Sunday, September 09, 2018

Terry Wiley (1961-2018)

Terry Wiley, the Newcastle-based artist, died at a hospice in South Shields after a two-year battle with cancer on the afternoon of Saturday, 8 September 2018, aged 56. He is best remembered for his independent comics More Tales From Sleaze Castle and Petra Etcetera. The former won the Comic Creators' Guild Award for Best Small Press comic in 1994, while the latter won the Knockabout Award for Best Independent British Comic at the National Comics Awards in 2001 and was nominated again in 2002.

In 2010, Rich Johnson (Bleeding Cool) named him his favourite comic creator of all in an article titled "The Greatest Comic Creator You May Never Have Heard Of". "His writing reminds me of Alan Moore on BoJeffries Saga and Skizz, of Kieron Gillen on Phonogram, of Roger Langridge on The Muppet Show," said Johnson. "His art a beautiful amalgamation of Paul Grist, Dave Sim, Posy Simmonds, Leo Baxendale, Jamie McKelvie and Bryan Talbot – and he can, if he wishes, imitate many a style. And also he’s a star colourist and letterer."

Brian Talbot said in 2015: “Quite frankly, nobody else produces comic stories that are anywhere similar to Terry Wiley’s. They are unique, well-crafted, character-driven comics, filled with humour, incident and emotion and populated largely by a cast of distinctly individual female characters. In a medium that’s still, in the English-speaking world at least, largely considered by the general public to be dominated by male adolescent power fantasies, Terry’s stories are firmly set outside this geek boy’s locker-room territory.”

Born  in Newcastle upon Tyne on 9 November 1961, he started drawing comics when he was five. Wiley and school friend Adrian Kermode, who met in 1979, created a science fiction strip, "Amoeba's Playtime" for Lepton, the school magazine. In 1983 he converted it into a game for the 48K Spectrum.

Wiley first came to notice with More Tales From Sleaze Castle (later shortened to just Sleaze Castle) (9 issues, 1989-99), written by Dave McKinnon, featuring Jocasta "Jo" Dribble, perpetual student working on an M.A. in Televisual Studies, her family – mum Poppy, hard-drinking sister, Petra – and her friend, albino extra-dimensional Empress of a parallel Earth, Pandadomino "Panda" Quartile, stranded in this realm. The stories meandered from tales of student life at Newcastle University and coping with family crises, to tales of time travel and bizarre encounters with characters such as Ralph (an anteater) and Dweng (a zombie) along the way. It's strong and likeable cast and offbeat storytelling that delighted in surrealistic interludes, earned the comic a steady following.

Released under their own Gratuitous Bunny Comix imprint, it was held back by an irregular schedule, with often over a year between issues. The strip has been reprinted a number of times, including a 3-volume Director's Cut (1995-96; recently reprinted by Markosia in 2016). 

While More Tales was still running, McKinnon and Wiley launched Tales of Sleaze Castle (4 issues 1993-94), a prequel, collected as The Director's Cut #0 (1996; reprinted 2013). Petra, Jo Dribble's younger sister, found solo fame in her own rather more real-world stories, Petra Etcetera, written by Wiley's schoolboy friend Adrian Kermode, first as a back-up in Sleaze Castle and then a 3-issue series (1999-2001); an epilogue written by Kermode in 2005 eventually appeared in a complete edition of the series (2010), a year after Kermode's untimely and early death in 2009. 

The complete sequence – the four-volume Director's Cut and the complete Petra Etcetera, was reprinted as the 480-page The Incomplete Final Cut by Markosia in 2012. There were a number of spin-off comics, including Good Morning Vietgrove (1994), Surreal School Stories (6 issues, 1995-98), a penny-dreadful format of text and illustrations, and Characters! What Are They Like, Eh? (1996).

Wiley later created another comedy soap opera, VerityFair, featuring talented 40-something actress Verity Bourneville, described by Wiley as "a mess, a loudmouth, waver of hands, a pain in the neck, a cack-handed, bath-singing, confabulating pest; she makes up words and forgets to tell anyone what they mean." Verity first appeared in The Girly Comic #19 and the first issue of the comic was serialised on Factor Fiction, the website for The Girly Comic from March 2010.

VerityFair was reviewed by Ed Fortune (here), who thought it Wiley's best work: "The art is strong, the characters are interesting and the plot, though slow, is fun and clever. The tale of one women’s journey through a tough world is never going to fly off the shelves; comic book fans aren’t famed for their love of domestic drama, which is a real shame as it means they’ll miss out on a great read."

VerityFair ran for 6 issues (May 2010-2014) and was gathered together with additional material in two digital volumes VerityFair 1: Custard Creams (2013) and VerityFair 2: Pink Elephants (2014) and a print edition, VerityFair (Borderline Press/Fanfare Press, 2015).

Wiley was a contributor to Super State Funnies (1997) and Borderline ("Miffy", 2001-03). He drew "Trip Into Space" to the Image anthology This is a Souvenir: The Songs of Spearmint and Shirley Lee (2009) and lettered Frankenstein, A Christmas Carol, Jane Eyre and other titles for Classical Comics. His work also reprinted in two anthology collections of The Girly Comic: The Girly Comic Book 1 (2012) and The Girly Comic Book 2 (2012).

Wiley continued to support conventions and small press events into 2017.

He is survived by his fiance, Cindi Geeze, who, when announcing his death, revealed that he had been battling cancer of the brain for two years. "He kept the severity of it from everyone, including me, leading us all to believe that he was getting better, that he was beating it. But that’s just how Terry was. He didn’t want to worry anyone. He didn’t want anyone fussing over him. This gentle soul wanted to protect those he loved from the pain and stress of his impending departure from this life. We only knew that things were dire in the last couple of months as his decline started to gain speed."

UPDATE: A very small selection of tributes that have appeared on Facebook and Twitter:

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