Interview – Simon Fraser And Edie Nugent on ‘The Great Dante Readthrough Podcast’
by Richard Bruton
Earlier this week, we brought you news of the Great Dante Readthrough Podcast hosted by co-creator Simon Fraser and his wife, Edie Nugent. Today, we dive a little deeper into a great listening experience with Edie and Simon telling us all about putting together this celebration of all things Nikolai Dante from beginning to end.
As we told you already, if you’re looking for a new podcast about a way too cool to kill 27th-Century Russian lover, rogue and thief… The Great Dante Readthrough Podcast is JUST what you’re after. Although to be honest, if you happen to like listening to smart, informed people talk about their comics, then it’s also for you.
I’m three episodes in on Spotify now and it’s a great listen – the conversation between Simon and Edie flows smoothly, there’s plenty of detailed discussion of plot and characters and the reasons for things being just how they are, all sitting alongside some wonderful anecdotes and stories from the strip’s history.
For those new to all this, Nikolai Dante was co-created by Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser and first appeared in 2000 AD Prog 1035 (1997), going on to run for 15 years across 11 volumes. Although Fraser was the co-creator and main artist, other artists involved in Nikolai Dante include Charlie Adlard, Henry Flint, Chris Weston and Andy Clarke, Steve Yeowell, and John Burns.
As for what it’s about… well… let’s just say that if you like your swash buckled by a iccorigible and dashing Russian with a wicked glint in his eye and an epic tale of Royalty, bloodlines, adventuring, and intrigue… then Nikolai Dante is exactly the thing for you.
So, go and find it – it’s available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and plenty of other Podcast aggregators, as well as on Simon’s website. And, if you really want the full immersive experience and are going to do a proper read-along, the full eleven volume collection of Nikolai Dante is available from the 2000 AD webshop.
Okay, enough intro… time to let Edie & Simon speak!
Richard Bruton: Hello both, shall we do quick introductions first… who the devil are you and how the devil are you, etc, etc?
Edie Nugent: Hi Richard! I’m Edie Nugent, freelance writer, publicist, and producer. I’m also married to Simon, we just passed our three-year anniversary. I’m pretty well given the pandemic circumstances. We relocated to Jersey City from a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx a month before the pandemic hit, so I feel really lucky and may also be mildly psychic? Anyway, it’s been a godsend for us and Simon’s daughter to have the extra space so we’re less inclined to strangle each other from being cooped up indoors.
Simon Fraser: I’m Simon Fraser, drawer of comics and I’m all good thanks.
RB: With The Great Dante Readthrough Podcast already up to three episodes at the time of writing, I suppose the main question is really why are you doing this?
SF: Edie and I have been talking about doing a Podcast of some sort for ages. This seemed like the simplest thing to get off the ground.
EN: I’ve been saying I have to finish reading Dante for years now, I read a bunch of it when Simon and I were first dating around 5 years ago, but jumped off as the war got really intense. I always meant to get back to it, and then Simon admitted he’d not ever read all of it either.
I thought “let’s have a book club and read it together” which quickly turned into me suggesting we turn our re-reading into a podcast.
RB: This is lockdown craziness, right? Time on your hands in New Jersey, nothing going on, the rest of us cleared out the garage and organised our wardrobes in colour order, you decided to launch a huge, sprawling re-read podcast going into great detail of 15 years and 11 volumes.
EN: You’d think so, wouldn’t you, but no. I love podcasts to a possibly unhealthy degree, so this is really exciting and fun for me to take part in. The extra time on our hands definitely helps, as pre-pandemic we were often busy meeting up with friends, seeing plays and live music, and going to launch parties for the many fantastic comics our friends put out.
After we recorded the first few episodes and realized that they sounded pretty good to us, and we had such fun doing it, it seemed less overwhelming and more a fun project to work on together.
SF: It was either that or organise my library. It’s been a year now and over 130 boxes of books are still shelved willy nilly on our bookshelves, after our move from the Bronx.
RB: All joking aside, it’s a wonderful listen, full of entertaining chat, loads of interesting insights from Simon, and plenty of digressions and anecdotes.
SF: I’m glad to hear it . There’s always a danger that one is being hopelessly self-indulgent with this sort of thing.
EN: Thank you so much! I listen rather obsessively to the episodes when they’re done, trying to make mental notes on things to improve to keep the right tone, and balance the way I recap with allowing space for Simon’s memories and both of our reactions. I feel like he’ll make me regret saying this, but I love listening to Simon talk about comics, and really enjoy his various memories of his process on Dante as that all happened before I knew him. Us talking about comics is a huge part of the foundation of our relationship, and I’m so pleased that other people seem to be enjoying it too.
RB: Just taking the very first episode, you start off with a general chat about the general themes, the plot, the characters, the art, and then you head off on a great little digression about the tongue length of the Imperial seductress!
EN: That tongue is something else huh?
SF: We really do need to get Robbie on to answer for that …and his many other questionable choices.
EN: I’m sort of the “asking questions” host because obviously, I’m going to see the series differently to Simon, who has been immersed in it from the very start, and even to the many loyal and wonderful Dante fans who’ve read and re-read these books. I think my biggest challenge is to not be afraid to ask those questions, because they often provoke an interesting response from Simon. As a comics journalist, especially a female comics journalist, there’s the impulse to over-research everything to make sure you’re passing the “fake nerd girl” test. I have to fight that.
RB: I think it’s something that 2000 AD and Nikolai Dante fans are going to love.
EN: I really hope so! They’re our audience almost entirely, so if they don’t enjoy it there’s not much hope for us! I was with Simon at the 2000 AD 40th Anniversary convention in London a few years back, and I was really blown away by how lovely and dedicated all the fans there were. They really appreciated not just the comics, but the writers and artists in a way that was really respectful but deeply personal. I relate to that a lot, and the opportunity to make something that matters to them feels really exciting.
SF: I do hope so.
RB: But more than that, it’s something that really works with both yourselves and the listener having copies of the stories in front of them as well.
EN: Of course. I’m trying to improve my recapping so it is easier to follow even if you don’t have the comic right in front of you, but that’s tough to balance against not running on too long with my descriptions. Thank goodness the digital issues are so easy to get now, because some of the collections appear to still be out of print. Our hope is that the podcast renews interest in the series enough that it helps make the case to fix that.
RB: Yes, right now I only see four of the eleven graphic novels available in print, with the rest all there in digital. It would definitely be very good to get them all back available in print!
RB: Simon, you open with the shock confession that you haven’t actually read the entire saga yourself, having missed a few of the storylines where you weren’t providing the artwork.
SF: For the stories I didn’t draw I often didn’t even see the script until it was published. Occasionally Robbie would keep me in the loop , but I lived in six different countries over the course of the production of Nikolai Dante , so I’m not sure I ever kept proper track of what was happening , if it didn’t affect me directly. 2000 AD were always pretty good about sending me the Progs, wherever I was living, but there were gaps.
RB: As well as Simon’s revelation that he hadn’t read it all, it’s also your first time going through it all as well, what are you hoping to get out of all of this?
EN: I love reading comics. I’ve been reading comics since I was a little kid and even drew them (badly) at one point. So this is a real treat because I love seeing how Simon’s style has evolved over the years. The writing is excellent too, way ahead of its time in so many respects. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, while also putting really compelling characters in a world that’s really detailed and well-realized. So this is just fun fun fun all the way for me.
RB: And Simon, after making that shock revelation of not reading the whole saga, you then spend a while in that first episode criticising your own early work – opening with the very first scene of Dante, which you describe as “really awful stuff,” and have a right go at your pacing and layout. Which I’m sure so many readers will absolutely disagree with you about!
SF: I think you can see that I improve a lot over the course of the 15 years of Dante’s run. I’m pretty happy with the Shimura stuff I did before Dante, oddly enough, but for some reason, I think the first year of Dante isn’t what I wanted it to be. It can be hard looking back at older work.
RB: At one point early on, with Simon beating himself up over the quality of his art in the early episodes, you actually tell him off and tell him to stop hating himself. That’s pretty much you taking the point of view of all of us readers where we simply see the art looking damn good. Oh, artists and their insecurities and constant self-criticism, eh?
EN: As Simon often tells me, being critical of one’s work is essential to always striving to improve it and staying relevant as an artist. He’s got that British thing of “taking the piss,” which is still difficult for my American sensibilities to understand from time to time!
I let him get away with it some, but at a certain point I’ll put my foot down on behalf of the readers who love this stuff. We look at the work and feel all the good things from it, and attach to it, and get protective of it. Also, as a writer, I know how it can be getting too close to something you’re working on and we can really benefit from someone forcing us to take a step back and look at the big picture.
SF: I think that anyone who is any good at anything has a very harsh light to cast on their own work. Usually, the only person who really cares enough about your work to offer any real critical feedback is you, so the only way to improve it is to be really merciless about your failings and then work on getting stronger. I don’t hate myself, I’m just less easy to impress with my own work.
RB: The third episode starts with the first of those guest artist appearances – the magnificent Chris Weston on ‘Russia’s Greatest Love Machine’ from 2000 AD #1066, 1997’s infamous “Sex Prog”.
EN: What a concept to even make a “Sex Prog.” Coming from an American perspective, growing up in a time where the now-defunct Comics Code Authority meant something, it’s hard to even believe it was released!
I met Chris at the 2000AD 40th con and saw him at the Portsmouth convention a few years later and I WISH I had read this and been able to chat with him about it! It’s incredible work, and so interesting to talk to Simon about and hear what his thoughts were as other artists were depicting his characters.
RB: This is one of those great anecdotal moments that happen throughout the episodes – it was so much fun hearing the pair of you not just laughing about the whole concept of the “Sex Prog”, but also sharing the great tale of Chris getting himself credited as Spaceboy simply to save his blushes, that’s anecdote gold, especially given that there’s NO-ONE who puts that much detail and that style into their work, making it unmistakably Chris Weston.
SF: It’s a figleaf at best. I find it tremendously endearing that he thought he could hide.
EN: It’s adorable that he felt he needed a pen name. I suppose there would be a fair worry on his part that certain clients might be reluctant to book an artist whose name was attached to a smutty weird sci-fi sex romp.
I also love how transparent Simon was about how he was completely out-drawn by Chris at this point in his career. I find that most comic artists really respect each other’s work and it’s really a treat to hear them talk about why.
RB: Yes, I’m the same, hearing artists talk about their fellow artists and continually striving to improve whilst still having that sense of never being able to do it as good as… whoever they’re looking at right there and then – it’s a fascinating insight into the artistic mind.
RB: With the Podcast, It looks like you’re planning on doing one episode for every major storyline, would that be right?
SF: That’s right, each episode should come in between 45 minutes and 1 hour. We would rather not ramble on and bore people.
EN: Yep, that’s the plan! We’re combining the one-shot stories with the major storylines where it feels right, as they’re too brief to warrant their own episode.
We’re hoping if listeners stick with us, that we can do some interview episodes where we talk to the artists and professionals who helped bring Dante to life over the years, perhaps even some of the fantastic 2000 AD fans who have helped to document it over the years.
RB: Yes, that would be wonderful to hear the other artists on the Podcast as well – you can ask Chris about the whole ‘Spaceboy’ thing for a start!
I’ve been listening to it on Spotify as it wasn’t out on Apple Podcasts at first, but am I right that you did manage to get into onto iTunes and every other podcast app you could find?
EN: You can find us on Spotify, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, and various other places. We just got approved by Apple Podcasts the other day, and you can now search for The Great Dante Readthrough in the iTunes store!
Please subscribe to it there if you use Apple Podcasts, and give us a nice rating and drop a review if you feel moved. Apple is THE directory/platform for podcast rankings, and those 5-star ratings and positive reviews can really make a difference there.
RB: How was the technical nightmare of getting it onto Apple for you?
SF: Edie has done so much of the legwork on this. Leaving me to do the editing and graphics. It’s all been fairly easy so far. I suppose the trick will be in completing the project. By my reckoning that’s about fifty episodes. Hopefully including some interviews and special episodes. My daughter wants to come on. I am not sure this is a good idea. We’ll see.
EN: It was a little hinky there for a moment, as I worked through how to get the RSS feed set up and properly submitted. I was concerned by some reports that they took up to ten days to review podcasts and make a determination, but it only took a few days for us. There are lots of helpful articles on the internet about how to get these things up and running, so after taking a deep breath and diving in, it wasn’t that bad! The next challenge is working on getting our recording set up geared towards getting the best quality sound from us.
And with that, we’ll leave Simon and Edie to get back to art, writing and recording the next episode of The Great Dante Readthrough Podcast. Thanks to her for chatting to us.
As Edie said, you can get hold of it on Spotify, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, and various other places, including that all-important Apple Podcasts – and remember to give it a rating – it’s going to be getting a 5-star rating from me for sure!