Alex Musson is the Editor in Chief of Mustard, an independent comedy magazine jam-packed with funny words and pictures, plus exclusive celebrity interviews. Mustard has been described by Patton Oswalt as the British answer to The Onion. It’s appeared in episodes of the BAFTA-winning sitcom The IT Crowd (and the cover of their DVD), quotes from the mag have been used on greetings cards and John Cleese was photographed buying it.
GR: We’re huge fans of Mustard here at Genre Reader. Tell us, what inspired you to start producing an independent magazine devoted to comedy?
Alex Musson: I’d always loved comedy and really wanted to do a collaborative thing for the fun of it. I wanted to do it in print, as there’s something about having a tactile object that you can hand to someone. Of course, the whole indie print industry died just as we were getting going, so now it mainly exists as digital.
Mustard is made up of content from a multitude of writers and artists. How did you assemble your team?
At first it was just people I knew, including a few comedians from my stand-up days. Then once the mag got out there, people started emailing stuff. Many of the them – including the key artists, Simon Cooper and Andrew Waugh – I’ve never met in real life as they live at the other end of the country. I remember one guy sending a great art portfolio; I asked him where he lived so we could meet up, and he said “Russia”. Having said that, I do hang out with the London-based contributors and one of the Mustard writers lived on my floor for most of a year.
You interviewed some big names in your tenure as editor of Mustard. How were you able to convince the likes of Alan Moore to stop worshipping his snake deity long enough to sit down with you?
Perseverance, and eventually being in the right place at the right time!
I saw Alan Moore being interviewed for Radio 4 and managed to thrust a copy of Mustard into his hands and then get a letter to him. He rang me up a couple of days later whilst I was at work, saying he “thought the mag was real good” and saying I could come to his house sometime to do the interview – I almost fell out of my chair.
With Michael Palin I’d wanted to interview him for years, and hit a couple of dead ends trying to find contact details. Then he came to an event at the Tate, where I was working, so I managed to get a copy of Mustard to his assistant with a letter asking for an interview, and he was gracious enough to agree despite his insane schedule.
Then sometimes one interview led to another. I got the Graham Linehan interview because he saw the Alan Moore issue in Gosh comic shop and asked to use it on the set of The IT Crowd. I said yes, of course, and it ended up being read by Moss in the show and Roy on a DVD cover photo, which was amazing.
Similarly, Sam Bain saw the Graham Linehan issue in Gosh comic shop (thanks again, Gosh!), so he knew of it when I reached out to him via email, which was forwarded to him by one of my stand-up friends, Isy Suttie, who’d just got the part of Dobbie on Peep Show.
And I think I got the Stewart Lee interview because Alan Moore passed my details on to Stew, although I can’t quite remember the exact sequence of events.
Who was your favourite interviewee and which, if any, was the most nerve-wracking to meet in person?
I can honestly say they were all brilliant in different ways, so I can claim them all as joint favourite. Especially as every one of them turned out to be lovely people, which was a relief. I was nervous before each of interviews, worrying I hadn’t researched enough or come up with interesting questions.
Probably the one I expected to be most nerve-wracking was Alan Moore, as he’d been a hero of mine since I read Watchmen at 13 and he had a reputation in some quarters of being this kind of angry wizard guy, furious at the publishers and Hollywood. But he turned out to be the most down-to-earth, welcoming guy. He’s one of those people who you makes you feel immediately at ease (this despite his Rasputin beard, skull rings and snake walking staff), and who, despite his intellect and fame, talks to everyone as an equal. I remember talking to him for hours and after I left thinking “what a lovely, interesting guy” and then it sort of hits you on the train home “holy shit, that was the guy who wrote Watchmen!”
What’s the biggest influence on your brand of comedy? Another author? A TV show? Some other thing that is neither of those two things? SPILL!
In my formative years I was obsessed with TV shows like Blackadder, the novels of Douglas Adams and the Python films. They stoked the fires of my love of comedy, but I don’t know if I’d call them ‘influences’ because I wouldn’t dare try to copy their styles. Similarly, I loved The Onion, but I didn’t want Mustard articles to be like Onion articles. Although, one thing I learned from things like Python was not to do topical stuff, so the jokes would still be funny years later – which given the speed that I got the mag out in my spare time, was vital.
These days my wife and I keep sane by watching an episode or two of a US series during the precious hour between getting the kids to bed and passing out. Louie CK, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Arrested Development – all the wonderful writer-led comedies of this TV golden age.
It’s clear from Mustard’s insides that you’re no stranger to nerd culture and genre fiction. What are some of your favourite genre books?
Douglas Adams’ books, as I mentioned. I love Hitchhiker’s, but I think my favourite might be the first Dirk Gently. I think the first two Red Dwarf novels are really underrated character-based stuff. The Flashman series is fabulous, as is Hugh Laurie’s spy novel The Gun Seller, which like the Flashman novels isn’t a satire so much as a rollickingly good pulp adventure with a sardonic protagonist.
How about comic books?
I loved the very British type of satirical sci-fi adventure they did in 2000AD, which I devoured every week as a teenager, and I followed the writers and artists to DC and Marvel. I’ve loved pretty much everything Alan Moore’s written, with Watchmen, League and Top Ten particular favourites. Garth Ennis’ Preacher and Hitman were great fun, but somehow his most re-readable series was Punisher Max, which has no right being so bloody good. I also love Concrete. I’m kind of out of the loop now, but a friend lent me a bunch of stuff including Ex Machina, which I’ve been enjoying.
What’s the last great funny thing you read or saw?
I saw the first episode of the final Peep Show series with a live audience, and the final line – “see you at work on Monday” – was flipping hilarious, in context.
Since print media went on its arse, Mustard magazine is no longer in circulation. Since then I understand you’ve translated the original print magazines to a digital format. Are they straight transfers or can we expect to see any new content?
The digital editions are like the DVD special edition to the TV show of the original printed mags. So there’s a fair bit of new stuff, a lot of polished bits, and for each of the interviews I went back and did ‘top-ups’ to bring them up to date, which grew them somewhere between 20-50%, which was great.
Is Mustard Magazine really done and dusted? Tell us it ain’t so.
Well, I have two kids now, so that’s where all my free time and money goes. But as they get older and start to realise I’m lame and want nothing to do with me, I’ll have time to do more. I still keep notes of ideas I’ve had, and whenever I can I’ll add something to the website, which will eventually end up in another digital edition.
Finally, what question do you wish I’d asked but didn’t?
Have you been mis-sold PPI?
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