The Infinite Toybox is a comic by the London-based Deadly Foe Comics, and tells the story of what happens when an alien device crashes and burns; literally. A spacecraft comes to Earth and burns down a recession-hit comic store. Just as all hope seems gone for the store owners Joe and Sean, they realise the ship left something behind. The Infinite Toybox: a device capable of creating games for its user, drawing inspiration from the most terrible, exciting, wonderful, weird and strange parts of the universe. Chris Miller and Mark Bartlett are part of the creative team behind the project working to bring the story of the Infinite Toybox to life.
Hi guys! How long have you been creating comics?
Chris– This is a cliche but I have been creating stories ever since I could draw as a child. I loved cartoons like the Turtles, Thundercats, He-Man, and G.I Joe. Growing up I had a lot of cool action figures from the 80’s and 90’s, so setting up stories and scenarios for these characters became very natural for me. This sense of acting and play definitely infused itself into my drawings, as I’ve always has a sense of narrative based around characters, good and evil, right and wrong, love and hate, and I would often make sound effects and give characters voices whilst drawing… bringing them to life in my mind. We always had a lot of Garfield and Asterix books lying around the house so at a very early age I decided I wanted to be a cartoonist.
When I discovered American comics as a young teenager this changed my idea of what a cartoonist could be. Years later I started collecting comics a little more seriously following monthly stories like Witchblade and The Tenth, and getting more inspired by artists like Tony Daniel, Todd McFarlane, Michael Turner and Jamie Hewlett, I would start to create more adult themed comic art, trying to mimic their style and sense of anatomy. I went on to study sequential illustration through university and carry on illustrating in my spare time through my 20’s. So to answer your question… a long time.
Mark– Kind of a similar situation to Chris, but with none of the talent. I love drawing but haven’t got the patience to do it properly. I did challenge myself to draw 100 pages in 100 days though when I started my old job as the store manager of an art supplies store in central London. I succeeded! Even if the quality wasn’t really there. I drew 3 comics as part of that challenge. One was called ‘Night-light Incorporated’, and was film noir meets The Evil Dead through a kind of Grant Morrison ‘Multiversity’ filter, but terrible. One was a bunch of short cartoon strips and the final one was called ‘Toys From The Distant Future’, which later became ‘The Infinite Toybox’.
What is the Infinite Toybox inspired by?
Chris– It’s inspired by our love of 80’s cartoons and films, and wanting to create something to put out into the world for people to enjoy.
Mark the writer of the book showed me this crude looking comic he had created whilst experimenting with different art materials for his job in an art shop. I thought it was genius that he had created this thing and for a laugh I did this drawing of my take the two main characters Sean and Joe. After showing him we decided ‘wow, we could actually make this’. Even now I look at the original comic and I think it’s brilliant.
Mark– Thanks Chris, that’s generous of you considering my obvious incompetence haha. As well as the cartoon reference points, I’m very influenced by Steven Spielberg and the Amblin’ Entertainment era of 80’s cinema. Films like ‘Batteries Not Included’ and ‘Harry And The Hendersons’ definitely had an impact even if they’re now relatively obscure. Kevin Smith’s ‘Clerks’ had a profound impact on me growing up, as did 80’s slasher horror. In fact, the box itself is directly influenced by Clive Barkers ‘Hellraiser’… but friendlier of course!!
The process from having an idea to creating a tangible product must be exhausting! How do you manage your time?
Chris– Haha yes! It’s been a difficult journey creating the book, and managing the time… probably very badly. I mean this has always been a part time adventure for us, because we both have had several different jobs over the years of starting this project. I went travelling for a year, but it’s always been on our minds… with little goals achieved one step at a time even if it’s a short creative burst of 5 pages at a time. Then we pulled a team together to help colour and letter the book, and when that was done we were like ‘oh, lets do a Kickstarter and print it’.
Mark– We’re sloooooooooow. But we’re speeding up! As well as working an obscene amount of hours we both have a bunch of other creative hobbies… making comics is very laborious and its a hard thing to do and time consuming.
Chris– I think the recent turning point for both of us was that we recently took the book to a small convention in Swindon, and the reception of the book was very positive. We can both be prone to bouts of low self-esteem, so the great reception further inspired/motivated the work for issue 2. So now it’s a case of marketing the first book, and finally finishing issue 2, with the idea to take it to more conventions next year whilst doing all these other little things you need to do to create a comic that you don’t even think about.
Currently I work every day chipping away at it slowly. I am my own worst critic and I always want to keep improving my art, and keep improving the quality. It’s a slow process but I definitely think we… and myself especially are more focused to create the 2nd issue in faster time frame.
Mark– We’re definitely hitting a stride! Issue 2 and 3 are being produced back to back. Issue 4 will wrap things up and then we’ll move onto something new!
Are the characters of Joe and Sean inspired by anyone?
Chris– I love those characters they are a classic duo act! Sean’s positive ‘we can do it!’ attitude, partnered with Joe trying to swallow life’s bitter pill whilst trying to protect his son from the worlds harshness. Joe reminds me of my dad a lot haha.
Mark– Sean, to me anyway… was just a badly drawn version of our joint friend Shaun Phillips. Joe was a hipper version of J Jonah Jameson, with some of our Dads thrown into the mix.
Probably the most important question, if you could use the Infinite Toybox, would you?
Chris– Hmmmm, MAYBE??? Virtual reality fascinates me, I don’t think I could resist, although the thought of teleporting from a great hight and having to catch some branches to save myself would scare the hell out of me.
Mark– I’d use it to safely confirm the existence of Alien life and the existence of the infinite multiverse. Not that I need it; because I already know it’s real and that Aliens exist.
Where do you hope it would take you?
Chris– I’d like to visit a bustling futuristic space citadel full of different spices and technology’s.
Mark– Somewhere fancy and ‘Barry Lyndon’-like in the 1700’s. Have a duel or two, live as a libertarian of some sort in a sweet wig.
There is something comfortably nostalgic about the story of the Infinite Toybox. How did you choose this 1980’s-esque style?
Chris– I think its a throw back to our childhoods and again the films and cartoons we would watch as kids, trying to incorporate all those cool things we enjoyed and imagined into a book we would want to read ourselves.
Mark– Exactly that. ‘Transformers: The Movie’ was EVERYTHING to me. I just want to create something as gleefully dumb, pacy and colourful as that.
Is this a stand alone story, or do you hope to make further issues?
Chris– We are working on issue two at the moment, and we have several other artists who have created mini stories and adventures for us which we are planning to tie into another issue.
Mark– We take our time… but we can’t wait to wrap up our story…
and for everybody to come along for the strange journey we’re going to take you on!
Where would you go?