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Comics Interview

'The Murder Mile': Paul Collicutt fuses athletics, murder - interview

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Paul Collicutt's new SelfMadeHero graphic novel The Murder Mile is an unusual detective thriller and homage to the breaking of the 'Four-Minute Mile'. We spoke to him about researching the '50s setting and his passion for athletics.

The Murder Mile

© Collicutt/Self Made Hero

The Murder Mile cover



What inspired The Murder Mile?
"One image - the picture of Roger Bannister passing John Landy with 110m to go in the final of The Mile at the Commonwealth Games in Vancouver. Landy having lead from the gun looked to his left at the very moment Bannister passed him on his right. I thought, what if there was something that distracted him... what if it was a gunshot?

"I have no idea why I thought that or why I hung on to the idea but it stayed with me and I thought there's a story here. That moment in the actual race was made into a statue, which was put up outside the Vancouver stadium."

Why did you decide to fuse a detective drama with the events surrounding the breaking of the Four-Minute Mile?
"I wanted to tell a story about athletics but I didn't want it to be just a regular running story - person trains hard, overcomes adversity and then wins a big race.

"I wanted it to be a story that immersed athletics in the world at large. I also knew I wanted to tell a detective story set in the 1950s where I could draw and paint big American automobiles and technicolour scenes. The year the Four-Minute Mile was broken fitted perfectly the era I wanted to paint."

Was it a challenge to fuse the two quite different threads?
"Yes it was. I had to get something that would link the two, something that would cause a gun to be fired during the final of the Mile in the Commonwealth Games.

"During the 1950s performance enhancing drugs were not the big story but the Cold War was and betting always pervades any sport. The idea of money in athletics for the athletes themselves was anathema. Some of the actual athletes in the book were barred from the sport because they accepted expenses. They didn't cheat by taking drugs or sabotaging their rivals. They filled big stadiums because they were big names and they made promoters and national federations rich but Gunder Hagg and Wes Santee were both banned for 'professionalism'.

"I felt that the Cold War plot and the concept of corrupting Athletics would sit very well within a detective story."

How did you research the period, the races and the war?
"The races were easy for me to research as I'm a huge track and field fan and that period of athletics history was fascinating. Everyone had come out of World War II and they were looking at new boundaries. The 1952 Olympics changed the way people trained and thought about training, mainly due to the influence of Emil Zatopek who won the 5km, the 10km and the Marathon in those Games.

"There are bits of footage of the races featured in the book out there on the internet. There is also a great nine-minute film about 'The Miracle Mile'.

"Researching the period was fun. I went straight to books of old 1950s ads. I recognised that 1954 was a time that had much more in common with the 1940s than the end of the decade. I really enjoyed trying to get the feel of the fashions and the era right. For the world war two scenes I went straight to my reference library, which has a ton of stuff on the war. The scene set in Sussex where Daniel Stone runs against Sydney Wooderson 'The Mighty Atom' features an accurate landscape. It's a view I often see when I run across the Sussex Downs at Ditchling Beacon. Up there you can just imagine people watching Spitfires going up against the Luftwaffe."

The Murder Mile

© Self Made Hero

The Murder Mile



How did you capture the dynamism of running in your art?
"I love running and I often feel let down by ways it is portrayed in various media. I've always thought that one of the best running sequences ever on film was the opening scene from Trainspotting when Ewan McGregor was running through the streets and 'Lust For Life' was playing on the soundtrack. In that scene I felt we were running with him and it felt fast and exciting.

"I wanted that in my book so there are some scenes where we are right down among the runners and then some where we are just observing from afar the action. There is a theme in the book about how we observe sport, in particular running. In the novel we see Daniel Stone participating in athletics, reading about it, watching it on a newsreel and going to a stadium to see a race. We also see running in a different context as he runs after a suspect and runs for his life on the beaches of Normandy during D-Day."

Do you know if any of the racers featured in the book have read it?
"I don't know for sure but I have sent copies to Sir Roger Bannister in Oxford and also John Landy in Melbourne. Unfortunately Wes Santee in America died while I was working on the book. I'm really looking forward to hearing their thoughts on the book."

Do you think we will see Daniel Stone again?
"Yes. I would like to say we will as I'd love to do another graphic novel with him in. I think he's a character who's got legs."

What other projects do you have in the works?
"Well right now I'm actually finishing off the artwork for a poster of all the world record holders for The Mile. It is going to be used as part of a promotion for The Murder Mile. I'm also putting together some ideas to talk to Self Made Hero about and I'm also going to be doing some more work with Templar Publishing on my series of Robot City books. We're hoping to get a Robot City poster book out this year.

"Meanwhile I'm just going on working as a freelance illustrator on various projects. I've also got a few picture book projects knocking around and I'm just trying to get them into shape to get published. I absolutely want to do another painted graphic novel even though it almost killed me!"

The Murder Mile is available now from SelfMadeHero.

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