I needed a break from my summer reading list of Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha. To be honest, this eight volume tome might take me all the way through the winter. The Bob Marley “Whoa-Oh-Oh” positive vibrations put me in a mood to take my time with these accurate, if not anachronistic, retelling of the Buddha’s origin. Blammo—halfway through the summer, Renegade Arts & Entertainment drops a ‘What If…?” story of Buddha from one of my favorite comic writers, Alan Grant — Tales of the Buddha Before He Got Enlightened.

Alan, thanks so much for taking the time with us today! We last reviewed your Loxleys and the War of 1812 Graphic Novel from Renegade. Tales of the Buddha Before He Got Enlightened is a bit less serious than that book, is that safe to say?

Alan: Tales of the Buddha is a bit less serious than just about any book you care to mention, Clay. But The 1812 War was written as a tragedy, with not a lot of space for humor, while Tales of the Buddha Before He Got Enlightened is more … Chaos. Absurdity. Sex, drugs and rock & roll.

When I was a teenager I was a big fan of Robert Crumb and Gilbert Sheldon and I always wanted to do something as totally off the wall as they did.

- Jon Haward Art

What was your inspiration for this take on the Buddha?

I was looking to create a 3-panel gag-strip for the Glasgow “alternative humor” comic “Northern Lightz”. I had imagined each 3-panel strip appearing every 3rd or 4th page. But when I saw the published version, the editors had run all 8 strips together, as if they were a story. I saw the possibilities, and the rest is history (of a low-key kind).

I was also highly impressed with Jon Haward’s artwork, and thought it would be a shame not to see if we could it further with the character.

You’ll have to forgive that I wasn’t aware of your penchant for silliness, and Bizarro drug references. You know how people are always on about “Tom Baker, that’s MY Doctor”? In many ways I feel that way about your Batman. MY Batman is Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle’s Batman from Detective Comics. Is this your first comedic series?

Thanks for the Batman compliment. Buddha is far from my first comedic series. I started co-writing comics around 1980, with John Wagner (creator of Judge Dredd). Much of our work was comedy-based - Ace Garp SpaceTrucker, Sam Slade RoboHunter, Judge Dredd himself (all for the sci-fi comic 2000AD). We also wrote Joe Soap (a hapless private detective) and Doomlord (alien comes to Earth to judge mankind, and moves in with a seaside resort landlady’s family) for the comic Eagle, and “The 13th Floor”, which was a mix of horror and humor for the weekly comic Scream!. Even our first outing for DC Comics was largely humor-based—did you ever see Outcasts? And I wouldn’t have been able to write Lobo and The Demon if I hadn’t been allowed to make the characters humorous. For a couple of years I wrote 3-panel gag strips and one-off jokes for a variety of magazines like (believe it our not) Forest Machine Journal and VW Camper Monthly. Wagner and I also wrote The Bogie Man, whose hero is insane and believes that his life is taking place inside a Humphrey Bogard movie. It remains Scotland’s best-selling independent comic ever, and was made into a TV one-off starring Robbie Coltrane (of Harry Potter movie fame) and Midge Ure (ex-Ultravox frontman). We wrote three follow-ups: “ChinaToon”, “The Manhattan Project” and a third whose title I can’t remember!

So I have a long association with funny material!

Describing the book to my friends, I call this R. Crumb mixed with Don Martin and Bill Maher. It’s just too fun to see this wayward Buddha smoking joints and partying with Jesus. Man, my twenties were a party, but I was getting tired just reading about how much Buddha raged here. In Volume 2 will Buddha go 12-step or head to rehab? I hope not, he’s fun this way!

In volume 2 I’ll do a few stories about returning Buddha to the 8-fold path…or at least trying to. But he’s still at the stage of ordinary consciousness where sex, drugs, rock & roll and violence have first claim on his sensibilities. I’ve already got ideas for a dozen new stories, some of which have been suggested by my 13-year-old heavy metal grandson (who shouldn’t even be reading Tales of the Buddha!). 

Krishna-Core - Jon Haward Art

What has been the reaction from some of your pals to the book?

Reaction has been unanimously favorable. However, I’m constantly looking behind me to see if some fundamental Christian is stalking me with a big knife, or a sincere Buddhist is about to pull a hunger strike on me.

My daughter loves it, my wife loves it, my friend’s 16-year-old daughter loves it…hopefully we’ll get more women reading comic books.

We love the Jon Haward art. Have you worked with him in the past? I hope he doesn’t mind me referencing Crumb or Martin. Both of your are filthy, by the way. And we don’t like it … we love it!

Jon Haward is a friend from way back, though we’ve only worked together a few times. We did a painted fantasy story for Frank Frazetta’s short-lived comic magazine, we created a character called “True Brit” (never published) and we did comedy stories like “Robin Head and the Outlaws of Sherweed Forest” for Northern Lightz’s successor, Wasted.

Unfortunately, Her Majesty’s Tax Inspectors closed us down last year, claiming we owed tens of thousands of pounds in unpaid taxes and fines. Weird, as we never made a profit. Maybe some of them were Christians or disgruntled Buddhists looking to get their own back.

Your Buddha literally travels the world and encounters all of the major religions. Like Buddhism itself, Buddha gets along with different ideologies and — dare I say it — gets along with most. While you are being silly with the guy, there is a truth to that sentiment for sure. Do you practice sitting yourself?

I practiced meditation daily for about 10 years. Then I got a flotation tank, which seemed to do the same job - emptying the mind, or alternately allowing one to focus intently - much more easily. The tank sprang a leak a few years ago, and shorted out all the electronics; the manufacturer had closed down, and there were no others in the UK., so I couldn’t get it fixed. I’ve read a hundred books on Buddhism, so I have an okay grounding in the philosophy. Nowadays, since I moved to a beautiful part of Scotland, I like to spend time sitting on hilltops or by rivers.

I’ve mediated in some of the most ancient places in Britain - Maes Howe on Orkney, the Ring of Brodgar, the Stenness Standing Stones etc. But I’m still an asshole.

What is it like working at a company like Renegade Arts & Entertainment, a relative newcomer to the industry? The comic market is growing, and Renegade is assuredly pushing digital sales. Do you have any opinion on the digital comic market?

Alexander, who runs Renegade, is a good friend. So working for Renegade is very relaxed and easy, compared with some other publishers.

I wasn’t actually a fan of digital comics until my wife downloaded the Buddha book and showed me it on her big iMac screen. It was so beautiful to look at…I’m a big convert now.

Aww, Christ. - Jon Haward Art

We’re just about out of time because we want to be like your Buddha and chill under the tree. Hey, what else do you have coming down the pike?

I’m working on more Judge Dredd stories at the moment, as well as some Judge Anderson (Dredd’s psychic colleague). There’s a new Dredd movie coming out in September. I’ve just finished a project for a government Social Services department, creating a comic book starring a (real) autistic teenager who lives near Edinburgh. Look out for “Scott vs. Zombies” where Scotland’s capital comes under attack from the Undead. I’m also working with Jon Haward on a new fantasy series, which will be presented as a weekly web comic. And I’m working with my writer/artist daughter - who’s just had her first children’s book published - on some stories I wrote for her 30 years ago, when she was still in kindergarten.

Wow! That’s a ton. We’ll get back at you to talk Dredd, that’s going to be a great one. Thanks so much, Alan. It’s an honor to chat with you!