Tales From the City: Spike Zephaniah Stephenson and Bal Ezekiel Stephenson

I (virtually) sat down with Spike & Bal, co-creators of a new and exciting Portsmouth-based comic book, ‘Captain Pompey & The Southsea Kid,’ to discuss their artwork, inspirations, and how they managed to make the project’s soul 100% authentically Portsmouth.

Comics can make us laugh, move us, captivate our imagination, speak out for our beliefs, and transcend all of our expectations; and “Captain Pompey & the Southsea Kid” does all of the above. Meet brothers Spike and Bal – the creative dynamic duo behind Portsmouth’s very own cushty comic series.

Born and bred in Portsmouth, the two creatives were born into drawing and making with their parents in their spare time. “I started drawing before I could talk and never really stopped,” Spike told me. While Bal has always done illustrating as a hobby alongside doing other work such as DJing, Spike has pursued the profession as his full-time career.

Combining Bal’s passion for colourful cartoons and pop art work, and Spike’s attention to detail – in particular illustrating people and faces – the two decided to collaborate and meet in the middle a few years ago, with their very own unique comic book, “Captain Pompey & the Southsea Kid.” The collaboration of Spike’s drawing and Bal’s colour work resulted in the remarkable outcome of this comic.

An excerpt from the first instalment

“I’ve always felt compelled to draw and make up stories, and I particularly enjoy visual storytelling so working in comics was inevitable really. I came up with the comic a few years ago, and it was actually being away from Portsmouth, and having my own time, that helped me to get it off the ground,” Spike says.

Taking their inspiration from the silly earlier days of Batman and Robin; the comics and the old Adam West TV shows, the pair managed to embody this spirit into their comic, as Bal told me:

“I think Portsmouth has a strong cultural identity, and the comic is about epitomising that into a person. We see Pompey as being a bit of a crime ridden island like Gotham, and so we portray Batman-and-Robin-like characters. It involves using a lot of stereotypes as a parody and going to different places in the city, which is generally a laugh for the reader.

“Some of the characters in the comic are based on people or real events that have taken place in Portsmouth. In the second issue we show this character called Llama – who is this huggy bear kind of character that helps us out, and he’s very much based on an old friend of mine who is also from Portsmouth.

“And we also show our version of King Ken – of course no one really knows who the real Ken is, but everyone in the city knows Kens Kebabs. We decided to illustrate the iconic fight in the shop, as we were going to include Kens Kebabs anyway.”

Throughout the comic, the dialogue is written phonetically so that the audience can hear the Pompey accent whilst reading it, with phrases like ‘oo d’ya fink?’ and words such as ‘mush’ and ‘abaht’ used generously throughout. This was one of many things that made the comic feel unique and authentically Portsmouth.

An excerpt from the second instalment

Our discussion then inevitably turned to the influence that the pandemic has had upon Spike and Bal’s progress of work on the comic throughout the last eleven months.

 “We were going to attempt to get the second issue out by the Comic Con last May, but due to that being cancelled we didn’t get to release it until December, which slowed down our progress a bit.

“But in December, we did manage to get the word out via the WeCreate market in the old Debenhams building. That was a real blessing, and we sold a lot of copies there,” Bal says.

While the pandemic had slowed them down in terms of getting their work out there, at the same time it aided them in terms of production due to the extra time available. As Spike said, “The second issue ended up being quite a bit longer than the first one which probably wouldn’t have been the case if we had been rushing to get it ready for May.”

On top of that, the pandemic has pushed small businesses to move online, which has been the case for Captain Pompey. “We’re both kind of technophobes,” Bal laughed, “and I think the pandemic has dragged us both kicking and screaming into the 21st century a bit!”

Recently, the two have set up an Instagram page for selling the comics online, and have worked with the local charity initiative ‘Sometimes Shop‘ to help put the word out about their work whilst lockdown restrictions are in place. They told me that the Instagram page is the best place to go to buy or order the comic, and they’re planning to eventually set up a proper website. Currently, they’re working on merchandise products, such as t-shirts, badges and posters, in case the Comic Con is able to go ahead in May.

However, to Spike and Bal, word of mouth still seems to be the most effective way of spreading the word.
“Live events were the main way for us to get the word out,” Spike told me, “such as Comic Con and WeCreate Market. Because people see it, they go on to tell their friends, and then we get messages from people who have heard about it through someone else.

“Just seeing the pictures of the cover of the comic online is one thing, but when people actually get the chance to read it, it shows that what they see is more than just an image. So, hopefully we will be able to sustain it online until we can start getting events going again.”

In terms of the future for Spike and Bal, a third issue of Captain Pompey is being planned, which might even be a two-parter. As Spike also has a passion for drawing monsters, he is looking to include more ‘crazy villains’ in this issue.

To find out more about Spike and Bal’s ‘Captain Pompey & the Southsea Kid,’ and support their future endeavours, you can visit their Instagram page here. Both issues of the comic are available to buy directly through their Instagram – the first issue is £7.50, the second is £10, and both are available together for £15.

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