a question I am sometimes asked by a rare, few individuals – Connoisseurs of digital graphic fiction from the latter half of the naughties. Thamesis, for the rest of you, was the name of the 6 part ‘digi-comics’ series released in 2007. It was the prototype for The Lion & The Unicorn you know today and this is the story of it’s rise and fall.
But before Thamesis, back in 2004 Albion Rising was the umbrella title I was labouring under (as told in The Story So Far – Part 1). The story of The Lion & The Unicorn, The K.i.D. and their world was progressing, slowly but surely with the help of Javvy M Royle (Of House of Hackney fame) who I was working with in his studio in Hackney Wick, East London. To say we were running a business would be a bit strong – Let’s just say we were creating lots of really cool $#!+ It’s here that the idea of the patches as the agents of power was developed (with more than a passing nod to Jeff Noon‘s ‘Feathers’ – Vurt was doing the rounds at the time). Meanwhile, back in West London, another good friend, Matt Tucker from Partizan Productions, was kind enough to lend me desk space and his keen eye to help create these 4 trailers.
And it was here at Partizan that the first quantum leap in the development of The Lion & The Unicorn would take place. it was here I met Jonny Wardle. I had happened to just leave my home made press pack lying around, casual, you know, no big deal. Jonny saw it, and suffice it to say it was so far up his strasse (as we say in Berlin) that he proceeded to leave Partizan to pursue developing the comic with me full time. It was great, not only to have another mind totally dedicated to the project, but even better to have an organised, disciplined, producer’s mind, with formal training in how to write a script, how to put something together as a coherent whole. Which over the next year is exactly what we did, then through Jonny’s friend (See, it’s not what you know… Alright it’s what you know and who you know) Zack Slatter we took it to the newly formed Flemming Media. Yes that Flemming. Ian Flemming’s Family had found that they had the rights to the James Bond books along side a rather sizeable amount of money and they decided to take on and develop other ‘intellectual properties’ (a phrase that entered my lexicon at this time and that I have never felt entirely comfortable with, I much prefer… Stories) and fortunately for us The Lion and The Unicorn seemed a good fit for them. It was on! Back in East London, We set up Ash Pure Studios in Dalston – yes, before it was cool and you could still get a Salt Fish patty for a pound and … I digress. We had a a small but highly talented team of creative collaborators including pros like Javvy on character and costume, Lucas Krull on animation and new comers like Roland Hammed and ChRis Leonard, creating amazing artwork and design to flesh out the world. It was a real learning experience, not just in setting up and running a studio but also in letting go of your ideas to give other people enough space to make amazing things with them and present you with something you would never have thought of and that fits so right. Initially Jonny and I had total free reign as writers and we proved in no uncertain terms that we were not Alan Moore. Producing two rambling incoherent episodes of The Lion & The Unicorn and The K.i.D. One thing was a fact though, they looked really cool. We had developed a rotoscope technique, as I deemed my drawing ability to not be up to scratch to creating the world I had in mind, and no other illustrator, however talented, quite fit the bill. Check out these initial sketches of The K.i.D. and Kendrick by the very talented Rufus Dayglo. They’re great, but not quite what I had in mind.
Via Flemming the living legend that is Mike Lake (Who’s Mike Lake? Open your copy of Watchmen and see who it’s dedicated to, then we’ll talk) stepped in and put us in touch with US writer – John Taddeo. The two separate titles of The Lion & The Unicorn and The K.i.D.were condensed into one arc but unfortunately Taddeo’s version of the alternate reality was not my own and while I was still not skilled enough to write a good story I knew instinctively what was right and what was wrong for the world - this for me represents the other side of having creators take your characters and creations and interpret them as they saw fit. It’s great when they get it right, not so much, if they don’t. To me his version felt a bit too ‘Disneyfied’ a bit too bubblegum, not rooted in the grime and grit of the island I called home. But it had pace, it had the necessary ‘beats’, set ups and ‘pinches’ that a good story needs. So we went to work pulling it back into shape. Pinning it down to something that was true to the original vision. And so Thamesis was born – It was a real struggle and there was a lot of back and forth – The Post Master very nearly didn’t make it! But finally we were ready and in 2007 we released 6 episodes as Flash animatics, we called them Digi-Comics: Comic panelling with simple ‘slide, fade zoom’ animation and a masterful score and sound design from C O L O U R F I E L D (Sam Harris), which more than made up for any visual short comings. You can still see and hear the original episodes over on Newgrounds.
So what happened? You have to remember this is 2006/7, Before iPads, before Facebook (Some of the characters had a My Space page!), before ComiXology, before digital comics really existed, so it’s safe to say Thamesis was a little ahead of its time. And while the audience loved it no one involved had ever done this before and not one of us had anything in the way of a plan as to how we should proceed with it. How we could make it sustain itself, i.e. how we would get paid! But as it turns out didn’t matter. The credit crunch happened and quite suddenly my father died so it was time to put away such childish things. I left Thamesis and London for a time. I left creating stories and worlds and went, truth be told, on something of a self destructive binge, which fortunately was also one part journey of discovery. I learnt more about myself than was perhaps comfortable, but that which didn’t kill me made me stronger and ultimately closer to the ideal I wanted to become. Ash Pure rising. Slowly stories became important again and the characters I had created continued to live on in my imagination, finding new depth and purpose. Plus the story I had wanted to tell way back in 1999 was still there, in fact it was seemingly becoming more relevant day by day. So it was that in 2011 with the ‘property’ fully back in my control, I returned to the world, I returned to Thamesis and set about re telling the story way I wanted to. I was keen to address the short comings of the Thamesis release, which felt to me like it rushed it’s story telling, cramming too much in, not giving the world a chance to breathe. Plus the combination of The Lion & The Unicorn and The Ki.D into one title had always felt a little forced. The need to get all the characters into the same room. a common story device, had put an unnecessary pressure on the narrative. And also with it’s play through format, the Thamesis digi-comics, had lost what I love most about comics, the ability to move back and forth through time at will, to see a page as a whole and control how you read the story. So I put the digital to one side and went back to my first love – print. Creating a print comic was not only within my skill set, but also seemed the best way of plotting and pacing a story. I returned to the original assets and gave them an ink line (You were right Mike!), muted the pallet and created something I felt had the right tone for the story I wanted to tell and was closer to the reduced pallet, oversized UK comics I had groen up reading - From The Beano to The Eagle & Tiger and of course 2000 AD This first printing was launched with an exhibition of the landscape art of the alternate reality London at Shoreditch Town Hall which gave unsuspecting visitors the chance to step into the story world via a one off, immersive experiential even featuring the Wetwipez dancers as rival Thamesis Clans.
Before iPads, before Facebook (Some of the characters had a My Space page. Nice!), before digital comics really existed, it’s safe to say Thamesis was a little ahead of its time. And while the audience loved it no one involved had ever done this before and no one had anything in the way of a plan as to how we should proceed with it. But it didn’t matter. The credit crunch happened my dad died and it was time to put away such childish things. I left Thamesis and left London for a time. I left creating stories and worlds and went, truth be told, on a self destructive binge, one part journey of discovery. I learnt more about myself than was perhaps comfortable, but made myself stronger and closer to the ideal I wanted to become. Slowly stories became important again and the characters I had created continued to live on in my imagination, finding new depth and purpose as I did. Plus the story I had wanted to tell way back in 1999 was still there, in fact it was seemingly becoming more relevant day by day. So it was that in 2011 with the ‘property’ fully back in my control, I returned to the world and set about re telling the story way I wanted to. Next time: the return of The Lion & The Unicorn