Why create a graphic novel about the life of comedian Tony Hancock? Writer Stephen Walsh tells all

HANCOCK: THE LAD HIMSELF! How the Tony Hancock brand extended into a graphic novel

Stephen Walsh, welcome. I can scarcely believe I’m about to say this, but you’re the writer of a Tony Hancock graphic novel HANCOCK: THE LAD HIMSELF! For the uninitiated, who’s Tony Hancock?
Tony Hancock’s TV show was so popular in the late fifties and early sixties that the streets would empty on the night of each broadcast as people crowded around their telly sets to see what ‘The Lad’ was up to this week. He was instantly an archetypal Everyman figure – frustrated, constantly raging against the slings and arrows of life but never managing to get ahead.

People recognised Hancock. He exemplified something about the monochrome post-war existence; that feeling that the good times were always just out of reach and the arse could fall out of your trousers at any moment.

In terms of talking about your graphic novel, specifically, I guess the next obvious question is WHY Tony Hancock?
I’ve been fascinated and entertained by Hancock since the BBC revived a few old episodes sometime in the ’80s. It was immediately apparent that Hancock – and his co-conspirators, the writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson – had created a template for so much of the comedy that followed.

Stephen Walsh, Publishing

They broke the mould and made a new one!
Right. They pretty much perfected the sitcom format and the DNA of Hancock can be found in everything from Fawlty Towers to Motherland. Shades of the Hancock persona are also clearly present in performers like Jack Dee and Romesh Ranganathan. Add to that the tragic gap between Hancock’s public and private lives and you have a fascinating subject for a story.”

So, it’s fair to say Hancock was a pioneer and had a brilliant on-screen persona… But a frighteningly complicated and troubled man off screen. How hard is it to capture those contradictions in graphic-novel form?
The medium of comics allowed us to tell this story in a way unique to that artform. The last thing we wanted to do was a conventional, chronological narrative; the ‘Look and Learn’ version, if anybody remembers that magazine!

Stone me! That’s going back a bit! But yes; I’m sure people will know what you mean…
Well, we came up with an approach that essentially allowed us to wander around inside Hancock’s life – and Hancock’s head! – and find the moments and themes that resonated for us. We wanted this to be a comic, too, and I think Keith’s artwork achieves an eloquence that film or prose would be hard-pressed to equal. Add to that the wonderfully understated emotion he brought to the characters and I started to think we might be onto something.

Stephen Walsh, Publishing

You mention Keith – am I to understand that’s the illustrator? And how did all this come about with him?
Yes, the book is wonderfully illustrated by Keith Page. It was Keith who first suggested the project… We’ve worked together on various projects over the years and I think we collaborate well. We share a lot of the same cultural touchstones: books, comics, films, TV shows… And Hancock!”

So in terms of what readers can discover here – without giving too much away – what can they expect?
This is a big book. Almost 300 pages. We tried to do things we hadn’t seen in comics before, with the unique freedoms that comics allow.

Excellent. And as you know, this week marks the 55th anniversary of Hancock’s suicide. Why is now the right time for this novel do you think, Stephen?
Hancock is in danger of slipping away into a sort of niche channel limbo. The people who appreciate the work really appreciate it, but outside of that he’s drifting out of the communal memory. I think that what he, Galton and Simpson created should be celebrated and acknowledged, but most of all enjoyed.

Stephen Walsh, Publishing

No argument from me. Meanwhile, my search for information on Hancock’s estate and licensing agent didn’t yield much… Admittedly, it was somewhat cursory! Through what process did you go to extend Hancock’s brand in such an extraordinary way?
The book is a story rather than a straightforward biography. The approach we took led us to generate our own examples of Hancock’s work rather than constantly recreate well-known scenes and stories, so we didn’t get into the realm of permissions and copyrights, beyond a few quotations from Galton and Simpson’s scripts which Andrew Mark Sewell at our publisher, B7, cleared with the writers’ estates for us… Thanks again, Andrew!

Oh, that’s very interesting… And, actually, I think it’s more likely to be the writers’ estates that need the clearance. Out of interest then, Stephen, how did you come to be doing what you do?
I’ve always written. I gradually got to the point where everything I was doing to support myself was writing of one kind or another. Unbeknownst to myself, I had become a professional!

Just kind of edged into it! And what’s next for you?
Keith and I have recently finished another book, taking a similar – but even less strictly factual – approach to the friendship of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. We’re just about to circulate it to publishers… So, fingers crossed, someone goes for it.

Well, all the best with that as well is this. Finally, what’s the one question I could’ve asked you today that I didn’t?
Is it true that Tony Hancock sometimes appears at the end of your bed just before you fall asleep, pointing an accusing finger and muttering threats of vengeance?

Ha! What’s the answer?
Hardly ever!

Fantastic! Stephen; this has been great fun – thank you so much for telling us about this – I’m certainly going to pick up a copy; sounds marvellous! Should anybody want to do so, what’s the best way to get a copy?
The graphic novel is available to buy direct from B7 Media…

Perfect. In that case, I will add a link and say, “You can get a copy here!”

Stephen Walsh, Publishing

Stay up to date with the latest news, interviews and opinions with our weekly newsletter

Sign Up

Enter your details to receive Brands Untapped updates & news.

    This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.