GDJ: Murky Depths is both a cross-genre and a media-spanning magazine. Have you always been interested in all of these areas?
TM: I’ve always loved science fiction and, when there is a lull in that, I’ve tended to move on to fantasy. Horror was never high up on my reading priorities but I seem to be leaning more in that direction of late. But I find anything dark appealing.
If by media-spanning you mean the mix of straight prose and comic strips, then yes, both have interested me, but it’s only recently that I have seriously gone back to my comic roots. There’s a time in your life, working all hours, bringing up the family, when those little things that may have touched you don’t seem so important any more. When the kids grow up it’s like the floodgates are lifted and the things that once touched you attack you viciously. My response was to flow with it rather than deny it.
In regards to media mixing, we’ve teamed up with Variant Frequencies who have produced a podcast of “Saint Darwin’s Spiritiuals” by D K Thompson, which inspired BFS award winning artist Vincent Chong to come up with the cover for Issue #4. They’ll be uploading that to their site the same day we launch Issue #4 at the Bristol International Comic Expo on 10 May. I’ve listened to a preview and the quality is top notch. I think this is the first time a print magazine and a podcasting site have got together for a simultaneous launch of a story.
GDJ: What are the benefits or drawbacks of aiming for such a diverse market?
TM: I think that’s fairly obvious. The benefits are you’re appealing to two audiences, although there is always going to be a crossover. The downside is you have the purists who cringe at seeing prose and strips together, though generally it seems to be the prose purest who can’t stand a single illustration in their book. Strangely I can relate to that; that used to be me. The comic lovers, however, seem to be far more open-minded and, while the only book store that has taken Murky Depths is Heffers in Cambridge, there are a wealth of comic shops that stock it.
GDJ: Many new magazines start off small – low production values, low cost – and attempt to improve their look with time. You’ve come straight in with an all-singing, all-dancing product. What inspired you to aim so high?
TM: I’ve always been an artist -- I mean that in the most general of terms -- and I think it‘s important to present an artist’s work in the best possible light. I’ve had experience with publishing other small press magazines in the past so I knew the pitfalls. This time it was going to be speculative fiction. There are lots of magazines in that broad genre that don’t offer anything new; they come and go. If a new magazine was going to have any chance of being successful it was going to have to be different. Coming in with high production values was a given from the start. I’d received £120 from a short story published in a small press magazine that really disappointed me due to the quality of the mag. I’d rather have received nothing and appeared in a publication like Murky Depths. That just strengthened my desire to produce something that would make people go “Wow!”, and be proud to appear in it, and Issue #1 did that. There was pressure then to maintain that quality and I wondered how I was going to follow it up. But I think most people would agree that Murky Depths is getting better each issue – if that’s possible (certainly the proof reading has improved!)!
GDJ: You’ve taken the bold step, that many authors would envy, of giving up the day job to concentrate on writing and publishing. Are you enjoying the challenges and opportunities?
TM: I’m loving every minute of it, but wonder how I ever thought I could produce Murky Depths and hold down a full time job! Other editors didn’t think I could produce an 80-page publication every quarter, didn’t think there was enough good material around, but we’re proving them wrong. Although I’m excited about Issue #4, due back from the printers any day, I’ve already commissioned artists for all the stories in Issue #5, have cover artists on standby for Issues #6 and #7, and just sent a script to an artist for a new strip in Issue #6. There isn’t enough time in the day and I’ve been known to get up at four in the morning to start work because something has been nagging me.
Financially it’s a nightmare! But we won’t go into that . . . although I can say the target for Murky Depths is to break even on an issue within two years, which means that by then I’ll have invested more than I’m ever likely to get back.
I can also say I have the kind of wife that most guys would kill for. She’s understanding, supportive, helps out with Murky Depths where she can and, if there’s soccer on the box, she wants to watch it more than I do!
GDJ: You publish quite a variety of stories – though all with a murky slant. What is it you look for in a story when it lands in your in-box?
TM: I’ll sound like a cracked gramophone record but a short story has to grab you from the off and keep you there until the end. Anyone who doesn’t follow our guidelines exactly – and that means tailoring a manuscript to meet our requirements (I’d recommend following that advice for all magazines) – is asking to fail. A borderline story will receive more chance of further scrutiny if the author has respected our wishes.
You say the slant is murky; let’s call it plain dark. We’ve accepted stories that aren’t really spec fic but the psychological aspect has been handled really well and fits into the Murky Depths ethos. If writers are going to try us with tired ideas they’ll have to find unusual angles. We have turned away excellent stories though that just don’t fit in Murky Depths. There’s a lack of science fiction submissions and I’d love to see more alternative histories and steampunk or new weird stories. Like I said, we seem to be attracting the horror writers but I don’t want Murky Depths going any further down that route. Perhaps dark futuristic fiction (the future is tomorrow) might be a good place to start if you are looking to hit us with something.
GDJ: Which magazines or authors do you enjoy reading?
TM: The only time I get to read for enjoyment is with my Horlicks when I go to bed, honestly! But I do like Jon Courtenay Grimwood and China Mieville. I have the latest GUD, Weird Tales, Apex Digest and Interzone on my bedside cabinet all waiting to be read.
GDJ: You’ve recently launched your own publishing imprint - House of Murky Depths. What plans do you have for that and for the magazine this year?
TM: Earlier this year we published the standalone comic Death and The Maiden #4 by Richard Calder. We’d published previous episodes in Murky Depths but DATM4 was twenty-six pages long – our limit on strips for Murky Depths is ten pages. It seemed the right time to start The House of Murky Depths. I’ve just received DATM5 from Richard and it’s the best yet. Some people seem to consider his Second Life-type illustration as cheating and his erotic leanings unnecessary but DATM5 is even more risqué than previous episodes. I expect us to have that available in the Summer, again as a standalone. We’ve also just signed Sam Stone for a three-book paperback deal, so our publishing arm will not be restricting itself purely to comics – and I’m sure you didn’t expect anything else from us! We’re aiming to launch the first in the trilogy, Killing Kiss, at Fantasycon in September this year.
As for Murky Depths itself, I can reveal that Luke Cooper is illustrating the cover for Issue #5 with the conclusion of The Dark Gospel, and future issues will see The Wrath of God and The Last Precinct in a similar vein to TDG. Jason Beam, an American artist, will be giving us the cover for Issue #6 and Chris Moore has agreed to illustrate Issue #7, so expect a space ship story in that issue! Oh yes, and Ian MacLeod has promised to try us with something although he doesn’t often write short stories. We aim to entertain our readers with very different issues and don’t plan on anything thematic although Issue #6 already has two Christmas stories! Watch out for us at conventions, you can see where we are going to be on the website. Drop by and have a chat.
GDJ: Thanks for your time.
TM: My pleasure. Can I get back to work now?
You can read other interviews in The Editors series here.