After working through a long list of jobs Andy Luke settled as a writer in his birth-city of Belfast. He holds a B.A. (Hons) in Education, Media and Social Sciences from Oxford Brookes, and has recently finished his debut novel, Axel America and the U.S. Election Race.
Andy has made comics, notably: Bottomley: Brand of Britain (with Ruairi Coleman) for the double Eisner-nominated To End All Wars; Absence: a comic about epilepsy, (with Stephen Downey) winner of an UnLtd Millennium Award;and the critically acclaimed Gran. He’s also written widely on the form as well as co-producing NVTV’s The Invisible Artist documentary (with Carl Boyle) on Belfast’s underground comix scene. Andy has contributed short prose tales to the anthologies 12 and Tense Situations.
FTN: This is your first foray into prose writing, with previous work being in scripts and the comic book small press. What made you decide to take the leap into the world of books?
AL: I’d been making comics for fifteen years. When I began it was to write and tell stories and I wanted to get back to that. Releasing a novel was a surprise. During a year most unsuccessfully trying to sell stories to magazines, Axel was planned as a weekends-gig novella to come out ‘sometime’, but evolved into a full tome which HAD to be out before the election. I thought it would be easy.
FTN: Your character Axel America seems like the kind of anti-establishment every-man made populist by the likes of Michael Moore, but with more authentic roots in the Free Man movement. Where did you get your inspiration for the character?
AL: Axel is a libertarian news anchor similar to Peter Finch’s Howard Beale, in Network. A ‘mad prophet of the airwaves’, who breaks script to pronounce it all sham propaganda. Beale begins with fine intent and populist appeal but the more he learns (and is applauded), the more he loses his mind and becomes a bit of a monster, as well as self-parody.
Axel is also based on InfoWars’ Alex Jones, whose career has mirrored the fictional Beale. In the early 2000s when home internet exploded, Jones was making regular video broadcasts exposing the players and practices in what we broadly call the New World Order: the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, George Soros. There was a no b.s. approach. He used the tactics of sensationalism to report the unreported.
It felt very subversive, that inversion, and Jones has an amazing encyclopedic recall. Nowadays, he peddles propaganda for the Feds or Hollywood, and trolls vulnerable people. I’m not sure Axel America would have worked if a large portion of the book wasn’t focusing on the home-life of this crusading patriot broadcaster. Axel’s family are for the most part sympathetic and likeable.
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FTN: There is alluded a character that seems to be a parody at least of Donald Trump. What’s your opinion of the U.S. presidential election hopeful?
AL: bottom-feeding greedy narcissistic loud-mouthed spoiled racist gender-phobe, asset-stripper and possible pedophile; although he hosted The Apprentice, which was really popular.
In the novel, Morgan Rump hosts a…entertainment-news show and he’s not unlike Trump in that both thrive in cultures of lowest common denominator. Trump and Rump have both fracked depths below the base media sewer, like other ironical cartoon figures such as Nigel Farage, Jeremy Clarkson and Boris Johnston. Yes, Jeremy Clarkson fans, it’s just a joke. Just irony.
“I’d been making comics for fifteen years. When I began it was to write and tell stories and I wanted to get back to that. Releasing a novel was a surprise.”
FTN: Who’s more dangerous: the big mouthed failed Casino Magnate/gameshow host or the corrupt career politician with a record for nefarious activities under investigation by the FBI?
AL: Megatron or Galvatron? The consensus, that we’re screwed either way, is explored in the novel, though I talk less about Clinton as a tool of corrupt economic forces and state terrorism. She’s the vampire and the more dangerous of the two. The hope with Trump is that, politicians break promises and perhaps his broken promises would be all that Third Reich stuff he’s come out with. He’s the less covert threat though his followers and the culture they create are undeterminably dangerous.
The election will be a close call, but Clinton’s people are better placed to rig it, and election fraud is also a central theme in the novel.
FTN: What made Axel America and the U.S. Presidential Race a story you needed to tell?
AL: I’m a news media nerd yet find it all very hard to take any of it in without changing into a babbling and angry Charlie Brooker–type smartarse. I trained as a journalist and it turns out I had a lot of pent-up feelings about my alternate universe colleagues.
Then there’s conspiracy theories, and at the darker end child sex rings, Operations Paperclip and Northwoods, death squads, sound weapons; a long list of ugly stuff. I wanted to create something that acknowledged the authenticity of these concerns, but wasn’t unnaturally obsessed with the grim and gritty. That’s why I chose a character that is unnaturally obsessed, and gave him everything he needs: a family who tolerates and suffers his absurdity, and an actual global conspiracy which places him at the centre of it. What could be more flattering?
FTN: Was it hard to write as an American, coming for Ireland/the UK?
AL: I didn’t make it an issue. With industrial level exports of television shows, comics and fizzy drinks, I’m surely part American by now, at least, by culture. I feel much less Irish than a co-opted 51st stater. I did learn Texan-English but decided not to use it so much.
“I’m a news media nerd yet find it all very hard to take any of it in without changing into a babbling and angry Charlie Brooker–type smartarse.”
FTN: Do you think that conspiracy theorist has become a dirty word?
AL: The Bush/Blair rule demonised conspiracy theorists for opposing the invasion of Iraq but as the anti-war lobby was a sizeable part of the public that didn’t really work for them. So I don’t think so. If anything, it’s become nearer an admirable label. The internet has definitely grown CT into a populist interest. You could probably find one major theory has dominated news headlines for the each of the last fifteen years. There’s disdain still for some 9/11 Truthers, but things like the 2008 crash, the Murdoch phone hacking scandal and the Panama Papers…CT and news are firmly entwined.
FTN: What’s the biggest threat to our global freedom in 2016?
AL: I wouldn’t pretend to know. Islamic State maybe, and their parent-template, US Foreign policy; the Tories, who should never be in power again; Warner Brothers films based on comics which aren’t actually comic.
FTN: If you could impart one piece of wisdom upon humanity what would it be?
AL: Stop buying the fucking tabloids. And maybe stop reading them, please? They’re tracts idolizing murderers, written by spooky priests in love with white-collar career criminals. If you want some reading matter for your café or hairdressers, buy a few comics, or Private Eye. I seriously can think of only a few functions the tabloids provide. Mostly they’re there to terrorise us and turn us into them.
FTN: Tell everybody exactly why they should read your latest novel. Pimp it hard!
AL: Axel America takes the cookie-cutter nuclear family sitcom and hurls it into a world of imminent apocalypse and devilish cabals. It’s got science-fiction and fantasy, horror, drama and politics. It’s got surrealism, recognizable characters, and it all feels very real.
The basic premise is that patriot broadcaster Axel, a superhero in his own mind, is digging up dirt on the New World Order. Most of them couldn’t care less about this, except for Morgan Rump, Presidential candidate. There’s also Axel’s disgruntled offspring, Martha, and Constitution, whose paths cross with Morgan’s handler, a news oligarch with a lizard’s tail. I’ve built a relentlessly funny and engaging story, whether you read it or not is your free choice. Will you be part of the News World Order?
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of FTN ltd