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Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Commando Interviews Part 4 - Calum Laird

A brief introduction. 

The following interview with Calum Laird, editor-in-chief of Commando, was conducted by Michael Eriksson in March 2008. This was originally published on Mike's late and much lamented website Where Eagles Dare and is one of a number of interviews that will be appearing here with Mike's permission. I have made a number of very minor visual and editorial changes for clarity but I have otherwise made no alterations; Mike is Swedish – his English is near perfect and I'm sure you'll forgive the occasional verbal stumble. 

When George Low left his job as editor in chief of Commando back in September 2007, he made sure that the next guy in line and Where Eagles Dare got in touch. At that point we decided that a first interview would be appropriate after a six month period, and true to his word, Calum got in touch and offered us his time. So we sent him a batch of questions, and a few days later (on march 21) we got the answers in our mailbox. Enjoy - Michael Eriksson.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you have been involved in Commando?

Just over 50, married, three children. Worked in DCT since I left university, starting on Jackie magazine and ending up here on Commando. I've done three stints on Commando before now, the first one starting in 1981 when the title was just 20 years old and Ian Forbes was the editor. I started reading Commando in the 60s and 70s, worked on the title in the 80s and 90s, now in the 00s I'm trying to keep it up to the standard it's already set.

At what point did you realise that it would be you that would take over as editor maestro after George Low one day?

Not that long before it happened. maybe a few months. At the time I was working on The Dandy and the suggestion came slightly out of the blue. As you've no doubt guessed, the suggestion was warmly received.

George left in September and you have had your first six months or so at the job now, how has it been?

Very, very busy. I know everybody would expect me to say that but I really do mean it. Commando produces eight 63-page books per month plus their covers and inside cover features. That's a lot of sub-editing, proof-reading and organisation every week. Especially when there's only myself and my colleague Scott Montgomery to do it all. (Scott and I have worked together before when he was a scriptwriter on The Dandy). In addition to that there was learning the job that George has done so well for the last 19 years with all its ins and outs. Let's just say that my admiration for George has doubled (at least) now that I fully realise what he had to do.

I have noted that George is still involved in the 700 page Commando specials, will that continue as it has so far?

George was fully involved with the newest volume which is out in May, Rumble In The Jungle. For the next one (hush-hush for now) we collaborated on the initial selection for Carlton. It's up to them who they'd like to write the introduction. I'm happy to do it but they may feel they'd like to stick with George. As it's their project, and one they've done very well, I'll leave it up to them.

Looking back to your first period, what issues were the first that you nursed into action in 2007?

I'm still working on the stories that George set in motion before he left. Because the Commando production process is very long, I don't think there's anything out yet that I can claim responsibility for. My aim would be that no-one will notice any change because we're striving to keep things up to the mark.

Can you mention a couple of stories that are in the pipeline as we speak and how they have evolved?

There's a story about a Spitfire operating in the Aegean theatre which was prompted by a few lines in a new Haynes book on Spitfires. I passed it on to one of our regulars, Ferg Handley, as just those few lines. He had pretty swiftly woven a narrative around it and, with a few nudges and tweaks, we've come up with a good story. Illustration will be starting shortly and it'll be issued later this year. I'll be interested to know what readers make of it. Sorry, can't tell you the title yet as I haven't made up my mind yet - Editor's perk. By the way, I'd like to say thank you to all the Commando contributors who have welcomed me aboard and continued the same friendly relationship they had with George. And in some cases beyond that.

How would you describe the current interest in Commando? I keep hearing from people that say that they have just discovered it and that they are going to start up a collection or take out a subscription.

There is a great deal of interest in Commando at the moment which is very heartening for us. As we approach our 50th birthday in 2011 we're hoping this will increase still further. At the moment we're in the middle of our biggest-ever reader survey. When the results come through we think we may be able to make our books even more appealing to our audience. We have a very high percentage of readers who buy by subscription and they are scattered throughout the world. We're always happy to sign up more though!

The title has had quite a bit of press in the last few months, and what I have seen has been very positive. Have you had any bad press as well from somebody that does not appreciate war comics the way we do?

One of the stories which was included in one of the recent Carlton collections did generate a little bit of bad feeling. I always regret when this happens because it is never our intention to cause any offence. In general it's only if our stories are read with a pre-conceived notion in mind, or parts are taken out of context, that this happens. We try to make sure that it's plain that, although our characters may hold unacceptable views, we don't agree with those views; these are simply the character's traits. Sometimes "experts" are asked to comment on our stories and we have the distinct feeling that they've never read a Commando in their lives, they simply report what they think we're like.

We noted recently that a title in India was being launched over there and that it was inspired by Commando. Were they in touch with you or can we view this as just another example of the impact that Commando has had over the years?

Our Licensing department set all this up with the publishers Eurokids in India. (If you're reading this in India and want more details get on to them, they'll help you out.) Commando, being readily identifiable, continues to attract interest from publishers around the world. Long may it continue.

Has Commando been for sale in India at some point of its long history?

I'm not 100% certain when but, yes it has. The new product is of high quality and we hope it will be a big success.  

How many of the adventures are brand new at this point and how many are re-runs?

We're doing four of each in every eight at the moment. The reprints are currently from 1991 and are as popular as the non-reprint generally. We have thought about going further back into the archive but that would mean we might reprint something that had already been run twice so I'm not sure how well that would go down. Also, the condition of some of the early original artwork would mean that much extra work would be involved to get the stories ready to print so it might not be worth it.

Could the readership get involved in actually deciding which ones that should be up for a re-print, maybe through your homepage or something?

As I said above (and should have waited until now), if anyone has a strong view, I'm happy for them to let me know, although I can't promise anything for various practical reasons. The results of the reader survey will also inform any decisions in that area too. By the way, requests that begin, "I remember a story about ..." and end with, "...I don't know the title or the number of it but it was about twenty years ago..." will be put to the bottom of the pile!

Has any new writers or artists joined up in the last six months and how often are you contacted by people that want to work for Commando?

We have plenty of artists working for us at the moment – who would all like more work! – so we haven't recruited anyone new. Two new writers have had scripts accepted. Once their stories have been through the production process we'll see if the readers share my opinion that they are valuable members of the Commando team. I'll come back to you with their names then.

Have you considered having a MySpace Commando Appreciation Society type page going?

I'm not sure that that is something we should organise; it might be seen as bragging about how great we are! If anyone else wanted to start one to say how great we are, however...

Every now and then we see an adventure that is set in Roman times or back when the Vikings roamed the waterfronts of Europe, how does these fare compared to the WWII adventures?

We get a lot of mail about them (99% positive) but there doesn't seem to be a significant change in the sales figures for them compared with the rest. Commando readers just like good stories, I guess. I  compliment them on their excellent taste.

I think compilations of your Roman/Viking adventures could be a nice idea, if you think it could work. Speaking as a swede, I think that especially a Viking title could find a Scandinavian audience on export.

That's something I'll definitely keep in mind. The last thing I want is a horde of disappointed Vikings sailing across the North Sea to keep me in line!

Do you want to add something to this interview?

Most people will know that we have a website with updates on the stories coming up, feature material with illustrations, downloadable desktops and a hundred and one other things. It's a new venture for us and experimental too. I'd like to know what people think of it, particularly our serialised story "Wall of Death" which is only available there. Please e-mail me with any comments. And what about our merchandise? Do you like it? Is there anything you'd like to see? In general, if you'd like to talk Commando, send me a mail.

Thank you for your time and all the best.

It's me who should be thanking you, Michael, for running this website and keeping titles like Commando in the public eye. All fans of Commando (and I include myself in that group) should be very grateful to you.

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